It was the month of February. The pandemic was already in the air, just that we didn’t know much about it. The world at large wasn’t much affected till then. I received a call from a friend who informed that he had taken a sabbatical and planned to go to his hometown in Kalimpong. And, that he wanted to spend some time travelling in the North East. Back then neither he nor I had any idea that God had other plans and his sabbatical would not serve its due purpose. Before leaving Bangalore, he wished to go for a day hike somewhere in the outskirts of the city.
The following weekend, we were on our way towards Achalu Betta. Another friend had joined in and so it was the three of us. Achalu Betta, also known as Muneshwarana Betta, is a small hillock located in a sleepy village known as Achalu (‘Betta’ is a Kannada word meaning Hill). Just about 57 Km from Bangalore, this village has a temple that’s situated on the hilltop. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muneshwara, a form of Lord Shiva.
Once we reached the village, it took us a little while to figure out the way up the hill. We could see a portion of the temple and a set of stairs going up but we had no intention of taking the stairs. There were not many people around to ask for help and not knowing the local language was another handicap. After a little deliberation, we did manage to find a trail that would take us up. A little more than an hour and we were up after a steady climb of about 3Km. The sun was shining bright making it a little tiring but the lovely panoramic view of the surroundings terrain more than made up for it. Also, there was nobody other than the three of us. It couldn’t have been better.
After a quick lunch somewhere in a roadside eatery, we went towards Muthathi, a settlement located about 100 Km. from Bangalore. Muthathi is situated on the banks of River Cauvery and remains surrounded by a dense forest, which is part of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. As the car speeded towards the sanctuary, the surroundings gave way to a fresh and verdant green. Tall trees of various kinds lined up both sides of the road against a backdrop of low lying green hills. Needless to say that it was an enthralling drive with dense jungle on both sides of a neat and well-paved straight road.
But the peace and tranquility of this stretch didn’t last very long. Soon we reached the riverfront only to encounter a chaotic situation. Hordes of people were all over the place cooking, eating, and merry making. They looked like people from the nearby areas. Though there were families and children, the crowd didn’t feel very decent. Feeling awkward and out of place, we left the place. We got to know only later that it was a festival day for the local people.
A little ahead, we found a quiet place by the river. Excited, we parked the car and headed out to the river. Locating a nice spot, we opened our shoes, dipped out feet into the cool and soothing river water. In less than 10 min, a forest guard appeared from nowhere asking us to leave immediately. Apparently people are allowed only in the picnic spot that we had just left behind. Our attempts to convince him went in vain and we had to leave.
Further ahead we located a place that looked like a government guest house. Eager to spend more time in the river, my friend promptly went in to seek permission. He was told prior booking was mandatory. However, a little bit of convincing worked in this case and they allowed us to spend time beside the river though it was chargeable.
Once again, it was just the three of us. We had the soft flowing Cauvery just to ourselves. We spent a leisurely afternoon. While I chose a flat rock and sat there dipping my feet, both my friends swam around in the water. The afternoon slipped by as tiny fishes nibbled at my toes and soles. Evening descended sooner than we thought and it was time to leave for Bangalore.
The noisy bunch of over-enthusiastic friends from Poland that we kept bumping into at every tea house, quite a botheration they were! The huge group of nearly 50 people we crossed twice on the way and had to step aside to let them pass. The warm smiles of the two Japanese girls we often found sitting around the bends taking a tea break, every time we eyed their beautiful flasks. The two German men we ran into every now and then until they decided to introduce themselves, leading to small conversations each time we met. The petite Chinese girl who was perennially rushing but never missed talking to us – in her own language while we replied in English, we communicated without understanding. The two Korean girls with whom we shared a room at the base camp, who spoke English enabling some interesting conversations.
These are some of the people from different parts of the world we met during our ABC Trek, last year in October. I clearly remember so many of those faces, some leaving impressions deeper than the others. I wonder how all those people may be coping with the Covid-19 situation. I wonder if everything is fine with them. There is no way I will ever know.
A big aspect of travel for me has always been the people I get to meet and connect with. Of the several people I met during the ABC Trek, the following need special mention.
“Does that look like a baby carrier basket?”, I asked my sister. Curiosity had me striding a little faster. The basket looked fancy and the man carrying it, dressed in typical trekker attire. So, wouldn’t be a local. It was the second day of our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek and we were climbing through one of the steeper sections of the trail when I saw this man several feet ahead of us. As I drew closer, my doubts gave way to confirmation. It was indeed a baby carrier! The man was carrying his 3-year old daughter as he trudged towards the mighty eight-thousander. He was with his wife and three children aged, 12, 7, and 3. The family had traveled all the way from Shanghai.
Trekking with a 3-year old in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Things like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), sudden weather changes, are for real. Well, I am sure they would have thought through all of that and were well prepared. They did, however, gather quite a bit of attention all the way. Every other trekker seemed to be talking about them and as one would expect everyone had some opinion or the other. While some hailed them for being brave others thought they were being irresponsible. I was too stunned to have any opinion. We met the family at several junctions during the trek and each time I envied the fun they were having and all the memories they were creating together.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The septuagenarian trekkers reiterated Mark Twain. Janette and Joe caught our attention on the trail one day. The cute couple was sitting on a rock and taking a break while munching on chocolates. Later, we caught up with them at the two tea houses where we stayed together. They were well into their 70s, had come all the way from the USA, and were trekking in the high altitude of the Himalayas for the very first time. Their agility, enthusiasm, and zest for life was infectious. They could easily give all youngsters a run for their money.
