Apr 7, 2019

Numbur Cheese Circuit Trek : My most adventurous trek!


I might have a hard time answering if someone asks me which my best trek is so far. But if someone asks me what my most adventurous trek so far is, I will not have to think twice.

After having trekked a very popular and crowded trekking route the year before, in 2014 I was yearning for a more unknown and pristine trekking route. After a few Google searches, I stumbled upon Numbur Cheese Circuit, a newly opened trekking route. This relatively unheard of trekking route offered beautiful ponds at over 4000 meters of altitude, days of complete wilderness, exquisite views, a mountain pass of almost 5,000 meters high, and extreme proximity to the Numbur Himal. Needless to say, I was immediately hooked.

Impressed by my tales of travel adventures, my Sri Lankan friend Dhananath Fernando had also asked to join me on this year's trek. I was super excited at the prospect of having my foreign friend with me on my trek but I was also worried that this would be too tough a trek for a first timer.

"What the highest altitude you have been to, Dhana?", I asked with anticipation.

"I don't know. Maybe 2,400 meters", he replied. My heart sank. We would be reaching as high as 4,880 meters. I wondered if he would be able to make it and what I would do if he didn't. But days passed in the blink of an eye in the feverish excitement and the day for the commencement of the trek was in front of us. On 21st September, the day before the trek, all five of us (I, Govinda, Dhananath, Manish, & Anil) were discussing our final preparations when Ranjit happened to drop by our office. He was sad that he came to know of the trek at that moment only and was going to miss it.

"You're welcome to join us but we have already purchased our tickets and I don't think you can get a ticket at this last hour, especially since it's Dashain and people are queuing for days to get bus tickets," I said.

"So if I manage the tickets, I can join you guys, right?", Ranjit inquired.

"Why not?"

Day 1:  Kathmandu to Shivalaya (By Bus - 12 hours)

Ranjit failed to show up. So, the rest five of us boarded the bus for Shivalaya and departed at 7 am in the morning. I was excited about this bus ride because we would be passing through Jiri, a place I had always wanted to go but had never managed to because of one thing or the other. People call Jiri the Switzerland of Nepal. I was eager to see if it was true.

The journey turned out to be too long. It was already past noon when we reached Charikot, the headquarters of Dolakha district. Throughout the journey, Dhana and I talked about many things from the excitement regarding the trek to career plans. I told Dhana about Nepal, its customs and traditions and also mentally prepared him for the tough trek that was ahead of us. The discomfort of the bus seats was compensated by the ethereal scenery outside. The lush green fields on the hills, the meandering rivers of Koshi tributaries, the small traditional homes in the middle of the fields. Time passed sooner than we thought.

We reached Jiri at around 3 pm. The bus stopped for a refreshment break. I got out of the bus to look around. Oh boy, were they right! Jiri is exquisite. We drank local tea and clicked dozens of photographs. Dhana noted that the hills around us were much higher compared to the hills in Sri Lanka.

As we were about to board our bus after half an hour to resume our journey. We saw someone familiar. Lo and behold! It was our very own Ranjit. He had managed to get tickets for another bus. He had informed Govinda about it. One more friend in the team, that too a professional photographer. My excitement knew no bounds.

The road beyond Jiri was horrible though. It was a mud track until Shivalaya itself. The bus moves at a snail's pace and wobbled continuously. I have come to enjoy such wobbly bus journeys though.

We reached Shivalaya at around 7 pm. We got out of the bus. Ranjit was already there and joined us as we reached. It was already dark but still, we decided to walk for a while and go further before calling it a day. Asking around, we found out that we could reach a village called Kharanitar in about an hour. Staying there, we could have a head start tomorrow. So we decided to move. But we were famished. So, we decided to empty the stock of chowmein a small eatery in Shivalaya. The owner, an old lady, was quite happy to serve us but I wished she wasn't so eager to get rid of her stock of chili powder along with the chowmein. With our mouths burning, we armed ourselves with a bottle of water each and started walking. Despite the darkness, the walk was a pleasant one. We passed through small waterfalls on the way and the moon was shining brightly giving the sleepy villages a serene aura.

On reaching Kharanitar, we knocked a few doors before we were finally accepted into one. It was not a proper lodge but was good enough to serve our purpose.

Photo by: Mark Jack Johnson (Wikitravel)

Day 2: Kharanitar to Pani Pakha (3108 meters) 

The next morning we woke up to a lovely sight and sound of it raining over the valley. Peering out of the door, I saw the valley looked so beautiful. It was raining heavily and I could see the drenched traditional houses spewing blue smoke from their chimneys. As much as I loved the rain, I wished it would stop soon. Otherwise, our head start would go down the drain. As we finished our traditional breakfast of boiled egg, tea, and bhuteko makai, the rain came to a halt. I peered out once again. Oh my-my, the valley looked even more beautiful. All the houses looked fresh and crisp with mist rising from them.

At 8 am, we departed. On our way, we bought improvised plastic rain covers for each of us as rain is quite unpredictable in the mountains. We followed a trail alongside a rivulet towards the hills. We crossed paths with lots of school children in their bright sky blue shirts and navy blue pants. Walking for about two hours, we reached the Khahare village. We stopped at the last house of the settlement and inquired to see if we could get food there. An elderly Sherpini (Sherpa lady) welcomed us. She served us Tibetan tea and asked us to wait for an hour as she prepared dal bhat for us. We decided the time would be well-spent fighting with our despicable, blood-sucking enemies and taking a few photographs.

With the increase in elevation and moistness due to the rain, the menace of leeches had started. They were everywhere. Quite familiar to most of us. But for someone like Dhana who was encountering them for the first time, they were both sources of amusement and panic.

The food was okay. A bit bland for our taste but that was expected. On Anil's inquiry, Sherpini didi managed to find us local ghee which, in my view, always make the dal bhat better no matter what. Joining us for lunch was Rabin, a 12-year-old kid. Rabin seemed famished probably because of all the running and climbing while shepherding his goats. Wearing shabby clothes with large, protruding dirty fingernails, an unkempt hair, and yellow teeth, Rabin's only saving grace was his bright smile and curious eyes.

I asked Rabin why was he not going to school. His answer made me incredibly sad and restless. Rabin said he used to go to school but he didn't enjoy classes. So he used to flunk his classes a lot. Tired of this, his parents decided to take him off the school and bestowed him the stewardship of the goats and the buffalo. His uneducated and dark future ahead made my head spin with sadness and helplessness. Sadder is the fact that Rabin is just one of the representatives of hundreds of thousands of school children who drop out midway in this country. All I could do was offer Rabin a gift, a packet of instant noodles.

After lunch, we started walking uphill. We crossed a trail-bridge, passed a temple on the side of the river, and reached a steep trail that seemed to go almost vertically upwards. We had planned to reach Mane Danda by nightfall but our pace was too slow to even reach Pani Pakha that evening. We were too tired already but the trail kept getting steeper and steeper. It was also raining lightly.

Moreover, the number of leeches had increased drastically. They were everywhere. I was so tired and out of my breath that I stopped caring. I could see a few of them inching up towards my hand on my walking stick. But all I could do was watch helplessly, hoping they would fall down before reaching my hand. I was too tired to shake them off my walking stick. And the rain was not helping at all. Anil, the energetic was a few meters ahead of us. Govinda and Ranjit were behind him taking pictures and walking slowing but steadily. Manish, Dhana, and I were the laggards who needed to be waited for every 15-20 minutes.

At times like these, I feel kind of sadistic pleasure. I was tired as hell. Leeches were attacking me here and there. And yet, I somehow tend to enjoy these moments a lot even if not at real time. I always look back at these moments fondly.

For Dhana, it must have been a shock to have to walk so much with so much load on the back with entertaining the leeches on the very first day. He also did not harbor any penchant for masochistic endeavors. He walked silently at the end of the queue.

As the day passed on and our energies drained on, our pace became slower. Even Anil was walking at a snail's pace now. The trail seemed to be endless and meandered through the hill. We were so eager to reach our destination. But whenever we took a minute's break and look back at the valley we had left behind, a feeling of pride warmed our heart. We could see the beautiful valley of Kharanitar far away reminding us how far we had come.

I shouted with joy at around 6 pm when Anil announced that we had reached Pani Pakha, our shelter for the night. What a relief it was.

At Pani Pakha, we found two sheds on either side of the trail. A woman and her three children along with their cattle were living in one of the sheds. We occupied the other empty shed. The joy of finding the shelter filled us with enough energy to clean out the shed and set up our tents. The roof of the shed was leaky. Therefore, we had to make special arrangements to stop the leak. We set up our tents, drank coffee, ate some biscuits and Satu and promptly went to the bed for a blissful sleep. We were too tired to cook anything or chat with each other.

