From Nishel Dhor to Kakri via Taka Shera
(Click on the photo to enlarge.)
Waking up in Nishel Dhor: When I sleep early, like 8:30 or 9 pm, I wake up before the alarm clock comes to life. This was one of those mornings because that was one of such evenings (when I slept early and, more importantly, fell asleep early). But I remained in bed till 6:15 am, thinking about the day ahead and about those things that are not significant. I enjoy such moments- the self-imposed pressure to wake up and start the journey. To move ahead. And the desire to remain in bed, to get some more sleep. To go (back) into dream as the sun appears on the horizon.
Hunger strikes: I woke up and I paid. The lady was already awake. She was cleaning dishes with warm water. She made a cup of tea for me upon my request. I also asked for a packet of noodle and stuffed that into the side pocket of the backpack. Later in the morning, as I became hungry and thirsty and somewhat afraid of the uneasily quieter and lonely journey that witnessed me crossing one mountain after another in a thick jungle crowded by not a single human but all sorts of noise that, when combined- and that came as combined- produced one big, weird and somewhat frightening sound, I realized the importance of that substandard noodle that some profit-oriented company made especially for such rural areas where price, even by a rupee, matters a lot and the quality comes a distant third. The second, if you are interested to know, is the access to the noodle itself.
Three hours: Everyone who I had talked to about the trip from Nishel Dhor where I had halted overnight had told be about the jungle that I had to cross before seeing the next village where, some said, I could lunch. I had prepared myself mentally and, by the time I started my walk at 6:37 am, physically for three hours of continuous walk through the jungle. There were some moments when, tired of walking all alone amidst thick, tall and some old trees, I longed for a human presence- even if that was hostile to me. At one point when the trail divided into two equally convincing ways I was faced with a usual dilemma. I followed my instinct and took the trail that was heading downhill. I was right.
Civilization: It was such a pleasant feeling, the feeling of belonging and that of safety when I saw a sign of civilization, cultivated fields on the other side of the hill separated from the hill I was walking on by a deep gorge where a river ran through without caring much about my mental state. It would take at least two hours to reach there, at those fields, according to my instant calculation. There were no houses on that side of the hill. It was all treacherous slope, steep one, except for the fields- a few pieces of land where humans had worked on recently. I am not far from human settlement, I told myself. I had entered Rukum. Baglung had been left behind the forest.
A woman and three girls: Okay, to be honest with myself here, I had bumped into a woman walking from the opposite direction somewhere in the jungle when I had walked for about an hour. I didn’t speak to her, she didn’t talk to me either. We communicated via our eyes briefly before we both took our respective steps forward and left each other behind. She was an old lady who carried a small bag at her back that hanged on her forehead. She wore the traditional attire- that piece of apparel called Gado that every Magar woman wears in this region. Mostly village women and girls who haven’t lived in the cities wear that in fact. Then during the same time when I saw the cultivated filed I came across three Magar girls (you know them by their eyes and their attire that I mentioned above) who were carrying baskets that contained things I couldn’t guess about.
Imaginations: A tap, cemented and working fine, confirmed my assumption that I had indeed penetrated the jungle and was about to enter the human settlement. I stopped to drink water to my hearts content- I was so very thirsty. And I took out the noodle packet that I had already opened and consumed some not-so-tasty thing with deep satisfaction. I had eaten that when I had stopped at a Chautari overlooking the river. On the other side of Chautari was a bare hilltop with plenty of open space on its body. That empty space gave me some opportunity to expand my imagination. The kind of imagination that you do when you are walking along and when a small movement, even that of a bird for example, makes the hairs of your arms go up at 90 degrees because of fear of some unexpected happenings. You want to engage yourself with those imaginations.
