15th April 2005, KTM
The whole town is suffering from the New Year Eve hangover…I am back from a stroll and my mother tells me I have an urgent call from Anita, our writer. The New Year wish that I made yesterday is on its finishing line. Anita was invited to join a FAM trip to a newly opened trekking route in the Annapurna region but cannot make it. This evening, she was asking me if I could fill in for her. I said Lord, why not? And then she said I was to leave tomorrow, first thing in the morning. Off I went to tell my mother that I would be gone for a week.
16th April 2005, Lakeside, Pokhara
The journey greeted me with scorching heat and mundane turnings. Almost everyone went silent and sleepy after a few rounds of political guff, jokes and songs. After two hours, we stopped for breakfast. The journey continued and I don’t remember if we stopped for lunch. When I opened my eyes, we were an hour away from Pokhara, but what hit me was the time that it took for us to reach here. I so
hated it because what normally used to be a four to five hours drive extended to almost 7. Who’s to blame? I rid myself of my burden and was off to the Lakeside for a cool beer and breeze. The last thing I remember is chasing off mosquitoes and hoping to wake up with a light head.
17th April 2005, Nangidhar
After breakfast, our team of 40+ was off to Thumsikot, Ghumte Bazaar, Kaski our trekking getaway. And unlike yesterday, this was a three-hour pleasant and adventurous drive over bumpy roads offering us awesome sights and sounds. I did this journey sitting on top of the bus with my new found friends. The ride was indeed exhilarating as we caught a bird’s eye view of Begnas Lake and the other seven lakes of the region. Awesome!
From Thumsikot, we crossed the Madi Khola (there’s a song about this river) for Ghatebesi (750m) where I had a delicious lunch. The taste of the locally grown organic vegetables and chickens left me asking for more.
After lunch and a short nap, I realize I am left behind. I hurriedly seek directions and a local youth tells me to walk alongside Wardi Khola. I thank him and hurry off to catch Shankar. I knew I’d be able to catch up with him because I very well know the nature of photographers. (This route is only prescribed for the winter and dry seasons, it is not recommended during the monsoon). After 3 hrs of easy walking, I now faced a tough ascent to Nangidhar (1900m).
So far, the weather’s been benevolent, the mush greenery all around and the fresh air really giving me a feeling of euphoria. 15 minutes before Nangidhar, the villagers descended down and greeted us with a warm Namaste, flower garlands and crimson powder, a typical Nepali way of greeting guests. They led us to the village where a group of beautiful Gurung girls were patiently waiting to entertain us with their folk music and dance. The skyline looked so peaceful from here— Impossible to explain it in words. A cool breeze followed by rain revived my fatigued soul.
A local boy informed me about a nearby hill with remains of a 200-year-old Gurung settlement and a beautiful lake that could be reached after a short hike from Nangidhar. Also in Nangidhar, Aama Samuha (Mother’s Group) has been very active since 1994 and have been involved in collecting funds, which they utilize for infrastructure building, sanitation and cleaning the village etc. One Aama informed me that the funds were collected from the donations given by Army pensioners, cultural programs and relatives.
Dal-Bhat is as always delicious and during dinner I realize that our teams had split. A local informed me that the other group is off to Pakhrikot (1535m); a mere 15 minutes walk from Nangidhar. After dinner, I lost myself in the intricacies of the traditional dances like Krishnacharitra, Ghatu and Sorathi etc. (this particular dance is dying out as villagers are migrating to Pokhara and Kathmandu for better options), followed by local rakshi and well complemented by dohari. The Gurungs it seems love to sing and dance. Their vibrant culture and lifestyle is beautiful and untouched by modernization.
18th April, Pasgaun
Earlier this morning, we encountered a Maoist representative who said his name was Yamaraj. “On reaching Nangidhar, international tourists have to pay NRs. 100 per day as tax to Maoists and entry to US citizens is strictly prohibited,” informed Yamaraj in a make-believe press conference. He claims to be in charge of the two VDCs –Bajha & Mijure of Nangidhar. He apologized for the hardships caused by the conflict, thanked us for visiting Nangidhar and said it is a beautiful village and all tourists were welcome. We had breakfast with him.
