Tag Archives: Sandakphu

A glimpse of Gorgeous Nepal!

Originally posted on Gorgeous Nepal

One of the most brilliant sights across any landscape is the sight of Mountains reaching out to great heights across clouds! While I’m an avid mountaineer, trekker and have great aspirations one day to reach out to many mountains across the world, especially Everest Base camp and with Nepal’s Namche Bazaar being on my bucket list for certain, I’m yet to explore Nepal to the fullest. However, my first experience of Nepal was a mere glimpse of the beautiful and chivalrous mountains across the Indo-Nepal border on my Sandakphu trek in Darjeeling.

Indo Nepal Border

Yes, I can say that ‘technically’ I’ve been to Nepal, and boy, it has been quite a brilliant expose so far. This was back in November 2011, when I decided to take a trek with Youth Hostels Association of India into Sandakphu, the route to which was interspersed with entry and exit points across a few villages up the hills in Nepal. Specifically Jaobari and Kalipokhari. And while one may say, that’s hardly any experience in Nepal, I might beg to differ and have a completely amazing experience of the beauty those desolate places had to offer me. One thing that this trek offered, when you reach the top most point in Sandakphu, was a glimpse of Mt. Everest and a closer view of Kanchenjunga.

Tumling, Nepal, Himalayas

Our first stop at a point where we entered into Nepal was at a small pit-stop in Tumling. Though not proper Nepal, this region was quite a charm when it came to serenity and the most amazing food they served here. The evening was quite chilly and fog set in even as we reached there in the evening. But that did not deter us from going out for a short walk and exploring a bit of Tumling. Once we did that, we had amazing dinner prepared by Neela Di, the camp leader, a glorious entrepreneur who ran the camp lodge all by herself. This is a common sight you get to see in North East, Himalayas and Nepal regions. Most of the setups are managed very efficiently by the women of the house while husbands are mostly Sherpas. After dinner, we were joined by a couple of guides one of whom was really good at playing the guitar and he played some amazing Nepali songs while we hummed along.

Sunrise, Mountains, Sunrise on Mountains, Nepal

What was even more wonderful was the glimpse of a very early sunrise at 5.30 AM. Though the clouds and the mountains tried their best to hide the sun, the tinge of a yellowish orange sky made for one of the best views I’d ever seen across these mountains.  A much needed refresher for the journey up ahead on Day 2. That was the time when we had to scale a daunting climb, to take us into Kalipokhari. While there is a lot of effort you might need to take as soon as you move beyond Jaobari, another small village across Indo-Nepal border, you’ll realize that the most amazing landscapes of the young mountains will give you a sense of serenity that you would not really experience anywhere else. On your way, the Jaobari monastery is quite a small and melancholy stop, which will get you to think, how peaceful this region is.

Jaobari

After trekking for 4-5 hours, when we reached a pit-stop, we decided to stop over at a small place, which served amazing food and great mint tea. While I’m not a big fan of mint tea or tea as much, I decided to try out the Nepalese instant noodles. This was their answer to Maggi. ‘Rum Pum’ as it’s called.

Nepalese Noodles Rum Pum

That was our last stop before we actually reached the Black Lake a.k.a Kalipokhri! It is believed that Nepalese villagers worship the black lake and no one is allowed to take a swim or a dip in this lake. The temperature was freezing and it was already evening as we approached this village.

Kalipokhari, Kalapokhari, Nepal, Sandakphu

Once we settled down, we sat by the fire inside the kitchen and started mingling with the locals. So much so, that we even had a chance to listen to Nepalese radio channel, Koshi FM. Some were Hindi songs, and some Nepalese! Was fun tuning into the radio as we had our grub.

There was an interesting structure is like an indication of the Indo-Nepal border, with the right side being Nepal and the Left being India. This was at the entrance to our camp in Kalipokhari. The weather in Kalipokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it was, we certainly felt the pinch even when we had to step out of our wooden cottages to go have dinner in the hall. Our saving grace was that we didn’t have to wash our hands with cold water. There was provision for warm water and that was something all of us desperately desired for, after having dinner.

After a tiring hike and extremely fatigued run of this last stretch of uphill mountains one could only feel joy and glory when we saw that flag flying high. We knew we had reached Sandakphu. Post lunch we explored a couple of places on the Nepal side of Sandakphu. A Buddhist Monastery near a Shiva Temple and a small pond of water.

