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Kathmandu valley 2030

Kathmandu Valley voted the most beautiful city in the world!

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“Kathmandu Valley voted the most beautiful city in the world of 2030!” – Time Magazine.

Time magazine’s 2030 year-end cover page has just labeled Kathmandu Valley as the “Shining Pearl” of Asia! The world news media is abuzz with disbelief. “How could this city, shaken to the core by a terrible 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015, transform to such a beauty within 15 years? What is Kathmandu’s secret here?”

The magazine presents 10 convincing reasons from the world’s respected urban planners and city living legends who overwhelmingly voted, “Kathmandu Valley as the most beautiful city in the world in 2030.”

1. Kathmandu: The servant government city.
2. Kathmandu: A city of contradictions.
3. Kathmandu: The greenest city in the world?
4. Kathmandu: The living heritage city.
5. Kathmandu: The ‘recycle it all’ city.
6. Kathmandu: The city that never sleeps…
7. Kathmandu: An energy+ city.
8. Kathmandu: City of wanderlust.
9. Kathmandu, A city of common-sense.
10. Kathmandu, The start-up capital of Asia!

 

  1. Kathmandu: The servant government city.

“As I step into a local municipality (ward) office that, from the outside, looks distinctly 18th century aristocratic palace, carved in wood illustrating Nepali historical and mythological events, I am surprised to find myself entering a futuristic lobby adorned with beautiful paintings and sculptures representing Nepal’s various ethnic communities. Further along a big poster hangs on straight ahead “Democracy = Transparency.” Just a few steps further another one provokes, “Your Government, Your Servant. 

A ‘customer care’ officer greets me with a customary bow, ‘Namaste, How may I help you?’ There are no papers here. All essential processes from citizenship documents to marriage certificates to land taxes are all processed electronically. Housing checks and permits are scheduled online. After hearing my request he escorts and introduces me to the elected representative of the municipality..  She politely invites me to sit down and asks, “Would you like a cup of freshly brewed Nepali organic coffee while we look up the information you are interested in?”

In 2030, Kathmandu is world-renowned  for adopting the 21st century servant governmentmodel for accountability and transparent local governance. Regular local elections, efficient and inclusive local management of resources, disaster preparedness along with transparency and zero tolerance for corruption has led to a win-win partnership between citizens, businesses and the government. The local government officials offer quick hassle-free services with their ready use of information technology. Locals regularly seek and get information on their city’s governance through the simple yet powerful “Right to Information” act holding business, organization and local bodies accountable. Any information not delivered within 48 hours is addressed by Nepal’s swiftly implemented law. Citizen journalism has enhanced mainstream journalism. Public shunning and boycotting of corrupt people and their business/organizations have become social norms. Local taxes are transparently collection, managed and locally distributed by ingenious prioritizing such as online polling. Every tax rupee is directly tied to projects so that each local knows where and when her tax was spent.

This all began when a virtuous cycle was set in motion after that terrible earthquake in 2015 as an empowered citizenry started working together integrating technology, civic sense and youth volunteerism. This started a trend of efficient service of high quality from a reimagined public service system which was overwhelmingly populated  by young professionals trained on 21st century governance ideals and the appointment of locally elected leaders in key positions. The powerful autonomous government body, “Nepal Resurgence Board,” constituted in 2015 with its army of urban planners in Kathmandu, helped speed up reconstruction of policies and infrastructures in and around the valley.

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘My Government, My Servant!’

 
  1. Kathmandu: A city of contradictions.

As I step out of my galli (alley), I find myself walking on a colorful pavement in a neighborhood whose walls come alive with vibrant graffiti's. I could spend hours wandering here, as I see a range  of artistic expressions all the way from meticulous thanka-style spiritual paintings, beautiful sculptures to something that looks like an attempt by a five-year old… Each galli seems to personify the face of that neighborhood. In Kathmandu, I am often given directions to neighborhoods not by street addresses but by these unique landmarks and motifs which changes with each corner you turn! This city truly is a walking contradiction, a beautiful collage of diversity.”

Local municipalities (tole) of 2030 have built a tradition of citizens adopting each galli (alley) of the city. They all seem to be in an endless race to outdo each other to keep up a record of the best managed and designed roads, parks, public toilets, bus parks, cycle lanes and more; using the “adopt-a-tole” model. Communities take ownership of the immediate road (& public space) in front of them. They name, beautify, and support it themselves. The municipality’s autonomous infrastructure maintenance body works with the Mayor directly to help local community members build not just roads but  community infrastructures like parks and public toilets. The citizens have also taken responsibility for the greenery in their neighborhoods. By actively collaborating with their local municipality under the ‘servant government’ system, the public infrastructures are now 100% accessible to 100% of the citizens for 100% of the time. Kathmandu seems to have internalized the essence of chaos theory and its brilliant urban planners came up with a way to build a city, emulating the rules of organized chaos, making this an exciting city where no two places are alike. In fact Kathmandu prides itself on its contradictions.

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘My Neighborhood, My Responsibility!’

  1. Kathmandu: The greenest city in the world?

“ As I step out of the airport, I am welcomed by gentle breeze and the fragrance of fresh-cut grass. I travel towards the city in  a taxi that runs on clean electricity. I roll down the windows to enjoy the roads abuzz with bicycles and pedestrians. I pass by many community parks where children are running around with their dogs. Clear, stylish, wearable technology responsive signboards are everywhere guiding you to the history and urban legends of the city. Those concrete or brick walls have long been replaced with trees and hedges. As I pass by, I can’t help notice that plants and trees seem to be integrated into building designs themselves. I come across the jewel of the city, the Central Park of Kathmandu (a stretch of greenery that connects the  former Royal palace grounds  all the way to the Dasharath Stadium).
I step out and walk around. In this vastness, young people are immersed in making music, girls are jogging, a rap battle going on steps away and further along people playing cricket, football and more. Family of three generations are on a cozy picnic under massive trees. A flock of birds make their way through the blue skies. It makes any outsider wonder, “Why can’t my city be like this?”

