Back home, some people told us it was a day and half trek to the lake. We walked slow and we carried a lot. So we planned to reach the lake in two and half days, spend three nights at the lake and coming back down hill would be an easy two days walk. Don’t start laughing; the fun part for you is yet to come.
It took us around about 15 hours to get to Nepalgunj. We all hate bus journeys. To make things worse, this one included three hours of traffic, five continuous hours of a dancing bollywood actor and a stiff neck sleep. For us, Nepalgunj is a dead city but I was happy just to get myself out of the bus. There was nothing much to do there than the usual eat, drink and sleep. We were made to work a little for our seats but the next morning we did manage to find ourselves on the flight to Jumla.
Let me tell you a secret. When you are in Nepal and you are flying to a remote area, just don’t expect things that you normally find when flying to Europe or some other so called first world country. The trick here is to be satisfied that you are getting to your destination. It is the time when your nervous system works at its best. Although scary, you can indulge yourself in the satisfaction of seeing the Himalayas. The view is just amazing but the best part, I must admit, was the fact that I reached my destination safely. In Nepal, pilots do a difficult job and my respects are with them.
Jumla - the first step out of the plane, I felt it. The freshness that you normally don’t feel in the cities. Don’t believe me. Well you don’t feel by reading, get yourself there. Jumla is a small town and the last place that had common facilities like banks. From Jumla we were to start our trek. While we were waiting in the airport for our luggage, we ask our way to the lake to some of the locals. Daphe Lagna was the first stop we had earlier decided to spend the night. The locals argue impossible. Some say the map is wrong. Finally we mark Chere as the first resting point in our map because a fat lady confirmed it would be the maximum we could. So after we get our bags and fix our tickets for return, it’s time for the Great Himalayan Walk.
So we start our walk leaving Jumla. My bag was the comparatively light weighing a bit more than 15 kilos. Others had around 17 to 18 kilos because they carried an extra tent. About a half hour walk we meet a foreigner, a lady at around her early fifties. She was working for some organization for the betterment of schools in remote regions in Nepal. Seeing our huge rucksacks, she asks us where we were heading. We told her about the lake. She was impressed and we were proud. I did see a little envy on her face. We were young and going to have a great time with nature. As for her, at that age, maybe she would have enjoyed the spa little more than the trek. After about ten minutes of getting to know each other we continue with our walk.
Our stop for the night was exhausting to get to. Walking uphill with a huge load was difficult and it was our first day. Just one thing to compensate, the more we climbed, the world seemed that much more beautiful. We got tired fast and it didn’t take us long before we asked every passerby how long it would take us to Chere, our first rest point. Our first lesson “the answers regarding time will never suit your walk”. But it does give us a little hope and assurance that we were on track. After a good four hours the answer regarding time changed to “thei ta ho ni” (its just there). Believe me when I say, it was not at all “thei ta ho ni”. Finally we managed get there.
“Chere” is vast dry grassland with just one house built out of clay. It was obvious that the house was the hotel but my conscious refused, expecting better. About 20 meters before the house, a group of locals with their mules, had camped. So we ask them where the hotel was. Luck doesn’t favor. A man points his finger towards the house. Another lesson “Expect no Holiday Inns”. We expected something better but our aching bodies would have compromised on anything for the sake of some rest. At least the walk for the day was over.
We set up our tents, decide the place to light the fire and then we entered the house for some tea. What wasn’t surprising was that they had no tea. For one of the most remote regions of my country, even tea was a luxury. So we made some with the tea bags that we had carried along and offered everyone a cup.
One thing about the villagers in Nepal (maybe not all but most) is that maybe their simplicity towards life made them some of most kind people we had ever met. People here treat you with first world respect and it’s really amazing getting to know them and their hard lifestyle. Just avoid talking about sensate issues like politics. The talks from our side were focused mainly on one thing “How long will it take for us to reach the lake?” Bulbule was the second stop we had earlier planned to camp. They told us we could get there tomorrow if we started early. But we all knew for sure that Bulbule was never possible at our speed. After some time, dinner was served. Rice (bigger that usual), curry (potatoes and cabbage cooked without oil) and pickle (Turnip slices). And so, we dine the village way, simple but really pleasing to the hunger. After dinner we drank a little and then slept off the tiredness.
