Oct 18, 2013

Trek to Rara Lake (from Dailekh): My Travelogue


20th October 2012, 2 pm
I slowly and rather unwillingly approach the bus counter of Mid-Western Region in New Bus Park. I sneak a peek at my cellphone to check the time. It is already more than 2 pm and our bus is supposed to depart at 4 pm. I push and shove the crowd to reach the counter. I show the guy at the counter my ticket and ask in a soft voice if he could cancel one of my tickets and give me a refund. He refuses saying they can't do so as the deadline for canceling the ticket had already passed and suggests me to wait for the bus and sell the ticket to someone else myself. I look around if to see if someone is looking for a ticket to Dailekh. Almost everyone seemed to be holding their own tickets. Damn! I say out aloud.

As the bus arrives, I ask the conductor if he would help me sell the ticket. He too refuses. Well, it was not in his interest to resale the already sold ticket. Then, I get an idea. I take out a paper and write “Tickets available for Dailekh for tonight's bus. If you want, contact...” and then put the paper behind the wipers of the bus. A small crowd gathers in front of the bus but no one seems to be in need of a ticket.

Day 1 and 2: Kathmandu - Dailekh Bazaar - Bhaisikhor

Despite our efforts, we were unable to sell the extra ticket as the counter refused to take back the tickets and conductor refused to sell it and it was quite difficult to find a person who already hadn't gotten a ticket even if the ticket was for a muda (stool made of bamboo). We even tried to sell the ticket to the Muda walas asking them to pay for our lunches and have the ticket. I guess, Govinda and I have a lot to  do to harness our selling skills. I reminded myself not to buy tickets for anyone from next trek until and unless they are guaranteed to come on the trek. After a while, we just gave up on selling the ticket and got engaged into solving a more pressing matter- finding a hat for me. I had this sudden urge to get a hat a few days before the trek but hadn't been able to buy one. So, we wandered around the shops in the bus park to see if we could find one. We finally found one.

We returned to our bus to find three extremely loquacious young girls (mid-teens) beside our seats. Hearing their chatter for a few minutes was enough to make us pray to god that the bus ride did not last long. As the time for departure neared, people slowly began filling the seats and eventually the aisle as well. In addition to the seats, about half a dozen passengers were accommodated by the mudas and a few daring ones were standing.

At around 4 pm, the bus departed. The extra seat proved to be a boon as I could keep my bag along with me and use it as a cushion whenever I needed it. Govinda and I started discussing about what Rara might look like and how it would have been wonderful if Manoj too had joined us. However, as the bus gained speed so did the chatter of those girls too. Their continuous chatter, giggles and shouts annoyed the hell out of me. In addition to their loquacity, there were annoyingly curious. Once we settled down properly, they began pelting questions at us: Where are you going? Trekking in Dashain? Don't your parents say anything? Have you been to Dailekh before? And whenever I used a new term.What does that mean? Blah. Blah.Blah. I was on the verge of banging my head on some wall but thankfully as the night wore on they felt sleepy and so did we.


However, it was almost 24 hours drive to Dailekh Bazaar and the driver seemed to be in a hurry. He did not make any efforts to avoid the small pits and potholes on the road. Thanks to him, proper sleep became an impossibility. After a frequently disturbed sleep for about 16 hours, the bus finally reached Surkhet where it stopped for lunch. Govinda and I used this time to freshen up ourselves, have some snacks and take a walk around Surkhet which I did not find that impressive.


The bus resumed its journey after an hour so. Another two hours of bus ride brought us to a small market, where a crowd of people were competing to buy vegetables. Govinda and I , famished by now, ordered food in a small house-cum-hotel and looked around. The food was okay.

After the lunch, we rode the bus for another 3 hours to reach our Dailekh Bazaar. Oh what a relief it was after almost 24 hours of bus ride, lack of sleep and endless chatter of those girls. We happily took out our bags, dusted ourselves and entered a small tea shop to have some snacks. Two women were having a bitter quarrel there over a humorous remark gone wrong. Damn it! Too tired to look for another shop we ordered celrotis and tarakari and had them as fast as we could.

As we resumed our journey, we asked some bystanders, is this the right way to Rara Lake?

To our utter disappointment most of them gave us a puzzled look as if to say: What Rara? Never heard of it!!

Then we got a little wiser and asked, "Is this the way to Mugu?". It definitely was.

After walking for another 10 minutes or so, we encountered a bhatti. We could not resist the temptation. Hence, we got ourselves tipsy with a few glasses of rakshi before resuming our journey.

The trail was an easy one. We walked alone for almost an hour before we had a companion. This guy whose last name was Bishwakarma (forgot his first name) was very friendly and entertained us with his stories and tips for the journey ahead. One of the millions of Nepalese migrant workers in India, Bishwakarma was returning home for Dashain. He shared with me that he was eager to finish Dashain and return to India. Surprised, I asked why was he so eager to go back and did he not want to celebrate Tihar? He told that he and a few of his friends (who were also migrant workers) had combined their savings and established a restaurant in India and since Dewali is the largest festival of India, it was the time to make lots and lots of money. "Sometimes we make 70-80 thousand in a day", he shared excitedly.

