Apr 21, 2012

Trekking the Gurung Heritage Trail (Ghale Gaun to Pokhara): My Travelogue



I just returned from a 4-days long trek (12-15 April 2012) from Kapur Gaun to Pokhara on the occasion of New Year 2069. Here is my travelogue.

Before we begin:

When I shared my plan of trekking the Gurung Heritage Trail (Ghale Gaun to Pokhara) with friends one day, Koshish had remarked, “Yo trek chai travelogue nai lekhne gariko ta hudaina hola hai?”. I had thought so too. Fortunately, it turned out to be just the opposite. The trek was very eventful and memorable. 

Although, I had spread the message around that I was going on a trek on the New Years Day and a few of my friends has shown interest to join me, I was sure that in the end it was very likely that me and Govinda would be the only people going. As I have shared in my earlier travelogues, people love to say they want to travel but very few actually really mean it and do it. So, whenever someone says he/she wants to join the trek, I don't take it seriously until and unless the person arrives at the bus park and boards the bus.

So, as expected team numbers kept rising and falling until it was confirmed a day before the trek that we two were the only ones going. So we prepared accordingly. We were supposed to catch a micro-bus to Beshisahar at 7 am from Gongabu Buspark. Around midnight, Tenshi texted me saying she and her cousins were confirmed for the trek. I was not still sure.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Kapur Gaun

I was pleasantly surprised to see Tenshi and her two cousins at the bus park. Arriving before us,they were waiting for us. She help me locate the bus counter through phone. As we sat there waiting for Govinda to arrive, she introduced her cousins to me. Govinda, who had mistakenly reached Old Bus Park, took another 20 minutes to arrive. After introducing each other and a couple of witty remarks to tease each other, we had the breakfast. At around 7:20, the five of us departed on a micro-bus to Besisahar.

Compared to my past experiences, the ride was much more comfortable. The micro had no people standing and the road was in well-condition even up-to Besisahar. Throughout the ride, we were either teasing Tenshi and her cousins or singing along with the song played in the micro. The journey was so fun-filled that we forgot the accounts of time.

At around 1 pm, we reached Beshisahar. Tenshi, who had been clamoring for ice-cream since the morning, finally got her wish fulfilled at an ice-cream shop at Beshisahar. Everyone joined her for ice-cream, savoring the ice-cream and teasing her for her childishness.

Then, we look around for buses going to Ghale Gaun or any place near to it. We found a bus about to depart, so we boarded it. Tenshi and her cousins managed to get some seats in the already packed bus, whereas Govinda and me boarded the roof. As mentioned in my earlier travelogues, we enjoy riding on the roof, whenever possible because the view from the roof is really amazing, although it's bit uncomfortable at times.

The road from there onwards was in really poor condition and so narrow that it was impossible for even a bike to pass when the bus was passing through. The bus slowly maneuvered along the narrow road and we slowly gained height. We could see the crowed houses of Beshisahar grow smaller and huge hills grow bigger. There were fields of maize, wheat and mustard all along the way. After traveling for about an hour, the bus abruptly stopped. 

Damn! Due to overload, a plate adjoining the front tires of the bus, had broken down. It took almost an hour for the driver and his assistants to fix the thing by tying the plate with a wooden plank. Meanwhile, Tenshi went on a photo shooting spree in the nearby fields whereas Govinda roamed around. I was feeling a bit sleepy. So, I took a short nap on the roof and it was comfortable as someone was transporting a mattress to Ghale Gaun.

The bus resumed its journey after the plate was fixed. Soon, the road got tougher as the elevation increased. On seeing a funny looking scarecrow in one of the fields, I asked Govinda to take a close up picture of it. From my childhood I am always fascinated by the scarecrows and plan to write a poem or a story or make a movie on the theme someday. But sadly, the due to poor light and lack of ability of the camera, the picture came poor. Never mind! The sky was overcast and it looked like it was about to rain and the mountain ridges were looking exotic and beautiful. 

It was already two hours since we had resumed our journey. Tapp! Suddenly, a large raindrop landed on my face! Oh my my, it's raining I thought to myself. The raindrop was followed by countless other large raindrops. Within minutes it was raining cats and dogs. We asked the conductor to stop the bus so that we could get down and go inside. But on a road like this and moreover during rain it was not possible to stop the bus wherever one wanted. It was only after fifteen minutes and being thoroughly soaked by rain, we got a chance to get inside. Lucky us, later we realized, to have gotten inside in time. The rain grew fiercer and fiercer.