Starting from 2015, Kathmandu started turning all its open spaces into self-sustainable, accessible green spaces and ponds while converting all the hills around the valley into national parks and wildlife reserves. By 2030, it held the distinguished reputation of being the greenest city of the world. This has enabled students, children, and the elderly to relax, play and enjoy nature to the fullest. Open spaces around spiritual places like Pashupati,  Swayambhu, Changu Narayan, Boudha, Basantapur, Patan and Bhaktapur now have clean, elegant, vibrant  gardens and ponds. “Plant a tree before you die” ethos has helped reduce pollution turning Kathmandu into a beautiful, livable tranquil abode. The former royal palace ground is linked to Rani Pokhari, Tudikhel and Dasarath Stadium becoming a humongous lush green park for the city of Kathmandu to relish, rivaling that of New York’s Central Park.

Kathmandu in 2030 holds the distinction of being among the most bicycle-friendly city of the world and brands itself as a bicycle-preferred city. There are dedicated disability, walking and cycle friendly lanes on all major roadways and galli’. There is even a special tax rebate for those who decide not to own fossil fuel vehicles.  By 2030, Kathmandu has set a global example by allowing alternative energy public vehicles to become the primary means of transportation on and below the streets of Kathmandu. Real-estate builders are given tax breaks to build ‘green plus energy homes’ and penalized for making energy negative buildings and infrastructure. Quality of air/water (environment) has become a fundamental human right of utmost  political importance. Since leadership is penalized during elections depending on the air pollution index, authorities are particularly sensitive to any deterioration on its globally adapted environmental KTM-2100 Protocol. Many Kathmandu folks work from their homes or nearby cafes and parks. Pedaling, walking or public transport make for the bulk of transportation in this city which has just been voted as the world’s most breathable city. The banks along the twin rivers of Bagmati and Bishnumati are a popular space for hanging out, pedaling, leisurely drives and a bird lover’s heaven! All this has enabled Kathmandu arguably as the greenest city in the world.

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greenest city of them all?’

 
  1. Kathmandu: The living heritage city.

“Making my way through the narrow alleys, I chance upon small temples and monuments in every corner, some filled with erotic, wooden sculptures, others with intricate metal carvings on doors that simply blows my mind. One can never be certain what wonders the very next turn might hold for you. The evolution of centuries of work, molding with the state of the art technologies of the day, makes this a sight for me to comprehend. Add the warm smile lighting up on the faces of every Nepali I meet, tells me that this smiley city is singularly content."

What city boasts a thousand Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Sikh temples within breathing distance from each other? Furthermore Kathmandu folks have rediscovered their own brand of spirituality by rediscovering their calling to “treat guests as god!” Kathmandu is an enlightened city of tolerance where major religious and spiritual practices are intricately interwoven not just in people’s minds and lives but also in every aspect of the city’s planning. Since that terrible quake in 2015, Kathmandu folks have re-discovered their commitment to build a monument for each family member that departs. This has made Kathmandu a city of a thousand temples whose stories are told to the children in far corners of the world!

One strong reason for Kathmandu valley to regain such glory has been the fact that its citizens decided to not just rebuild the heritage destroyed by the 2015 quake, but went one step further by rediscovering their burning talent as architects, creators and builders. Kathmandu’s heritage has been its collection of 1,000+ year of amazing architecture, history, fusion of 100+ ethnic cultures, life-lessons based on simplicity, trade, creativity, communal living, and local ingenuity. Add to this, the new found obsession of the post-earthquake generation to outmatch the creativity of the past. Buildings in Kathmandu are only permitted to be built/retained if they pass the strict and holistic KTM-9 building codes (designed to withstand 9 richter scale).

Kathmandu is a mega-city that is constantly shaped and reshaped by competing townships (municipalities) within it, that continuously try to outdo each other on style and innovation, while never straying from that common value, “you reap what you sow.”

Kathmandu folks have finally learnt from their past to not just keep but also to evolve and enhance their heritage. The current generation, aptly named “the bridge-builders” took up the challenge 15 years ago to be the ones to march Kathmandu to become an actively mutating heritage city the world has come to hold in awe. The decade old “Nepal Living Heritage University” has pioneered a disruptive education system that brings Nepalis and students from around the world to experiment on holistic living, planning and engineering. Based on the lessons learned from that terrible 2015 earthquake, they have gone on to build a unique disaster resistant urban planning model (a hybrid of the rich heritage of the valley and modern style).  They are exporting this interdisciplinary knowledge around the world like their ancient hero “Araniko” did in the 13th Century.

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘(Leave behind) a monument of love before you die.’

 
  1. Kathmandu: The ‘recycle it all’ city

"As I step out of a heritage boutique homestay I rented in Bungmati, a green notification on my device informed me that I had received money back for the waste I had recycled for the month. It gave me my three preferred options: add it to my bank account, donate it evenly to the 3 causes I love or invest it all in a government owned “Nepal resurgence fund” that is building a mega infrastructure project designed to create a million jobs over the course of next 5 years.”

By  working with entrepreneurs, Kathmandu has figured out how to recycle, reuse and turn (any) waste and even generate profits. Locals generate money out of their own waste. Household items are encouraged to be sold, bartered or rented out. Online-offline auction melas (sites) remain popular sites for many Kathmandu citizens to hang-out. Each year, Kathmandu hosts an annual “Recycle it all’ challenge for the world’s best innovators.

Garden and roof-top farming has thrived thanks to the household practice of using their own organic waste and waste water from the kitchen and rainwater/dew water harvesting is the primary supply for drinking water. Folks use their (reusable) safety tanks instead of pumping their waste to the sewage systems which have long gone dry.

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘You reap what you throw!

