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Nov 2, 2019

How to Trek the Manaslu Circuit in 10 days? My Travelogue!


Photo by: Ben Tubby Source: Wikipedia
When an avid trekker like Nabin dai could not stop talking about a trekking route, I was bound to take note. Thus was my desire to trek the Manaslu Circuit was born. Therefore, I decided to utilize my Dashain vacation of 2076 (2019) to go round the Manaslu Peak, the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 meters. I trekked the route in 10 days (September 27 to October 6) with six of my friends and colleagues. I must say, it is one of the best trekking routes in n Nepal which naturally means one of the best in the world. The best thing about this trek, in my view, is that it has everything - mesmerizing mountain views, pristine lakes, breathtaking (sometimes literally!) mountain passes, majestic waterfalls, and picturesque villages. 

Notwithstanding its amazing beauty, the trek is not recommended for the beginners though. There were definitely several moments where the beginners among our team members were more than ready to give up the trek and return home (although none of them told me this aloud). But if you have prior trekking experience, you can comfortably get this one done in 10 days. Following is our itinerary. I hope our itinerary and our experience will be a very useful guide for you in your adventure in this route and will inspire you to go on a Manaslu Circuit Trek.

Our Itinerary in Brief:

Day 1: Kathmandu to Gorkha Bazaar (By Bus)
Day 2: Gorkha Bazaar to Soti Khola (By Bus) and walk to Khorlabesi (6 hours)
Day 3: Khorlabesi to Philim (11 hours)
Day 4: Philim to Bhijam (10 hours)
Day 5: Bhijam to Lho (10 hours)
Day 6: Lho to Samagaun (4 hours)
Day 7: Samagaun to Samdo via Birendra Lake (6 hours)
Day 8: Samdo to Phedi via Larke Pass (15 hours)
Day 9: Phedi to Dharapani (11 hours)
Day 10: Dharapani to Kathmandu (By bus)

Our Experience:

Day 1: Kathmandu to Gorkha Bazaar (By Bus)

We had planned to take a direct bus to Soti Khola on the morning of 27th but the last-minute new assignment from a client threw our plans into disarray. Nikunja had to travel to Butwal a few days earlier and was supposed to be back by 10 am. He wasn't. So, the rest of us waited and waited until finally, he showed up at around 3 pm at Kalanki. Therefore, the seven of us boarded a night bus to Pokhara because the last bus for Gorkha had already left. As usual, there was a long traffic jam at Thankot, Nagdhunga which further delayed our journey by about two hours. Then, there was another stop for dinner at Muglin. We finally reached Aabu Khaireni at around 9:30 pm where we planned to spend the night if we could not find a vehicle to Gorkha Bazaar. Luckily, as soon as we got off from the bus, a few cab drivers swarmed us offering us a ride up to Gorkha Bazaar. The fare they quoted us was Rs. 1,000 per taxi, which I found incredulous. Just Rs. 1,000 for 24 kilometers? In Kathmandu, a 1,000 rupees would not have gotten us even to the edge of the city. Therefore, we said yes lest the guys changed their minds. We reached Gorkha Bazaar at around 10 pm. The cab drivers took us to a hotel named Satyam right in the middle of Gorkha Bazaar. It was a nice hotel although we had to drive a hard bargain to have them let four of us stay in the same room.

Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

Day 2: Gorkha Bazaar - Arughat - Soti Khola (By Bus) and Soti Khola - Lapu Besi - Machha Khola - Khorlabesi (6 hours)

The next day, we got up early at around 6 am and inquired around to find a bus to Soti Khola. We found a bus to Arughat. From there we had to take another bus to Soti Khola. There were only two buses to Arughat each day, and we had already missed the first one. We quickly purchased our tickets and managed to be among the last people to get seats. If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend you to purchase/book the tickets the previous evening if possible or at least reach the ticket counter before 6 am and purchase the tickets. As we squeezed ourselves into the seats of the last row, the bus left for Arughat at 7:30 am. After a few minutes of a smooth ride, the bumpy roads began. The bus trudged along the narrow and winding hilly roads. The views started to get better though. Hills beyond hills with picturesque villages alongside a fierce river down in the valleys and villages on the hilltops engulfed by the mist, what a sight! I can never have enough of it. One interesting thing we noticed was the Muslim settlement along the way. I had read somewhere that the ancestors of these people had helped Prithvi Narayan Shah produce gunpowder, guns and other weapons during his conquest of Nepal in the 1750s and 1760s.

We reached Arughat after four hours, at around 11:30 am. Arughat is a small market-town alongside the Budhi Gandaki river. As the rest of the team started searching for an eatery, I started inquiring about the bus for the next leg of our journey. Nikunja, however, had already managed to find the counter and book 7 tickets for us. Thanks to his quick action, we managed to get the last remaining seats. It was apparent that the buses in this region are overwhelmed with the number of passengers. Relieved, we had breakfast of sel roti, boiled egg, and tea in a local eatery and boarded the bus.

One more bumpy bus ride for about one and a half hours took us to Soti Khola, the starting point of our trek. At Soti Khola, we had our lunch of dal bhat, purchased a few snacks, and altitude sickness medicines before embarking on our walk for the day. We started our walk at around 1:30 pm. The trail went alongside the Budhi Gandaki river for the day. In fact, we were supposed to follow the Budhi Gandaki river to its origin walking more or less alongside its banks.

Traditional Water Mill. Photo by Surath Giri

Less than 30 minutes of our walk, we encountered a mesmerizing sight - a humongous waterfall on the other side of the Budhi Gandaki river. The waterfall was so tall that the water falling off the cliff was turning into a mist swayed away by the wind. We stopped there and took a few photos, just a dozen or so. My friends and colleagues, especially the first-timers were super excited to see the waterfalls. But soon the excitement mellowed to some extent when they realized that such waterfalls are a dime a dozen in this region.  One waterfall, however, seemed to be the king of the waterfalls. Called "Shivaling Waterfall", the waterfall was huge even compared to the huge waterfalls in the region.