Day 3: Pani Pakha (3108 meters) to Mane Danda (39400 meters) to the rock

The next morning I woke up at around 6 am. Definitely not the usual me! But I had slept too early yesterday. Some of our gang's early risers were already up. Anil with his boundless energy needed to be doing something. Therefore, he started preparing coffee for all of us. The remaining team also rose one by one and took turns to complete their daily ablutions.

Manish and I helped pack the tents. I teased Dhana if he still wanted to keep going. He laughed and said he was totally ready to keep going. We ate our breakfast of coffee and Satu along with some army biscuits and at around 8, we left Pani Pakha with the aim of reaching Panch Pokhari by the nightfall.

Before we go further, let me tell you how I had prepared the schedule for this trek. Well, it's the way I usually do. Search for a normal, "tourist" itinerary for a route and then divide it by half. That is, allocate one day for two days of "tourist" itinerary. So far it has worked very well for us. Normally, tourists either walk too slow or walk for just a few hours and call it a day. So, we Nepalese can easily cover two days of their itinerary in one day.

While preparing this trek itinerary too, I divided the itinerary given in tourist maps by two. But turns out, the itinerary provided by the maps were greatly underestimated. This route being a newly opened route, the map makers must not have enough data to prepare the itineraries. So they must have asked the locals. The locals, as we all know, run through these easily even when they are walking. So they must have told their timings. The mapmakers must have doubled the times to adjust for the tourists. But, it turned out they should have multiplied the timings at least three-fold.

As a result of this miscalculation, we reached Mane Danda by 4 pm only although as per our schedule we were supposed to reach there by 1 pm. The trail was too steep and it rained the whole day causing us to walk very slowly. When we reached the shelter at Mane Danda, a desolate hilltop with just two small sheds and big rocks, at 4 pm, we were in dilemma. Should we call it a day (and lose a day in our schedule) or keep going (risking our prospects of finding a proper shelter and increasing the risk of getting lost in the middle of nowhere)?

The adventurous spirits we were, we unanimously chose to keep going. We wanted to reach Panch Pokhari anyhow that day. We thought that the daylight would light for at least another 2 hours. Then we could use torch lights and walk for another 2-3 hours and reach Panch Pokhari.

The trail descended for a while and then started going uphill. We walked for another two hours. The drizzle grew into a downpour but we kept walking. Soon the darkness descended upon us. We turned on our torch lights and kept walking. With the heavy rain and pitch darkness, our pace was reduced to almost a crawl.

But the trail showed no sign of ending and Panch Pokhari was nowhere to be seen. We started getting worried now. We were soaking wet in heavy rain with occasional lightning and we had no shelter and no idea how far it was. We had already left the last human settlement and we knew there would no further human settlement for at least another 3 days. I, personally, was scared, very scared. How are we going to survive this heavy rain, lightning, cold and wild animals?, I wondered. Rest of the team was also exhausted, scared and worried. There was hardly a single piece of dry cloth on our bodies or our bags despite using umbrellas and raincoats. And we were using the last drops of our energies to take a step forward.

I was worried about Dhana the most. This was one of the most arduous hikes for me till date. I wondered how Dhana, who was in the mountains for the first time, was taking it. He must be tired like hell. But being the wonderful person Dhana is, he did not show his tiredness or any bitterness. Instead, to my pleasant surprise, he began cheering us! "Come on guys! Move! Move!", he shouted at regular intervals. Everyone laughed on hearing his cheering and took a few more steps. A while later, the rest of us also joined him in the chorus.

But the trail seemed to never end. We were drenched and exhausted. Our torch lights were about to give up. If our torch lights failed, we could neither move ahead nor go back. We would be at the mercy of the endless rain and the cold night.

All of a sudden, Anil shouted that we have found a huge rock. It was large enough to provide shelter from the rain. If we could sit under it, we would be safe from the rain. But the rock was not large enough for us to sit comfortably. So all the six of us squatted under the rock and tried to find a piece of dry cloth and wrap ourselves with to stop the cold and shivering. After settling down, we sat there and waited for the night to pass, for the rain to stop, for the wind to stop, for the dawn to come sooner. We sat very close together to warm up our bodies and stop our hands and feet from freezing with partial success. We had a portable stove and some coffee but no one was willing to come out of whatever little warmth they had. After much cajoling, finally, Ranjit relented and prepared coffee. We collected the rain dripping from the rock for the water to prepare coffee with. We drank coffee as if we were drinking juice and waited for the dawn. I think that was the most delicious coffee I had till date.

We were so exhausted that we managed to catch some sleep even in that setting. I slept for an hour or so. Rest of the time, we made jokes and planned for the rest of the trek to spend the time. At around 4 am, the dawn began breaking and the rays of sun peeped from the mountain tops. The starry sky, the rays of sun peeping from the silhouette of the majestic mountain. What an ethereal sight it was! One of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. All the last night's trouble was totally worth it.

Day 4: The Rock to Panch Pokhari (4607 meters)

The next day arrived with relief  for us. The sun shone brightly and the sky was clear. No more walking in the drizzle. We got up and looked around. The rock we had slept under was pretty much the only big enough rock to shelter 6 people and we were lucky to have found it. I looked around to see what kind of trail we had been walking on. Oh, my-my, what a pretty sight it was. The slopes were full of colorful vegetation with different kinds of flowers and shrubs. So we were basically walking in paradise. All the tiredness, all the fatigue disappeared. We made one more round of coffee, ate some more satu and started preparing for another day of adventure.


But the another of adventure was not for every one of us. Anil had caught a fever and yesterday's arduous journey was too much for him. He said he did not want to go further and instead wanted to return home. Every one of us was shocked and sad to hear this. We did not want Anil to go back. I was also surprised that Anil who seemed to be the most energetic of us was the first one to give up. We asked Anil to reconsider his decision but he had made up his mind. So we said our goodbyes and parted our ways.

The five of us continued our journey uphill. The sight was too beautiful to ignore. We took dozens of photographs. After walking for half an hour, we reached an extremely beautiful, picturesque place. And lo and behold, we could also see a lake in the distance. If only Anil had come with us for 30 minutes more, I lamented.

Photo by: Mark Jack Johnson (Wikivoyage)
But the place was too picturesque to be sad and mournful. I had to climb up a few rocks and pose for a dozen or so photographs. Ranjit and Govinda, being the true photographers they were, were only too happy to take lots of pictures for us. I was happy to see Dhana as jovial and energetic as always. Good for him, I thought.

Walking for an hour more, we reached Jata Pokhari. What a pristine lake it was! Its calm and serene waters seemed to have been formed just a moment before and the lake seemed to never have been touched by any human. I jumped with joy and roamed around the briskly. What a wonderful sight it was.

After we had enough of Jata Pokhari, we resumed our trek to Panch Pokhari which was just beyond a tall cliff nearby but the steep trail took us about two hours to traverse.



Laying my eyes on Panch Pokhari for the first time was like a dream. Perhaps also because I was sleep deprived. It looked so serene and looked like a saint contemplating life. A mist was rising from the lake and only half of the ponds were visible because of the mist. I threw down my bag and my walking stick and just sat there to savor the beauty and serenity of the ponds. I told the guys that we were going to rest for a while before walking to the other side of the lake where we would be setting up our tents for the night.

So I just sat there looking at the lake. I do not know when I fell asleep. Imagine sleeping on the grass beside a serene lake with a soft breeze blowing over. Such a blissful sleep it was. It is for moments like this, I yearn to go on treks. When I woke up after about two hours, I noticed that Dhana was also sleeping beside me. Govinda and Ranjit were off searching for a good location to set up our tents and also to click pictures. Manish was also roaming around listening to music. I felt delighted to see everyone enjoying the moment. We decided to try the Sri Lankan alcohol Dhana had brought him. Arrak, it was called. It was quite strong. We all had a peg each.

After enjoying our time for about three hours beside the lake, we resumed our journey. Govinda and Ranjit informed us that they had found a perfect place for setting up our tents. Under their guidance, we walked up to the ridge of the hill overlooking the ponds and set up our tents there. It was indeed a perfect spot. We could see the Numbur mountain on one side and the ponds on the other.



We set up the two tents side by side beside a large rock taking shelter from the wind. Govinda and Ranjit slept on one and Dhana, Manish, and I slept on the another. We were too tired to cook anything, even coffee. So we just drank water and ate some chocolates and biscuits and went to sleep. We were too tired to pass anything between the tents too. So we ate whatever was available in each other's bags. Moreover, with the nightfall, it was getting too cold outside. To have an early start tomorrow and to compensate for last night sleep deprivation, we went to sleep at around 6 pm.