 
  1. Kathmandu: The city that never sleeps…

“At 10 in the evening, I get a message from a friend to meet her in the old city to discuss an exciting idea she wants to pursue in a possible venture. I step out on a brightly lit street in Lazimpat, and decide to walk comfortably through  alleys. Citizen-run ‘Neighborhood watches’  ensures that you feel secure in their area. I chance upon few kids drawing graffiti on the streets and a bicycle police casually stops by to give the kids tips on how to improve their work-in-progress. I pass through the night markets at Ason and revel at the sight of locals and tourists bargaining, recreating a scene that probably goes back centuries. I check out a new alley that promises a shortcut to where I want to go. A young woman comes jogging out of a narrow alley and smiles as she passes by. I google her face. I am ‘pretty’ sure she is doing the same on me!”

If you think Kathmandu of 2030 is beautiful at day, dare I say it’s even more beautiful at night. Every corner of this city is reachable within a thirty minute drive. Kathmandu is blessed with beautiful weather throughout the year. By 2016, Kathmandu folks learned it was just plain stupid to close down their energetic city by 8 in the evening so they started to invest in rapid public transport systems (elegantly adapted and improved from what they saw in Bogota, Colombia). This now runs 24/7 and 365 days a year, getting rid of traffic congestions while ensuring safe, convenient and reliable transportation options for all. This was a win-win situation for the local, the tourist, the small entrepreneur, the street vendor, the street-side cafes, the taxis and the youths. A city that is awake all the time, reverberates with more ideas and innovation, infusing creativity into our culture once more. A 24-hour open city has created a separate brand of Kathmandu as a youthful, friendly, safe, business-friendly city full of positive vibes.  Families regularly enjoy their moments at the well-lit ‘spiritual’ parks while a happening night-life exists just a block away. Ask any citizen anything and they jump to “guide” you to a solution, a token example of the legendary warmth and generosity Nepalis are known for. Is this the reason Kathmandu repeatedly comes on as one of the top 10 places to disappear for a few days.

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘My City:  Active, Alive, Always!’

 

  1. Kathmandu: An energy+ city.

“As I walk back home from my office in Bhaktapur, I am notified of an increase in my bank balance. I am in for a nice surprise. I had just earned enough from my sale of surplus solar energy to afford for a quiet dinner with my family at that elegant restaurant along the brightly lit banks of Bagmati as planned.”

Who would have thought just 15 years ago, a city with no electricity for up to 16 hours a day would transform into an energy plus city glowing with surplus “clean energy.” A critical mass of Kathmandu folks in early 2015 decided that they had an alternate source they could tap into: abundant solar energy.  With strong sunshine almost all year round, Kathmandu is a fertile ground for solar energy. Harnessing this power that shines for almost 12 hours a day has turned each house into electricity producers and a surplus seller. Energy conservation remains a top priority as citizens still remember those ‘loadshedding’ yester-years and their responsibility to mitigate the global warming menace that is battering coastal and mountain cities around the world. They have decreed that all electrical products have to pass the strict ‘KTM-2100-Green” standards or else the businesses are ‘socially’ boycotted. Clean energy and energy conscious citizens duly transformed Kathmandu into an energy hip, energy rich, positively energized city!

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘Bright tole, enlightened soul.

 

  1. Kathmandu: City of wanderlust.

“As I wander around aimless in my newly bought ‘hatti chaap’ branded shoes, I feel a sudden rush of wanderlust. I wander around the city allowing my eyes to feast upon the surprises at each turn. Time loses its meaning as my brain is mesmerized by the strong emotions evoked by Kathmandu’s alley ways and the crisp blue skies above. The myriads of intriguing  cultures keeps me raw and alive! Imagine a shaman’s shop right next door to a doctor’s office. Finest arabica coffee shops tucked inside 100 year old mansions. During my  week long vacation, I have made it a point to lose myself by wandering back in time in the interiors of  the three historic cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur. Then, off I travel to the exteriors of the valley’s lush green hills, hopping from one village to another while taking in the sights of the majestic Himalayas to the north.”

With its year-round fantastic weather, Kathmandu is a haven for any wanderlust. With its stimulating, serpentine alleys, back streets full of blast from the past, and welcoming cafes around each corner, Kathmandu has become THE perfect place to lose yourself. In-fact ‘wanderlust’ (losing yourself in aimless wandering) has become ‘THE thing to do’ for travelers from all around the world. From wandering off to the towering 2,000 meter lush green mountains (locals call them ‘hills’) around the valley to watching the tallest mountains of the world and strolling by the centuries-old architecture and culture, Kathmandu has become all about pausing and rewinding yourself in this “distracted-fast forwarding” world, a city of wanderlust.”

Citizen’s Mantra: ‘Wander in Kathmandu to find yourself.

 

  1. Kathmandu: A city of common sense.

“A city filled with common sense? Really? Just 15 years ago when I walked in this very city, bandhs (forced strikes) had been a regular abomination. A city that would be shut down on the whim of a politician, a thug or a few rowdy locals, with tens of thousands of demoralized police helplessly watching as mobs ran rampant. Who would have thought common sense would again prevail in Kathmandu? I look around today.This city is now open, humble, safe and inviting! It seems, Common-sense prevails on and off the streets.”

After the earthquake in 2015, citizens adopted a zero-tolerance policy against Bandhs and started actively supporting local police and youth groups to make sure all of Kathmandu Valley to be a bandh-free zones. Political forces which encouraged bandhas were taught a painful lessons in the elections. Common-sense charters popped up in neighborhoods making a new social norm that focused on social ostracizing for all who dare to stray. Humility, empathy, civic sense and integrity remains the corner-stone of a set of ‘common-sense’ values practiced by every citizen here and taught to every child. “Common-sense education” seems to be the cornerstone of education in all primary schools improved upon by “civic-sense education” system in secondary schools in Kathmandu. People of all genders and age feel safe and dignified to go about their daily business, anywhere and anytime because they know that common sense prevails all around.