It pleased me immensely to know that these enterprising Nepalese were doing good in India.

As the sun went down, we reached small settlement called Bhaisikhor. Bishwakarma bid us goodbye and went his way while Govinda and I settled in a small house. A woman in her 30s prepared food for us and showed us our room. She spoke very little. However, a question had been haunting me ever since I had planned the trek. So after dinner I asked her, "We heard that people are frequently robbed in this trail. Is that true?"

I was so expecting to hear. "Oh no, that's not true."

Instead she said, "Well, the frequency has decreased a lot these days.Robbery is rare these days."

Govinda and I looked at each other with horror. WHAT?? It seemed  that she did not notice our unease on hearing her reply.

We took two bottles of beer and went to our room to sleep. Our discussion lingered around what if we got robbed? But none of us really wanted to contemplate the question.

Day 3: Bhasisikhor - Ita - Dasharathe - Okharbaas - Unpata

The lady, however, seemed to have understood our concern. Early next morning, she woke us up. A group
of people (including two students) were traveling the same trail and had stopped for tea at a nearby tea-shop. The lady had talked with them and requested them to accompany us. So sweet of her. We hurriedly finished our tea and biscuits, settled our bill and joined the group. Netra Thakuri and Santosh B.K. were college students from Hodaa village currently studying in Surkhet. They were returning home for Dashain. Accompanying them were Ganga Singh, a returnee migrant worker and Laxman Singh (school teacher in Hodaa). The group was very friendly and offered to carry our bags which we promptly refused.

From Bhaisikhor, the trail climbed uphill to reach Itaa village. We labored for more than an hour to overcome the steep climb and reach Itaa. Our companions told us that Itaa had been a host of skirmish between Maoist rebels and the national army during the civil war. We could see a few ruins of houses there. I climb one of the ruined house to look around. Wow! The view was amazing. I could see layers of mountain/hill ranges as far as my vision permitted. Needless to say, Govinda captured the landscapes along with me in his photography.

View from Itaa
After several photos, we resumed our journey. The trail passed through another few villages namely Dasharathe, Chhanna and the trail grew steeper. Soon we were very tired and hungry. Unlike us, however, for the other group the hike was effortless. After an hour of hike together, Ganga and Laxman separated saying they had to bring someone from another village. Now, four of us resumed the hike.

At around noon, we reached a place called Okharbaas. Netra and Santosh looked around for hotels, found one and ordered food for us. While the food was being prepared, we ordered some local alcohol. It was good. I am not sure about the food through because we were already tipsy when the food was ready. Maybe because of not being a commercial route, the food and accommodation in this trail are very cheap, although too basic at times.

After having lunch and resting for about half an hour, we slowly resumed our journey. The trail was now wider than before and passed through a jungle. It was a pleasant walk and we took a few pictures. Santosh and Netra were perfect guides for us as they told us about the trees and vegetation, cultures and people of that region. After walking for another two hours or rather say running to catch up with our 'guides' we finally reached a shortcut and now the trail grew more interesting. It grew very steep and meandered its way through huge rocks. Three of us climbed on those rocks and posed for photographs while Govinda tirelessly took numerous pictures. Climbing on those rocks we could see distant valleys and ranges of mountains. Breathtaking!

View from Unpata
We passed through another village called Naauli, where we stopped for tea before reaching Unpata ,the day's destination. Unpata consists of 3-4 houses and is just beneath Mahabu Lek (4168 meters), which separates Dailekh and Kalikot. The sun was about to go down when we reached the place. We ordered tea and started taking photographs of distant hills and mountain ranges looking great in the sunset. Given its height, the place grows very cold at night.

Soon, we all of us were beside the fireplace watching our Dal-Bhat being cooked and the firewood smouldering with chirping noises. I suggested we play cards. Everyone agreed and so we started playing Call Break. After a few games, the food was ready.The food was delicious. We devoured it and went to sleep. The place was quite cold forcing us to use our sleeping bags along with the blankets.

Day 4: Unpata - Mahabu Lek - Dillikot - Simkhet - Padmaghat

The fourth day of the trek started with Netra waking us up at around 6 am. I hurriedly got out of my sleeping bag, went out to the tap and got a handful of water to....aaaaauch! The water was bitingly cold. I noticed that water has frozen into ice around the tap and there were shreds of ice on the tap itself. The hell with freshening up I thought.

Therefor, I packed my bags, settled the bill and follow our guides-duo. Netra and Santosh took us through a short-cut trail which as per them was quite difficult but more interesting. We found out it indeed was so. Within half an hour of walking the trail got very steep, almost vertical and at times we had to use both hands and legs to move ahead(upwards). While overcoming these difficult portions of the trek, I suddenly noticed a small hill which was a little far away. The sun was slowing getting stronger. I thought standing on that hilltop would produce a great picture. I shared the idea with Govinda. He said, "Let's see. Why don't you go there?". The silhouette picture came out awesome!!

