Category Archives: travel diary

Travel Diary of Ujwal Thapa. Log of different places I have trekked to which I have enjoyed and recommend to all travelers who want to be in tune with nature ! :)
Enjoy.

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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”.

Photo credit: Dharan biking clubtour de lumbini - photo credit: dharan biking club above 2 photos credit: ” Dharan Biking club

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.   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 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. day 1 map Photo credit https://www.facebook.com/TDLP4P   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 !

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. 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. 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 :). 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.   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. 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. 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. Bikers resting at the holy grounds of Lumbini where buiddha was born: Dharan Biking club credit

Above photo credit: ” Dharan Biking club

 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.   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).    

To know more about Tour de Lumbini contact here. All photos credited in blog are copyright of their owners.

Trek the majestic 8000m Annapurna base camp in Nepal- a travel diary

Annapurna glowing

I hope this guide inspires you to do the beautiful Annapurna Base camp trek (also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary trek). We decided to trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp, in Western Nepal in October when the skies are clear and the weather is warm.  This trek is also called the Annapurna Sanctuary trek. It takes you to the heart, the valley of the 8000 meter mountains. And the perfect time to there is after the monsoons and before the onset of Winter, so the skies are very clear while being warm enough and before snow and ice makes it treacherous to trek near the base camps.  But as a traveler I also dread this time because Continue reading

Travel to the exotic hidden world of Mustang in Nepal (bordering Tibet)

Here is a short travel diary (log) of my travel to Upper Mustang in Nepal, which borders Tibet. I hope it inspires more Nepalis (and foreigners) to travel inside Nepal. Do leave your questions and comments below.

Enjoy, :)

Upper Mustang in Nepal

Day 1 and 2: Kathmandu to Pokhara.

There are no regular flight to Jomsom from Kathmandu directly. It has to be via Pokhara only.  And It is almost impossible to fly to Jomsom after noon (because strong 100 kilometer winds make it impossible to land on an narrow airstrip perched between two 8000 meters ( 24000 feet) mountains.  So we took a quick half an hour flight to Pokhara first. Pokhara is a beautiful valley full of lakes and beautiful high mountains to its north. To any other travelers it would be a nice destination to travel in itself. But as we were itching to start our trek to the former “Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang”, even this beautiful city didn’t sound so appealing now. We wanted to be transported into a different era, away from any civilization we were part of.

The flights to Jomsom from Pokhara (only flies from this place) are very erratic and often canceled because of the monsoon weather. Our flight got canceled the first day, as the planes going to Jomsom couldn’t land there because of bad weather there. Be ready to wait for hours at the airport praying for the weather to be good again.
Annapurna from Pokhara

8000+ meters high Annapurna range as seen from Pokhara beyond which is Mustang.

Day 3: Pokhara to Jomsom (2700m) to Kagbeni (2900m)

The next morning by sheer luck, after yet another agonizing 5 hours wait at the airport, we managed to find a flight at 12 30 in the afternoon (this is quite rare during anytime of the year to be flying so late to Jomsom). We later came to know that the flights for the next 2 days got canceled as well.

It was a one hell of a hair-raising half an hour flight, specially the landing part, where the plane had to make a sharp turn by a cliff to come down to the airport. The plane full of hindu devotees  were busy chanting “ Hail the Lord pashupati nath” inside the plane as we moved to Jomsom. I must say, Jomsom and Lukla are the two most heart skipping places to land during any time of the year. We flew to Jomsom on a donnair aircraft, Agni Air (German-made). We soon found ourselves in the sunny Jomsom, the administrative capital of Mustang.