Citizen’s mantra: ‘Common sense IS common (in Kathmandu)  

 

  1. Kathmandu, the start-up capital of Asia!

As I step inside a cafe recommended by a friend, I see photo frames of handshakes and hugs between renowned artists-innovators-investors on the walls. I have been told this cafe has turned many crazy ideas into a prosperity generating engines. Positivity is in the air. The locals and the foreigners here seem to be talking about ideas, plans, dreams and teams. Language doesn’t seem to be a barrier as I must have heard at least 10 different languages in the last 10 minutes! I can’t help feel that I have come to the right place to infuse myself with ‘positivity’ and ‘passion’.

In 2030, entrepreneurship seems to be in everyone’s DNA in Kathmandu. The catastrophic earthquake of 2015 transformed a whole generation of Nepalis to be crisis managers, impulsive risk-takers and passionate doers. Empowering youths to innovate has been critical to injecting ‘vibrancy’ into Kathmandu. Localized, decentralized and effective and a million mentors strong network of ‘Entrepreneurs for Nepal built over the last 20 years has ensured a credible entrepreneurial ecosystems providing Nepali & Nepal centric entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills, and networks necessary to start and expand businesses. Local mentoring clubs in Kathmandu regularly match local youths with elders to shape their future. Venture funds, angel investors, impact funds and global community with ideas and guts have all poured into the city to tap into local talents. Innovation, competition and disruption is the name of the game! The explosion of this start-up culture has made Kathmandu into the “start-up” capital of Asia.

Citizen’s mantra: ‘Start-up, scale up, invest on or die trying

As I finish reading Time magazine article in the year 2030, I am still struck by this city’s remarkable transformation.  A news alert beeps on my device, “...In other news, Paris has just announced its plans to get technical support from  Kathmandu to revamp its city life.”

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I would like to hear “your ideas” for building Kathmandu the most beautiful city in the world. Please post your thoughts below. Thank you BibekSheel Nepali Vision team and Srijana Chhetri, Sagar Onta, Raj Maharjan, Krishna Chhetri, Jagannath Kafle and more for helping.

जाने होईन त चुम उपत्यका? गणेश हिमाल पारी तिबेतले ३ तिर घेरेको त्यो नेपाली ठाँउ

Read in English

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दशैँ तिहार बिच पारी हरेक बर्ष झैँ म र मेरो श्रीमती नेपालका कुनै बिकट मनोरम हिमाली क्षेत्र हिडयौँ। शहरमा बस्दा बस्दा थुप्रिएको अलमल्याईपन, बिभिन्न सामाजिक बन्धन र नकारात्मक सोचका गाँठो फुकाउन बेलाबेलामा प्रकृतिको निकट जानै पर्छ। यस्तो मन सफा गर्ने भ्रमणले हामीलाई अाफ्नो देश राम्ररी चिन्ने मौका पनि प्रदान गर्छ।

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हामी धेरै नेपालीलाई नेपालमा चुम उप्यत्यका भन्ने ठाँउ पनि छ भन्ने कुरा थाहै छैन होला। हामी काठमाडौँबाट उत्तरमा दिनहँ गणेश हिमाल देख्छौँ। तर त्यस हिमाल पारी पनि नेपाल छ भन्ने कुरा विरलै थाहा होला। हो, त्यहि हिमाल पारी नेपालीहरु बसोबास् गर्ने एउटा चुम उपत्यका छ जुन गोर्खा जिल्लाको उत्तरी सिमामा पर्छ र तिन तिरबाट तिवेतले घेरिएको छ।

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चुम उपत्यका पुग्न मनाश्लु हिमाल पर्यटकिय मार्गबाटै शुरु गर्नु पर्छ। हाम्रो चुमको भ्रमण कुल १५ दिनको रह्यो। गोर्खा-धादिंगको सिमानामा रहेको अारुघाट बजारबाट शुरु गरेका हामीले कयौँ दिन द्रुत गतिमा बगेकी बुढि गण्डकी नदीको तिरै तिर हिँडय़ौँ। हाम्रो कुल खर्च भने चाहिँ कुनै पनि विदेश भ्रमण गर्दा लाग्ने हवाई टिकट खर्च जति पनि परेन। समुँद्रबाट ५०० मिटर माथीको सतहबाट शुरु गरेका हामी हिँउ नै हिँउले भरिएको ३७०० मिटर सम्मको उचाँईमा पुग्यौँ।

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चुमका बासी जसलाई “चुम्बा” भनिदो रहेछ, हामी दुई नेपाली पर्यटक देखेर तीन छक परेका थिए। हामी घुम्न अाएको भन्ने कुरा नपत्याउदैँ “होईन होला, ‘प्रोजेक्ट’ बाट अाउनु भा होला ?“ वा “पत्रकार हुनु हुन्छ होला?” वा “विदेशीको ‘ग्रुप’ लिएर अाउनु भा होला“ भन्थे। यी सबै होईन भन्दा केहि नलागेर “अमेरिका बस्नु हुन्छ होला – घुम्न अा होला” भनि अाफ्नै मन बुझाँउथे उनले।

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हाम्रो लागि यो भ्रमण अध्यात्मिक अनुभवले भरिपुर्व रह्यो। चुममा बस्दा हामीले चुम्बाहरुका कला, संस्कृति र परिवर्तन नजिकबाट हेर्न पायौँ। चुमको एउटा अचम्मको विशेष संस्कार बारे थाहा पाँउदा मेरो मनमा त्यस बिकट क्षेत्र प्रति श्रद्धा जागेर अायो। यहाँ झण्डै १०० बर्ष देखि कुनै पनि जनावारलाई मार्न मनाई रहेछ। मासु नै खानु परे पनि जनावार मरेपछि मात्र खाने व्यवस्था रहेछ। अनि अर्को कुरा यहाँ यार्सागुम्बाको व्यापारले पनि अाम जीवनमा अामुल परिवर्तन ल्याएको रहेछ।

