A white-collar worker shares experience of his first trekking with childhood buddies
This is what is trekking is all about. It makes you think in so many different ways. Philosophically thinking, trekking is a great leveler. Regardless of who you are or what you have, you must carry your weight while climbing up the steps. Trekking treats everyone fairly if you can say that. You can’t hide behind money over here, for example. Walk and climb; you must.
▌ By Suraj Paudel
A plan was brewing some six months back. We, a group of five — all childhood friends from the same school, were busy hatching a plan for the Feb-March trekking. Our self-declared guide Bishnu, who, as we later found out, was as clueless about the route as the rest of us other than having the credentials of having seen it on the Google map, decided the route. Birethanti to Ghandruk. Three days of walking. One day to travel by car to Birenthanti and one day to come back to Kathmandu. In total, five days.
We started preparing ourselves for the trekking. All of us began to requesting for leave and buying stuff like jackets, bags, trousers, and shoes, etc. Madhukar agreed to take his car, although there was that constant threat of not making it available during the run-up to the last few days to the start of the trek. We were going anyway, if not by car then by tourist bus. Anup was relatively quiet during this period; he is Mr. Know All and Done It All guy after all. The very qualities that will make him run for his life toward the end of the trek.
Guys started walking days before the trekking started as practice, and the funny thing is Madhukar even got himself injured while practicing walking! I also thought I would start walking to increase my stamina only to push it for the next day until it couldn’t be sold any further. Yeah, you guessed it. I walked for a full zero days. During our trip to Daman, when we walked to Hrisheswor Mahadev temple, I got found out for lack of stamina. But I consoled myself by thinking I somehow had got better.
Day-1 Kathmandu to Birethanti
After a lot of confirmation from a lot of our friends, we were only four on the D-day. Hang on. Just as we were about to leave, we got a call from the fifth guy, Sunil, asking us where we were. He was waiting for us at the meeting point, a full one and a half hours later than we had agreed. What was he thinking? Well, we do know what he was thinking, and it will take at least two articles like this to summarize that. Madhukar arranged for his pick up, and he was with us, ready and excited. We then picked up Anup, and we were off to the Birethanti-Ghandruk Trek on the 5th of March.
Madhukar started driving us toward our destination. Things went as smoothly as we hoped for, barring a small hiccup toward the end of the day. We knew we needed to travel toward Nayapul to take the dirt road to Birenthanti. It was dark and raining. We thought it was a good idea to ask a few people as to which way to take only for Mr. Know All to tell us not to waste our time in such things and drive until we reach a river. Simple. We did that only to see a huge ‘Welcome to Parbat District’ sign. Anup got quite a few stares. Not that it will stop him from being Mr. Know All in the future, but to take it positively, it added one more district to our ‘been there’ list.
We finally reached Birethanti after asking directions from a few people. The torrential rain was making a mockery of our decision of not buying a raincoat despite spending thousands of rupees on other stuff. We parked the car in a local hotel to stay there for the next four nights and three days.
Day 2, 3 & 4-Trekking Days, Birethanti to Banthanti
Day 2 started with us trying to attune to our error by buying plastic sheets to work as a makeshift raincoat. Breakfast and then we were off. As directed by our guide, Bishnu, we decided Tikhedhunga (1525m) will be our first stop for lunch. So we started climbing. Easy route, not much of stiff climb until we reached close to Tikhedhunga. Beautiful sceneries along the way, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
It was supposed to be our toughest day of the trek as per Bishnu, and he once was so right. We sensed what was about to come once we reached closer to Tikhedhunga and had to climb up the steps for a short while. We had our lunch there, and the greatest entertainer in his mind, Sunil, decided it was time to entertain not just us but another group of guys as well with his melodious remix singing. He has a good voice, though, and we were delighted, although not as much as he was. Or let’s say he was ‘freaked out’ to use his own words.
Next target, Ulleri. The very reason this was supposed to be our most challenging day and the dreaded climb up the steps. Whole 3200 of them and almost 90 degrees. We could see it coming as we left Tikhedhunga, and then we were there. At first, our attitude was what the fuss is all about. We do it friendly and relaxed. Which by the end of it and after taking a countless number of drinks breaks, it became quite clear what the fuss was all about. Even the horses were struggling to climb that. I was left questioning my wisdom of inviting unnecessary trouble in my life as if there were not enough already.
Then we were there; at Ulleri (2070m). Yes! Tea time. Anup was busy taking pictures and telling us things that did not matter there, or anywhere for that matter. Madhukar was too tired even to contemplate what was going on. Bishnu had a massive grin on his face as if he was the first and only person to climb up the steps of Ulleri. Sunil was busy and at the pain in trying to make his two new Greek friends understand how he was a self-made man and how well settled he was. The rest of the time, he was busy telling us how that place is his ‘Sasurali’ as it was the place of Gurungs, the same ethnicity his wife belongs to. If only he could get even a little discount because of that.
