End of the road

Mobility and transport in Nepal’s mountains.

By Emile Young,

Roads wind farther than ever into the Himalayan foothills and mountains, and planned construction projects will increase the sprawling motorways in the coming decade. Where the paved highway ends, dirt roads pick up.

But eventually these jeep tracks also end, sputtering out into narrow walking paths hugging close to the mountainsides.

And where the road ends, adventure begins.

Emile Young / Beyond the paved road, a jeep track extends into the Annapurna Circuit as far as Manang. Here, we push our stalled jeep up the hill towards Dharapani from Besisahar.

A true Nepal experience is never complete without your adventure vehicle breaking down at least once.

Two hours into a five hour ride on the cracked dirt road, the jeep broke down. What are our options, we asked our guide. Let’s try to push the jeep and see if it will start, he said. If not, time to start walking.

The black smoke coming from the pipe wasn’t too promising.

Emile Young / Handler catching a runaway mule in Arughat, Manaslu Conservation Area.

The handler catches a runaway mule to bring him to where the bus has deposited supplies. This is the end of the road.
Where the roads end, mule trains take over, carrying rice, cement, books, and other supplies to local villages, guesthouses, and expedition base camps.

Emile Young / Trekker and porter-guide follow a mule train to Macchakhola, Manaslu Conservation Area.

Trekking routes in Nepal are the main arteries connecting rural villages and are shared between tourists, locals, livestock, and mules. Here, a trekker and her porter-guide walk closely behind mules transporting slate tiles.

Emile Young / Mules roll around after a long day, Manaslu Conservation Area.

And in case you’ve ever wondered: yes mules are probably quite happy at the end of the day when they can finally drop their burdens and roll in the dirt.

Emile Young / Horse and rider transport goods to Manang, Annapurna Conservation Area.

While mules are generally used for heavy transport, horses can go where mules can’t: through the snow of the high passes and across the large landslides dotting the Himalayan foothills.

Having crossed through the Tilicho landslide area in the photo above, a rider and his horses transport equipment toward Manang, where the jeep road ends.

Lama Sanu / Horse and lady returning from Tilicho Lake, Annapurna Conservation Area.

A lady and her horse return from carrying a sick trekker up to Tilicho Lake, the highest fresh water lake in the world.

Beyond the end of the road, sick trekkers have three options: walk the long way down on their own, take an expensive helicopter ride out, or continue their trek assisted by Nepali horse guides.

Emile Young / A sick trekker continues on horseback to the top of Thorong La, Annapurna Conservation Area.

A trekker with altitude sickness chooses to continue his journey through Thorong La pass, aided by a Nepali horse guide.

Once at the top of the pass, the trekker will have to walk down himself. As he descends, his altitude sickness symptoms will be alleviated.

Emile Young / Horse guide at the top of Thorong La Pass, Annapurna Conservation Area.

But let’s be honest, the true heroes beyond the end of the road aren’t the horses or the mules but the Nepali locals who bring it all together.

Like this Gurung horse guide at the top of Thorong La (5416m) on the Annapurna Circuit. After warming up with a cup of tea, he’s heading back down to ferry up more sick trekkers on horseback.

Emile Young / The road curves towards Muktinath, marking point where the Annapurna Circuit rejoins the road after crossing Thorong La pass.


Emile is a part-time writer and photographer currently pursuing an MA in Migration Studies in Copenhagen. She is an avid rock climber and adventurer with a passion for connecting people and learning about different cultures. Check out her website or find her on Medium.

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