Category Archives: tourism

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

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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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Tour de Lumbini (Cycling from Kathmandu to Lumbini)

I have a dream, to see Nepal host world’s top cycling event ‘Tour de Lumbini’ watched by 100’s of millions worldwide, just like the ‘Tour de France”.

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I would like to see the world watch cyclists travel from the base of Mount Kanchenjunga (3rd highest mountain in the world, all the way through beautiful hills of Nepal down to the birthplace of buddha, Lumbini. I am sure, this would be the loveliest as well as the toughest cycling race in the world! And this would take one concrete step closer to building a prosperous Nepal within our lifetime. I decided to enter the annual ‘Tour de Lumbini’ to help fulfill this big dream I along with many other Nepalese have. ‘Tour de Lumbini’ is an annual cycling rally (not a race yet) from Kathmandu to Lumbini on the eve of Buddha’s birthday. I decided to support this noble initiative which has a potential to make it big within the next decade. This event is hosted by “Tour de Lumbini” a non-profit with support from World Cyclist Foundation headed by World cyclist Pushkar Shah along with various cycling activist movements such as Kathmandu Cycle city, Dharan Biking club and Butwal cycling club along with noted environment activists like Megh Ale and Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha promoters like Rajendra Thapa.   Tour De Lumbini 2014 khasing rai

3 days before ‘Tour de Lumbini’: May 8, 2014 As I started preparing for my event I had a stark reality in front of my eyes. I had barely ridden a cycle (bike) for 10 whole years now. So a few days before ‘Tour de Lumbini’, i borrowed a mountain bike and start training for an hour or two a day to ready me mentally for my trip and minimally prepare my body for the drubbing i was about to receive. As the bike I had was not in condition to go on an extended trip, I managed to borrow a newly bought mountain bike and gears from a friend, Ishan Adhikari. I met with the organizers and veterans, taking advice from them what to bring and how to prepare myself both mentally and physically.

Day 1: Boudha (Kathmandu) to Kurintar (120 kms) – 3 days until Buddha’s birthday -May 11  day 1 map

The day started ominously. I started from home with a flat tire which luckily i filled the air at the local bike maintenance store nearby. ‘Tour de Lumbini’ started from Boudha at 7:30 am in the morning and it passed through the holy Pashupatinath temple and then proceeded to the historic Basantapur Durbar square (ancient palace of the Kings of Kathmandu). There we stopped to buy Nepal flags and posed for a quick group photo before we moved on to the base of the famous monkey temple of Swayambhunath. We were soon off to Kalanki the door way out of Kathmandu. The total distance we would be cycling today was 120 kilometers with the end destination being, Kurintar besides the beautiful Trisuli river famous for its white water rafting.    As I started riding off to Kalanki, I could feel my lack of preparation. I was given a crash course along by experienced cyclists on how to change gears, how to move down-hill and uphill efficiently (basically to conserve my energy). I was already having a hard time as I passed Naikap, harder by the time I reached Thankot and finally i reached Nagdhunga the exit point of Kathmandu valley. My butt was beginning to hurt a lot since I was not used to the hard cycle seats on such long trips. The long downhill from there on all the way to perhaps Malekhu was a huge relief although it was a dangerous descent with sharp bends and big trucks and adventurous micro-buses constantly cornering us along the edges of a tight, badly maintained highway. Which reminds me why don’t we citizens, ask why the roads there are not maintained as they should be. We do have a law “Right to information act” through which we can use to easily get information from any public institution in Nepal on where they spent, what they spent on, who the contractors are, and what was the deal made etc etc. I do recommend we all use this act, when we see any problem. As we descended towards Malekhu we made our first major stop for lunch along the highway where we ate a quick lunch and refilled our water. Our tour doctor along warned us of dehydration and asked us to fill our water with “jeevan jal” oral rehydration packets as they were the best antidote to cramps and other critical problems faced on such an exhausting journey. I must add that  I had never had that many jeevan jals ever in my life as on this trip. (not even when I had severe dysentery). I easily was drinking 5 packets of jeevan jals a day along with at least 9 liters of water each day during the trip without having to go for a single round of pee :) . Surreal but interesting ! 10448650_10152541120927774_989489728547957205_o

The locals constantly mistook my “jeevan jal” bottle for petrol ( “Why are you carrying petrol ? does this cycle run on petrol ? ” They would ask :) )

The whole day, my cycle’s back tyre was turning up flat every few hours. I had to stop and pump it with air about 5 times. Only when i was nearing the end of the day, when it dawned upon us that i was probably riding a bike which was actually half-punctured the whole time. I realized in hindsight that this was quite dangerous actually since the bike would always slide along the road every time I went downhill. I reached the end destination of the day on the campgrounds at Riverside Spring Resort at around 8 pm in the evening escorted by other bikers as it was already dark and i was riding a half flat tire. So ended perhaps an adventurous and many times dangerous day. I was so tired that i promptly went to sleep  in a tent. While others were singing and dancing nearby to celebrate their journey. I was busy recharging my body because I knew Day 2 I know was going to be tougher and much hotter!