But as Day 4 will tell us, myself and Anup should be the last persons to talk about getting discounts because of the self-declared relations. After having tea and hot momo at Ulleri, we decided to walk for a couple of hours more and stay at Banthanti. We were walking again. But the consolation lied in the fact that Ulleri was done and not much of wooden steps after that. We reached Banthanti and took the hot shower that we wanted to make so badly and got ourselves ready to play cards. We order a fried chicken as well for a starter. Four of us started playing cards, and Sunil was at his usual best, singing and entertaining.
Banthanti-Ghorepani (2775m)-–Poon Hill (3210m) – Deuraali (3000m)
Day 3 was all about Poon Hill. It was about reaching there and viewing those beautiful mountains. If only things turned out as we thought. We arrived Ghorepani without too much of a hassle at around 12 in the noon, put our bags there in the hotel and decided to take the next stiff climb up the steps towards the Poon Hill. Sunil’s knee was giving him problems, so he decided to miss the mountain view from Poon Hill and if only we had done the same. We had our lunch ordered for about an hour and a half later, and we were off to Poon Hill. Similar to Ulleri climb in design but not in length, this was another challenging part of the trip. The second most difficult after Ulleri, they said. By now, I had prepared my routine to climb these steps. I didn’t look up and just looked down and started taking step by step and thinking about some of the most useless things in the world. And it worked. After a few photographic sessions, we were at Poon Hill. It took us about 50 minutes to get there. During the whole trip, a couple of guys probably stopped more for taking photographs than walking. I will not take Anup’s and Bishnu’s name here. It is not fair. Poon Hill and not a mountain to be seen on any side as the weather was not good. Climbed 3210 meters for nothing. ‘Bad luck’, we said. I came down thinking we should have come here in the morning. We had our lunch at Ghorepani.
Anup, Bishnu, and Sunil got into their musical mode after lunch. Singing and playing musical instruments happened nearby the fireside. It started raining a bit. Then more heavily. The initial plan by Bishnu was to stay at Ghorepani, but we had done so well so far, we thought we could easily walk for at least two more hours and make our last day of walking a bit easier. The rain subsided, and there was just a small drizzle going around. What do we do? Vote, of course. We live in a democratic country. It was tied at 2-2, Sunil and Anup voting in favor of walking further and Madhukar and Bishnu against it. My vote went for walking, although very conscious of the fact that there will be some real payback by the losers if it were to rain somewhere in the middle. It did not.
We reminded the losers about the ‘wise’ decision we took along the way. Before that, there was a small matter of climbing up the steps again after a couple of hundred meters from Ghorepani. Sunil counted it to be around 800 of them. But this was no Ulleri, and all five of us completed those steps without any break. Sunil and Anup both have excellent stamina. They were quick to climb that. By now, we were climbers! We reached Deuraali after walking for about two hours and decided to stay there. We were told there is a tower similar to Poon Hill called Gurung Hill, and we can see the mountains as clearly from there as we could from Poon Hill. According to locals, the altitude for both is the same. It was cold. Very cold. It was going to be the hardest night of our trekking. No warm water to take a shower, and we could not even think about cold water.
We did enjoy our regular round of cards and fried chicken with it nearby the fireside. We had our meal as well, although going away from hearth to the dining table was one hard task due to cold weather. It turned out to be the most challenging night for us. Only a single toilet inside the cottage and then the water did not come through the tap. The reason, it was so cold the water froze in the tank. Could not go to toilets outside as there were two dogs — dogs technically but tigers practically, such as their size — left freely outside the cottage for security. We had no option but to wait for the morning.
Deuraali-Banthanti (2800m)-Tadapani (2750m) – Ghadruk (2000m)
Day 4 and a fine morning it was. Bishnu and Sunil decided to climb up the Gurung Hill to see the mountains at around 5 am. Madhukar and I were looking at each other, and we decided Poon Hill was enough. But after a while, we came out in the cottage yard, and we could see those mountains. We again looked at each other, and this time made the wise decision of going up the hill. Anup is not a morning guy and loves to sleep all morning, but this time decided to join us. After climbing up the hill, we were at Gurung Hill. This was it. We could see all the mountains so clearly. You don’t get those kinds of views very often in your lifetime; I can vouch for that. Finally, a reason to cheer at Deurali after all the hardships we had that night. We came down and continued our journey. This on paper was supposed to be the easiest day of the trek. It was for three of us. First, we decided to have breakfast at Banthanti, there are two places named Banthanti on either side of the Ghorepani and started walking down at around 7 am. Reached Banthanti, where our Mr. Know All guy, Anup, decided to ask the surname of the lady running the hotel. Her surname happened to be the same as Anup’s and mine, and in no time, there was this self-declared relationship of brothers and sisters by Anup. Result? She took us for cleaners. We ended up paying a lot more than what we believe we actually should have. Her logic? ‘Think it as a gift to your sister,” she said jokingly, and she even dared to complain about us complaining! So much for telling Sunil, he could not get a discount at his ‘Sasurali’ at the earlier Banthanti.