Mahabu Lek (4168 m) is theborder between Dailekh and Kalikot.
After almost two hours of walking and crawling we finally reached the top of Mahabu Lek. Oh boy, the view was worth the effort. All of us threw down our bags and started posing for photographs. We took hundreds of photographs there. Netra informed us that Mahabu Lek is considered a very holy place and hosts a mela periodically that is attended by people from all the surrounding districts. The place also acted as a border between Dailekh district and Kalikot district. After almost spending an hour at Mahabu we were ready to move again. Netra and Santosh who had been restraining their speed for us informed us that they would be speeding up from now onwards. We said, "Okay, we'll catch up."

Who were we kidding? Netra and Santosh bolted away towards their village. With 15 minutes or so, they were out of sight while Govinda and I were laboring to catch up. After half an hour we gave up. We decided to walk on our own pace.The downhill trail passed through a forest and we encountered lots of snow and ice. Water had frozen into the shape of the leaves of pine trees. We hiked along our own pace, stopping every once in a while to take photographs.

Lasun Dhunga
We passed through a village called Lasun Dhunga and reached the top of Dillikot village at around 1 pm which has a single house (apparently a hotel). A radio was blaring out Dashain wishes from different people and organizations of mid-western region. We stopped to drink some water but did not have lunch at the hotel thinking there will be lots of other hotels to choose from in the village. This decision turned out to be a huge mistake.

Later on, we combed through almost whole of Dillikot to find a hotel but could not. Finally, an old man offered to prepare Dal-Bhat for us. Lacking any other option we said ok. While the food was being prepared Govinda started photos of the kids playing in the courtyard. I was tired so slept for a while. Our dal-bhat arrived after an hour. It looked terrible and tasted even more terrible. Govinda looked at me and muttered, "if something happens to me because of this food it is your responsibility". But we were too hungry to refuse it. Out of hunger and politeness we gobbled up what was on the plate but did not ask for anymore. We promptly settled our bill and resumed our trek.

Leaving Dillikot, we reached a stream where some people were washing clothes and a man was shaving with a knife (it really a knife although a small one). When we got near, we realized it our none other than Ganga Singh. We exchanged greetings and walked together. Walking for another 15 minutes we reached Simkhet village where we had a cup of tea each. The joy of seeing Ganga Singh and Laxman Singh soon wore off as we realized that Ganga Singh was quite drunk and in a very chatty mood which annoyed the hell out of me.

Laxman Singh was very informative and polite. He shared with me about how the migration for foreign employment was changing the community of his village and other villages of Kalikot. He was very happy for the economic upliftment brought upon by remittance received from foreign employment. According to him, Dalits had benefited a lot  due to foreign employment as it helped them break the chains of caste hierarchy and caste-based discrimination. However, as per him, the foreign employment had also created too many con artists and petty criminals out of the migrant workers who were adversely affecting the order and peace of the community.

He suggested us to spend the night at Padmaghat but seek out shelter at the police station as staying in other places could mean being disturbed by or being part of drunken brawls.

Soon we stumbled upon Santosh as his house was adjacent to the trail we were walking. He seemed to have told his family about us. The whole family had gathered to talk to us. His father offered us cucumbers and asked us to stay for food and even spend the night at his house. We accepted the cucumber but refused food and accommodation as daylight was still there and we could walk for one more hour. He went on to introduce his family members. I forgot their name as soon as I heard them. Then, he pointed out to a young girl (who I had thought was his daughter) and said, "That's my daughter-in-law".  WHAAATT? I struggled to restrain my dismay. She looked like 13-14 years old. My goodness I thought. Santosh, apparently at unease to accept the fact, muttered, "No, she is not." I could see him torn between acknowledging the obvious fact and his conscience telling him that it was wrong.

After finishing the cucumber, we said goodbye, promised to email Santosh his pictures and resumed our trek. We had hiked for another 15-20 minutes before we were resting when Ganga Singh caught up with us. He stood before us, spread out his hands and said, "Sirs please put a hundred rupee note on my hands."

Utterly puzzled we asked, "Why?".

"For the cucumber."

"We thought it was a gift. Besides, the person did not say anything about the money."

"These low-caste people are like this sir. They do not say it in front of you. But they made snide remark to me saying your urban guests did not even pay for the cucumber."

We did not believe him at all but we were not sure how to react. He repeated his request to give him Rs. 100. Laxman, who was clearly embarrassed by Ganga's act started scolding him. But Ganga refused to budge.

I thought what the heck. Let him have Rs. 100 for the sake of peace. So, I handed him a 100-rupee note. But our troubles were far from over.

Now, Laxman started agitating. "You are our guests. How can we take money from you." He turned towards Ganga shot him several bitter names for embarrassing him before guests. "Sir, I am sorry for his behavior. Please take this money." He tried to hand me a 100 rupee note from his wallet.

"It is okay. Please keep it. It is just 100 rupees. It does not matter whether he (Ganga) is telling the truth or not", I said.

But Laxman kept insisting till the point of annoying me. "WTF! What is the problem with these people?" I thought to myself. After around 10 minutes of haggling, I relented and took the money.

Soon we reached the crossroads separating our ways. Laxman apologized profusely once again and said goodbye. We continued walking.

Padmaghat is a beautiful, small settlement at the bank of a small river. We crossed a trail-bridge and passed a cluster of small huts before reaching the police station.