 

Day 2: Kurintar to Narayanghat to Arun Khola (92 km) – 2 days till Buddha’s birthday day 2 map photo credit https://www.facebook.com/TDLP4P I woke up around 6 in the morning and went near the river Trishuli to reflect on the wonderful beauty and serenity of Nepal’s country side. If only we can harness the power of this serenity, Nepal will be prosperous in our life-time. I also did some warm ups to prepare my 37 year old body for the exhausting day ahead [ that incidentally now looks like a 47 year old :) ] Around 7 in the morning we were debriefed by our tour organizer Rajendra Thapa and our tour doctor followed by a minute of silent reflections recommended by Tour promoter Megh Ale to spread positive energy among all the participants, we again head out towards the Terai (plains) of Nepal. Our initial burst of energy slowly became tempered with the increasing heat as we descended down onto the hot plains of Narayanghat (about 42 kilometers away). As we neared Narayanghat I could feel that more than anything the heat would be my worst enemy. It was one thing to cycle through uphill but with the sun bearing down harshly on the cyclists, I had to buy water at every few kilometers and had to rest in shade in order to avoid the ever increasing chance of a heat stroke. IMG_7703

As we neared the forests overlooking Narayanghat, I knew I needed a longer rest than usual if I were to cycle through this day. Painfully just before noon, we reached Narayanghat where the local Lions club had prepared a welcome for us and had sponsored a lunch for us there. We rested there for a few hours. We were joined here by cyclists from Dharan. I was beyond exhausted from the heat stroke so had to give up cycling for the rest of the day. Our destination for the day was Arunkhola about 50 kms west of Narayanghat. We reached ArunKhola around 6pm and the local school there had provided for us tent space on the school grounds and food which we accepted with gratitude. Arunkhola town lies on the banks of a river. Because of the extreme heat, we dared to go down to swim in the river and had a good splash with local kids eager joining with us, curious strangers. Tour De Lumbini 2014 khasing rai We got a pleasant surprise from nature as in the night a cool breeze flowed through camp grounds which eased our rest (unlike the upcoming night at Bhairahawa).

 

Day 3: Arun Khola to Daaune to Butwal to Bhairawaha (89 km) ( 1 day till Buddha’s birth day) day 3 tour: photo credit Tour de Lumbini The highlight of the day was two-fold. One was the big climb uphill of 8 km of the Daunne hills and the midday rest at Devdaha ( believed to be the maternal home of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha ). I started my uphill ascent into Daunne at 6:30 in the morning without even having breakfast because I wanted to avoid the intense heat from the morning sun while I was climbing Daunne. At around 9:30 am I finally reached the village of daunne at the top of steep 8km, and was instantly wowed to find Daunne had free wifi internet! The Rest of Nepal should learn from Daunne on how to be entrepreneurial and customer friendly :). IMG_7701 I finally managed to upload my pictures of the trip to social media from here. The terrible Nepal Telecom 3G network is literally non-existent outside of kathmandu despite its outrageous claim that it’s internet is widespread. [ I have only disgust at the way Nepal Telecom is run and how it is grossly mismanaged and going down the drains, because of political interference. Plus I believe the Government has no business doing business in Nepal. It should do what it is best at which is ‘monitoring’ and leave running businesses to the citizens!] As I uploaded my photos of the trip, I couldn’t help notice a nearby restaurant owner was making fresh “Cell roti” in a huge frying pan. I rushed in to buy 5 of  these super-fresh Cell Rotis and gorged them down with fresh milk tea. It was probably the freshest Cell Rotis I had ever tasted in my life and I loved them. To add to that, i gulped down fresh locally made curd. After an hour of rest and experience sharing with other riders,  I added ‘jeevan jal’ to a fresh bottle of water and was off a terrifying 7 or 8 km steep downhill ride. My fingers ached from the constant brakes I had to use to slow myself down from falling off the cliffs of daunne.   As we reached the plains, the roads became one torturous straight line and hot air started catching up on us and by the time we reached ‘Buddha’s mamaghar (maternal home)’ we were gasping from the hot air that was tormenting our faces. Each ‘chautari’ I could find, I would rest. It gave me an opportunity to mix with curious locals, informing them about our purpose and our dreams to make a prosperous Nepal. khasing rai 2   In Devadaha, the local chapter of FNCCI hosted us and kindly provided us with Dal bhat with fresh salads for lunch. The local salad was with cucumbers, and carrots and onions cooled both our mind and bodies. As we rested for a welcome function, my mind became restless with anticipation as I was in a place Buddha probably came by in his youth to his maternal home. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to explore the nearby archaeologically excavated areas even in the scorching heat. The positive energy of Buddha probably flows in these areas even today. A friend and I cycled to 3 major archaeologically important areas which Lumbini development trust had identified as possible maternal home of Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha). Plus it gave us a chance to mingle with a few local young men and women and find out about their dreams, their values, their concerns for their nation and their ideas to transform this area. A lot of people we met were ones who had immigrated from the hills decades ago in search of better future and local Tharus, indigenous to this area. riders