Day 5: Panch Pokhari (4607 meters) to Tare Kharka (4140 meters)

On the morning of the fifth day, we woke to a pleasant surprise. It has snowed in the night. Our tents were covered with a thin layer of snow. The moisture seemed to have accentuated the color of our tents. They looked beautiful on the backdrop of distant mountains. We hurried to take dozens of photographs before the snow melted. 



Then, we also noticed Panch Pokhari down below. It looked different, more beautiful. As the mist had cleared, we could see all the five ponds clearly. We took turns to stand on a rock posing for a photograph overlooking Panch Pokhari. Dhana, Manish, and I could never have enough photographs of ourselves and Govinda and Ranjit were very happy to oblige. 

After about an hour of photo sessions, we packed our tents. Ate the same breakfast as the day before and the day before that. Then, we started walking downhill. In just a few minutes after we started walking, the mist expanded and covered the whole trail. Our visibility got constrained to a mere few feet. Additionally, the trail being trodden so little was hard to distinguish. But we kept walking in enjoyment.

After walking downhill for about 3 hours, we reach a small hut beside a fast flowing river. The hut looked so beautiful. It reminded me of the watercolor box I used to own when I was in kindergarten. It was red in color and had the picture of a girl drawing something sitting beside a small hut beside a river. I used to think that the place was for real and had promised myself to go there when I grew up. I guess it was the day I fulfilled that childhood dream.

Sitting beside the hut, we ate our lunch. We had some apples, chocolates, beaten rice and dalmoth. Someone had also brought gundruk with them. Oh boy, I love eating gundruk and beaten rice. We had a feast.

We resumed our journey downhill. The trail and the surroundings were as desolate as ever. Soon we were passing through shrubs as tall as us. We descended further and then continued upstream alongside another river. The river was so fierce that we had to shout to be heard.

Walking for about two hours we reached a makeshift bridge. The trail seemed to bifurcate at this point. Should we continue straight or cross the bridge? There was no signs or indications at all. And we were days away from any human settlement to ask the locals?

"What the hell? Is this how the Nepal Tourism Board wants to promote this new route? They can't even put up a simple road sign. And they expect to develop this trail as a tourism destination.", I thought angrily. The tiredness added to my anger. I was livid. Nepal Tourism Board must surely have gobbled up the money allocated for the development of the trail. I blurted out a stream of expletives at Nepal Tourism Board. I rarely swear. This was definitely not me. All of the team members were surprised to see me this livid.

We discussed for about 15 minutes. We tried to logically determine the right path to take.
"This looks like a makeshift bridge so we should not cross it and go straight ahead instead."
"But why would they make a bridge at this point if we were not supposed to cross it?"

 I was annoyed that we were having to waste our precious time on such frivolous matter. We might have to stay under a rock again, I worried. Finally, we decided that the safest choice would be to continue straight ahead and ignore the bridge.

So, we continued for another 2-3 hours on the trail along the river. Then, another bridge appeared. But this time, the bridge seemed permanent and the trail passed through it. So, we went along and crossed it. We climbed a hillock. The dusk was upon us and we were super tired by now. We were looking for a plain ground to set up our tent and call it a day.

As we crossed the hillock, we saw a valley, the kind of valley that is formed by a glacier. And .. there were three small houses there which looked so picturesque. Oh, my-my what a beautiful sight. We had found our destination for the day.

As we walked for another 30 minutes and reached the houses, we noticed that the place was called Tare Kharka and it was our destination for the day as per our schedule. Thankfully, the Nepal Tourism Board has installed a small sign with the name.

All the houses were empty. Some of them were in disrepair. They were temporary shelters for shepherds when they brought their cattle up here during the summer season. Now, with the start of the autumn season, the shepherds had moved down to their villages with their cattle.

We looked into each of the houses to find the best one. The one we chose had lots of hay inside. That would make warm and soft beds for us. And beside the house, there was a small creek where we could fetch water from. We set up our tents inside the house over the hay. To make a fire, we collected firewood from around the place. We also took a few pieces of woods from the roof of a house that was in disrepair. Sorry shepherds!!

So, we made a fire inside the house outside. Govinda and Ranjit set up the tents. We fetched water from the creek. Then, we made coffee, cooked some instant noodles, and enjoyed a feast of coffee, noodles, and fruits. Before going to sleep, I went outside to wash the dishes with Manish. I looked up at the clear night sky. The sky was glittering with millions of stars. The sight was so beautiful that I sat outside for a while looking at the sky. A kind of sadness passed over me. The grandness of the universe and the permanency of its existence compared to mine brought a kind of existential sadness. But then, I was happy that I was alive to see this majestic sight and to be a part of this wonderful universe no matter how insignificant my existence was.

I went to a blissful sleep trying to savor every bit of the beautiful moment.

Day 6: Tare Kharka (4140 meters) to Ngeju (3690 meters) via Gyazo-la Pass (4880meters)

On the sixth day also, we woke up to a beautiful sight, although much different than previous days. The small valley of Tare Kharka was covered in the mist. Ranjit started preparing coffee on our small portable stove.  I was so glad that he made it to the trek. Govinda was out taking photographs. Dhana was also outside marveling at the pristine natural beauty around him. Meanwhile, Manish and I were still inside our tents coming up with excuses one after another to keep sleeping for a few more minutes. We finally forced ourselves to come out when the coffee was ready.

We drank our coffee, ate some Satu, and biscuits and packed up our bags to move for the day. We came out of the hut and started on our path. But we had to stop just after a few minutes of walking. The trail was not clear. In fact, one could argue there was no trail at all. We direction should we take, we debated. Should we walk towards the origin of the glacier or take the steep path towards the nearby summit of the hill.

My fury which has subsided on finding our shelter yesterday evening returned. I blurted out a snowball of expletives at the Nepal Tourism Board. When they gobble up millions of taxpayers' money, they couldn't put up one single sign indicating the right direction?

We finally settled on the steep path towards the summit of the hill. We started walking towards the summit. Well, it was more like we were climbing towards the summit. The path grew vaguer every passing minute but we kept pushing on. Soon, we found ourselves climbing over large rocks surrounded by red shrubs that looked like fern plants. The rocks were quite slippery due to mosses on them. At one point, I slipped and fell on the rock abruptly on my butt. Ouch, it was quite painful.

After climbing this way for about two hours, we were pretty sure that we were lost, we had taken the wrong way. The correct way was towards the origin of the glacier. We couldn't turn back to Tare Kharka. That would waste another two hours jeopardizing our schedule for the day. So we decided to walk along the slope in the correct direction hoping to cross the right trail. We did so after walking for another two hours.

From the origin of the glacier, we started climbing uphill. The trail here too was barely visible but there were piles of small stones set up by human beings every few feet directing us in the right direction. We slowly climbed up the hill. I was leading the pack, for a change. Probably, the first time in the trek so far.

A cool breeze was blowing drying away our sweat. The Numbur mountain was growing in size as we came nearer to the pass. At around 2 pm, we reached the Gyazo-la pass, the highest point on the trek. The pass had an amazing view of the Numbur mountain and the adjoining mountain range. There were several cairns on the flat surface at the pass. Once everyone arrived, we sat down on the cairn and rested. I sat on one of the cairns and closed my eyes savoring the moment, the cool breeze, the complete silence except the whispering of the wind. I opened my eyes to see the majestic Numbur mountain in front of me. It seemed so near as if I could extend my hand and touch it. The cool breeze felt as if it had come directly from the Numbur mountain. What an ethereal moment it was.

Having conquered the highest point of the journey, I proposed we celebrate it. Everyone jumped with joy and Govinda tried to capture a photograph with all of us on air. Then, I proposed that we eat the most delicious food we had with us, the spicy, dried fish. Who could say no to that? Well, except Manish, of course, who at the time was a strict vegan. You could even call him a vegan evangelist for the fervor with which he advocated for veganism.

After spending about an hour at the pass, we resumed our journey which now included walking downhill along a green slope. Opposite the slope we could see the rocky mountains, the view was so amazing that I am at loss of words to fully explain what it looked like. The mountain was made up of huge black rocks. On its bottom was what looked like a river of small rocks and stones. It was as if a river of rocks originated from this mountain and flowed down. I guess it's called a moraine. I stood for several minutes trying to capture the view into my memory. It was one of the most unique and majestic sights I had ever seen. Unfortunately, our camera batteries had died. So, I tried my best to capture the image in my memory. I wish we had taken some more batteries.

As we walked down for another two hours, the darkness began to descend on us. It started raining lightly. We increased our pace. We had to reach Ngeju by nightfall. After descending on a slope continuously, we suddenly reached a plain, sort of a plateau. The place seemed to have houses in the past, we could see the remnants of walls, and piles of firewood. But it was abandoned now. There we saw two trails again- a horizontal one and a vertical one. We chose to go with the vertical one towards the bottom of the hill. It was getting darker very fast so we quickened our pace.

