Thursday, December 22, 2016

Manasalu Trekking, the guide's perspective

A call of Mountain
 To act for Redemption in Manasalu Circuit Trek
I was so exhausted that I hesitated to leave my bed. The wall clock was showing 4;10 am. It was still very quiet enough to hear the “tick tock” of the clock. I was staring at its needle moving continuously. At the same time I tried to remember what I just dreamt.“ …it was steep…...very steep but very familiar. I was putting my all effort to lift my step to put ahead…..never had I felt so much fatigued. My limbs were not responding………I was tired..the limbs ached…. Though I was breathless, I had to keep it up for my clients and for some dollars……I was worn out…… breathing heavily, sticking out my all tongue……”When I was awoken, I was still very tired, motionless and my back was damp.It had been many years and this similar dream had been recurring every time before I embark my new trip to mountains. Now, I have learnt to take it as “a call from Mountain”.As a guide by profession, I take several journeys to North, the mountains in Nepal. My most experience in all trekking region, be it in Mt. Everest, Annapurna region, Langtang or any other less trodden path like Upper Mustang, Makalu Base Camp, Nar Phu, Rolwaling Trekking, Kanchanunga area etc, is that it demands too much of your physical performance specially for Guide and Porter like us who have to carry belongings of clients that may weigh 10 Kg to 30 Kg. However, notwithstanding the physical challenges the expectation of reward after reaching the destination is very luring.
The needles in the clock had hit 5 .00 am exactly. I moved off the bed mechanically. The car should arrive by 5.30 am. And I am supposed to meet Ms. Christine. It was end of November and the temperature in Kathmandu was below 10°c, quite chilly after you leave cozy bed. I was shivering as I touched water and at the same time my head was stabbing. I cursed myself for managing to peck a couple of 60 ml the day before. Yes I regret it every next morning and yet cannot shun to booze once its night!
I was almost ready when I realized that the car had been purring outside in the street.I hurried down stair and swiftly arrived hotel to greet Ms. Christine.
She is a little lady with blonde hair in forties. Every time she smiles, I feel that she is too eager to see what comes ahead. Her grey eyes always look very curious.
 I was really impressed by her gentleness while greeting at Kathmandu airport for the first time the day before. She speaks soft and fluent with typical Dutch influence. I was further stunned to learn that she has a son and daughter. She told me she texted them the previous day about how happy she was to get a private guide. I was also happy that she was comfortable to talk to me.
 I noticed that she was already in her trekking boots and trouser that fit perfectly in her sporty slim body. She booked this 14 days long Annapurna and Manasalu circuit tours and trekking package before three months once she was done with all the legal hassle of getting divorced. She looked relaxed and content as she explained it.
That is all she managed to share with me on our first brief meeting.  And that incredible smile was there all the time as she talked.
When we moved out from Hotel, it was 6:10 am. Nights are longer in winter. It was still dawn. The thick mist in the winter morning can hardly be penetrated by the street lamp or fog lights. As we rolled over the brick paved street in Bhaktapur city, we noticed the street was already busy and full of silhouettes of devotees and vegetable vendors. 
"The men and women visit nearby temples before they begin their daily chores. The women are usually found with a special plate with different flowers, red vermin powder, grains of rice, incense, holy lights and some coins on them." I explained.Soon, the car started cruising in the highway. We were supposed to drive next five hours to Arughat, to the trekking point.I had already briefed her that the road condition in the later part is rough and bumpy because most part of the road either has not been black-topped or not been maintained well. But we are assured that this 4WD drive should be pretty convenient in the terrains.We didn’t talk much on the way. The car was taking its usual speed on the Prithvi Highway along the Trishuli River.She enjoyed the drive especially when it is up and down and round ……….then straight again.“How often do the accidents take place in the road” She asked me very curiously. My answer to this question always has been same – “sometimes, accidents take place. But we are in the hand of very experienced driver, besides when the tourist are on board, we drive very cautiously.”After a short break for breakfast in a riverside special restaurant our car took the same speed.She was scanning the river side scenario.The road now had turned silvery with the sunlight. On our right, Trishuli River tries to catch with us.
The weather was crystal. We could see range of glittering Ganesh Himalya, Himchuli and Lamjung Himalaya Standing right to left.                                     
After reaching Arughat, we walked nearly 2.5 hours to Soti Khola.(Optionally we could take a local bus but it takes almost same time or long due to road condition)
On the way was eye soothing rice field stretching all the way across the valley. Beyond the rice field was view of waterfalls on the ridge and small villages on the top of the hills. Time and again we passed by small huts each with a couple of cows, buffalo and goats. I wonder how people manage to dwell in such hut with cattle in the shed beside. For me the smell of dung was too overwhelming.Soon, we forget the smell as the view of Ganesh Himal gets zoomed. On the way to Soti khola, there is a swimming hole and a small waterfall just above the trail. This valley is said to have beehives where honey is harvested. The Gurung of Budii Gandaki are mainly farmers and still there are remnants of a hunting society.