In about an hour, we reached a place called Lapu Besi where we stopped for a while and drank tea before resuming our journey. At around 5 pm, we reached Machha Khola. Well, I reached Machha Khola and waited for the rest of the team for about 30 minutes.

As the rest of the team dragged themselves (too tired by now I guess) to Machha Khola, I wondered if we should call it a day and stay in Machha Khola. We were, however, already behind our schedule because of our late departure from Kathmandu. I wished to keep going and stop at the next destination but wanted to know what the rest of the team thought. As they rested for a while and ate some snacks, they recuperated and therefore, voted to keep going.

We resumed our walk. The night was setting in and it slowly started getting dark. From Machha Khola, we crossed a trail bridge and continued our journey alongside the Budhi Gandaki River towards its origin. As it got darker, I asked some of my friends to turn on their headlights and torch lights. Only 3 or 4 of us turned on the lights. I asked the rest not to do so and instead conserve the batteries for the coming days.

I was walking ahead with two other people when all of a sudden my walking stick got tangled into something. It was too dark to see but suddenly someone's headlight turned to the direction and...oh my God! "Aabuiii", I let out involuntarily and froze along with the other two for a few milliseconds which felt like a minute or so.

A huge snake was entangled in my walking stick. It was the largest snake I had ever seen outside television or a zoo. I was so shocked and my whole body was trembling with fear. But then I recovered and I jerked my walking stick against the snake and threw it off a few feet. Startled the snake slithered away across the trail. It took us a few more seconds to fully recover from the incident. I quickly took out my torchlight and turned it on.

We walked for another 30 minutes or so. The trail was getting scarier. Small rocks and stones were falling down. We were moving ahead carefully. We stumbled upon two people coming from the opposite direction. They told us that the road ahead was blocked due to a landslide and one had to trudge through a knee-deep sludge to get across. Besides, the rocks were still falling/sliding and could come crashing down anytime. We were so scared.

Nikunja was quite apprehensive and wanted to go back to Machha Khola but the rest of the team was reluctant to go back after having walked for almost an hour already. We stopped at the next house we found on the way and asked the owner there to verify what we had heard earlier. A middle-aged lady told us all that we heard was true, and we had to go through that particular place to reach Khorlabesi. We inquired if she could host us for the night. She said yes but told us that the accommodation was not good enough. Nikunja went and checked. He came back disappointed. When we decided to keep going, the lady assuaged our fears by saying that there was an alternate and safer way. She told us to take a trail down towards the river immediately before the landslide started and walk along the banks of the river and rejoin the main trail after crossing the landslide area.

So as we continued our journey, we kept looking out for the tell-tale signs of the start of the landslide area. We need not have worried. We could see the whole road blocked for afar. So we took a trail that was not so obvious down to the river and walked along the bank. Most of the team members were at the limit of their patience and willpower now. I wished our destination would arrive soon.

We walked for another 30 minutes or so before we reached our destination for the day - Khorlabesi, a small settlement comprising around half a dozen houses. The whole group was too tired to do anything else besides eat and go to sleep. I made sure that I charged my torchlight fully.

Day 3: Khorlabesi - Tatopani - Dobhan - Shyauli Bhatti - Yaru Bagar - Jagat - Salleri - Sridibas - Ghatte Khola - Philim (11 hours)

The next morning, we started out at around 7:30 am after having tea and some biscuits for breakfast. We continued our walk alongside the river on a trail cut out of the hill. The trail was amazing, not just views but also the way it had been carved out of the huge rocks and stones within the hill. The mountains in the distance were shrugging off the mist and Budhi Gandaki was roaring as loudly as ever. Once in a while, the rhythmic "ting, ting" of the bells worn by the mules managed to emerge above the roar of Budhi Gandaki. The trail was bereft of any people besides our team. I loved the walk. It was like a walking meditation for me.

At around 8:45 am, we reached Tatopani, the tap with incredibly hot water. It felt like turning only the knob for hot water in the shower, a bit too hot for bathing. We took a few pictures there. No one ventured to take a bath though. After a few pictures, we continued our journey.
On the way to Dobhan. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

Another one and a half hours of walk got us to Dobhan, a confluence of the Budhi Gandaki river with one of its tributaries. We crossed the river on a trail bridge to get to Dobhan. Dobhan is relatively a large settlement with several hotels and a school. We stopped at one of the hotels for our lunch. The lunch was delicious, especially the pickle. Even the basic dishes taste so good in the villages, maybe because of the freshness of the vegetables. We spent about one and a half hours for the lunch break and the rest before resuming our journey.

We continued our trek alongside the Budhi Gandaki river, on the right side of the river this time. We reached another settlement called Shyauli Bhatti after walking for about an hour. We continued walking. After walking for another two and a half hours, we reached an incredibly scenic place called Yaru Bagar, a settlement on the banks of Budhi Gandaki river. The river had flattened and spread wide in this place, therefore it was called a 'bagar' I guess. It was also the confluence of Yaru Khola and Budhi Gandaki. As I crossed the settlement, I realized that Yaru Bagar was a special place. It was the place where the first cantilever bridge of Nepal was built with the assistance of DFID. I remembered translating a press release about this place. I was very excited to get photographed in this place. My team, however, was way behind me. So I asked a foreigner to click a few pictures of me standing on the bridge. The bridge is not only a marvel of technology but also very beautiful. Definitely, one of the highlights of the trail.