After descending for another 30 minutes, by when it was completely dark, we took out our torch lights and kept moving. Far across, on a distant mountain, we could see a lake that seemed to be shining. It was like a round piece of glimmering light in the middle of total darkness. A river originated from that lake and was rushing downhill making fierce noise. The image of that lake still haunts me to this day. It's as if that lake is calling me.



It was almost eight in the evening when we reached the bottom of the hill to a river bank. According to our map, this was supposed to be Ngeju and there were supposed to be rest houses here. But all we could find was a fierce river and a stony bank. There was not even a plain surface enough to put a tent, let alone a rest house.

Should we cross the river and go further to see if there is a rest house? We debated. Although Govinda and Ranjit wanted to go and check, the rest of us were too tired to join. So, all of us decided to remove the stones and clear an area enough for two tents and spend the night there. Despite our efforts, we could not find a plain area that could accommodate the two tents. So we set up the tents on the best surface we could find. Well, I ended up sleeping in a tilted position.

Day 7: Ngeju (3690 meters) to Kyama (2380 meters) via Lahachhewar (2665 meters)
On the seventh day, we woke to the melodic sounds of the river. We quickly packed up our tents and started on our way. We wanted to cross the river and find a plain surface and a source of fresh water to perform our daily chores.

Photo by: vanofbrothers.exposure.co

We crossed a makeshift bridge of bamboo and wood to get to the other side of the river. After walking for about ten minutes on the other side of the river, we reached...wait for it... a few rest houses. This seemed to be the real Ngeju!

We laughed at our silliness, rested for a while, drank coffee along with some biscuits and resumed our trek. We wanted to reach Lahachhewar, a beautiful Sherpa village for our lunch. After four days of complete wilderness, we were finally going back to human civilization.

The trail passed through a deep forest. The fatigue of the past four days must have caught on, I was really tired at this point even though I had just walked for an hour for the day. I walked slowly making an effort to take an additional step. Dhana was equally tired. But the view was amazing. We were descending along with another river.

After walking for about two hours, in the middle of the forest, we found a small hut. Upon inquiring, we found that a shepherd family was living there. We asked if we could get tea. They were happy to serve us tea. The family was one of the families that lived there during the summer to look after their cattle. The forest provided a good pasture for the cattle during summer. In winter they went to their home in Lahachhewar village. The guy was making chhurpi from yak milk. After nice chitchat over tea and noodles, we bid them goodbye and continued on our journey.

We reached Lahachhewar at around 1 pm. Well, that's when I reached there. The rest of the team had reached there by noon and had been waiting for me. When I didn't show up almost an hour, they had been thinking of coming back to get me.

The village of Lahachhewar was incredibly beautiful. Govinda had asked around to find out a house that would cook dal bhat for us. While the food was being cooked, I took a nap. I was too tired. The others asked the host to boil potatoes for us and ate them with the pickle (ground paste of red chilies and salt).

It was already 3 pm when we were ready to resume our journey. The host suggested to us that perhaps we should spend the night in Lahachhewar. We politely declined the proposal and resumed our trek. For us, who walked until 9 or 10 pm, 3 pm was too early to call it a day.

We descended the village through the stone trail and walked along the river once again. It was completely dark by the time we reached another village. The villagers had seemed to have gone to sleep already. We asked them if this was Kyama village. They said no. We asked how far it was. They said we had to walk another 30 minutes maybe.

Turned out we had to walk almost an hour. By the time we reached Kyama, it was almost 8 pm. The village has gone to sleep already. We knocked on the doors of one of the houses to see if they could take us in for the night. The guy was reluctant to host us. But he called a fellow villager and told him that we were looking for a shelter for the night. The other guy said he would host us. Great! There was just one problem- this guy looked drunk and the way he talked and acted we suspected he was mentally challenged.

Well, we had no choice. Therefore, we started following him. His house seemed to be on the other end of the village. We followed him with skepticism, keeping our distance. I was ahead of the pack.

After walking for about ten minutes, he abruptly stopped. There were no houses around. My skepticism meter went off the charts. I stopped clutching my walking stick tightly ready to wield it as a weapon if required. My silliness was evident the very next moment when the guy started peeing on the roadside. Relieved and laughing at my silliness, I too took a leak.

We walked for about another 30 minutes before we left the main trail and entered a narrower trail on the borders of the fields. The path was quite slippery, probably because of the drizzle about an hour earlier. I was walking at the end of the line now. Two of our team members slipped and fell down. I think it was Govinda and Manish. I laughed at them heartily. Dhana and Ranjit also joined me. Then, just a few steps more and I also slipped and fell down. All of them were laughing at me this time.

Anyway, we reached the guy's house in another 10 minutes. He arranged beds for us. His wife had gone to her parent's house taking along their children, probably for the Dashain holidays. Therefore, he didn't have difficulty arranging beds for all the five of us. We went to bed at around 10 pm. I was so tired that I fell asleep the moment I lied down and closed my eyes.

Day 8: Kyama (2380 meters) to Shivalaya (1790 meters) via Serding (3360 meters)

We were aiming to reach Shivalaya today. Therefore, during breakfast, we tried to finish whatever food we had left with us. We gave some of the remaining food to the guy. At around 8 am, we started our trek for the day. We walked through the beautiful Kyama village and then through a forest for an hour or so before reaching another village Gumdel.

We stopped at one shop to have lunch. We drank a bottle of beer each and resumed our walk. Walking through rural villages was pleasant but nothing compared to the past few days. We stopped and rested for a while at a beautiful monastery in Gumdel village. Then, we followed the trail through a dense forest.

Photo by: Mark Jack Johnson (Wikitravel)

People we met along the way seemed particularly interested to talk to us. They were curious why we were here and that too, during the greatest festival in the country. We tried our best to keep our answers and interactions short. And for the most part, we succeeded. Then, we met one guy who was so chatty and unavoidable that we had to talk to him for 30 minutes before he let us resume our journey. Most of the people we met were doubtful that we would make to Shivalaya by nightfall. We, however, were determined to reach there anyhow.

At around 5 pm, we reached a beautiful settlement on the top of a hill called Serding. There was a beautiful green pasture where cattle were grazing. Surrounded by elevated landmass on all sides full of trees, this green pasture seemed like an oasis. There were a few houses with smoke coming out of them. We went to one of them to find out that it was a small eatery. We drank tea, asked how long would it take us to get to Shivalaya and the directions to there and resumed our trek. I missed our camera once again.

The guys at Serding told us that it would take us around 2.5 hours to reach Shivalaya even if we walked slowly. But pretty soon, night descended on us and it grew quite dark. We were unable to find the trail they had advised us to take. We turned on our torch lights and took whichever path we could discern. As a rule of thumb, we took only the path that led downhill. We were supposed to reach Shivalaya by around 8 pm but it was already 11 pm when we actually reached there. The trek from Serding to Shivalaya was the toughest stretch of the trek for me in my life. There were more than a dozen moments where I felt like giving up and just sitting there whatever happens. But when we reach Shivalaya after walking for five hours, completely exhausted, I knew I could do, I could tolerate more than I thought I could.

Reaching Shivalaya was a triumph for us. All of us were not only completely exhausted, but our feet were swollen too. We decided to celebrate the triumph. We asked the hotel owner to cook local chicken for us. Oh boy, the food was too delicious and special. Well, except for Manish whom the local chicken didn't make a difference. But he enjoyed the celebration equally. After eating like a starved person, I went to bed and fell asleep immediately. The trek had come to an end and it felt like a triumph more than any treks I had been in the past.

Day 9: Shivalaya (1790 meters) to Kathmandu (1400 meters)

We took an early morning bus to Kathmandu. We slept through most of the way and didn't talk to each other that much as we were exhausted. One thing, however, was bothering me a lot. I was sure that Dhana, once he goes back to his country, would never speak to me again. He has asked me to take him on a trek (a pleasant, easy one I guess) and I seemed to have taken him through an ordeal. I surely lost this friendship I kept thinking.

We arrived at Kathmandu in the evening. The next day Dhana and I went to Thamel to return the tents and stove we had rented. We didn't talk much except the usual banter. The next day Dhana flew back home whereas I looked forward to resting away my exhaustion and to a wonderful Dashain festival.

Epilogue

About a week after Dhana's departure, I received a message from him. Contrary to my apprehension,  he had thoroughly enjoyed the arduous journey and the ordeal. He said he was grateful to me for taking him along in this journey because he not only enjoyed it but also came to know a more persevering side of his personality that he didn't know existed. He said he felt he had personally grown after the trek. He inquired when the next trek will be taking place.

Well, what more could I ask for!