As I mention earlier, both of us are not very good at selling and getting our way with people. Hence, we were not sure how to make friends of the policemen there and get the shelter for the night. We should not have worried.

As we put down and bags and rested at the side of the trail in front of the station, a policeman called us from the station. He inquired where we were from and where we were going. On hearing our replies, he further inquired why Dashain? I replied because that's the only time we get leave from our jobs. He invited us to sleep at the station for the night. What more could we ask for?

 The policeman who had invited us seemed to be the head of the station. He ordered his sub-ordinates to cater to our needs. A constable of Madhesi origin (I forgot to note down his name but we call him Mr. Something Something) took us to his room. As there were only one extra bed, I asked Govinda to stay there and followed the guy to another common sleeping room. He introduced me to his colleagues as sahebs from Kathmandu. He apologized to us profusely for not being able to serve us food as their mesh had already closed. Well, I thanked him, put down my bags and followed him to his room.

The reason we call him Mr. Something Something is whenever we asked him a question contained amount of any kind, he would answer, "Umm...something something...". I asked him, "How much will it take us to reach Serabada tomorrow?". He replied, "For you it will take something something like two hours."

Mr. Something Something was in charge of communication. He shared us about his home and families at Nepalgunj. "You and us, both are outsiders here sir. I feel pleased to welcome you to our station. Let's celebrate Dashain together. I miss my family but I am so far away that my Dashain leave won't be able to cover my travel time to home during festive seasons. Hence, I will pass the leave for now and accumulate them to a leave of two months later."

"These Kalikotes are very hard to handle, sir. They are very quarrelsome. There are numerous incidents every festival. They love getting drunk and fighting. If we try to intervene, the whole village unites against us and says we don't need the police station. What can we do? If we decide to call our back up it would take days for them to arrive. So we have stopped meddling in small incidents like beatings. We only intervene whenever there is huge incidents like rape or murder.", he said in a sad tone. "At other times, we just greet them as Raja and Rani and they are happy."

It definitely was a surprise for me to know that in these parts of Nepal, it was the police that needed protection from the people rather than the other way round.

Then, Mr. Something something took us for dinner at a small hotel near the police station. The food was good enough. However, the sauni was interesting. She acknowledged that her community definitely had drinking problem. "Once our aama samuha (Mothers Group) decided enough is enough. We need to ban alcohol in our community. The group called a meeting. Everyone came even if it meant walking for 2 hours to reach the meeting venue for some people. We also agreed that alcohol is a bad thing and it needs to be banned. As the meeting was over, someone said that it was a historic move for our community and we needed to celebrate. So, all of us drank some alcohol and came back home", she shared with a chuckle.

Then Mr. Something took us back to the station. He shared a few things about communication techniques which I do not remember (I was so tired) except that their code was 'Kilo Sera India 17'. Very sleepy by now, I requested Mr. Something something to wake us up before 5 am the next morning (so that we could reach Serabada in time to catch the bus) and went to sleep.

Day 5: Padmaghat - Serabada - Nangma

Timure
The reason we had asked the policeman to wake us up so early was that if early enough we had a chance to catch the only bus departing to Nangma at Serabada. Serabada according to Mr. Something something was about 2 hours away from Padmaghat (3 hours in reality). As requested we were woken up at around 4:30 am. We got readily fast, said our goodbyes (told them to contact us if they ever came to Kathmandu) and started our journey. It was pretty dark and we had to use torch lights to find our way. It was a very memorable walk for me. The cool early morning breeze was very pleasing to the senses. I could hear the river rumbling deep down the slope we were walking by. Best of the all, the fresh smell of soil, trees and different plants was on air. As the dawn slowly spread itself, we could see we were walking along the trail on a huge hill. Talking less, savoring the environment more we kept walking for an hour.

Then we found an amala tree on a precipice below the trail tempting us to pick up the fruit. Who were we to say no? We put down our bags climb a tree beside the plant and picked up a handful of amlas. They lasted until Serabada. We walked another two hours before finally reaching Serabada. Just before reaching Serabada, we had to climb down a rock that was tougher than climbing up the Mahabu Lek.

Serabada consists of about a dozen houses along the Karnali river. Nothing impressive except that we were supposed to get a bus from here to Nangma. Unfortunately, due to Dashain as we came to know, no bus was running for the day. Damn it!

We ate some noodles at the place and lacking any other option started walking towards Nangma. The terrain was picturesque but walking on the road is considerably less exciting than walking a trail. We walked for hours discussing about different things and taking a few photographs here and there. At one place, we drank a cup of tea each. The owner refused to charge us saying it was Bijaya Dashami.

At another place, someone called us from a nearby house. "Sir, can you wait for a minute please?". Wondering what the guy wanted, we waited. The guy appeared with tika and jamara, put them on our foreheads, blessed us and gave us selrotis. "You should not have an empty forehead today!", he said. Touched, we thanked him and resumed our trek.