Then we met John, who was also from the USA and was traveling with his wife (a septuagenarian too) along with a group of family and friends. John proudly announced that he was “Seventy plus Four years old”. People like John, Janette, and Joe are astoundingly inspirational. They go on to prove that trekking and hiking has a lot to do with mental strength, which is just as important as physical strength.
When I interacted with these elderly people, I couldn’t help but think about my parents, especially my father who belongs to the same age group. I am certain they would have loved to do something like this, but it’s simply inconceivable for them. In fact, I haven’t seen many Indians in that age group trekking or hiking.
However, one thing I know for sure – if I am to live up to a 70 and beyond, I’d better be someone like Janette!
It was nearly dinner time and we were all set to hit the streets once again. We couldn’t wait to explore all the restaurants and cafes that we had seen earlier. If you have been to Pokhara, in Nepal, you will know exactly what I mean. As we stepped out of our room, I heard my sister say, “I miss Amar!”. Amar had dropped us at Pokhara that afternoon and left for Kathmandu. We had really gotten used to Amar and this statement was repeated multiple times in overt and covert ways over the next 2-3 days, till we left Nepal.
Missing Amar happened out of blue this morning, once again. We wondered if all was okay with him and his family during this global Covid 19 pandemic. We googled to find out how Nepal was coping with the pandemic. Amar’s phone didn’t connect. So, we left a message in his boss’ mobile, who got back letting us know all was good and Amar had left for his village before the outbreak.
ABC Trek has a well-marked trail and the risks of losing your way or getting stranded somewhere with no help is minimal. The tea houses along the way make it even easier as you don’t need to put up in tents. This trek can be easily done by yourself and you don’t need a guide. Also, trekking in Nepal is very organized and the experience is very different from treks in India.
However, I chose to go with a guide for two primary reasons – First and foremost having a local guide means you are exposed to the local culture through fascinating stories and folklore, which you otherwise never get to know. Second, is related to logistics as the guide helps carry the backpack and you can trek with a smaller day bag; takes care of tea house bookings, which can be tough during peak seasons. Also, it’s a way of contributing to the local economy.
There are numerous trekking agencies in Nepal and selecting the right one can be quite a task. I decided to go with Nepal Alternative Treks & Expeditions (P.)Ltd, a trekking agency recommended by fellow blogger, Indranil Chatterjee – do check out his blog Break Shackles. In fact, I did no research and did not even try to look for other options. The reason being, Indranil had trekked ABC the year before along with his 8-year old daughter. His posts fascinated me as trekking with your child in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Hence, I looked no further. My job became easier.
Through Indranil, I connected with Tej Bahadur and planned my trip. When Tej introduced us to Amar in Kathmandu, we were pleasantly surprised as he looked too polished to be a trek leader. His attire and appearance gave the impression of a regular office-goer than a trek guide. Well, looks can be deceiving and that’s what was happening. Amar was like our little genie, taking care of us and always fulfilling our wishes and desires. Amar’s unparallel hospitality often left us feeling uncomfortable, we aren’t always used to someone being at our disposal. At every step he treated us like his personal guests.
A perfect gentleman, Amar holds a Post Graduate degree in Mathematics from Kathmandu University. He was planning to start working on his PhD soon. That first appearance wasn’t all that deceiving, you see! Amar belongs to the mountains and trekking runs in his genes. It was because of Amar that our ABC Trek experience became so much more enriched and memorable.
There had been no more rains since last evening and clear blue skies greeted us in the morning. The Sun was shining up in the mountain tops but was yet to reach the valley, where Bamboo, our tea house, was located. As a result, it was cold at Bamboo.
Through the Bamboo Forest
After breakfast, we started off for the day. The walk through the forest continued. This time, it was a dense and damp forest dominated by Bamboo trees. The Bamboo Forest was even more beautiful and enigmatic than the forest we had walked the day before. Not surprising, I found myself completely lost in a world of my own.
The trees and shrubs, the bushes and creepers, the roots and leaves all seemed to be interacting with me as though telling me unknown tales of their mysterious wonderland. Each and every leaf exuded radiance, shimmering in the morning freshness. The renewed sparkle can be well attributed to the rains that had happened the day before. “Don’t they seem to have just stepped out of a beauty parlour, massaged and manicured with some essential oils,” I remarked. My sister gave me a scornful look, rolled her eyes, and walked on.
Dovan to Himalaya
Enjoying every bit of the walk we leisurely reached Dovan, the next tea house where clear views of Macharepuchare peak greeted us. We took 2.5 hours instead of the expected 1.5 hour to get here. Thanks to our frequent stops in the forest to admire the flowers, caress tree trunks, marvel at the leaves of various shapes and sized, inspect the moss-covered boulders, etc. What’s the hurry! Somewhere we even crossed a stream through a rickety broken bridge.
The forest continued beyond Dovan and soon we hit upon a relatively wide footpath that can be well described as the rustic version of a cobblestone pathway. At the start of the pathway a notice was displayed with clear information about maintaining the sanctity of the place as a highly revered temple lay ahead in the forest. Soon, we landed at the temple. It was a Shiva and Parvati temple. A tall jagged mountain stood behind the temple adorned by a cascading waterfall that spread across the breadth of the mountain.
Beyond the temple was a steep set of stairs that continued all the way almost upto Himalaya, the next tea house. The stairs were well defined at the beginning only to be replaced by rustic boulders later. At Himalaya, we took a tea break. Dark clouds filled in the sky and it started drizzling. We slipped into our rain jackets and continued walking.