Maahi River's Origin

One that never dries. This is near the Buddhist monastery of Nepal part of Sandakhpu. This is apparently the head of the river Maahi, a very famous river of Nepal that never dries. This well or a small pond as they’d call it is perennial.  Once we were done visiting these places, we headed towards the top and after a short walk, and a bit of rock climbing we moved to the top where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Trails of the Hills and Woods

Post lunch we went to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 Kms walk where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on top. That’s the spot, the highest peak on Sandakphu. 3600 Meters around 14000 feet! Our trek is finally complete. Well, at least the climbing. After which was mostly going back to Darjeeling, and downhill.

Atop Sandakphu

Overall from whatever experience I had had of the glimpses of Nepal so far, one thing I felt was most certainly a feeling of utmost magic, something that I had never experienced so far. A beautifully fulfilling experience if anything I may add. I can only imagine what other parts of Nepal may have to offer, if the glorious mountains across Sandakphu, Kalipokhari and Jaobari were this beautiful.

Route to Kalipokhri Village

Kala Pokhri (3186 m) is a small Himalayan village inside the Singalila National Park in the Darjeeling subdivision, Darjeeling district in the state of West Bengal, India. It lies on the trekking route from Mane Bhanjang to Sandakphu (the highest peak in West Bengal), and is roughly halfway between the steep final stretch of the trek from Gairibas to Sandakphu. “Pokhri” means “lake” and “kala” means “dark” in Nepali, and the village is named after a local lake with dark waters.

It is also the second camps en route the Sandakphu trek in the North Eastern Himalayas where you traverse across Darjeeling and get into some small villages of Nepal and head back into Darjeeling via Gurdum. And yes after you’ve crossed Tumling, you have entered for the first time in Nepal.

Now, for those who have done the trek, would know that the route to Kalapokhri has to be the steepest and one of the higher climbs as compared to any other, until of course you carve your feet out of the Himalayas from there on towards Sandakphu.

This journey is as beautiful as it could get. We started early in the morning, foggy and misty with a lot of silence across this journey. With ocassional rainfall, we did take some small stops before we decided to briskly climb up this route.  Some pictures from that trek.

Kalapokhri, West Bengal, Kanchenjunga, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Nepal, Himalayas

As soon as we left Tumling, we left behind these siblings

 

Nepal, Kalapokhri, Sandakphu, Darjeeling, HImalayas

Following the misty trail across Nepal border

 

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You can see the Indian villages down from up top in Nepal

 

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As you reach Kalapokhri, the ascend gets tougher

On the left side is India and on the right is Nepal

On the left side is India and on the right is Nepal

 

By the time you get to Kalapokhri, you’d be quite tired, but at the same time admire the fascinating and very quiet village, some of them playing Nepali songs on the radio and small huts with people sitting near the fireplace seeking some warmth that you’d end up getting relaxed all by yourself right there… One of the best routes on this trek for sure…

Seeking peace and serenity in Tumling

On one of our trips in the Himalayas, I remember how lines across various borders fade away and depict a path that just goes on beyond just the territories hazed within the minds of people caught in a rut, one that fails to distinguish a beauty of the nature so vast, and enchanting that we always tend to look at terrains as boundaries keep blocking us and our minds.

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Sometimes I wish for that as a traveler to do away with. Most often than none, whenever I take a trek to the Himalayas, an important thing that is always on my mind is to leave behind the clutter and the chaos that this urban mind has always carried around with it’s mundane inglorious life. I try to devise a plan and then I stop and tell myself that it’s not a strategy that I have to pitch to a client, I usually end up thinking twice about things when I’m out here in the city. Out there, I let the nature guide me by it’s own destiny and help me make a better choice with every step that I take in the wilderness of the mountains.

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One such trips was on the way to Sandakphu, where our first pit-stop was a glorious beginning into the Nepal bordering, crossing over Darjeeling and Sikkim the Himalayan regions of Tumling. A small village would be very popular among trekkers who are treading slowly towards Sanadkphu and Phalut. Both destinations which on a clear day, give a peek at the Kanchenjunga and the Mt. Everest, if you’re lucky.  One of the most interesting things that you’ll notice on this path is how serene everything is right from the time you start the trek from Mhanebhanjan, the base camp, usually for all the trekkers who head up to Sandakphu or Phalut.

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The occassional villagers going about their tasks, once in a while the sunlight taking a peak through the dense forests with maple and deodar trees. The ocassional Land rovers shipping food and gas cylinders and other than that there is complete bliss and total serenity. One can only feel an underlying divinity in this path across nature that cannot be described unless you actually go and witness the same.

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One beautiful thing about this place is that it has an arduous look about it the moment you reach the small village. As you settle down and look up at the mountains you will feel the ease of the mountains and the beautiful path that holds a great canvas in front of you, one as a trekker or a mountaineer, you’d be raring to have a go at, painting your journey across the beautiful terrains of these North Eastern Himalayas…

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Mhane Chandra – What Future Holds??

