Sunday, June 30, 2013


Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread

Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.

Then world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back and home to bed.

Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Village shaman

The past couple of days I've had this crippling pain in the hip. It, suspectedly, is a collective result of the past 40 days of unrestrained adventure (and subsequent load lifting).

Volini and Voveran have come to my rescue, or so I thought, until I met Hira Didi, the shaman-next-door. I didn't know she was a shaman, until today. Whenever we vacation out here in Gethia, she visits my family as a regular villager, and thrills us with narrations of village oddities and encounters with the wild (living at the periphery of the jungle her animal sightings are frequent, to our envy), as is the conversational fashion.

But the mention of my condition made her investigative. Then she asked for some salt. Then a leaf, which she went out to fetch herself. Then I was called into the picture, and made to stand facing away from her, at the kitchen door. I had assumed she would be making a paste from Indian herbs - some local remedial recipe - that'd be thereafter wrapped in a leaf and applied to my bum as a fomentation.

What I next felt was the brush of her sickle along my back, with some murmur chants. She stood behind me, holding the leaf with a fistful of salt in her left hand, with the sickle - like a magic wand - in her right. "The handle of this Daranti (sickle) is made of Pahiya," she explained. 'Pahiya' is a tree of this region (with a characteristic flaky bark), whose wood is considered an apotropaic i.e. warding off evil spirits. After the chants got over, she left with the leaf (and the salt in it), with instructions that I don't cross the kitchen line for an hour and a half. Only if she had bones and a skull would it have seemed more transcendental. But shamanistic rituals, I like.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Makalu BC - part 3 - the trail

Makalu Basecamp, Part 1
Makalu Basecamp, Part 2

 Day 7:
Destination: Yangle Kharka
I leave by 0700. 4 mountain passes to cross.
First views of the big peaks beyond Kongma La.
On snow now. The trail was hard to make out, situation further alleviated by a fog. The descent from Shipton La (4230m) was made memorable by this glimpse at 'Thulo Pokhari' (translates to 'Big Lake') through a window in the fog, which tinkled some primal corner.
Then came Dobato, then Mumbuk, then a hardy hike straight down a stream, and then the thunder of Barun Khola while walking on a thin ribbon of a trail just above the river.
The trail seemed endless. A long rocky stretch brought out all in me. I had been on the trail for 10 hours now, and yet there was no indication of civilization (after Dobato). There were about 6 waterfall crossings involved.

Nearing 1830, I saw the valley floor opening up. Some curious moments, and I found myself crossing the dual bridges at "Yangle Kharka", a place wrongly marked on my map much earlier than it actually was.

I looked around and found the proprietess of a restaurant and asked her for a meal, pitched my tent, and slept long after a reasonable meal of Dal-Bhat.
It should be noted that Yangle is where even hot water has a price.

 Day 8:
Felt amazing waking up in Yangle. Left after a breakfast of Chow-Chow with eggs.
Destination: Hillary Basecamp
The trail is deceptive. It rises and rises and you don't even come to know of it.
Tired is what I started with, and grew even more so with the day. The previous day had sucked out all juice from me.
Found a yak right in the middle of it as it passed through forest. It was huge. Bjork's Wanderlust started playing in my head.

Features abound on this day.  I started in a glacially-weathered valley with waterfalls running off hanging glaciers, then to pasture lands, and then to moraine fields which were void of any green. It is easily the most beautiful of the days, benevolent weather gods permitting.

Yak Kharka had no shacks operating. Made me tense. Then came Langma Le, where I did see somebody, but asleep. Armed with a compass, I went ahead.
By 1400, I found myself unsure of the way. The riverbed opened up into a playground and there were many directions to head into. I had speculations about the trail, but then snowing ensued, and I found myself in a tight corner.
Decided to camp here, and do a recce in the evening. A herd of yaks came to check me out.

 Day 9:
Felt like waking waking up in a dream. The valley that had scared me into submission yesterday looked so beautiful.

Destination: Makalu Basecamp
As per calculations, Hillary BC (or the lower Makalu BC) should be over that ridge, possibly 2 hours ahead. Beyond that, another 5 hours to MBC. Could I do it?

