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Mt. Kanchanjungha (28,169 ft)

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Conquering Mt. Phakumba

After the miserable bus ride, the freedom to walk around freely was a boon. Roads (well, spaces wide enough for vehicles to squeeze through), had ended right where the bus left us. After arranging for porters to carry our stuff, the journey began. Basantapur joins Sankhuwasabha and Tehrathum (districts of Nepal). We took to the Tehrathum end. The hills were inviting. Every once in a while, we'd run into a group of kids who'd hover around the boys (Sage and David) saying "Hello"; excited, perhaps, to have this opportunity to relate to strangers. Or maybe just hopeful that it'd earn them something in return- a foreign candy, for all it's worth. Regardless, the whole interaction was amusing to me as I tried to figure out which group exactly I belonged in.

As we stopped at tea houses along the way, during our five hour walk to Pachpokhari, we couldn't help but fantasize ourselves inhabiting this serene venue for the rest of our lives. The prospect of waking up every morning to the cool mountain breeze with the sun rising beyond the marmalade hills was too appealing. It was almost as if we had entered a worm hole and in 24 painful hours, transported to this place, distant from the hustle and bustle of civilzation (The infrastructure around would give one the impression that this motion took place simultaneously in space-time).

We reached pachpokhari at around six. A run down old cottage with smoke coming out from all its visible ends was where we were told we would be staying for the night. We rested our stuff, and went out for a stroll. The stars were magnificent. A homely dinner was arranged. We snuggled into our sleeping bags, slightly drowsy from the tongba (alcoholic beverage made from millet), as we tried not to think of all the things that lay ahead. We got up early the second day (14th Jan). Someone told us that a tiger had killed two goats in the house we stayed at. Now all the warnings from Dawa to not stray off too far from the house last night made much more sense.

Sage and I woke up to the annoying sound of kids shouting "malai pani, malai pani" (me too). Apparently David had introduced one of them to chocolate (Belgian, I might add), and now there was an army of little buggers wanting more of that stuff outside our window! As we set off for the day’s journey, we made it a point to stop by the fog harvester that we had seen on our way down the day before. Turns out the fog harvester did little to alleviate the huge problem of drinkable water that the village faced. After a few pictures, another day of treacherous walk up and down the hills began. The magnificent Mt. KanchanJungha smirked from a distance at our tiny steps. We stopped at Chauki, a cute village an hour away from Tehrathum- where we had noodles. As we'd find out later, if you plan to walk through the day up and down barren hills at an altitude of 3000 meters, having more than just noodles running through your system is a good idea. Sadly, we found out the harder way. Through shreemane and lampokhari, we reached guphapokhari at around six. The walk was bizzare in that you would move through barren desertlike habitat to a forest with birds singing in a span of few minutes. It was as if all the ecosystems of the world were neatly laid out in this small microcosm. And if it weren't for my backpack that was getting heavier with every step, I might have even enjoyed the walk. Guphapokhari (literal translation - cave lake) was engulfed in a sea of mist when we arrived. At a small guest house that was cleverly structured to pander to tourists trekking to Kanchanjungha through this route, we decided to take shelter for the night. More tongba, food, a few intimate stories and we snuggled back into our sleeping bags. That was the longest I had ever walked in a day, but the statement was to lose its truth value immediately the day after.

As we left Guphapokhari excited at the prospect of reaching Phakumba that night, little did we know that 3000 meters in altitude, David's injured knee, dangerous bridges with pieces falling off of them, hunger, severe thirst and extreme fatigue lay between us and our elusive destination. And one of our porters decided to desert us, so we all had extra stuff to carry. Sage, the strongest (looking) of us all, had two backpacks. And every time we would conquer a small cliff huffing and puffing on all our modern trekking gears, we'd find our porter- a thin sherpa, carrying more weight than the three of us combined, waiting for us patiently, smoking his tobacco. Did I mention that he completed the whole three day-50 pound trek in flip-flops, drunk? But that’s a different story. He was a quiet fellow, aloof and always looking far at the hills. "..In my country Platos and Aristotles might be plowing the fields somewhere, Edisons might be shepherding cattle in oblivion.. ", Devkota’s words spoke to me as I tried to imagine all the things that possibly went on inside his head. After the most painful walk of our short existence in this planet, we reached Chimphak (a village in Phakumba VDC), Dawa’s village at around seven. We had conquered our little Everest. But in the back of our tired heads, we knew the journey had all but begun. 

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