Freezing cold at Sandakphu base camp was something we managed to get acclimatized to. After climbing 14000 feet from the other side of Nepal and feeling on top of the world we had embraced the joy of the cold weather and at the same time the soreness of climbing such heights was quite a battle. Having said that, we had also embraced one downhill descent from Sandakphu to Gurdum. That was a bit of an ordeal, especially for those weak in their knees… No pun intended 😉

During our entire duration of the trek, Gurdum base camp was one of the best ones as most of us managed to climb down quite easily, though nurturing some levels of knees and joints pain, time taken and the stress plus energy burnt was much lesser than earlier ones. The flipside of it was since there was no ascent, most places we had to be careful of our stepping and ensure that we didn’t lose our balance at certain stages.

We stayed in Gurdum overnight, enjoyed delicious soup and fantastic veg momos for snacks! Even the dinner was one of the best and it really felt like we had a sumptuous meal after our arduous journey had been completed. Now we just had to alight Gurdum and reach our final destination (Rimbick) This was again a descent and there was hardly anything that we thought would bother us during this trek. Having said that, sometimes it’s just not your body but also your mind that takes a toll during this trek. It’s something that we think we can manage, but a lot of times struggle doing the same… I guess that’s why trekking is not just a physical but a mental challenge too.

Nonetheless, once we woke up in Gurdum, early in the morning, we decided to go down soon and camp at the final destination. Since it was the last destination of the trek, we wanted to make the best out of it. At least that was the plan. So we quickly started descending the mountain and the terrains called for some really amazing and breathtaking views. Although we did stop at places to ensure we got to enjoy the view, we didn’t wait for a long while…

After trekking for about a couple of hours we could hear a few sounds. We were surprised as mostly very few people came on top from this route… But nonetheless, we thought there might be some locals who wander off here or come to cut trees… We imagined it could be a wood cutter. Someone who has come on top and probably climbs day in and day out to cut wood. So we didn’t think about it as much. We told ourselves in a joking manner, imagine how much weight the person would be losing everyday and how many calories he would be burning. As it is most of the times we go on a trek, we end up losing a few pounds, and once we resume our sedimentary lifestyle, we end up getting all that back. I wonder how fit that person would be who would come to cut wood here climbing at least 11 kms everyday, I said…

As I said that, I just saw someone climb on the hairpin bend across the mountain below… I was looking elsewhere and slowly my glance went towards him… What I saw was something that made me think, ‘What did I say?’ I felt so bad that I even thought about something like this… Although not my fault, I really felt guilty at making assumptions about something or someone whom I didn’t even know. And what I saw wasn’t something that pleased my eyes as much.

Rather this is who I saw.

Sikkim, Darjeeling, Sandakphu, Gurdum, Rimbick

Mhane Chandra

Meet, Mhane Chandra! To him, this sickle is going to be a life, a life full of what his parents told him about. A life full of dreams and a life that will provide him and his family what they need.  But who will guarantee that these forests and the trees will last long? A question that I wonder for his future…

I felt so bad, that I promptly removed a packet of biscuits that the camp leader had given earlier and handed it over to him. At that time, that was the best I could do for him. I tried talking to him for a bit, but he wasn’t the kind who would speak a lot. Must be that his dad was behind or maybe not. Couldn’t really talk to him for he didn’t know our language. He just said, that he’s going up to get some wood to take home. Then he smiled and walked away…

Gurdum – Village of Serenity

After having conquered the great heights, our next two days of trekking was all about the descent. As much as people would love to say that I like to descend down on treks of these scales, I’d have to say, it’s easy for the ones with strong knees. You might get exhausted and find it tiring to climb up, but as long as your thighs and calves are strong, you won’t have to worry at all… But no matter how resistant and enduring your fitness is, there’s little you can do to work those tiring knees when you come down.

Having said that, the journey becomes all the more enjoyable as there is no fatigue and there is very little amount of time you keep thinking… ‘Are we there yet?’ Also you feel a lot more relaxed when you do stop by whenever you want to take a break, which again is reduced as compared to the number of times you take a break while climbing up.

Our descent started early in the morning around 8 AM. The sky was not yet as clear as we hoped it to be. If it was, we’d have given another shot to go to the top, just for the breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest from the highest point. Sadly, that was not something we could manage… Nonetheless, our journey was going to be great anyways and I’d made up my mind that I’d stay far ahead so that we reach soon and relax at Gurdum. I was told Gurdum had a really peaceful and serene basecamp… It was pleasant and really cozy… One of our fellow trekkers had done this trek before and from what I heard, I really wanted to reach there soon.