The morning was beautiful. It was cold and fresh. Did you know that all toilets on the way to the lake have the world’s biggest high definition, 3 dimension televisions? So we offload sitting down in the open watching the scenery. For those who need doors in their toilets, this isn’t the place you want to go visit. So we do it the Roman way when in Rome. In case you need some luxury, do carry some toilet papers cause the water there can be really freezing.
So we freshen up, pack our tents and bags and ready ourselves for our trek to the next pit stop. Our breakfast consisted of some biscuits and a cup of tea.
The trek to Danphe Langa was long and the most difficult. Four hours of steep uphill with not a single shop to at least a tea break. We stopped for about 15 minutes to eat some precooked packet of noodles and a can of fish. It did fill us a little but that’s not something that does away with hunger. The trek was difficult mostly because we were without a proper diet and the fact that we carried a lot.
After the longest hours we finally reach Danphe Langa. Danphe Langa is a small village on a flat land, on top of the hill we had walked. It consisted of 4 to 5 houses. “Danphe” also known as Danphe Monal Pheasant (Lophophorus Impeyanus) is the national bird of Nepal. This place got its name from the bird which could be seen, if we had been there in the right season. Rhododendrons, also known as “Laliguras” in the Nepalese language, can also be found covering the hills during spring. Too bad for us since we were there in the early winters. The mountains looked beautiful from there but our hunger interested us more to lunch.
The lunch was the same as we had for dinner, the day earlier in Chere but it tasted finest because of the hunger. After lunch and about an hour of rest we were ready for the next span of walk to Newere. The trek to Newere was a god’s gift of all downhill. Walking downhill was a lot easier compared to the long uphill we had trekked. But the thing on your mind is that when you walk that much downhill, there is going to a lot more uphill. Plain paths are more pleasing and it’s easier with less pain.
After about two hours downhill we finally reached Newere. Newere is a small village, also with 4 to 5 houses, just next to a small river. We decided to camp there since it was not possible to get to the next village before sunset.
The camping spot in Newere was like a proper camping spot. It was between two hills and just beside the river. The problem was that we had just crossed the village meaning that for dinner, we had to depend on the food we had carried. Beaten rice, noodles, can tuna fish and water from the river was all for dinner. We had lit a small fire and so we got the comfort of cooked noodles. After dinner we drank a little to beat the cold and talked about our journey so far and further. It was not long before we all went to our tents and slept like a hibernating bear.
The next morning we were woken up by the cold. Maybe because we had camped near the river, the morning was just too chilly. And because we were between two hills, the sun too showed us no mercy and showed up late. It was very difficult for us to get out of our sleeping bags but we had to because we were getting late. We quickly freshen up with the cold river water, pack our bags and were walking to the next pit stop without any breakfast. We decide next stop will be Bumra where we could have some breakfast.
On the way to Bumra, we met a local traveling with his five mules, each mule carrying some load on their back. People who usually trek here bring along potters who carry most of the load. As for us, our bags were heavy and it was slowing our pace to get to the lake. So we decide a price in exchange that the mules carry our bags. He hesitated looking at the bags but finally agreed. So he grabs a mule by the harness and it near for one of my friends to load his bag. Just as he was about to put his bag on the mule’s back, the mule got restless and backed off backs off. It refuses to carry the bag. Bumra, here we come carrying our own load.
After about an hour and half walk, we reached Bumra, where we stopped to eat some breakfast. The hotel owner at Bumra also had mules but he decided to charge what was not worth. So by now we accept the fact that we will have to carry our load by ourselves all the way to the lake. After breakfast we again walk unwillingly to our next stop, Bulbule. We decided that Bulbule would be the place for lunch.
Cake is what we city people get to taste. Days in these remote villages can get really harsh. On the walk to Bulbule we come across a woman carrying a crying, 2 to 3 year old child. She stops at us, asking for medicines. It seems that the baby she was carrying had put her hands in the fire and got it burnt till the elbow. Luckily we did have some medicines for burns and we gave it to the lady. But I was really not sure about effect after its use. Not be able to do more we decide to walk on, with the baby’s cry still on our heads.