Gray Langurs at Hinku Cave
The climb continued after Himalaya but the forest started slowly thinning out. Multiple waterfalls strewn here and there from the mountain tops drained vertically down into Modi Khola that thundered somewhere in the deep gorges. In some places the trail was very narrow and we had to be cautious with our footing. In all such ascends, I would mostly be alone as my sister walked slowly way behind with Amar, our guide.
After sometime, a short but very steep climb got us face-to-face with a huge overhanging rock. This was Hinku Cave. All over this huge rock, were a large number of Gray Langurs – young and old, babies and families. We paused for a while to watch the over-energetic playful bunch hopping around before continuing our walk towards Deurali.
Surrounded by Waterfalls at Deurali
Soon we spotted the tiny blue tinned roofs of the tea houses in the far distance. Finally, Deorali was in sight though it was still quite a walk away. Simultaneously, Modi Khola made its grand appearance gushing away in leaps and bounds through the gorge. After a while we crossed a bridge and yet another set of steep stairs stared at us that would take us up to Deurali – our stop for the day at 3230 m.
We reached Deurali in the afternoon. The sun was shining bright when we arrived, but it lasted just for 10-15 min. No complaints, as it was enough to dry our partially wet clothes. There were several waterfalls all around us – in the valley in front and the tall mountain behind. We couldn’t enjoy the view for long as thick fog descended and progressively it got very cold. However, the evening sky was kind enough to put on a show of some gorgeous display of colours breaking the monotony of the drab foggy afternoon. A peak in the surrounding mountain resembled Lord Buddha’s face and we got to see that only the following morning, all thanks to the fog.
Her Very Own Flower Garden
As we left Deurali, we stepped into a valley guarded by tall mountains on both sides. The morning was cold, and the sun was yet to reach the valley. We passed through few easy ascents and descents through the rugged trail with Macharepuchare staring at us from the right. The familiar fish-tail shape was missing and I could not recognize the peak until Amar pointed it out.
After a while a picturesque sight greeted us. The snow-clad Gangapurna made an appearance at the horizon glowing with the first rays of the sun even as the valley still remained in shadow.
Gradually, the valley opened up and we walked through a flat stretch of winding trail as Modi Khola gushed away right beside us. After the forest, I fell in love with this section of the trail. The entire area was carpeted with multitudes of unique flowering plants. The bushes on either side were sprinkled with yellows and purples and whites and reds. Every few steps we were compelled to halt, not just for admiring the colours but the shapes and structures of the flowers. This place felt like Mt. Annapurna’s personal patio, a place she personally nurtured. No other explanation seemed plausible enough to justify such divine beauty.
Face-to-Face with Macharepuchare
A relatively steep trail started soon after the flower garden. After about an hour or so, we reached the Macharepuchare Base Camp (MBC), at an elevation of 3,700 m. It was a bright and sunny day. The sky was azure blue but some frivolous floating clouds appeared from nowhere and decided to spoil the show. On one side was the pointed-tipped Macharepuchare and on the other side Annapurna South. The clouds flirted with the both the mountains leaving us high and dry with only occasional glimpses. After a cup of tea, we headed towards our final destination – ABC.
Towards Annapurna Base Camp
As we started climbing up towards ABC, the floating clouds got thicker. The blue sky disappeared and everything around us was completely white-washed. A strong wind started blowing and it was getting really cold. Slowly and steadily we climbed up the winding pathway greeted by meadows, flowers, glacial streams. We could see only our immediate surroundings, the thick white blanket allowed no more.
It was no different even an hour and half later when we arrived at Annapurna Base Camp. We could see nothing at all, which was disappointing to say the least. And, we all know how adamant clouds can be in the mountains when they arrive in the later half of the day. We made peace, oblivious of the miracle that would unfold a little while later.
The grandeur of Annapurna Massif makes Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek one of the most sought after Himalayan treks. This moderate level trek entails a stunning journey bringing you face to face with the majestic Annapurna Massif in a very short span of time. The Annapurna massif includes the world’s 10th highest peak, Annapurna-I or Annapurna main. At 8091 m., the unforgiving Annapurna-I has the highest fatality ratio among the 8000 m. peaks across the world. It also holds the distinction of the first eight-thousander to have been scaled. The other peaks are in the range of 6000-7000 m. and consist of Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Machhapuchchhre, Gangapurna, and a few others.
Among these, Machapuchare or the ‘Fish-tailed Mountain’ holds a special place because of its unique shape and exquisite beauty. It is believed to be one of the homes of Lord Shiva and is revered by the Nepali people. Also known as Matterhorn of Nepal, the sacred Machapuchare has not been officially summited as it is not permitted by the Nepal Government.
My interest of trekking ABC finally culminated this October. I have already written a post on my soul-touching experience of the magnificent peaks at ABC. Click here to read.
Here’s a detailed account of my journey.
The Bumpy Jeep Ride to Nayapul
Tossed and turned and churned I tried my best to focus on the greenery all around me. Travelling on a bumpy off-road in the back seat of a Tata Sumo is not the most comfortable experience, if you know what I mean.
The bumpy muddy road did everything to make sure that a part of my attention remained on it even as my mind and heart was captivated by the surroundings. Winding roads snaking through tall green hills and deep valleys, clusters of tiny colourful houses nestled erratically on the green slopes, quaint tea houses intermittently scattered alongside the dusty road, sporadic areas of lush green pastures separating the road from the hills, terraced cultivation here and there up in the hill slopes, the meandering Modi Khola (Khola means river in Nepali) playfully appearing and disappearing, sudden gushing waterfalls cascading from nowhere making a noisy pool of water on the road before flowing off on the other side.
