(Oct 14 Note: Pics will be posted later when I reach Kathmandu. I am still on the move. Libang, Rolpa is the current location.)
A long and tiresome journey. Walked for about 10 hours to reach a place that is a small valley surrounded by jungle on all sides. The forest is where hunters come to aim at wild animals. Dhorpatan is Nepal’s only hunting reserve. You are permitted to kill animals of your choice (there are some conditions to abide by and royalty to pay). Western hunters land in helicopters to venture into the jungle. A river flows through the middle of the valley. Houses are scattered on the laps of the hills. Eastern and western parts of the valley- opposing ends of the river- have comparatively ‘densely populated’ neighborhoods. The space in the middle of the valley is empty and open. Apparently the river occupies most of that land in rainy season. In other times, however, this serves as a grazing field for horses and donkeys. River water is cold. This whole area is covered by snow- as much as two feet in the valley- in winter. Snowing will start in a couple of weeks, I am told. A small and rarely used airstrip- apparently under construction- is on the northern bank of the river (north-eastern side of the valley). The river flows from east to west. I am not sure about the altitude of this place at this point. (Added later: 2850 m to 3000 m in the valley.) The valley itself may not be that high (Poon Hill, for example, is at 3200 m.)
The trek began at 7am from Burtibang, second biggest settlement/marketplace of Baglung district. There are a lot of ‘bang’s in this region. Burtibang is the commercial and administrative hub of remote western parts of Baglung. About 20 villages (VDCs) of Baglung consider this small town their ‘district headquarter’ while folks at Baglung Bazaar call this region remote and relatively backward. Burtibang branches of government offices including Nepal Bank Limited were forced out of the town during the Maoist insurgency (’96-’06). Those offices haven’s come back. This has caused great difficulties to the people of the region, a local Maoist leader told me. “Number one demand of the people here is that those government offices that were displaced during the conflict should return to Burtibang,” he said. “Without them here people have to go all the way to Baglung to do small works like paying land tax.” What an irony! Maoists who flushed out all the government offices during their “people’s war” now want the same offices to return. Time has definitely changed even in remote areas where, it is often said, time passes very slowly.
Burtibang is two days of walk from the district headquarter (called Baglung Bazaar which also serves as the headquarter of Dhaulagiri zone). A road has been build in recent months that connects this town with Baglung Bazaar which is 97 kilometers away. The road, part of Pushpalal Madhyapahadi Lokmarga, penetrates Baglung district which looks like a miniature replica of Nepal on maps through east to west. This road, still under construction, aims to connect Nepali mid-hills from east to west (Baitadi). The Baglung-Burtibang part is basic, unpaved of course and has no bridge at several points. Thus passengers face difficulties in traversing. My earlier post details some of the hardships that people have to go through while traveling on this road.
Back to Burtibang-Dhorpatan trek. Easy trail- a road that has been made unusable for jeeps by the monsoon rain and landslides at various points- for the first several hours. The first four hours in particular were much easier. The sun wasn’t very strong and the trail wasn’t steep. But it was a lonely affair. No soul was to be seen for the first four hours on the trail though that shouldn’t mean I didn’t see any person. The trail occasionally passed by fields where various crops had been planted. I also saw a few farmers working or heading to fields for work. But I walked alone. In such moments, I feel, it was normal for me to feel that the mammoth and green hills on my both sides as well as the river with a strong current on my right completely belonged to me. Ha…
I stopped for tea at a hutel (hotel/tea shop) that was located right on the road. (The trail passed by the building’s entrance. That is normal in villages. (Okay, in cities too.) Also right on the road, by the home, was a linge ping where kids were swinging. I took some pictures and also ‘pinged’. A small settlement could be seen a few hundred meters above the ping. The village is called Ping danda (Ping hill). Folks at the teashop told me that the ping and the village’s name were unrelated. But I found it very difficult to trust them.