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अहिले चुम्बाहरु धेरै पर्यटन देखि अाकर्शित भएका पायौँ र यार्सागुम्बाले ल्याएका अाम्दानी पनि यता तिरै खन्याएका पनि देखौँ। त्यहाँ कति पय गाँउमा त हामी भरखर बनी सक्दै गरेका होटेल-लजमा बस्ने मौका पायौँ। एक बोरा सिमेन्टको ३१५० रुपैया पर्ने ठाँउमा पनि पर्यटनले गर्दा स्थानियहरुले धमाधम पर्यटकलाई बस्न लायक व्यवास्थाहरुमा लगानी गरेका देख्यौँ। खुश्शी लाग्यो ! चुम उपयत्का र जाने मार्गहरुमा भैरहेको तिव्र पर्यटकिय बिकास हेर्दा मनले छर्लङ्ग बुझ्यो कि पर्यटनले कसरी नेपालको समतामुलक बिकासलाई फड्को मार्न मद्दत गर्दो रहेछ।

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चुम्बाहरुका प्रमुख व्यापार तिवेतसँग हुँदो रहेछ। अाफ्ना याक र घोडाहरु लिएर उनीहरु सजिलै ५००० मिटरको पास कटी एक दिनमै तिवेत पुग्दारहेछन् अनि किनबेच गरि फर्कन्छन् भोली पल्ट।  तर नजिकैका नेपालका सहर धादिंगवेसी वा गोर्खा बजार अाउनु पर्यो भने एक हफ्ता सम्म लाग्छ।

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यस् हिडाँईले हामीलाई नेपालको विविधताको बारेमा अझ श्रद्धा जाग्यो। हामी हरेक भित्र विवेकशील परिवर्तन ल्याउनको लागि एउटा उत्तम उपाय भनेको शायद हरेक बर्ष अाफ्नै देशका बिकट क्षेत्रमा भ्रमण गर्ने संस्कार हुन सक्छ।

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“नेपाल सुन्दर छ। यसको सुन्दरता अनुभव गर्न हामी अाफैलाई परिवर्तन गर्नु जरुरी छ।”

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Chum, an exotic valley hidden behind the Himalayas of Nepal

 नेपालीमा पढ्नुहोला

Have you traveled to the hidden valley of Chum behind the Ganesh mountains in the Himalayas surrounded on 3 sides by Tibet ?

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My wife and I decided it was once again time for our annual trek onto remote Nepal. It was an excellent opportunity to rejuvenate our souls, secluded from the urban social distractions of Kathmandu. This was also our way of getting to know our Nepal. The sad reality is many Nepalese these days have seen other countries more than places within Nepal. If we only make it a practise of traveling within Nepal once a year, our tourism industry would be further self-reliant while Nepalese learn and enjoy the diversity and beauty within. Here is our daily account of how we ventured into the hidden valley of Chum. I bet many of you have never heard of this place which lies just behind the Ganesh mountain range that you see every day from Kathmandu valley.

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Day 1: Kathmandu (1300 m) to Gorkha (Via Khaireni) 

We shared a ride on a car from Kalanki as the usual microbus station at Maacha pokhari ( near New bus park) was empty possible because of Dashain, one of the biggest Nepali festival.

We reached Gorkha in 4 and half hours where we stayed at small hotel called “ chautari” near the bus park. It was decent enough. We found Gorkha to be warmer than Kathmandu. In the evening we took a steep walk up the stairs for half an hour to reach the tiny palace of Gorkha that spawned one of the greatest Nepalese born, Prithivi Narayan Shah, the uniter of Modern Nepal.

As we climbed the last stairs, we were overwhelmed with the stench of blood all on the stairs as people a few days earlier in Dashain’s 8 th day “Aastami” had sacrificed animals to the goddess Kali’s statue there during Dashain festival. I hope someday they replace these sacrifices with flowers or something kinder. It would be fitting for the one of the most powerful goddess in hinduism.  We had brought some fruits which we quietly ate at the palace grounds. I was contemplating a simple question, “What motivated a small king to go on to conquer and unite into what we call ‘modern’ Nepal today and how did he build the team to make that impossible possible?

 We stayed there to see the beautiful sun set over the palace. I couldn’t help but wonder how Prithivi Narayan Shah must have built and managed a ‘dream’ team in the 18th century that went to win much bigger kingdoms after another while in the south, built a worthy adversary to the southern “british empire” where the sun never set.

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Day 2: Gorkha bazaar to Arughat (500m?)  to Arke to Soti Khola (700m)

We missed the bus by mere minutes! Unfortunately the local bus schedules are haywire and irrelevant. We had to wait for 4 hours to find the next bus to a place called Arughat a town by the budhi gandaki rivers on the borders between Gorkha and dhading district.

Just to get the tickets we had to push our way through crowded chaos at the ticket counter. As the bus rolled on a dusty, dirt-road, cramped with people traveling for dashain. Believe me, when I say, I couldn’t even see who was sitting on the other aisle of the bus for hours. Those of us ‘fortunate’ who had seats were busy carrying the random babies in our arms because their parents were busy clinging to the bus as it swerved through an atrocious cliff one-lane roads. Finally at about 5 in the evening, tired and dust-covered,  we reached Aarke just beyond Arughat where we started our official trek to a place called Soti Khola which was about one and half hours away. Just at dusk we reached Soti Khola and slept in a just finishing up newly built lodge, “Fulbari lodge”  listening to the roar of the raging Budhi Gandaki river just steps away.