For the next couple of hours, nothing meaningful happened. We kept walking and walking aiming to reach Nangma by nightfall. It was around 5 pm when we stopped at a roadside house to ask how far Nangma was now. A guy in mid-40s said it was only about half an hours walk away. He asked if we wanted to have some tea. We were reluctant to waste more time. But he insisted. And we relented. The guy had a small shed in front of his house and at the roadside. We sat around the fire while he boiled water for tea. He started asking us lots and lots of questions. I was beginning to grow suspicious of his over-friendly behavior. Then, he brought out tika-jamara put tika on our forehead.

I asked, "So what do you do?"
"That's my business", he said pointing to the plate of tika.
"He sells tika?" I asked myself. Or maybe he is the type of person people were warning us against. As mentioned earlier, we had heard that robberies were pretty common in these parts of Nepal.

He seemed to have perceived my thoughts. "I mean, I am a blacksmith. I make utensils like this plate. I am an outsider here. My home is in Palpa. Why don't you guys stay here tonight?"

After finishing our tea, I asked for a cigarette. The guy asked us instead, "Do you want just the cigarette or want to fill it as well?".

Govinda and I looked at each other. The temptation was high but I was suspicious of the guy. So I said, "No thanks. Just the cigarette."

"It's a good one. Wanna see it?"

Without waiting for our reply, he delved into his bag and brought out a large piece of pollen (marijuana). It looked and smelled damn good. But I resisted the temptation because somewhere in my mind I was pretty convinced that this guy is trying to make us unconscious and rob us.

"No, we don't want it."

"Well, it your wish then. Take just the cigarette."

Goddamn it! Could not resist the temptation anymore. "Can we have some of that too?"

He prepared a nice stick. Govinda, I and that guy took turns to puff away the magic cigarette. It turned out to be much stronger than I had expected. I started feeling the effect in minutes. Worried that I might fall down and sleep there, I told Govinda to hurry up as we were getting late. In minutes we were on our way to Nangma but the marijuana was taking over my mind and body. I started getting more and more sure that the guy had mixed something in the cigarette and that we could faint down any minute. "It's his plan. He must be following us. Once we faint he will catch up with us and rob us." If you have ever smoked pot, you must know how I was feeling at the time. As I started getting more worried, I increased my pace and urged Govinda to walk faster and faster. Govinda too was clearly stoned by now. He was muttering something about his grand plans. We walked for an hour but Nangma (which was supposed to arrive in 30 minutes) did not arrive.

It was already pitch dark. So we took out our torch lights and used them to see the way ahead. Suddenly, we heard footsteps behind us. I turned sharply expecting that guy but found a younger guy carrying a bag and walking briskly. He was carrying a bag. He smiled on seeing us. "Oh hi, I had noticed you guys in the afternoon today. Just saw you at that Baje's place", he said.  "What?", I thought to myself. He must be that Baje's accomplice.Otherwise why would anyone keep track of details about us?  I smiled at him, nonetheless.

He shot ahead of us. "Nangma is not very far now. We will reach there in next 30-40 minutes", he said. I tried to remain a few feet behind him. I looked at Govinda to convey my feelings. He was oblivious to all these. He seemed to be in his own world.

After walking for another 15 minutes or so, the guy abruptly stopped ahead of us. Without a word, he took of his bag and delved into it as if he was searching for something. My heart stopped. Oh my God, he is searching for his knife I thought. I felt like screaming was too stoned to do so. I clutched my walking stick hard, ready to wield it as a weapon if necessary. After few seconds full of tension, the guy took out something out of his bag, spread his hands out and said, "Do you want to eat an apple?"

We reached Nangma at around 8 pm. We were still high although the suspicious streak in me had finally wore off.The guy took us to his house for food and accommodation for the night but it seemed that his relatives were having a major fight there. So, he coolly took us to another house. On our way, we saw that the whole village was either drunk or high.

The woman at this new house was the only sober person in the vicinity that night. We asked her to cook dal-bhat for us. While she was cooking the food, we went upstairs to our room. Her husband who was supposed to fix a room for us totally drunk. He made us stay at a room temporarily while he looked for a suitable room. One of his relatives (Sadhubhai) who was more sober than him was accompanying the drunk guy.

Drunk guy comes to us and says, "You guys are two, right?"

We: "Yes and we need a room."

Saadhubhai (the less drunk guy): "Kanchha, let's put our wives and children here and fix a room for these guys upstairs."

The drunk guy goes upstairs and returns after 10 minutes.

Drunk guy: "So you guys are two, aren't you?"

We: "Yes and we need a room."

The drunk guy disappears for another 5 minutes and returns.

"You guys are really two, right?"

We just nod.

He disappears again.

"Are you sure you guys are two?"

Saadhubhai: "Kanchha, you are drunk. Let me explain you about the rooms."

Drunk Guy: "No, no. I understood. These guys are two and they need a room."

He disappears for another 5 minutes and returns.

Drunk Guy: "I know you are two."

We look at each other thinking "seriously??"

Finally,he found a room for us which we shared with a Madhesi trader who had come to the town to sell solar panels. The food was good enough. We ate heartily and went to sleep.

Day 6: Nangma to Sinja Valley to Pandava Gufa

Sinja Valley
Next morning we work up at around 7 am. Had a breakfast of tea and biscuits and went to the bus counter to see if there was a bus upto Gothijyualaa. We were informed that since it was still Dashain, the bus won't go until tomorrow. We were in no mood to wait so we resumed our journey on foot. The road was no different than yesterday and the walk was tiring. We walked for almost 4 hours when we reached Sinja Valley, a place I had been waiting to see.