Mustang lies in the rain shadow of Annapurna Mountains. It rarely rains much during monsoon as all the rain bearing clouds get stopped by a wall of high rising Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains. Still the wind was howling enough to bring out the wind stopper jacket from my back pack. We went to a local friend’s hotel right outside the airport, called, “Hotel Snow Land” and from him got some useful guide to trekking up upper mustang.
At 2 in the afternoon, we started our trek to get to a holy place called Kagbeni via “Eklai bhatti”. Kagbeni is the entrance to Upper Mustang, and a well off modern village right besides the Kali Gandaki river. t is also hugely important place for Hindu devotees who come in droves to offer prayers for their departed parents souls along the holy fusion of the Kali Gandaki river and another flowing from Muktinath (another Hindu holy place in Mustang).
In Kagbeni (2900m),We stayed in New Annapurna Lodge. (By the way, all ,motels and tea-houses in mustang are named hotels). Kagbeni even has a restaurant, aptly called “Yak donalds” and the local fries there are delicious!
In Kagbeni, we met a french group heading up to Upper mustang there, and exchanged a bit of insight with the Nepali guides who were quite amused to hear Nepalis traveling. (Who would have thought ! ) . I suppose Nepalis traveling in Nepal is a rarity, something I hope these experience sharing here will encourage more Nepalis to travel within their own country).

Had an okay sleep. Lo manthang, the capital city of Mustang lies 4 days ahead.

Day 4: Kagbeni via Tanbe and Chupsang to Chiele (3100 m)

We made a late morning start from Kagbeni, having a local favorite Tibetian bread as breakfast. We started off at ease and started our way through the wind ravaged trail along the Kali Gandaki river, leaving the Nilgiri and the Annapurna mountains to the south. As we climbed the Grand canyon type of trails, we started seeing the contrasting landscapes of arid mixed with meadows that extended all the way to the holy temples of Muktinath. On the journey we met a couple of hindu devotees returning from Damodar kund ( a holy lake 2.5 days east of Lo-manthang at 5200m). Looking at their meager belongings, we were amazed they could have made it back from such high altitude and cold place, fine)
Caves in Chiele

In 2 hours, we came across, Tangbe (3000m) a village that looked like a haunted village (because all its inhabitants were busy working in the nearby fields). We chanced upon an old man besides his apple orchard and quickly bought a kilo of Green apples freshly plucked from his orchid right there. As we walked to Chupsang, we could see some ancient caves on the other side of canyons. We meant to have lunch there but was thwarted by a massive road block where a massive dozer was building a road and had destroyed the trail along the Kali Gandaki river. A camping group helped us navigate this treacherous hair-raising cliff walk, across a make shift thin trail along a steep slope and last pull from more helpers before we could safely continue off to Chupsang. Chupsang looked like a disorganized village with the only motel (tea house) packed with travelers and locals gambling away infront of it. We had a quick instant noodles and made our way off to Chiele.

Here, we came across gorgeous mountain caves perched high up on the canyons as we walked besides the fast flowing Kali Gandaki river. It is hard to imagine people used to live here till a century ago. During summer, even the feeble Kali Gandaki rages dangerous. (During the winter it is possible to ride all the way to Lo-Manthang on a horse through the same river in 1.5 days).

We reached Chiele around 4 pm, a pretty cliff side village on top of the massively twisting and turning Kali Gandaki river. The last 100 meters to Chiele was a steep climb, and our inexperienced walk and terrible shape, nearly broke us down.
We stayed at Bishal Hotel, recommended by fellow Mustang guides who were traveling with a french group. I couldn’t sleep much tonight maybe because my body was adjusting itself to altitude. From 800 m to 3100 m in 2 days, yes this body needs a few adjusting to do.

Day 4: Chiele to Syangboche (3800m) via Samar

We started off the morning late, and found our-self agonizingly short of breath walking through a steep exhausting mountain climb of 500 meters to Samar. My shoulders were pretty swollen from carrying my slightly overweight back-pack.
You will find yourself walking through cliffs that would hands down beat those cliffs in that last fight scene in the 1992 Daniel Day-Lewis film “ The last of the Mohicans”. Around mid-day, climbing up the canyon, we reached the village of Samar, a beautiful village, full of green poplar trees. It looked like a green oasis surrounded by deserted arid mountains.  On the West were big cliffs separating Upper Dolpo valleys from Mustang. On the south you see the Tilicho and Nilgiri mountains near the Thorang la pass (which is part of the Annapurna Circuit trek. After having a quick-lunch at a beautiful cosy lodge there,  we headed for Syangboche through the high route which took us to nearly 4000 m.
Note* I recommend the lower route from Samar to Syangboche, as it is easier to get to and easier to aclimitize, coming from Samar.