Nepal's first cantilever bridge at Yaru Bagar, Gorkha. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti


It was almost 4 pm when I reached Jagat, a relatively large settlement for the region and the starting point of the Manaslu Conservation Area. The foreign tourists have to show their permits at the checkpoint here. I rested on a roadside stone and ate the moong dal I had with me as I waited for my friends. They arrived half an hour later. All of us were famished and exhausted by now. Therefore, we had some snacks at a restaurant there. The team was divided on whether to continue the journey or call it a day and stop there. After a short deliberation, we decided to keep going as we were still behind our schedule. So at around 5 pm, we resumed our trek with the aim of reaching Philim which was supposed to be 2 hours of walk away.

It turned out to be almost 4 hours of walk away for us. Maybe because we were too tired. As the sun took a break for the day and the darkness rushed in to envelop the world, we rushed towards Philim with our tired legs and exhausted bodies. We passed Salleri in less than an hour and then Sirdibas in about two hours. Then, we passed the Ghattekhola village to reach a large trail bridge. At every village, my teammates were tempted to call it a day and spend the night there. It took quite a lot of convincing to get them moving. The uphill stretch, although less than half a kilometer, was too steep and tiring for them though. The trek must have felt more like a punishment in a communist gulag rather than something you would do for entertainment. I reached Philim at around 7:30 pm and waited for the rest of the team for half an hour before realizing that they were way behind and I had to go back to get them. At around 8:30 pm, all of us reached Philim. We hit the bed as soon as we finished our food. We were that tired!

Day 4: Philim - Ekle Bhatti - Pewa - Dyang - Rana - Bihi Phedi - Bhijam (10 hours)

The next morning, we dragged our tired bodies out of bed at around 6 am and got ready for the day. We drank tea and ate the remaining biscuits for breakfast. We started the trek at 7:30 am. We were expecting to have the same scenery as the last day to continue for today as well. But less than two hours into the trek, we were pleasantly surprised. As soon as we passed Ekle Bhatti, we came upon a spellbinding waterfall. I tried to look at the top of the waterfall but almost fell down backward. It was that tall. I took a few snapshots and a video to capture the beauty and resumed walking as I knew more of such sights were waiting for us.

The spellbinding waterfall. Photo by Surath Giri


Walking for an hour more, I reached a fork on the road. The right fork would lead us to Tsum Valley, another great trekking destination on its own right. We, however, were supposed to take the left one down to the river and beyond. I crossed the river and waited for my teammates to appear on the horizon. But even after 20 minutes, only Govinda and Raseela appeared. Therefore, I kept walking.

Since Khorlabesi, I had been listening to the audiobooks of Nepali novels through the recordings of Shruti Sambeg, a book recital radio program. As I neared Nyak Phedi, I was totally submerged into the listening as the novel was an engrossing thriller. The musical breaks in between were equally amazing.

"Rangi Sari Gulabi Chunariya Re...
 Mohey Maare Nazariya Sawariya Re...

Rangi Sari....."

"What the f*ck!!", I jumped in shock and almost fell off the trail down the precipice. I could hear my heart beating beyond its optimal capacity. My whole body was trembling.

A large snake was slithering on the wall of the trail. I swallowed my spit and slowly turned toward it. The snake was basking in the sun, I guess and was slowing slithering upwards towards the bushes. The guy did not pose any threat to me and was actually just chilling out. But hey, who cares? It scared the shit out of me.

"Two snakes in a row, in a single trek? What are the odds? What the hell is going on?," I thought to myself incredulously. In more than a decade of trekking and more than 15 such adventures, I had never encountered one snake, one single snake, not even a tiny one. And here, two huge reptiles scare the shit out of me in two days. When I shared the incident with my teammates, they were more than happy to pull my legs. They thought that I should perform pooja to appease the snake god on returning to Kathmandu.

I recovered and kept walking. I passed Nyak Phedi in another 10 minutes and then kept walking through the trail as it passed through a denser forest. Now, I was alert enough to look around properly before putting down my bag and resting on the side of the trail.

As I walked for one hour more I came into a trail bridge. I crossed the bridge and waited for my teammates for a while. They showed no signs of showing up. So, I continued my journey. At one place, I stopped in the middle of the trail to rewind the audiobook. As I was scenery too, I had failed to register some portions of the audiobook. As I was doing that, I felt someone patting me on my back. A shiver ran through my back. I turned around quickly to see who it was.

"Oh hello there, Mr. Mule! Sorry for blocking your way! You see, I didn't notice you were just behind me. I am sure you must be in a rush. Let me get out of the way. Such a lovely morning, ain't it?"

I reached Pewa village at around 12 pm. Before I could inquire if they served lunch, a guy came running down from the wooden terrace of his hotel and took me to his hotel. He offered me a glass of juice and told me that the food was ready whenever we were ready. I nodded and waited for my teammates. A cold breeze was making shivers run down my body. I wore my jacket. As I looked at my shoes, I noticed that the top piece of my shoes was about to come off. I purchased a superglue and pasted it while waiting for my teammates. They arrived in 30 minutes. The dal-bhat at Pewa was probably the most delicious lunch we had throughout the journey.

The journey after lunch was relatively uneventful. We walked for about two hours to reach Dyang aka Deng village. Then, we crossed the river to the right side and followed the trail uphill to reach a picturesque village called Rana village. Looking from afar, I could see a red and pink tinge in the village which turned out to be the color of the Amarnath, the local crop also called the superfood of the Himalayas.

Beyond Rana village, the trail passed through a dense forest before emerging on a trail bridge. 20 minutes from the bridge, I reached Bihi Phedi where we were supposed to stay for the night. It was still daylight though. So when the rest of the group joined me, we had tea and some snacks and resumed our trek to the next destination - Bhijam. We walked for around 35 minutes to reach Bhijam. Bhijam has just one hotel. Therefore, it is advisable to confirm the availability before head towards it for the night.

