Section 08. Ganesh Himal Foothills

28 May. Syabru Besi sickness day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. I felt mostly better but I still had a lot of blog/pictures and emails to attend to. I reckoned it would take six hours, so despite an early start we would probably not get a substantial walk in. It was a tedious morning attending to it all but it was done by about 1400. I then struggled to upload it, and in the end had to go to the best hotel in Syabru Besi to upload it on their WiFi. The lady receptionist at Hotel Sky was so helpful she even gave me a coffee while it was all uploading.

In the afternoon I also went to the chemist to get a nasal steroid. While I was there a couple of very bright Americans from Montana helped me as she was a critical care nurse. There was not much to do later and I wandered the town, discovered an ATM and plundered it and bought some fruit. I also brought some brinjals and gave them to Ramesh to cook for supper. He had now completely ensconced himself in our hotel’s (YalaPeak) kitchen and was the source of all banter in there. He cooked me and the Montana couple who were also staying at the Yala peak the most amazing Dhalbhat with local black dhal, amaranth leaves and a potato and brinjal curry. There seems little that Ramesh cannot do.

29 May. Syabru Besi to Parbati Kund. 13 km. 4.5 hours. 1190m up. 180m down. I was feeling much better after a day a Syabru Besi which I had to take to catch up with all my digital duties anyway. We knew we had a big climb in the full glare of the sun, so we set off a bit earlier at around 0730 – although for it to have made much difference we should have set off at 0430 as the sun had already warmed the slope. We followed the road up to the school finding quite a few shortcuts on the five or six hairpin bends through small terraced fields and houses. It took us a short half hour to climb the 200m to the school.

From the school the path followed a steeper slope up across the wooded hillside. It wove its way up small spurs and small bowls covered in the long three needled chir pines which covered the hillside. The forest floor was covered in pine needles, and in more rural places it was the job of the children to go and collect baskets of these needles for animal bedding. This bedding would then be spread on the fields with the manure. However it looked like this area was now too urban for this practice. On and on the path went for some 700m in one hot climb. I felt good and pushed it all the way to the top where the road joined the path as the pass after it had climbed many hairpin bends to match the path’s rocky steps. There were a couple of bhattis at the pass, called Rongga Bhjangyang on the map, and we stopped at one for a milky tea. All of this area was now Tamang and there was a network of trails here called the Tamang Heritage Trail. The fabulous costumes and hats of the ladies were very distinctive.

From the pass we could look down onto the very extensive village of Goljung with its vast terraced fields spread out around it. It had an innovative hydropower plant where the valley’s stream fed a large pond. The outflow from the pond went through the mountain down towards Syabru Besi and discharged into the Trusilli River. Bharat explained that it was an all Nepali venture. We did not have to go down to Goljung however and instead now followed the quiet, but dusty road, for some five or six km as it contoured around the forested hillside to the west. The road was being improved at many places by small gangs who were placing rocks on edge across the surface to make it more monsoon proof. The road looked a good 10 years old and the initial scars created during its building were greening over.

The road wove round spurs and snuck into side valleys as it made its way through the now mixed chir and bhutan pine forest towards Gatling. Three or four vehicles passed me as I walked along it for the two hours. Just before Gatling a moped stopped for a chat. He explained the route to me. He said if I was going to Sondang tomorrow I would be best to take the upper fork at an imminent junction and head up the hill to the lower edge of the extensive forests on the hillside leading up to the pass I would cross tomorrow. He said it would be a longer day if I went down to Gatling and climbed the pass from there. He said I should go up to Parvati Kund, where there was a holy lake and beside it a rustic homestay. I waited for the others, and they had just received the same info from a very swarthy older Tamang man in very tradition dress.

We took the upper junction and then made a few shortcuts across potato terraced to enter a pine and hemlock forest which the path threaded a route through. After a short hour it emerged beside an area covered in prayer flags, small chortens and a few small temples. It was the Parvati Kund lake. It was about two hectares and seemed to be fed by ground water and tiny streams. The whole pond was clogged with weed, but a squad of about 20 Nepalis were clearing the weed and carrying it to the side. They were even digging up the roots, from homemade rafts of tractor tyres.

