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 was a bumpy, and at times scary, ride on a Bolero early in the morning but that saved me a day’s walk to arrive in Musikot, the headquarter of Rukum district. As I ordered the food I took out the iPad from my bag and started browsing the Twitter app. A tweet by Kyle G Knight, a Kathmandu-based Fulbright fellow, attracted my attention. The tweet was an extract from a New York Times article with the link at the end: “with Apple’s resources, he could’ve revolutionized industry to manufacture devices more humanely, and chose not to: http://nyti.ms/pY0oeT” पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
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
(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.)
To the plains,
I traveled a distance of about 96 kilometers in the past 36 hours. Of those thirty-six hours, I spent almost 11 hours in Jeeps (four in total including a Hulas Mustang) AND a tractor with six wheels. Of those 11 hours 2 may have been spent taking breaks and waiting for the next jeep. This is a HIGHWAY that will, after its completion, connect many rural villages of hilly Nepal with each other, to district headquarters and, of course, to Kathmandu.
The road is still under construction and there are no bridges at many places which means passengers have to change jeeps whenever a major river comes (it’s the same river twice). And there are landslides at two points. Passengers have to walk for as long as four kilometers (half a hour or so) at such blockades so as to meet a waiting jeep. And if there is no jeep waiting, they have to wait for it. AND if there is no jeep at all (“one has just left and will come back only after 1.5 hrs and other one is broken”) you hop into a tractor and complete the journey. The tractor part, though not entirely new as I had seen people traveling in tractors in Karnali highway in 2007 when it was being constructed. I had willingly and for fun had tried that for a few minutes. Today it was not a matter of choice. It was compulsion. Well, may be not. I could have chosen to walk for two hours under the mid day fully bright sun. Like many of my jolly travel mates (that’s a separate story) I preferred a tractor ride over trekking. And it was so unique an experience for me that I was tempted to make (and successfully made, after several attempts) an international call to share the experience live. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
Long and mostly tiresome bus journeys.From THE valley to the almost plain to the lap of the giant hills where I always love to be in. This moment is on the 30th hours of the journey that has already seen many faces- many of them happy some sad and filled with frustration. A few of them had no expression at all. Or, it could be equally true that I was unable to read them or I failed to capture their facial expressions properly. But I could hear them. So many different ways of saying things. Quite a few new words though not dramatically different from what I was used to with.Some talks and chitchat were amazingly interesting and revealing. They exposed the mental status of the persons involved in those conversations. They also told who those persons were WITH regard to-this is very important- the complex social, economical and political structure that is the Nepali society. The trail wasn’t new to me as it was not the first time I had traveled on that part of the trail. But as soon as the sun set I ventured into the area where I had never been before. The hills are all too familiar because wherever one goes in Nepal at this altitude it’s all the same. You definitely don’t need fans which brings me to the tweets I posted a while ago.
This Dadeldhura looks more beautiful than the one I had seen in my first visit mote than a decade ago. The sight of dense jungle just below Tuphan Danda together with a glimpse of snow-capped mountain is inviting. And there are so many hills that are experiencing the last rays of the sun for the day as I am typing this. Times have changed. There was no mobile phone network here let alone the GPRS connection (which is frustratingly slow btw). The town, at this time of the day, was dusty as part of the road wasn’t blacktopped.
There are a few people in bazaar now as the town is in festive mood and peaceful. Many hotels are closed, luckily this one let me in though the guy apologized to tell me that they will not be serving food. The room is nice- attached bath, TV, two beds with large quilts AND great view. I think I’ll stay here tomorrow as well as buses won’t be plying on the day of Tika to take me to my next destination.