Day 01   Arughat to Soti Khola (710m/2328 ft)
Upon passing over the bridge over Budhi Gandaki, we embark on our trek from the western part of Arughat. On completion of the ACAP procedures, we follow the stone paved street of the bazaar. We pass through the hydroelectric power project, rice and millet fields and forests to Sante Bazaar. The trail to the Budhi Gankdaki valley becomes steeper and more challenging as we cross a suspension bridge ove Arikhet Khola to come across various shops in Arkhet. We enjoy vibrant views of the Ganesh and Shringi Himal as we walk through beautiful Gurung villages and cascading waterfalls before reaching Soti Khola to spend the night.

“Do you have family?” she asked me curiously.

“Yes, I live with my old parents, my wife and a son” I said brieflyShe was pleased to know that in Nepal old parents are looked after by their children. She explained to me that for the elderly people in Holland there are care center.
“Children get busy in their own world and practically not possible to stay home to look after parents.” She tried to justify.
Day 02
Soti khola to Machhekhola. Many waterfalls on the way and long suspention bridges. On the way we pass through Gurung villages of Lapubesi with a view of Shringi Himal. Then, we walk through the river side of Budi Gandaki where we walk on the white sand and rocks. Then after walking through the ridge of the river the trail climbs above the river to Machha Khola (meaning fish river) where we can feel the cold water from our feet or even do fishing here with local net made from the local fisherman. The place is surrounded by hills and it is a peaceful place to relax and taste the fish curry.

“I read that arrange marriage is common in Nepal. Was your marriage arranged by your parents?” she was in mood to talk.  
I smiled. “Yes, it was arranged by my parents”.
She was curious to learn more. She was waiting me to say more. 
“The parents search a good suit for their children. My mother once told me that when she was married 60 years ago, she had not seen my father before the wedding ceremony. Thing are changing a lot though. In my time I had a couple of chance to date before marriage. While these days, the couple prefer more time to talk, share and feel before they really give decision. On the other hand love marriage is also now accepted easily.” 
She was listening to me calmly. I wanted to ask how did she get married but then I realized it is not appropriate for a guide like me to ask anything personal. I remained quiet.

Day 3
Machha khola to Jagat we cross around 6 suspension bridges.
We feel it a real thrill while walking on one of the bridges made against the wall of steep cliff. We saw few waterfalls. They are quite tempting especially when you spot rainbows on them. The trail grows narrower. We have to stick to the wall whenever we encounter the caravan of Mules carrying supply for the villages above .
Today from Jagat we enter the conservation area. Jagat is a small village with settlement of Gurung and Chettri people. We see them often busy storing grains, making fishing net or drying millets. We can see a big stone Chorten in the village which shows the influence of Buddhism in this place. In fact, Buddhist and Hindus live together in harmony.
There is a police check post and conservation office to register entrance permit of the trekkers.

As we hiked, she was breathing heavily. “I still feel pain in my back and get choked at the same time when I have to climb long stair or walk up hill. I need to do it slowly”, she confessed. "I had a bad fall two years ago. I broke my ribs and I had to go serious operation in my abdomen. I was climbing down from my office, I got dizzy, before I could hold supporting bar, I had missed the step and rolled off all the way down smashing my head and nose. The x-ray showed my two broken ribs. The doctors also discovered that I need immediate operation to remove uterus. I had to take six months of complete bed rest.”
“Oh it was really tragic”, I was really sad to know her misfortune. My sincere sympathy encouraged her to tell more of her history. She continued, “I used to be the Director of few companies. I worked hard and could expand my business. As a nurse I first invested on a Health Clinic. And in next five years I started retelling medicine, medical gadgets, machines and many more. My husband also used to worked with me. We worked together for 15 years. And then this tragedy was to happen in my life.” 
I listen to her very attentively. She would tell every details of her past as if she came to Nepal to meet me and to tell me her story.