Tadapani next. We were scared by a lot of people that it is a stiff climb again for about 45 minutes, similar to Ulleri but less in terms of length. Yet this was no Ulleri. We climbed up to Tadapani very quickly, wondering whether those people got it wrong or we suddenly turned into brilliant climbers. We took lunch at noon. The next stop was Ghandruk, and it was all downhill from Tadapani. This is why we decided to have longer than usual lunch break and even had the time to play cards for a while. Madhukar, Bishnu, and I decided to climb down the hill for Ghandruk at around 2 pm, whereas Anup and Sunil decided the remaining part was too easy to be bothered about at that time and hence started mingling with their latest European friends. After a while, we reached a place that had two trails leading downwards. We decided to ask and then started taking the suggested path toward Ghandruk, although both lead to Ghandruk. Anup and Sunil were nowhere to be seen.
We then met the European guys they were having fun with and asked them where our friends were, and they replied that they had left for Ghandruk before them. We got a little worried at this point but had no other option but to walk down. Then we got a call from our guys, saying they are in the middle of nowhere and they had not seen even a single person for almost an hour and a half. What happened, as we knew later, was Mr. Know All decided it wasn’t worthy enough to ask which trail to take when they came up to those earlier mentioned two trails and started walking through the path not in use anymore. They could see nothing other than jungles. They thought they were lost and ran for their lives for almost 20 minutes, fearing the worst. We asked a local boy, and he told us that the old trail leads to a bridge, and if they cross that then they would be able to join us in the new trail. Message relayed. Then it started to rain. About 40 minutes to walk. We took out the plastic sheet we had purchased on Day 2 and made full use of it. It rained heavily just before we reached Ghandruk, but by then we could already see our lost friends and the hotel we were going to stay at. Similar routine. Hot shower, cards and fried chicken. Mealtime and the time to hit the bed.
Day 5 was about getting to the car and driving to Pokhara and then to Kathmandu. First, we had a photo session with those fantastic mountains as a beautiful backdrop to even more beautiful Ghandruk village and then walked through Ghandruk village for about an hour to reach a bus park at the bottom of the village. Again there were two trails in the way, only for Anup to shout to a faraway woman asking for which trail to take. Lesson learned. We reached the bus stop, took the bus and reached the hotel where our car was parked. The rest of the day was spent in Pokhara doing normal stuff that one does in the city centre and at about 9:30 pm, after playing cards and enjoying pizzas and other stuff courtesy of Sunil, we decided to drive back toward Kathmandu. I drove until Malkehu from where Anup took over for a couple of hours until we reached Kathmandu at 4:15 am. Madhukar, the Sahuji, just relaxed in the car this time.
Trekking can be frustrating at times. There will be days or at least times when you feel you will never do it again. Climbing up the Ulleri made some of us feel like that. When coming down from Ulleri, we did not know whether to feel happy because it gave us respite from climbing up or feel frustrated that we had to come down after climbing up with so much difficulty fully conscious of the fact that we will have to climb up again. Why can’t there be a straight line from the highest point we have reached used to be our question?
But then this is what is trekking is all about. It makes you think in so many different ways. Philosophically thinking, trekking is a great leveler. Regardless of who you are or what you have, you must carry your weight while climbing up the steps. Trekking treats everyone fairly if you can say that. You can’t hide behind money over here, for example. Walk and climb; you must. Practically speaking, from my own experience, I can say that trekking overall is a great experience. It allows you to be oblivious to the happenings around the world. In those three days of trekking, we did not worry about anything that was going on inside our country or outside of it. It did not matter whether or not there was a fuel shortage; it did not matter whether or not there were political protests, nor did it matter who was leading the Premier League or who was going to win the upcoming T20 World Cup. It did not matter what was happening around Europe or in the US presidential elections. For once, we did not have to worry about all those suffocating pollution here in Kathmandu. It feels even more special now, looking back.
We were in the lap of nature and were thoroughly enjoying it without any worry in the world other than when the next stiff climb is coming up. Another plan is brewing up again.