Some Useful Information:

Total Cost of the Trek: Rs. 13000 per person
Total Days Taken: 9 Days
Need to Carry Tents? Yes
Need to Carry Sleeping Bags? Yes

Things to Carry:

1. Warm clothes (2-3 pairs, a wind cheater is also recommended)
2. Comfortable and sturdy trekking shoes
3. Raincoat/umbrella
4. Torch Light (Of good quality) + a few lighters + head light (can be purchased in thamel)
5. First aid (basic medicines) plus if you have any medical condition specific medicines
6. Sleeping Bag (Optional)
7. A DSLR with lots of batteries
8. A Swiss knife (Optional)
9. A map (Can be purchased in Thamel)
10. Walking stick ( Optional)
11. 4-5 pairs of socks ( the more the better)
12. Water bottle +Sun-cream +sunglasses (optional) + Toiletries like tooth-brush, paste, soaps, shampoos
13. Watch (To keep track of time in absence of cellphone)

Note: All photos, unless otherwise mentioned, were taken by Govinda Siwakoti.

Sep 29, 2017

How to trek to Shey Phoksundo Lake by land?

Since 2015, I had been planning to go on a trek to Shey Phoksundo, but one thing or the other was preventing me from doing it. This year, I finally managed to go on a trek to Shey Phoksundo Lake. Normally, the trekkers fly up to Juphal airport from Nepalgunj and start the trek. I, however, didn't want to fly. I wanted to reach Shey Phoksundo Lake by land. But the information was hard to come by since the majority of the people take the flight option. Therefore, I did some research, asked local people of Dolpa and the neighboring districts for information and figure out a more rewarding route to the lake. I did take a flight on the way back though as I did not want to walk the same route again. Me and six of my friends departed for the lake on 17th September and returned home on 27th September (11 days). Following is our itinerary. I hope this information will be useful for anyone wishing to trek to Shey Phoksundo by land.

Day 1: Depart from Kathmandu for Musikot, Rukum by bus

We took a night bus to Musikot, Rukum from the Gongabu Buspark. It is necessary to book the
tickets at least a day earlier or else you won't get seats. The bus departed at 1 pm, and the fare cost us Rs. 1,500 per person. The seats were comfortable enough, but the ride was too long (~23 hours). Therefore, you should make sure that the seats are comfortable and the bus has an AC.

During this travel, for the first time in my life, I saw a driver who could drive for 24 straight hours. And guess what, he looked fresher than us at the end of the journey and he drove very very cautiously. When we stopped for breakfast, he told us that 24 hours of driving was not even his record. His record is a straight 36 hours drive from Biratnagar to Rukum. God bless him!


Day 2: Musikot to Aathbiskot/Radi by Jeep

Shey Phoksundo Lake
We reached Musikot at around noon. Musikot is the headquarters of Rukum district and is a small
settlement atop a hill. We had our lunch in one of the several eateries present there. The food was decent, but we wasted a lot of time waiting for the food to be prepared. We should have grabbed an instant food item. We almost missed the vehicle to Aathbiskot/Radi. 2-3 Jeeps go to Aathbiskot from Musikot every day, but all of them leave before 1 pm. Luckily, we were seven people in our group, and we almost filled a Jeep. Therefore, an extra Jeep left for Aathbiskot that day. Else we would have to wait until the next morning for a ride. If you have fewer people in the group, I recommend you to get the vehicle first and then look for food. The local apples and bananas were incredibly delicious.

The road to Aathbiskot is very rough, but the scenery is amazing. We reached Aathbiskot at around 7 pm. We stayed in a teahouse near the vehicle stand.

Day 3: Aathbiskot - Khagenkot - Tallu - Tribeni - Khadang by Jeep

We had to walk for about 15 minutes from Aathbiskot to reach Khagenkot where we found a Jeep that took us up to Tallu. The ride was about 3 hours long. The road is slightly better than the previous one but rough nonetheless. We made a good decision of having a heavy breakfast before leaving.

Photo by: Anmol Bajracharya
On the way, we found a very beautiful waterfall. It is mesmerizing. The locals said they don't have a name for it. Therefore, we decided to name it Anmol Jharana. Make sure you stop the vehicle for a while and capture some beautiful photographs as we did.

On the way, we also saw a funeral procession of the local people. I had never seen anything like that. Dozens of people were walking downhill to the riverbank carrying an incredibly long piece of white cloth with red color at the ends. The cloth stretched from the top of the hill to the riverbank. It looked as if the hill had been painted with a white and red stripe along the walking trail. Our fellow passengers told us that the length of the cloth indicates the economic and social status of the deceased person. Once the cloth is brought down to the riverbank and the procession is completed, the cloth is given to the personal tailor(s) of the deceased person.

We reached Tallu at around noon. The dal bhat with local pickle was delicious. We spent an hour for the lunch break and hurried along the way because we had a long way ahead to our destination for the day.

We walked for about 5 minutes and crossed a trail-bridge to reach the other side of the river from where we could get a vehicle for up to Tribeni. The vehicle was jam-packed, but like everywhere in rural Nepal, the conductor managed to find a seat for every one of us even in the already packed vehicle. The ride was excruciating though - more than 19 people packed into a vehicle with 14 seats and it was super hot. The three-hour ride seemed like an eternity. We should have waited for another vehicle, but we were told that it was not certain whether another vehicle would come.

The track has been opened up to Khadang, but the Tribeni - Khadang section had not been inaugurated yet, so the vehicle dropped us at Tribeni. The track must have been inaugurated by now.

From Tribeni we asked a tractor for a lift. The experience was awesome. It felt like standing on a big vibrator and having your whole body vibrate. We had so much fun for almost two hours before we reached Khadang.

At Khadang, there were just two hotels that provided accommodation. We stayed at the Sharma Hotel. The dinner was delicious. They also served us the meat of blue sheep.Although rooms were available, we chose to sleep on the balcony in the open so that we could look at the night sky. It turned out to be a wise decision.

Day 4: Khadang - Tripurakot - Supani - Suligad - Kagani Village (9 hours of walking )

On day four, we woke up early in the morning, grabbed a breakfast of Satu and biscuits, packed our bags and departed at 7 am. We had to walk up to Supani before we could catch a vehicle for Suligad. We walked alongside the Bheri river which originates partly from Shey Phokundo Lake, our ultimate destination for the trek. The early morning scenery of the tall rocky hills and the ferocious river Bheri was amazing. I don't I am articulate enough to describe the beauty and serenity. After walking for around 2 hours, the trail narrowed down and moved along the rocky precipices. This part of the walk was terrifying. We had to almost crawl on all our fours at times, and the trail was so narrow that the stones we stumbled upon were falling to the river dozens of feet down below. The adrenaline rush lasted for almost an hour. We also met a few people who were cracking and breaking down the huge rocks to make way for a wider trail.

Photo by: Govinda Siwakoti
After walking for an hour, we reached a small village where an army personnel stopped us and told us to wait for an hour before walking ahead. He informed us that they were using explosives to break down rocks to widen the trail and were preventing people from traveling the trail while explosions were taking place.

So we decided to eat the lunch and prevent wasting time. While the lunch was being prepared, we tasted some local apples. Oh my, my! The apples were so delicious that every one of us ate at least two apples - the same people who hated eating apples found in Kathmandu. No wonder they talk so highly about the apples of Jumla, Mugu, and Dolpa.

After spending about one and a half hour playing ludo and having lunch, we resumed our journey. We walked for another 3 hours in scorching heat to reach Tripurakot where I drank six glasses of water. Yeah, I was that thirsty!

Then, we walked for another 30 minutes from Tripurakot to reach Supani where we found a vehicle waiting for us to take us to Suligad.

Suligad
After driving for about 30 minutes, the vehicle dropped us at Suligad, the starting point of the trek. We registered our names at the Nepal Army post, ate some Dadims (sour pomegranates) from the nearby trees and started walking. It was almost 5:30 pm when we started our walk towards Kagani.

It took us two and a half hours to reach Kagani village although the locals said that it takes them only about 45 minutes to an hour. The trail is not very steep or difficult though. You just walk uphill for a few minutes and then downhill for a few minutes alongside the river. There are a few hotels in Kagani. We stayed in a hotel called Chhamkuni Hotel where the host served us one of the most delicious meals of the trip.

Day 5: Kagani - Sangta - Chhepka - Raichi - Jharana Hotel (10 hours of walking)

We left Kagani at 6:30 am after a heavy breakfast of biscuits and Satu. After walking for an hour, we reached a place called Sangta where we had tea in the only lodge available there. Then we walked for another three hours to reach Chhepka village which is one of the largest settlements in the route. An old woman served us delicious dal bhat and tea at her hotel in Chhepka.