We reached Bhijam at around 6:30 pm. We were relatively less tired today. Therefore, we decided to drink some rum and chitchat for an hour before going to sleep.

 Day 5: Bhijam - Ghap - Namrung - Barzam - Lhi - Sho - Lho (10 hours)

On the 5th day of our trek, we woke up earlier than usual because we had gone to bed earlier the day before. We got ready and ate a local breakfast - Champa aka saatu in other parts of the country. We departed Bhijam at around 7 am intending to reach Lho village by the end of the day.

Walking for two hours we reached an exquisite village called Ghap. Full of similar-looking little houses with blue corrugated sheets as roofs that were glistening in the early morning sun, the village looked like it belonged to a fairy tale. I was thirsty when I reached the village. Bhimsen and I went to a hotel to get some drinking water. The hotel owner inquired where we were headed and where we had come from. Then she brought out two apples and gave them to us. Boy, were they delicious? When I offered to pay for the apples, she refused and said that she gave them to us as a gift. We were moved by the generosity of the lady.

Ghap Village in Manaslu Circuit. Photo by Surath Giri
The trail which had been more or less plain until Ghap suddenly began to go uphill considerably slowing down our pace and increasing the pace of our hearts. I walked for another two hours and reached Namrung, a large and beautiful settlement with lots of hotels including some fancy ones. Namrung also has a resort that serves international standard food and international dishes provided that you are willing and able to shell out the same level of money. I stopped at one of the ordinary hotels and ordered dal-bhat for seven people. As the hotel had a television with movie channels, I started watching a movie as I waited for my teammates. It was 45 minutes before they arrived, exhausted and famished.

Priya seemed not only exhausted but also annoyed, irritable, and seemed shaken to the core. Upon inquiring I found out that, she had narrowly escaped a dangerous situation. While giving way for the mules, she mistakenly stood on the edge of the trail rather than on the side towards the hill. Dear reader, please remember that this is a dangerous thing to do. Always, always remain on the side of the wall when giving way to the mules. So as it happened, one of the mules carrying LPG gas cylinders pushed Priya with the cylinders and she fell down the slope. Luckily, the guys were alert and caught her by her legs instantly. A slight delay could have meant injuries, even serious injuries.

But once she recovered from the shock, we started teasing her saying that she had gotten a second life and that she should be more generous and spiritual from now onwards.

We left Namrung at around 1:30 pm. We walked along muddy trail getting our shoes all wet, no thank you mules! Upon walking for about an hour, we reached an incredibly beautiful place called Barzam aka Bhanjam. Barzam is a narrow valley on the banks of the Budhi Gandaki river. There are just a few houses and the rest of the land is cultivated with local crops. When we reached there, the crops looked all green. It looked as if it was a huge football ground. The green crop was swaying rhythmically with the breeze. What a wonderful sight it was! Nikunja and I took several pictures and video clips. After 15-20 minutes we tore ourselves apart from the place and resumed our walk. We realized that if we let ourselves be then we could spend hours at the place just looking at the crops swaying in the wind.

From Barzam, the trail went steep uphill. As I climbed the trail for about 15 minutes, I was tired. So I rested on a rock and looked down at the Barzam valley from above. It looked even more beautiful. A few girls and a middle-aged lady, probably their mother, were also resting nearby. They looked at me and then looked down at my friends far away and then began giggling. They teased me saying that my friends were too slow and would not be able to make it to Larke Pass. I teased them back that maybe they should help us by carrying my friends on the dokos (bamboo baskets) they were carrying.

View of Barzam from Lhi. Photo by Surath Giri

At 4 pm, I reached the Lhi village and waited for my teammates. Lhi is a beautiful village with a monstery. After a break of about 15 minutes, we resumed our journey towards Sho village. This stretch of the trail was quite easy as we were walking on a straight road. The exhaustion was catching up, however. On the way, I stumbled upon three men who were striding off towards Sho. The men rested for a while and we chitchatted. They hailed from Sindhupalchok district and were going to Lho village to do some carpentry related work. They came from Helambu village, a popular trekking destination and thereby had quite a lot of experience of constructing tea houses and lodges. With the increase in the number of tourists visiting the Manaslu circuit, the demand for lodges and guesthouses had gone up and so had the demand for carpenters. The development of tourism was creating employment opportunities for not just the local people but also for people from other districts. I was jubilated.

We reached the Sho village at 5:30 pm. The sun had set already and darkness was engulfing the world. We were not sure whether to continue our journey to Lho village or to stay at Sho. To utter disappointment of Nikunja, the majority of us decided to continue walking and reach Lho village for the day.

The trail was almost flat until Lho village with only minor uphills and downhills. It was already 7:30 pm by the time we reached Lho. We had to wake up a family and ask the father to show us a decent hotel. He was drunk and sleepy but he managed to guide us to a hotel. The caretaker of the hotel, Mr. Dinesh Katuwal gave us a warm welcome and started preparing food. Dinesh was an amazing host. He had quite a sense of humor and regaled us with his adventure (mostly misadventure!) stories during his travel to different districts of Nepal in course of employment. He served us a delicious dinner. With a full stomach and a tired body, we went to bed. I fell asleep the moment I hit the bed.

Day 6: Lho - Shyala - Samagaun (4 hours)

On the morning of day 6, we woke up earlier than usual with the hope of observing the Manaslu peak. Dinesh had told us last night that Lho was the best place to view the top of Manaslu. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. As the distant mountains were engulfed in the mist, we could see nothing, not even the shape of the mountain. Therefore, we had our breakfast of Champa and Tibetan tea and embarked on our journey for the day. As we were exhausted by the long and arduous trek of the past five days, we had decided to just reach Samagaun that day and visit the nearby attractions. It turned out that nature wanted us to just rest that day.