We were on our way from Pokhara to Nayapul, about 43 Km. away, to start our trek to ABC. The road from Pokhara is paved until Ulleri after which it’s just a dusty track that seems unfit for any vehicle. From Ulleri, one can take various routes to arrive at the village of Chomrong, beyond which the route is common upto ABC. The route is decided mostly based on the number of days one has at their disposal. The trek can take between 6-10 days on an average. After Ulleri, it is a common sight to find trekkers walking through the muddy stretch, lugging their small and big backpacks.
Climb to Chomrong via Jhinu
It was a little past noon when we arrived at Nayapul. A quick lunch and we were set to hit the trail. Our destination for the day was the village of Chomrong, via Jhinudanda.
Initially we walked through a near level ground with only negligible ascent and descent. The trail passed through dense vegetation on either side with views of green mountains interspersed with terraced fields and village homes. Soon we reached New Bridge, beyond which is Jhinudanda – commonly called Jhinu. New Bridge is a metallic suspension bridge that runs for nearly a kilometer. I normally don’t suffer from vertigo but on this bridge I found myself feeling a little unsteady each time I looked down. The fact that it vibrated with the number of people walking on it didn’t make things any easier and I tried my best to cross over as fast as I could. On the other side of the bridge, a flight of stairs greeted us that took us to Jhinu.
We didn’t take a break at Jhinu and continued towards Chomrong, little knowing that the entire trail constituted of rustic stone steps. Soon after, my sister started complaining of indigestion and feeling unwell. We rested for a while, she took some medicines and we continued. My sister was very slow and I was finding it difficult to keep going at her pace.
Day-1 in any trek is usually tougher as the body is still getting used to the new situation, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. Our guide, Amar, was with her and hence I continued walking ahead. Very soon I was way ahead and couldn’t see them.
After a while, dark clouds came in and it started drizzling. I had forgotten to keep my raincoat in my day-pack. It remained in my main bag, which was with Amar. The rains intensified. I tried to take shelter underneath a huge rock but the rains splashed me anyway. This rock was on a turning and I couldn’t see beyond. Realizing it was no point waiting, I decided to keep walking ahead. Just a few steps ahead, I could see a small restaurant. And, luckily enough that turned out to be the starting point of Chomrong village – our destination for the day at 2700 m. I waited here for Amar and my sister. By the time they arrived, the rains had stopped. We climbed a few more stairs and soon landed at the tea house that was booked for us.
The rains resumed in the evening and it continued pouring off and on. The snow peaked Annapurna Range remained shrouded by fleeting white clouds. As I went to bed that night, I thought to myself it would be a good idea to be up around midnight when the clouds would most likely clear up and the mountains would be visible. However, I slept through and when I woke up it was well past midnight. The first thing I did was to lift the window curtains and peek outside. And Ah! There it was – the glamorous snow laden peaks as though eagerly waiting to greet the dawn. I looked at my watch. It was 4.00 AM. I could easily distinguish the triangular Macharepuchare but wasn’t sure of the other peaks. It was not until breakfast that Amar helped identify the other peaks as Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, and Gangapurna.
Into the Forest towards Bamboo
Our trek for the day started by climbing down a series of steps that seemed to continue forever. We learned it was a series of 2500 steps and along with that knowledge came the not-so-comforting thought that we would have to climb up the same on our way back. The entire ABC trail is like a roller coaster ride, all you do it go up and go down with only very few level walks. Somewhere we crossed the office of Annapurna Conservation Area Project where our permits were checked. Thereafter, we passed through trails overlooking terraced fields, crossed over another hanging suspension bridge over a deep valley, and climbed through some uneven rustic stone steps as we headed towards Tilche and then Sinuwa – Lower Sinuwa and Upper Sinuwa, the last village enroute ABC. Annapurna-III was visible from some places while Machapuchare kept us company all through.
After taking a break at Upper Sinuwa, we moved towards our last stop for the day, Bamboo. The trail started with a thick forest dominated by tall Oaks. There were Rhododendron, Bamboo, and few other trees as well.
Forest trails are my eternal favourites, where I always find my imagination running wild. The trees and the bushes seem invitingly mysterious as though dozens of invisible eyes are scrutinizing my every move. And, I walk along building my own fantasy world of fairies and witches. Sometimes I blend in and feel one with them, at other times I feel I am encroaching upon their secret and sacred territory. Complementing the overall forest charm was the gurgling sound of Modi Khola flowing alongside that could only be heard but not seen and the twittering birds, calling out occasionally in a variety of melodious tunes. All of these were interrupted by one large and several small waterfall.
A steep descent for about 30 minutes, somewhere in the forest and we reached Bamboo at 2,145 m., after covering a distance of about 8 Km. from Chomrong. Almost immediately the rains started and we were thankful for arriving just in time.
Bamboo was bustling with trekkers it being peak season for ABC trek. We got to know there was no space for us, even the benches in the dining room were taken. Amar made a quick call to Dovan, the next tea house about an hour and a half away. That was fully occupied too. Amar recommended we have our lunch while he figures a way out. After waiting for close to 2 hours, Amar informed that he had finally managed a room, much to our relief. He had struck a deal with one of the tea house owners who agreed to give us his personal room. I have no idea where Amar or the tea house owner slept for the night. My repeated probing with Amar yielded no results.
By dinner the rains had stopped and the skies were clear. As expected, we woke up to a bright and sunny day.