245. Our host at Parbati Kund homestay. He was a Tamang and a Lama for the village. Here he is wearing his traditional Tamang jacket made from sheep wool.

246. Our host and his wife in traditional Tamang outfit at Parbati Kund.

Beside the lake was a simple house with various crops drying on tarpaulins beside it. Of particular interest to me were the piles of lentil bushes with the local black lentils, which could just be shaken off the 30-40 cm high bushes. Around the house were some richly dressed women with the same colourful hats and dresses of the Tamang and men in rustic coarse jackets held together with a cloth belt, into which a huge khukri knife was tucked into in its wooden sheath. This was the homestay and they showed us the room and made a cup of refreshing milky tea. Ramesh almost immediately made himself at home in the kitchen and helped the hostess make lunch. After lunch we all slept, having been coshed by the heat of the climb this morning and the large meal. Not even the boisterous 20 or so hens outside who spend most of the time chasing each other and vying for dominance could disturb us. In the late afternoon our hosts returned from the fields with more baskets full of lentil bushes which were laid out on more tarpaulins on the grassy compound. As night fell these were wrapped up, before the silence of the evening enveloped up. Here and there you could make out people walking with torches from house to house.

247. The black lentils bushes laid out to dry on a tarpaulin in our hosts yard at Parbhati Kund. The black lentils are the prized lentil for making Dalbhat.

31 May. Parbati Kund to Somdang. 12km. 5 hours.  1140m up.  460m down. We all slept well and were late in starting. There was no hurry as it was either five hours to Somdang or eleven to Tipling and we had already chosen the former. The only advantage of going early was to get better views before the mists obscured most by midmorning. In the end we left at 0800 and followed the road up past the prayer flags, chortens, and temple of this Hindu holy lake with Buddhist trappings. After a few minutes we reached a hamlet with a couple of homestays. I think the settlement was Gothen. It was on the so called “Rubi Valley Trek” which vaguely goes from Syabru Besi to Arughat, and we would be following this route. After Gothen, 2550m, the path left the track and entered the woods.

It was a well-made track and marked by yellow painted circles. We followed its steps up and up through deciduous woods full of cuckoo song, which I hear almost daily below 3000m, and then into the hemlock and firs. There were small streams here and there crossing the path, and the tree canopy gave us shade from the warming sun. Up ahead I heard the dull clunk of large cow bells and soon came across a herder taking his 20 odd chauri cow/yak crosses and 15 goats up to his kharka. There were about 10 calves, some of which looked very bewildered to be in the forest. They all arrived at the kharka the same time as I did. There were already five or six families there. He went to his seasonal simple herders shed where he would spend the summer.

248. Arriving at the kharka for the summer with his animals. A man reaches his summer’s destination with his chauri. He will spend the summer in the seasonal cottage and spend the summer making dairy products.

I passed through the grazing animals, barking dogs and friendly herders who were spread across the meadow and then entered a fire burnt area beyond it. I guess it was about 100 acres of dead burnt silver firs, some of which had been very old with two metre boles. I would like to be charitable and blame it on lightning, but I suspect some 10 years ago these herders set fire to the forest to increase the grazing area. Above the kharka the path pretty much merged with the road for a good few km as it climbed through the burnt area. It then reached a defunct and abandoned kharka with collapsed shelters and here the path continued NW with the road veered SW at a hairpin.

For the next hour the path followed a line of electricity poles as it climbed more steeply up through pristine Silver fir forest with a rich understorey of rhododendrons, many of which were still in bloom with paler shades of purple. Towards the end it climbed more steeply and crossed a few gullies still full of snow. At last I saw a chorten and many prayer flags and knew I was approaching Khurpudada Pass, which the map had at 3710, but I made it 80m less. There was a small cosy porter’s shelter here.

249. Some of the magnificent Himalayan Silver Firs in the forest between Parbati Kund and Somdang. Many of these trees were well over 200 years old.

