Rara Lake and The Far West

From Jumla we expected to take about 12 days to reach the Indian border. This was the final push. Go West by the Pet Shop Boys featured heavily in our trail singing repertoire. This section of the Great Himalayan Trail has an elevation profile that looks a bit like the jagged edge of a saw; we quickly realised that like the Far East our days would be spent going up and down, up and down, however this time in hot, dry, dusty conditions. Also similar to the Far East was the boundless friendliness, generosity and warmth of the people; the wildly inaccurate time estimates provided by locals; and the undying curiosity people had for us, which meant that we were constantly followed by staring pairs of eyes. A fitting end to the whole trail I suppose, just like where we started. So far we’d escaped any real illness however the Far West put a swift and smelly end to that.

On day 93 we dragged ourselves out from beneath our fluffy doonas in Jumla and began a long 1.3km vertical ascent towards Danphe pass (3600m). Having spent almost two full days in Hotel Kanjirowa, a comfortable oasis, it almost felt like we’d finished our hike, which left us struggling for motivation to continue. I spent the morning wondering how I’d managed to avoid boredom after walking all day every day for 93 days. But as the steep uphill commenced my mind was quickly numbed by exertion and I entered into the meditative state that hard walking brings, where you are simply working too hard to hold a thought in your mind, and when you try, it slips away. I supposed that maybe this is how I’d passed the last 93 days.

Views from Danphe pass looking back towards Jumla:

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After the pass it was 1000m vertical descent to Nauri Ghat, by the river, where we found a basic guesthouse. We reached Nauri Ghat with our stomachs concave; we’d not eaten lunch as there had been no villages on the way and we couldn’t bring ourselves to cook noodles. Instead we’d snacked on a banana, some peanuts and a bit of chocolate. Of course the only snacks we could find when we arrived were more minute noodles, which we reluctantly washed down with a coke.

Day 94

After a totally dreamy breakfast of roti with runny fried egg and spinach we began walking along a stunning river. The water was so clear, and flowed over a perfect stone base.

We picked up a gaggle of tiny children on our way down to Chauta. They were totally relentless asking for pens, chocolate, sweets, and noodles. Ronnie thankfully was able to distract them by taking photos and boomerangs.

Second from the left dishing out all the sass:

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We gladly dropped them off at school in Chauta.

From Chauta we climbed 1000m to Gurchi Lagna pass (3450m) before a knee banging 1000m descent to reach a small ‘hotel’ just outside Jhyari, which was home to millions of flies who seemed particularly pleased to see us. The word ‘hotel’ seems to have a pretty loose meaning in the more remote parts of Nepal, and not for the first time we accidentally stole the children’s room for the night.

Villages below the pass:

Our hotel:

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Day 95 began with a steep uphill climb through Jhyari to Rara Lake, supposedly Nepal’s biggest lake. When we arrived we were gutted to find out that we’d just missed out on watching the annual 15km trail race around the rim of the lake which had taken place that morning. Along our way we picked up three young girls, who, in their steadfast determination to get a good look at us actually jogged next to us for a few kilometres whilst maintaining a sideways stare.

Rara lake:

At midday we reached the rather wonky and dated Danphe Hotel by the edge of the lake, that was full to the brim with Nepali tourists and fun runners. We spent the afternoon napping, washing, drinking tea, and chatting to the runners – the winner had apparently run from Jumla (50km) the day before the race!

Day 96 marked the start of some long days. We walked a total of 33km to Ratapani, which included a 2km vertical descent. As we left the lake we munched on minute noodles and chocolate cream biscuits for breakfast, all that was available. The lake water was so crystal clear you could see fish swimming about.

A green river valley brought us to a small shop where we loaded up on dal bhat.

As we descended further the rice paddies and villages multiplied, the river turned murkier and murkier, and the temperature soared. Cactuses started appearing on the hills.

We were chased into Ratapani by a cackling thunderstorm, and arrived just before the rain, after 9 hours of walking.

Day 97
From Ratapani we hiked a long day along the river to Kolti, passing many elaborate homemade aqua ducts that funnelled water from the river into small hydro systems, mills, and terraces. All the houses here have cactus on their roof as this apparently ensures they won’t be struck by lightning.