Bulbule was not far as we expected and we did even manage to find the privilege of a small tea - biscuits break in between. It was also pleasing to see a school with a good amount of children and surprising to see a police check post. Just maybe someday, I hope education can give these poor people some basic rights of necessity, which our government could never provide.
The walk to Bulbule was comparatively easier. As soon as we reached Bulbule lunch was ordered. As the lunch was being cooked, I took out my camera and began to take some pictures of the nature there. Seeing my fancy gadget, some children, between the ages of 4 to 6 approach me with curiosity. I click a picture and show it to them in return for pleasing smiles. Maybe they thought I was a frequent traveler of the route, the oldest one tells me to bring a copy for them when I come the next time. I had no idea when that next time was coming, but I made promise someday, to bring them their wish.
Finally at Bulbule, we came to realize that food was always the same and we didn’t expect it to be any different further. Although the food, having eaten the same always, was bad, our hunger left nothing on the plate and to my surprise it tasted good too. After lunch its now again, time again for the unwilling walk to Daba, where we decided to camp for the night. The walk from Bulbule to Daba was the shortest. The villagers estimated 15 minutes but we got there in about 45 minutes. Time was never as they said.
Daba was vast, dry grassland with as usual only 3 to 4 houses. It was good that we reached our stop early because we could get a longer time to rest. We set our tents and light a fire for the cold. That night we only eat cooked noodles since it was not long since we had lunched. After dinner, we sat down beside the fire enjoying the open under the stars. Although we had decided to sleep early, we just couldn’t stop ourselves from having a good time and finally ended sleeping late.
We slept late always meant we woke up late and by the time we started walking it was almost 11 am. Breakfast was again some biscuits and a cup of tea. From Daba there are two ways to get to the lake. The shorter one was steep uphill and could get us to the lake on the very same day. The other one was the less uphill but half day longer. The hotel people had warned us that not many people walk that route, so as first timers, we could confuse our trail. So we leave Daba still discussing which route to take. About 50 meters walk, we meet a local, to whom we seek some advice. He says it’s steep but there was no chance of being lost as there is only one path. We had already spent 3 nights without the lake and so we decided to take a risk and spend the fourth one with it.
I have never in my lifetime, seen a snowfall and I am not lucky this time either. But we did manage to see some snow on the ground. The route was difficult as expected. It was steep and the worst, very slippery because of the melting snow. For some time we even thought we were lost as there was no one to confirm our track. But we never gave up and kept walking hoping that after the hill of our sight, it will be an easy downhill walk till the lake.
We usually walked one after another about 10 meters apart from each other. I usually was the last one. The first one reached the top. He shouted loud “The Lake”. It was such a big relief and a sense of achievement to hear the shout. I quicken my pace, out of the eagerness to see the lake. The second one reached the top, he shouts “The Lake”. I walk faster. The third and the fourth also give their shouts. Three days of walking, I have never walked faster. Soon I was on the top searching for my peek of the lake. I have my first sight of the lake and it was beautiful. Something which was unforgettable, even if I had lost my memory. It’s my turn and I give the loudest one “Yaaaaaa, the Lake”
After seeing the lake, my eyes went to the path which we had to take. The third and the fourth were sitting on the side with a sad face. One of them told me to look at the path. The only path was about one feet wide, a little tilted, covered with snow and the worst, it was 75 degree angled, rocky cliff. The third one says “there’s no way I am taking that route carrying this bag”. The fourth one agrees “me neither”. I was happy to hear them say that and I stood by their decision. The first had already crossed the half mark of the cliff and the second was about to reach the half. After long shouting discussion they agreed to come back. The risk was just too much and we were not even sure it was the right way to the lake. One wrong foot and no one could have done anything to save. Also with no phone network, help was maybe one to two days away. Angry and frustrated, we had no choice but to take our way back to Daba.
It had taken us three long, difficult, steep slippery hours to get us to the top and another hour and half to get to Daba. The day was wasted. Walking back downhill was fast but difficult because it was slippery and we all took a fall at least twice each.
Angry and not talking to each other, we were quietly walking downhill, when one of my friends turned back to me and said “I feel like having donuts”
“What? From where did donuts come in your mind” I replied with a mixed tone of surprise and laugh.
“I don’t know but I want to eat them. You know the freshly made, hot ones that are found in the street side shops of Kathmandu.”