Just two more days to go and the discomfort in my body with the fever and its associated symptoms were still going strong. The frantic visits to the doctor, the dengue scare, concerns from friends and family were making me nervous and adding to my stress. On D-day, I just took the leap of faith, trusted the doctor’s words and went ahead with my flight to Nepal. I was still unwell and here I was off to Annapurna Base Camp, on a trek to see the mighty Annapurna massif constituting some of the most dangerous peaks in the world.
I made a deal with myself. I am not going to push myself, if my health doesn’t permit at any point of time, I would just retrace my path. At least I am getting to visit Nepal, a place I hadn’t been to before. And, most importantly I wasn’t alone, my sister was with me. With all that uncertainty, and the Nepal Airlines flight being delayed by 5 hours, we reached Kathmandu at 1.00 AM. And, with a bus to catch at 7 AM there was hardly any time to rest.
However, as my mom had predicted, by the time I boarded the bus for Pokhara I had forgotten that I was ill.
In the following days we walked through scenic villages experiencing the local culture, through deep green valleys, and dense and damp jungles with the various peaks of Annapurna playing hide and seek till we reached our destination – Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).
It was the time of Durga Puja, the most important festival time for Bengalis. Five days of festivities to celebrate the Goddess’ arrival on earth (her paternal home) along with her children. On the 3rd day of Puja – Mahasthami, considered to be the most important of the five days, we arrived at ABC. Ideally, I should have been home with my near and dear ones celebrating the Mother Divine. Yet, I was far away from home, in the lap of the Himalayas. However, I did celebrate Mother Divine in the form of Annapurna – the Goddess of Harvest, who is just another form of Ma Durga.
When we reached ABC, late in the afternoon, we could see nothing. Everything was whitewashed by a thick layer of fog that lay between us and the mountains. We knew the mountains were just behind the thick white curtain but we saw nothing at all.
Was there any chance of the cloud clearing later on? “No”, said our guide, “Not until tomorrow morning.” We made peace, had lunch and headed to the viewpoint nevertheless, which was just a 5 min walk from the tea house. It was quite cold and nothing was visible with the clouds still forming a barrier between us and the mountains. We walked around marveling at the various memory stones and plaques commemorating fatalities of the climbers.
The mighty Annapurna massif has some of the most dangerous peaks in the world. Annapurna – I stands at an elevation of 8,091 m (26,545 ft) and is the 10th highest peak in the world. This unforgiving mountain also carries the legacy of the first eight-thousander peak to have been scaled.
I looked at my watch and it was a little after 4.30 PM. With the cold getting worse, there were only very few people at the viewpoint. My sister and I decided to sit quietly with our eyes closed for a while and then leave.
After 15-20 min., we opened our eyes and were stunned by what we saw. The clouds had moved, the sky was blue, and the 360 degree panoramic view had miraculously opened up. This was unbelievable. We hadn’t expected this at all. Dumbfounded, we found ourselves desperately looking all around – what if the clouds decided to come back!
The peaks around us constituted Annapurna-I, Annapurna South, Annapurna-III, Machhapuchchhre, Hiunchuli, Peak 10, Gangapurna. The view remained for a good 20 mins before the clouds started taking their positions once again. The mountains seemed so close that I felt I could touch them if I extended my arm.
At night, just after dinner, the sky was clear studded with millions of stars. The moon was bright with full moon just a few days away. The mountains glittered in the soft iridescent rays of the moon. The view was nothing but ethereal. Never had I seen such tall mountains from such close quarters lit up by the moonlight. It was one of those times when I missed having a camera. My mobile phone could not capture a thing.
We didn’t stay out for long though as it was extremely cold and we wanted to get to bed early in order to wake up early for sunrise on the mountain. Assured of having a great view the next morning with the sky being clear, we went off to a blissful sleep for the night.
Sunrise was just as gorgeous as I had expected. The peaks of Annapurna-I and Annapurna South looked like molten gold. It was magical. The Sun seemed to be waking up with utmost delight, putting up a show of painting the peaks for all the curious onlookers. The peaks seemed to be indulging the Sun like a mother reveling in her child’s playful activities. No words can do justice to the breathtaking view. The moment lasted for 6-7 mins and this was one of the most beautiful sights I have witnessed in my life so far.
All along I found myself profoundly thanking the majestic Annapurna for all the divinity I was experiencing.
Our initial excitement of traveling in the yellow-coloured shared Tata Sumo was now replaced by impatience. It’s been an hour since we boarded and the driver was waiting for 9 more passengers. Having seen these typical yellow Sumos from early childhood, it felt somewhat surreal to be seated in one. Another 30 min passed by and no other passengers arrived. These Sumos pack 12 people in one go and are the primary mode of commute to Shillong for villages located in the outskirts.
I was with my sister and we were off to Mawlyngbna. It was a Saturday and we had made the plan just 2 hours back. We were already late and could wait no longer, so we decided to pay for the rest of the 9 people and asked the driver to start – Rs. 100 per person it was.
At about 75 Km. from Shillong, Mawlyngbna is a scenic village in East Khasi hills, nestled atop a hill overlooking the Bangladesh plains. It shares space on the hill with three other villages – Lawbha, Mawtepiew, and Umtyllun. Locals say Mawlyngbna is a rain-blessed village. Not surprising. It’s just 15 Km. away from Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth. Besides waterfalls and natural springs, this village is home to the endangered unique predaceous pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana). Most importantly, Mawlyngbna occupies a coveted place on the geological map because of remarkable fossil imprints.