The descent was virtually all in mist. The path continued to roughly follow the electricity poles as it cut across the zig-zags of the track, often steeply. The forest of Silver Firs looked like it had been mostly cut as the trees were sporadic, but maybe the mists were obscuring them. As we descended the path stopped shortcutting the zig-zags on the road which pretty much ceased, and followed the road NW as it descended into the forest of larger firs. The road traversed down the steep hillside into which it was cut and I could hear a stream far below which we were descending to meet. It was the Mailung Khola, and it drained the eastern lower peaks of the Ganesh Himal. Eventfully through the forest I saw a small hamlet of some 15 houses and guessed it was Somdang. It was a very sleepy place lost in the woods beside the Mailung khola stream. Virtually all the houses were made of wood and had wooden planks on the roof. These would inevitably have been roughly hewn from the surrounding firs. The place almost had a fairytale vibe about it.

250. A mauve rhododendron on the misty pass between Parbati Kund and Somdang. On the north facing slopes the bushes were still in full bloom.

There were two teahouses here with little to choose between them, both were single storey with plank roofs. We took the first and soon were enjoying a cup of milky tea. We had walked for five hours non-stop and were ready for lunch. I had noodles with fried vegetables through them, cooked by Ramesh, and the others had dalbhat. The three others were soon laughing and joking with the owner, who you could see would trust them to come and go in the kitchen to make cups of tea and the evening meal. I wrote the blog outside with the atmospheric mists swirling through the trees on the ridges, while the others gathered round the stove in the rustic dining room for an afternoon siesta. It is a bit unfortunate the villages and hamlets are five hours apart here as we could easily do more, but perhaps not as much as ten hours.

251. Our lodge in the sleepy forest hamlet of Somdang. In the background are some of the lower eastern mountains of the Ganesh Himal. The roof of the lodge is made from shingle planks of the Silver Fir. The planks last for 15 years.

June 1. Somdang to Borang. 27km. 10 hours. 1140m up. 2850m down. We got an early start by 07 as I wanted to get some sort of view at Pansan Pass which we should take two hours to reach. We wandered through the sleepy hamlet in the forest and started up the track. Almost immediately we found the old walking track and followed this up, shortcutting all the hairpin bends and climbing up, sometimes steeply, as we made our way up through the forest of silver firs. It took us two hours to climb but at the top where the trees thinned and grassy slopes took over the mist swept in and enveloped us. The visibility was sometimes as little as 20 metres. The others were ahead and I just followed their footsteps along the new track which seemed to contour up slowly on the south facing slopes. At one point the mist cleared slightly and a view of a small kharka with about three shelters opened up. It looked a bleak spot to spend the summer tending animals. Just beyond the kharka was a large chorten and a cluster of prayer poles and flags. It must have been the Pansan Pass at 3830m, but it too was lost in the mist as the warm moist air from the hill district, pahar, drifted up into the foothills of the Ganesh Himal and condensed.

I braced myself for the near 2000m descent which I knew followed the pass. We again picked up the yellow paint of the Ruby Valley Trek on some rocks and these led us past a number of zig-zags on road as it descended from the pass. Then it seemed to part from the road and lead its own peaceful route down through the silver firs and rhododendrons. It was a magnificent forest with many huge trees with two metre boles. Beneath them was an understorey of in-bloom mauve and pale purple rhododendron bushes which were at their peak. The mist came and went as we descended until it eventually petered out. We came across a few kharka higher up but none were in use. Then as we got down to about 3400m we came across the uppermost of the pastures with animals. There were a few chauri and other cattle but most of the animals seemed to be sheep and goats. I don’t think they were milked, but were just up here to enjoy the lush grass and to fatten up on it. As we descended we passed a few more pastures with their small shingle roofed cabins made from planks of silver fir.

The path continued to drop relentlessly. At about 3000m the silver firs gave way to hemlocks and various deciduous trees. Some of the hemlocks were huge, and I saw one with a three metre bole. The hemlocks occupied just a couple of hundred metres before they were replaced entirely by the deciduous trees. Here and there I managed to catch glimpses of villages below and realized it must be Tipling. In fact there were two villages, Lawadung was the first we reached. There were homestays here but the owners were out in their fields and the houses empty. So instead we carried on down to the more compact Tipling where we found a pasal, or local shop, and they made us tea and noodles. As we left Tipling, which seemed a predominantly Gurung village we passed a couple of small local hotels. We had already walked some seven hours but wanted to go on a bit more to make tomorrow easier.

