A helicopter ride is not an everyday event. Rarer is when you fly several times in a matter of days in different whirlybirds. Add hill-hopping to that. And these details: walk in a national park looking for tigers in the afternoon and wake up in the morning atop a hill to find the mighty Manaslu staring at you. Hike in the Himalayan foothills, sort of, with an international celebrity who is being followed by the TV cameras. What could be more exotic, right? But this view behind me, of an MI 17 parked in the middle of a corn field surrounded by massive hills and not far from mud and stone houses partially damaged by the quakes, is what I find to be the most stunning of all drishyas that I have seen in the past few months. It will remain with me for some time to come.
It took us four hours to reach Mahat village from Thabang village. It was mostly a pleasant walk on flat land (just a couple of small uphill and downhill) that followed the Thabang river.
13 July- An impromptu trip to Seto Gumba, a Buddhist monastery that sits atop a hill behind Swyambhunath, on a Saturday. That’s the only day of the week Gumba opens its gates to general visitors and tourists- a reason, perhaps, why the place is crowded mostly by teenagers and couples. Some hike up to the Gumba, others reach there in bikes and cars. A bus driver’s effort to make some profit by operating a shuttle service (Rs. 40 per passenger from Ringroad to the Gumba) turned futile in the narrow and steep road because of the continuous flow of taxis and motorbikes. The place offers a good view of the Valley- much better than the one from Swyambhunath Stupa. This, and the walk to reach there, seemed to be the reason why people go there. Not so much for the teachings of Buddha, I am afraid.
27/28 April: A hike up to Chitlang over the weekend. Passed through this village back in 5/6 May 2010 with Suraj on his motorbike.
The Maoists, still angry with President Yadav and Prime Minister Nepal almost a year after their exit from the government, had imposed an indefinite country-wide general strike with lofty aims of correcting the ‘regression’ and capturing Kathmandu (the Valley AND the Power Center). They had brought thousands of people in the Valley from different parts of Nepal (and, as we found out, Bihar). Some of these people, frustrated by the uncertainty that the ‘indefinite’ nature of the strike posed and mismanagement of the agitation program by the Maoist party, were fleeing Kathmandu. They were returning to their homes. They had to walk for as long as two days because no vehicles were plying on roads, thanks to the strike. We followed some of those people who were ‘escaping’ out of Kathmandu via Kulekhani/Bhimphedi. They were people with diverse backgrounds- reflective of the country itself. And most of them had pressing works to attend. Based on our conversation with them we filed a story for Kantipur. Here’s the report titled “गुराँस टिप्दै फर्किए आन्दोलनकारी“:
दिनेश वाग्ले/सुरज कुँवर पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
(Oct 22 note: Photos related to this post will be posted later this week.)
Ten minutes to the walk, I felt a pinch on my knee. Left side of the left knee.
It was 6:40 am. I was heading downhill to Kankri. I was told that the village was about 30 minutes of walk away. There was one brief moment of confusion when I couldn’t find the path that disappeared into the excess soil from the road work. I made a couple of jumps and found the path.
I felt another pinch on the same spot of left knee. I thought about yesterday’s walk. I could feel pain on calf. And on both legs. Thighs were hurting too. But this particular pinch, piercing, was different. Walking more is the way of cure for a calf or thigh pain. Muscles get used to with the process in a matter of hours. I wasn’t worried about that. But this pain had a needling effect.
And it started to grow as I continued to walk. Soon I was limping. It took me an hour and a half to cover the trail that others had said I would do in 30 minutes. I think I could have walked that distance in 45 minutes if my knee hadn’t let me down. Now I was dragging myself with great difficulty on the route stopping mainly to give the knee some rest and to take photos of two dense neighborhoods of Kankri village.
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. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
I woke up at 8 in the morning. Unusual in normal times. Unusual when I am traveling. When I am not traveling and staying home I wake up very late. Like around 9:30. When I am traveling I generally wake up very early, like 5:30 or 6 because of the pressure involved. It’s better to walk early in the morning before sun comes up to suck up your energy.
First day’s walk had been longer than it should have actually been. That had made me more tired.
So I woke up at 8 am even though the alarm bell on my cell phone had dutifully alerted me at 6:30 am. After having a cup of tea and a Tibetan bread I was ready to explore the valley. It was my plan to explore the Dhorpatan valley in the morning before resuming the walk for a few hours to reach a place called Nishel Dhor (or Nishi Dhor). As per the suggestion of the sahuji of the hutel, I took the shortcut to reach the other side of the valley. That meant avoiding the proper trail which has a bridge to cross the river and saving myself from walking about an hour just to reach the other side where offices of the hunting reserve and a Tibetan refugee settlement are located. Both are close to the airstrip under maintenance. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
Last Saturday we went for a hiking trip to Kakani and Shivapuri area. The team included me and two of my colleagues- Suraj Kunwar and Aashis Luitel. We began the overnight journey from Balaju on the rooftop of a bus that took us to a place a couple of kilometers away from Kakani. We got off there and walked for about half an hour to reach Kakani, a popular picnic destination for Kathmanduits.
Beautiful view of part of Kathmandu valley was hallmark of the evening. We stayed in a Nepal Scouts guest house attached to the Nagarjun-Shivapuri national park. In the morning (Sunday) we decided to take a walk- about 14 kilometers in total- that went mostly through the dense forest. We arrived at Jhor Mahankal village in the afternoon to catch a bus for the city. Here are photos from the trip. [Plus: हामी सबै यात्री]
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.