It proved to be an exhausting route up and down and after 4 hours we stumbled to Syangboche. It was cold up here, with only 3 houses, The second one happened to be our resting place for the night. The high point of the day had to be the steep cliffs and the scenic mountains you can see from high above Samar and the Soi la pass at 3900m from where we can see rugged dry hills of Upper mustang).
We stayed at Dhaulagiri Hotel which was a good choice. Had an excellent sleep.

Day 5: Syangboche to Dhakmar (3750m) via Ghemi.

a local mustang legend says these mountains were made from the blood of Queen of demons when she was killed by a renowned buddhist saint. We passed through stunning display of nature passing through scenic villages of Gheling, Bhene and through the Nyi La pass (4000m), we arrived at Ghemi, another lovely green village amidst a red, and ash colored wind beaten cliffs with more caves. After having a delicious lunch at a home of the Raju Bista, a nephew of the former King of Mustang, we headed to the picture perfect Dhakmar famed for its red cliffs. Legend has it that these cliffs were a result of the blood smeared out of the body of the demon Queen who was slayed nearby by the Buddhist monk, Guru Padma Sambhawa. He slayed her to protect the Samya region in Tibet who were unable to build the Samya Gompa monastery because demons and their queen would destroy any monastries they built.
Old caves in Dhakmar, they used to live up here.
The legend further elaborates the long wall in Ghemi is where her intestine were buried and the nearby Lo Ghyakar (Ghar) Gompa, an 8th century monastry was built over her dead body which protects against her resurrection. An hour away from Ghemi, we arrived at the picturesque Dhakmar, which seemed to hold up to its reputation. In Dhakmar we shared our room with another group since the lodge Tenzing riverside had barely 2 rooms available. We specially loved these fresh organic vegetables that we always ate for dinner wherever we stayed in Upper mustang, specially the spinach, potatoes and cauli flowers.

Day 6: Dhakmar to Lo- Manthang (3800m)

It rarely rains in Upper Mustang.
We started climbing up a cliff up the 4200m pass separating Dhakmar from Lo-manthang. At this altitude, it becomes excruciatingly hard to find enough air to climb a few steps. After a 2 hour climb, we reached the 8th century monastery called Lori Ghyakar (ghar) Gompa. Rich in Tibetan folklore, we were told about the history of the monastry by a lone monk staying there. We were hoping to having lunch in this area but couldn’t find any place to eat, so we headed off to Lo-manthang eating our packed food supplies. Highly recommend carrying packed supplies if you are traveling this route.

The walk forward was picturesque with wild horses and sheeps grazing in multitudes along endless meadows that seemed to disappear into the high mountains. And we could see the 4600m Kora-la pass in the distance, which separated Nepal from Tibet. We finally reached the red fortress city of Lo-Manthang around 4pm. Lo-Manthang looked beautiful with contrasting colors at this time of the year.  The pink barley fields surrounding the red fortress seemed to heighten the festive atmosphere, with people with distinctly colorful costumes and the blue sky.