It was already 9 am when we left Lho village. We tried to observe Manaslu from the top of the village near the Ribum Monastery which was supposed to be the best viewpoint for watching Manaslu. Still, we were unable to see the mountain clearly. We took a few photos and continued our journey, a bit dejected. We passed through a dense forest and crossed Budhi Gandaki once again to reach the village of Shyala at around 11:30 am.

We walked for another one and a half hours to reach Sama Gaun which is probably the largest settlement in the region and is culturally and commercially very important. But before we could reach Sama Gaun, it started to drizzle and pretty soon, the drizzle grew into full-fledged rain. We book rooms in a lodge which turned out to belong to one of the girls who had teased us in Lhi village. We ate our lunch and then waited for the rain to subside. The rain seemed to be adamant about not letting us go anywhere that day. It kept raining until the evening and it grew very cold. So we decided not to resist. Therefore, after lunch, we just went to our rooms and slept. I was well-prepared for a situation like this. I watched a movie on my phone before going to sleep.
Samagaun, Gorkha. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

We slept for the whole day and woke up only for dinner. The rain had subsided but it was freezing and a cold wind was blowing that ran shivers down our spine. We quickly ate our dinner and went back to sleep hoping for a better day tomorrow. The rest was an opportunity for us to recuperate as well.

Day 7: Samagaun to Samdo via Birendra Lake (6 hours)

Thanks to the rest of the day before, we were full of energy when we woke up the next morning. I woke up at around 6 am to a majestic view of the mountains all around me. Everyone started posing and taking photographs. The mountains looked as if they were in our backyard rather than many kilometers away. It felt as if one could run and just climb them like a small knoll. Well, it always feels that way.

It was quite difficult to lure away my teammates from the mountains and towards breakfast. Again, we ate Champa and tea for breakfast and embarked on the day's walk at 7 am. We were strolling rather walking savoring all the beauty around us. Walking for an hour, we reached Birendra Lake at 8 am. The lake, like every lake, was beautiful enough but not especially captivating. We were a bit disappointed but hey, we had a lake with the reflection of a mountain range. Who can resist taking a hundred pictures at such a spot?

Birendra Lake from on the way to Manaslu Base Camp. Photo by Surath Giri


After 40 minutes that passed too quickly, we decided to resume our walk. The locals had told us to retrace the trail back for half an hour and join the main road to continue the journey. "There is a shortcut but you will have to cross a river originating from the lake to take it. You guys will not be able to cross the river", a woman had told us.

The river did not look that big and we were reluctant to waste half an hour of our time just going back. Bhimsen decided to give it a try. He said if he was able to cross the river, he was ready to carry all of us one by one across the river if need be. He crossed over the river and came back. "The water is freezing", he remarked. "The river can be crossed but it is too freezing for a person to do it more than once."

"How freezing it could be?" I thought and ventured into the river carrying my shoes in my hands.

"Oh my my! What the hell!"

The water was indeed freezing. I could feel my feet go numb and the riverbed was too slippery. I strode across the river as fast as I could. On reaching the other side of the river, I threw my shoes and sat do down rubbing my feet and calves trying to warm them up.

Crossing the river. Photo by Surath Giri

Then, the others started crossing the river. It was hilarious to see their reactions the moment they put their foot into the river.

Anyway, one by one all of us crossed the river. Here I decided to propose splitting the group. Whoever wanted to go to Manaslu Base Camp could be in one group. The group would go to Base Camp and then go to Samdo. The other group could go to Samdo directly. Priya and Sunita chose to skip Manaslu Base Camp and go to Samdo directly whereas I, Govinda, Raseela, Nikunja, and Bhimsen chose to go to the Base Camp before going to Samdo.

So the two groups departed. The two girls joined the main trail which was flat almost until Samdo whereas the second group took the precipitous trail towards the basecamp. After walking for an hour or so, I looked down towards Birendra Lake. I was mesmerized! The ordinary-looking lake of the morning was now looking ethereal. It looked like an emerald ground surrounded by small hills. Govinda took several photos of us overlooking the emerald lake.

Almost at the Manaslu Base Camp. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

At around 12 pm, we reached a place called Bhatti, a small eatery in a tent. We drank tea and rested for a while. Then, we put down our bags there and resumed our journey. We walked uphill for another one hour before we were told that we were now halfway to the base camp. The weather, however, was deteriorating as we could see the sky and the mountains covered in the mist. We waited for a while to see if the sky would clear up because there would be no point going to the base camp if the weather persisted. Unfortunately, the weather got worse. The mist got thicker and it began to drizzle. The people we passed told us that the weather was unlikely to improve now and that we would not be seeing anything even if we reached the base camp.

Dejected, we took as many photos as we could from the spot and started making our way back downhill. We ate super delicious "potato Mo:Mo:" at the Bhatti before resuming our journey downhill.

Enjoying Potato Mo:Mo on the way to Manaslu Base Camp. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti


After reaching the main trail in about an hour, we made our way towards Samdo. We reached Samdo at 5 pm. Priya and Sunita had booked a hotel already. The hotel was run by a sprightly old man who regaled us with his adventure stories while we waited for our tea. He claimed that he was one of the earliest hoteliers in that village and that too as an outsider. He recalled locals telling him that he was an asinine person to be setting up a hotel in this village alongside this trail which no one visited when he set up his hotel there more than 2 decades ago. "Now, I make the most money around here and the locals want to buy back the land and the hotel from me! Now, who is the foolish one here?", he chuckled. "I have a 17-roomed house in Kathmandu", he boasted.

