A wedding ceremony? An auspicious occasion? Someone very important, a thulo manchhe, coming in the village? Play the panche baja (the five -musical- instruments). That’s still the case in many Nepali villages. These photos are from Dhampus village, north of Pokhara that offers beautiful views of the Annapurna range. When I was there last year around this time, the mountains were hidden in the clouds. Mesmerizing dhoon of panche baja played to welcome some thulo manchhes I was traveling with compensated the lack of great mountain views. I again saw panche baja played in a village in Lamjung earlier this year when to welcome a thulo manchhe.
The New York Times and Time magazine are working closely, so to speak, to cover Nepal in the past couple of weeks. First came Jim Yardley, former Beijing bureau chief of the Times now posted in New Delhi, with an analysis titled “China Intensifies Tug of War With India on Nepal.” That was in mid-February. Two weeks later Jyoti Thottam, Time‘s woman in New Delhi, saw, from Delhi, Nepal “Caught Between China and India.” [Prithvi Narayan Shah, the king who unified Nepal some 250 years ago, had realized that long time back when he said, “नेपाल दुई ढुङ्गाबीचको तरुल हो । [Nepal is a yam between two boulders.]”
Both stories are worth reading but they are not something that we can cheer about. This week NYT and Time came out with two travel reports that are certainly helpful to promote Nepali travel and tourism industry. The Times publishes an excellent travelogue from Annapurna Circuit while Time highlights Kathmandu Valley as a weekend destination. I was particularly interested in the Times story, by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, because I have done parts of the Circuit- Ghandruk Ghorepani (which counts as separate route that passes via Poon Hill) and Nar Phu trek (that touches many parts of the Circuit including Dharapani and crosses via Kang-la Pass that is only a few meters shorter than Thorang-la). The main photo- brilliant- published alongside the story- people enjoying the view of Dhaulagiri range and the sunrise- reminded me of my own moment at Poon Hill three years ago. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
Poon Hilai ma, phool jasto sundari…
A morning in Poon Hill. We started walking up at around 6 AM. We were already late but I was determined to reach at the top. Stuart pulled off from the hiking within first five minutes. Then it was turn of porter. I thought Martha would make it to the top considering the way she walked the day before. No, she also wanted to return back. I remained alone and I continued walking humming this song: Poon Hilai ma, phool jasti soltini rakhe manai ma! [I met a girl beautiful like a flower and put her in my heart]. May be I was hoping to find a soltini in Poon Hill. I had already missed the sun rise but the desire to be at the top constantly kept me pushing up. I reached there, in about half an hour, and saw the fabulous Dhawalagiri Annapurna range. That was really awesome. I kept watching Himals, so clean and shining because of the sunlight, for several minutes from the view tower. The view of other hills was so fascinating.
There were about four dozen English folks (pic, above), members of scout, who were trekking Annapurna region from Jomsong. A boy told me that they were returning to Pokhara today. I took a few photographs, many of them my own self-portraits with Himalayan range on background. I spent about 20 minutes on the tower overhearing English folks and observing them getting excited about the view.
At one point, I felt like screaming “so beautiful.” At the same time, I felt lonely. I wanted to share my feelings but there was no one to share my excitement. At least, not a Soltini! But I consoled myself that even if I missed the sunrise, I hardly see sunrise in my daily life anyway because at that time I would still be in bed, I got to see the Himals and the view.
Wagle on Poon Hill Tower. Pic by an unidentified British boy
It was time to descend. I came down ready to climb up again toward Tadapani. Girls were having breakfast. But they had news for me. “We are thinking of staying here for a day,” said one of them. I was mentally prepared to walk, was ready to go Tadapani and I wasn’t thinking about staying there for a day. But I also couldn’t tell them that they shouldn’t stay and move. That would be, I thought, so un-American. Who was I to stop them from fulfilling their desire to stay a day in Ghorepani. That is why I told them my intention. I would be going and wait for them in Ghandruk. I don’t know why but girls also decided to start walking.
Climbing again up to Deurali Danda was challenging especially after Poon Hill feat. But I did it easily though it was noticeable that Stuart was finding it very hard. Later I was told my Martha that Stuart vomited. Now I started worrying but I didn’t show my concern because I thought that would put extra pressure on her. My feeling was that she would make it to Tadapani without difficulties and we don’t have to walk back all the way to Ghorepani. I kept walking on a slow pace. Stuart was too slow for my normal pace and reducing that pace unnaturally would have created negative impact in my walking. As I was carrying a backpack, I wasn’t in a position to stop every now and then because that would have left me tired at the end of the day. Girls were walking well and that was fine with me. They ought to experience the challenges of trekking and I hoped they did so well.