Mustang is also known for its wild horses, here near Lo-manthang, capital of Upper Mustang

Day 7 and 8: Lo-Manthang (3800 m)

It had been a dusty 4 day journey to the capital of Mustang. We realized that we had come to this city, during an exciting festival of Yarthung, a festival of horse-racing and mastery . This 3 day festival happens once a year. The king and his entourage start the festival by riding around the city and going out to the meadows where they test the skills of the best riders of Mustang. And there is a lot of drinking involved too! We watched as waves of riders marched past beautiful ladies of Lo-manthang were in their finest dresses welcoming the riders. The horse riders were put to a series of tests and the natives of Lo-manthang were there to see the performance in display along with a few lucky travelers from all parts of the world. The pink barley fields surrounding the red fortress seemed to heighten the festive atmosphere. Even our hosts at the hotel were missing off to check out the festivities. We stayed at Hotel Mystique in Lo-Manthang, very pleased to get a room with attached bathroom.

During the festival of "Yarthung", Mustange Ladies waiting for the festival to start.
In the afternoon, we hired a few horses. It was my first horse ride and add to that , my first fall from the horse as well.  Luckily nothing serious  but the fall served to give amusing laughs for my fellow travelers for the rest of the journey! We traveled to the nearby villages of ….. and Chungsar where we visited the fabled caves and cave monastries along steep cliffs. We were left wondering, about how people lived in these caves centuries ago. The weather was perfect for a lazy stroll inside Lo-manthang. People were jolly with harvesting season just around the corner. At a local tea-shop, old women were dancing drunk and so it was fascinating to see old women dance to the latest bollywood re-mix !

Lo-Manthang is a town full of buddhist monasteries. Every direction there are gompas (monasteries). The King’s palace lies smack in the middle of the town. You can get an appointment to meet him, if you like. Its a place thats a mix of a millenia old customs and habits mixed with 21st century.

Horse riders showcase their horse mastery skills during the Yarthung Festival

 

Day 9: Lo-Manthang to Tse-rang, pronounced Chha-rang(3500m).

an ancient monastery on a cliffside near Lo-Manthang where buddhist monks study in isolation.
Today we strolled down the lone dusty wide road to Tsarang (about 4 hours).  Not very eventful other than the stark arid landscape that were on both sides of the road. But as reached Tsarang, we came across another lovely colorful village with its own palace and monasteries.  At Tsarang, the weather started getting heavy, and it started raining. The mist covered the whole valley and made the visual very surreal. We visited the ruins of the palace there and the big monastery near it. We stayed at a local hotel, Mount Kailash, just on the edge of the town and had a comfortable stay.

Day 10: Tse-rang to Syangboche (3800m)

Mustang horses

It was a tough 7and a half hour walk back to Syangboche, partly because we decided to go through a village of Gheling, a bit off route on the way. We again passed through the lovely village of Ghemi, where we dropped by the same tea-house for lunch. By the time we reached Gheling, we were exhausted, and the last part of the journey to Syangboche became tasking. We happened to meet the people who were making the roads there. I reckon, in a couple of years, Lo-manthang will be a major stop on the way from Pokhara to the holy places in Tibet, Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. I can only wonder what changes will happen, inevitable it is. I am sure, more eyes will get to see the wonders we have viewed so far. I sense, Mustang is readying itself for such a profound change.

Day 11: Syanboche to Chupsang (3000m)

biking in upper  mustangFrom Syangboche we took a foggy route that took us down to the natural holy caves of Chung Gompa and along deep canyons. Chung Gomba is a cave where the stones are said to have formed the shape of buddhist deities. It is in an exotic location right in a mountain off a gorge. From there we made a steep climb up to Samar where we had excellent lunch waiting for us.

From Samar it was an easy walk down another deep gorge, and finally we reached on the banks of a small river by Chupsang. But the river level suddenly had started rising and we had to cross the river with water up to our thighs, amidst a high current. I was not amused to see the locals sitting and enjoying the sight of us trying desperately to cross. At Chupsang we stayed at the only motel, the Bhrikuti hotel. It was quite expensive being the only one in this village.  One a sidenote: I noticed, there was more trash lying in one street of Kathmandu than what I have seen in the whole of Mustang so far.