Raksi: The human settlement, first village of Rukum that bordered Baglung, came as a disappointment. No place for lunch. No shops. Came across a shop after walking another half hour and they didn’t sell anything useful for a hungry man other than biscuits that tasted like rubber. The shopkeeper’s wife was in the kitchen. I asked her from outside if she could cook food for me. She didn’t respond. When I went at the door, peeked inside and repeated the question, she pointed at the big pot placed over the fire and said: raksi varkhar basaleko, nikalna mildaina, dui ghanta lagchha. (It will be two hours before I can take out this pot in which I am making raksi.) I wished her good luck and moved ahead, downward. I interviewed and photographed (above) her husband. (Read the Kantipur story here: गाउँमा शान्तिको लामो सास (रुकुम-रोल्पा एक्स्प्रेस-२)
Changing plans: My immediate destination was Taka Shera village. I had initially planned to halt there in the evening. But when I reached there it was around 2pm. My plans keep changing as I talk to people and get sense of the geography, distance and the time to cover that. That’s how you travel in non-Lonely Planet areas. No maps, no reliable information about the trail ahead in hand. So you ask every second person you meet on the trail about the trail ahead and the geography. I made up my mind to go to Thawang as I learned that the famed Rolpali village is not very far from Kakri village which was a couple of hours away from Taka Shera. Hang on, I had actually planned to go to Rukum Kot. For that, I was told, I must reach Kakri by the evening and stop there overnight. I wasn’t sure where I was actually headed to. I was open to all options as they came by. Somebody suggested me to stop at a small village called Cubang, the base for the hill that must be crossed to reach Kakri.
Horse rider: After leaving Taka Shera (where I talked to a Maoist who ran a small grocery shop. I bought three packets of juice and a packet of biscuit- much to his pleasure.) I climbed a hill aiming to reach Cubang and thinking about cooked food. I heard bells ringing somewhere on my back. I knew what it meant. I turned back to see a man who was riding a horse and coming toward me. As he approached me he unmounted himself and started to talk with me. Where I was coming from and where I was headed to. Initially, by his look, I thought he was a policeman from Taka Shera village. I was wrong. He had one whole story to tell which, while asking questions as and when needed, I listened with a great interest. In the middle of the story he saved my life (and took one).
Almost died: For the first time in my trip I slipped. The trail was not an ordinary one, not easy one. Loose pebbles made going downward particularly treacherous. When you fell off you would reach, by rolling over the steep hill, the river Sano Bheri (also called Uttar Ganga). Same river that I had crossed with so much ease in Dhorpatan valley where it was in its weakest form (divided into many streams and spread out). He acted at the second I fell down and caught my luggage that had already tilted towards the edge, the slope, the river- about a kilometer below us. That was frightening.
Creeper is killed: I resumed my walk with extra caution. After walking a few steps he screamed “Snake, Sir.” By the time I saw the creeper he had already hit it by stone. By the time I took out my camera from the luggage he had already killed the thing. I briefly saw him pulling up the snake with a stick and hurling it upward in about 75 degrees towards the river. I saw the dead snake falling over a rock several meters below the trail.
“Was it necessary it kill it?” I asked.
“It wasn’t but since we came across it and it was not that difficult to kill it, I killed it. That’s it.”
I didn’t ask further about his swift action against the snake which was about a meter long. We continued our walk and talk for the next 10 minutes. It was now time to say good bye, we parted our ways after we exchanged our numbers (upon his request. He carried a Sky CDMA cell phone that received the signal at his home as well.)
Cubang was half an hour away. Met a shepherd. 300 sheep. Rs 5000 each. “So you got Rs 1500000 spread out over these fields,” I joked. He smiled. I moved on.
Cubang had both pleasure and disappointment for me. I am charged up by such place. Cold, right on the lap of a tall hill covered by thick forest. A handful of houses, lots of animals and people working on their fields to plant something. A small stream would have made that place perfect, I thought.
On the other hand, two hotels were closed, locked up.
I was not in the mood to wait and take chance. It was quarter to 4 and, I thought, if I walked as per the most popular estimate that I had extracted from many people I met and randomly inquired about the trail I could make it to the top (everyone called it Dhuri) by 5 pm. Another one hour to climb down to Kakri, I was told. I could make it to Kakri by 6, just before it was too dark to walk. The weather was perfect. And I love to walk at this altitude. The fact that the trail went through thick jungle didn’t bother me much.
And I made it to the pass at 4:50.
On my way up, immediately after leaving Cubang, I had met two boys- the elder one was about 14 years old. I had asked him which way to take in the situation that there were two trails originating from the pass. The boy had told me to take the one that went rightward.