Initially I had wanted to go the extra hour to Sertun, but people suggested going the extra three to Borang, which lay beyond Sertun. It meant dropping down into a deep side valley, losing about 300-400m in height before climbing back up, regaining all the height again. As we started down the rain began. I had hoped it was a passing shower but it became more determined and soon the track was awash. It eased as we crossed the bridge over the side stream and started up past hundreds of terraced fields all planted with maize. When we reached Sertun however the rain and thunder returned with a vengeance. It poured down and the track was a good 10 cm deep stream. People were sheltering everywhere and when we passed a local shop with a porch people beckoned us under and we joined them for 20 minutes. It was an impressive rain shower.

Once the shower had passed everybody emerged from their shelters and continued with their business. We passed a couple of ladies who were planting rice under bamboo umbrellas and they had kept going through the entire shower. The path continued up past the upper houses of Serun and then traversed across a slope to reach a ridge covered in chortens, prayer flags and a kami gate. I looked back here and at last saw some of the Ganesh Himal peaks in the clearing cloud. They did not look like their 7000m, so perhaps I just saw the smaller peaks on their ridges.

From the chortens we descended very steeply to a large hamlet called Awalgoan. It was busy with people coming back from the woods with baskets of fodder for the tethered animals like goats and buffalo which could not wander free with so many fields growing maize. Someone here pointed out the path which continued to traverse gently down across the hillside through many fields of maize until it crossed another ridge. Borang was apparently on the other side of that ridge. Far below to our NW was the Ankhu Khola. We would have to cross it tomorrow, dropping down to its depths before climbing up for some 1700-1800m to a pass.

252. Some of the maize fields below Borang where about to start producing cobs. There were hundreds of terraces on top of the other for many hundreds of metres in altitude

In the evening light I looked back to the village of Awalgoan as I headed down the side of the hill away from it. The snowy peaks were breaking through the cloud again and the field were a green gold in the late sun. There were a few hamlets and people were heading back to their houses on various small paths in the surrounding fields with baskets full of produce or fodder. Soon they would be lighting their fires and cooking their dalbhat for the evening meal.

When I got to the ridge I could see Borang laid out below me. It still took half an hour to descend the steep greasy stones of the path to reach it. It reminded me of Gurung villages south of Annapurna like Bujung, Tanting and Siklis, but the houses in Borang had tin roofs rather than the large slate slabs of the Gurung villages. But the architecture of the houses was the same three storeys with large eaves. It turned out the village was predominantly Tamang. We wove through the streets and found one of the three hotels in a very traditional looking house. I liked it at once. It was owned by the headman of the village, but he was absent. His niece opened up the place for us and showed us a couple of rooms. Upstairs was his office, where all the village matters were sorted out by the local committee which met here. Ramesh wasted no time in acquainting himself with the kitchen and made us all a great dalbhat. It was quite a late night by the time I finished writing and it did not get to bed until 2130.

June 02. Borang to Nauban Kharka. 19km. 8.5 hours. 1890m up. 850m down. We had another 0700 start from the rustic hotel as we had a huge climb. However firstly we had to descend some 400m through the village, then extensive terraces of maize some of which was now bearing fruit. We passed a few hamlets lower down at the bottom fields before the path descended into the jungle for the final 50 metres before reaching the Ankhu Khola in the bottom of its gorge. There was a new suspension bridge here crossing the clear cascading river, and the old dilapidated one hanging forlorn and forgotten over the river with bits hanging off it. The bottom of the gorge was about 1250m.

From here we started the climb. Initially it was on a very well made path clinging to the south side of side valley with the Lapa Khola river tumbling over boulders in the bottom of the gorge. The path was all stepped and there was often a parapet, especially at the steeper bits where the path was hacked into the rock face. We passed about 10 mule caravans coming down which seemed a lot for one village, Lapagoan higher up. I stood between the mules and rock face, as it would be easy for one to get excited and knock me over the parapet into the abyss. The path was quite steep for a good hour until it relented. As it eased I came across the first signs of a village, the heavily coppiced and cropped sal trees whose leaves are cut for fodder and some terraced fields. Soon came some small chortens and children coming up some paths to head for the school. One boy proudly showed me his pet baby bird. He fed it berries and it perched quite happily on his head. It looked like a baby Jay and could not yet fly. He treasured it, but I hope the others at his primary school did.