Sinja valley is really beautiful. It is said to be the originating place of Nepali language and the earliest examples of the Devanagari script from the 13th Century were found here. On that day, fields bearing rice, wheat and other crops alongside Hima river had created a beautiful tapestry with hues of yellow and orange color.

Finally we got a break from the road and took a shortcut along the fields. Seeing all those paddies swaying with the wind made me wonder: Jumla has food crisis? Really? I made a mental note to ask my friend Bishnu, who is a native of the place about what the real problem was. Bishnu had promised to meet us at Rara Lake itself.

I found the bridges in this place really interesting. Made of wood, they had different carvings on them. At both ends of a bridge, there were  carvings of two soldiers who apparently were guarding the bridge I guess. After taking the shortcut for almost an hour, we reached a bridge. Govinda suggested that we take a picture at the bridge. Hence, I stood at it and posed. All of a sudden, a gust of wind blew past me taking away my hat with it. Damn!

Sinja Valley
I ran after it. The wind dumped my hat at Hima river which eagerly accepted it and took it along with its currents. Govinda was shouting from behind, "Go that away. No, no a little right." But the bank of Hima was too large full of prickly stones and the flow of the river too fast. After running for about 7-8 minutes and hurting my feet (I had taken off my shoes and had no time to put them on), I gave up. Hima had claimed her tribute.

Saddened,we stopped at a small tea-house, drank local alcohol and resumed our trek. This days walk was the most tiring one so far. At around 6 pm, we reached Pandava Gufa. We took shelter at a hotel there. The owner made cooked Kali Marsi rice and tomato curry for us which was very delicious. It was the first time I had tasted Kali Marsi rice and I liked it.

Day 7: Pandava Gufa - Gothijyulaa - Okharpata - Chuchumare - Majghatta

According to the locals, if we walked fast enough today, we would reach Rara lake. So, we hurried along. Walking for about 45 minutes we reached Gothijyulaa where we had cooked noodles as breakfast.From Gothijyulaa, we were finally leaving the road for good and taking a hiking trail once again. The trail got very steep from Gothijyulaa. It meandered along a hill. It was quite narrow forcing us to stop and give way for small caravans of khachchads coming downhill.


Okharpata onwards
We had been walking for around two and a half hours when we finally reached Okharpata, a nice village that was slightly bigger than the ones we had seen so far. We stopped at a house for tea. A woman was nursing her infant. Both of them seemed to be in a dire need of cleaning up. As we sipped our tea, we asked the owner if the marijuana plants we saw all over the village were planted by anyone. He said, "No, they just grow." He then asked us if we wanted some marijuana? After last episode of pot, I really did not want anymore marijuana. Nevertheless, we asked him to show us what he had. The guy emerged a few minutes later with about  a dozen tablets made of marijuana. "How much?", I asked. "Four hundred for all of them. 50 rupees for a single one." The offer was tempting. Maybe we should buy some for our friends I thought. But then we decided otherwise and passed.

The trail from Okharpata onwards was more interesting. It passed through a forest with several small streams. We walked uphill for  about 2 hours before reaching the point where the trail split into two ways. We were confused for a while on which way to go and there was no one to ask. We decided to take a right turn and go downhill as we saw a small hut about a 100 meters away. We had taken the right turn. We drank tea at the hut. Two extremely drunk boys who had quarreled with the owner of the hut a little while ago were now hiking uphill and fighting with each other.

Trail to Chuchumare
We left the hut to walk little more downhill to reach a place which was like a meeting point of three hills and a small rivulet was flowing towards Gothijyulaa. The trail took uphill from that point. I loved walking that trail. It was just so peaceful and beautiful. Colorful trees adorned the trail. A shepherd was herding his sheeps through a shallow gorge below us. Walking for about half an hour we reach a lonely tea-house perched amidst the forest. We rested outside the tea-house and I filled my water bottle in the nearby tap. "Oh, Surath!", I heard someone calling me. The sound was coming from inside the house. It was too dark to see inside and I did not recognize the sound. Who must have recognized me in this middle of nowhere. Pleasantly surprised, I hurried inside to see who it was.It was Rajesh, an acquaintance of mine. He and another friend of mine Bikash Maharjan travel a lot. Their group was returning from Rara. What a co-incidence! Bikash was not in the group though. Rajesh informed me that Bikash had to take an injured friend of his on an airplane to Nepalgunj. He also informed that we had just missed snowfall in Rara. Damn!

Rara as seen from Chuchumare Top
After sharing a lunch of noodles cooked with rajma, we separated. The trail grew more steep from the point onwards. As we labored along the trail, we encountered many shepherds taking their herd of khachchads to Gothijyulaa.After a walk of about half an hour, the trail grew very bare and dusty. At around 4 pm, we were finally able to reach the top of Chuchumare danda. We were supposed to get a glance of Rara from here but we did not. We found lots of snow though. We took a few photographs holding snow, writing names on snow, throwing snow and what not. We walked for another 10 minutes and...wow! That's Rara. I exclaimed. Govinda ran to where I was standing. Rara looked amazing- blue and serene lake nested among green hills. Far across the distance on the northeast, we could see the mountains. I guess Api , Saipal were among those mountains. The reward for more than five days of walk I thought. A cool breeze was blowing adding to our pleasure. We took dozens of photographs and walked around leisurely.

