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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. 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.


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.