Dham! A loud thud on the bus made us wonder , "what the hell was that?". Hailstones!!

The rain had turned into a hailstorm! With delight I peeked out of the door to see the hailstones. Lordy lord! I had never seen such large hailstones ever before in my life. They were larger than ping pong balls and there were hundreds of thousands of them. The hailstorm got so fierce that we felt like someone was throwing rocks at our bus. It terrified some of the passengers to implore the driver to stop the bus which he refused and kept driving albeit with extra care and slowly.

We passed through two bikers who had left their bike on the lurch and sought shelter on a small cave. Had it not been for the cave, I wonder if they would have remained uninjured. They bike surely got damaged by those large hailstones. As we got further, another two bikers who had not been lucky enough as their friends, stopped the bus frantically. Although, there was hardly any place in the bus for another person, it was an emergency. So, we managed to squeeze them in. They were soaked and shaken.

Trying to ignore the discomfort and enjoying listening to the hailstorm, we traveled for another half hour or so when suddenly a woman got out of her seat and stood at the aisle pressing herself to the seat. And in a while, began fidgeting around. Everyone looked at her with surprise. Then, her husband informed she needs to take a leak and it's urgent!

Hurriedly, the driver was asked to stop the bus. It was only after driving for another five minutes or so, the driver was able to find a suitable spot to stop the bus. The woman shot past me out of the door. Taking advantage of the stopped bus, me and Govinda too got out of the bus and hurriedly took some photos of me carrying a handful of hailstones.

The bus next stopped at a place called Baglung Pani. The rain had stopped and mist had covered all the hills and the road. The sight was amazingly beautiful. I rushed out of the bus and ran to get inside the mist asking Govinda to take a photo of mine. The photo came out awesome much to the envy of Tenshi  who kept pestering me till later on, for not informing her about the scene.

It began to rain once again with fierce winds blowing. On reaching Kapur Gaun, we were informed that bus couldn't go any further and we were on our own from now on.I got out of the bus to see where we had reached. The wind was very fierce and the heavy rain was being swayed by the wind. The moment I opened Govinda's umbrella to shelter myself from rain, Bang! it broke down and became unusable. So, all five of us took shelter in a small passenger stand. We were in dilemma on whether we should continue our journey on foot or spend the night at Kapur Gaun. Other passengers who were headed for Ghale Gaun were also in dilemma. It was already 6 pm and getting dark.

"Let's get some tea and snacks first", Govinda suggested.

While sipping our teas we discussed about what to do next. Some of the other passengers who heard our conversation suggested us not to continue further as it was already dark and we could get lost easily. I decided to ignore them because I really wanted to reach Ghale Gaun the same day and traveling in the dark is usually fun and adventurous. But then, the rain which had subsided for a while began to pour once again and those guys sensing our hesitation insisted saying that we stay here and go to Ghale Gaun next morning. So, we decided to stay at Kapur Gaun but alas our troubles were far from being over.

The hotel we had sat down for tea had only tea to offer us. The place was already packed so no beds were available for the night. Even the Dal-Bhat was not available as those staying there had already made orders enough to keep the owner-couple busy cooking until mid-night. It was already 8 pm by the time and it was pitch dark already. I frantically, began seeking shelter in the nearby houses. None was available. One of the locals who had suggested us to stay in Kapur Gaun accompanied me to another hotel to see if there was any space available. None!

By the time, I was worried that we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. Govinda and I could manage anyhow but what to do with Tenshi and her cousins. As we stayed there wondering what to do now, the guy suggested we go little further than before and see if we could find a place to stay at least. He said he had some distant relatives living in the village but they lived towards the end of the village. We had no any other options, so I went with him to find out.

In the house, a woman and her two sons (?) were sitting talking in the candle light. After about 10 minutes of incomprehensible chitchat in their local language the guy finally convinced the woman to make place for us to stay and prepare food for us. Then I brought along the rest of us to the house. Relieved that now we had a shelter the mood lightened. We ordered some local alcohol, asked the woman for sadheko wai wai noodles. For another hour or so, while we waited for food, we finished one and a half liters of alcohol, got tipsy had dozens of fun moments such as when Tenshi couldn't find the door and couldn't open it when found. Govinda and me after a few drinks came out of the house for some fresh air.

