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Feb 3, 2012

Trek to Tsho Rolpa Glacial Lake: My travelogue

 Me and my two friends (Govinda Siwakoti and Manoj Giri) trekked to Tsho Rolpa Glacial Lake and back from 29th September to 6th October 2011. I had promised to write about it but other pressing engagements kept me from writing about it until now. Finally, here it is: the story of our trek to Tsho Rolpa Glacial Lake (4580 meters).

Before we begin:

For the past few years travelling, especially trekking has been my obsession. After hiking up every possible hills surrounding Kathmandu Valley, I was very eager to extend my travel destinations. By embarking on a trek from Sundarijal to Gosainkunda in 2009 with a friend and having lots and lots of adventure, I was able to fulfill my wish. From then on, it has been a tradition for me to go on a trek during every Dashain. Neither a devout religious nor a big fan of social gatherings, prospect of trekking to a new place is something that makes me look forward to Dashain holidays every year. To keep the health of our pockets in check and to enjoy the prospect of travelling a less common place, I try to select destinations that are relatively lesser known or less frequented by tourists. Last year, it was Panch Pokhari. This year, the chosen destination was Tsho Rolpa, a glacial lake situated in the laps of Gauri Shankar Himal at the height of 4580 meters. 

One of my lessons from past experiences has been: If you wait for every one of your friends to be ready for the event, the event (especially the hikes or treks) never happens. So, when Govinda nodded yes for the proposal, the trek was confirmed. Luckily, Manoj too joined us after overcoming various forces that were out to stop him from participating, making the team 3-awesome-membered. ;)

Manoj took care of the food items, Govinda took care of the camera and I took care of the bus tickets.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Singati (Bus Ride, Bumpy Ride and Then some more Bus Ride)

The first day of the journey was from Kathmandu to Singati, a small settlement alongside the river Tamakoshi. I am not particularly fond of long bus rides, let alone the suffocating, nauseating bus rides during Dashain time. But I take these trials not only as a cost of the enjoyment of travel but also as a chance to observe the way of life for majority of the Nepalese and hence find them bearable.  Manoj especially was apprehensive that he might not feel well in the period. So we bought some medicines for him and asked the conductor if we could travel on the roof of the bus which we are used to and in fact, me and Govinda love. We were denied the privilege owing to the new traffic rules that prevented the buses from taking passengers in roofs. The bus left, to our utter surprise, on time at 9 am sharp and without overcrowding. We took turns to depart with our most favorite addiction-Facebook by updating our statuses that we intended to drive our friends green with envy. On reaching Dhulikhel-the capital city of Kavrepalanchowk district and the city which I find almost as familiar to Kathmandu, we once again expressed our desire to ride the risky way and this time our request was accepted. Overjoyed we climbed the roof and made Manoj to do the same. Now onwards the journey was a breeze full of joyful jolts along the way. We passed through the lush greeneries and noisy markets for another 3 hours to reach Khadichaur, a vibrant bazaar nourished by cheap and flashy Chinese goods. We had our lunch there. One thing you learn after enough travel is to make your appetite adjust with food different from the type that you are used to. In fact, eventually, one learns to appreciate and enjoy them. Maybe it was because of this newfound joy that Manoj left his jacket at the hotel  and remembered only after the bus had gone a few miles away. We had to stop the bus for a while to the utter disappointment of the conductor till Manoj went and fetched his jacket back.


From Khadichaur, we enjoyed the windy road, cool breeze and scenic views for few more hours until we reached a place called Boch where a bus had met with an accident. The bus had plunged into the roadside drainage canal while making way for a speeding truck. Due to jolt, all the people riding on the roof had fallen off the bus. Though no one was seriously injured, a few of the passengers have had their arms and legs broken. Terrified we thanked our luck for not having boarded that ill-fated bus. One thing that amazes me is Nepalese people are so used to such accidents. The survivors of that ill-fated bus coolly boarded our bus-you guessed it –on the roof and we moved on as if nothing had happened. Another hour of bus ride brought us to Charikot- the headquarters of Dolakha district. Another bunch of people boarded our already stuffed bus and magically somehow fitted themselves in. As per the instructions of the conductors we prepared ourselves for the tougher journey ahead. The road that followed from Charikot to Singati made the previous section of road seem too modern and safe.

