Apr 9, 2012

Trek to Panch Pokhari: My Travelogue


Me and five friends of mine trekked to Panch Pokhari (4100 m), the five sacred lakes situated within the laps of Jugal Himal from 12th to 17th October of 2010. I had thought of writing a travelogue at that time but was unable to. However, as I found some readers really liked the two travelogues I have written in this blog so far and was asked to write about other treks as well, here is my travelogue of my Trek to Panch Pokhari with all the details as far as my memory serves me.

Before we begin:

Trek to Gosainkunda previous year had been one of the most amazing moments in my life. It was my first long trek and the experiences I had in the trek were instrumental in making an ardent trekker out of me. I had shared about the trek during much more conversations than I care to remember. So, I was excited about this upcoming Dashain for another trekking opportunity. The only question was: what shall be the next destination?

Click! Panch Pokhari. That's the place I was going to this year I thought. Why?

Many years back, a school friend of mine had been taken to Panch Pokhari by his uncles during Janai Purnima. On returning he had told me about his trip with pride. I still vividly recounted the images of an adventure and exotic landscape that had formed in my mind, when he had shared his story. From the day I heard his story, I always had the desire to reach that “magnificent place fully of risky trails on high mountain and five majestic lakes”. His description of the place and the trails had left me amused and thinking 'that place must be heaven'. 

Now I was going to see the place for myself. My joy knew no bounds.

Through the storytelling of Gosainkunda trek, I had inspired a couple of friends of mine to venture into a trek with me this year. Bibhu and Govinda who hadn't been on a trek before were excited but apprehensive. So was Puru. Ganesh Dai, my travel companion in the Gosainkunda trek also joined the team later making it five membered. Finally, Manish another friend of mine also decided to join us. So that made six trekkers in quest for five ponds. 

Manish took care of the bus tickets. We were supposed to take a bus up to a place called Mane Kharka. Unlike previous year, amidst the excitement and apprehension, I decided to be a little extravagant and bought along with them, a trekking stick, a pair of trekking shoes, a jacket, a cap with the shades. The walking stick and the jacket are the only things in shape by now and I utterly butterly love that walking stick. 

So along with the fancy trekking gears and with our bags filled with foods, sleeping bags and tent and our pockets filled with cash, we were ready for the trek.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Bhotang

As per our information the bus was supposed to leave at 9:30 in the morning, but it turned out it was leaving at 7:30 am. We rushed with the intensity and urgency of soldiers in a war. Me, Ganesh Dai, Puru and Manish were at the bus park by 7 am where we did our shopping for some ready to eat food items. In the meanwhile, I also kept calling Bibhu and Govinda to the point of annoyance urging them to hurry. Govinda came earlier. Bibhu also managed to come in time to catch the bus, although he did so grudgingly. The bus departed in time and as is the usual case with Nepalese buses, it was jam-packed with passengers. Me and Govinda got to seat beside the driver but it was so crowded. We couldn't even move our legs. It was as if they were fixed to the bus with bolts. 

Unlike the Kathmandu-Dhulikhel-Zero Kilo-Melamchi route, this route which passed through Sankhu was shorter but riskier. The muddy road was like quicksand and the bus was swaying from one corner of the road to another every once in a while. The road slowly winded up the hill giving us a majestic view of the range of hills in the horizon. The ride was eventful as every once in a while passengers had to get out of the bus and clear the road or put stones in the huge potholes to make the road passable. Sometimes the bus titled sharply almost touching the roadside rocks sending a chill up our spines. 

After three hours of ride, we reached Melamchi, a beautiful place by all means. Melamchi remains a household name for the Kathmanduites, although the government's promise of supplying drinking water to the valley residents from the Melamchi remains has turned into a mere fantasy. At the Melamchi bridge, the bus stopped for a while as the driver and conductor mulled over whether to have lunch at that place or at Tipini. Finally, Tipini was decided as the venue for lunch and we moved on.

Not more than fifteen minutes from Melamchi, we had to stop once again. The bus that was going before us, had stopped due to some technical problems. The road was narrow enough not to let any other bus pass through. So we were stuck until the another bus was mended. Damn!

