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Into the Wild Wild West of Nepal--Himalayan Odyssey

  •   By : Alonzo Lyons
  •   10 May, 2017
  •   0 comments

Rough beginnings can foreshadow and inoculate against greater adversity, building resistance and toughness for an unknown event horizon. Extremes of Nepal come at travelers from every direction and measure, from external and colossal (Himalayan titans capped with snow, ice and life-swallowing crevasses) to internal and microscopic (giardia and bowel-shaking dysentery) and many variations in-between, including night buses, dreaded by most foreigners, if not local travelers. My recent Himalayan odyssey began as a demanding night bus road journey of thirty-plus hours and was turning out to be exceptional in nearly every category.

The juggernaut known as a Night Bus spun down the highway into the dark maw of dense jungle at nighttime. Adrift on this black sea of the Tarai (Nepal’s southern, sub-tropical lowlands where long ago a boy was born named Siddhartha Gautama--later known by the title of Buddha), we were crammed into a sardine can on wheels masquerading as long-distance transport. It was transport through the savannah homeland of exotic wildlife including the Elephas maximus (Asian Elephant, largest mammal of the Indian subcontinent), Panthera tigris tigris (Bengal Tiger) and Rhinoceros unicornis (Greater One-Horned Rhino) among other fancifully named creatures. Although overcrowded, the mood on the bus was merry and accompanied by non-stop dohori (folk music) booming through broken speakers at full-volume despite an enclosed space and advanced hour.

My travel companions were eating up with relish the joys of roadway travel while I overdosed on the shrill music, cramped seats, and bone-rattling potholes that felt big enough to land an Airbus jumbo jet. In the narrow aisle between the main seats, a few of the lucky overflow passengers sat upon loose footstools while unluckier ones stood leaning against the rows of fixed seats and encroached on the luckiest of all sitting in them. A few riders half-dangled out the opened bus door and more were seated up on the rooftop. Still, the driver sought out more customers along the way. Each newcomer folded into the teeming matrix of passengers and cargo, somehow sharing the diminishing space with little to no fuss at all.

The dilapidated transport roiled through a murky night with relative ease resulting from good-natured companionship and not any extra creature comforts as there were none and never were there any on night buses that have taken me through lonely stretches of roadway out yonder in Nepal.

The intensity of Himalayan travel can sometimes become overwhelming even for seasoned veterans, and I reckon that the price of physical distress is often taken along the way--a toll in exchange for transcendental blessings that reward semi-heroic patience and humor. I desperately desired a whit of these premier qualities on such bus journeys.

Along with abundant discomforts, Nepal readily dishes out heaps of extraordinary experiences including all-out adventures available to all-comers. From first-time visitors to long-time Himalayaphiles, there is always something refreshing to discover or be discovered by in Nepal. Encompassed in this banquet feast of Nepal’s outdoor Nirvana are natural treasures from luxuriant lowland plains home to rare wildlife to fertile hills surrounded by emerald and golden paddy fields to snow-clad peaks spiraling into the lofty heavens with frosty slopes prowled by snow leopards.

Greatest of all in this Himalayan nation are its welcoming people, particularly the people living off the land in rural areas—typically all heart. They might have little to give and still give as much as they can, as if there is no other way but sharing, from a heaping plate of vittles and mug of tea (or, preferably Himalayan firewater) to a cozy place to sleep overnight.

Assembling the Team

Expedition organizer Man-Bahadur Khatri had made the same long-haul bus ride earlier in the week and was already setting up at Base Camp, a universe away from overloaded vehicles rambling through jungle lowlands. He was high up on the icy flanks of Sisne, a remote, skyscraping peak at 5911 M/19,393 ft in western Nepal awaiting stragglers like me to join after the bus ride and a half-week’s ascent through the backcountry.