For more than four hours, our bus moved at snail’s pace along the muddy road. Every other minute, the bus tilted in the uneven road so sharply that we let out a pray to god to save us. Later on, the road became so uneven and rough that we had to use all of our limbs just to keep us from falling off the bus. Meanwhile, Govinda prepared Dalmoth-Chiura which we shared with all our fellow passengers. At about ten in the night, we reached Singati, the bus’s last stop. We were extremely tired, exhausted and weary but excited that bus ride was over and from now on we could do what we came to do – trek and at our own pace. We found a small hotel which offered us dal-bhat and a place to sleep for a very reasonable price. I must say the extra hot pickle was delicious and the sleep a joy with the music of river after a tiring day.

Day 2: Singati (950 m) to Simigaon (2020 m)  (Waterfall and Waterfall)

Early next morning, we woke up and looked to see if we could find a map for the route. We didn’t. So we started the journey after taking some shots of us standing on a large stone at the riverside. Manoj was extra careful that the picture showed his backpack and his walking stick. A true trekker one must admit!

We headed for a place called Jagat trekking alongside the Tamakoshi River, clicking some pictures once in a while and adjusting our backpacks wondering if we over packed after all. After walking for almost an hour we took a short break to rest and regain our energy. While resting, we saw a red mini truck slugging towards us. Govinda suggested we should try our luck and ask for a lift for as far as the truck goes. It turned out-the truck was carrying passengers packed like chickens and was taking them to a place called Gogar Khola-further than Jagat. Overjoyed we boarded the already packed vehicle and somehow managed to find a place to put our butts on. I sat on a sack of Maize, Govinda squeezed between some passengers and Manoj sat on a gas cylinder. The road was as bad as before and unlike in the bus, there was nothing to hold on to. We were hurled from one corner to another as if we were playing the aqua…. By the end of the ride, we weren’t really sure if all of our bones were in place. And we thought yesterday’s bus ride was bad? But looking on to some bright side, we passed a magnificent waterfall along the way. The waterfall fell right on the road and there was no way anyone could pass the point without getting wet. We peaked at the waterfall with delight from inside the truck and made the plans that when we were on our way back we would surely take a bath in the waterfall.
The waterfall we bathed in.
At one place, the truck refused to go on due to the extremely slippery and muddy condition of the road. So we got out of the truck to ease the load. Govinda started taking some pictures. I and Manoj helped other passengers to throw stones at the deep pits to make the road passable for the truck. Half an hour’s effort of more than half a dozen people finally set the road right and we were able to move on. After about 2 hours of ride (which seems like days), we finally reached Gogarkhola –a beautiful Tamang settlement. We were happy to observe the Upper Tamakoshi hydropower project which if completed is supposed to end our load shedding woes. Walking for a few more minutes, we found a restaurant that would serve us dal-bhat. While waiting for our food, Manoj and I asked Govinda to take some pictures of us which he did happily. 

From Gogarkhola we headed for ChhetChhet, a small Sherpa settlement. Just before reaching ChhetChhet, we found huge, magnificent waterfall that simply took our breath away. The time spent at the waterfall taking countless pictures in countless poses was among the best moments of the trek. The waterfall there is just awesome and makes you want take one picture after another. After spending an hour we unwillingly left the waterfall and continued our trek. From Chhetchhet , we crossed a bridge and trekked along a steep staircase made by carving the huge rock present there. The staircase over there is so steep that after walking for only about 20 minutes, we had to stop to catch our breath. While we were resting trying to slowdown our racing hearts, Manoj with the demeanor of a magician took out an apple from his pocket which he had stumbled upon while being hurled in the mini truck. What a delicious apple it was!

Then, we resumed our walking uphill. We passed through fields of millets and vegetable gardens for more than two hours. The village is known as Simigaon and consists of mainly Tamang and Sherpa people. Every person we passed was asked the same question: “How long will it take us to get to Tsho Rolpa?”. As it usually is the case with local people- the answer definite. Our estimated journey varied from two days to four days. As learned from previous experiences, we take such estimates with a pinch of salt. 

