7th October, 2022
It was a working day at my office but I kept as little as possible for me, which was mainly about attending meeting & that too, as an observer/listener. I’ve been working towards it since last few weeks by trying to wrap up all active tasks assigned to me, at least a week before our departure. I did an online booking for hotel Gangapurna at Besisahar to avoid having to search for hotels late at night. While the online booking website gave us a confirmation, but we didn’t hear anything from the hotel itself, which was weird. The offered online rates were too cheap to be true. It was just 1500 INR for five persons, including Wi-Fi & breakfast! I tried calling the hotel, which went unanswered. I then called up customer care of the travel website & they confirmed that the hotel has been informed about the booking. Time went past & Niladri’s train departed from Kolkata terminal. One of us was finally on his way! I called up the other person who was supposed to accompany me from Delhi to fix up our meeting point at the Anand Vihar railway terminal.
I had a chat with Tej Gurung about the weather conditions in the area. It transpired that two of his other groups were stranded due to heavy snow. One had to return from Tilicho base camp to Manang & the other from Thorong phedi (the halt before the actual pass). Roads beyond Besisahar have been damaged at many places & jeeps weren’t plying. To avoid risk, his suggestion was to walk from Besisahar itself, which would require us to halt at Bahundanda & Taal, before Chame. That’d mean losing the reserve days upfront, but that’d serve two purposes. Firstly, it’d allow us to advance, despite bad roads & secondly, it’d delay our advance to the higher reaches by a few days. If weather forecasts were to be believed, skies were to clear up from 12th. So far, both Tilicho lake as well as Thorong la were closed. I called up my cab to fix up my departure time. As soon as I hung up, Dhananjay called in to inform that another member would be dropping out due to some family exigency. I couldn’t believe him as I spoke to the guy minutes before his call & everything seemed perfect. With just about 30 minutes remaining to depart, I wasn’t sure about what to do. Conversation with Gurung revealed that refund wasn’t an option this late as all arrangements (porters & guide) were already made. He offered an option to reduce one porter with a constraint of not burdening him with more than 20 kg, but we opted not to go for it (it sounded infeasible for a team of three). Nevertheless, I bade goodbye to my family & headed towards the railway station. The cab meandered through the crowded streets of Noida with the help of Google maps to etch out the fastest possible route. Just as I reached the platform, the train arrived. I made myself comfortable in a lower berth. It was drizzling outside. Normally we welcome rains in this area (as they’re scarce), but I wasn’t feeling good about it with news of rain & snow coming in from Nepal. With the whistle of the guard, rolled the wheels & so did our journey to Nepal. From the inception, the train wasn’t running well & interruptions caused many halts. By the time it reached Ghaziabad, it was already delayed by 30 minutes. Dhananjoy was supposed to board it from Lucknow at 1.30 AM, which was late enough, but it looked more grim. Unfortunately, he won’t have much time for sleep. A quick check revealed that Niladri’s train from Kolkata was running on time. Every halt of the train triggered a calculation in my mind way up to Besisahar for an estimated time of arrival. After sometime, I diverted my attention away from this to have some sleep.
8th October, 2022
At about 2.30 AM, I woke up hearing Dhananjoy’s voice. Finally, the train had arrived at Lucknow. He had a painful wait at the railway retiring room since 10 PM, the day before. It’s difficult to get cabs in the late hours of night and he had to reach station much before the slated hour. To add to his agony, the train was delayed by more than an hour and a half at Lucknow. Going by the running history of the train, it typically reaches its destination about 70 minutes late. This fact was corroborated by the passengers on the train who frequented the route. As daylight comes along, local trains start plying and this train has to compete for priority when it comes to getting platforms at destined halts. This often translates to the train having to wait before the stations at many places. We woke up to a gloomy morning with cloudy skies. The village fields were flooded with rain water with recent showers in the area. A look at the sky told us there was more in store. The train wasn’t running any better. We got in contact with Niladri and asked him to book a vehicle in advance (given that his train was running on time till that point). Finally, we were obliged and the train arrived at Gorakhpur Junction at 10.15 AM (delayed by three hours). After getting out of the station, we headed towards the main station exit and there he was standing (Niladri) with all the backpacks, walking poles – all ready for the trek. Seeing him at another place other than Kolkata (the native town we share) always gives me pleasure. I saw him talking to a local taxi driver and he looked a bit agitated. When we reached near him, the reason was apparent. The taxi driver insisted in getting into his vehicle (as opposed to the cab of his rival) citing he’d drive just three of us and won’t take any other passenger. In lieu of that favor, he’d charge us 400 per person (instead of 300, as quoted by his rival). Niladri wasn’t convinced and he kept on refuting his claims. But the driver was adamant and almost forced us into his cab. One reason we were lured into what later turned out to be a trap was time and we wanted to get going towards Sonauli as early as possible. Later on it turned out that he had other passengers waiting at an interim petrol pump and all his promises went out of the window. He took his own time waiting for those passengers to arrive (adding insult to our agony) and wasted a further 45 minutes at Gorakhpur before embarking on the journey towards Sonauli border post. We had to spend an additional hour for one of the passengers to be treated for an injury at a local Doctor’s chamber. After reaching the border post, we converted a reasonable amount of Indian currency into Nepalese rupee for our impending expenses for the trip. Fortunately, the driver had an accomplice, who helped with the conversion without any charges (thanks to him for that at least, regardless of the loss of time due to his delays).
