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The Ultimate Guide about Gama Valley Trekking

Last Update: March 27, 2020

In the region of Mt. Everest, to the east of the mountain, lies the Gama Valley region. One of four “Great Valleys”, including Ya Dong Valley, Gyirong Valley, and Zhangmu Valley, that lie in the shadow of the Himalayas, in Shigatse Prefecture. Praised as the most beautiful valley in the world, and one of the top ten trekking routes in the world, the natural landscape is unique and overwhelming.

Trekking in Gama ValleyTrekking in Gama Valley

The landscape varies through the valley, which measures 8km across and 55km long. The changes in the eco-zones along the length of the valley range from evergreen forest, through deciduous woodlands and right down to alpine meadows and desert. The whole valley is a botanical paradise, with diverse vegetation and an abundance of animals, some of which are very rare.

Natural scenery in Gama ValleyNatural scenery in Gama Valley

For avid trekkers, this place is indeed a paradise. Although it is a paradise that is hard to get to. Driving to the valley is impossible, and the only transportation is horse or yak. The trek along the valley is arduous and challenging, and requires stamina and fitness. However, with the range of ecological environments and the amazing views of the lofty mountains, it is a trek that is worth the effort.

Highlights of Gama Valley

One of the major highlights of the Gama Valley region is the Sherpas. These indigenous people are born to be mountaineers, which is what makes them such amazing guides in the region. Sherpas have lived in the Solu Khumbu region for centuries, and are well adapted to the harsh climate of the region.

The Sherpas in Gama Valley regionThe Sherpas in Gama Valley region

The name Sherpa comes from the Tibetan “shar” meaning east, and “pa” meaning people. The name originated through a mistake of census recorders, who did not recognize that some cultures, like the Sherpa culture, do not use surnames. In place of the surname, they wrote “Sherpa”, or “eastern people”, to fulfill the census requirements. It was later adopted by the people, and is often used as a last name when needs require one.

The Juniper forest in the Gama valleyThe Juniper forest in the Gama valley

Another major highlight is the Juniper forest in the valley, which covers a huge area of the untamed landscape. Junipers are a tree that rarely grow in such quantities together, and the whole forest looks like it has come straight out of the Jurassic period. Covered in hanging moss on the branches of the huge trees, it can feel like you have traveled back in time.

The Orchid Valley is a campsite in the Gama ValleyThe Orchid Valley is a campsite in the Gama Valley

For those with a love of botany, the Orchid Valley, a campsite in the Gama Valley, is covered with beautiful flowers during the blooming season in May. The Rhodiola Rosea, also known as Arctic Root or Golden Root, is prolific in the valley, covering every part of it. You can be forgiven for mistaking the valley for a scene from The Sound of Music, as these beautiful blooms are found growing naturally in the wild arctic-like regions of Europe, especially Alps in Switzerland.

Gama Valley Trekking Map (the map will be provided by us)

There are four routes you can take when trekking through the Gama Valley.

Gama Valley Trekking Map
Gama Valley Trekking MapGama Valley Trekking Map

The Best Time to Trek in Gama Valley

With winter being a definite no for trekking this region, the best times to go would be spring (April to June) and fall (September to October). Visibility is good, and you get great views of the surrounding mountains, and less mist in the forest regions of the valley, which can happen more in the rainy season and early winter. May to June is especially good for the flowers, as they bloom at this time, turning the green forests into a gamit of color, and bringing the delightful scents of the blossoms to exhilarate your senses.

Trekking in Gama Valley in autumnTrekking in Gama Valley in autumn

Itinerary for a Classic Gama Valley Trek

For those wanting to trek through the Gama Valley, Tibet Tour has a classic trekking tour that would be perfect. Rated as the most beautiful valley in the world, Gama Valley is the perfect place to trek and get in touch with nature and your inner self. The route through the Gama Valley has a special charm and is unique in its landscape and flora and fauna.

Yamdrotso LakeYamdrotso Lake

The treks start from Tingri, in Shigatse Prefecture, and cover four routes through the valley. The most classic tour for the Gama Valley starts in Lhasa, and is a 13 day long tour, which includes visits to other sights on the route to Shigatse, where you will begin your trek. From Lhasa, you will visit Yamdrotso Lake, Karola Glacier and Gyantse Kunbum Monastery, on the way to Shigatse. The second day also consists of some driving, as the route from Shigatse to Tingri is long. On day three, you will travel from Tingri to Chutang Village, the start of the trek. Once there, the rest of the day will be spent preparing for the arduous trek, and arranging yaks for porterage.

Karola GlacierKarola Glacier

On the fourth day the real journey begins, as you leave Chutang Village. The first part of the trek is relatively easy, with a gravel-paved road to Youpa Village, Where the truly challenging trek begins. The route from Youpa to Showotso is only 6.4km long, but goes upwards almost 1,000 meters, to an elevation of 4,656 meters in Showotso. The route runs through the first mountain pass of the trek, and crosses some very rocky terrain. Showotso is an oasis of peace and tranquility that can help relieve your tiredness as the waters fill the corner of the valley.