Lost and retrieved: At the top I saw three trails- left (towards Lukum where I wasn’t going), middle that went directly downward and right that went through a field and passed by an abandoned hut. I was smart. I took the right one. I walked for a minute and became suspicious. At the same time I was excited to see signals in my cell phone. That man (who saved me from falling off) was right. The Nepal Telecom tower at Thawang village of Rolpa sending signals up to this point. I had to call two persons: one lived in Rukum and the other out of Nepal. All attempts to make calls failed. The signal was weak. Clouds may have played villain, I thought. While dialing numbers I kept walking. The trail became smaller and the leaves scattered over it looked fresh, not pressed by people who walked over there. I kept walking because I was going to the right direction as per the boy and the horse rider. Rightward. I could hear sounds of sheep coming from far away, pasture above the hill. This hill looked frightening. From my vantage point, I could see dark rock on the lower side and a steep part covered by not trees but by grass where even sheep would find it challenging to go and graze. Thick jungle, strange noise of insects and birds and the feeling that I may have taken the wrong path started to frighten me in a serious way. Add to that the timing of the day (half an hour or so before it got dark). Was I in a serious problem? It would take me at least 20 minutes to go back to the point from where the path got divided into three trails.
I whistled loudly. No effect. Oh daju!!! I screamed hoping that a shepherd at the hilltop would listen to me. No way. There was no shepherd around, above the frightening hill. I walked a few steps further and saw the trail going upward! It was indeed a wrong trail. Kakri is down, not up from here, I told myself.
Below me was jungle. I saw a small hut by the road covered with blue zinc plates. Hope. I whistled again and followed up with a scream: “Oh daju!”
A woman appeared after a few attempts. Then a man came in the sight. “Is this the right way to Kakri?” I inquired.
I didn’t understand what he said. I asked again.
“No,” came the reply.
He was barely audible. He was almost a hill away from where I was standing. I was standing somewhere in the middle of the hill where as the hut was located almost at the base. May be a kilometer of distance was separating us. Or may be 500 meters of air distance. I have no exact idea. But there was no way to reach there at the hut without going to the point from where the trail split into three. I felt that the man at the hut told me to take the trail that went directly downward. The middle one. I should have taken that earlier. My instinct had failed me. Or, the boy may have seriously confused me, if not misled me outright. Whatever the case, I had lost my precious 40 minutes. Time was running out.
Soon I came across the road that was being constructed to connect Kakri to Tak Shera via Kol village.
I finally reached at the hut. I called the daju who came out to receive my thank you from close.
The original trail meant for humans and horses (mulbato) was partially damaged by the ongoing work for the road that is meant for cars and busses. I asked the man if the trail ahead was okay. He said yes adding that there were small trails built along the road at the places where the old one was destroyed.
Almost died, again: Later I would be cursing him and regretting so very deeply for taking the route and not taking the Lukum trail instead. I regretted for the whole trip in the first place. Who wants to die in a jungle that too by falling off a trail that didn’t exist in the first place? But there was no option but to try crossing precipitous slopes made by construction workers who had wiped out the old trail and made no effort to make a new one for people to walk on before the road became usable.
Four points were very dangerous. Two of them terrifyingly so. While crossing one of those two, especially the first one, I must admit that I saw death from very close. The road, big one, abruptly ended at what looked like a landslide of about 3 meters wide and God only knows how many more meters deep. My estimate is more than a kilometer. Enough height for a person to be killed when fallen. And there were no trees to save a falling body. I knew it was not a natural landslide but a spot left carelessly by the construction workers.
Acrobatic feat: So how did I cross that? There was hardly a place to place my one foot. And the place that could be considered for such a placement was filled with loose pebbles and dry soil. The moment I tried to place a foot- left one because the hill was on my right and it was impossible to put right leg first and cross the point- over a possibly safe and reliable point it slipped over loose soil and stones. So I had to “cling” to whatever had remained over there- the stones and soil. No bushes, no plant. Ok, instead of clinging to loose stones and stepping on a slippery earth I tried to put my body load on my two hands- an acrobatic feat perhaps if not a survival instinct or a sheer luck- and jumped over by placing the left foot for a fraction of second and removing it to place it to another precarious point.