My goodness, the view was just awesome. It was raining lightly and I could see the outlines of mountain ranges until far away. One of the hills had a human settlement and the lights from that village were making the village look like silhouettes in the evening. Except the light from that village, everything was pitch dark. Once in a while lightning would strike giving us a glimpse of the valley down the mountain. Cold wind was blowing giving us goosebumps and the sound made by the light rain falling on the tin roofs of the houses was melodious to say the least. I was really enjoying the view when we were informed that food was ready. Hungry, tired and tipsy, we devoured the food. The woman and her sons had prepared a local chicken's curry for us. I really don't remember if the food was very delicious but it was at the time.

As we prepared to go to bed, Tenshi had her share of fits. She demonstrated some of her dancing skills as we played some songs on my cellphone. Finally at about 11 pm, we went to sleep. I was delighted on having such a memorable day.

Day 2: Kapur Gaun - Ghale Gaun - Bhujung - Kama Gaun - Pas Gaun

Early next morning I was woken up by the alarm in my cellphone at around 5:30. Switching it off, I slept once again. Then a while later, Govinda nudged me saying "Qazi, wake up. The view of the mountain range is awesome. You gonna miss it!.

Unwillingly, I woke up and followed him. Lordy lord, he was right. The view was astounding. Even after having watched mountain ranges, I am still fascinated by them. Maybe someday, I will climb them too. After satisfying our eyes and senses, we returned to do our daily chores. Tenshi's toothpaste (it was some fruit flavored and for children) provided a hearty laughter for us.

At 7:30, we paid our bills (surprisingly cheap) and started out trek. Last night's rain had cleared the sky so we could see distant hills and mountains basking in the morning sun. We walked uphill clicking pictures here and there and resting once in a while to catch up our breaths. I was really exhausted once when we reached a padhero (water tap) and rested there for a while. A rest house was built nearby the tap for travelers to rest. The stone inscription at the tap informed us that it was built by a colonel in memory of his wife and his sons. It was quite refreshing to see an act of voluntary charity in this distant  village as opposed to hearing people clamoring demands from government to do this and that daily while in Kathmandu.

After walking for almost two hours, we were finally greeted by the spectacular sight of Ghale Gaun. I found Ghale Gaun as beautiful and as exotic as described in the websites promoting it. When Tenshi and her cousins arrived, we took lots and lots of pictures and they came out beautiful too. The only regret I had at the moment was for not having a DSLR camera.

After dozens of photographs, we walked for a while and found a home that would serve us dal-bhat. It would take a while for the food to be prepared so we bought some snacks and cold drinks and went to a small hill that looked like a view point for the Himalayas. From the hill, the mountain range looked even more spectacular. We took another dozen or so of photographs. I really liked Govinda's idea that we jump looking towards the mountain and he would take a photo of the four of us. The photo turned out to be amazing!

After spending about half an hour at the hill, we roamed around the village a little before finally going for our food. The food was not that great though. But we were quite hungry and didn't mind. At this time, Tenshi informed that they wouldn't be accompanying us for the rest of the trek as one of her cousin couldn't really walk. Tenshi and I had discussed beforehand that they would accompany us until Ghale Gaun but would go further only if they could walk or else they would return from there. I welcomed the move because I was not aware how difficult the trek would from now on and Durga was really exhausted. So, me and Govinda bid adjeu  to them and continued our trek. Tenshi and her cousins would return from there. They said they would probable come to Pokhara by bus and meet us there.

The trek until Bhujung was very easy as the road was plain. Ghan Pokhara which we reached on our way to Bhujung provided a better view of Himalayan Range than Ghale Gaun. After walking for almost two hours and taking photographs until the camera's battery died, we reached Bhujung. Bhujung and Pas Gaun which we were to reach later, are among the best villages I have ever reached during my trek. Perched on the crest of a hill, Bhujung is a very well maintained and extremely beautiful village. The two-storey traditional houses are packed closely together around narrow alleys and there is a small canal of water flowing beside almost every house. Bhujung has its own micro hydro-power project, bee-keeping farm, tea farm, rope ways and a day care center. Similar looking houses joined by the narrow alleys paved by stones gave the feel of the village version of a housing project of Kathmandu.

People were engaged in their daily activities, (a woman was making clothes, another one was laying some grains in front of her house to bask them in sun)  when we reached there but noticed us and looked at us with curiosity. We asked them for the direction to Pas Gaun. We were informed it was quite far away and would take us hours to reach. So we continued without resting.