Chhepka Village
At 11:30 am, we left Chhepka with the hope of reaching Jharana Hotel by the end of the day although the locals advised us that we should target reaching only Raichi if we didn't want to walk in the dark. But we wanted to reach Jharana Hotel that day so that we could reach Shey Phoksundo Lake early the next morning. We walked through countless uphills and downhills, crossed several trail-bridges, passed through varied landscapes to reach Jharana Hotel by 7:30 pm that evening. We were exhausted by the time we reached Jharana Hotel. If you are in no rush or in no mood to walk so much in a single day, I recommend you to stay at Raichi or Samjhana Hotel.

Our desire to reach Jharana Hotel was also fueled by the funny remark made by local women whom we met on the way. She lives in a tent house on the way to Raichi. She serves tea, coffee, and food to the passerby to generate income for her family. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

Sonam Chhuki: Why are guys here?

Us: To visit the lake. We heard it is very beautiful.

Sonam Chhuki: Why would you bother to come such a long way just to see the lake. It's not that beautiful!

Us: Well, you have been living near it for your whole life, so it's not special for you. But I am sure it's going to be special for us. By the way, do you think we can make it to Jharana Hotel tonight?

Sonam Chhuki: I don't know. You guys seem to walk very slowly. Tell me, when did you reach Chhepka from Kagani today?

Us: At 10:30. 

Sonam Chhuki: When did you leave Kagani?

Us: err... umm... 6:30 am.

Sonam Chhuki: (Gasps) Hahaha, that long? You guys won't reach Jharana Hotel even by 10 in the evening. Hahaha! 

Us: (Smile meekly)

The lady at Jharana Hotel was very hospitable and friendly, and it was one of the better accommodations we found on the trip.

Day 6: Jharana Hotel - Ringmo - Shey Phoksundo (4 hours of walking)

The trail becomes very steep, almost vertical from Jharana Hotel. We left the hotel at 7:30 am after a heavy breakfast of tea, Satu, biscuits, chocolates, and Dalmoth Chiura. The locals are said to take just two hours to reach the Lake, but it took us almost four hours. The delay in part was due to the numerous breaks we took to take photographs. For almost three hours, we walked steep uphill to reach a place called Hawa Ghar which has a small hut where you can rest and observe the scenery.

Jharana Hotel
From Hawa Ghar, it took us an hour of walk to reach the Shey Phoksundo Lake. The walk from Hawa Ghar is relatively easy, and the trail is so beautiful with trees of different colors shedding different colored leaves on the trail.

We reached Shey Phokundo at around 11:30 am and were instantly pulled into the charms of its beauty and magnificence. Looking at its deep blue and serene waters, we forgot the passage of time. Hours felt like a few minutes in the presence of Shey Phoksundo Lake. It was worth all the trouble.

We spent the whole day roaming around the lake and taking hundreds of pictures and spent the night at a nearby hotel. The next morning too, we spent hours absorbing the beauty and serenity of the lake and making our best efforts to capture the lake in our cameras.

Day 7: Shey Phoksundo to Chhepka  (10 hours of walking)

We left the lake (unwillingly of course!) at 9 am and started our journey back. We retraced the trail throughout the day to reach Chhepka where the same old lady welcomed us with tea and served us delicious dinner. We were exhausted this day because we had to walk until 8 pm continuously. If you don't want to do that, I suggest you to either start earlier from the lake or stay at Raichi.

Day 8: Chhepka - Sangta - Kagani - Suligad - Dunai - Juphal (5 hours of walking)

Origin of Bheri River
Day 8 didn't involve much walking. We walked for about 4 hours to reach Suligad where we were hoping to catch a vehicle to Dunai. We waited for a vehicle for almost an hour. Two of them arrived but were so packed that we decided we better walk. We walked for about 40 minutes to reach Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpa. We ate Dal Bhat at Blue Sheep Inn which seemed to be the most popular restaurant in Dunai. The restaurant well deserved the popularity. The food was delicious - comparable to any Thakali Bhanchha Ghar in Kathmandu.

At 4 pm, we left for Juphal in a Jeep as we had decided to return on a flight. We reached Juphal by nightfall. As we asked around, we found that it would be almost impossible to find the tickets for the flight next morning. One has to book the flights at least 24 hours earlier. Worried, we looked for a way out. Then, we found out that a certain hotel owner was also the manager of the flight bookings. So, we went to his hotel and asked if he could arrange tickets for us and if we could stay at his hotel. He was happy to do both.

Day 9: Juphal to Nepalgunj

Juphal Airport
We were at the airport by 6:30 and the flight were on because the weather was clear. But unfortunately, two patients arrived at the airport who needed to fly to Nepalgunj for treatment immediately. We could not say no. Therefore, only five of us flew to Nepalgunj and gave up two seats for the patients. We waited for our friends in Nepalgunj for a day and returned to Kathmandu the next day on a night bus.

The plus point of having to stay in Nepalgunj? We discovered an amazing Biryani place called Mubarak Biryani at Fultekra Road. A must try if you are a Biryani lover!!



Some Useful Information:

Total Cost of the Trek: Rs. 18,000 per person
Total Days Taken: 10 Days
Need to Carry Tents? No
Need to Carry Sleeping Bags? No.

Things to Carry:

1. Warm clothes (2-3 pairs, a wind cheater is also recommended)
2. Comfortable and sturdy trekking shoes
3. Raincoat/umbrella
4. Torch Light (Of good quality) + a few lighters + head light (can be purchased in thamel)
5. First aid (basic medicines) plus if you have any medical condition specific medicines
6. Sleeping Bag (Optional)
7. A DSLR
8. A swiss knife (Optional)
9. A map (Can be purchased in Thamel)
10. Walking stick ( Optional)
11. 4-5 pairs of socks ( the more the better)
12. Water bottle +Sunscream +sunglasses (optional) + Toileteries like tooth-brush, paste, soaps, shampoos
13. Watch (To keep track of time in absence of cellphone)

Apr 4, 2017

Database of organizations/programs/projects that support entrepreneurship in Nepal

Thank you, my dear readers, for liking my last post on 30 cheap business ideas. The response was more than I had hoped for. In this post, I am presenting you the list of organization, programs, projects and initiatives that are supporting entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in Nepal. I have noticed that many people were looking for a comprehensive list of organizations and initiatives supporting entrepreneurship in Nepal but no such public list exists. Therefore, I have decided to create this list.

If you know of any such organization or initiative please feel free to mention them in the comments below:


A. Groups/Interaction Programs

1. Entrepreneurs for Nepal

Entrepreneurs for Nepal is a loose network of thousands of entrepreneurs in Nepal. It was co-founded by Ujwal Thapa, Ashutosh Tiwari, Sagar Onta, and Jaya Budhathoki in 2008.

It organizes a monthly interaction program called Last Thursdays with an Entrepreneur and runs a very vibrant group on Facebook. Entrepreneurs help each other out in the group by providing information and contacts.

2. Last Thursdays with an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs for Nepal, Samriddhi Foundation, and Biruwa Ventures used to conduct a monthly interaction program with a successful entrepreneur. Known as Last Thursdays with an Entrepreneur, the program used to draw a crowd of dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs and youth as well as well-established entrepreneurs. A successful entrepreneur shared about his/her entrepreneurial journey and answered the questions of the participants. You can find the briefs of past events here, and here.

Last Thursdays with an Entrepreneur is also being conducted in Biratnagar by Bikalpa - An Alternative.

3. Startups Nepal
Startups Nepal is the startup community of Nepal. It conducts entrepreneurship boot camps and various other activities related to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

4. Nepal Entrepreneur's Hub
Nepal Entrepreneurs’ Hub is dedicated to nurture entrepreneurship, support startup communities, contribute towards a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and facilitate investment in budding, small and medium enterprises. It is the organizer of Startup Weekend in Nepal and several other programs focused on startups.


B. Incubators

1. Yunus Social Business Center at King's College
Yunus Social Business Center at King's College supports ventures between idea stage to 1.5 years of operation. It provides 17 weeks of training before matching the startups with the potential investors.

2. Kathmandu University Business Incubation Center
Kathmandu University Business Incubation Center provides training programs on entrepreneurship and helps individuals develop specific skills to become potential entrepreneurs.

3. Idea Studio
Idea Studio provides training and funding to new innovative ideas and early stage enterprises. It also runs a reality TV show where people with innovative ideas can pitch for investment.

4. Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal
Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal has a couple of programs that helps early staged technology startups with all right resources, software, support & marketing visibility like BizSpark, WebsiteSpark, and StartupWeekend. If you are approaching this opportunity, make sure that your startup is primarily technology based.

5. Himalayan Climate Initiative
Himalayan Climate Initiative has a Social Innovation and Business Incubation Hub in four locations across the country and incubates social enterprises.