At Butwal, the local lions, butwal cycling club chapters, local business houses invited the cyclists to a ceremony where they kindly helped us with water and other needed refreshments. At Bhairahawa, a political party local unit made us cyclists stand along their on-going campaign (unrelated) which caused such a severe headache for the organizers and tired cyclists. On top of this, it caused us to miss a more important press release that evening with local journalists. There seems to be a wrong perception in Nepali society that if we don’t make grand speeches and acknowledge everyone grandly, the organizers feel they have let down their guests (which is a terribly wrong assumption). As guests and participants I was saddened that the organizers were more concerned with acknowledging themselves, and celebrities than to listen to our experiences and our reasons for all this, which surely would have helped widen their perspectives. We need a revolution in “management of welcoming” is needed.

A 21st century relevant leader should focus on helping citizens meet their dreams than holding them hostage to glorify his dreams. I guess our mainstream politicians are still stuck in the 19th century.

Bhairahawa, the gateway to Lumbini, seemed like a place where average citizens stopped holding their leaders accountable, toxic, dusty, hot and roads in disrepair. I wish it could have been managed better. I can feel the lack of elected local government has been a disaster to the city’s prosperity. I had a forgettable night at Bhairahawa right from the arrival into this polluted town, added by the lack of enough rooms for all of us at the local hotel Sayapatri. I hope Lumbini never catches the Bhairahawa disease! As I tried sleeping in a room that was a little bigger than a big bathroom, I was desperately hoping the last day would be much better !”

Day 4 (Last Day and Buddha’s birthday): Bhairahawa to Lumbini (24 km) – May 14 day 4 map photo credit https://www.facebook.com/TDLP4P Today was the finale, Buddha’s birthday, the last day of our Tour de Lumbini. For me it was a day of reflections, a day to cleanse myself and renew my vow to build a prosperous Nepal within my life-time. We started our day at 6:30 pm at Lumbini Gate in Bhairahawa and waited for the Chief secretary of Nepal Government Lilamani Paudel, an avid cyclist to join us all the way to Lumbini. We started in a straight line 100 of us, joined by cyclist friends from Butwal. lumbini gate

As we made our rally to Lumbini, we passed through a nice road surrounded by Mango trees all the way to the birthplace of Buddha. By the time we reached Lumbini, the prime-minister of Nepal along with other dignitaries were there to welcome us and acknowledge our contribution to raise the profile of Lumbini around the world.

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 We rested near the closed museum of Lumbini for awhile (why do museusms close on holidays? that’s when the rest of us are free to go there !). Then we set towards the Mayadevi temple, the exact place believed to be the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha. We rested in Lumbini for some time after which we all went on a pre-planned trip to Tilaurakot the palace area where Buddha spent his first 29 years of his life, which happens to be in Kapilvastu area of Nepal. As we went through the ruins, I couldn’t help imagining what would have gone through Buddha’s mind when he decided to leave that palace complex to wander around in search of enlightenment and meaning of life. It gave me much needed positive energy to build our nation on the spirit of Buddha’s message and to spread his message throughout the world.

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It is a wonder that such an enlightened being was born in what is now Nepal. He gave such a wonderful gift to the world and here we are in 21st century, having learnt not much of his gifts. I made my wish, that Nepalese in the next decade will internalize Buddha’s teachings and set out to make Nepal the center of prosperity and peace in the way he has envisioned. We already have Buddha. With his middle path we can be an example to the world just like he was thousands of years ago! If we can only manage to keep Buddha and Lumbini as the center of Nepal’s development, we can transform the face of Nepal by 2030. We already have with us a golden key to prosperity and peace. Will we use it or keep waiting for someone to open the door to prosperity for us? The choice is ours! Use your ‘bibek’ (common-sense wisdom). 

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To know more about Tour de Lumbini contact here. All photos credited in blog are copyright of their owners. Hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to your thoughts /comments below !