Man-Bahadur is a lion-hearted type of guy, wiry as a meth-addict and tough as a Mixed Martial Arts cage-fighter. I first met him in a stale office in the treeless jungles of Kathmandu while working on a calendar and small guidebook with maps to promote tourism in his rugged home district of Rukum, part of Nepal’s Wild West. He was astonished that a lone foreigner had recced his off-the-map district and was intent on promoting it to other travelers. I was more astonished by the area’s breathtaking landscape and cultural wealth that goes virtually unnoticed by the tourism industry. Then again, maybe it is not too surprising with Everest, Annapurna and Langtang casting long shadows through this enchanting Himalayan land. Beyond these giants, the secrets of the Himalaya are full of lesser known treasures and attractions awaiting visitors.

Rukum District has recently been infused with funds from Maoist politicians. The district was a recruiting hotbed, training ground, wartime hideaway and ultimately, seat of a breakaway government during Nepal’s ten-year insurrection (1996-2006). Maoist leaders have been favoring it since the civil war ended when they joined the mainstream and gained power and access to the state’s coffers. It is a mixed blessing when funds go toward rapid road building. Local people are eager enough to literally plough ahead into the deep hills without proper engineering and thorough environmental considerations; benefits are dubious in areas that have never previously seen vehicles. The hastily-built dirt tracks require continual maintenance, especially after monsoonal washouts on steep slopes.

Man-Bahadur and I talked of towering, solitary Sisne at that first meeting. The mountain looks down on tranquil subsistence fields epochs away from the fast-paced, modern, wired lifestyle. From certain vantage points, Sisne resembles another sacred Himalayan colossus, Machhapuchhre (aka, Fishtail Peak, 6,997 M/22,956 ft), a highlight of the revered Annapurna Sanctuary, a trekker’s mecca, and one of Nepal’s most iconic mountains that is off-limits to mountaineers as an abode of deities.

“Climbing Sisne has been my dream since I was a boy,” Man-Bahadur confided in me. At the time, we both believed it was unclimbed, having heard no tales of such a feat, it significantly increased Sisne’s allure. Later, we were to find out from Ang Tshering Sherpa, President of The Nepal Mountaineering Association, that at least one European party had been on it. Details of that expedition and previous climbing quests, if any, are not well documented.

Escapin’ Money-Lovin’ Throttlebottoms

With endless physical stamina and while still new to mountaineering, Man-Bahadur flouted the greatest of odds and scaled Everest on his own and without any fanfare. He now runs his own small trekking company specializing in west Nepal, Western Nepal Treks and Expeditions (www.westernnepaltreks.com) and is also charting the hidden corners of western Nepal. He knows and loves that area as well as anyone. He does it all with the support of family and friends and a true love of adventure and self-reliance. Above all, he does not seem to mind rogues that have clout in Nepal knowing that he can always escape them by wandering into the backcountry. Nevertheless, for the chance at Sisne, he first accomplished a Himalayan amount of paperwork thrown up by bureaucrats with unmerited positions of leverage over hardworking, capable citizens. That is, to climb in his home district, he paradoxically needed ‘permission’ (including payment of ‘unofficial’ fees) from outsiders who had neither set foot in the district nor feasted on Sisne’s dazzling majesty.

Unruffled by bureaucratic annoyances, Man-Bahadur assembled a strong team including his brother All-Bahadur Khatri (“Mother gave him all the good looks,” quips Man-Bahadur), Mu-Lal Gurung, whose older brother perished in a Himalayan avalanche, Dhurba Bista and Vinayak Jay, both top-ranked rock climbers in Nepal and two more tough, young guns, Amrit Sarki from Jumla District and Nilam Gurung from Gorkha District.

Man-Bahadur wanted a team of climbers from western Nepal. He invited me, the sole foreigner, because of my previous promotion of western Nepal, especially as he knew that I did it without pay--partly because of my own mistakes of not making finances a priority while trusting cutthroat wolves cloaked as friendly looking sheep. I was along not for any mountaineering skills that I might contribute to an intergalactic team. What I could offer was interest, time and energy and maybe a story in the end.