253. A boy going to school with his pet unfledged bird he found in the village of Lapagaon.

Eventually we reached the village proper. It was Tamang. The paths through the village were all well paves and the frequent bridges made of huge stone slabs, some of which must have weighed many hundred kilos. There were streams all over the place and a few grain mills beside them. Marsh marigolds fill the areas to the sides of the stream. I thought this village was Lapagoan but Bharat arrived and said he heard it was just over the ridge. We followed the paved path up past clusters of houses and terraces fields until we crested the ridge and entered Lapagoan. It was a big village with perhaps 300 houses and a busy thriving secondary school. It even had a church, a carpentry workshop, and about 10 shops. I could now understand why there were so many mule trains.  There was yet another smaller village called Kalding further up the valley but we would bypass it. We stopped by a local shop near the school and they cooked us some chowmein with vegetables and four omelettes. It all cost US$7.

After lunch we started the main climb. The 600m from the Ankhu Khola to Lapagoan was just the warm up. We still had 1100m to climb under the warm afternoon sun. The trail was on the Ruby Valley Trek and the path was constructed by TAAN four years ago. It was stepped by already falling to bits as the drainage was poor and monsoon rivulets had played havoc with it. We followed it up above the village of Khalding across some hillsides and up some steep ridges. It was mostly through jungle for the first two hours until we climbed above 2400m and then a few hemlocks stated to take over. The climb was relentless except for the occasional pasture, only one of which was being grazed when we passed. The final hour was all through the hemlocks until suddenly we burst through and were on top of a ridge, the Mangro Bhjanyang. It was supposed to be 2900m but my watch showed 2700m.

254. All the Hemlocks on the way up to Myangal Bhanjyang Pass, 2975m, were covered in mosses and epiphytes.

This was not the real pass of the day but one which meant we had left the Lapa Khola watershed and entered the fan of another high forested valley. We now had to traverse round the fan for a good 90 minutes to reach the slightly higher ridge on the other side. Initially the path dropped into the thick hemlocks in the top of the fan, descending some 100m to a small cool stream. It then contoured round some three or four other lush streams, lined with hemlocks dripping in moss and covered in epiphytes. We passed a pasture here before the path started its final ascent up to Myangal Bhjangyang. The final slopes were covered with a busy pasture with about four families herding here. The height of this pass on the map was 2975 and it seemed right. Up at this altitude all the conifers were now huge silver fir. We passed through a concrete kami gate and started the descent.

It took us 20 minutes to reach a pasture with plenty of cows and sheep but no shelters. We were a little bit confused with the path but found it easily at the bottom of the pasture and continued our descent for another 20 minutes accompanied by some 50 sheep and goats who must have been heading to to Nauban Kharka for the night, their grazing done for the day. At Nunban Kharka there were some five or six families tending livestock, a mixture of sheep/goats and cows. The sheep and goats were already heading into their tarpaulin covered shelters for the night. These were lined with planks and had log floors so the droppings would fall through. At one end of the shelters was a small area cordoned off where the family could stay. It had a fire pit and log seating round this which would double up as a bed come nightfall.

255. Our shelter for the night at Nauban Kharka was one of the empty shelters where a family would stay. The brother of the owner of this one from the Gurung village of Yarsa let us use it for the night.

I was worried about camping here as the leeches might be prolific and they would just march under the flysheet towards me sleeping in the porch. However one of the families said that a shelter was empty and we could use it. It was about six by three metres and had rustic plank walls and floor and a tarpaulin roof. There had been no goats in it this year and the floor was clean. It was slightly elevated on stilts so the leeches would have an obstacle to get up. We thanked the brother of the owner and moved in.