Then, Govinda made the mistake of asking a 'wrong' question to the man. "Baje, how long will it take us to cross the pass tomorrow?" he asked. The man stared at him before retorting, "Are you someone who hasn't even passed SLC exams?"

Govinda was puzzled. So was everyone else. The old man broke the pin-drop silence. "A person who is educated would not ask such a question. Is that even a question to ask? It may take me 9 hours. It may take you 12 hours. You just walk. You don't worry about whether it can be done."

By this point, the rest of us were doubling over with laughter and making fun of Govinda who was annoyed like hell but could not help himself from chuckling. Throughout the rest of the evening, we taunted Govinda asking him if he had passed SLC or not. The dinner was delicious enough. We informed the old man that we would be leaving at 3 am in the morning and requested him to prepare Champa for us before we leave. He readily agreed and we went to our beds after setting up at least half a dozen alarms.

Day 8: Samdo - Larke Bazaar - Dharmasala - Larke Pass - Phedi (15 hours)

(Note to readers: It is not recommended to cross Larke Pass in one day directly from Samdo unless you know what you are doing. You run the risk of getting altitude sickness. If you feel unwell at any point in time - nausea, vomit, headache, the difficulty of breathing, etc. then you should stop your journey and come down to a lower altitude. Usually, people stop at Dharmasala for a night before crossing Larke Pass.)

It was the day we were going to cross the Larke Pass, the toughest day as well as the most interesting day of the trek. Trekkers usually stay the night at Dharmashala and cross the pass the next morning. We were, however, in a precarious situation. We would be reaching Dharmashala too early with nothing to do for the rest of the day but too late to cross the Larke Pass. So we decided to leave early in the morning, too early in fact, at 3 am. We managed to wake up at 2 am and get dressed and fed by 3 am. This way, we would reach Dharmashala latest by 9 am and would have reached there early enough to cross the pass the same day.

So we turned on our lights and started the journey at 3 am. We walked for about 30 minutes to reach Larke Bazaar which has just one hotel. Walking in the dark was not that interesting. At one point, a yak scared the hell out of me when I just saw a pair of shining eyes in the distance. I was eager to see the sunrise over the Himalayas though. At around 5:30 am, two and a half hours after we started walking, the rays of the sun started peeking over the Himalayas. We could see the sky turn yellowish in the distance and the mountains turn golden. It was such a majestic view! I sat down for a while and savored the moment. Moments like this make all the troubles of a trek worthwhile.

Dharmasala, the last stop before Larke Pass ascent. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti
We reached Dharmasala at 6:45 am after almost 4 hours of walk from Samdo. We were about to gain significant altitude (more than 1200 meters) today so as per the suggestion of the locals we kept ourselves hydrated. We drank soup at Dharamshala and refilled our water bottles before resuming our trek. Deciding not to stay a night at Dharmasala was a prudent decision from our side because the accommodation was very basic and both food and accommodation seemed too expensive.

From Dharmashala the trail climbed quickly. The view of the mountains surrounding us was getting even more majestic. We took several photos with the mountains in the background.

Beginning the ascent of Larke Pass. Photo by: Govinda Siwakoti
At 9:55 am, I came across an extremely beautiful lake. The lake looked very blue as if someone had poured gallons of kerosene into it. It looked so serene, pristine, and ethereal. I put down my bag and sat beside the lake looking at it, totally captivated. I waited for the team members to arrive so that I could take at least some photos by the lake. The locals later told us that the lake does not have a definite name. Some call it Larke Lake whereas some call it Mattitel Pokhari meaning the kerosene lake. After a few minutes, Nikunja and Priya arrived. We took at least a dozen photos each. Slowly the other two couples also arrived. I left them at the lake to continue my journey ahead.

Larke Pokhari/Mattitel Pokhari. Photo by Surath Giri
The trail was not very steep but I was continuously ascending and it was getting harder and harder to get enough oxygen as the altitude was nearing 5,000 meters. The exhaustion and hunger were also catching up by now. Although I had carried a few dry foods with me, I was in no mood to eat. I kept walking. The desolate beauty of the place was mesmerizing. There were heaps of stones washed rough by the snow as far as my eyes could see. It seemed more like a valley than a mountain pass. My body and my lungs were tired almost to the breaking point but my heart my delighted. Once in a while, I would close my eyes and just try to take it all in - the cool breeze, the whisper of the mountain, the desolate quietness of the place, and my racing heart.

The desolate beauty of Larke Pass. Photo by Surath Giri

The false ridges were annoying though. There were several times when I thought I had reached the top only to have my hopes dashed by another soaring ridge ahead. And there were too many of them. But I kept walking. At around noon, the weather began to deteriorate. Dillydallying on a mountain pass is never a good idea. The weather is fickle and it can get inconvenient or even dangerous quickly. I saw rain-laden clouds headed my way. Therefore, I gathered my willpower and quickened my pace. My teammates quite far behind and I began to doubt if they could make it to the other side of the pass. I decided to keep going rather than wait for them. That way, I could at least get help if needed.

Not finding a thick layer of snow as we had expected was another disappointment. As I neared the pass, however, I began to notice remnants of snow under the rocks. It was good enough for me. I found one pristine slab of snow and wrote Kamala's name on it. I was missing her badly. As I finished writing her name and took a picture of it, I was filled with renewed vigor that helped me push further.

I definitely deserved a selfie!
It was 1:43 pm when I reached the top. Larke Pass, finally!! I was euphoric. I had been walking for almost 11 hours now and I was completely drained. I took a few selfies as I was alone. I rested for a while and waited for my teammates but they were quite far behind were unlikely to get there for at least another hour. The rain-laden clouds and what seemed like a snowstorm was quickly engulfing the surrounding. Therefore, I squeezed out all the remaining energy I had left and began the descent. I was to reach a human settlement and then come back to get my teammates if need be.