The sun had already set and evening breeze had begun to blow when we reached the lodge situated at the uppermost part of Simigaon. We decided to spend the night there. The lodge is situated in an amazingly beautiful place. Just in front of it is a very old monastery. It provides a magnificent view of the Tamakoshi River and its subsidiaries. It is in my view, a perfect place to spend a couple of days relaxing and meditating or maybe writing a book. In the lodge, we met a Belgian couple who were headed for Trashi Lapcha, two days further from Tsho Rolpa. 

How Simigaon got its name?

Naturally, we were curious to know how Simigaon got its name. Here is how: Once upon a time when the place was covered with forest and wild animals. Some hunters had come to the place to hunt. During the hunt they had rice and Simi and left the remaining simi in the place. Later when they returned for another hunt, they found the place covered with Simi all over. So, when they decided to settle over there, the place was named Simigaon. So does Simigaon have simi at present too? Yep, it does although not all over the place.
A house at Simi Gaon
The Sherpa dai offered us Yak’s sekuwa as an appetizer before dinner which we gladly accepted and had it with some local alcohol and some of the vodka we had brought along with us. Manoj being both a vegetarian as well as a teetotaler was not particularly happy with the arrangements. Govinda and I did our best to add insult to his injury by describing how delicious the sekuwa was. He must have lamented for one more time the day he decided to forgo two of the most wonderful food in the world: meat and alcohol.

Day 3: Simigaon (2020 m) to Dong (Leeches and waterfalls)

Manoj woke us up next morning with his early morning bhajans and rituals. Grudgingly Govinda and I woke up and three of us had our breakfast before setting out on our journey. The trail was getting more beautiful everyday and we were even more excited to continue our journey. Only about 15 minutes of walking away from Simigaon however, a catastrophe struck us. Leeches were abundant on the trail and their intensity had been increased by early morning humidity. Manoj –not very used to them and have been warned beforehand had brought a whole pack of salt to defend ourselves. We filled our shoes, rubbed our trousers and walking sticks with salt and walked briskly to avoid the bloodsuckers. Despite this, those suckers crawled along our shoes and trousers and even walking sticks sending a chill though our spines. Once in a while when too many leeches were measuring our pants and walking sticks, we ran as fast as we could. 

The terror resided after walking for around half an hour. We walked along the bank of a river through lush jungles. Slowly but steadily we continued along the way- me contemplating, Govinda looking for good shots and Manoj poking at different plants amusedly. Every once in a while, we reached a waterfall or a stream and were forced to take a break to savor the beauty and click some shots for memories. Though waterfalls were a dime a dozen at this place, we could never had enough of them. So, every waterfall and stream made us take countless shots in countless poses. The Belgian couples although started late in the morning, passed by us and were nowhere to be seen until Dong. 
Me watching a stream on the way to Dong
Dong, a small settlement (of about 4 households) right at the bank of the river was our destination. We planned to reach Beding by the evening so that we could save a day but were warned that if we reached Dong at later than noon, we shouldn’t continue our journey. There are no settlements between Dong and Beding. 

We reached Dong at about 2 pm. It was broad daylight which made us divided on whether we should continue our journey or stay at Dong. I was bent on continuing the journey whereas Manoj suggested we spend the night there and head for Beding next day. After much thought and analysis, luckily Manoj prevailed. Beding , we later realized was one hell of a far place and it would have been a mistake to continue our journey even if we had reached Dong by noon. Had I prevailed, we would surely have been forced to spend the night at the jungle. We asked the Sauni to prepare dal-bhat for us and started playing cards with the porters of the Belgian couple. Since no money was involved, the game got boring pretty soon. So, we roamed around for a while, drank some tea and went to sleep early. But not before making lots of jokes of each other and laughing till our stomachs hurt.

Day 4: Dong  to Na (4180 m) (Are we lost? You bet!)