We reached the border at about 2 PM. Across the border, it took us little time to negotiate and hire a vehicle for Besisahar (simply because there weren’t many to choose from, given that many vehicles were off route due to Dussera or Dasain, as they call it in Nepal). We started off at about 2.30 PM. The vehicle plied along the roads between lush green fields, freshly bathed from recent showers. With the sun coming out, all looked bright and shining with distant hills luring us to get into their laps.
We saw the signs and directions for Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Budhha. Its just 21 kms from Sonauli border post. The vehicle meandered through the roads between the fields of Terai, but roads started to get bad. Apparently, roads were being widened to accommodate increasing traffic in the area, but that’s still a work in progress. We had to stop for lunch somewhere and the driver promised a halt outside the reaches of the towns & cities, up in the hills. Gradually, the roads left the plains and started moving up the slopes. Dense forests covered both sides of the roads and it was a wonderful ride despite horrible road conditions. The driver informed us that we shouldn’t expect any respite from road conditions till we reached Narayanghat, an important town beside the Narayani river. After plying for another 30 minutes, the vehicle stopped beside “Lumbini tandoori hotel” – a roadside eatery. It was a welcome break and we went inside. “Dal bhat” was ordered for all of three of us. They took sometime to prepare, but as soon as the meals arrived (rice, lentils, vegetables, pickles), we lapped them up in no time. What added to the flavor was hot and melting ghee that was served along with hot rice. Our stomachs now put to rest, we restarted the journey. After sometime, the road started to move down the slopes and we hit the plains once more. Forests kept us company. We crossed many streams and rivers on our way. Gradually, the sun went down and we reached Narayanghat under the darkness. Just before entering it, we crossed the humungous Narayani river. Though it was dark, but we could sense its immensity and the large volumes of water it was carrying down from the slopes above. After Narayanghat, roads stared to move up the hills again and their conditions improved too. After traveling for another hour, we stopped for tea break at a roadside shop. I made calls to home to inform our progress. We were still looking at at least two more hours of travel (or so we thought). After tea, travel resumed and we reached a junction from where we turned left. Another hour of travel took us to Dumre. Dumre is an important junction on this route. From here, one road goes towards Pokhara and the other, towards Besisahar. The driver was confident so far to reach there no later than 8 PM. However, a quick check with the locals revealed that road conditions for Besisahar were far from optimal with landslides at many places (thanks to the recent showers) and that would mean adding at least another two hours to the travel. We were now staring at at least 11 PM to reach Besisahar. Traveling on these roads at night isn’t easy, especially with damages at many places. I was somehow feeling uncanny about the hotel booking at Besisahar as so far, no one contacted us from there. Finally, after sometime, we got a call from the hotel asking about our whereabouts and whether we were likely to reach the same day. That gave some relief. It soon turned out that the driver has never traveled this route at night and was starting to feel uncomfortable with the worsening road conditions. He became increasingly concerned about the damage it might inflict on his vehicle. It wasn’t a four wheel drive model (which is a necessity on these roads). With increasing concern for his vehicle, he slowed down further, adding to our travel time. Finally, we reached a point where the road was closed. A call to the hotel revealed that we had to take an alternative route through a cantonment road, which remains closed to ordinary traffic otherwise. After many twists & turns in the dark, many calls to the hotel, the driver was finally able to reach hotel Gangapurna at Besisahar. We thanked him profusely. At the hotel, we were allotted a three bed room. After settling in, we subsided for the night. It was 11 PM.
We were told by our guide over phone that the last few days were sunny at Besisahar, but as soon as we reached, it started drizzling. Looking at the sky, we could sense dense clouds even at night. Nevertheless, we went into our beds quickly to get some much needed sleep. We were sleeping at an elevation of 760m.