But on the bright side, we could get out of the bus and get some fresh air after all. Manish, whose knack of being friends with strangers in extremely short span of time constantly amazes us (me at least), was already among the crowd gathered around that bus and in a while was already giving his opinions on what should be done about the bus. Rest of us, availing ourselves of the opportunity started clicking photographs at the nearby stream. Needless to say, jokes and ragging each other during the wait was quite fun.

After almost an hour, the bus was finally fixed and we moved on once again. The road traveled so far was much better when compared to what came next. Lordy lord! More than a dozen times, prayers blurted out of our mouth when the bus tilted almost touching the ground. At one point, I was almost convinced that it was my final day on Earth when bus tilted almost falling down and even the driver had to take support of his door to keep himself steady and upright.

Another one a half hour of the scary ride, brought us to Tipini, small settlement full of shops and hotels. It the usual final point for the buses but since it was Dashain and there passengers galore, our bus was going even further up to Mane Kharka. This is one of the things that makes me want to travel during Dashain. Buses go to even the remote villages saving us a day or so for our trek.

As Tipini is the last stop of bus for other times, I had hoped the bus would get less crowded from onwards. I was in for a surprise. Even more people boarded the bus and everyone was almost gasping for breath. But from now onwards the scenery started getting more and more beautiful making for forget the difficulties.

Seeing Mane Kharka really took my breath away. I have never seen a more beautiful place. Yellow mustard fields all over the place with huge black stones within the fields. Waterfalls that looked like frozen from the distance. Just amazing! And there was a tree towards the edge of the hill which reminds me of pictures on the cover of English and Nepali books during my childhood days. During my childhood I used to look at the covers of those books (especially the 'Headway English' and 'Saral Nepali Srinkhala') and wonder if such places really existed. Seeing Mane Kharka was like a dream coming true. I was extremely jubilant. 

To our pleasant surprise, we were informed that the bus would go even further than Mane Kharka upto Bhotang. Oh my my! We rode for another hour or so to reach Bhotang. By the time we reached Bhotang it was already dark. Ganesh dai informed us to our pleasant surprise that the driver was an old acquaintance of his. Ashok, the driver, suggested us to stay at the only guest house available so we headed towards it. After ordering food and leaving our bags upstairs, Ashok joined us for drinks. The owner suggested us that we should have Harin ko Sukuti with our drinks. We happily agreed. We were quite excited about the prospect of having the sukuti until we really tasted it. Damn him! I can swear that sukuti was by no means of a harin. It tasted bad enough to be noticed by tipsy and tired drinkers. It must have been the meat of an ox. 

Day 2: Bhotang to Tangu

We woke up early next morning, freshened ourselves, had a cup of tea each and started making preparations for the trek. But then Ashok came to see us and invited us to have Dhindo at his Fupu's house. Wow! Dhindo? Really? We happily agreed once again. This time the Dhindo turned out to be extremely delicious one. Me, who generally doesn't like Dhindo that much, also asked for more-TWICE. By the time, we had our food and got ready to walk, it was already 10 am. I was little bit worried that we were behind our schedule. So urging everyone to walk fast, I started the trek.

After walking for half an hour we came across an extremely beautiful stream which called for lots of photographs and we answered the call by takings dozens of photos in the stream and the adjacent stairs which had another waterfall falling from above. The stairs turned out to be long and steep. Everyone had a hard time keeping up with their breaths. Bibhu, especially was in a bad condition. But we kept moving on until we finally reached a plain ground where we threw our bags and slumped. 

As we continued along, the trail began passing through a denser vegetation and got steeper making us think our bags must be weighing more than half a quintal and a quintal for Bibhu. The trail would have been full of sheds, cattle and shepherds in the summer but not with the advent of winter, it was bare and lonely. Our target for the day was to reach Nosempati by the evening but we could barely half the distance. By the time we reached a place called Tangu, we were utterly exhausted. 