Day 4 was the longest day of the journey. We started at about 7 in the morning after some tea and muesli. The vegetation along the way was much different than previous days and the trail was even lonelier and passed through dense forests. Waterfall and Jholunge Puls kept whetted our appetite for photographs even more. With the increase in altitude, breathing was getting more difficult and our pace of walking slower. The trail went up and down alongside the riverbank and was replete with scenic views. Forks in the trail that we reached once in a while were pretty confusing though. With no one to ask, our intuitions and reasoning on why particular fork on the trail looked like the way to Tsho Rolpa helped us make our decisions. Luckily, we made all of our decisions right. At about 1 pm, it began to drizzle making the walking more difficult but more exciting. Tired and hungry we gulped down all the dry fruits as well as biscuits we had brought along with us. We walked for another hour joined by the Belgian couple before we began asking each other out of desperation: “How far is Beding now? Are we going to get there at all?”
A waterfall on the way to Beding
Finally at about 3 pm, we reached Beding, the largest settlement in Rolwaling Valley. Not only is it the largest settlement but also one of the most beautiful settlements. Full of small traditional houses and usually covered in the mist, the village reminds one of some far away villages described in the ‘once upon a time’ fairy tales.  It also has a monastery more than 800 years old. On reaching the place, we sought out for a place that would provide us food. We only found locked houses and were pretty disappointed. But then, a young attractive lady came along with a guy (her brother we later found out) and opened one of the houses. Then, they prepared for us one of the most delicious meals we had had so far in the journey. To our delight, we also found out that a satellite phone was available at the lodge although calling was pretty costly through the phone (Rs. 25 per minute). We took turns to call our homes to tell us we were fine and we would definitely be home for the tika (which was a lie of course) and our beloved ones to tell them we utterly butterly missed them. In her usual self, my mom started complaining me for not staying home during festivals. I gently informed her that the phone call was very costly and she would have enough time to complain once I returned home. 

By the time we had our lunch and rested for a while it was already 4 pm and we were not sure if we should be continuing our journey to reach Na but the lady and her brother assured us that the journey would not take more than 2 hours for sure and we could easily reach Na before it got too dark. They also suggested us to ask for Dorje dai’s hotel in Na which belonged to their parents. So we were on the road once again. It turned out two hours was time period for local people which would mean it would take almost double the time for us to reach Na.

On our way, we met two young ladies rushing downhill. One of them giggling showed us her frost bitten nose and told us that it was too cold up there and we better take care of our noses too. Later on we met an old couple walking towards Beding who stopped us to tell us something but we couldn’t figure what they were saying due to the excessive noise the river was making. Not to sound impolite we nodded our heads as if we had understood them and departed. They later turned out to be the very people whose hotel we were supposed to stay in Na. They had closed their hotel for a day and had been heading to Beding to participate in a pooja at the monastery.

It began to get darker and we had already walked for more than 2 hours and yet Na was nowhere to be seen. We turned on our torch lights and headlights and kept going. Slowly with the darkness , the trail began to disappear and it soon became hard for us to be sure if we were walking in the right trail. The possibility that we had been lost in the middle of nowhere at night began to dawn upon us sending a chill through our spines. And when torch lights began to grew dimmer as battery discharged, we were even more scared. Neither the trail nor Na village were to be found. We drew ourselves closer and kept walking with trembling steps. Suddenly, a dark, hairy figure appeared in front me and I nearly fainted. Thank god it was a Yak which meant Na was near somewhere.
Bird's Eye View of Na Gaon
After walking for another half an hour we were convinced that we had taken the wrong turn and were about to return when we heard someone shouting. With hopeful hearts we walked toward the source of sound. Luckily, it was a Na Gaon resident which had come to herd away the yaks across the stream. We breathed a sigh of relief and thanked our almighty luck. The old man guided us till we reached the village and on reaching there even offered us to stay at his place which we promptly denied. We wanted to go to Dorje's dai's hotel. So, we thanked him and headed towards the Gumba alongside was supposed to the hotel we were looking for. To our utter dismay we found the hotel closed , so we looked for other nearby hotels but to no avail. After knocking the doors of almost half a dozen houses we found Rame- a guy we had met on our way to Na. He had promised to find us a place. So, we sought his help. With an ironic twist of fate, Rame led us to Gaurishankar lodge-the place of the old man who had guided us to the village itself. Giving embarrassed smiles, we went along with him to his house.