The walk was quite easy until Kama Gaun as we had to walk downhill. From there on though, it got quite tough as we had to walk steep uphill walk and the trail never seemed to end. Having walked for hours by now, taking another step on the stone staircases on the trail was getting very tiresome but we managed to keep going. Every 15 minutes or so, we would take rest and chat about one thing or the other. Govinda's tendency to talk less and be lost in taking photographs and my penchant for being silent and contemplating the nature and view while trekking compliments each other and makes Govinda and me a very good trekking partners.

It was almost 4 pm and we were utterly exhausted when we reached the house at the top most part of the village. There we were told, was a shop that had noodles and biscuits for sale. We went to the shop to buy some. A small girl (around 5-6 years of age) was washing a bowl and another very cute girl who was even younger was looking at her. This younger girl had a hint of worry over her face which made her look even cuter. How I wished I had a camera at the time! Damn those dead batteries I thought to myself.

We gulped the noodles and biscuits hungrily, drank some water given by that cute little girl and resumed our trek once again. Now, we had passed the Kama Gaun and the trail ran through a dense forest. With the shelter from the scorching sun, the trek became interesting now onward. The excitement was heightened when we realized that the forest was super-rich in bird species and would be a paradise for any birdwatcher. We saw so many types of birds, one with a unusually large tail, one that had a colorful tail, one that looked like hen and so on. The experience of seeing so many birds but failing to recognize them has made me think of learning some more about birds and bird-watching.

As we reached the top of the hill, we saw the sun about to set. Pas Gaun which we could see a bit far away down the hill was looking glorious in the evening light. We were delighted to be at that point at that time savoring that view. From now onward, we had to trek downhill.

After walking for an hour or so, we reached the football ground of Pas Gaun where two teams were playing from the same village were playing against each other. The game was aggressive and exciting.We watched it for a while before finally heading towards the village. At Ghale Gaun we were informed that a football tournament among footballs team from as many as 22 districts was taking place from 14th April. This must be their preparation I thought.

Pas Gaun was similar looking to Bhujung. Inhabited by the Gurungs, the village looked well-managed. The tradition and culture was well preserved. Though they were yet to see any electricity, they had a health post, day care center, school and other basic facilities which we hardly find in a typical rural village of Nepal.

A woman, on seeing us, inquired if we were looking for a place to stay and if we had brought 'Goraa' with us. We said we were jut looking a place for ourselves. On that, she took to her brother's house who promptly welcomed us and showed us our rooms. The rooms were good enough. A woman, who had difficultly of hearing, served us tea. She had to be shouted at to be heard by her which I found a bit uncomfortable. So, using sign language we ordered some fried eggs and beaten rice. After the snacks, we went to lie on our beds as were extremely exhausted and tired. My calves were aching like hell. Before long we fell asleep. After an hour or so, I was woken up by a fierce rain. The rain combined with the wind was making lots of noise at out tin roof. I peeked out to see the rain properly. Oh my my, there were hailstones all over the courtyard of the house. Looks like, the hailstorm is following us, I smiled to myself and went to sleep again. It was only after another hour of sleep that we were informed that our food was ready. As we were feeling so sleep, we hurriedly ate our food which was better than at Ghale Gaun and went to sleep hoping to wake early next day.

Day 3: Pas Gaun – Bagaicha Beshi – Rabde Danda – Mijure Danda – Gahate Gaun – Thumsikot – Pokhara


Third day of the trek, I was woken up by the alarm of my cellphone once again. This time, I really woke up and woke Govinda up too. Finishing our daily chores and having a cup of tea each, we resumed our trek. As per the information given by Padam Bahadur Ghale, in whose home, we had stayed, we had two options now. We could either go to Baluwa Beshi and get a bus that leaves at noon only from there or we could hike upto Mijure Danda and get a bus from there anytime from morning until 4 in the afternoon. Baluwa Beshi was way nearer than Mijure Danda, so we decided to go there and catch a bus to Pokhara. As we descended from Pas Gaun to Bagaicha Beshi, the morning weather was awesome. It was cool and walking was fun. On our way, we found some "Aishelu". Oh my my, weren't they delicious. We two devoured more than 3 aishelu plants before finally moving on.

Walking downhill for almost one a half hour, we reached Bagaicha Beshi, who is so called for the colorful trees it has that looks like a garden. There we rested for a while and looked around to see if we could find tea and some snacks. A young man directed us to a house down the alley and said something to the old man and woman sitting in the courtyard. The old man got up from his seat and offered us to seat instead and asked his wife to prepare some tea. Feeling uncomfortable for having him stand up, we hesitated to seat but he insisted forcing us to seat.