6. Nepal Social Business
Nepal Social Business is a joint initiative of Chaudhary Group and Lions Club International. It is working to incubate 5,000 social businesses in Jumla.

7. Nepal Engineers Association Business Incubation Center
Nepal Engineers Association has also been running an incubation center for engineering related startups at its central office in Pulchowk. Currently, it is incubating four companies.



C. Accelerators

1. Rockstart Impact
Rockstart is one of the top accelerators of Europe. It was launched in Nepal as Rockstart Impact in 2014 by One to Watch. If your company has already developed a minimal viable product (MVP) and provides innovative solutions for the demanding sectors such as food & agriculture, health-care, and energy, you can apply for their program. Rockstart Impact provides 100 days of training and mentoring to the selected companies and connects them to the potential investors at the end of their program. It has already accelerated 20 companies out which 16 have received investment pledges. The investments range between 100 thousand to 500 thousand Euros.

2. Enterprise (Nepal Business Accelerator Program) 
Enterprise is run by a Nepali company called True North Associates. It seeks to mentor newly set up Nepalese companies to build better products, raise funds, and move to the next level of business growth.Companies that are at least two years old and have a good track record of growth can apply for this accelerator. If selected, the companies are provided 12 weeks of intensive training and made ready for investment. At the end, the companies are connected to the potential investors.

3. Women Rural Enterprises Accelerator Program
The program is run by Daayitwa and provides support to women-run enterprises in rural Nepal. It is currently focused in Palpa.

4. NEXT Venture Corp
Next Venture Corp runs NEXT Launchpad, a mentorship-driven accelerator program where early stage startups take their business to the next level. The company also carries out short courses and other activities related to entrepreneurship.

5. Slush Global Impact Accelerator
Slush Global Impact Accelerator was created by Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in collaboration with multiple partners globally. In Nepal, it is run by Young Innovations Pvt. Ltd. Selected entrepreneurs from Nepal are given an opportunity to present their ideas int the global program.


D. Seed Funds

1. Antarprerana
Co-founded by Niraj Khanal and Om Rajbhandari in 2016, Antarprerana provides seed funds to promising entrepreneurs to start their ventures. It also provides various other support programs to harness their skills and capacities. It aims to support 100 entrepreneurs by 2025.

2. WDAC Impact Investment Fund
Women Development Advocacy Center based in Janakpur operates an Impact Investment Fund that targets small and medium enterprises run by women in the rural region.

3. Youth Self-Employment Fund
 Youth Self-Employment Fund was created in 2008 by the Government of Nepal during the tenure of Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. The Fund provides a loan of up to NRs.2,00,000 to youth seeking to start their own enterprises. The loan is administered through local cooperatives and is provided to businesses such as commercial farming, livestock farming, traditional knowledge-based enterprises, homestays etc.


E. Think Tanks/ Policy Advocates

1. Samriddhi Foundation
Established in 2006 with the vision of a free and prosperous Nepal, Samriddhi Foundation conducts undertakes research & publication, education & training, and public advocacy and outreach to create a better business and investment environment in Nepal. They have publications on various issues related to entrepreneurship including ground realities of doing business in Nepalforeign direct investment, contract enforcement, and company exit.

2. Nepal Prosperity Institute
Established in 2017, Nepal Prosperity Institute also works for a more prosperous Nepal by contributing to the areas of financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and economic reform.


F. Education/Courses

1. King's College
King's College not only has an MBA program on entrepreneurship but also various programs and activities surrounding entrepreneurship. The college has developed itself as a very happening place for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. If you are looking for an academic degree or short-term executive courses, King's college is the right place!

2. Nepal School of Entrepreneurship
Nepal School of Entrepreneurship is a business and design school for leadership and entrepreneurship, which aims to provide best entrepreneurial education. It has partnered with Kaospilot of Denmark for the approach of learning and teaching. It operates short term courses useful for entrepreneurs.


G. Training/Advice

1. Biruwa Ventures
Biruwa Ventures is a well-known name in the field of entrepreneurship in Nepal. It provides consulting services to early stage ventures and also provides office sharing services.

2. Institute for Suitable Actions for Prosperity (ISAP)
Institute for Suitable Actions for Prosperity has various programs supporting entrepreneurs, especially agro-entrepreneurs. Its Udhyami Fellowship provides technical and managerial training to agricultural entrepreneurs.

3. Industrial Enterprise Development Institute
The Industrial Enterprise Development Institute is a national resource organization committed to entrepreneurship development through training, research, consultancy and enterprise education. It is mainly focused on providing business related trainings.


H. Projects

1. Samarth - Nepal Market Development Programme
Samarth-NMDP is a UKAid funded project that supports smallholder farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs. If your enterprise is critical in changing the function and behavior of the market players in your sector, you are likely to get the support from Samarth. Samarth provides support to dairies, fisheries, ginger farming, pig farming, tourism and vegetable farming.

2. High Mountain Agribusiness and Livelihood Improvement (HIMALI)
HIMALI project is being run by the Government of Nepal with the support from Asian Development Bank. It works for "value chain development of their agricultural, livestock and NTF products and improves the rural household livelihoods in high mountain districts of Nepal". It supports agricultural enterprises in the following districts: Dolakha, Dolpa, Hulma, Jumla, Manang, Mugu, Mustang, Rasuwa, Sankhuwasabha, and Solukhumbu.

3. Micro Enterprise Development for Poverty Alleviation (MEDPA, formerly MEDEP)
Micro Enterprise Development for Poverty Alleviation (MEDPA) is run by the Government of Nepal with the support from United Nations Development Programme and Australian Aid. It helps low-income families become entrepreneurs by providing training and financial support. It also helps in the promotion of small scale enterprises.

4. Employment Fund (HELVETAS)
Employment Fund is funded by Swiss Development Corporation and UKAid and operated by HELVETAS. It provides market-oriented skills training for economically very poor and socially discriminated youths. It also helps those youth start their own enterprises.


I. Private Equity

1. One to Watch
One to Watch is a Dutch equity fund. It invests in ventures/companies that have the potential to make a social impact along with making a profit. They usually invest more than 100,000 Euros in a venture. One to Watch funds and operates Rockstart but they also make direct investments.

2. Dolma Impact Fund
Dolma Impact Fund claims to be "The first international private equity and impact fund dedicated to Nepal". It provides capital and expertise to growth companies in Nepal.

3. Business Oxygen
Business Oxygen is a part of International Finance Corporation's SME Ventures initiative. It helps entrepreneurs running Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to scale up their operations by providing capital and technical assistance.

4. True North Associates
True North Associates is the company behind Enterprise - Nepal Business Accelerator Program. It injects capital into businesses with growth potential.


J. Media

1. Bizmandu
Bizmandu is one of the most popular economic news portals of Nepal. It regularly features stories of successful or innovative entrepreneurs and enterprises.

2. GlocalKhabar
Glocalkhabar regularly features start-ups. Although its reach may not be as much as that of Bizmandu, Glocalkhabar provides the platform to companies even at their early stages.

3. Business 360
Business 360 is Nepal's leading business magazine. It features stories of all levels of businesses, from startups to multinationals.

4. Youthsera
Youthsera features inspirational stories of innovative startups of Nepal and abroad. It has already featured over 300 articles related to startups.

Feb 1, 2017

30 Businesses that you can start for less than the cost of an iPhone

Once in a while, I get invited to talk about entrepreneurship to college students and youth groups. I generally talk about the economy of Nepal, the high unemployment rates, the need for youth to embrace entrepreneurship, and some myths and realities surrounding entrepreneurship. Most of the time, after the talk, the students come up to me and say, "I am inspired. I had always wanted to do something on my own. But the problem is I don't have money and my parents won't give me the capital I need to start my business." And a little while later, those same students can be seen talking on their shiny smartphones, most of the time, an iPhone. I have been annoyed, disappointed, and sad at times to see them not realizing the fact that if you truly want to be an entrepreneur, you don't need a truckload of money. Even the greatest of the businesses that we see around started small. Then, I proceed on to tell them a number of businesses that they could have started for the cost of that iPhone. Similarly, I have noticed several threads in the Entrepreneurs for Nepal group on Facebook asking about business ideas that can be started with a small amount of money. Therefore, I decided to list down a few businesses that were started with a small or no investment. I also asked around my entrepreneur friends to know how much they invested initially while starting their businesses. 

I have managed to come up with 30 business ideas that can be started for less than the cost of an iPhone (around 1 Lakh Nepalese Rupees). They are applicable in the context of Nepal. I think some of them are applicable elsewhere as well. If I have missed any idea or underestimated the cost of a particular, please let me know by commenting below. I will add the good ideas that I receive from you. I hope this will be useful for aspiring entrepreneurs of Nepal and abroad.