So, we decided to camp there for the night. One primary reason for our decision was Tangu seemed to be the only place so far which was inhabited by a shepherd. All the other sheds have been dismantled and shepherds have moved to their villages to escape winter and to celebrate Dashain. Well, not everyone would be crazy like us, I thought- instead of celebrating Dashain in the usual way of eating, drinking and playing cards, we were up in a mountain in quest of five ponds.

We set up our tents in one of the dismantles sheds nearby the inhabited shed. It really took utter willpower to set up the tent, make firewood, make a fire and cook the food after such a tiring journey and aching body. Grudgingly, everyone did their part. We drank a cup of tea each as the night grew darker and colder. Then we prepared something (I really don't know what it should be called) -a mixture of satu, muesli and other stuffs we had. We were too hungry to notice if the food was salty enough or tasty enough. Then, once again, we gathered some will power and went to wash the dishes. Lordy lord! The water was freeeeezzzing!
Finally we were ready to sleep. But wait! How could we sleep just yet when those bloodsuckers were crawling in our tents? Grudgingly, once again, we removed the leeches from our tents and lied down- 3 people each in the two tents. Panch Pokhari better be good for all this trouble I thought before I fell asleep.

Day 3: Tangu to Panch Pokhari

Early next morning, we woke up and hurriedly finished our daily chores and had tea and some muesli before resuming the trek. We were already behind our schedule so we increased our walking pace but couldn't keep up as the trail got even more steeper and our bags felt heavier and heavier. The scenery, though, was astoundingly beautiful as Jugal came into view giving us an inkling of where Pach Pokhari could be. Meanwhile, Govinda took lots of pictures with the normal digicam we had. How we wished we had a DSLR camera, the pictures would have come even more awesome. 

After walking for three hours or so, Bibhu got exhausted and said he could walk no more. We had to reach Panch Pokhari today no matter what. So, we were worried. But, luckily, the savior came-in the form of a child. A local boy, aged around 13 or 14, offered to help. He carried Bibhu's bag and walked along. Boy, was he strong and fast. Within minutes, he was far ahead out of our sight. Little bit embarrassed, we tried to increase our pace but in vain. We were happy nonetheless, for finding yet another reason, to tease Bibhu later on.

An hour or so later, the boy returned Bibhu's bag. Bibhu offered him some biscuits and noodles which he at first declined but accepted as we insisted. After walking another two hours or so, we finally reached Nosempati, we were rested and had some satu and remaining biscuits. The view from Nosempati was amazing. We could see clouds below us and see the outlines of hills and mountains as far as our eyes could see. A cool breeze was blowing and it was humid and cold. Nosempati also had a small rest-house for travelers. At first, we mulled over camping here but we had still couple of hours before it got dark and we had to reach Panch Pokhari anyhow. And besides, the trail towards Panch Pokhari was covered with fog and looked like a trail described in fairy tales. So, we resumed the trek. 

From now onwards, we had to walk along the ridges of mountains making the trek more difficult but so exciting. And added to the excitement, it began to drizzle. Slowly a dense fog covered us and the trail became slippery. I could feel the raindrops on my face and the drops falling from my hair. As I was walking behind others and they were far ahead of me, there was no single creature on sight. It felt like a dream where I walking through the ridges of some mystic lands. Without even seeing Panch Pokhari, I felt it was worth all the troubles.

We had walked for almost another two hours when I saw a hoarding board that welcomed visitors to Panch Pokhari. I walked briskly to catch up with other guys. When I met an exhausted Bibhu, I told him about the board and that we were near our destination. He blurted out a reply that we still remember today and laugh. “Damn! Really?? Then why the F*ck are we walking. We've already reached Panch Pokhari. Let's stay here please!

Laughing heartily, we kept moving on. Slowly the fog cleared and the rain stopped. At one large rock that protuded out of the mountain, I walked to the edge and gave my classic 'freedom pose' and Govinda took a great picture. Other also took turns to get their pictures clicked. 