Pic 2: Pitchers of Pitcher Plant
Pic 3: A Pitcher with the lid closed
We arrived in the village at around 2.00 PM in the afternoon after an amazing drive through lush green bountiful hills which played hide and seek with the clouds that sometimes appeared from nowhere whitewashing everything all around us. There’s a lot for one to do at Mawlyngbna – trekking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and so on.
Here’s an account of what we did at Mawlyngbna accompanied by our guide, Chest Pdah.
Trekking to Waterfall
Um Diengkain and Ar Phalat are the two waterfall treks we did at Mawlyngbna. I have written an elaborate post on the two and will not get into the details once again. You can read it here.
We had started our Mawlyngbna trip with Um Diengkain waterfall, where my sister had a slip and hurt her arm. It didn’t seem to be too bad at that time but eventually it limited our experiences to a very large extent as we had to curtail our original plan.
Walking up to Bangladesh Viewpoint
It was around 4.30 PM when we were back from Um Diengkain. It was too late to trek Ar Phalat, so we settled down for some sha dood (milk tea) and jingbum (snacks) at a Kong Shop in the village square. Thereafter, we took off on a village stroll. A large field where young boys were practicing football, a bunch of playful children laughing and giggling just outside a village home, a few cows and goats here and there, a local bus loaded with people going to the next village – some things that I recall now.
Somewhere up in the hill we noticed a place that looked like a viewpoint. We called up Chest and asked him to take us to the viewpoint as we weren’t able to figure out the route. Chest was himself unsure and took us up the hill through sections of leech-infested grasses that were as tall as us. Finally, we landed on a moss-covered pathway that led upto the viewpoint. Surprising that the viewpoint was built but not used even though it had fantastic views of the village and Bangladesh plains.
Trekking at Split Rock that Didn’t Happen
We spent a lot of time sitting at the roundish and flattish comfortable rocks around Umseiniong River on way to Ar Phalat waterfall. My sister’s arm pain had worsened the night before and we decided to take it easy. The situation also led to my cousin sister and brother-in-law (BIL) coming over to Mawlyngbna all the way from Shillong to pick us up. As we waited for them, there was no better way to spend time than at the quietude of Umseiniong River with nature as our only companion. However, after about an hour we realized that we had some more time before they arrived. My sister started feeling better too – the Khasi traditional massage oil had done its trick.
We decided to go and visit a place called Split Rock, which was located at Mawsiangjroi, a few kilometers away from the village. And, off we went hiring a local taxi.
Split Rock turned out to be unique and extraordinary. It’s a huge rock split into two from top to bottom. So, two flat rocks sat parallel to each other separated by about 2 meters. The two rocks are as high as a 4-storied building. One can trek through the narrow passage between the two rocks that leads to a very narrow cave.
We maneuvered our way through rocks and boulders towards the narrow passage and landed at a place where we had to climb down a ladder. The ladder was slippery due to the rains that had been happening during that week. Climbing down didn’t seem like a great idea and we decided to give it a miss.
Pic 12: Precariously passing through huge boulders towards the base of the Split Rock
Pic 13: The ladder that takes one down to the base of the Split Rock
Besides Split Rock this place had a viewpoint known as Thalaw viewpoint. It’s a picturesque viewpoint with greens of all shades, clouds floating down, and the Thalaw village perched somewhere in the hills amidst the greenery.
Umakhakoi is located somewhere near Split Rock. However, BIL and cousin sister had arrived at the village by then. We went back to the village and came back to Split Rock and Umakhakoi with them. The multiple bowl-shaped holes at Umakhakoi fascinated us much more than the lake itself. An unending stretch with numerous water-filled holes greeted us as soon as we entered the area.
Google says this type of geological features are called ‘Potholes’. The formation of these are associated with the flowing of water over an uneven surface of limestone for prolonged periods. As the water percolates inside tapered sections, the centrifugal force of water leads to the formation of these natural sink-holes. Kayaking and Canoeing are common activities at Umakhakoi. However, we indulged in none.
And, here’s an account of what we missed at Mawlyngbna and why we need to go again.
Ka Iew Luri-Lura
We missed the most significant aspect of Mawlyngbna – the fossils embedded in the boulders, remnants of a time when the entire area was under sea. The fossil trek through jungles, streams, and waterfall leads to a place called Ka Iew Luri-Lura. This place has rock impressions that resemble animal footprints. Khasi folklore has that these footprints are from a time when animals could talk and they would come to this place to trade with each other and with fellow human beings.
Mawlyngbna has fascinating lime stone caves where stalactites and stalagmites abound. However, the caves can be visited only during winters.
Other activities at Mawlyngbna includes ziplining, snorkeling, and angling. One can also indulge in midnight football matches under full moon, which takes place in the village sometimes. Then there are amazing river treks for the Adrenalin Junkies. One can also experience the local culture, depending on the time of visit. The community holds local dances and displays their handicrafts at a certain time of the year.
An interesting thing that I got to know was that the liquid inside some of the pitcher plants is edible, one needs to select young pitchers and those whose mouths are closed by the flap.
Mawlyngbna (pronounced maw-lyn-bana) is a quaint little dreamy village nestled atop a hill overlooking the Bangladesh plains. Located in East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, about 75 Km. from Shillong, this picturesque village is all about adventure activities from trekking to canoeing to kayaking to fishing, and camping.
This post is about our experience of waterfall trekking at the village. A more detailed post on the village will follow soon.
