(All photos are my own, taken with an IPhone as I had been separated from my camera)
Trekking in Nepal is big business and adventure tourism is thriving in Kathmandu, Pochara and the West. If you want to fully immerse yourself and break away from the path well trodden, then head East to Dharan and wander in the untouched hills South of the mighty Mt Kangchenjunga.
Going East. You can get to Dharan by short (25min) flight from Kathmandu or you can drive. It takes about 10 hours by road, but it’s worth doing to experience the route across the amazing BP Koirala Highway mountain pass. Once in the East we travelled North from Dharan by land rover and started our journey from Namje, named by CNN as One of the 12 best places you have never heard of. We set off on foot to explore the Dhankuta District. Small communities are dispersed throughout the remote hilly terrain and linked by tracks, many of which are not suitable for vehicles. The scenery is arguably not as instantly breathtaking as the West, but as we walked through the untouched hills, enjoying beautiful views of Mt Kangchenjunga as a backdrop, I knew this was an utterly unique experience. There is no tourism or English speaking at all and you cannot travel here without a good knowledge of Nepali or a guide. I was lucky to be hosted and accompanied by a Nepalese friend, whose patience and guidance were invaluable.
Navigation. We had no map or directions other than a list of villages and projects that we wanted to visit. In this part of the country the best way to get from place to place is to seek local knowledge and ask. This was essential for us as we needed to cross the Tamur River, a raging torrent running down from Mt Kangchenjunga. The river is one of 7 tributaries which join to form the Saptakoshi which flows down to northern Bihar before joining the Ganges. The only way across was in a dugout canoe, but necessary for us if we wanted to reach the isolated communities on the far bank. Each small community is usually linked by a small track, so we would stop at each place and get directions. The vertiginous steep tracks and rough terrain meant that we were only able to cover about 15-20km per day. This sounds frustrating, but for me the importance of our journey was not to get to a destination, but rather to just enjoy meeting people and being in the hills.
Culture and Positivity. Everywhere we went I was struck by the positivity of the people we met. Seemingly devoid of the parafanalia of modern living, you might expect a feeling of disadvantage, but nothing could be further from the truth. The cheerful and kind welcome we received at every stop was like a tonic for the soul. I took a lot from these values and was inspired by the great feeling of positivity. We were invited to join wedding parties (where I ended up playing the drums), welcomed into houses and offered food and drink by many who could scarce afford to share it. You need to be aware that this goes both ways and if you are cooking, expect to feed everybody who turns up.
Eating and Drinking. You will need to carry some basic fundamentals such as noodles, rice, coffee and any spices. Then supplement this with vegetables, local chicken or fish purchased from the various settlements. Look out for the round chillies grown in this region, they are seriously awesome. I also recommend filtering, boiling and puritabbing the water. You may be offered Roxi, a kind of lethal moonshine, and I recommend you take this in small doses. Also popular in the East is an alcoholic millet based drink called Tongba served warm in a wooden pot with a straw. There are even statues erected to celebrate this magnificent beverage.
Kit and Equipment. I forgot some important essentials on this trip and am revisiting my kit list, which I will upload separately.
Gurkha Welfare Trust. At each of the schools we visited, I was struck by the dedication of the students. The value of eduction is understood from a young age and the commitment to learning is humbling. One 15 year old I spoke with was attending the early morning class to prepare for School Leaving Certificate Exams (GCSE equivalent). It had started at 0630 and she had walked an hour uphill to get there and still looked immaculate in her uniform. In the schools and the local communities there are a number of areas benefitting from charitable assistance. Clean drinking water is a priority and the Gurkha Welfare Trust are doing an amazing job through their community aid and clean drinking water projects. They also look after the Gurkha Welfare Pensioners.
Useful Phrases for trekking in Nepal
Namaste – Hello/Goodbye – Spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest)
Dhanyabad – Thank you
Pukka Ramro – Awesome (must be said with meaning and gesticulation, such as a vigorous chop of the hand)
Tik Tak – Alright? (Can also be used as a response e.g. Q: how are you? A: I am tik tak thank you)
Ukalo – steep (going up)
Uralo – steep (going down)
Utyaha – Over there
Maathi – Up there, above
Tala – Down there, below
Pani – Water
Chiyaa – tea
NB. Greetings are made according to your relationship with the person you are speaking to and use of nicknames is commonplace (even with people you meet for the first time). You need to work out (guess) whether the person is older or younger than you (difficult in the hills where everyone is healthy and strong and looks about 20). It’s worth trying to use the following as it will break the ice: (e.g. Namaste Bahini)
Diddi – Older sister
Bahini – Younger sister
Dai – Older brother
Bai – Younger brother
Good luck, safe travels and Namaste.