The old man arranged our bedding and asked us if we wanted something to eat. We said we didn't as our stomachs were still heavy with the dal-bhat we had in Beding. The family was having some kind of soup. So we asked what they were having. “Syakpa”, the old man replied. Manoj gave a curious look but mine and Govinda's face lighted up with joy to hear that. 

Last year, in Panchpokhari we had been offered Syakpa by some guides. It had tasted dellliccious! So, we excitedly said , “Yes please!”

I am never going to have Skyakpa again neither will Govinda as far as I know him. It tasted horrible and the strong awful smell of Yak's dried meat made me nauseas. Seeing our faces Manoj chuckled with delight. His revenge!! To remove the awful taste from our mouth we ordered some milk. The milk was delicious though. 

After the food we started a small chitchat with the family. I told them one of my best friend during childhood was from Na Gaon. It turned out the old man was my firend's uncle. What a coincidence? I was delighted to have stayed with my friend's uncle. The feeling I has at the time was the kind of feeling when you return to your village or the place you grew up. It was like finding my roots. I missed my friend and my childhood days terribly. Nostalgically, I told them how Passang and I used to spend almost time together during our schooldays and how our friendship had grown stronger as we hopped through one hobbies to another ranging from comic books to computers.

At around ten we went to sleep. I slept happily thinking what an adventurous day especially the evening it had been. How was I to know at the time the most scary evening of the journey was yet to come?

Day 5: Na (4180 m) to Tsho Rolpa (4580 m) and Back to Beding ( 3690 m) (Oh my God, Tsho Rolpa is beautiful!!)

Early next morning I was woken up by Manoj shaking me and telling me that if I didn't wake up immediately and went outside I was going to miss one of the most amazing scenes of the trek. I refused to wake up as I had a headache caused by having my head exposed to cold during the sleep. But after a while, I thought- this scene may be the most memorable scene of the trek. I would be a fool to miss it for a headache. So I summed up my energy and woke up. The daughter offered me a cup of coffee. Carrying the coffee I ran for the view. Bamm!! I banged my head on the upper beam of the door. The bang made me spill half of my coffee and I got a big 'tutulko' on my forehead. Cursing I ran outside thinking the view better be worth all this trouble.

Oh my god! What a view? Absolutely breathtaking! I had never seen a mountain from so up-close. It looked as if the mountain was within the courtyard of the house.  I took a spin on my heels to get a 360 degree view. The view was not only worth all this trouble but I would have trekked even ten days to see it. Manoj was in his usual self demanding more and more pictures of him. Govinda with a resigned look was taking the pictures while once in a while taking the picture of just the landscape. We must have taken more than  hundred pictures until we were finally convinced that it was enough and we needed to move on.
View from Na Gaon
So, we packed our bags and resumed the trek. Another two hours trek would take us to Tsho Rolpa-a place I had been dreaming to visit since my schooldays. The scenery from Na to Tsho Rolpa was no less beautiful then the view of mountains in the morning. After walking for only 15 minutes we  were convinced that it was going to take us a long long time to reach Tsho Rolpa given our propensity to take pictures.

And, indeed Na to Tsho Rolpa portion of the trek was the place we took the most number of pictures. After taking hundreds of pictures and trekking for about 3 and a half hours , we finally climbed some steep stairs to find the majestic Tsho Rolpa before our eyes. I couldn't control my joy at the sight. I threw my bag, walking stick and ran shouting “Tsho Rolpa! Tsho Rolpa!!”. Inspired Govinda and Manoj also threw their bags and we all shouted, jumped and danced with joy. What a bliss!

After calmng down, we began to take pictures and some more pictures. But I had a plan more than just taking pictures. So, I took out the board-markers I had brought along with me and went on to a large stone facing Tsho Rolpa and wrote “Gari Khana Deu” on it. Manoj joined me whereas Govinda clicked our pictures. Govinda had been taking most of the pictures during the trek whereas Manoj and me were usually posing for them. This time, however, Manoj and I decided to be the primary photographers and Govinda our subject. 