Through the Jungle to Um Diengkain
Passing through a dusty track, we entered a jungle – a dense jungle with huge butterflies of myriad colours, a damp forest floor covered with narrow and broad leaves, tall aged trees with trunks wrapped in layers of moss, multitudes of ferns of various dimensions, and every such thing that you can imagine only in a rain forest. The constant calling of cicadas added to the charm, making it even more enigmatic. After a while, the forest gave way to a semi-barren land that was covered by patches of grass but was devoid of trees.
Soon enough, the sound of the cascading water reached our ears. A few more steps and the waterfall made its elegant appearance. From far it looked like a dainty white sheer curtain amidst the greenery. Approaching closer, we alighted with ample caution through a set of rustic precarious rocks that served as steps to go closer to the waterfall. Up close it looked forceful and was not the least dainty as we presumed. The pool of still water surrounding the waterfall was emerald green where we found locals quietly fishing away. Other than them, there was nobody else. We had the entire waterfall to ourselves.
Our guide, Chest, asked whether we wanted to go closer. That would entail walking through a set of moss-covered slippery stones. Being the cautious adventurer that I am, it wasn’t something I was very keen about. As always, my sister played down my concern and we went ahead. We were so close to the waterfall now that sprays of water landed on us every now and then, drenching us quite a bit.
On our way back, a small glitch happened – my sister slipped on one of the mossy rocks and hurt her arm. It did not seem like too big a thing at that point of time as she was able to move her arms freely. There was an obvious pain but that was manageable. The pain, however, multiplied manifolds later that night. So much so that we were all set to leave Mawlyngbna much before our planned departure.
Upto the Mouth of Ar Phalat
Ever traced the course of a flowing water and landed up to the mouth of a waterfall? Well we just did. I had read about such treks but experienced one for the first time and it was just as exciting as it seemed. We were almost not going for this trek to the mouth of Ar Phalat waterfall as the pain in my sister’s arm had aggravated the night before. It was the traditional Khasi oil massage that came to rescue. In the morning, she was better though the arm still did hurt. After breakfast, we decided to go ahead with the trek. We walked through the lanes and bylanes of the village towards our destination. Chest and I walked ahead while my sister walked slowly trailing way behind us.
Soon we found ourselves walking over moss-covered stones alongside Umseiniong River. One would imagine these rocks to be slippery, but they weren’t. Most of it was dry and didn’t feel very difficult to walk on. Some sections were tricky though and we had to be cautious with our footing. As expected, this trek is possible only during certain months of the year when the water level is low. The mouth of the waterfall was a huge flat rock that just drops to the plains of Bangladesh. There is no way beyond the rock and no option other than to retrace our path. The water from the river was passing down only through one side of this huge rock. During monsoon, the gushing waters would cover the entire surface of the rock.
As we stood at the edge, gazing at the Bangladesh plains, I wondered about the water most likely flowing into River Padma. The water doesn’t change as it flows from one country to another. The flowing water couldn’t care less about the imaginary boundaries we humans have marked out on earth.
With nobody around, it was blissful time with Mother Nature. On our way back we spent a lot of time sitting beside the flowing water as you see in the featured picture.
I was mesmerized by the mystical Himalayas when I had trekked there for the first time. At that time, my knowledge of trekking was limited to just a few blogs that I had read. I had very randomly signed up for the Kedarkantha trek and embarked upon it without any preparation. (Read more about my first trek here).
It was during Kedarkantha trek that I had heard about treks like Rupin, Roopkund, etc. from fellow trekkers who had been to those places. At that time, I had thought that such treks were way beyond my league.
As time progressed and I went for two more subsequent treks to the Himalayas, I found my heart yearning to do something more challenging. Being an ardent nature lover, I reasoned – more the difficulty, more rewarding would be views!
It’s been one year since…
Subsequently, I nervously signed up for the Rupin Pass Trek with doubts filling my mind on whether I could do it. A seasoned trekker and a friend with 17 treks under his belt both in the Himalayas and the Alps always raved about the hypnotic charm of Rupin Valley. And, each time he maintained that Rupin Pass was a difficult one for him. Also, Indiahikes (an organization, with whom I have done all my Himalayan Treks so far) rates Rupin as their topmost trek.
I had taken the plunge, but the jittery me started scavenging the Internet to gain a good understanding of the difficulty level. All the blogs gave vivid elaborations of the gorgeousness of this trail making me yearn for it even more. However, I could not find much insight into the level of difficulty.
Now that I have done the trek and done it well, I decided to write about the level of difficulty for the benefit of others.
Rupin Pass is graded as ‘moderate-difficult’. My personal experience is that the initial two days are moderate or easy even though you cover 10-11 Km. each day. You walk through winding dusty tracks with a few ascents and if it’s sunny make sure to cover yourself well and don’t miss your sunglasses or else you will end up with sunburns and headaches.
The next 4 days is a little challenging and it’s the terrain that makes it so. Some sections have steep ascents and steep descents which are sometimes through boulders and loose rocks or loose soil. There are precarious sections of walking on snow, some of which may have become hardened or even converted to ice.
And, just like any other Himalayan trek if the weather is good the trek becomes a lot easier and if rains or snows just that much difficult.
If I compare it with the other treks I had done till then, namely Kedarkantha, Kuari Pass, and Har-ki-Dun, I will definitely say this one is challenging. Those treks felt like child’s play before the Rupin Pass Trek.
This post is definitely not to dissuade you. You just need some amount of fitness and that is it. So, with the right preparation, it is absolutely doable. If I have done it and enjoyably so, anybody can do it.
