7th November, 2019
The alarm kicked off at 4 AM. As soon as my eyes opened, the thoughts about the landslide area near Namrung came back to haunt me. I completed my morning duties and went inside the blanket once again. It was only after the second alarm at 5 AM, I’d get started to prepare myself. That was the norm I followed throughout the trail. Today’s walk was going to be the last of the long ones before crossing the pass. Apparently, the stretch after that would involve walking just 4-5 hours a day. That was to say, we’d only be walking during the pre-lunch session and would have the rest of the day at our disposal after reaching our destination. But for that to happen, we’d have to complete the long walk to Namrung, about 19.4 kms and of course, get over the landslide area just before the entrance of Namrung. Oh the landslide! It just refuses to get off my mind. After others got ready and we readied our bags for the porters, the morning tea session ensued. At the breakfast table, some of us stuck to muesli, some went for corn flakes. All of them accompanied by hot milk and slices of apple. It had already started to get boring, but given the circumstances, we couldn’t have asked for better. Dhananjoy didn’t prefer milk, so he had to opt for noodles (forcing muesli or corn flakes down the throat without an appropriate and hot solvent is impossible). Taste wasn’t as important as getting some stuff inside our bodies to generate energy for us to be able to sustain till lunch. After that, the staple “dal-bhat” would take care for the post-lunch session of walking. The plan was to have lunch at the village of Ghap.
Dhananjoy always insisted on having a group snap at the lodge before leaving. So we assembled along with our guide and porters for a snap and hit the trail. Clouds stayed away but the high mountains prevented sunshine from entering the valley. The weather had a chill and we put our jackets on. As usual, I had the sweat shirt from my previous day, hanging on my back for the sun to dry it up. The trail meandered through the homes and fields of the local village and we crossed the exit gate of Deng. Vegetation was still thick on both sides. That told us, we were still travelling through the lower sub-tropical zones.
We moved up along the banks of Budhi Gandaki, which made its way down through the lush green gorges. As I walked along, I kept thinking about the trail. Reaching Namrung would mark the end of the first phase of the trek. Beyond that, days of lengthy walk would get over, at least till Dharamshala. The successive days will take us to the higher reaches and importantly, Manaslu would oblige us with its appearance. We have left the villages inhabited by the Gurung behind and now, Tibetan settlements frequented the route. So did the Mani walls, entrance and exit gates created by stacking up stones. The concept of these gates which are often decorated by flags with Tibetan mantras inscribed on them, are meant to ward off the evils. Such gates are often decorated with paintings. The faintness in their colors are signs of the harsh winters they have to withstand every year.
As the valley widened, sunshine made its way into it and we had to peel off our jackets. We kept sipping water from our respective bottles, an important act to keep high altitude sickness at bay. One of the reasons of covering an average of 20 kms/day during the first 3/4 days was low altitude, a feat that can’t be repeated in the higher reaches of the trail.
We kept an eye on the signboards scattered along the trail to lookout for the time left to reach Ghap, our destination for lunch. The trail, meanwhile kept moving up and down. On the way down, the lungs get some rest, but the knees bear the weight. They’re the most unfortunate organs on such trails. Whether the trail moves up or down, there’s no respite for them. Whenever we moved down, my mind kept telling we were incurring a debt which we’d have to repay sooner or later. Moving down, often meant, going towards the banks of the river, only to cross over an embark on a steep hike on the other side. The mountain walls around us were covered with pine and bamboo forests with flowers showing up amid the greens.
Just before Ghap, the trail started moving down through the maze of local houses and fields till we entered the entrance gate. After another stretch of 1-1.5 km, we reached a tea house to have our lunch. As lunch was being prepared, we removed our backpacks and made ourselves comfortable in chairs amid bright sunshine. Some of us even dozed off with the pleasant warmth of the sun on our backs.
As we were settling in the tea house, other groups were moving out. I tried to utilize the sunshine to dry the clothes. As lunch got served, Ranjan da pulled out his bottle of pickle. The lentils, the boiled local vegetables, the green chilies added to the taste. After lunch, the rucksacks reclaimed their place on our backs and we moved on. The trail after Ghap led to the river and we crossed to the other side of it where the climb started again.