While sipping the sweet tea, we noticed a "Theki" at our side. Curious, we asked if they had any curd. the old man answered they had yoghurt only. We asked is we could have some and were offered a glass each. When it time to move, I asked how much did we owe them. They looked unsure on how much to charge. After long hesitation, the old man said, "Twenty rupees".

"And what about the yoghurt?", I asked. To my utter surprise, he seemed annoyed. "You came from so far away cities to our villages. You expect us to charge you for just two glasses of youghurt? It's gift. If you want some more for the journey, take a bottle", he replied.

We were clearly puzzled. Guessing our predicament, he replied, "For the tea, we also have to buy sugar and tea ourselves. So, I asked for 20 rupees to cover the cost. Or I wouldn't have taken money from you."

We were so delighted and felt so proud. Nepalese hospitality is just awesome, I thought. No wonder tourists constantly rank hospitality as one of the major attractions of Nepal.

The old man also informed us that due to heavy rain past night, no bus had come to Baluwa Beshi, so we better hike to Mijure Danda to get the bus. Thanking him, we resumed our trek. We hadn't even walked for fifteen minutes we came across a swinging bridge. From there I saw a band of kids playing in the river. They were trying to catch fish with a little net. A small kid with shaved head and wearing red t-shirt was instructing another kid wearing a stylish cap and a jersey on where and how to throw the net. The view was just so captivating. I truly missed a camera at the moment. Never ever am I gonna forget to get two cameras during a trek again!

After passing the kids and walking for another ten minutes, we reached another bridge. Crossing the bridge, we found a small beach. Govinda suggested we should swim in the river. How could I say no for such a wonderful offer? We threw our bags and clothes and jumped into the river. Little did we know that the water was icy cold. Chilled I quickly came out of the water and sat on a huge rock basking the sun whereas Govinda acclimatized after a while kept swimming in the river. In a while I too swam. Ah! Blissful moments like this really make trekking so memorable.

After spending about an hour at the river, we resumed the trek. The trail from there onward wasn't as exciting though. We climb a steep uphill to Rabde Danda for almost 3 hours. By the time we reached the top we were so hungry that we could eat an elephant. But looking around we couldn't find any shops or place to eat. School students from a nearby school were having a picnic. Maybe we should crash the picnic I suggested. Govinda was too hungry to say no. We were seriously thinking of joining the picnic but then a woman who had been informed that two guys were looking for a shop came running and opened her shop. We bought some noodles, biscuits and a coke and gulped them. From that we point we had to walk downhill until we descended up to the river at the foot of the hill. Two guys who were carrying a bed each said they too were going to Pokhara and suggested we go together. We agreed but oh my my those guys were literally running both uphill and downhill and were soon out of sight while we struggling to keep pace. Quite embarrassing it was! :)

After climbing next hill, we reached Mijure Danda where we were supposed to find the bus. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain for past two days, Mardi River had grown larger making it impossible for the bus to pass (there is no bridge for the bus there). So, we had to walk up to Thumsikot to find the bus. The journey from Mijure Danda to Thumsikot was really tiring and boring as we had to walk the same road the bus was supposed to take and the scorching sun burnt us making us darker in complexion.

After around three hours of walk we finally reached Thumsikot in time to catch the last bus to Pokhara at 4 pm. Luckily, we reached there at 3:30 pm. The bus was packed by 3:30 and was about to move before it's scheduled time. Had we been 10 minutes late, we would have missed the bus. Lucky us!

Epilogue:

We stayed a night at Pokhara and had food at our favorite 'Marpha Thakali Kitchen". Next day, as some self-righteous idiots belonging to a political party had called  a banda so we had to wait until 1 pm before finally we got a bus to Kathmandu. Even then we had to pay double the normal price. On a positive side, we met an interesting guy named 'Kalbahadur Lalchan'. Aged 50 or so, he hailed from Marpha village in Mustang and had interesting stories to tell. Throughout the journey he entertained us with his stories such as how he used to sell 500 liter oil for 9 paisa when he was young, how 25 years ago, King's aide de camp was known all over Pokhara for having 9 pair of shoes, how government's tendency to over tax anything that sells is hampering apple brandy production in Mustang. He sounded like a wikipedia in his own right. Knowing that we were just returning from a trekking, he invited us to come to his village someday.

Our response? Obviously, the next thing I was going to do after reaching Kathmandu was check out when I will have a continuous holidays of three days in my office! :)

Thank you for reading!