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Day 3: Soti Khola to Lapubesi to Maachakhola (900m)

After having an appetizing tibetan/manaslu bread (think of them as an exotic rectangular form of doughnuts) with milk tea for breakfast we started off our first full day of trekking. An hour from Soti Khola we passed by nice springs just by the path where you can take a bath and easily fool around for an hour. The smaller one further up has a nice waterfall too.  This was our first real day of trek, going over suspension bridges, hundreds of meters above ground, to seriously rocky trails on the cliffs under breathtaking waterfalls. The one just after Lapu Besi will hold you spellbound (just over looking a suspension bridge).

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 Lesson of the day: Have breakfast before you head out! It gives you enough energy to sustain yourself for a few hours. We were  weak when we reached for Lapu Besi, a small gurung village. On the path we met a lot of elderly foreign tourists ( above 60 ) who dared to trek in this region. It gave us more confidence! Just before we reached Machha khola, we had a leisurely walk through the sands along the raging Budi Gandaki river.

At Machha Khola (Fish water – english translation) we stayed at Chum Valley Guest house (recently upgraded into a new lodge). If you ask the locals, they will prepare you a dish with local fish caught in the river right there.

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Day 4: Machha Khola to Tatopani to Dobhan to Jagat (1300m)

Best to start the days early before the sun slows you down considerably. I recommend starting at around 7 in the morning. The highlight of the day was a 5 tier waterfall. At Tatopani, i bathed in the small hot springs (more of a bathing place). At Dobhan we had a delicious lunch of Dal-Bhat with fresh green vegetables with chutney (achhar). The walk today was filled with small to humongous water falls. The trek all day ran besides the Budhi Gandaki gorge between mighty mountains on either sides.

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We reached Jagat at around 4. (The word ‘Jagat’ means a place since centuries ago, that collected tax through the ancient trade route between Tibet, Nepal and India. We stayed at the freshly built Manaslu Shanti Hotel (in upper Jagat village). The one besides it is just fine too. At Jagat we came across police station and a Manaslu conservation area check post that checks for your permits. Make sure your guide has all the documents. We saw cases where guides did not have the permit or their own identification papers (clumsy). As for us fortunate Nepalese we don’t need any permits :). All we got were surprised faces who didn’t expect Nepalese to travel (within their country).

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Note: Make sure you charge your phones here. Also the only mobile phone system that works beyond Jagat is called “Sky telecom” (Nepal Telecom and NCell didn’t work beyond Jagat at the time of this writing).

Day 5: Jagat to Philim to Chisapani to Lokpa (1900 m)

We started our trek at 7:30 in the morning. First stop was a small village called Shirdibas where we had tea and coconut biscuits, the legendary trekker favorite biscuits made in Nepal that every Nepali guide, porters, travelers enjoy!

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Soon after we crossed a very long suspension bridge (allegedly the longest in this region), and climbed uphill to reach a beautiful gurung village called, ‘Philim’ (1600m). We were pleasantly surprised to find wi-fi internet at a lodge there started by locals with the help of Mahabir Pun. I enthusiastically uploaded my pictures and updated family/ friends since there were going to be no mobile communication and very little electricity from now on.

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We had lunch at Chisapani where a new hotel was being built. Everywhere we went, we were seeing tourism infrastructure being built. I am sure in a year or two the basic accomodation will be highly improved! Not to be missed was the enormous waterfall beyond Philim just beyond Chisapani.

After an hour from Chisapani, you come across a crossing one which takes you to the main Manaslu trek towards ‘Larke’ pass, and the other to the mysterious Chum Valley trek behind Ganesh Mountains where the ‘Chumbas’ lived, almost shut from the rest of Nepal (and the world). We took the one towards Chum Valley and immediately embarked upon a steep hair-raising walk by the cliffs with the budhi gandaki river deep below.

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In about an hour and half, we reached outskirts of Lokpa and stayed at the solitary lodge called “New Tsum Hotel and Lodge” where for dinner we had one of the most delicious “Roti and Aloo-tarkari” (Chappati with potato curry).

Day 6: Lokpa (1900m) to Chumling (2400m)

At Lokpa we met a guide Laxman kaji rai, who had done Chum Valley more than a few times, and two of his german guests. We were to tag along with this group for a whole week. Unlike the earlier days, this day had a lot of steep walks up and down, even though the destination was short. We started at 8  in the morning and had a good walk through the jungles full of monkeys and beautiful green lush pathways, as always with the river besides us. On the way we managed to crawl through a recent landslide that was scary to walk through and scarier to look back at. We reached Chumling at just after noon, and stayed at a solitary hotel, Tsum Ganesh himal hotel and lodge, outside the main village.

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After lunch, we decided to wash our clothes at a local river minutes away, which was deeply refreshing. In the afternoon we went up to the village to see local villages busy harvesting their crop ( special wheat ). Chumling village was beautiful at harvest season and gave us a good taste of how people have lived for long in that region, shut off from most of civilization. Chumling also overlooked another village on the other side of the gorge called, “Ripchet”. Much higher up was a village called “Chum-chet” an hour or more steep walk from Chumling. We didn’t dare climb to it, although the views would be very rewarding of possible Ganesh Mountains.

Trekking industry is the melting pot of Nepali society where guides and porters from all regions of Nepal come together to bring in fresh skills, ideas and knowledge and mix it with locals and conjure the best of Nepali hospitality. It may be a noble way to build harmony among the diverse ethnic groups of Nepal.

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Day 7: Chumling (2400m) to Chhekampar (3000 m) :

We were now entering into the main Chum Valley today. As today was also going to be a walk on the shorter side, we started off at 8:30 am. It was a steep climb up to Chhekampar with the sun shining hard on us as we walked up the cliffs entering the valley ahead. Unfortunately there was not even a single tea shop on the way. Make sure to bring a few things to bite upon and plenty of water on this day’s walk.