We should not have spent too much time at Chuchumare top. We realized our mistake about an hour later when it got pitch dark and we were walking through a deep forest without any clue on how far our destination was. Having walked continuously for more than 10 hours we were exhausted and our feet were swollen. It was a moonlit night as full-moon was only 3 days away. However, the jungle was so dense that not a shred of light could pass through it and reach us. We turned on our torch lights and managed to walk for another 40 minutes or so before the lights grew very dim. Govinda was having trouble walking because of a swollen knee-cap, torch lights were dying out and we were in the middle of nowhere without any idea if we were taking the right path or how far shelter was. Hairs raised on my body when I heard foxes in the distance. The jungle seemed to be endless and the howl of the foxes grew louder. We had seen the lake on north-east but the trail seemed to be going on and on north west. I was terrified. Luckily the network was there. We called 197 to get the number of Rara National Park but apparently the park did not have a phone.

I called a friend and blurted out, "We think we are lost!"

Chuchumare Danda
She was utterly concerned. She called her uncle who was in the army. He called his friends at the army barrack at Rara. Someone from the barracks had called me but the call was dropped due to poor network. Her brother called us telling us not to worry and take care of ourselves. Realizing there was no other option, we kept moving on, albeit very slowly. We walked for almost an hour before we heard a rivulet flowing. As we descended towards the river, I suddenly noticed a speck of light in the distance. Nothing would have made it happier at the moment. "There...there is a house!", I shouted.

Walking for another 30 minutes, we reached a house. They informed it was Majghatta and suggested us that we should not be walking through the jungle this late. However, the house owner were going to their other house and hence, we could not stay at the house. Hence, we walked for another 10 minutes to another house. Luckily the house-owners were there and about to have dinner. They welcomed us, showed us a room to sleep and cooked rice for us. They were very friendly and served us delicious food.

We went to sleep relieved  and hoping that next day we would finally be at Rara.

Day 8: Majghatta - Rara Lake

We woke up early that day excited of reaching Rara. Finished our daily chores, paid our surprisingly cheap bills and started hiking. The trail was very exciting. We saw lots of Kalij crossing the trails. I have heard Kalij rarely change their path and hence, are easy to hunt. We walked for about an hour and viola- we were at the bank of Rara lake, Nepal's largest and one of the most beautiful lakes. Our joy knew no bounds at the moment. We took dozens of photographs. Rara was indeed pristine, serene and beautiful. But somewhere in my mind I was thinking, is that it? All these trouble for seeing just this lake? It seemed just as beautiful as any other lake. Boy, was I in for a surprise?

Rara in the morning. That's me looking at Rara wide-eyed.
Savoring the beauty of the lake and capturing it in our camera we finally reached Danphe Guesthouse, the only guesthouse in Rara. The prices for food and room they quoted were reasonable enough. We ordered dal-bhat and while it was being prepared went around the guesthouse taking pictures. Govinda's camera's battery was about to die down and there was no charge facility in the guesthouse. Worried that if we could not charge the battery, we would not be able to take any pictures we went around asking people if there was any way to charge the battery. Someone suggested we should ask the armies at the barrack. So, we went to the barrack wondering how were we going to convince them to charge the battery for us. None of us were good at sweet-talk. But apparently we were quite famous at the barracks because of last night incident. In addition, Govinda found out that one of the armies was from a village next to his village in Dolkaha. It really facilitated the rapport building and we got our battery charged.

After charging the battery, we returned to our guesthouse for lunch. It was not ready yet. Shekhar, the guy who had been working there, seem to have been fascinated by us.

"So what do you guys do?", he asked.

"I am a journalist and he is a movie-maker", I replied with our ready made reply. I was tired of explaining a think tank and policy research.

"Really? Are you really movie-maker or are you just saying it to impress me?"

"I really am. Why should I try to impress you?"

"Oh my God. It's like finding god while searching for a stone for me. I am so interested in film-making."

A view of Rara in the morning
He then went to share his story of how he used an engineering student studying in Pokhara and caught the addiction of drugs and ruined his studies and life. To save him from from further addiction, his parents had sent him to live here. He went on and on oblivious to the fact that we were bored and uninterested already.

"I plan to come to Kathmandu someday and meet Bhusan Dahal and Nabin Subba. But brothers you should not trust me at my words for my talent. Today evening, I will read out the scripts I have written to you and then you decide whether I am talented or not." He summarized one of his scripts for us. It sounded like Hollywood action movie of Sylvester Stallone. "Good lord! What are we gonna do today evening?" I thought.

After having lunch, we put our bags in our room, donned best of our clothes and charged off towards the lake. The trail goes around the whole lake passing through  jungles, open grounds, rivulets etc. Soon I realized, the more time you spend with Rara the more it grows into you. The more you try to discover the more it rewards you with beauty without relinquishing its mystery. The lake changes colors. At the time, it was deep blue.