The heat cooked us, we wandered along like little basted chickens with sweat pouring out of us. As we turned up the valley towards Kolti we came across more villages where we progressively picked up more and more school children as we moved along. It reminded me of the end of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race; we were two super maxis coming up the Derwent river surrounded by an ever growing flotilla of small children, speeding up and zooming around to try to get a good look at us, whilst making sure not to get too close. We definitely seemed to have reacquired the celebrity status we’d held in the Far East.

We again made a lucky entrance into Kolti right before a huge thunderstorm moved through, bringing heavy rain. In the small eatery where we were staying there was an actual menu that had at least ten choices, some of which diverged from dal bhat. Blinded by sheer joy and excitement we ordered a fried chicken leg each with fried rice. After we’d gobbled it down we realised it probably wasn’t the brightest decision given the state of the kitchen, the lack of electricity, the heat of the day, and the lightening speed with which it arrived at our table.

On day 98 we left early as we had a big day ahead to reach Martadi. We hiked probably one of our biggest days yet: 10hours, 30km, 2000m ascent, 1000m descent. Our suspicions about last night’s fried chicken proved to be right, and we both had a shitty day, in the bowel movement sense of the word, spending a lot of time in the bushes.

Climbing to the Parakhe Pass (2710m) passing beautiful patchworks of terraces:

We passed many goat caravans. Goats are used here as the trail ahead is too difficult for mules.

It took 5hours of descent through a forrest by the river to eventually reach the large town of Martadi Bazaar, where a schoolgirl showed us to a relatively new hotel, with clean sheets, an attached bathroom, and a TV! Whooop!

Fields outside Martadi:

Day 99 was a good day. We got up, packed up, were about to leave when we decided we’d stay for a rest day. Our bodies were starting to fall apart and yesterday’s toilet troubles hadn’t helped the situation. Plus, Sunderland were apparently playing in the play off final tonight 🙄.

We had an outstanding day exploring town in amongst some naps. It was so nice to have a day where we had the energy and time to stop and chat to people and take photos. The people of Martadi were as welcoming, friendly and inquisitive as ever. The local school was hosting an interschool athletics meet which we went to watch, quickly becoming engulfed in a crowd of curious children as soon as we entered the school gates. The four by 100m relay was the event of the day. The runners were sprinting so incredibly fast around the circular track, in bare feet, that they were skidding out.

Martadi bazar:

Dancing with the local kids:

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Sofia, a mate we made at the local school:

Rooftop toothbrushing before school:

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Athletics at the local school:

On day 100 our diahorea returned with a vengeance. We both had no appetite. After forcing some roti and omelette down we set off on our way to Oligaon. Little did we know at the time that this was the beginning of a week long pooping and vomiting extravaganza, that wore us down and left us limping for the finish line.

It was another steamy day. The first section took us down to the valley floor, up a steep steep hill, back down to the valley floor, then back up a steep steep hill that went on and on; a rollercoaster. In Pina Lek a kindly lady ushered us into her garden and told us to fill up on water as there would be none for a while.

Trying on my sunglasses:

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At lunchtime we had absolutely no interest in dal bhat so instead forced down a kit kat and a some noodles. Strangely noodles had suddenly become more appealing.

After crossing a small pass we came across an almighty landslide that had a teeny tiny series of footsteps leading across it. It didn’t look so bad from above, but it was utterly terrifying once we’d got going. The foot holds were gravelly and slippery and the drop to the left seemed to grow bigger the further we got across. I bum shuffled most of the way across as I was so terrified my feet would slip sending me tumbling down the hill.

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Made it!

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The rest of the day was spent walking on a dirt road, searching for the illusive town of Oligaon, which seemed to always be over the next hill. We came to four different towns we hoped to be Oligaon before being waved on yet again.