Slowly it began to get dark and we were yet to reach Panch Pokhari. No one except, except Ganesh Dai had any clue where exactly or how far the destination was. Ganesh dai pointed to a distant mountain and said “There is Panch Pokhari. Let's get there before it gets really dark.” Worried we gathered last of our remaining energies and moved on. The destination turned out to be nearer than what he had told us. Ganesh dai had intentionally pointed us to that mountain to keep us energized and moving. 

By the time, we reached Panch Pokhari, it was already about 7 pm in the evening and it was dark already. The ponds don't seem that exciting, I thought with a little bitterness. I was so mistaken!

At Panch Pokhari, there is a temple and a couple of rest-houses for travelers but no one lives there. But to our pleasant surprise and relief, we found a several guides and porters preparing food in one of the rest houses. A foreigner and her two daughters had come on the trek with 17 guides. They had even carried a cylinder full of gas, a stove and lots of food items. The porters were very amiable and offered us some Syakpas-a thick soup with vegetables and meat. It tasted amazingly delicious thanks to our exhaustion and hunger. We stayed near the fire warming our hands and feet for a while before finally getting to our rest house and setting up our tent. It was better than at Tangu. We set up the fire more easily this time and had our usual dinner-mixture of satu, muesli and whatever food we had.

I fell asleep as soon as I lied down hoping the ponds would look better the next day.

Day 4: Panch Pokhari and Back to Nosempati

OMG, in the early morning, Panch Pokharis looked so awesome! So beautiful and serene. Clear blue five ponds surrounded by green hills. Boy, that definitely took my breath away. It was one of those moments that I look forward in any trek. You see a view so amazing that you would forget all the troubles undertaken to see it. The moment that makes you feel proud of yourself and peaceful. We hiked around the ponds, claiming a pond each and boasting how one's pond was better than others. Needless to say, we also took dozens of pictures. Even by now, Bibhu hadn't woken up. We had tried and failed to wake him up before we left for the hike around the ponds.

So, me, Govinda, Puru and Manish decided to climb the hill without Bibhu and Ganesh Dai who was not feeling well and resting inside the tent. On reaching the top of the hill, we were awestruck yet again. Jugal Himal looked so close that it seemed we could almost touched it. The cool breeze that was blowing at our face must surely come from Jugal we thought. Here too, we took dozens of pictures while discussing the beauty of the place and the memorable incidents of the trek so far. 

After spending almost an hour at the top, we decided to take the short cut on our way back. As we were about to descend, we saw an image of a person slowly stumbling up the hill carrying a bottle of water. It was Bibhu, of course. We shouted at him jokingly, he waved his hand along with a shy smile. While returning we jumped from one rock to another, one bush to another to get to our tents sooner. Suddenly Manish noticed something that made him cry with happiness. “Snow!”, he shouted. Others ran toward him to get their hands on the snow. Even though, I have trekked to so many places by now, I am always fascinated by the snow as I rarely find it. There was some snow under the stones and holes covered by rocks. We started hitting each other with handful of snows and Govinda, with his usual habit, started clicking pictures of us. 

After playing with snow for almost an hour, we returned to our tents to find Ganesh Dai bathing in a pond. Puru joined him. I was too hungry and feeling to cold to join them. So, rest of us had some food and wandered around. We also roamed around the temple enjoying the scenery and peaceful environment.

It was already late afternoon when we started for our journey back. So unwilling we bid adieu to this heaven-like place and resumed our trek. It was drizzling today as well and the view looked as wonderful as ever. As we had already accomplished our objective, we were more relaxed -a bit too relaxed maybe. Because by the time we climbed down the ridges it was already pitch dark. It would be possible for us to reach Nosempati only. It was pitch dark and the batteries our torch lights were already exhausted. I was worried we may stumble upon some rocks and fall down the mountain but thankfully, moon rose filling the trail with its soft light. With the moonlight, the walk became utterly interesting. I still vividly remember the moment I walked down the ridges to Nosempati.

On reaching Nosempati, we once again set up our tents and had our barely edible dinner and went to sleep with feelings of pride and peace in our minds. 