The descent was equally tiring though. The way the ascent tested my lungs and my muscles to the breaking point, the descent was testing the strength of my knees. I was also worried about my teammates. Therefore, I asked every person coming from behind me if they had noticed my friends and where they had seen them last. Most of them told that they were very far behind making me worried further. I finally breathed a sigh of relief when one mule shepherd said that all of my teammates had reached the top and were now descending. That meant I did not need to worry about them getting altitude sickness or being unable to ascend. Now they could come down by any means necessary. I descended for almost two hours to reach the bottom of the hill. I was now in Manag district, finally! The journey was far from over though. I walked for another one and a half hours (totally downhill) and reached a small settlement of two households called Phedi. There I drank tea and waited for my teammates. I was hoping to walk more and reach another settlement called Bhimthang but my teammates were nowhere to be seen yet.
Mountains Galore. Photo by Surath Giri

I waited for almost an hour and then decided to go back for them. I was worried that some of them might have been injured. But as I was about to leave Nikunja and Priya appeared on the distance. They look ravaged and debilitated. I told them to rest and went out for the rest. Govinda and Rasila arrived sometime later. They were also as exhausted. Then after sometime Bhimsen and Sunita arrived. They told me that Bhimsen had bouts of nausea and vomiting and was exhausted. So I carried their bags and we slowly walked toward the hotel. It was already dark by now and everyone was on the brink of their patience. Therefore, we decided to call it a day and stay the night there. We hurriedly ate our dinner and went to bed. One good thing that came out of the arduous day was that Sunita who had been unable to fall asleep past several nights managed to get a good night's sleep.

Day 9: Phedi - Bhimthang - Habu- Chauli Kharka - Surki - Gowa - Tilche - Dharapani (11 hours)

On the ninth day of the trek, all of us woke up around 6 am. In fact, Govinda and I woke up at around 5 am and started discussing our next trek- where should we go, when should we go, etc. Our discussion woke up the others as well, especially the girls in the next room. Nikunja and Bhimsen, it would have taken a blast to wake them up from their slumber.  But by 6 am, everyone was awake and ready to move. We ate rotis and jam for breakfast and started our journey at 6:20 am. The hotel owner told us that Ponker Lake is nearby if we wanted to visit. We decided to skip it because we were short on time and we had seen too many lakes already.
Bhimthang. Photo by Surath Giri
Full of energy, we strode downhill for one and a half hours to reach Bhimthang which in our view was the most beautiful village in the whole of Manaslu circuit. It reminds you of the song "Himalko kakhma chha sano mero gaun...".   Nestled in the foothills of the Manaslu and other mountains, Bhimthang looks like something out of a fairy tale book. Little houses with blue tin roofs are gathered around in a small valley and a small rivulet flows beside the village. Exactly like what we used to draw in our childhood. I never thought there would actually be a village like this. Moreover, we saw it in the morning as the sun rays were turning the mountain peaks golden and the chimneys of these little houses were spewing light blue smoke. What a sight it was! It prompted us to take another dozen or so photographs.

Although the major attraction of the journey, the Larke Pass was behind us, the trail was enjoyable nonetheless. A different landscape and a different kind of vegetation made the journey equally rewarding. At 9 am, we reached Habu where there is nothing! I wonder why they bothered to give this place a name. I could not find anything remarkable nor a settlement in this place.

View from Habu. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti
Anyway, we walked for another hour and a half to reach Chauli Kharka, a small settlement where we had our lunch with the hottest chilies of the trip. After lunch, we walked for about one hour and fifteen minutes to reach Surki and two hours more from there to reach Gowa. Yes, Nepal also has Gowa which may not have beaches but is equally breathtaking. From Gowa, it took us about two hours to reach Tilche, one of the relatively larger settlements there. We were finally able to get back the network and with that wifi access as well. We wanted to reach Besi Sahar that day if possible. So we inquired with some people at Tilche. They said that we might have a chance of getting a vehicle that would take us to Besi Sahar from Dharapani but it was quite slim as it was already 5 pm and we were still at least one hour's walk away from Dharapani. One guy made a phone call to his friend at Dharapani asked him to keep seats reserved for us and then told us to hurry.

So we gathered our remaining energy and shot towards Dharapani. Alas, it was 6:30 pm but the time we (I, Sunita, Bhimsen) reached Dharapani. There were no vehicles left and four of our teammates were still behind. Therefore, we decided to stay the night at Dharapani. The hotel owner was really nice to us. When I mentioned that a few years back, I had eater a very delicious bamboo pickle in this route, he searched for and brought us some bamboo pickle.

At the hotel, we met a guy whose exploit we found very hard to believe. A thin and emaciated looking guy told us that he had come to Dharapani that day from Samdo. "What was he? A marathon runner?" I thought to myself. He had walked as much in a day, in fact, less than a day, as we had in two days. Even the guides and porters were incredulous. He then explained to us that he is a policeman and he had been assigned to go to Manaslu Base Camp to check on the Polish lady who had died due to altitude sickness. I wished I had his stamina and strength. I would complete trekking trails in half the usual time taken.

At the hotel, a guide/entrepreneur offered to book a vehicle for us. His vehicle was supposed to return to Besi Sahar with some of the mountaineering equipment but all the equipment had not arrived. So he offered us to use that vehicle which we readily accepted.

