6th November, 2019
After breakfast, we started to move. The trail initially went through the alleys between the lodges and after sometime, it came out in the open. The valley was wide with Budhi Gandaki making its way down through the center of its floor. After a gradual hike, we came upon a flat ground with a big “H” painted at the center against a backdrop of a colored circle. It was a helipad.
Our guide assembled us together to say something about the upcoming stretch. A very narrow rocky path lay ahead of us with just enough space for a single person to place his steps. Just beside it, the vertical wall went straight down to meet the roaring river. The entire stretch was approximately 1.5 – 2 kms. The floor too, was unstable with loosely placed rocks and gravels. Chances of skidding were ripe. It was our first encounter with one of the numerous rockfall zones of this trail. The guide advised rest of the group to move ahead one after another, but not in parallel and he stayed with me in the rear to provide support. I wasn’t necessary for him to say “I can take care of one and only one person, but not all. So, be careful with your steps and try to cross the zone as fast as possible. Please don’t waste time in photography here”. It was quite obvious as one look at the stretch said it all. Rest of the group moved ahead one by one and finally I stepped on the stretch with the guide keeping a tight vigil from behind. Every step triggered small to medium avalanches of pebbles and boulders down the vertical wall below. I became very conscious about my steps and a bit more than necessary. I tried to enforce grip by pressing my boots hard on the floor, which only made it riskier as with that extra pressure, the stones and pebbles got displaced even more. I kept praying that we don’t encounter herds of mules and kept my ear alert for the sound of bells that usually accompany them. After missing a step here and there, triggering small to medium avalanches of stones, I finally managed to cross the stretch to come down to the banks of the river.
After some photo sessions on the river bank, we kept plodding on. Our next target was to reach Philim. For a trail as long as this, I normally tend to divide it and set interim targets. That gives a sense of progress. After Jagat, Mani walls and Stupas started appearing. Every village had an entrance and exit gate that were decorated with carefully placed stones and their ceilings were adorned by paintings. A typical sign of Tibetan settlements.
Every village we crossed, invariably had a board displaying an arrow towards the direction of Larke Pass. We were passing through a gorge surrounded by high mountains on both sides. That was the reason sunshine eluded us although we could see the upper reaches illuminated. Mountain peaks started making their appearances for the first time in this trail as we were nearing Salleri.
Salleri was a village of considerable size considering its remoteness. It bore the signs of a Tibetan settlement in all its features. The dress of the women, the jewelry of stones wore by them, the Mani wheels cleverly placed among running torrents to make them turn continuously without human effort, technology making its way into the Spiritual world! Kids with round fair faces with red cheeks and running noses came running and we obliged them with lozenges. Our wishes of “Tashi Delek” were reciprocated by them with joviality. Since the village was placed in a wide section of the valley, it bathed in bright sunshine. We had to remove our jackets. Torrents came running down and were being channelized through the fields.
After Salleri, a suspension bridge took us to other side of the river where a moderate climb began towards Philim.
After reaching the other side of the bridge, as we started our ascent towards Philim, we came across a young woman who spoke fluent Hindi, making us think that she was an Indian. It turned out that she was from Pokhara and was an air hostess serving in an international airline. She’s embarking on this trail as a side excursion amidst her vacation. We exchanged pleasantries and she asked us whether India too, offered such Himalayan trails. Our answer was, it certainly did, but not with the kind of support that is available in Nepal. Moreover, the number of trails in Nepal is proportionately larger, given that it almost houses one-third of the entire Himalayas. The presence of a large number of 8000 m peaks, also adds to the glamour. The trail somewhat leveled out after Philim and it was a pleasant walk amidst sunshine. The Budhi Gandaki kept company making its way down through the valley below. Waterfalls kept coming down the walls in a rush to meet the river. We were awestruck by one of them which had a beautiful rainbow created in front of it by the refracting sunlight through its water crystals. We spent minutes watching this amazing creation of nature.
After crossing Philim, our next target was Eklabhatti, a place, where many people halt for lunch. Our guide and the porters insisted on that too. But, our plan was to have lunch at Nyak Phedi. The idea behind that was, it would just leave about 2 hours to walk after lunch before reaching the day’s destination, Deng. As a compromise, we allowed the porters some rest and to have some mild breakfast while we kept moving. But as it turned out later, it proved to be tough and we wished we had lunch earlier. It was painful, in particular, for our porters. People in Nepal are accustomed to having early lunch. They have frequent meals during the day and hence, for them, it is painful to have long spells without food, especially with wrenching loads on their back. It proved tough on us too as we felt the fatigue building up.