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When we finally reached Oligaon at 5.15pm after 9hours walking, we found there was no hotel and no homestays. Outside the local restaurant sat a crowd of men drinking tea who told us we could camp in the school ground opposite and that they’d make us dal bhat for dinner. We were joined by a bunch of locals to set up our tent who watched with fascinated awe. Then came endless photos. We finally got left alone at about 6pm and went for a wash at the local tap. Still lacking an appetite and feeling somewhat queasy we force fed ourselves a plate of dal bhat for dinner and quickly excused ourselves to bed.

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Dinner at the local restaurant:

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Our stomachs did backflips all night and on day 101 we woke up feeling wretched. After several trips to the toilet we found ourselves back at the local restaurant sitting in front of a breakfast plate absolutely loaded with food: local ferns, potato, roti, rice, and dal. Any other day we would have been cheering at such a mountain of food, but just looking at it made us feel sick, and with a feeling of dread we realised we’d have to eat as much as possible to avoid causing offence. To make matters worse we were also served a glass of warm sweet milk which was absolutely covered in flies that promptly began getting stuck in the sticky sweet liquid, creating a sweet white fly soup.

Our breakfast chef:

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After battling our way through breakfast we managed to walk for about an hour before we both ended up in the bushes. We then continued to the top of a ridge where we found some Fanta and shade. Below us at the bottom of the valley was Dogadi, which we were told had a local hotel called the ‘Cottage Hotel’. We decided we felt too ill go on, and would stop there.

When we reached Dogadi we asked for the hotel and were told it was ‘up the hill’. Up the hill we were told the hotel was ‘just 30 minutes further’ up the road. After 30 minutes further up the road we were told the hotel was ’10 minutes further’ up the road. After 10 minutes we were told it the hotel was ‘just 1km further’ up the road. In hindsight this was probably a good thing because if someone had told us how far the Cottage Hotel really was then we both probably would have ended up in a puddle of tears by the side of the road. Driven by images of a delightful little cottage, we pushed on and on and at about 11am after 3 hours of walking which neither of us can really account for or believe happened, we reached Cottage Hotel, a thoroughly disappointing tin shed by the side of the road.

We were shown to a room with two beds that must’ve been about 10 degrees hotter than outside temperature which was already sweltering. To the left of us was another room that served as a local restaurant, and to the right of us was a room filled with workers with sewing machines – a true ‘sweat shop’ in the midday sun.

The Cottage Hotel:

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We spent the afternoon trying to escape the relentless heat, lying in the shade of a tree by a dried up river drinking water, napping, and periodically dashing into the bushes. We took some antibiotics but Ronnie brought them back up about half an hour later. When we returned to our tin lair as the sun was going down it was still baking hot. We lay in bed feeling sorry for ourselves and listening to podcasts whilst watching the light flicker on and off, along with all the other lights in the village.

On day 102 we were determined to make an escape from the tin oven. We were both able to hold down a bowl of minute noodles for breakfast, a good start. Thankfully the day was spent following a dirt road gradually downhill, so it was nice and easy walking, albeit in outrageous heat.

We stopped in Khalukheti for lunch, where we managed a plate of dal bhat whilst talking to three young men. Feeling drained, we wanted to stop in Khalukheti for the night. The three men told us the closest hotel was 2 hours away, then changed this to 4 hours away, then told us the hotel was not actually on our route. After much debate they decided there was a local hotel in Malumela, which was on our route and ‘4-5 hours away’. With no camping options we reluctantly hit the road. It actually only took us about 3.5 hours to Malumela, a stinking hot village by the river. We’d somehow managed to walk at total of 7 hours – a miracle we could only put down to a load of Oreos we’d forced in that morning and our lunchtime ‘dal bhat power’.

Morning Oreos:

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We passed many boney buffalo behinds along the way, which rather worryingly always  reminded me of Ronnie’s skinny arse:

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As we arrived in Malumela we were hollered at by a policeman who insisted that we ‘come here right now’. He sat us down, asked for our passports, waved them around for a bit before moving onto the very important business of finding out where we were from, if we were married, and if we had kids. He’d clearly just fancied a chat. He told us Malumela had no hotel and tried to convince us to walk 10km up the road in the wrong direction to a hotel, a suggestion which we shutdown immediately. We’d rather camp. We were then walked a short way up to the local shop where we were introduced to a man who showed us to the attic of his home that was accessed by a teeny tiny door which we needed to take our packs off to fit through. It was baking hot and contained nothing but a dirty tarp on the mud floor. Relieved to not have to set up the tent, we thanked him enthusiastically.