Day 5: Nosempati to Bhotang

Next we started early morning towards Bhotang. The downhill walk was not any less difficult but it was faster. After walking for hours, we reached a beautiful stream that we had noticed on our way up but hadn't had time savor properly. So, we rested at the stream for a while. Then, someone suggested that since we missed a bath at Panch Pokhari, we should take a bath here. Well, not a bad idea. Everyone except Puru and Ganesh Dai, started taking off their clothes and starting bathing. But the water was icy cold forcing us to get out of it the moment we stepped in. But we were somehow managing to bath although our bodies were turning red and full of goosebumps. As we were engrossed in bathing, suddenly, huge black clouds covered the sky, darkness fell and it started raining! Damn! We ran for clothes as the big raindrops started soaking our clothes and we started freezing! Donning our clothes as fast as we could, we walked briskly. But the rain grew heavier and heavier. We had forgotten to bring any umbrella or raincoats. So, we were soaking like mouse in the rain in the middle of nowhere. 

After walking in the rain for about fifteen minutes, we (Me, Bibhu and Govinda) took shelter under a huge rock at the side of the trail. Shivering in the cold we stayed there for a while waiting for the rain to calm down and thinking how stupid it was of us to forget to bring any umbrella or raincoat. Suddenly, we noticed something that sent a chill up our spines. A yak was staring at us! Since the rock was at the side of the trail and we were sitting under it, there was no way for the yak to pass. And boy did it have sharp, pointed horns. Damn! I muttered. “It's gonna hit us”, Bibhu shouted. Not caring about the rain, we ran uphill aside from the trail. As the yaks passed, we breathed a sigh of relief. We were completely soaked by now but we had no option. So we resumed our walk. After walking for another few minutes, we realized it was almost impossible to walk that way. So, we thought of an idea. We took out our tent's cover, formed a line and covered ourselves with the cover and started walking. Only the person in the front would have the idea of which way we were going and which step to take. The other two would be totally covered and without any clue.

Taking turns, the person at the first guided the other two. “Left, right, there is a small stone-be careful, there is a puddle-jump” were the usual commands used to guide the walk. The walk was excruciatingly slow and it felt like as we were playing some leadership game. We walked that way for more than an hour when finally it stopped raining. 

At about 7 pm in the evening, we reached Bhotang and devoid of any choice, we had to stay at the same guest house we had stayed earlier but this time we avoided any sukutis. We had dinner, played cards for a while and fell asleep as soon as we laid down in our one common bed. I hung my clothes to dry them before I went to sleep.

Day 6: Bhotang to Kathmandu

It was Bijaya Dashami- the most important day of the Dashain festival that day and we wanted to be home. But alas, there were no buses running on the day. Everyone was putting tikas from their elders so there was slim, if any chance of getting a ride. So, without further delay, we started walking after having our breakfast. Luck was not so kind to us this time. We had to walk from Bhotang to Melamchi, more than 4 hours until finally we found a bus that was going to Kathmandu. It was raining and the bus was jam-packed with passengers. We had no other option than sitting on the roof of the bus. We were lucky enough to find a place to squeeze ourselves in at the roof. To prevent getting more soaked, we covered ourselves with the tent cover once again. One amazing thing about traveling in public vehicles is you get to see too many kinds of people. There was one very flirtatious girl who was siting on the roof the roof with a guy who seemed to be her lover and was making too much noise. Later we came to know that her husband was inside the bus without any idea that his wife was flirting with her boyfriend at the roof. What a weird world it is!

Epilogue:

We finally reached home at about 11 pm in the evening. My mom, who was very used to me not being home in Dashain, cooly put tika on my forehead without any complain. I showed mom and sisters the amazing photos I had taken and went to sleep from which I was not to wake up until noon next day. Panch Pokhari remains to date, one of the most difficult, eventful and beautiful treks I have ever taken. Govinda went to Panch Pokhari once again in July of 2011, but I don't think I will go there in near future. But it was one hell of an amazing trek for sure. Only complain is that – I forgot the tent cover in that bus. Damn! The tent is unusable now. But on the bright side, the cover-less tent will always remind me of that glorious trek!