Eklabhatti too, had an entrance gate, carefully created by stacking up stones to welcome the entrants.
Waterfalls kept coming down the walls. We encountered a few more on our way from Eklabhatti to Nyak Phedi.
The vegetation along the mountain walls were lush green with the blue waters of Budhi Gandaki making its way through the valley. There were many angles at which we stopped to have views of this picturesque landscape.
After Eklabhatti, the trail started moving down towards the river. It’s a familiar sign. It implied that we would be crossing the river to encounter a steep slope on its other bank. We came across a junction with two directions pointing towards two different routes. The one on the right was the trail to Tsum valley. It is a picturesque valley and the trek towards it offers exciting views and experience with local culture. It takes an additional 2-3 days to cover Tsum valley as a side excursion. Some trekkers moved ahead towards it as did herds of mules. We kept to left and kept moving down towards the river. The slope after the suspension bridge was very steep. Dhananjoy was already ahead of us and was out of sight. We could see the zig-zag trail going up the slopes with steep jumps. We took some rest before embarking on the climb, gulped down a few sips of water and started. The trail moved steeply up through a bunch of switchbacks. While crossing one at its lower end, we could see people on its higher reaches. All seemed to move in a serpentine queue as one sees in an airport emigration desk. The only difference being the ground, which is flat at the airport. Fatigue started to tell on us but we kept dragging on. This wasn’t a very good sign. The reason behind this was the long gap we had between breakfast and lunch, something the porters tried to convince us about, back in Eklabhatti. After reaching the top of the switchback trail, we came across a board. An arrow pointed up towards Nyak (claiming to be 2.5 hours way). Another pointed horizontally, but had a different name. We were confused. We were supposed to have lunch an Nyak, but the distance was way beyond our expectation. Our guide was somewhere down in the rear. Our wrath fell on Dhananjoy. Why couldn’t he wait for the rest? At least he should have waited at a junction like this where misadventures on a wrong trail can prove costly. After sometime, the guide made his appearance from behind and cleared our confusion. Nyak village is indeed, up the slopes, but, fortunately, we were headed to Nyak Phedi, which lay in the horizontal direction. We breathed a sigh of relief and forgave Dhananjoy and moved along.
We entered a tea house, totally tired with dreary steps with mice jumping up and down in our bellies. Dhananjoy was already there, enjoying some rest in the sunshine. We waited at the lunch table while our staple lunch of “dal bhat” was getting prepared. As soon as it was served, we jumped upon it. Vegetable curries and green chilies added to the appetite and we consumed in large quantities, probably a little more than desired, considering the length of the trail we had to cover after it. As we chatted around, our legs got some rest. After that, we hit the trail once again. This time around, with relatively fresh pair of legs. The route now moved through dense forests and we walked under canopy cover, which is always preferred after lunch. I kept an eye towards the sky to see any impending bad weather. Fortunately, clouds stayed clear and sunshine was abundant. As we walked along, herds of mules kept crossing us from both directions and we had to pave way for them. Reaching a safe place to be able to do that well before their arrival, proved to be a challenge for us at times. I was thinking what could be the last village on this route, beyond which, mules couldn’t reach. I hoped we don’t have to encounter them at the Larke Pass. My assessment was we were to encounter them till Dharamshala, the last destination before the pass on this side and we might encounter them again from the first village on our way down from the pass, all through the remaining part of the route. I kept thinking about different things as I moved along, till we reached a bend from where we could see the entrance gate of Deng. That gave some energy and I completed the last climb to cross the gate. Dhananjoy insisted on having a group snap and I agreed reluctantly, but my entire focus was to reach the tea house. After reaching Deng, we finally settled in our allotted rooms. Clothes, as usual were drenched and we hung them in the wires, just to console ourselves. After changing the warm-wears, the evening tea session ensued. The sequence of events at the tea houses were very predictable. Tea sessions took us to about 6.30 PM. 7 PM was the time for dinner. After dinner, there was the customary lecture of the guide about the plan for the morrow, followed by sips of warm water before we subsided to our beds. It wasn’t different at Deng too. The only prick in my mind was introduced by a statement from the guide, during his planning session. There was a land slide area just before entering Namrung, our next destination. That had to be negotiated carefully. He repeated the same set of instructions as he did in the morning before crossing the rockfall zone immediately after Jagat. That kept the niggle on in my mind and I started imagining ways to negotiate it. “Hold the stick hard, focus on your feet, do keep an eye up the hill to watch for falling rocks …” etc etc till sleep overpowered me. We were sleeping at 1800 m.