Here are the ideas in no particular order:

1. Audio-Visual Company 
I can confirm that this idea works because I have done it. With my two friends, I started Onion Films Nepal in 2011 with practically no capital. We utilized Govinda's photography and videography skills Bibhu's hard work and my communication skills and network to start the company. We drew on the support of our friends and families to organize a workshop on movie-making for young people and used the saved money to organize more workshops. Later on, we used the saved money to formally start the company and used the network of our graduates to get clients.

If you have good photography and videography skills and an interest in visual media, this is the idea for you!

2. Translation and Research Agency
This idea works too. Nikunja Bhandari and I came up with the idea of starting a translation agency when we observed the increasing demand for good translators and content developers, especially in the non-profit sector. We used our networks to find our first client who gave us the assignment of translating their brochure. Working for a few more organizations, we saved enough money to formally register the company which we named Nepal Language and Research Solutions.

If you have good language skills and good research experience, this is the idea for you.

3. Online Shopping
Online shopping sites are increasing exponentially in Nepal and I think the market is yet to be saturated. I know a few people who have been making a good deal of money by opening a Facebook page, hunting for cheapest prices and selling them through the page. If you can cater to niche markets there is still a good enough market for yet another online business. 

4. Rabbit Farming
Photo Credit: Jessica Reeder
As Ujjwal Chapagain of The Himalayan Rabbit Farm points out, rabbit farming can be started on a
small scale for as little as Rs. 50,000. By the way, he is also very happy to help you out if you are interested in this.

5. Website Design and Development
Have good website designing and programming skills? Just make a website, offer to make websites for free or low cost for a few clients, make a portfolio and off you go!

6. Graphic Designing 
Either there is a shortage of good graphic designers or I am looking at the wrong place, If you have good graphic design skills, you can just start designing stuff, put up your portfolio and seek out clients. As organizations are getting more and more brand conscious and thousands of businesses are being started every day, the need for graphic designing is only going to increase.

7. Social Media Management
If you love hanging out in the social media networks and are good at handling them, why not start managing social media profiles of organizations and celebrities?

8. Event Management
We used to conduct a workshop on entrepreneurship at Samriddhi Foundation, event management was one of the most popular business ideas among our graduates. And most of them are successful and running till date.

9. Mo:mo Pasal
Nepalese insatiable desire for quality Mo: Mo is ever increasing and there is a growing demand for shops serving authentic momos. If you have a knack for making authentic, mouth-watering momos, this may be what you are looking for. There is also quite a space for experimentation and discovery of new momo varieties.


10. Beekeeping
Rent a piece of land in the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley or outside the valley, build a few hives and off you go! Various entrepreneurship-related programmes of donor agencies in Nepal have also been providing support to beekeeping. If you have any questions on how to start, Anil Parajuli might be able to help you.


Photo Credit: Nepal Mountain News
11. Mushroom Farming
Gone are the days when mushrooms were only collected in the wild, mushroom farming is growing leaps and bounds these days. Although the capital requirement is not high and the rate of return is good, you will need to have a good technical knowledge of the farming techniques. Don't worry, though. You can get the knowledge easily and on your own. Saroj Karki might be able to answer your questions if you have any, Here is an example of successful mushroom farming that was started for little money.

12. YouTube Channel
If you have any specific skills such as cooking, programming, writing, playing a musical instrument, foreign languages that other people might find interesting, then you can start a YouTube channel, post original and helpful content and start making money from ads.

Photo Credit: Homegrown.co.in
13. Secondhand Bookshop
An online, as well as a physical secondhand bookshop would be a great idea to start with less capital.
There is a demand for the secondhand course as well as non-course books, especially the novels. There are a few such shops in Jamal and Putalisadak and there are lots of street booksellers in front of  NAC building in Sundhara. If you could establish that has as many books but with the more welcoming environment, I am sure people will flock to your shop.

14. Tuition Center
The majority of my friends got their first salary by providing tuition classes. If you are good at and love teaching, you can start a tuition center, provide good services, and expand. You can also combine this idea with the idea of YouTube Channel and provide a few classes for free through YouTube and attract students to your classes.

Photo Credit: TNAU Agritech Portal
15. Poultry Farming
Poultry farming is booming in Nepal. It is estimated that around 3.5 percent of the GDP is contributed by this sector and around 65 billion rupees has already been invested. Because of this boom, Nepal has become self-sufficient in poultry products. For you as an aspiring poultry farmer, what this means is that most of the support mechanism that you will need are in place already. All you need is to start! Check out this video to get an idea on how to start.

16. Homestay Tourism
If you come from a beautiful village and have a house that has a great view, you could start homestay tourism. Just renovate your house, add a few facilities the tourists will like and you are good to go. It will definitely help if you can convince your neighbors in the village to do the same. Saurav Dhakal might be able to help you on this.

17.  Rooftop Farming
On the other hand, if you are an urbanite and have a house in Kathmandu, you could start a rooftop farming of organic vegetables and selected fruits. With the growing concerns of the use of pesticide in commercially farmed vegetables and fruits, people are seeking organic and healthier vegetables and fruits. Why not start a rooftop farming and maybe help your neighbors to do the same? If you need expert's assistance, these guys can help. 

18. Vegetable Farming
As mentioned earlier, the demand for organic and pesticide free vegetables is growing. Therefore,
you can start a full-fledged vegetable farming as well. You can rent a land in the outskirts of Kathmandu or a district just outside the valley and start growing vegetables that are in demand in the valley.

19. Lunch Box 
With more and more people entering the formal workforce and lifestyle getting busier, the demand for services that deliver lunch to the offices is increasing. If you are good at cooking, you can start delivering lunches to offices. You can start this from home initially and expand later on.

20. Delivery Business
By the way, lunch boxes are not the only thing that you can deliver. Businesses delivering all sorts of goods or helping people and offices shift places is also increasing. You can hire a vehicle, coordinate the delivery or shifting process and build a business doing that.

21. Travel and Tours Company
There are tons of travel and tours companies catering to international tourists. Therefore, I don't think
it makes sense to establish another one of similar nature. However, there is a market for domestic tourists too, especially the college students. You can start a company specializing on conducting educational, industrial, and recreational tours for colleges and universities.

22. Meat Shop
With the growing income of Nepalese, the meat consumption is on the rise. It is estimated that Kathmandu Valley alone consumes 20 million rupees worth of meat daily. And it is increasing rapidly. If you can ensure good hygiene and quality in your shop, I am sure your business will grow steadily.

23. Vegetable Shop
As discussed above, the demand for organic and healthy vegetables is growing day by day. Although there are countless vegetables shops and vendors, if you could ensure that your vegetables are organic and free of pesticides, there is a business opportunity. By the way, you could also add the service of home delivery of the vegetables.

24. Online News Portal
As you must have noticed, online news portals are spreading like an epidemic these days in Nepal. Easy to set up and compete, online news portal could be your thing if you are a student of journalism or media or if you have already been working for a media house but want to start something on your own. I think, now it's time for specific online news portals as there are too many general news portals already. By the way, I have compiled a list of 20 most popular news portals of Nepal here. 

25. Photography Services
From wedding photography to product photography, demand for photography services is on the rise. The growth of e-commerce sites, as well as online news portals, has fueled the demand. I think, its the best time to take up photography and harnessing your visual communications skills.

26. Music Lessons
If you are good at playing an instrument or creating music, you can offer your lessons for a fee. By
Photo Credit: Andrew Yee
the way, there is a growing demand for Nepali music composition for movies and documentaries, even for short videos. Many times our clients have asked us to put a Nepali music on the soundtrack of the videos we were making for them. It was quite difficult to find original compositions, though.

27. Street Food Stall
If you have good cooking skills, you could take them to the street in a food stall. From Pani Puri, Shyabhale, Momo to Burger, you could sell any food items on a mobile stall these days. And guess what, many of these street food vendors are making more money than office employees in any sector. Maybe you can come up with newer food items to sell on the street!

28. Selling Organic Food Produce
If your family or your neighbors in your village have been growing organic food products, you could collect from all of them and sell them in the cities or through online. You can learn from Green Growth started by Saurav Dhakal.

29. Marketing and Research
If you have a BBA/MBA degree or a good research experience, you can start a marketing and research firm. Start with small clients who are looking for cheaper options, provide them a great service, and use their recommendations to climb higher. You can also come up with a great informative/entertaining product to build your brand like Facts Nepal did with its daily infographics.

30. Bag Manufacturing
Have you ever come across Shivakoti Bags? It is one of the rapidly growing brands of Nepal. The business was started by two Shivakoti brothers with a capital of around NRs. 50,000 (~500 USD) around one and a half decade ago. Now, their annual transaction is over 4 Crore Nepalese rupees. You could do this too!

That's all from me! Please add your ideas by commenting below!