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A somewhat scary thing happened on our way up. As our group passed through a narrow trail up the cliffs, we suddenly heard a big sounds with bells just behind us. We looked back to see a Yak had fallen off the cliffs and was crushed hundreds of meters below. Obviously the horses, and yaks herding above seem to be the cause of this all. The cliff walk although sturdy may feel dizzying to many travelers.Pretty soon, with the sun bearing hard upon us, we were agonizing with thirst specially when there were no shops or houses on the way to get water! Luckily we chanced upon a fresh stream after walking for an hour uphill where we drank to our fullest and bottled some for the rest of the journey. At about 2 in the afternoon, we came up to the  Chhekampar village and stayed in a hotel right in the middle of it. Today’s highlight was the breathtaking view of Ganesh and Manaslu mountains.IMG_1293

Also finally I could sense my mind was de-cluttered and “present”. Being with raw nature is a wonderful filter for our soul! 

Day 8: Chhekampar (3000m) to Nyile (3200m)

It was a clear blue sky today. We came across zen like rock gardens on the way from Chhekampar to Nyile village. The panoramic view of the mountains were just majestic all the way around. On the way we diverted to Rachen Gumba a buddhist nunnery with hundreds of nuns. We had a fun time with young nuns there who were teasing us, coaxing for my wife to convert as monks right then and there while I was to become a monk nearby at another monastery!

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As we passed another village Lar, we could see women jolly harvesting crops. Harvest time seems to be the merriest time in Chum valley. We heard it takes a difficult 11 months to harvest crops here (as compared to 3 or 6 months in the lower regions of Nepal). We also learnt here that Chum valley inhabitants call themselves “Chumba” :)

We reached Nyile around 3. At Nyile we stayed at a young local guide Migmar and his family’s freshly finished lodge “Mingmar’s Lodge”. It is among the first houses when you enter the village.

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Day 9: Nyile to Mu Gompa (3700m) to Nyile

The first night at Nyile was a hard one as we started feeling the effects of altitude. One of the effects is the need to pee more often (especially in the cold night). Today we woke up later than usual (8ish) knowing we were only going for a short walk up to Mu Gompa at 3700 meters. As we ventured towards the Mu Gompa, we started feeling visible effects of the altitude as we were panting for breath even though we were climbing a few steps. The views of borders with Tibet and the mountains all around was breath-taking. At the top of our climb was a monastery and a bit to the side a nunnery. If you walked a few more hours from here, you could reach the high 5000+ meter passes to Tibet. All along we could see majestic horses roaming around freely while terrifying yaks carried woods from forests to households.

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In the afternoon, we went to another monastery above Nyile and Chhule, an adjoining village separated by a river). From here we got a superb view all the way to Manaslu mountains to the west.

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By the late afternoon, the weather started turning for the worse with clouds all wiping off the blue sky soon to be replaced by rain. We were kind of  hoping it would snow so that we could see the other side of Chum valley. As we gathered around in Mingmar’s kitchen, he started telling us a story about his near death fall while collecting “yarshagumba” in the high mountains at near 5000 meters. He talked about whole village emptying during the pre-monsoon season when everyone went to collect “insects” (yarshagumba). He mentioned stories of how even pregnant women went up there and gave birth high up while collecting these quick cash generating prized “insect-fungus”.  This lucrative trade of himalayan herbs seems to have given some degree of prosperity to the villagers devoid of other quick income generating activities so far. From all the tourism infrastructures being built, I am confident tourism will soon replace this highly risky unsustainable activity.

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Day 10: Stuck in Nyile (3200m)

We woke up in the morning to find the rain had turned to snow and that too falling heavily. October was a highly unusual time for snow here but the villagers were rejoicing it as it brought water needed for their fields. All of us travelers were stuck looking at the snowfalls that seems to never stop falling. By the evening there was a foot of snow. At one point there was a white horse waiting for cover on our lodge doors. Another time, there were literally 2 yaks on the door steps looking for cover. So surreal !

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As we were all huddled by the kitchen stove, this was a good time to ask our lodge owners about their customs, their history and how they survive up here. Mingmar told us that it has been nearly a hundred years since Killing any beings was forbidden. It is amazing that tradition still continues where no animals are killed for whatever reasons. You will be hard pressed to find any meat in Chum valley. Only freshly dead animals meat is ever eaten here.

It was bitterly cold that night in Nyile. We didn’t have sleeping bags so we had to wrap ourselves around in 2 blankets while sleeping.

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Day 11: Nyile to Chhekampar

Early in the morning we started walking (or tried to) through the slippery snow back towards Chhekampar. The whole landscape looked brand new to us because of the snow cover all over. The snow melting had all our shoes soaking wet. We could see and hear small snow avalanches all over the mountains we passed by.

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We had lunch at Burje and at Chhekampar returning stayed at a just finishing up hotel at Tashi’s hotel & lodge.

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Day 12: Chhekampar to Lokpa (via Chumling)

Tough walk today. We had decided not to go towards Ganesh Himal Base camp because there was no real tea house for accommodation nor guarantee of food at the gompa nearby. We didn’t have sleeping bags so we felt we were underprepared for the grueling trip there.  So instead we headed back towards chumling. We started early at around half past seven (after having our fill of tibetan breads for breakfast).

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Because of the snowstorms, the fresh stream we had met while going up had been replaced with ice by avalanche. The view though was superb and going downhill eased our burden a bit although our knees bore the brunt. Sticks really helped us here! In between Chumling and Lokpa we again had a hair raising experience crawling up on a scary landslide on a deep river gorge hundreds of meters below.

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At Lokpa we stayed at the same lodge Chum Valley guest house. Our host Lobsang Lama was a gracious man, soft-spoken and humble who had built a nice place there.