‘Into the Wild...Wild West’

Our bus journey ended in Musikot, administrative center of Rukum District, and thereafter, an even more rough ride began by jeep. It was another few hours before we were mercifully disgorged and had our feet on the ground and packs on our backs. I was joined by Dipak Giri, a handsome twenty-year-old local lad with a maturity beyond his years, a maturity typical of people who face Nepal’s hardships and take on adult responsibility at a tearfully young age. Abandoned by his father, Dipak was raised by his mother in isolated central Rukum. “When I was five, I was working and remember carrying six pumpkins from Taka to Gumlimbang [a two-hour walk for adults], and got paid for that with one pumpkin. My mom fried it for a meal.”

We were moving upriver alongside the Sano Bheri River whose waters eventually flow into the mighty Mother Ganges River of India and on to the Bay of Bengal. We made a short stopover in Naigad, a hamlet notable for wooden plank structures that could be straight out of America’s frontier era. The welcoming people fed us homemade grub. From there we moved northward and ascended the otherworldly Sisne River basin. The last settlement in the upper reaches of this serene valley aptly shares the river’s name, Sisne.

This remote outpost of Sisne village is populated by people who migrated in years ago from even more far-flung Jumla District to the northwest. There in Sisne village we met a seventy-seven-year-old resident who had never traveled much beyond the immediate area his entire life. He had never even visited the district headquarters of Musikot (a two and a half day’s hike), had never seen an automobile and expressed absolutely no curiosity in it, seemingly content with what life had given him—a secluded shangrila unperturbed by modern technology and removed from both the problems and pleasures of the so-called first-world.

Running with the Deer in the Hills?

After meeting the rugged inhabitants of Sisne village, observing a savvy connection to nature and easy capabilities in the highlands, All-Bahadur was incredulous, “They are running with the deer in the hills here!”  If so, then they had no more exemplary representative of a mountain lifestyle than Dal-Bahadur Budathoki, nearly sixty years old and willing to porter goods to base camp from Sisne village—a demanding, all-day hike through a forest of boulders, a natural maze to the inexperienced. He hauled double-digit kilos on his back with a single eye for depth perception over perilous, steep terrain and was blind in the other eye. “The gods were angry at me for some wrongdoing and took it as punishment,” was his simple explanation with perhaps a slight touch of vanity at wrathful gods paying him personal attention. We took him at his word and did not pry about the alleged wrongdoing in question. The story of divine punishment was left a private matter between him and the gods.

Dal-Bahadur and his friend Kami Budha led us up to base camp while carrying supplies for the team in doko (locally woven baskets) with tumplines over their foreheads and were as sure-footed as crampon’d Tigers of the Snow, i.e., Sherpa mountaineers who prevail as climbers, expedition leaders, guides, cooks, porters, shopkeepers, hoteliers, restaurateurs and farmers in extreme conditions in the secluded, highland Khumbu Region of Nepal--admirably referred to as Tigers of the Snow.

In fact, Dal-Bahadur seemed at one with the surrounding forces of nature. Maybe the Cannabis indica helped that connection. It grows as a weed in the surrounding hills; he indulged every time we took a break. “It kills hunger,” was his reckoning although he toked even right after meals leaving that hunger explanation in utter doubt. Any time was suitable for a puff it seemed. He lit up in an ancient way, without lighter or matches. It was magical to witness a spark generated by striking iron pyrite with a small chunk of metal, spiriting that spark onto a tuft of lint--all held in his hands. Unbelievably, he succeeded at creating a flame with a single stroke the many times I saw him take out fixin’s.

What Does Not Kill You Only Makes You Projectile Vomit?

Kami and Dal-Bahadur drank liberally from any water source available, including brackish puddles the color of medium-bodied tea that probably would induce even the fabled, flea-bitten, wilderness-loving yeti (abominable snowman of the Himalaya) to projectile vomiting (and perhaps the even more dreadful projectile diarrhea). These guys were all sinew and awareness, sensitized to a natural world which we outsiders were comparative Martians requiring everything but space suits, supplementary oxygen and mission directives from Ground Control.