Day 4
 Jagat to Deng On the way we see some small hydropower on the way and big metal pipes carrying water from the top to produce electricity.
We see people drying the corn, wheat, in their court yard. The beautiful Shringi Himal expects their glance of appreciation. But they are quite indifferent to it.
 The trail is narrow and on the way we can see several rock lizards taking sunbath. From here, the trail follows the electric tower to the next village called Phillim. It is a big village with school, police check post and old houses made of stones. After passing philim we walk an hour trail through the pine forest and reach a place called Chisa pani. We stop here for lunch.
 After Lunch we pass by Ekle Bhatti and continue an hour till we come to a junction- one leads to Manaslu and another to Tsum valley. We follow the first one.
Now the trail to Deng passes through pine forest where we pass through the shades of the hill and have a good chance to experience the wildlife. The trekkers often encounter gray Langoor, gray Siamang monkey, musk deer etc. Deng is a small settlement of Gurung people with only 5/6 houses surrounded with the rocky hills lies just beside the Shringi Himal. We can experience the primitive lifestyle of the people here.

We climbed up gradually. I tried to slow down make my step match with her. She was gaining stamina day by day. She was getting used to rough trail that goes up and down, round, through the woods, along the gorge and river. Mountains would grow bigger as we follow the trail further.

 Day 5
 Deng to Namrung From deng after 30minutes of walk we reach the place called Rana Gauon which is settlement of Magar people. Now we experience the Tibetan settlement ahead. We pass through mani walls. We spot Danphe or Impeyan Pheasant(Nepal's colorful national bird). The trail makes a long , serious climb through bamboo and rhododendron forests before entering Namrung through a stone archway. Namrung is a big village with stone houses and a police check post that controls the access to the upper part of the valley.  Horses, Yaks and Mules are popular transportation for supply.

“I gave up all my money. I shared them with my husband and brothers.” She was disclosing more. “I realized how I was cheated by my own brothers and husband. During my bed rest in hospital, my husband and brothers were handling my business. When I went back to office after six months, I found my money was stolen. My own brothers were found involved in hiding several transactions. Hardly had I recovered from my Physical crash when I got this shock. I was mentally disturbed. I messed up with family relations. Even my husband was not happy with me. I felt that he was not interested in me but in my money.
I knew I was earning enmity because of my money. I was so irritated and suspicious that I would sense a vested interest in my friends’ sympathy so I avoided all them. I used to think that they were around me only because of my money. I thought they were also enjoying a good privilege on my wealth."

Day 6

Namrung to Lho. After Namrung the trek enters the Nupri region. The people of Nupri are all descendants of Tibetan migrant and most dress in Chubas. The gompas and house are made of stone. We move ahead across this Buri gandaki valley. the view now gets spectacular. Manaslu, Manaslu north and Naike peak appear ahead. The trail crosses a big prayer wheel in the middle of the trail and climbs through more fields where people sit all night to scare bears away from the crops. Ahead, after passing a small stream is the village of LHO. Lho is a big village with gompas, a rough stone archway at the entrance and a Tibetan style Chortens and a huge Mani Wall.  The village offers spectacular view of Manaslu  range.

"I was very sad, miserable and hopeless. Frustration and depression ruined my life. At a time, I even reached at the point of suicide. Doctors who had been treating me referred to psychiatrist. I had to go through therapy and counseling for many days.Then I learned, I deserve to be happy. I wanted to be happy. I was looking for happiness. What can give me happiness? I seriously needed something that can bring my smile back in my life to make me normal. I decided I first need to shake off all the root causes of my suffering. So, I gave away most of my property to my family because my understanding was my money generated my enemy. I divorced my husband for he cared my money rather than me. After my decision to divorce, he was mad with anger at me. He was so psychic that he wanted to kill me. He was not happy with what he got according to law. He wanted more.” 
I could not believe what she was saying could have happened in her life a couple of month back.  For me, she was so sophisticated, smiling all the time and could accept thing very easily. Perhaps, she regained this quality after counseling. My sympathy for her got even deeper."