Washing at the local tap – absolute heaven in the heat (with a spectator of course!):

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Our attic room:

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That evening Ronnie was starting to feel better however I took a turn for the worst and spent the evening heaving by the river. It was another miserable night, sweltering hot in our little attic room, sweating so much we stuck to our sleeping mats.

On day 103 we ran out of toilet paper. Disaster. We had no choice but to do it how the locals did it – with a bucket of water and our left hand; a character building experience that wasn’t actually as traumatic as we’d first imagined.

Feeling pleased to have stomached some noodles for breakfast:

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We spent the morning walking down a road for three hours to Jhota.

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As we plodded along the hot road, with no expectations regarding how far we would get we realised this sickness has been a good thing in some ways. Since a couple of weeks earlier, when we’d realised we were close to the finish, all we thought about was the finish. We’d been charging ahead, wholly focused on the end, counting down the days, pushing ourselves till we felt so exhausted we had little time or energy for the people around us. But now we’d been forced to slow down, and although we weren’t exactly smelling the roses we were taking things day by day, and drinking in the people and places around us.

In Jhota we were pleased to find a number of local hotels. Given we’d been passing only tiny towns made up of tin sheds all morning we didn’t like our chances of finding any places to stay further along the road so decided we’d stay and rest here, with a real bed, and a toilet close by. We spent the afternoon absolutely cooking in our room, the heat was unbearable. I lay my damp towel on me to cool down but it did nothing. It must’ve been 35 degrees or more. We went in search of toilet paper but managed to find only a packet of napkins which had a plastic like coating that tended to smear things around rather than clean them up.

My feelings about the heat:

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In amongst a number of sprints into the bushes we somehow managed to walk 32km on day 104.

Leaving our hotel in Jhota:

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En route:

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We passed countless women planting rice whilst the men ploughed the field with oxen.

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In Bagthala Bazaar we walked into a local restaurant for dal bhat, dripping with sweat. The restaurant owner seemed to feel sorry for us and hurried off to get a fan, which he turned on and plonked in front of us. It was glorious. I asked for some cold sprite and he told me he had none before bringing us a cold glass of coke each, with frozen bits all through it. What a God. As we were leaving he asked where we were going and offered us a taxi. When we declined he hurried over to chat to some men in the restaurant then returned to us and told us that these men were taxi drivers, ‘they will take you, don’t worry you don’t have to pay!’ We tried to explain what we were doing, but he continued to be a bit perplexed as to why we would want to walk.

As we continued hiking further up the road we came across more and more kind souls. While we stopped to eat some chocolate at the side of the road two men pulled up in a jeep, took one look at our sorry faces, and handed us an enormous cucumber. A man in a fuel truck also pulled over next to us to offer us a lift. I can only assume we must’ve looked rough.

A little further up the road we sat by a water tap drinking when two women teachers came to introduce themselves. They ended up walking with us for half an hour, asking us endless questions, and even asked us each to do a monologue about ourselves which they recorded on their phones so that they could ‘show our friends what you were like later’.

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We passed many more men ploughing the fields. These guys seemed to be having a particularly good time in the mud:

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While sitting on some steps taking a breather, these kids came from behind to check us out. We waved hullo via a selfie:

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We missed the short cut we were supposed to take to Jhapa and instead found ourselves in a small village called Bichgada Bazar where we found a lovely lady named Braoti who showed us to a room above her restaurant, where we collapsed in an exhausted pickle.

Having a wash in the river below Bichgada Bazar, just before another thunderstorm moved in:

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Day 105

With the prospect of finishing in two days we pushed out another long day of 9.5 hours, despite still feeling well under the weather. On the positive side we spent less time in the bushes and managed to locate toilets along the way, however rather devastatingly our napkin rations ran out.