‘Death-in-action’: Never seen death from so close. Not even during the recent earthquake. Unlike during the earthquake, there at the ‘landslide point’ I could actually see the ‘death-in-action’. I stopped for a few seconds to see stones and soil go down because of my movement. As I sweated and frantically tried to place my left leg on a firm position and unsuccessfully grabbed a small landmass by both hands I could visualize myself falling over, rolling down several hundred times and smashed on the ground, may be on some boulders in between, to death. Somebody, perhaps a goatherd or a construction worker, would find my body after a few days. Horrible scene. I didn’t come all the way to this ridge to die, I told myself, that too by falling off a road that was being built to make people’s life easier.
Celebrating life: I somehow crossed that death trap. I celebrated the life. I felt so much relieved. I was trembling. But I didn’t halt, I kept walking. May be I ran a few meters before settling into my usual pace. My heart was beating faster. I was furious with those who were digging road and left walkers to such a life-threatening challenge. I remembered the boy who had suggested me to take the trail that went right as I climbed up from Cubang. He had also told me that the trail to Kakri was difficult because of the ongoing roadwork. He was too mild in his assessment, I thought. There was no trail at all at some points. He should have used stronger words to describe the situation and discourage me from taking the route. He didn’t. (Indeed, I had taken a different route but that didn’t work either. May be, I thought as I struggled to regain my composure, I should have taken the Lukum route.) He gave me the impression that the trail was bad like as in difficult to walk compared to much wider road which is definitely an easy place to walk.
My celebration came to a halt when I saw another precarious path. The wider road had ended at a corner and from where the road ended began a very small trail that first went uphill and straight for a few meters and went downward. I could barely see the path. It wasn’t as dangerous as the previous one because here I could at least place my legs. What immensely comforted me was the sight of some people coming from opposite direction. They had walked the same path. Is that the trail on which I must walk? I asked that question to an old man. Yes, he said. Really? I expressed my amazement. “Can’t you see people coming from other direction walking on that trail?” the man shot back.
Monkey trail: This particular trail was like what people in village call Monkey Trail. A trail for monkeys. Definitely not for their descendants. But there was no option. I walked. Very carefully. There was one point where construction workers had left a huge rock half broken. The rock blocked people from walking with their body straight. The stone could push them towards the ridge- especially those carrying luggage AND child. I was astonished to see a woman carrying a child negotiating her path over there. When I reached that stone a moment of tension aroused. Three persons were coming from the opposite direction and one of them appeared to be drunk. That’s what I felt. He was giving me space to walk on his right side facing the edge. And he told me: “ok, jump here and go from this side.” there was no space at all. I didn’t want to take a chance. I stopped, didn’t move and told him to back off a little bit and make some space for me to jump. After a few seconds filled with tension, he backed off. I jumped. Rather crept. And landed on the other side.
I don’t recall walking on such difficult path before.
The Hutel: Now I was walking on the road but it was getting darker. I need to stop because I thought what if more precarious path await on the other side of the hill. I came to a small hut where a man was about to prepare meal. I asked him if there were any places nearby to stay. He pointed to a house on the next hill, about half a kilometer away, by the road. “That’s a hotel,” he said.
It turned out to be a place where some construction workers and project officials went to eat snacks. Not exactly a hotel but a house for a family whose headman worked as a laborer at the road project. I asked if I could stay overnight. Yes, I could. So much relief. I didn’t want to walk. I had walked enough: 12 hours (with about 2 hours of rest in total.)
My hosts roasted corns for me and themselves. I took one. Tasty. And second. Meal was being cooked.
The guy, a Dalit (so called untouchable) had returned from Qatar for good because, he said, he couldn’t live in the heat there. Became sick, he said. He told me how he was caught in between the warring sides during the Maoist armed conflict. He was pressured by the Maoists to join their guerrilla force. He didn’t want. He ran away, and while doing so, couldn’t complete school education. One day, while traveling to Rasuwa to work at a hydro power plant as an alternative to joining the Maoist army, he was detained and beaten up by the state Army for “being a Maoist” by virtue of being a Rukumeli (native from Rukum district.)
We dined together. Rice and karkala curry. That was nice. Fulfilling. Time came to go to bed. The couple emptied their bed (khat), put new bedding over there and told me to sleep there as they, with their son and an old lady, slept on the floor. The whole house was one small room. My awkwardness was nothing in front of the tiredness that was overpowering me. I went on the bed. In a matter of what felt like minutes I found that it was already another day! (That part was added later!)