Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 359: The Trek Begins - Nepal, Hailstorms & Prayer Wheels!

13 November, 2010

Alright, it is the D-day! The long awaited, first-in-my-life trek starts today!

Wangchuck (remember the tour operator I love?) came early in the morning with our guide for the next 6 days, Ashish. The plan was to drive for 1.5 hours to Maneybhanjang at 2134 metres and then start the trek from there. The target was to reach Tumling, which's 11kms away and 2970 metres.

Before we set off for Maneybhanjang, the caretaker of our hotel Snow Lion, gave us a super sweet unexpected farewell. In true Tibetan custom, he put a piece of white cloth (called Khada in Tibetan) around our necks and bid us a safe and happy journey. How cute is that?!

So on that very good note, we set off to Maneybhanjang together with Wangchuck and Ashish. Upon arriving we had a yummy breakfast of hot rotis and a simple curry of peas, from a small local restaurant (restaurant here actually means a wooden shed with two benches and tables inside). Soon we were joined by Vikas, our porter who would carry our rucksack, sleeping bags etc. After making sure that everything was in order, Wangchuck bade us goodbye and we were off on our trek!

Interestingly, as soon as we started I noticed a board that said 'Welcome to Nepal". Upon inquiring Ashish confirmed that we are indeed going to be trekking half the time in Nepal! In fact we would even be staying at some Nepali villages a couple of nights! I was thrilled!! I would be trekking in India AND in Nepal! It is my first time ever in Nepal so needless to say, this is Freaking awesome stuff!

View of India from Nepal

OK then, after that initial exciting start, things did go a bit downhill. Mainly because about 8 out of the 11 kms we were to cover today were Uphill! And by Uphill I mean really really UPHILL!

I was readily exhausted even before the first kilometer and my dad was no better. But we chugged along slowly but steadily. The vegetation started with thick pine forests but soon gave way to hilly pastures by the time we reached Chitre monastery, the first monastery in Nepal. It was built more than a 100 years ago by a Lama from Ladakh.

We hung out at the monastery for a bit and proceeded for tea to a house at the adjacent village. This 'village' by the way, has a grand total of 2 houses. After a good cup of hot tea we felt refreshed enough to tackle the rest of the uphill climb. With great pomp and show we stepped outside, only to be greeted with a heavy rain. We waited for bit but realised that the rain is no mood to decrease in the near future. So we donned our rain gear and set out in the rain.

The next couple of hours were not great. We were surrounded by thick fog with very low visibility, frequent showers, difficult paths that were now not only steep but also slippery - and all at about 4 degree celsius. The only silver lining was the amazingly yummy egg noodle soup our guide cooked for us after barging into the kitchen of a local tea shop on the way.

Finally we reached Megma, which was the end of the uphill route. Megma has an Indian owned army camp and a Nepal owned village right opposite each other! After having yet another cup of hot tea (tea-drinking has reached an all time peak), we visited a monastery in the village. This monastery, as I understand, is not usually open to the public. But Ashish has his friends in the village who opened up the monastery to us. Thus, for the first time ever, I could go all the way into the inner shrine of a Tibetan Monastery and see the huge Buddhist prayer wheel! It was fascinating! There was no electricity in the village and because of the rain and fog outside, there was very little light inside the monastery but we still made our way around it. The monastery also had a collection of idols based on old Tibetan customs that were popular before Buddhism spread and also one entire wall was lined with huge prayer books. I was quite awestruck by everything in there.

After the quick visit to the monastery, we were about to set out on the apparently easier part of the trek, when we came across a hailstorm! We found shelter at the tea stall and I thoroughly enjoyed the sight of my first ever hailstorm! This trip is truly turning into one of many first-evers!

After the hailstorm was done we covered the last stretch to Tumling in the most dense fog ever. The journey was not pleasant and let's just say I was real glad when we finally made it there.

We checked into Shikhar lodge at Tumling. The rest of the evening was very pleasant with tea (of course), biscuits and some Tibetan snacks by the fireplace followed by a sumptuous spread of rice, egg curry, daal, banana custard and rosagullas (which Ahish had carried all the way from Darjeeling!) for dinner! After the delicious food and some pleasant conversation with fellow trekkers, we hit the bed at 8:30.

Just before dozing off, I prayed with all my heart that the weather clears up tomorrow and we would be able to catch a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga, which should be possible from Tumling if the clouds behave.

Day one of trek ends!

641 more to go.

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