Day 12: Chupsang to Kagbeni (2900 m)

In the morning, the locals mentioned we couldn’t cross an easy 10 minutes section of the trail because the dozers had bull dozed the trail off while building the road. What they forgot to tell us, was that it would take us one and half hours to cross that, by going steep up the cliff, and coming down just across the road block. After the agonizing climb up and down, we were off to Tangbe, where we chanced upon the same apple seller by his orchid. This time we bought apples from him at 33% inflation from his earlier rate 5 days ago.  After two more hours we were back in Kagbeni where we decided to stay for the day. (Our original plan was to get to Mukti-nath which was another 3 to 4 hours of steep walk).

At Kagbeni we decided to stay with our new-found french friends at Hotel Nilgiri. As we arrived around 2, we had plenty of opportunity to check out the town with its mixture of Hindu and Buddhist culture and heritage.

Day 13: Kagbeni to Muktinath (Rani Pauwa) 3800 m

Zen tree
From Kagbeni we decided to go off to visit Mukti-nath temple off the route to Jomsom. Muktinath lies on the way to Thorang la pass which separates Manang from Mustang (and is part of the Annapurna Circuit trek). Muktinath is an extremely popular pilgramage site with hindu devotees and is perched on the side of high mountains with Buddhist nuns taking care of the Hindu temple. It is known for emiting a never-ending gas geyser and for the stunning views of Upper mustang to the north and the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri to the south-west. We had a delicious lunch at North Pole hotel and headed back to Jomsom using the preferred way through a 4 wheel Jeep, which only took us one and half hour along this windy, dusty route.

Day 14, 15: Jomsom to Tatopani

Our flights got canceled for 2 consecutive days in Jomsom. So we had no choice but to take the land route. We must have changed vehicles for 11 times before we reached Pokhara. Traveling through land linking Mustang to the rest of the country is very dangerous during monsoons because of heavily damaged paths, landslides and atrociously dangerous roads. I wouldn’t recommend the land route but because there is hardly any other option, most travelers have to take it, when flights get canceled. We stayed in the motels nearby the hot springs called “Tatopani” where we rejuvenated our tired bodies.

Day 16: Tatopani to Pokhara.

From Tatopani we again took the dangerous route off to Pokhara. It was a hell of a ride and took the whole day because of the almost totally destroyed mud roads, our 4 wheelers had to pull through, with the raging Kali Gandaki river ever watchful. Finally at around 9 in the evening we reached Pokhara and back to civilization where finally to a bed more closer to what we had at our homes !

Upper Mustang

I hope you enjoyed the diary as much as we enjoyed our trip :)  Feel free to share your questions or thoughts below! You can check out more photos at this link below.

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A cultural trek to Junbesi, a beautiful Sherpa Village (near Mount Everest )

I wrote this travelogue on a trip to Junbesi in Solukhumbu (Everest Region) in Spring of 2010. You can ask me questions about the trip, in the comment box below.

Window in Junbesi house

For me and a couple of my friends: this was a 20 year old plan in the making. Jun-besi, a Sherpa village which lies on the original trek to Mount Everest.  This trip covers from Kathmandu to Phaplu and Junbesi (typically the 1st part of the route that the 1953 expedition including Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary took on the way to conquering Mount Everest for the first time).

Good time to go there is between April to June (when Rhododendron trees light up the country-side) or the Autumn(Fall) season when a lot of festivals are celebrated (September-October) plus the skies are clearer.

Ever since I met Mingma Gyalzen Sherpa in middle school, when the lights would get switched off,  many nights in the dormitory, we would gather around him and listen to tales woven about his adventures back in Junbesi, his Sherpa village. And every year, we would promise to go there together for a long vacation. It took us 20 odd years to turn this into reality. On April 2010, we finally gathered to go ahead. There were 9 of us, 5 Nepalis from Bajura, Syangjya, Accham, Darchula, Solukhumbu together a Swiss, a Finn, an American and a Chinese. Our plan was to trek up to Junbesi in Solukhumbu and then fly back to Kathmandu.