I think Stuart didn’t like me leaving her behind but I had my own compulsion as I mentioned above. I had to walk on my natural pace. I tried to explain this to Martha and I think she understood. If there is no compatibility of pace between trekking partners, I think the best idea would be to walk on their own pace and the person with fast pace waist for the friend after covering a reasonable distance. That’s what I did.
Martha was a great walker which was beyond my expectation. But she tried to keep herself with Stuart as, I think, she didn’t want to make her feel bad. Oh yea, the only thing that made Martha upset was the unavailability of menthol cigarettes in the trek route. Hum, there was no ganja available as well. First thing she did in Tadapani was to go hunt for menthol cigarettes but unfortunately she wasn’t successful in the mission.
Finally, I am in Ghorepani (or Ghodepani), the place that stayed in my mind after I read the description in an article published in San Francisco Chronicle. It is evening and the cloud has ruined my view of Himals (snowy mountains) including the great Annapurna and Dhaulagiri range. We three- Martha, Stuart and myself- played cards (Ace or Call Break or Golkhadi as we call the game) and I made some good points though once I went golkhadi or negative. No problem, the whole cool world outside the dining hall of the Sunny Hotel was waiting for me.
I went outside and headed toward the Magar museum set up by local Aama Samuha (Women Group). A 50-year-old lady from Samuha, Seumaya Pun Magar (in pic), opened up the center for me. The Samuha, the lady told, had done some remarkable job like maintaining the trekking trail on a regular basis and organizing cleaning campaign in the village on the first day of every month. While getting out of the museum, that had memorabilia and other materials that represent Magar culture in the village, a computer inside an adjoining room caught my attention. That was a laptop attached to a communication antenna on the window. I was surprised to see the equipments there. The lady told me that they were donated and installed there by Mahabir Pun of Nangi Village. Mahabir of Nangi School fame is in a mission to establish wireless networks in villages.
Wagle on way to Tadapani from Ghorepani. This place about 45 minutes up from Ghorepani, was one of the best in the trail. The cool breeze was unforgettable. I was marching ahead free and careless enjoying the mixture of sounds from birds, worms and wind. Photos like the one posted above were my favorite for the trip: Face Value!
As I am writing these lines, I am missing my laptop-connected-to-internet very much. I wish I had that with me here. That would be really cool to get connected to the world from these highlands of Myagdi. Just imagine using internet and checking emails from atop Poon Hill! Especially in the home district of Mahabir Pun who is, though in a small way, revolutionizing the way Nepali people are connected. But that will be possible one day when his mission becomes a complete success.
Where are you, tower? I want to see the Dhawalagiri Annapurna range. On way to Poon Hill!!
The trek on Day Two started from Ulleri and oh…boy what a trail it was. [I will be briefly mentioning the Day One at the end of this post for there was nothing much exciting in the trail.] Very different from the previous day. Green, shade, breeze, the cool breeze, superb trail. Felt like walking forever. I was feeling great and the life on the trail was enjoyable. The sound coming out from the nearby stream, the lush jungle and birds and other creatures making various types of sounds! Let me repeat here that I thoroughly enjoyed the trail from Ulleri (where we spent first night) to Ghorepani and Ghorepani Deurali. It wasn’t a long trail but was definitely wonderful. I was singing:
Akashai bata ke udi aayo, Bheda ko oon jastoooo ho ho ho…bheda ko oon jasto!
Maya ko photo mai khichi lyaunchhu, purne ko joon jasto ho ho ho…purne ko joon jasto!!
Martha tried to follow the lines but, she said, she couldn’t catch the words other than “photo”. Stuart was lagging behind, somewhere down, the trail with porter giving her company. Martha, the little one, was walking fine. I was translating the song and telling her the story Narayan Wagle’s highland adventure in Langtang and the resulting documentary called “Bheda Ko Oon Jasto”.
Martha and I arrived at Ghorepani at around 1 PM and waited for Stuart and porter Bhim Bahadur Thapa Magar. We killed time playing football with two kids at a primary school in Ghorepani Deurali. It took me no time to realize that those fabulous kids, brother and sister, were deeply dissatisfied with the way their school was being run.