“Shall we trek to the next end of the lake?” was the question Govinda asked once the initial euphoria at seeing the lake subsided. We were not sure. We really wanted to go but it looked like it needed us to trek for hours which we couldn't afford. After much dilemma and confusions, we decided not to go but walk instead for about 15 minutes to reach a place at the side of the lake and have our Koseli from Kathmandu- a bottle of Ruslan vodka. With the increase in sips , the conversation turned nostalgic from euphoric. 

Tsho Rolpa! Tsho Rolpa!!
Then Manoj suggested we take a group picture. Govinda place the camera on a rock nearby in the automatic mode and slipped in with us for a group picture. Suddenly, a catastrophe occurred. The camera began to slip from the rock and slided towards the edge. A fall from the rock would mean severe damage to the camera which would mean unbearable financial loss. As we were gasping in horror, Govinda, on the spur of the moment, jumped at the camera as if he were trying to save a goal. He was able to catch the camera in air and save it but nearly had his skull cracked. Luckily, he fell down in a place devoid of any stones. As he was lying there, muttering some 'aiyas', I leaned towards him and asked if he was okay. “I am fine but give me a hand”, he said.

“Well, first let me take a picture of your accident first,” I chuckled. I had hoped while I was taking a picture , Manoj would lend a hand to Govinda. What was I thinking? He was taking a picture of me taking a picture of Govinda. After the shot, we pulled back Govinda. He wasn't hurt at all. So we took another sip for the sheer luck.

After finishing our drinks, I took out a paper wrote our names and that day's date in it and slided the paper inside the bottle. Then, Manoj found a perfect place to keep the bottle until someone found it. We hope the bottle is safe till date or maybe someone has found it already.

Finally, we bid adjeu to Tsho Rolpa and started our journey back. On our way back, we saw small hills which had snow on their tops. They looked as if they could be climbed in less than 30 minutes. We started discussing if we should climb and touch the snow. Govinda was for the idea whereas Manoj has his doubts. But suddenly, something happened to me and without thinking I ran towards the hilltop. I vividly remember the moment- my mind was blank and all I could think of was the snow. A voice inside me was asking me to run faster and make it. I could almost hear Govinda and Manoj gasping with surprise. I heard Manoj shouting behind me asking me to come back but I kept running. But it wasn't long before I was exhausted and was gasping for breath. To my utter disappointment I realized I had made about only one-tenth of the distance. I felt resigned and kept standing there while Govinda started walking towards the hill top slowly but steadily and Manoj kept looking at us with disbelief. Resigned I returned to the place Manoj was standing and sat down. Govinda went on for more than a hour but finally gave up halfway though the top. 

Exhausted we made our way back to Na, made our payment, took our bags and headed for Beding. The sun was about to set already when we started for Beding and not even halfway though the journey, darkness fell. This time it was darker and the trail passed through dense forest and caves. We were scared like never before. As our torch lights grew dimmer we drew ourselves closer and walked with trembling steps. Once in while we would hear the sound of some wild animals and our hearts would step and our steps would freeze but we kept moving. Half my heart I was sure we were going to be eaten alive by some wild animals. I wishes it was a full moon night but it wasn't and we kept moving ahead in the pitch darkness for more than two hours. Sometimes being an atheist is a tough job. You have no one to pray to but yourself which I did reminding myself I could do it. After walking about 4 hours , we finally reached Beding at about 11 in the night. Our joy knew no bounds to see the lights and have our nostrils filled with the smell of firewood burning. When asked if any dangerous wild animals were found on the trail we had passed, “We have had two incidents of Leopard killing yaks at one place in the trail so far.”, the guy replied.


The next three days of journey were relatively uneventful except for the evening at Simigaon when all three of us ran out of our beds on seeing  huge leeches crawling on the wall. Leeches were on our clothes and even on the parts of bodies we wouldn't prefer to tell. So we dumped the remaining salt on these suckers and went to bed. But only after carefully examining every nook and corner to see if a bloodsucker was lurking behind. 

On the 8th day of our journey, the day after Tika, we were finally back to our homes in Kathmandu with loads of photos, memories and stories to drive our friends crazy with envy. Tsho Rolpa trek is among the best treks I have been on so far and can't wait to embark on yet another journey in search of yet another moment that would take my breath away. As someone once said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.”