April 8th: Kathmandu (1300m) to Jiri to Garjang

It was one hell of a drive from Kathmandu to Jiri along steep, serpantine roads. We had rented a Tata Jeep (supposed to be a 4 wheeler, but very shady looking). We started at 7:30am. Mingma (Ming), our travel organizer, forgot that we were all pretty plump people, so it took some pushing and pulling to adjust all of us into that jeep! So slowly we made our way to Jiri (130 km to the east). We stopped for lunch around Mude, which basically had crap food. Packed lunch would have been a great alternative. We continued to follow the usual serpentine road leading up and down big hills until we finally reached Jiri around 5 pm. Ming was optimistic that we could reach another village called Deurali by nightfall, (which would save us one whole day).  What we did not know, as we started onto the dirt roads, was that this was our driver’s first trip along this route. Without a map in hand, pretty soon it looked like we were lost on a dirt road leading to nowhere. Still we headed on and on, hoping that Deurali was nearby. By 9 pm in the night, it was clear now that we would have to stop at the nearest place possible, as we were lost. Even asking villagers several times along the way for directions, not one could give us a straight answer. As our optimism was soon fading, the boisterous crowd started becoming a silent, disgruntled one inside the Jeep.

Finally we made our way to the nearest village (which apparently was Garjang). Around 10 we crashed in the first guest house we saw there. We were pretty tired yet the guys managed to have the nerve and patience to ask the guest house to order two local chickens to be slaughtered, plucked, cut and cooked. And it must have been around midnight when some of us finally had our dinner. An eventful and nerve wracking day!  I must say we had been overtly optimistic in our plans for reaching Deurali in one day, which we later found out was at least 3 hours of drive away!

April 9th: Garjang & Deurali to Kenja (1800m)

In the morning, a few of us decided to begin our trek to Deurali because we were itching to walk and hated to drive on these terrible dirt roads. So Heme, Giuli, Brian and me, started walking up to Deurali where we were to rendezvous with the rest of our lazy group coming on the Jeep. It was a steep climb up to Deurali from Garjang (800 meters up). The funny part was that the walkers and the Jeep, pretty much reached Deurali around the same time (about 3 hours). Deurali was a small beautiful village on the top, with a few motels. In the past it must have been a bustling tourist hub on the way to Everest but since has shrunk much because this route was seldom used by tourists who rather take the flight to Lukla directly when heading to Mount Everest base camp. Yet, this must have been the route the great climbers of the past, including Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, had taken on the way to their epic climbs atop Everest.

After having tea in Deurali we started walking downhill towards Bhandar, a pretty steep downhill dropping 600 meters in about a hour, and very hard on the legs! At around noon, we reached Bhandar where we stopped for lunch. We dined at a local Sherpa restaurant. Ming gently tipped us off that in the past the daughter of the lodge was a hottie and during our school days, they had never missed the chance to get a glance of her!

After Lunch, we headed back into the hot sun, for Kenja, another Sherpa village at the foothills of Lamjura Pass. It was a long but tiresome downhill to Kenja. We finally reached our destination around 4pm. Kenja is situated in the junction between two rivers. And as soon as we dropped our bags in the nearby lodge, we took a plunge in its icy waters . In the evening, we had the usual dal baht, but this time with some fresh fish from the local river, in which we had just been swimming. As we rested, everyone was keeping a watchful eye on the immense 3500m Lamjura Pass towering above. We had a 1700 m climb tomorrow. And amateurs like us would attempt to cross such a pass :)

April 10th: Kenja to Junbesi
We started early at 6 for the big climb up to Lamjura, before it got too hot in the day. This was certainly the toughest day of our trek. It was a long winding series of intense climbs followed by long gaps of rest. We had breakfast at Sete, a village we had hoped to make a day earlier, according to our original plan. For lunch, we stopped at Goyam, where we came upon Nak cheese (yak cheese) and managed to gobble a bit. As we gained height, specially around 3000 meters we could sense the altitude affecting us; every few steps of  climbing would leave us panting for breath! As we gained altitude, the climate changed dramatically with alpine forests and open grassy meadows near the top of the pass. The only solace during this trek came from the lovely rhododendron flowers blooming left and right in an array of magnificent whites, pinks, and reds, all over the mountain along the paths.rhododendrons on the trek to Everest