Meet sister Bima Bika, 11, and brother Suman Bika, 8, students of classes 4 and 3 respectively in Shree Pun Hill Primary School at Ghorepani, Deurali. Martha and I played football with the kids for about half an hour as we were waiting for our friends to come. We also talked to them about their school and education. There are 9 students and two teachers (Anita Bolwal and Yam Bahadur Pun) in total in school. Suman is the only student in the class and he is pissed off with the irregularity of attendance of his teachers (a sir and a miss) in the school. “Sir haru nahaune, heavy ris utheko chha malai ta,” said. [I am very much angry because teachers don’t come school.] Then she recited a poem titled “Paap Lagchha” after I requested her recite any poem from her Nepali textbook.
“Natipnu hey kopila
nachudnu paap lagdachha
dhulo nakhelnu nani ho
udera bhitra bhagdachha”
After Stuart and Thapa Magar arrived, we decided to go up to Deurali as per Thapa Magar’s advice. He turned out to be very useful to find hotels though I could have done on my own if he wasn’t there. After all, it’s all about asking and moving ahead, the traditional Nepali way of taking journeys. Nepalese hardly lie on directions.
Twenty eight people died in the landslide a few weeks ago. Five members of a family died here. The house were they were staying in was swept away from the landslide. Relatives of the deceased put these prayer flags.
Lahures (people working in foreign lands as soldiers etc) used to live in the area where landslide occurred. They had brought all sorts of technology in their village along with the money from foreign land.
Thapa Magar took us to a hotel called Sunny which, to my surprise, turned out to be the one that I was eager to stay in. I had learned about the hotel from an article in Kosilee by Devendra Bhattarai. Coincidently, I had talked to the owner of the hotel in Birethanthi, the starting point of the trek, when I was there with Pankaj Mishra, a writer, last year. We walked about half an hour toward Ghorepani and then returned because we were in a different mission. In Sunny hotel, all rooms are named after sportsperson and mountaineering legends. That is a good way of being different from others and making guests feel special in the hospitality industry. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name printed on the door of the room where we stayed.
It was a nice hotel but I could sense that the treatment to Nepali wasn’t that impressive. It is not unusual to find all hoteliers in a tourist trekking route like Ghorepani-Ghandruk very much dollar minded. The dollar mindedness in the hoteliers is so much visible that they literally run after the goro chhala (white skin) even if many of them, the quick backpackers, don’t spend as par with some Nepali trekkers.
I saw several graffiti like this one painted by Maoists demanding the election of constituent assembly and establishment of democratic republic in Nepal. I saw no other political party’s slogans or posters in the whole trek route.
We had a small, but heated, debate on this issue on the second last day of the trek. Martha expressed her unhappiness on the two price system that is widely in effect in trekking routes around the country: Nepalis are subsidized in certain food items. Actually two items: Dal Bhat and Black Tea. Nepalis are provided with discount on the menu price for those two items. I am also against such pricing policy but I tried to explain the ladies that the GDP difference between western tourists and average Nepali people. But if you consider the royal treatment that a gora receives (of course, there are numerous catches in such treatment), that discount doesn’t really matters much.
While heading toward Ulleri, I am trying to enjoy the trek. Pic by Martha
About the trail: Though the first day’s trek from Nayapul to Ulleri wasn’t very much different from a normal walk on a low altitude locality, the second day’s walk was quite refreshing and entertaining. Just below Ulleri, I saw the devastation caused by the landslide that killed more than 26 people and swept away six houses two weeks ago. Few people and houses were lucky enough to survive the horrible natural disaster. While walking from over the landslide, I could smell strong odor coming out from a place where, a local woman said, there was a house. I hoped that the smell wasn’t of the human corpse as the woman told me that six bodies couldn’t be recovered.
Note: Martha and Stuart are not real names.
Yes, I am leaving Pokhara tomorrow morning for a week long Annapurna Trek. Two American girls, students of photography, will be traveling with me. So I will not be alone. I have never gone to that part of the country before but I am excited. I am hoping to go to Ghorepani, Ghandruk and Landruk. I have been hearing about this trek route since I was in school. I still remember reading that Internal Tourism issue of Sadhana magazine where both the villages Ghandruk and Landruk were extensively covered for being the most beautiful villages in the country. Then Ghorepani. I always remember an article in San Francisco Chronicle that I read two years ago when I think about Ghorepani: Everything adds up in math of chance meetings. The American author of the article talks about a chance meeting with his school teacher in Ghorepani. I don’t know whom I will be meeting!
I am excited about the trekking. I just want to enjoy the trip. So wish me a good journey!