Showotso is an oasis of peace and tranquilityShowotso is an oasis of peace and tranquility

Next comes the daunting ascent to Shauwula Pass, which is often considered the most difficult part of the route. The pass lies 4.900 meters above sea level, and the climb to the top is hard and tricky. However, the view from the pass is spectacular, and on clear days you can see Mt. Makalu. The descent is more tricky than the ascent, and you need to take care with your footing on the steep and narrow path. A hiking stick is a useful tool in this treacherous terrain.

Climbing the Shauwula Pass is hard and trickyClimbing the Shauwula Pass is hard and tricky

Once down you will reach the Orchid Valley, a breathtaking sight where many visitors camp for the night. The beauty of the valley is unrivaled anywhere in the world, with the lush vegetation and rich forests. The route of day seven runs through Orchid Valley, and the lush meadows of Shalong Pasture, en route to Sakytang Base Camp. The Sakya monastery is mostly built from the local trees, which all lean towards the monastery, as if reaching for its walls to combine with their kin.

There are many visitors camp for the night in the Orchid ValleyThere are many visitors camp for the night in the Orchid Valley

From Sakytang, day eight has you trekking through damp, primeval forests straight out of the Jurassic era. A mysterious place, full of solemnity, it is good to dwell on the origins of life in this place of gigantic trees and hanging moss. After passing through a swamp - there are log bridges built over it by the locals - you will reach Gama Valley base camp, where you will rest for the night.

Chentang villageChentang village

The next morning the route runs through a treacherous region that is prone to landslides, so care with your footing is needed here. The path to Chentang village is well trodden over many years, and it is a good idea to stick to it and not stray. Chentang is well known for the wine they brew from three-toed millet, shaped a little like a chicken’s foot, but much tastier. You will spend the tenth day resting in Chentang, and can taste the delicious wines, before moving on to Dinggye county the following day.

The last leg of the trek is only around three hours, however, it is up to a mountain ridge for the closest road for the journey back to Lhasa. The cars will then take you to Dinggye county, over 2,000 meters higher than Chentang village, and you will see the changes in climate and landscape as you climb upwards.

Sakya MonasterySakya Monastery

The drive back to Shigatse takes several hours, and includes a visit to Sakya Monastery on the way, and the last day of travel is from Shigatse to Lhasa. You will have the last night in Tibet to reflect on the wonders you saw in the shadow of the mighty Himalayas, before departing for home the next day.

What to Pack

Packing for Tibet will always include warm clothes, as it can get clod at night, even in the height of summer. Warm jacket or sweaters and pants are recommended at night, though in the daytime, less layers need to be worn as you will be trekking hard. You can easily over-exert yourself trekking this rough terrain in heavy clothing. Lighter clothes is much better in the warmer climate from spring to fall.

Heavy duty hiking boots are a necessity here, as the trails are often rough and treacherous. A good grip is needed for hiking in the mountains of Tibet. Thick socks are also a good idea, as they can help prevent blisters from your boots rubbing your feet. It is also a good idea to bring or buy a good hiking stick for the trek. Some of the trails are slippery or stony, and it is easy to lose your footing if you are not careful.

A hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, gloves, and a water bottle are also necessary in this climate. While the sun may not appear hot, it can easily burn your skin in the thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes. And high energy snacks are a must, as they will help replace energy quickly while on the move. At high altitudes your body burns energy faster than at sea level.

Trekking Accommodation and Camping

Accommodation on your tour can range from a luxury 5-star hotel to a tent in a field. What you want to experience is up to you, although there are no hotels in Gama Valley to stay in, so you will be camping for the duration of the trek. Some villages have guest houses for visitors, or homes that people open up for visitors to stay in. For all the latest information, Tibet Tour have a full list of guest houses in the Gama Valley region for you to stay at.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is always an issue in Tibet, as the region is, on average, over 4,000 meters above sea level. Acclimatization is necessary prior to the trek, and you will have the time to acclimatize before reaching Chutang village to start trekking. If you experience any of the following symptoms, let your guide know, and rest until the symptoms are gone. If the symptoms persist, or get worse, descend to a lower elevation and rest to recover from altitude sickness.

Most cases of altitude sickness are mild, and easily recovered from with rest. Symptoms include:

headache
nausea
dizziness
Exhaustion

In some cases, altitude sickness can cause a build up of fluid in the lungs, causing wheezing as you breathe. If the symptoms of more serious case of altitude sickness present themselves, seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms include:

a bubbling sound in the chest
worsening breathlessness
coughing up pink, frothy liquid
clumsiness and difficulty walking
confusion leading to loss of consciousness

Gama Valley is a wondrous and beautiful place, with a huge diversity of landscapes, and an amazing variety of plant and animal life. It is one of the few natural places left in the world that have been untouched by the modernization of mankind. In this rare and beautiful valley, you will be able to get a better sense of what nature wants, and why such places should be preserved for the benefit of our future generations. Please make sure that when visiting such areas, you leave nothing behind but footprints, as a testament to your achievements.

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