Nervous as I was, I made sure I paid extra attention towards preparedness in terms of fitness. And, all of that paid off in the mountains, where I surprised myself by always being at the beginning of the team. Most of the time, I was leading – even during the much talked about ‘gully-climb’. All through the nine days, never for once was I exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed the stunning and divine Himalayan landscape.
A gist of the things I did…
Jogging 3-4 Km, five days a week and increasing that to 5 Km. a fortnight before the trek. Jogging is the best way to build cardiovascular endurance and get fit for a high altitude trek.
Continuing my usual Yoga routine four times a week but including squats and planks.
Doing Pranayama almost every day for 30 minutes, including breath retention as that increases lung capacity.
Taking the stairs whenever I could, which is something I anyway do – trek or no trek.
Walking as much as I could and whenever possible, again something I anyway do – trek or no trek.
I want to be ‘trek-ready’ always. With that intention, I have continued the above mentioned routine is a slightly customised way till today.
And subsequently, I went ahead and completed the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek too. However, Rupin was special and continues to be my personal favourite.
The green all around refreshingly fed my lungs and brain. I felt alive! I hadn’t seen so many shades of green anywhere before. The green felt pronounced and took me by surprise as I was just back from Sikkim and the surrounding greenery at a Lepcha Village had made me feel like I was in Amazon Forest.
Once again, I realized how little I have explored my own place of birth, my home – Meghalaya.
Last week I was spending time with my 26-year-old nephew, who is more of a buddy than a nephew and has been so since he was a child. Our meeting in Shillong was sheer coincidental and we got to spend four days together. And, that just had to be super special. Last time we met in Shillong was when he was in school. Thereafter, we did meet a couple of times in Bangalore and Ahmedabad but together in Shillong never happened until now.
On Saturday, aunt and nephew, both passionate nature lovers, decided to go on a day trek. After exploring a couple of options, we settled on the historical David Scott’s Trail. We did a little bit of reading about it and didn’t think it looked much impressive. Nevertheless, we decided to go for it as it was logistically convenient.
Sometimes, you have to be at some place to know what it really is! We were prepared for an ordinary hike but the actual gorgeousness unfolded on the trail.
A Little on David Scott’s Trail
The trail is named after David Scott, who was the first British administrator to be sent to North East India during the British Raj. He operated in and around Khasi Hills for nearly thirty years (1802-1832). The 16 Km. trek is part of the horse cart trail that he had laid down to connect Assam and Bangladesh during the nineteenth century. The complete route was about 100 Km. long and was used to carry goods across tow destinations.
This road resulted in a war between the British and the Khasi, the latter being led by U Tirot Singh, the king of Khadsawphra Syiemship. The Khasis, with their bows and arrows, were hardly any match for the well-trained British soldiers. However, the war continued for four years. The British muskets finally defeated the Khasi forces. U Tirot Singh was captured and deported to Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh) where he died on July 17, 1835. U Tirot Singh is still hailed as a freedom fighter and revered in whole of Meghalaya.
Nephew and I connected with Evernold (our guide) and planned the trek. Normally the trek starts at Mawphlang and ends at Ladmawphlang. The former is closer to Shillong and the latter is closer to Cherrapunjee. Ending at Ladmawphlang makes it easier to move over to Cherrapunjee, which most people do. We had to get back to Shillong and hence ending at Mawphlang seemed easier. The usual route starts with 4 Km. downhill, which in our case would be 4 Km. uphill.
As we started our trek from Ladmawphlang, it started raining. Not surprising, we were in Meghalaya and more so at Cherrapunjee. Simultaneously the curtains raised, and the show had begun. The stunning scenery already started revealing itself. It amazed us to think all of this was right there just when we left the tarred motorable road, not tucked away in some remote corner. Soon, we crossed a broken cemented bridge, laid over the river – it’s River Umiam, which remained our constant companion almost till the end of the trail.
Every bend threw up something new. Rolling hills with every kind of green shade; the deep valley; the red and white Rhododendrons peeping out through the greens; the crystal clear waters in the natural pools; the sparkling river appearing and disappearing.
Sometimes the hills were so close that we could distinctly see the wide variety of trees, sometimes they were far away and we could only see the outlines layered into the clouds. Sometimes we were deep into the jungle walking through tall shrubs and heaps of brown leaves laid on our path; other times through cobbled stoned pathways; or just a muddy lane; or a lush green meadow.
The wide variety of ferns, the gorgeous mushrooms, the ugly poisonous toads, the wriggly caterpillars, the brilliant butterflies, the poisonous flowers, and such others were additional wonderment. Such places spontaneously transports me to a world of fantasy making me wonder if I am walking on earth or if I am in some other realm.
Poisonous Cobra Lily
A bigger mushroom
Flowers in the village
A little while after we started walking, the heavens poured but thankfully stopped in about 15-20 min. The weather Gods were good with us for rest of the day as the Sun and the clouds played hide and seek making it the perfect trekking weather. There are four villages in the adjoining areas of this trail, but we passed by only one – Laitsohma. The others are Mawbeh, Pyrda, and Mustep.
While aunt and nephew were having the best of time together, Evernold was adding to the fun by intermittently bringing in entertaining Khasi folktales and stories.
The best part was that there was nobody other than us throughout the trail. We did meet a few villagers on the way. A dog, whom nephew named Bhuralal, followed halfway till Laitsohma and then went back.
The trek ended as we reached Nongrum Village at Mawphlang. I thought to myself – I run around the length and breadth of our country seeking nature’s divine grace but the best of nature’s gift is right here in my very own backyard.
I know, there’s an overdose of pictures in this post but my story will remain incomplete without the one below.