256. Santos making a fire in the fire pit of the shelter at Nauban Kharka we were allowed to use.

Ramesh went off to see if anyone could spare some rice and dahl. One of the older ladies with a great golden star on one nostril had some to sell us. Bharat and Ramesh borrowed some cooking utensils and cooked the meal in her place while she was out tending to her animals. However all they did here was grow the animals, they did not milk them and there were no dairy tasks. We went up to her shelter to eat. Most of the sheep and goats were in the larger part of the shelter with about 40 animals rammed in chewing cud. A few of the goats huddled round the fire and watched us eat the dlabhat Ramesh had cooked. As we ate the rain started and was soon pouring off the tarpaulin. However we were warm and cosy in her living area and the sheep and goats through the wooden slat partition looked content. After the meal we returned to our cosy shelter as the rain eased and darkness fell. It was an interesting evening we spent in the pasture in the rustic shelters shared with the sheep and goats. The lady whose shelter we ate in did not return until much later. She had been looking for a few stray animals. When she returned she told the others that she had lost five animals to bear last year as the goats were very vulnerable outside the shelter at night. The dogs warned if bear approached, and they could tell the difference in the tone of a dog’s bark if it was human or bear.

257. Bharat in the old ladies shelter cooking the dalbhat while she was out rounding up some missing sheep. Behind Bharat is the partition to keep the goats and sheep safe at night. A few escaped to huddle round the fire.

258. Ramesh in the older ladies shelter cooking the meal while she was out rounding up missing animals.

259. The brother of the absent shelter owner who shelter we were allowed to use. Although this man was Gurung from the village of Yarsa he still had the tradition Tamang jacket made from sheep wool. He was making a basket from bamboo when we left.

June 03. Nauban Kharka to Khorlabeshi. 27km. 9 hours. 910m up. 2750m down. It drizzled all night so we were very thankful for the shelter. There were also no leeches in the shelter which was another reason for me to be grateful as I would have slept under the flysheet only. It seemed all the families at Nauban Kharka were from the village of Yarsa some three or four hours away and were in fact Gurung. I gave the brother of our shelters owner 500 rupees and then ran to catch up with the others who were already on the path to Yarsa. Just some two or three minutes after Nauban Kharka we entered another small pasture with no shelters. Here the path split and we took the right hand fork which headed straight down the hill.

It was quite a descent. 1200m in one go from the wet misty grass of Nauban Kharka through the dripping jungle mostly of moss covered deciduous trees. It was dripping wet and even the leaves covering the track, which were usually dry and crunchy, were soggy. We plunged down on a greasy slippery path of rocks and earth for a good two hours until we entered into the bamboo zone. I noticed we passed through a zone covered in blue hydrangeas. Eventually we spilled out of the jungle onto a road and a dam construction project in the bottom of the gorge at around 1550m. There was a bhatti here and as we had not had breakfast we stopped here for noodles and tea. The medium sized hydropower construction on the Richet Khola was an all Nepali project, and the quality of the concrete showed!

260. The very steep and relentless jungle track from Nauban kharka led down some 1200m down to the Richet Khola stream far below.

Just at the construction site was a suspension footbridge across the stream and from here we started a hot slog up the south facing steep rocky hillside to the village of Yarsa. It was an unrelenting 300 metre climb without shelter. We were joined by the two dogs who were based at the bhatti in the gorge and they followed us all the way to Yarsa. It is not unusual for dogs to latch onto a trekking group for a free walk. Indeed I recently heard of one who latched on to a climbing party and made it to the top of Baruntse, a 7000m peak.

Yarsa was a busy village with a lively full school, a homestay and a health clinic under construction funded by CAN, Doug Scott’s Nepal Charity. We could have easily spent the night here had we walked another four hours yesterday, but I did not have the energy to do so, I don’t think the others had, and we did not have the daylight.

From this thriving Gurung village we could follow a road as it contoured round the ridge which separated the Richet Khola with the main river of this area the Budhi Gandaki. It was a muddy colour far below us once we passed the spur and started heading north. Down the river we could just make out the town of Arughat and upstream we could see the valley on the other side, Machha khola, where we were heading for the night at its confluence with the Budhi Gandaki. There were many villages across the Budhi Gandaki gorge at about our level of around 2000m. It seemed to be the best height as far as topography went to site a village, well above the dangers of a gorge or the steep land above the gorge. Here on the ridge tops and plateaus around 2000m was where most of the villages here were sited, surrounded by huge terraces. Across the Budhi Gandaki here I could see Laprak and Barpak, two villages around 2000m which were at the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake.