Day 7
lho to samagauon. The trail now passes through damp forests.
The road is icy or muddy. The trail to the left ends up at Pung-Gyen gompa with the Pungen glacier and Manaslu east face. Finally the trail emerges onto a plateau at Syala with wide view of Himalchuli , Ngadi Chuli and Manaslu. There is a  Chorten and a small Gompa with a huge prayer wheel. There is large Mani stones and u can see many women working on wooden looms as u make your way through the village. The village is wide and the in good sunny days. You can see the marmot walking over in search of food, Yaks and sheep grazing. We can see the view of Manaslu and Manaslu north form Samagaon.

She was really friendly with everyone. She would share a brief hello to every trekker we met on the way and tea house. Whenever she had a bit longer chat, she would not forget to tell them about her fall and the difficulty she suffered in walking as a result. Sometimes, her behavior was childish. She would smile at anything, laugh at my silly sarcasm and would take any story very seriously. Once I told her about the mysterious legendary creature “Yeti”. She was very fascinated and believed in the possibility of its existence.

Day 8
 Rest day at Samagaon. There are plenty of side trip in Samagaon to acclimatize.
 We hike up to Manaslu Basecamp which is in the elevation of 4900m or hike to Pung-Gyen Gompa which is hidden behind the ridge in front of Manaslu. The Japanese call this “Honsansho Gompa”. It was destroyed by an avalanche during the winter of 1953 after the first Japanese expedition to Manaslu. The inciddent killed 18inhabitats, mostly nuns. The villagers believe that the god residing on Manaslu destroyed the Gompa to show his wrath at the trespassers. So, the villagers refused to let the second Japanese expedition to Manaslu in 1954.

Optionally, we can also make a day hike to Birendra Taal, a glacier lake at 3450m.

The other day, I was explaining the symbolic meaning of Buddhist stupa to her. Her reaction was as if she had got enlightenment.
Day 9
Samagaon to Samdo. The trail passes through several Mani walls as the valley begins to widen. It is an easy trail above the river past Juniper and Birch forest and stone huts. Then, it gets rougher. Samdo is the last settlement before the Larkya Pass which is a refugee settlement of Tibet. A major Tibetan trade route heads east through the village and over the Lajyang La 5098m to Rhee village in Tibet.
People from Samdo feel that they have proprietary right to Larkya La and often insists that groups replace their porters with local porters here!

Pointing at a Stupa on the side way, I explained her: “ a Buddhist stupa is not just a holy shrine. It is a holy book. Each and every part of it is symbolic. For example: the white dome (its foundation part) symbolizes our universe. Above the dome is four sided spire. On each side there is a pair of eyes. They are Buddha’s eyes and represents his compassion and Intelligence. Just in between is a point of red mark Tika ( we call it Harmika) which is for Buddha’s Clairvoyance. Then, Just below is his nose which is made in the shape of questions mark. The questions mark is for us. Now imagine, the Buddha’s eyes are looking at you and asking the question “who are you?” “How are you affiliated to this universe?” This is million Dollar questions for true spiritualist. According to Buddha, people suffer because of ignorance; ignorance because they have recognize their body as self. Since we think, we are what our body is – the suffering triggers. Buddhism assures that it can help us know who we are. Knowing ourselves will cease all the suffering. This is the point of we know it as “Nirvana”. Buddhism assures us that it can teach the way to find Nirvana. For that we have to pass through thirteen different stages. The thirteen steps are symbolized in the thirteen circle formed in pyramid shape. The tops is place of God, he represents the supreme soul. Since we are the part of supreme soul, we are supreme soul ourselves.The thirteen steps are tough but not impossible. The first ten steps are available to read in the books, but the last three steps are in super-conscious level. At the top point, the words do not work. It means, Buddha has taught that the ultimate truth cannot be represented in words. The words cannot teach us the final truth. The final part cannot be verbalized. It happens!”