The trekking, which started from Nangidhar this morning was a tough one. It started with several hours of straight walking with extreme heat but that was all forgotten when the trek passed through jungles and beautiful waterfalls where I had the opportunity to cool off. Then, a straight two-hour descent led us to Bagaicha, where we stopped for lunch.
After lunch was the toughest part of the journey. Locals tell me its their Mt. Everest, the steep ascent to Pasgaun. I decided to have a short nap before setting off and as expected when I woke up, I was the last man standing. The locals then advised me to take some water with me, as there’s a shortage of drinking water on the way and indeed, the intense heat, the weird humidity and scorching sunlight affected everyone. Slowly, I overtook everyone in the route and reached Pasgaun in a record 45 minutes. Even the villagers were astounded. Personally while on trek, ascending is one of my favorites and Pasgaun will be one of my most memorable climbs. Pasgaun is a beautiful Gurung village and a perfect example of community village life in Nepal. Compared to Nangidhar, ex-army men here have setup clubs and are inclined to cleanliness and health issues. They have a broader sense of handling tourists and their hospitality is excellent. The Aama Samuha here has also set up one telephone service and built a Gompa.
Before I went off to sleep, I was treated with local drinks, dance and dohari.
19th April 2005, Ghale Gaun
Today has been the worst trek of my life. It started with a boring descent followed by an ascent to Bhujung, where we stopped for lunch. It was almost five in the evening. I ate the half cooked rice like a hungry dog, as we had not eaten anything since morning and there were no teahouses of any sort. Actually, there was nothing to eat on the way. I remember telling a villager if I could get something to eat if I paid. She replied that she couldn’t eat the money. Must be the blockades. I realized if it wasn’t for the local thick chhyang (rice beer)that we indulged in, we’d not have had the energy or the mindset to even reach Bhujung. Talk about Ghale Gaun, (2016m) that’s still many hills away.
From Bhujung, I set forward earlier. It was an easy walk compared to what we had overcome this afternoon. Others quickly caught up with me. At one spot, we all sat down for a little rest and chhyang. We also met the porters who were traveling with us. They too were on this route for the first time and were complaining bitterly. With such a load on their backs, I can’t imagine how they made it till here. Sitting there and talking to the porters, I didn’t realize that my friends had left. I found myself in a mess again. We went round in circles, trying to find tracks. It was almost twilight and that was adding to the chaos. A porter decided to lead the way and we all followed. But instead of reaching Ghale Gaun as planned, we reach Ghanpokhara (2050m). We walked back to the spot where we had started. Directions all around, trails everywhere but the fact was that we were indeed lost. It was getting pitch dark and two torchlights in the distance came to our rescue. We learnt they were villagers from Ghanpokhara and they showed us the way to Ghale Gaun. Once there, I heard my name being called out in the distance. They had been looking for me. We lit up a bonfire; shared mutual silence thinking about the day’s tedious trek. It’s been a hard day. Tomorrow, we go downhill passing through dense forests to Khudi where after lunch we drive to Beshisahar. I don’t want to see the sunrise tomorrow, because I know I am not going to enjoy it (the day has been hectic) so I better enjoy my sleep.
20th April 2005, Besisahar
This is the starting point for the Annapurna Circuit and an easy shortcut to Ghale Gaun via Khudi. I remember being here a year back when I did the Annapurna Circuit. I am just lazy today. Some more beer, and more beer! I am going home and I sing.
21st April 2005, Kathmandu
It’s good to be back, grab a cool beer, get mistaken for a tourist on the streets of Thamel and finally back home to your den and snore at the comfort of a switched off alarm clock.
The festival had begun when we reached the venue, where a small assembly of fun and curious...