We entered a forest of big firs. The dense forest kept the sunshine out. At this time of the day, it was helpful as we could walk under shade. We continued to encounter herds of mules. On one occasion, we had to subside under a cave to make way for them. Just beyond the cave, there was a set of steps which had to be crossed. We kept hearing the bells of the mules coming from the opposite direction. We couldn’t see them until they reached the top of the steps. It was a large herd. We kept watching as the head of a mule made it’s appearance at the top. It spent sometime there trying to ascertain the steepness of the descent and then came hopping down followed by another one repeating the same steps. We had to wait for at least 15 to 20 minutes to allow the entire herd to cross over. We waited for some more time to ensure there were no further sounds of bells. Wild flowers adorned the forests.
We kept moving on the ground which was somewhat level. Our pace increased. Some of us kept focusing on objects of photography as there were plenty of subjects around. Wild flowers, dense forests, wild fruits. As I was moving ahead, I got a call from behind from our guide. I saw him looking at a tree with bunches of wild fruits, red in color. Others followed suit. He told us that they were wild litchis.
He asked us to try some. I popped one into my mouth, but wasn’t ecstatic about the taste. Others tried too, but their expressions didn’t exude much confidence either. The trail moved amid the forest till we reached another suspension bridge. We had to cross over a roaring torrent coming down the slopes to meet Budhi Gandaki. After reaching the middle point of the bridge, I tried to take some snaps, but it started to oscillate violently. I noticed that a herd of mules had started to cross over and were about to reach my place. I had to dump the idea of photography, move to the other side as quickly as possible to reach a place wide enough to grant passage to them.
The trail meandered through the forest till we reached a point where I saw some of the trekkers assembled at a point looking ahead as if to take stock of the route that lay ahead. It was the landslide area. I reached behind one of them and peeped over to have a look. As if the trail had been broken suddenly by sliding rocks that had come down the slopes. The entire slope on the left was bereft of any vegetation. As if someone pricked somewhere high above with enough strength and a huge swathe of land had shifted its base to move down in its entirety. The trail in that stretch meant nothing more than a pair of steps moving through the landmass which was still somewhat unstable with pebbles and gravels coming down the slope from high above. Porters and other trekkers moved swiftly through the area almost running over to the side beyond the stretch, which was again normal and secured by thick vegetation in the surrounding slopes. I thought of waiting for my guide for him to lend a hand, but decided against it. I stepped on to the stretch and tried to walk as normally as possible, i.e. to say by not putting extra stress on my feet which has contributed to circumspect steps and small avalanches of pebbles earlier. I crossed the distance of about 1.5 km as quickly as possible, giving just one glance towards the top on my left mid-way and as soon as I crossed over to safe grounds, I breathed a sigh of relief! The relief was also caused by the sight of the entrance gate of Namrung.
An old lady was selling home baked cakes, pastries and chocolates at the gate and many trekkers surrounded her to get a taste of the local bakery. We moved ahead towards our destined tea house. It was a pleasant relieved walk on level ground and we leisurely moved on. After we were allotted our rooms, we settled in. Dhananjoy went for a shower (yes, in cold waters). Our usual evening tea session ensued till the dinner time. The biting cold reminded us of the altitude we we had gained. We hoped to buy WiFi cards to talk to our respective homes, but it didn’t work. We submitted all our devices (phones, camera chargers, power banks etc.) to the tea house owner to get them charged at the dining place (the rooms didn’t have extra sockets, quite normal in these remote areas). Thankfully, he didn’t charge us for that (usually, an hour of charging costs 300-400 in Nepalese currency or even more depending on the altitude). When we saw the blankets, our hearts sank. They were just normal blankets which we use in places like Delhi. Apparently, the tea house was in its inaugural season and wasn’t equipped well enough as others. We kept all of our warm wares on as we went under the blankets, but it still proved to be futile and sleep eluded us through a large part of the night. We were sleeping at 2630 m. It suddenly struck me that Lukla, the starting point of the Everest Base Camp trek, was at 2860 m. So, after walking approximately 20 kms a day for four days we reached a height, which was only comparable (but still less than) the height of the starting point of the Everest Base Camp trek.