I was the last climber to arrive at base camp at 4,200 M/13,780 ft where seven capable mountaineers had been acclimatizing including a reconnaissance to high camp at 4,800 M/15,748 ft and back to base camp. Although ascending too fast for standard recommendations, I was not about to miss the opportunity, a once in a lifetime experience on Sisne. Self-aware for signs of acute mountain sickness, I would otherwise will my way up with whatever energy remained in my bones. The group was moving back up to high camp the next day, and to join the final ascent attempt the morning after that, I had to move up with them.

Other than Imja Tse (Island Peak), the most treaded-on peak in Nepal, with virtually a snow-staircase to the summit, and Mount Rainer in the Pacific Northwest of the USA long, long ago, I lacked climbing experience compared with this talented group. I did not want to be a burden in any way as they would have their hands and minds full with the mountain’s severe challenges, finding a route not previously outlined.

Wishing I was in Kathmandu or climbing a mountain?

The surreal snowfield of high camp was eerily quiet as we arrived. A riveting panorama to the east and north revealed a buffet of snowy peaks. Views to the east included the seventh tallest mountain in the world, Dhaulagiri. At 8167 M/26,795 ft. It holds the glory of being the highest mountain entirely within Nepal’s borders.

Sleeping at altitude is never easy, especially after a fast ascent without sufficient time for physiological recovery. Still, other than a minor headache, discomfort was from low temperatures. Despite deep tiredness from long days of pounding the trail to arrive in time, it was fitful slumber before Mu-Lal’s call to adventure at 3 AM, “You guys wishing you were in Kathmandu or here to climb a mountain?” A few unintelligible growls replied as we awoke to the frozen, pre-dawn troposphere to shake life into dozing muscles.

Spiraling into a Divine Abode of Snow Crystals

From high camp, it was a 1000-meter/3280 feet, 60-degree headwall of ice and snow. We set out to tackle the complexity with ropes, axes and crampons. It was slow going, and the steep pitch required painstaking recce and placement of ropes by the lead climbers (mostly Mu-Lal, Dhurba and Vinayak). The rope was flimsy looking, and I had to confirm with teammates more than once that it was durable enough to support jumar climbing and abseiling. Honestly, it looked like cheap plastic twine offered as ‘cheapest and best!’ in Kathmandu’s globetrotter hive known as Thamel. It made me uneasy like nothing else on the mountain because it was literally supporting the lives of eight men on a steep pitch of ice--while appearing as if it could not support half the weight of one of us alone. Despite a look of tensile frailty, the rope turned out to be ten times as strong as a Khumbu yak’s tail or perhaps something as fabulous as that (please make up your own upland creature analogies :)

At one point going on mid-afternoon we stopped for a confab on a small shelf of exposed rock. We briefly discussed returning to High Camp. If we did not continue ascending, another option was to bivouac on this exposed granite slab with whatever apparel we had on, a formidable prospect as any because I have never been good with low temperatures, and it had been challenging enough at relatively warmer High Camp with sleeping bags atop thermal mats all inside a relatively cozy tent--a royal palace in comparison to exposed granite surrounded by sheer slopes of ice with no such amenities. Here at ~5,500 M/18,045 ft we had nothing extra to combat the elements but the jackets, gloves and hats we currently wore and perhaps a billion stars that would be twinkling above inspiring us on to survival by morning. Gratefully, willpower was strong to continue upward. Man-Bahadur had sacrificed too much to turn around and a bivouac might zap waning energies whereas a retreat at this point would not allow a second attempt as we lacked the time and resources.

Straddling the Himalaya

We trudged upward on vapors of physical and mental stamina and ultimately reached a knife-edged summit ridge battered by high winds just after 5 PM. Exhilarating vistas greeted us including a marvelous chain of shark-tooth ridges fading to the western skyline.