I walked for another 30 minutes and halted for snacks (noodle soup and Frooti juice) at a hutel which was slightly bigger than the previous one. There were a few shops too. When I reached a village- called Bobang- that was so very quiet I saw a caravan of horses ready to be taken to where I was heading to (Dhorpatan). Dhorpatan- where I am now- produces a lot of potatoes. Farmers from Bobang split their time between Dhorpatan and Bobang. They live in Dhorpatan and work in potato fields. They move down to Bobang around/after Dasain to escape the winter snow in Dhorpatan. A few families stay back. Horses and donkeys are used to transport the produce to the quiet village (Bobang) as the road ends somewhere close to it. Tractors carry potatoes to the place where I began my journey in the morning (Burtibang). The road will be in operation after Dasain/Tihar festivals when rains completely stop, I was told by some immensely hopeful villagers.
I walked for about an hour with the horse caravan. A man extended his hand to shake mine as he uttered two words, “Namaste sir.” Another man followed the suit. That was unexpected. When you travel alone you have to be extra careful as to who you are befriending (and in this case shaking hands). For the first time in this trip I introduced myself in the first go (usually I just try to tell people that I am just a traveller trying to see parts of Nepal). This has some benefits as well. When people know that they are with a journalist they become extra careful in speaking their mind truly and openly. They are no more in their natural form. (Sometimes, however, it’s exact opposite. A reporter has to identify the right situation and act accordingly.) They either become too formal or start complaining about the things that they are not pleased with or hold themselves back from talking freely. To get people talk among themselves and in their true/natural form I sometime tell them, if I am asked to identify myself, vague things like being a student or an unemployed or something that they don’t really care about.
When I told them I was a reporter traveling to see their villages their tone changed to seriousness. It took me for about 10 minutes to realize that the first guy who initiated the unexpected handshake was drunk. I am very bad at identifying drunk people by their behavior. (He complained of, among other things, lack of strict action against those who manufactured and sold contaminated Tuborg beer saying, “A lot of people drink beer, don’t they, sir? How can they sell contaminated beer? That too by a brand as reputed as Tuborg? Who can we trust now? No one.” I had asked him what was the most pressing problem in the village.
The other guy, a 10th grader preparing for SLC this year, turned out to be exceptionally aware and knowledgable about politics and, most importantly, problems faced by his community (Dalits or the so called untouchables). He had informed opinions, frustrations and even ways/ideas to solve those problems. We became friends and kept conversing for the next three hours as we pushed ourselves uphill and munched Chokofun that I had carried. I am definitely sure he was not drunk.
I bought him snacks (noodles) and shared my Mirinda at a hutel near the jungle. That was sort of a base camp for the tough uphill trail that went through dense forest.
The trail became ruthless during the last hour of the trip. Seventy-five degrees uphill, my assumption. It felt like 90 degrees. What could be a strictier punishment than such a trail after walking for about nine hours already? I could now feel the weight of my luggage that was pulling me downward. My shoulders were bruised, I could feel the pain. Today is the first day of my backpacking which naturally made my shoulders feel the pain even more. My hope is that things will get better with my shoulders from tomorrow as they habituate with the load. Best thing of the day was a weak sun. Best thing of this heartless uphill was that it was at the altitude of above 2000 meters- my favorite place to walk. We may have climbed 1000 meters in that last one hour of the trip. I must thank the boy, my companion, who offered to carry my backpack. I couldn’t resist his offer when he asked for the third time. He carried it to the top. Thank you, dude.
I was depleted when we reached at the finishing point of the uphill. Deurali. Deurali offered a picturesque view of the valley. THE valley. Piercing waves of chilly wind coming from northern direction hit us. We took rest for a few minutes. Sweats cooled which made us colder. The boy took out his jeans and put that on with this remark: Jado bhayo (it’s cold up here).
We walked downward for about 15 minutes to reach the first group of houses and hutels. I stopped at the first hotel I saw. The sahuni, a Gurungseni (this is a Magar-majority region) gave me a cup of tea and a Tibetan bread. That was yummy.
I went to the room and got myslef covered by the blanket. It was cold. I needed some serious rest. My shoulders needed that more than any other parts of my body. I woke up at around 8 pm. Food was waiting for me.