As we descended from the windy Lamjura Pass, we slowly walked down in the forest below to Junbesi, where we found our resting place at Ming’s home, “Ang Chopka” lodge.It was a lovely trek back down with more rhododendron trees all around and a comfortable walk down to Junbesi, a lovely Sherpa Village in a valley in Solu. In the evening, we sat down, sore all over, and could barely do more than just ramble on our experiences of the day! Also since some of our group apparently hadn’t made it to Junbesi by the dark, we were left wondering what happened to them? Could they have stayed on the pass for the evening? Had they found a small guest house on the way down to Junbesi? Around midnight, we had our answer, when we were awakened by shouts outside. Our friends had finally arrived after their epic 18 hour trek, setting up a happy ending to an excruciating day !

April 11th: Junbesi 
Today, most of us decided to take a rest while a few left towards neighboring Phurtyang (1.5 hours) for an early morning breakfast and look at Everest and the impressive Himalayan range. In the late morning, Ming took us to an elaborate historical tour of the village. The most fascinating was the monastery in the middle of the village. All its walls and ceilings were painted with Buddhist paintings (Thankas) and in the middle was a huge statue of Buddha. Also, today was the 1st day of the Sherpa festival “Dumje”. This monastery is supposed to be at least 400 years old! I must say a lot of Tibetan traditions are preserved handsomely in the Sherpa communities in Nepal. The elaborate thanka paintings on walls and ceiling show a deep tradition and belief in Buddhism. In the evening, we had time to play some ping-pong duels with the local villages. On top of that it was a sight to see Sherpas playing Cricket! At dinner, we tried the local Junbesi Rice wine and it was superb! It was fascinating to see a village lit 24 hours by micro hydro electricity, when back in the capital city there is no power for 12 hours a day.Buddhist monks with their musical instruments

April 12th: Junbesi to Pyangboche to Junbesi
The highlight of the day was the trip up near Pyungboche to “Tutenchholing” a mountain monastery complex with 500 nuns and monks. Most of these were Tibetan Refugees who came from Tibet over the last decades. It was fascinating to find a medical school and hospital of Tibetan homeopathic medicine at the monastery. We were greeted by one of the head monks there and given our blessings. We were educated on the concepts of Tibetan medicine and how they rely on different life flows, “chakras,” inside the body and mind. I was determined to try some Tibetan medicine after I was back in Kathmandu. It just sounded a novel way to find out about one’s health and problems. On our way back, we didn’t forget to go for a cold dip in the nearby river. In the evening, as we sat beside 100 Junbesi villagers, we were delighted with the extravagant display of the Sherpa Lama dances in the “dumje” ceremony in the main Junbesi monastery….Buddhist monks on procession

April 13th: Junbesi to Phurtyang to Junbesi
Some of us decided to go for an early mountain look, since it rained in the nights and the skies were clear in the morning. We had a lovely outdoor breakfast with different pancakes (apple, orange, cheese), omelettes, and more cheese.
Buddhist Monk dancing

It was an impressive pancake eating day for a few of us. After 3 hours we were back in Junbesi. In the afternoon, three of our team decided to head to a nearby village, Loding, from where they planned to summit Pikey Peak (a 4050m peak with mountain views all around) the next day. Back in Junbesi, a local doctor invited us for dinner and there was supposed to be a local village dance party later, but since it was raining, I stayed back at my lodge and had an early sleep. Kind of ironic since today is Nepali New Year’s Eve! Maybe I just wanted to sleep myself comfortably in the New Year.