Day 13: Lokpa to Jagat

Today, we began to hear news that many trekkers had died on another pass, Thorang la in the Annapurna regions during the same snowstorm we had met. Since we had no internet, electricity or phone during the time after the snow storm, we were relying upon other tourists for any news from the outside world. We decided that given the amount of snow up on the mountains,  the 5100+ Larke La (pass) on Manaslu was not worth the effort. So we decided to return back to Kathmandu from the same route. We seperated from our german tourist friends we had tagged along with their guides.  While they went off towards Manaslu base camp, we went down to the gurung village of Philim. We had delicious vegetable momos for lunch at Philim and managed to log in and tell on facebook to our friends and families that we were safe. Little did we know that our friends and families for 3 whole days had panicked about our whereabouts and some had even checked us on the “missing” lists on Thorang la!

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At Jagat, we again stayed at the same local, Bal Bahadur Karki “Manaslu Shanti” lodge to hear more of his stories about the history, politics of this region and the local efforts to change this region into a separate district of Nepal the “Larke” district which never came into being. The regular Nepal Telecom and Ncell mobile phones again started working here. So we were finally back connected to the world although I didn’t want to connect just yet.

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Day 14: Jagat to Machha Khola

We traced back the same route from Jagat to Machha Khola. Going back we found out we could hardly remember traveling up the same route. So it was good that we imprint  a clearer memory of walking through this trail. We had a forgettable lunch at Khorlabesi at some hotel with gardens. They prefered foreigners to us (Nepali) while charging the same amount.

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At Machha Khola we stayed at Manaslu Lodge. All the hotels were packed because of overflow of travelers returning from the failed Larke La pass attempt. Here we met guides and trekkers with sun burnt faces who told us stories of how the snow nearly took their lives, how they made it to within 100 meters below the pass but had to give it all up because of the snow of over nearly 2 meters (6 foot). In hindsight we had made the right decisions.

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Day 15: Machha Khola to Soti Khola to Arughat and then all the way to Kathmandu!

Today was one hell of a marathon!  We started early at 7 and set out to make it to lunch at Soti Khola. On the way we took a rest to dip ourselves at a nice waterfall by the trail. After having a delicious Dal bhat lunch at ABC Lodge in Soti Khola we took a local bus all the way to Arughat. It took us about an hour and half. No more walking!

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At Arughat we reserved a 4 wheeler jeep who was returning from bringing tourists for the Manaslu trek. After bargaining on a reasonable rate, we started on our way back to Kathmandu going through on a reasonably comfortable ride on a dirt road trail via Dhading besi.

On the way we went through beautiful Salyantar in Dhading and the river below was a stunning sight as the sun set as we passed through.

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We heard this area was about to become a huge lake if a big hydro project went through as planned in the coming years. It would be another interesting place to stay in, if this artificial lake came into being. We ate a local junction “khursani taar” as recommended by the driver Badri Ojha ( 9851044266 ). From Dhading besi to Kathmandu, we were on a highway.

We finally made it to Kathmandu at around midnight. I checked my weight. I had lost 2 kilos, without dieting :)

 

In the end I leave you with this  from some place we stayed on the trek :)

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Some helpful tips:
1) All photos taken through a mobile (Apple Iphone 4S)
2) For a Nepali traveler on Chum valley expect around Rs 1,500 a day if you want to travel comfortably and treated as a tourist without the feeling you are being discriminated in favor of foreigners. (This is cost without any guides or porters. Transportation to and from Arughat is extra depending on how you travel- local bus or private jeeps).

How to trek safely in Nepal ?

Over the years I learnt often through my own hard experiences, the importance of safely trekking in Nepal as any instance can quickly turn into a life and death situation in remote regions.
Here are my safety tips while trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal:

  1. Many trails in Nepal have mules /donkeys as main transport vehicles. If you see mules/donkeys coming towards you,make sure you always give side on the safe end. Don’t ever stand on the edge of a cliff to let them pass. Mules/ donkeys will not hesitate to push you off the edge as they usually take the safest side in the trail!
  2. Use walking sticks (2 if possible). it helps ease your balance and in some tricky situations like crossing streams or on broken paths.Roads usually go from good to worse within a day of change in weather. Sticks are special help to your legs. You can find a pair at an affordable price in Thamel, Kathmandu.
  3. Ask fellow traveller who are coming from opposite directions on the status of the trails and where there could be potential difficulty in passing through.
  4. If you are alone or with only one companion, always tag along groups. This helps you when you chance upon a difficult situation when even small landslides, streams on paths cause you to walk carefully (often with the group’s guidance). Don’t hesitate to use your hands on difficult places.  They are most handy. Don’t forget them:)
  5. Make sure your shoes are in good condition (carrying a super glue helps to glue in soles that might come off in these grueling walks). Water proof /resistant shoes are a good investment.
  6. In suspension bridges (you will run across plenty), don’t walk looking down deep into the gorge. It’s usually dizzying. Look straight ahead. if there are mules/donkeys crossing the bridge from the other direction, stop right there and go back! Let the mules/donkeys pass entirely before you step on to that bridge ! I told you so!
  7. Be extra careful walking downhill than uphill specially in cliffs. Slower is better. Sticks help a lot here. If you want to watch the scenery, stop and watch. I would warn you over watching the beautiful scenery around you while walking on a cliff trail.
  8. Watch your head! (when you are going to toilets, homestays, kitchens, gumbas as many of the traditional doors were built for people less than 6 feet (1.8 meters tall).
  9. If you are worried about the weather affecting your travel, I recommend you to carry a satellite phone as there are no reliable warning systems in many villages up behind the mountains. A solar charger is best as there is plenty of “strong” sunshine during the day. Most villages don’t get electricity during the day (in Manaslu region) and are unreliable then too.
  10. Always leave a day or two extra when you are trekking for more than a week or two. Most accidents happen because we are strapped for time and want to rush the trek which is dangerous in remote, high altitude regions.

Nepal is a heaven when it comes to traveling through pristine beauty of nature and soul warming beauty of the locals you meet on the way.

My warm wishes for your soul cleansing journey safely in the wonders of Nepal!

Travel Safely !

(If you have your travel tips, let me know. I will add them here).

Meanwhile you can also read some of my trekking diaries here.

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