The actual summit was a bit higher up a razor-thin crest of windblown ice with lethal drops to the eastern side. No one was keen to test it. After requisite photos with banners and Nepal’s unique national flag made of triangles emblematic of the very Himalaya we were straddling, we began a long descent.

Less than two hours of daylight remained after the ascent ate up fourteen hours. Peering down, especially formidable on this descent was how obviously exposed we were. On the way up, eyes were focused on what was above, and at the time, the yawning drop behind us went unnoticed. Now, over a kilometer (>0.62 mile) of abyss glared up with frosted, empty eyes—a chute of hard, slick ice and rock led to the nadir, a would-be boneyard in a forgotten nook of Himalayan wilderness--forgotten until future interlopers might one day discover well-preserved, frozen DNA and perhaps encode it into another incarnation of Himalaya futurama. Any such vain thoughts persisted only until darkness fell, and then the vast chasm was blotted out. Thereafter, we could see only a few meters ahead with the light-cones afforded by headlamps and had to increase our concentration tenfold. As we moved down, the beams attached to our moving heads streaked around like hazy comets through inky black surroundings. Everything else was camouflaged in stark shadows with faintly whispering echoes that hinted at the plunging depth below us.

Occasionally, cries of ‘rock!’ pierced the night air, signaling that a chunk of ice or a rock accidentally dislodged by a team member was tumbling down the sheer slopes in the darkness. In one instance, the warning holler was directly above Dhurba and me, a few meters apart but not roped together. We defensively crouched and cranked our necks back to peer up as a flicker of a flying object pierced my light cone. The rock was larger than a football and could not have struck more squarely in my back. A thick jacket and rucksack protected against harm other than a near-overdose of adrenalin.

Sleeping Like Mummies?

Drearily we plodded back into High Camp over 24 hours after beginning the climb, starved for water and too tired to care about thirst. Hunkering into our tents and sleeping bags we slumbered like retired Gurkhas until well after dawn and emerged with the sun overhead lapping at us through the thin air. It was past 9 AM and Man-Bahadur, All-Bahadur and I melted snow over a portable stove to drink and then boiled instant noodles to begin to replenish energy reserves before descending to join the others already at lower base camp.

The local population refers to Sisne as Hiuchuli (hiu: snow; chuli: top) for its perennial dressing of snow. They stay off the upper flanks of the mountain which legend says is the domicile of Masta and Saikumari, a powerful god-couple, and they dare not provoke them. Meat, egg, ginger, onion, and alcohol are items considered taboo on the mountain’s slopes as their strong odors are believed to arouse the deities’ wrath. Only after our climb did we have omelets at lower base camp, and prepared them without oil to reduce aroma.

As challenging as the climb was, we had survived without serious incident--even rougher was a hike out of an uncharted gorge that we reckoned would be a shortcut back to Sisne village rather than retracing a route through the labyrinthine boulder-forest without marijuana-puffing local guides. Actually, it took much longer and was particularly hard because we were recovering from the long climb and physically and mentally hammered. We traversed the gorge with our own heavy backpacks on our worn-out backs. Along with warm clothes and personal items, I was even carrying a tent and other gear and rations for a solo exploration to a high elevation yarsagumba (Ophicordyceps sinesis) hunting ground once we found the main trail. As we bushwhacked our way down the secluded valley of the Beunke River, we skirted tributaries of dense jungle, as impenetrable as anything in the Amazon, or so I imagined, with precipitous drops that could mean ‘rebirth in another realm’, as Tantric Buddhists speculate.

Tangled Jungle Realm

Class VI Rapids designate perilous waters of roaring rivers, and if bushwhacks had a similar scale of difficulty, then this one through dense vegetation would be a Class VI Bushwhack. For starters, under thick canopy, the organic detritus of the forest carpet was spongy and gave way at nearly every footfall. We had jumped into the well without knowing how deep it was, so to speak, yet kept a-goin’ despite trampling the wilderness landscape--hopefully a single pass through might be relatively easy recovery for the vegetation.