Reached Hillary BC by 0830, had chow-chow, and left for Makalu BC
. By 4PM, I was back, having found myself lost and struggling on the rocks. Then I slept like a sick person through the evening, had dinner, and slept more.

Day 10:
I was lucky to spend the night at the cornermost shack, the proprietess of which had some idea about the expeditions up there. Learning that the summit push was to happen today, I found it coincidental, and was charged to do a reattempt.

Destination: Makalu Basecamp

I set out by 0730, with a Nepali boy who was to show me through the past where I'd got lost yesterday.
It was hard to believe that there was any trail, coz there wasn't. It is just the rocky moraine you walk through for hours, keeping a track of the cairns for directions. Even the physical recovery of yesterday only got me through till noon.
I found myself going crazy trying to figure out the route to the MBC. Sure, I had a map and a compass, but they don't point out the finer details.

By 1300,  I was on the verge of breaking down. Then it started snowing, and I was crouched under a rock for a while, blowing my whistle for any porters to pick up. My camera battery ran out. Horrible feeling.
I did a recce, and started on a trail higher up on the right, that I assumed was the right one; a group of porters made up the same trail soon after, and I was relieved. Their presence provided a great psychological push (besides the fact that they took my rucksack).  In a couple of hours, I got to the basecamp discussing cars and girls (men are predictable), albeit drained of energy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Makalu BC - part 2 - the trail

Makalu Basecamp, Part 1
Makalu Basecamp, Part 3

Day 3 ( Contd.)
I start from Devrali.
Today's destination: SheduaA friendly tractor guy offers me a lift, but I prefer to get on my feet instead. For the first hour, I'm just walking along the muddy road.
 Few hours in, and I not only find myself on the wrong right trail - the usual trail first leads to Num and then down, but instead I take to a village track - but also caught in heavy downpour. I enter a quiet little Gurkha village, and ask for directions from a villager, soaking more rain and picking off leeches at the same time. Seeing my condition, he politely invites me into his courtyard. I spend the next hour here.

 People are awesome. Not only did the man provide me shelter from rain, and tea, and crispies, but he also volunteered to show me the way down to the river. We make through his beautiful village, Amrang. I'm delegated to a village kid, who leads me out of the village and onto the jungle trail that goes to the river.

 The jungle trail, as it turns out, is in disuse. I soon enter denser forest, where the trail is barely a foot wide.
First nasty when I miss a step and fall down the mountain. Somehow I break my fall to come back up, in single piece.

Leeches. Combined with unknown territory, civilizational void, and looming rainfall, it makes for a stressor beyond anyone's imagination, esp when they are found at every step. These almost had me broken by the time I got to a stream.
I, plucked out about 25 leeches off me, and thrice the number off my shoes.

Finally crossing the raging Arun Khola on this epic suspension bridge. It was 18:30PM and it was getting dark. Shedua, my destination for the evening, was nowhere to be seen/sensed. 
Tired and drenched (of rain and sweat), I continued ascending. Soon,  I decided to camp out in a tiny open patch. But out on a recce, I managed to see a light further ahead, which turned out to be a lodge. That was where my first night on the trail ended.

Day 4:

It was a funny and uncomfortable night. But I was greeted by a rainbow in the morning.
Today's destination: Tashigaon
Thanks to the rains, I could only exit by 08:00AM.
After a few hours of walk, I made it to Shedua, my destination of yesterday's. I didn't stop there and continued ahead.
Some beautiful rustic scenes and the backdrop made my day's worth.

I walked fast, and got to Tashigaon around 14:30. Lucky to have bumped into the caring proprietor of Makalu II Hotel, who led me to the end of the village where all stay and camping is.
Camped on the heli-field at Tashigaon, and had the first appetizing meal in the day (and the last of it as well). Languished, made notes, and nursed my injuries until sleep hit.

Day 5:
Today's destination: Kongma
Left Tashigaon around 08:30, an hour later than planned. While on the trail, I got a chuckle seeing a helicopter land in same place that I was camping  at an hour back.

About 2 hours into the trek, I was fascinated by the huge rock - ideal for shelter. Coincidentally, soon after, a drizzle started, and I ran back under it.

A group of porters was also going up. Here, they finally caught upto me, and chose to continue despite the rain. I was inspired and decided to stick around with them.

