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Hiking in Himalayas with Nabinji

Narrative and photography by Ravi Shankar

Mountain views, Langtang

The Sun had already set behind the hills. Dark clouds were gathering all around us. We could see occasional flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. The trail was getting difficult to see and was rough and slippery. The forest was dark. It started raining. Our only option was to continue till we came across a lodge. Eventually, we reached a clearing and a lodge by the trailside. The room was fine but the toilets were not in good shape. Trekking articles about Nepal always talk about toileting. Over the years we have got used to comfortable and hygienic toilets and want our time spent there to be as pleasant as possible.

Cellular services were now available. The night was peaceful, and we got up early the next morning. We set out early the next morning as we had a long way to hike. Our target was to reach the settlement of Tiwari and walk to the road head at Syarubesi, the following morning. The hike was long, and it was only after sunset that we reached the Bob Marley guest house at Tiwari. The last part of the hike was along the newly constructed road. The guest house is colourful and located on the banks of the Langtang River. The lodge is well designed but may be past its days of glory. A variety of factors ranging from new road heads, alternative trails, and different trekking groups can make a lodge less popular and lodge owners usually cannot do much about it.

Nabin Ban (Nabinji) is our all-purpose man at Kathmandu Medical College in Lalitpur and has been with the institution from the very beginning. He is a musician, videographer, farmer, craftsman, and small businessman. He is from Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu valley, and his village is on the way to the tourist resort of Nagarkot. He farms his land and raises chickens and breeds dogs and other animals. He is a resourceful and kind person and very useful in an emergency. I was back in Nepal after a long gap and was doing the Langtang trek, the nearest trek to Kathmandu which puts you among the snow-covered mountains.

The 2015 earthquake had hit this region hard and the old Langtang village was still buried under the rubble. We stayed in newly built lodges in the village. The views of the Himalayas were spectacular. I was finding the going difficult. The trail was rough, and I was carrying my winter gear and other necessities. Nepalese usually trek lighter and manage with the clothes they have on them. A large group of Nabin’s classmates were also hiking and planning to visit Gosainkund, the holy lake.

Nabin loved to travel and had hiked in various regions of Nepal. In the less touristy areas, the trails are rougher and the accommodation more basic. Nearly a decade ago we had hiked in the Gauri Shankar region. This trekking region was newly developed and had community lodges built in different villages. Each lodge would also serve as a gathering place for the villagers and had a local store. Dr David Wells, a chiropractor and applied kinesiologist from Singapore accompanied us on our trek.

We took the local bus to the village of Barabhise and started climbing and our first night was in the village of Karthali. The community lodge is situated among smiling mustard fields. Each lodge is built along similar lines. They have a store, a kitchen and dining room on the ground floor, and three bedrooms with bunk beds on the first. There is a balcony on the first floor. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown around the lodge. Karthali is in the gently sloping mid-hills. The next day we climbed steadily to the lodge at Dolangsa, a Sherpa village. The mountainous terrain has both blessed and disadvantaged Nepal. The crinkled landscape ensures a much bigger surface area for the country. There are several hills of around 5000 m in height. People who follow Hinduism stay at the lower elevations in caste-based villages while people of Tibetan descent reside higher up the hill.

From Dolangsa it is a steep and difficult climb to the Thingsang pass. The forests looked dark and menacing and prayer flags and stones were everywhere. David mentioned that he could sense evil vibrations and the shrines were to protect the valley from evil forces. The path eventually reaches flatter grasslands dotted with ponds. It often rains here. The Hindu shrine of Kalinchowk is nearby. On a clear day from the pass, the Gaurishankar and Rolwaling massif can be seen in the distance.

The descent to the settlement of Bigu is long and you descend through a hillside charred by a forest fire. The community lodge at Bigu painted a dark orange is my favourite. The didi[1] at the lodge prepares delicious food and I enjoy having pooris and aloo sabzi[2]for breakfast. The settlement is dominated by the Bigu gompa[3]. Most visitors start their day with a trip to the gompa and attend the morning prayers. The gompa is huge and has an interesting history. After the devastating 1934 earthquake, a Drukpa lama along with the headman of Bigu constructed the monastery. There is a huge population of nuns in residence. The nuns had played an important role in the construction of the monastery and were said to be engaged in long-term silent meditation retreats in caves high up the mountain.

Gompas at Bigu

After a heavy breakfast, we set off to the Chettri[4] village of Loting. The lodge is surrounded by fields and is in the middle of the village. Nabin and David were engrossed in playing Baghchal, a Nepalese board game. The lodge has good views of the settlements on the surrounding hill across the river. Laduk is a large village, and the lodge is next to the village school. David was attracting a lot of attention from the village children. We passed through the old farmhouses of Bulung and the settlement of Orang. The sky was cloudy, and it started raining. Just below the lodge were the fields and a farmer was carrying a huge plough on his shoulder. The clouds parted and we had a clear and spectacular view of Gaurishankar. A young lady studying in Kathmandu had come home for the Dusshera holidays and efficiently took care of us.   

   

Sunrise

Singati at 1100 m is the headquarters of the Eco Himal project and a major local centre. Red flags were everywhere, and I later read that the area was an important base of the Maoists during the civil war. With increasing access to information and travel people are becoming aware of the world beyond their villages. They become better informed and unhappy with their lot. There has been a population explosion in the hills and most young people are unwilling to till the land and live the meagre life of their parents and grandparents. There was a landslide on the road to Charikot, and the road was not passable to buses.    

We stayed in a hotel and took a jeep to Charikot the next morning. From there we took an extremely crowded bus to Kathmandu. Many were returning to the city after the Dashain celebrations. Trekking with Nabin is always fun. He is adaptable, resourceful, and enterprising. He has travel in his blood and music in his soul. I look forward to more journeys with Nabinji!    

 

Nabinji (in sunglasses) & the author

[1] Elder sister literally but here used as a term of respect

[2] Potato curry

[3] Buddhist religious building

[4] The Kshatriya caste or warrior clan

Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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