“Yeah I do.” And by that time, donuts can’t seem to get out of my mind and I wanted eat them too.
I find the topic very comical, since we had eaten nothing but some biscuits the whole day. I tell the other three also about them all we all have a laugh forgetting some of the anger and frustration, at least for a while.
After a while we reached Daba. Now the discussion was weather to stay at Daba for the night or start walking for the next village, Gaisari, which was about two hours away. Although we were tired and hungry we decided to move on to the next village. We felt Gaisari was the better option because it could, at least get us to the lake, the next day. There was no time for food because it was getting late and we had to get there before it was dark.
Walking to Gaisari was all downhill but painful to the body because it never got good rest and food the whole day and painful to the heart because our four and half hours walk got us no where. So at a stage where we can’t take it anymore we finally reach Gaisari. Gaisari, to no surprise, was also a small village with 3 to 4 houses. We decide to sleep that night in a hotel because we had no strength left to set up tents and we desperately needed a proper warm sleep. The same food tasted great as usual because of the hunger. Sleep was pretty good that night because after three nights we were sleeping on beds and in a room which had walls and doors. We were so tired that we never cared about how dirty the mattress and blankets were.
The next morning, wasting no time in packing tents, we started walking early with as usual biscuits and tea for breakfast. The next stop was Jhayri, where we had planned to have our lunch. The walk to Jhayri was a quiet one maybe because of the depressing yesterday or egos of challenge it took to get to the lake soon. Once again, we lost our track but this time we were lucky to meet a local who showed us the right way. After about two and half hours we reached Jhayri.
Jhayri was a big village compared to all the villages we had passed. People there were friendly and they treated us like celebrities. We also managed to find a cobbler who stitched my friend’s shoes. While lunch was being cooked, we sat down for a while to talk to the locals. Our talks were mostly about the distance and the difficulty of the route. Bad news was that there was one more hill but the good news was that we were just two hours from the lake. Among the villagers we felt special. Maybe because they saw very few trekkers, they gather around us making us uncomfortable. They talked very respectfully and tried to help in all our questions. The lunch consisted of cooked noodles and it was quick. We started walking as soon as lunch was over.
The last hill was about one hour long but this hour felt like it had 120 minutes. Time seemed longer as we neared the lake and every minute was a pain. After the uphill there was about an hour of plain. Suddenly the first guy from the group gave a huge shout. Knowing that the lake was finally visible I walked fast. From between the trees I see something blue. It was the lake. We walk a little further and just as we came out of the small pine forest, there is about 50 meters of dry grassland and then laid the big, beautiful, blue Rara.
A person, on the way once told us that it takes a lot of pain to get there, but once you see the lake, you just don’t feel the pain anymore. It was beautiful. The lake was clean, clear, cold and was surrounded all side by hills and sparkling mountains. All the painful walk, cold sleep, hunger, anger, frustration, depression was rewarded with this great form of beauty. Our minds were blank and only the eyes and the heart seemed to perform their duties. I don’t remember how it felt to be born, but surely it must have felt something like this.
The hotel and the camping sit was still about an hour and half walk and after about an hour of staring at the water we finally decided to walk. There was only one hotel, some government houses that are responsible for the lake and an army camp. The hotel was a five star as compared to the hotel on the way to the lake and to the biggest surprise this one had toilets with actual walls and a door. Wasting no time we set up our tents since it was not long before it was to get dark.
We stayed four nights at Rara Lake and actually lived a life. This renaissance included many experiences like the actual feeling of being lazy and getting the time to relax, the feeling of being pushed while walking without a load, the planning of returning back to Jumla with mules carrying all the load, the feeling of happiness when confirmed the air tickets from Talcha which was just three hours from the lake, the sadness of the person who owned the mules because we didn’t need him anymore, the kindness of the army for providing us twice with breakfast and pork meat, the beautiful taste of pork in the cold cooked in noodle spicing, boat ride in the blue waters, trekkers walking for 3 weeks, brain freezing bath which made you stiffer that a statue, the shining eyes of a pack of wolves 15 meters away because of the smell of the pork, the army fussing about how the cows there didn’t give milk and hens didn’t lay eggs, a dip in the coldest temperatures, the laying down and seeing the stars, the feeling of being a real photographer, the real taste of hot soup, the great taste of whiskey, walking two hours to make a phone call, the unconcluded discussion of Bandle vs. Sungur vs. Bangur (do let me know if you know the difference), the value of “Karma” (the hotel owner forgot to add six hundred to the final bill because she cheated us with all pork fat instead of meat), planning for our next trek to Shey Fukhsoundo at Dolpa and finally relaxing but with the concern of not having confirmed air tickets, to the city, on our minds.