Soon after leaving a hamlet after a cup of "Cheeya", all hell broke loose. It was pouring down, and I was caught in the middle of it. The trail soon turned into a water stream. This is how flash floods happen. I ran for shelter under a tree, but that only kept the water away till the volume became overwhelming. I could see the water soaking my bags and clothes, but couldn't do a thing.

The rains abated, mockingly so, after an hour's heavy downpour. I was drenched; so was most of my gear. The ground was still soggy, often yielding. The trail kept climbing up. I was hating every living moment. 
A chorten finally marked end of the climb. I was relieved. A few hundred meters thereafter lay Kongma. 

Rest of the evening was spent in recovery. The porter crowd made it later, and soon the place was abuzz, except for this city boy crawled inside his sleeping bag on a bed at one end.

Day 6:

Trust me, if the Buddhist monks were to set out to find the next Dalai Lama, they might end their journey here. This kid was compacted humanity.
The following morning I climb the ridge atop Kongma, and he followed me!
I decided to spend the day drying (and burning) my clothing. Wise decision.
Later in the evening, I hike to Kongma La, study maps, and make ambitious plans for the coming day.


Makalu BC - part 1 - making a start

Makalu Basecamp, Part 2
Makalu Basecamp, Part 3

Day 1:
A mere two hours in Kathmandu, arranging for a (useless) TIMS permit and making the most priceless purchase of my trip, a compass, and I'm off to Dharan, 16 hours away. This is just the start - from Dharan, it is another 8 hours to Khandbari (via Hilay), from where it is another 6 hours to Num, which marks the real beginning to my trek.
Enroute, I break the established rules of bus travel in an alien country, as also warned against by my Nepali friend/liaison, Kaju, "Don't befriend strangers, or accept food or water they offer" - I do.

Day 2:
Dharan comes too early, at 5AM. Before even rubbing the rheum off my eyes, I find a bus for Khandbari waiting, and hop on. I get an aisle seat, next to an obnoxious teenager, for the first few hours, then find a window seat.
Some horrible roads result in the bus breaking down after Hilay, but it ultimately continues onwards. ("Goodluck Travels," as the bus company is intuitively named)

The bus halts at Tumlingtar for lunch. Tumlingtar is the nearest airfield to start on this trek. This town is situated along the Sabha Khola (Khola ~ River). I love the Thukpa; and keep the enticing fish dish for the return leg.
Khandbari by 14:00. Because the same bus is gonna do another 20km, to end its journey at Mane Bhanjiyang (MB), I stay put. The tarmac roads are far behind; now its only mud.
I finally get to step down, at MB, nearing 3PM. No vehicles leave for Num (still 4/5 hours away) for the day. I'm anxious, but a local elderly helps me get my calm back, and tags me along to the main market. I find a dorm to put up for the night - just a bed and some ventilation, but one which overlooks the taxi union counter down by the road.

It soon starts to rain in MB. I wile away time with the locals.
Later, when the rains recede, I step out. The marketplace is resourceful.
My map shows a temple here, so I ask around for directions. "Only Brahmins allowed," I'm forewarned shortly before my approach to the temple. I find the temple, and Sahdev, the caretaker-cum-priest, who tries to push me into donating money and in turn get a bench dedicated to my name, but I evade.

Night ends with John Lennon's Imagine playing in this little village. I'm stressed as both the zippers of my rucksack are broken, and my co-occupant of the dorm speaks from his bed that there's no repair possible; FML.

Day 3:
Still no transport going up to Num. The rains eat out the roads, so lesser people travel towards Num in this season.
I get a packet of balloons, and dole one each to the kids. Soon the marketplace is a cute sight - kids playing on the road in traffic.
The schools begin at 10:00AM, so at 09:30, all the balloons were seized, and out came uniforms, combs, and ribbons.

I kept inquiring about the taxi for Num; only a handful of people had been waiting, and there was a wait for more.

I exit MB around 10AM. The taxi wouldn't go upto Num, owing to the condition of the roads, but possibly to either Chichila or Devrali.
The road was horrible. The ride was bumpy. That it didn't rain for those few hours was a blessing.

The taxi carried me as far as Devrali, a coupla' hours before Num. So that is where I start from.