At times, it was zero steps forward, two steps back, and my preferred lightweight running shoes for the trekking trails were useless here, the soles far too smooth for traction on a lush, untouched forest floor. Continually slipping and reaching out blindly to halt a calamitous fall, the sisnu (stinging nettle) covering the slopes stabbed at us. As sisnu punctures the skin it gives a biting jolt followed by a brief spell of tingling numbness at the affected area. After seven hours of bushwhacking, the stinging nettle brushed against hands, back, neck, nose, arms, legs, and even around the eyes—nearly everywhere skin was exposed or through which its tiny bristles nipped through clothing.

We found a remote cave along the way with a floor blackened by fires that were likely lit by hunters in this backwoods recess of Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Nepal’s only preserve for the hunting of wild animals. Few people reach this isolated area, and in the vast reserve, only about two dozen foreign hunters visit each year mostly looking for naur (blue sheep ram) and tahr, a goat-like mammal. Barking deer, wild boar, and pheasant are also pursued. Hunting parties are typically accompanied by a coterie of aides with large camps, a throwback to the pampered style of yore indulged in by royalty and colonialists who decimated the tigers of the Tarai while dining on gourmet meals prepared by skilled chefs and sipping high-end whiskey--as self-serving as it gets in a country of subsistence farmers.

Ursus Thibetanus (Himalayan Black Bear)

In this lost corner of the preserve, totally exhausted and trudging onward while extremely low on energy, we were suddenly rushed by a Himalayan Black Bear. All-Bahadur had mistaken a hairy, black mass in the jungle for a wallowing water buffalo, common in inhabited areas of Nepal. Chucking a rock in its direction, the startled beast arose and came charging right at us. This massive Ursus thibetanus was within a few meters of Dhurba as we all were raising our voices sky-high. It wheeled in a furry flash and scrambled out of sight in moments. We were left with remaining reserves of fight or flight hormones drenching our bloodstreams (the startled critter likely felt the same about totally unexpected intruders). Local lore of disturbing divinities by climbing the pure snows of Sisne took on new life as we dragged ourselves out through the rest of the densely forested, hidden valley while staying overly alert for claws and fangs backed by hundreds of pounds of fierce muscle covered in a wiry coat of hair.

At the main route, we split up. I went off alone to recce a caravan destination for collecting yarsagumba, the highland fungus nicknamed Himalayan Gold for its outrageous value in Chinese markets. It has ignited a modern-day goldrush in the Himalaya. After a few days, the team met back up in Rukum District’s headquarters of Musikot where a reception from the good-hearted local people awaited including former Nepal Tourism Minister and Rukumeli Lokendra Bista Magar and a banquet hosted by Hari-Bahadur Malla, wealthy Rukumeli hotelier based in Kathmandu visiting Rukum at the time.

On the trek back to Musikot, local people kept saying, “Now that Sisne has been climbed, we want a road.” At one point a local woman chimed in, “Vroom, vroom. Then motorbikes can come. Vroom, vroom.”

Resuscitating the Spirit

It is a double-edged khukuri (Nepali knife). Of course, locals want better infrastructure whereas from an outsider’s point of view, it would be idyllic if things stayed the same. ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’, is a wistful adage rarely heeded through time, losing meaning all over again with successive generations. Then again, nothing ever stays the same, and roads will come sooner or later, bring what they may. Will future inhabitants ever know the difference enough to mourn a shangrila lost to so-called progress?

Naturally, the tidal wave of time rolls on in unison across the planet, and with it life’s circumstances will be ever-changing. I am fortunate to have had a few moments of time on a rough, exceptionally worthwhile journey to Sisne with friends. Nearly every moment in Nepal can be resuscitating to the spirit despite adversity and suffering as inevitable consorts along the way.

This Himalayan country is blessed with jaw-dropping natural treasures including snowy mountains spiking into steely skies. Even more inspiring is the strength of a modest people living off the land in rural Nepal although the snow-covered peaks are a nice topping to it all, including Rukum’s pride and joy Sisne, with a summit blasted by both sunlight and the strong and lonely winds of eons.