Day 10: Dharapani - Besisahar - Kathmandu (By bus)

On the final day of our journey, we took the jeep from Dharapani to Besisahar. There was a landslide on the way and therefore we had to change vehicles. The arrangement had been made beforehand. In about four hours, i.e. at around noon, we reached Besisahar. From there the group split. Bhimsen and Sunita boarded a bus to Pokhara whereas Nikunja and Priya accompanied us until Muglin and parted ways toward Jhapa. Govinda, Rasila, and I headed towards Kathmandu. I was jubilated to go back home and was looking forward to a wonderful Dashain celebration. Conquering Manaslu Circuit was not a small feat and I definitely deserved to treat myself.

At the end of the trek, I was overjoyed to have done the trek and was thinking to myself: well, I guess that's it, that's all the trekking for this year! 

Turns out, it was not the only trek I would be doing this year! But that's another story!

********

Some Useful Information:

Total Cost of the Trek: Rs. 12000 per person
Total Days Taken: 10 Days
Need to Carry Tents? No
Need to Carry Sleeping Bags? No (unless you are finicky about where you sleep)

Things to Carry:

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

Jul 2, 2019

Entrepreneurship and Emotional Resilience in Nepal


By Surath Giri & Saurabh Shah


Entrepreneurship and innovation have become the agenda of the world. The rapid development in information and communication technology has not only reduced the traditional barriers to starting a business and therefore, enabling even people with lack of huge capital and resources to venture out, but also helped create hubs and communities around the idea of entrepreneurship. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an estimated 582 million people, around eight percent of the global population, are engaged in entrepreneurship. Nepal has not remained an exception. Entrepreneurship which until a decade ago was seen as a vocation of a selected few is now becoming a popular career choice and noble aspiration among youth and young graduates. Entrepreneurship is being seen as a solution to our economic underdevelopment and high rates of unemployment.

Untold stories


Entrepreneurship, however, is not just glitter and gold. When people hear the word ‘entrepreneur’, they usually think about confident risk takers who innovate their way out of problems to success. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and our very own Binod Chaudhary are some whose stories may inspire us. What the current narrative leaves out is the mental health cost that entrepreneurs pay.  Like every other overhyped issue, the gap between the popular image and the stark reality in entrepreneurship is huge. Contrary to the popular portrayal of the entrepreneurial journey as a journey full of wealth, resources, fame, and extravagance, it has its fair share of struggles, sleepless nights, anxieties, ruins, and devastations.  But these aspects are rarely highlighted in discussions of entrepreneurship. There is no shortage of setbacks an aspiring entrepreneur can run into. This is more so in case of Nepal where the entrepreneurial ecosystem is at its nascent stage, the negative perception toward entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship is yet to change, the political situation and the regulatory environment is precluding. Combination of this presents a unique set of challenges that could baffle and discourage even the most seasoned entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurs in Nepal are struggling to survive and scaling up and building a world-class business is a far cry for many of them.

This had led to a surge in a mental health crisis in the entrepreneurial community. According to a study by the University of San Francisco researcher Michael A Freeman, approximately one half (49 percent) of entrepreneurs suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetimes. As per the study, entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from attention-deficit /hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ten times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder, and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts. Although concrete studies are yet to be carried out, one could argue that the condition is as bad, if not worse, in the context of Nepal where challenges to success are far more than in the developed economies.

What we found

A few weeks back, when Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, in partnership with Nepal Leadership Academy, a signature component of the Daayitwa Abhiyaan that aims to inculcate mindset and behavior change through the understanding and exercise of adaptive leadership, facilitated a meeting of early-stage entrepreneurs to discuss the wellbeing of entrepreneurs and the importance of emotional resilience, young Nepali entrepreneurs expressed a plethora of challenges affecting not only their businesses but also their mental wellbeing.

From making their parents understand the rationale behind their choosing entrepreneurship as a career to navigating the regulatory hurdles, most entrepreneurs seemed to have faced it all. Almost all of them expressed their challenges of keeping their business afloat and having their bills and employees’ salaries paid in an uncertain environment like that of Nepal. Many of the entrepreneurs also expressed that their entrepreneurial endeavor has consumed them and the status of their enterprises played a vital role in determining their state of mental wellbeing.

Many women entrepreneurs also faced additional challenges like having to take care of the family as well as their enterprises. Several of them said that their leadership and ability to succeed were doubted by the older generation, especially the men. The predicament of many entrepreneurs has been made more precarious by the fact that failure is highly stigmatized in our society. Nepali society abhors failure as much as it deifies success. Many Nepali entrepreneurs, therefore, feel compelled to succeed at any cost or risk being ostracized for being a failure. The legal and regulatory environment of Nepal also exacerbates this predicament as the entrepreneur who has failed is required to go their myriads of hoops to restart her entrepreneurial endeavors. Additionally, poor intellectual property protection, lack of enforcement of contracts, ineffective protection of domestic industries and unavailability of adequate human resources were the other issues that added to stress for the Nepali entrepreneurs.

The internal struggles faced by entrepreneurs and the mental crisis they go through has neither been acknowledged nor addressed in Nepal. There is a dire need for the entrepreneurs to be more open about the challenges they face and the internal struggles they go through. There is a need for Nepali entrepreneurs to think of their identities and roles beyond their enterprises. Most of all, there is a need to create a platform where entrepreneurs can help each other become emotionally resilient in their entrepreneurial journey. Only with a resilient state of mind can entrepreneurs succeed, especially in a challenging environment like that of Nepal.

The authors are associated with the Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum

(Originally published as "Scaling up entrepreneurship" in Republica national daily on 26 June 2019.)

Apr 7, 2019

Numbur Cheese Circuit Trek : My most adventurous trek!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Mark Jack Johnson (Wikitravel)

Day 2: Kharanitar to Pani Pakha (3108 meters) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Photo by: vanofbrothers.exposure.co

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Mark Jack Johnson (Wikitravel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue

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

Well, what more could I ask for!




Some Useful Information:

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

Things to Carry:

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

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