Masked Dancer dancing on auspicious religious ceremony

April 14th: Junbesi to Phaplu
After four nights, today was the day to leave Junbesi. After a lazy morning, we started walking towards Phaplu, about 3 hours away. We had a scheduled flight a day later in Phaplu in the morning. Along the way, we stopped in a place where two Himalayan rivers met and once again, decided to take a cold dip on the waters here (p.s. it was the Nepali new year so found an excuse to begin the new year freshened)!

As we made our way up to Phaplu, we gate crashed into a picnic party and started dancing with the locals. Adding spice to the day, was our stay at an impressive Phaplu hotel, Hotel Del’Sherpa, which Ming’s godfather was running. It seemed a fitting finale for an excellent trip. It was a superbly managed hotel with an excellent lobby and fireplaces. And we had it for free, courtesy of Ming. In the evening, a local cousin of Ming, organized a cultural program for us with local youth dance groups dancing to Nepali tunes. And slowly this turned into a night club dance party! There you go, we had our first real village dance party in a long time! By the time we returned to our lodge, we were exhausted and dropped into the luxurious beds that awaited us.

April 15th: Phaplu to Salleri to Phaplu (rest)

No surprise as Nepal airlines canceled their scheduled flight. Never trust Nepal airlines again! So we decided to take a short walk down to Salleri, the district headquarters of Solukhumbu. Prabin and I had a good haircut and shave at a local barbers shop while others toured around a typical small Nepali town. After a nice dal baht lunch, most of the afternoon we stayed in the hotel reading Sherpa history books and Everest diaries of various mountaineers. The hotel was wonderfully equipped with a library of these books, whose knowledge I was glad to readily gobble up. I must add, if we were stuck in Phaplu for a week, I would soon be on my way of becoming an Everest, Tibet, Sherpa and, surprisingly even a Kublai Khan historian. Late afternoon we decided to try the local Sherpa snack, which is basically hell of a lot of boiled potatoes, with local butter, pickles and salt! We must have finished a lot of them, since they took the local motel about an hour and half to boil all those potatoes!

Tibetian thangka paintings on the walls and ceilings

April 16th: Phaplu to Manthali, Ramechap to Kathmandu
After a relaxing day, we again packed up our bags for our flight back home. Although Nepal airlines had confirmed that night before that the flight would come, we were unsure if the Nepal airlines flight would ever arrive. I warn anyone taking the Nepal airlines to keep it as a last, last option. They have no regards for any professionalism, and I simply say to you, “Avoid it at all costs!” We reached the airport around 9 am and waited… and waited…. and by 11 am we pretty much knew, no matter what they promised, the plane was simply not going to come. So we changed tickets to Yeti Airlines (Tara airlines) and took a chartered Pilar Porter flight to Manthali, Ramechap, where we would take a connecting bus to Kathmandu. It was a 7 seater single engine plane. The flight was one hell of a hair-raising 18 minutes experience. Seven of us were carrying our trekking bags on our laps in the back plus 2 pilots, on that 18 minute journey to Manthali. If we had walked, maybe it would have taken us 4 or 5 days.

riding on a seven seater Pilas Porter Plane :)

As we reached Manthali, on the banks of the raging Tamakoshi river, we realized we were suddenly in a very hot place, in stark contrast to the cool climate up in the mountains. Much to our dismay, we found out the local bus had left about 15 minutes earlier. We had a quick-lunch and decided to take the last possible local bus, which went as far as Charikot. The term “local” left us to ponder, as we soon found out, there must have been at least 120 people in a bus that was supposed to carry 30 or 40. The bus was tilting so much to one side that the driver had to throw a quarter of the passengers out. Such greedy bus drivers who carry passengers like cattle are a shame to see ! After a few hours of this harrowing ride along dirt roads and cliffs, we finally reached Naya Pul, just below Charikot, where we waited for a reserved bus, which would take us to Kathmandu. In the end, we reached Kathmandu about 11 in the night, exactly 12 hours since we started in Phaplu, pretty impressive considering it would have taken 24 days to walk down to Kathmandu!

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