After all the experiences, the time quickly turns to the day when we had to leave Rara Lake. After a good breakfast from the army canteen we sat near the lake to have our final moments with it. We knew one thing for sure that we were going to miss it. Saying farewell to the lake was a little heartbreaking but it had to be done and we had a flight tomorrow. We said our final goodbye to the hotel people, the boy who gave us the boat ride at a lake and the army who had kindly given their full support. So with our packed bags and sad hearts, we moved on to the next destination with an airport, Talcha.
Walking to Talcha was easy because it was only three hours, we got enough rest, no more uphill and also because our bags felt light, since we had finished all the food items we were carrying. We had given the responsibility of airfare to an agency in the capital but not having a confirmed flight tickets in our hands and we were short of money, bothered us very much. Talcha had an airport, so we expected at least a town like Jumla with facilities like a cola soft drink. No surprises to our expectations not matching again. Talcha did have an airport and at least the village was bigger that the other villages. It was cold and we were in no mood at all, for camping. So we took a room in a local hotel.
While coming back from making a phone call, we came across a police station where we decide to ask information about the airport office opening. While my friends were talking to a cop, my eyes caught people making some home made bread (Roti) in the kitchen. Our hunger and the greed for eating bread made us ask the cop if he could spare us some. The army people from the lake were kinder and the cop did not agree.
The lady owner of the hotel was very kind and she gave us the room for a good deal. She also by far made the best food in the whole district. The food was cooked in oil and it was magnate to the tongue. That night, we slept early because tomorrow was a big day and it would finalize if we were getting home or staying for four more days in Talcha, without money, till the next flight.
The next morning after freshening and a fine breakfast we headed straight to the airport. The official at the airport had not yet arrived, so we all took a seat, waiting for him. While we were waiting for the official we talked to people keeping in mind maybe they could help, if there was no way. Finally after a long hour, the officer arrived. We told him about the money already paid to the airways office in the capital. He decided to make a call to a person above his responsibilities. As we were watching from the glass window, he went in the office, picked up the phone and started talking to his boss in the capital. “Sir, your people, they have arrived. What should I do with them?” there was a silence as we could not hear the other end. The talk ended with an “Ok” and a “Namaste”.
He comes outside and speaks “You fly if you have the money. Otherwise you don’t”
We try our best to make him agree so that we can pay the amount in Nepalgung from an ATM. It’s a failure. Then came a man sent from the heavens. A local that we earlier talked to while waiting for the official agreed to lend us the money for we pay him in Nepalgung. We checked in our bags and got into the plane. Luck favour us again as we got a last peek of the lake from some thousand meters up in the air.
Finally we landed at Nepalgung and felt as if we reached home. We were actually happy that it happened and it was now all over. The only thing on our minds was food. As soon as we come out of the airport we went to the nearest shop for a cola but we had to wait more, for our brand was not available and the mountains had made us stubborn enough. After paying back the helper and a heart felt thank you we parted ways. Straight away we headed for a restaurant where they served anything but rice. We ordered almost everything from the menu. The food tasted the best ever. Finally in the evening we get on to the bus. After, again hours of stiff neck sleep and a dancing bollywood actor, we finally made it home, to a hot shower, mom’s cooking and my warm electrified bed.
I had been on a trek once before this and enjoyed. But this one seemed different and alighting. One thing it taught me was a very different and maybe even, the real definition of happiness. Something that maybe could never be exchanged for cash. It also made me realize the things I had or just confused me more with exactly why I don’t appreciate them. I don’t know for sure that this trip changed me as a person but I now, am able to see things in a little different way. I hope the day comes soon when I can make my trip back to happiness once again. Some kids there are waiting for their photographs and I do have a habit of keeping my promises.