Day 10

Samdo to Dharmasala. The trail from Samdo past many fields to a big, old Mani Wall and stone archway drops to river which is now very small and narrow. The Sherpa traders from Namche bazaar used to bring their yaks on a long trip via Tibet, then into Nupri climbing in and out of the gorges. There is only one rest house at 4480m. This stone house is large enough to store our gears and kitchen stuffs . We set up tents for sleep.

She was so impressed to know about the point “it happens!” She asked me “Has it happened to you?”
Day 11
March to Bhimtang via larkya la. The route starts up the ridge in front of the rest house, eventually becoming a long gentle climb. Cross a small ridge and descend a bit to a lake and keep climbing the ridge until you reach the top. It takes around 4 hours from Dharmasala to Larkya La. There is a tremendous views of mountain peaks. The peaks from the west of the pass are Himlung Himal(71260), Cheo Himal(6820m). Here, the trail descends and becomes larger as it gets close to Bhimtang. In Tibetan language it means 'plain of sand'. There are now 4 tea shops. Bhimtang was a khampa guerrilla staging area during the 1970s. This is a huge valley surrounded by peaks. We hear many avalanches during the night.

“Me? no! not yet. Or may be it will never happen in me. I think I am not in the path of Nirvana. I want to know the secret of life though. I even feel one day I will know it. But I am sorry. To be frank, I am too greedy, too attached to mundane, too dedicated to earn money. To hear your story I would rather say that you seem to have actually learned the secret of life. You have thwarted your money, got break free from the family attachments and even got through the worst situation of life. And now you are here to meditate on your life. You have regained your smile, child-like innocence and energy to laugh like a freak! This is true happening!”

Day 12

 Bhimtang to tilijhe.  The trail drops from Bhimtang and crosses a glacier stream, then the trail passes through some landslide areas than reaches a place called Surki khola. There are some cottage houses. The trail crosss through the pine forest and you can see the peak of Lamjung above the Marsyangdi and reach a beautiful village with the cottage houses made of wood. We continue through the fields, over a clear stream past houses and more fields interspersed with rhododendron and oak forest.

She listened to me again like an obedient child. I look in to her staring eyes. They were contemplating.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.                                                                                                
She blushed to realize that she had been staring. “I am very happy! Happy that I took this journey. Happy that I have your company. I feel the mountain has amazing energy. It has taught me to endure. I keeps me calm. I feel so well now. I am gaining more self-esteem."


Day 13

Bhimtang to Dharapani. The trail passes through the wide road and then we pass through some landslide areas. After an hour of walk, we see the range of Lamjung Himal and the trail descends down and we cross a suspension bridge. We pass through some more Mani walls and pass through a secondary school and a health post before reaching Dharapani. There is  Annapurna comservation checkpost. Now we are in an apple pie trail as it is the 4th day of the famous Annapurna circuit trail in reverse.

We had magnificent view of mountain from various points. After every ups and down, the scenarios would flip. She would forget all the tiredness in every viewpoints. The beautiful white snow-capped mountains that shine in sunny day under the blue sky would reflect in her sweet smile. It was the 13th day of our trek. The next day we would be heading to kathmandu.
Day 14

 Dharapani to ktm/continue to annapurna circuit. We can find a jeep to Besisahar which will take 5hrs and a bus to kathmandu from Besisahar.

That evening was my last day with Christine. She was even more elated. She assured me that one day she would come back again. 
By the time we arrived Kathmandu it was 9:00 PM- already dark in Kathmandu. From Beshisahar,  the 5 hours long drive extended to 9 hours due to traffic. We were both worn out. I suggested her to have dinner in the Hotel restaurant that night. After briefing about her departure time I passed her car number for International departure. She would be flying at around 9:20 AM. 
After the hotel check in formality, I gestured her to follow the Bell Boy. 
I wanted to give her a big hug and wish for goodness ahead in life. But, before that I had said good night and I was heading to the car. For me, I was scheduled to meet my next client the following day in the morning at Kathmandu airport for trekking to Everest Base Camp. The tour operator in my office wanted me to be quick to receive guest details and budget for the next trip.

After two weeks, I returned from EBC Trek. That night, I was checking my facebook updates. There was a dozen of notification and few friend request. I clicked the friend request. There was Christine. I added her promptly. I saw she had posted several Pictures of me and mountain.

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