As for more Himalayan climbing on my event horizon skyline, Mark Twain puts that into proper perspective, “There is probably no pleasure equal to the pleasure of climbing a dangerous Alp; but it is a pleasure which is confined strictly to people who can find pleasure in it.”


INSPIRED FOR SISNE AND THE RUGGED, WILD WEST?

QUICK FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS

Best seasons for trekking and climbing in Nepal: Pre- and post-monsoon. Pre-monsoon is mid-March through May and post-monsoon is late-September to November. At these times the weather is typically clearest and most suitable and reliable for a highland adventure.

Environment: Subtropical to alpine including remote, lush hills and pasturelands, mid to high elevation river valleys and alpine meadows with a feast of natural beauty at every turn.

Facilities: Home stay, basic lodges, camping. For more details on the various trails in the region, please refer to Alonzo’s guidebook, The Guerrilla Trek and Yarsa Trails or contact one of the agencies listed below for more information.

Duration: Ten days and more depending on side-trips and route choice. Potential side-trips include exploring the Guerrilla Trek and Yarsagumba Trails, trekking to Dolpo District and much more.

Difficulty level: Moderate to high given that the area is isolated; the most important factors for safety along the way include drinking water treatment, food hygiene, intestinal health, and route finding.

Formalities: Nepal Visa ($30 to $100 USD on arrival), Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve permit (3000 NPR or around $30 USD).

Advisory: If you are considering climbing Sisne, then please note: it is not one of the 33 Trekking Peaks managed by the Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Ministry of Tourism. Special permits might be necessary.

Getting there: Start from Kathmandu or Pokhara and travel by jeep, microbus or bus to Beni or ride all the way to Dhorpatan by way of Baglung District. Another starting option is a bus to Musikot, district headquarters of Rukum, and then jeep to Rukumkot from where you can begin hiking. Roadways keep advancing, crisscrossing the foothills, and jeeps run beyond Rukumkot, too, and hiking from Rukumkot is a recommended and satisfying experience.

Costs: Depends on style, duration, destination and party size

Trail Fare: Daal-bhat tarakari – heaping plate of rice with lentil soup and curried vegetables and a staple meal of the trail. Another delicacy is dhirdo, which is puréed corn or millet mash, served with lentil soup and curried vegetables. Ingredients for daal-bhat-tarkari and dhirdo are locally sourced and will be the freshest of available options.

Beverages on the trails and in the villages include chiyaa (black or milk tea both usually very sweet), fermented spirits chhyang (not distilled) and raksi (distilled) prepared from locally grown maize, rice, millet and sometimes fruit. These homemade drinks are indispensable for entertaining guests, including you!

Highlights: Natural scenery, traditional Magar (the largest indigenous ethnicity of Nepal) culture, ancient customs, remote passes, enchanting villages, emerald and golden paddy fields, rushing rivers and streams, rejuvenating hot springs, historical sites, yarsagumba hunting grounds and much more.

Recommended Outfitters for an adventure in rugged western Nepal: Neo Horizon Travels (www.neohorizontravels.com ), Western Nepal Treks and Expeditions (www.westernnepaltreks.com ), Technical Himalaya (www.technicalhimalaya.com ) and others. Please check Nepal-based Nepal Trip Advisor (www.nepaltripadvisor.com) for special package rates and details for the Wild, Wild West and beyond to the entire outdoor paradise of Nepal


Alonzo Lyons -- Samsara Wanderer, Believer in Comedians and Himalayaphile -- born and raised in the developing world named Earth (specifically, Idaho in the Northwest USA). Alonzo is on a quest to admire and report on the secrets and treasures of the Himalaya. He is continually blessed and humbled by the resilience and hospitality of the open-hearted people living off the land in the enchanting mid-hills of Nepal – and especially enjoys the roxy (firewater) there.
Please keep on trekking and keep on enjoying the Nirvana of Nepal’s Himalayan paradise.

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