The Rara Picture
We were taking photographs on every possible place and pose. We reached the walnut tree we had encountered on the way. I asked Govinda to take a picture of the tree for me. I wanted a picture of a Walnut tree I don't know why. Govinda climbed up a view tower to take a picture of the tree. When he reached up he shouted, "Amigo, you should definitely see this." I too climbed up the tower and ohh my God! what a scene it was. I rushed to take a seat at the lonely bench at the bank of the lake. Govinda took a photo of me sitting on the bench along with the walnut tree. It was an iconic picture that garnered us lots and lots of praises, equal number of envies and was shared dozens of times in Facebook and liked by thousands of people.

We then took some pictures of both of us together putting the camera in auto-shoot mode. As the tradition goes, we also pasted Gari Khana Deu! stickers and wrote our names and date on the bench. Then we headed towards mini chaur which hosted Mahendra Chautari. King Mahendra used to sit in that chautari mesmerized by the beauty of Rara and write poems. He even tried to rename Rara to Mahendra Lake but thankfully, the new name has not really caught up. We walked for around 2 hours and reached minichaur, an open ground. A few horses were grazing there. It was such a photogenic place we took several dozens of photographs there, rested for a while absorbing the peace and beauty of the place and eating our high-energy biscuits. The distant mountains on the north seemed to be having a storm at the time and looked amazing. After spending hours there, we lazily headed back to our guesthouse. Walking around the whole lake takes around 5 hours. We walked around half of the lake and returned. It was evening now and the lake has taken up a red color reflected back by the clouds who took it from the evening sun. It was the moment I realized Rara does seduce people. If given enough time, Rara can reign over your heart, mind and imagination.

We reached our guesthouse at around 6 pm. We had called Bishnu earlier to confirm his arrival. He was arriving at the guesthouse at around 7 pm. So we sat near the fireplace and waited for him. He arrived a bit late with two friends and a big bottle of McDowell's whiskey and two smaller bottles of other drinks. One of the friends of Bishnu was a poet. What more could one ask for when we were going to have a drunken poet at the house? The poet entertained us with his poems one after another. Bishnu also entertained us with his stories from Mugu where he had been stationed currently.

We were already tipsy when we heard some noises outside. A pack of foxes had attacked the hens. Shekhar and his friends were chasing the foxes away. In our drunken stupor, we too ran outside supposedly chasing foxes but having no clue what we were doing. By the time the dinner was ready, all of us were too drunk. Govinda and the Poet were having a debate over relevance of communism. (facepalm!) Although I was enjoying their debate, we had to stop their debate and eat dinner. I think the dinner was good but I did not exactly remember how it was the next morning. Perhaps, none of us did.

We stumbled to our room and fell upon our beds. Shekar was wise enough not to pitch his scripts to us that night.

Day 9: Rara Lake ( 2980 m) - Talcha Airport - Nepalgunj -Kathmandu

The next morning I was woken up by the poet who slept in the bed next to mine."Where is my doorbhaas? My first love. My only love.", he cried. "What the hell is doorbhaas?", I thought. "First love? is the poet still in his dreams?", I wondered. It turned out that he was searching for his cellphone. Poets and their expressions!

After getting ready, we once again went to the lake. We washed our faces with lake water. We climbed up one of the view towers to have a look at the lake in the morning. Wow! Rara looked like a giant mirror reflecting the clouds and the sky.  Spending sometime around the lake we then followed Bishnu to Talcha airport. Along the way, Bishnu introduced us to different herbs and birds found on the way. He used to pick up the leavs of a shurb and say this is .... and this is used ad medicine for ..... and it costs around...... a kilo. He showed a mushroom that cost Nrs. 18,000 a kilo and a herb that I did not care to calculate the prices as it was too high. It was pleasing and saddening at time to know that Nepal had all these awesome herbs, plants and birds but we had not yet been able to capitalize on them. Although excited at first, I soon grew bored of knowing those herbs and plants because of the information overload. Everything one touches there could be a valuable herb.

Walking for about 2 hours we finally reached Talcha Airport, an airstrip that definitely looked under construction. It was too basic of an airport making people wonder is this really an airport. Standing at one end of the runway a person could not see the other end of the runway as it was a slope. Nevertheless, the airport had been serving two airlines although the regularity of flights were by now way ensured. Fortunately, we got a flight to Nepalgunj. While waiting for the flight we bought some local apples at Nrs. 5 per apple. Govinda was excited but apprehensive about his life's first flight. He definitely was going to remember his first flight on such a wonderful airport! ;)

Epilogue

We flew to Nepalgunj and took a night bus from there to Kathmandu. I barely managed to reach home within Saait to receive tika and blessings from my mother. Rara trip is one of the most eventful trip I have made till date. Rara Lake is extremely beautiful and mesmerizing. Rara Lake is a must visit for any nature lovers. Govinda has rightly subtitled his Rara photo album "Heaven is not a cliche after Rara."

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it and I was able to entice you to undertake a journey to Rara. If you have any questions or comments please let me know by commenting below. Finally, here is a short video we have compiled out of our journey to Rara Lake.