261. Looking back to the village of Yarsa from the spur and we veered north into the Budhi Gandaki river valley. In the far distance near the mists is Nauban Kharka where we spent the night in the herder’s shelter.

As we followed the road north it came to the Gurung village of Kashigaon, as around 1900m. It must have been a beautiful village with stone houses with big eaves under a slate roof. However the earthquake had damaged the houses so extensively they had to be rebuilt and now most of them had tin roofs and many even tin walls. The priority had been to build a shelter again and not necessarily aesthetically. The lanes and passages between the houses still held intrigue, and here and there one could look into a courtyard to see corn and barley drying. In one lane I saw a dead weasel, obviously killed after predating on chickens. We did not stop in Kashigaon as I was keen to get our second 1200m descend of the day over and done with.  It was all the way down to the muddy Budhi Gandaki far below us. It took us a good two hours to descend through the few hundred metres of maize terraces of Kashigaon. Women worked as teams on various terraces sharing labour and singing and joking as they weeded each other’s fields. Below the terraces were poor pastoralists clinging to the pine clad mountainside, living in bamboo shelters with their motley collection of small thin cattle. After this the well-made path then descended steeply through arid scrub as it plummeted down to the river at around 800m. It was scorching hot down here and even in descent we were all sweating when we reached the long suspension bridge over the Budhi Gandaki river.

We climbed up the other side to a road and came across a bhatti. Here we had boiled eggs and numerous cups of extremely refreshing and slightly salty tea. There was apparently a path on the east side of the river away from this road. But it looked very hard work with frequent landslides to cross so we opted for the road, which was not busy or dusty. It took us just half an hour to reach Machhakhola where we intended to stop.

Machhakhola however was not the end of the road and it was a busy town. The hotels looked very comfortable and large but it was just too busy and a far cry from our shelter at Nauban Kharka. We decided to go on for another hour to Khorlabeshi, where I and Bharat had stayed once before. As we got to the northern side of Machhakhola we could see and smell the thriving roadhead. There must have been 200-300 donkeys and mules wandering about beside the river. These were used to take goods from here to villages up the Budhi Gandaki, where we were going, and up all the side streams to all the ridge top villages, like Barpak. Even as we crossed the Machhakhola more and more mule teams were arriving. The smell of this mule park was rich and pungent as months of digested grass and urine permeated the ground waiting for the monsoon to rinse it.

It took just an hour to march up the track on a second wind. The track was constructed but no vehicles could use it due to a lack of bridge at Machhakhola. The construction of the track was quite an engineering feat, with some cuttings 50 metres high into the side of the gorge. The excavator driver must have had nerves of steel, as rocks could have rained down on his cabin at any moment, or the road he was on could have collapsed into the river. Anyway he made it as far as Khorlabeshi and that would do us for the day. Khorlabeshi was a small hamlet beside the river composed of some local houses, a few shops and a few rustic hotels for tourists and some even more rustic hotels for the mule handlers. We found a lodge with cabins scattered around a shaded compound and some nice shaded areas to sit. It was warm enough here at 900m to have a cold shower. Ramesh washed my clothes which after just five days were so salty they were always damp.

The Ganesh Himal Foothills had been a bit frustrating due to the weather and the mists obscuring the views. However it scored well as a cultural experience, starting off with the Tamang heritage areas for the first couple of days until we got to Tipling when the Gurung villages started to proliferate. To pass through these villages and see their daily activities, which no doubt change through the seasons, was as rewarding as going over a high pass. Seeing the carrying of fodder for tethered livestock, the bundles of firewood being carried by older ladies, the harvesting and drying of subsistence crops and cereals, the squads of women weeding the terraces and the pastoral families raising their sheep and goats and protecting them from bears was as pleasing to the soul as crossing high glaciers. These simple rural tasks were until quite recently part of our culture until most of us sold our birthright and became disenfranchised workers in the industrial and commercial eras, with their banal, titillating, status-orientated rewards.

Section 08. Ganesh Himal Foothills. 98km. 37 hours. 6270m up. 7080m down

‹ Previous PostNext Post ›