I could have sworn it’s illegal to smile for a photo if you are Nepali. Despite looking totally grim in this photo, Braoti did like us I promise! Leaving Bichgada Bazar:

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A bunch of locals who came to chat and see us off:

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En route:

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We started out walking up a beautiful green valley, dodging millions of tiny frogs that leaped around our feet. Ronnie gave his trekking pole away to this lovely lady whose delighted grin also vanished when the camera came out:

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After 20 minutes we realised we were walking up the wrong valley, a frustrating mistake that added 40 minutes onto an already long day.

At midday we sat down by the side of the road in a village to have a rest and work out where we could get some food. A man and a bunch of kids came to watch us. We asked where a restaurant was and the man generously offered to cook us lunch.

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We were shown to what looked like his men’s den – a small shed full of beer bottles and cigarettes, with a bed in the corner. We napped on the bed whilst awaiting dal bhat while an audience of kids stood in the doorway. After forcing some rice down we continued on, up and over Ganayi Khan pass (2100m) and down into a valley, passing small villages.

Ganayi Khan pass:

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Just before Sela we saw a patch of grass by the river and decided to camp as the energy tanks were critically low. We washed in the river and cooked noodles for dinner as thunder rumbled in the distance. Just as we sat down to eat an enormous gust of wind came through, and with it a massive thunderstorm moved in. It was so incredibly quick. We scampered into the tent and battened down the hatches while the storm raged around us for a good few hours.

Setting up camp:

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On day 106 we walked from 7.45am to 5.30pm and only had two packets of noodles and two fruit boxes all day. A daft move really, but there were no places to eat, and our latest supply of noodles were stale making them totally unappetising and extremely hard to get down.

We passed the Api Nampa Conservation area check post mid morning, before beginning an absolutely horrendous climb from 900m to 2160m, straight up in the heat to reach the Sipti pass. The path petered out into animal tracks more and more as we climbed higher and we ended up crossing the pass in the wrong place and so climbing 100m more than we had to.

At the top of Sipti pass, looking down at the river we’d come from far far in the valley below:

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What followed was a long descent to Gogani, passing through many villages to reach a dirt road which we hobbled down, totally spent.

A goat having a chill out; lucky little bugger:

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We finally arrived in Gogani just as another thunderstorm hit, and were shown to a small attic room with a hole in the roof that sent rain cascading down onto my bed before a kindly man went up onto the roof to rearrange the slate tiles.

That evening we sat on our beds, trying hard to feel excited at the prospect of finishing tomorrow, but instead feeling nothing but total exhaustion.

On day 107 – LAST DAY!

After a week of pooey mayhem we both chowed down a delicious breakfast of omelette, roti and ghee-filled curry for breakfast, revelling in our new-found appetites. We made an easy two hour ascent to our very last pass, where we caught our first glimpse of India, and celebrated with a cup of tea.

Post breakfast smiles:

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Our first glimpse at our very last pass:

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Down the other side we asked three men for directions to Darchula, and they immediately jumped up from their seats and told us the ‘shortcut’ was this way. The one in the lead, Rajendra, spoke only a few words of English but mimed to us that they were heading in the same direction and that they would show us the way. The other man spoke basic English, and the other was his 16yr old son. Off we went down the shortcut into the valley, Rajendra leading the way in his leather shoes, suit pants, and shirt, bounding down the rocks with the agility of a ninja. We hurried after him. Rajendra fired endless questions at us which he mimed or asked the second man to translate. Whenever we couldn’t get it he would wave his arms around with a big grin and a chuckle, point at us and say ‘Nepali problem’ and then point at himself and say ‘English problem’.

We stopped for a tasty dal bhat for lunch, which again went down seamlessly.

At lunch, realising we only had one and a half hours to go:

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After another hour or so we got our first glimpse of Darchula, boy were we ready to get there.

As we reached the outskirts of Darchula we bid goodbye to the three men as they headed home:

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Finally, after 107 days walking, we reached Darchula and the suspension bridge that marked the border with India:

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FINISHED!!!

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From Darchula it took two 15 hour bus rides (plus an accidental 3hour bus trip back into the mountains when we got on a bus to the wrong Pokhara) to reach Pokhara, a lakeside town in the middle of Nepal where we lazed in a plush hotel for a week:

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How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

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