The day began with a walk down the woods… Before crossing a couple of valleys we had to cross through these woods… Brilliant weather for a brilliant start of the day…

A perfect picture for a Trekker's Calendar
A perfect picture for a Trekker’s Calendar

Doesn’t this make for a perfect picture for those trekker’s calendar?? My friends, Sanjay and Twisha, gazing across the horizon while we stopped to take some rest after a while…

Beautiful Rose at the Gurdum camp
Beautiful Rose at the Gurdum camp

After a few hours, we reached the Gurdum camp, and I wasn’t surprised, for Twisha had told me about the beauty of this camp.. Here is my first view to an amazing Rose blooming outside our camp cottage. 🙂

While roses and other flowers attracted our attention, apparently we attracted this beautiful dog’s attention… We met him just about a few kms before we reached the camp and he lead us through till the end…

That’s Balram, our guide, washing his shoes, his livelihood, with sheer intensity… This must have been his 63rd trek to Sandakphu and he just doesn’t seem get tired of it… I can imagine why..

While Gurdum wasn’t so cold, we certainly enjoyed the beautiful view and the most amazing serenity that spread across the camp. Most importantly as soon as we touched down, we got amazing soup and some really nice veg momos… Truly tasty I tell ya… But  the best thing about this camp had to be this bench from where I took this picture… A place to sit and ponder across the horizon.. A horizon as beautiful as it gets… Wonder about the mystery of nature without worrying about the worldly pursuits that keep bothering your otherwise idyllic minds…

As much as I didn’t want to think about it, the thought already creeped into my mind… Tomorrow’s the last day of the trek and the final descent of this beautiful journey… Sigh…

Sandakphu conquered…

The weather in Kalapokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it may, we certainly felt the pinch even when we had to step out of our wooden cottages to go have dinner in the hall. Our saving grace was that we didn’t have to wash our hands with cold water. There was provision for warm water and that was something all of us desperately desired for, after having dinner. Washing your hands with warm water in that freezing cold is much similar to dipping your hands in fingerbowl while at a restaurant… Only this time, you truly understand the value of this warmth…

Since drinking was not allowed as it was a YHAI trek, we could only stare at this bottle of rum that was right opposite the hall while we were having dinner. What’s more, it was locked in the glass shelf and there was no way anyone could sneak into the shelf… But I guess, the warm horlicks after dinner sufficed… We slept quite early as the trek was one of the longest so far and steepest… So it was but natural that we were tired, besides, there was no guitar no music around here in Kalapokhri, except a strict camp leader and a grumpy housekeeper who was a stickler for serving you ample food… Yeah, I guess you win some, you lose some…

The next day we got instructions that this path, though 10kms, is going to be steeper than what we had already covered so far. Also, there would be a lot of crossroads and we should not take shortcuts as there are chances for us to get lost… Well, thankfully for us, we had a really great guide. So with his help, we started off our trek towards Sandakphu… Our aim, to reach 14000 feet before it got dark and cold…

Leaving Kalapokhri

Leaving Kalapokhri

As anticipated, the route was certainly steeper, there were some shortcuts which had steps on it, but we chose to climb, than take a flight of stairs… The Stairs can get to you sometimes, especially if you are trekking long distances… It’ll suck your energy and break your knees down… So even if the route is long, it’s always good to go via the climb as opposed to stairs…

Stairs enroute Sandakphu

Stairs enroute Sandakphu

While one of the best things about this trip was the beautiful weather, we had to stop at a couple of places at it started drizzling and there was a bit of a downpour too… Thankfully we were near a teashop, where we took shelter! We weren’t even halfway through then… In fact, we were hoping that this downpour would clear the clouds and the mist, hoping to be sure that, when we reach the topmost point 3600 meters / 14000 feet, we’d be able to get a sight of the Kanchenjunga up close and Mt. Everest from there… We just had to keep our fingers crossed!

The Sandakphu Border Post

The Sandakphu Border Post

After a tiring hike and extremely fatigued run of this last stretch of uphill mountains one could only feel joy and glory when we saw that flag flying high. We knew we had reached Sandakphu… While the weather was still at it’s worst, we hoped it’d clear, by the time we had our lunch and took some rest. After that was our time to go to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 kms walk… After which we had to do some rock climbing to go on top where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us.

Alas, our hopes and dreams were shattered, the mountains were engulfed with clouds and there was no way, that we were going to get to see the mountain ranges… Nonetheless we decided to go ahead and scale the top most peak of Sandakphu.. At least we would have made it to that point as we had come this far!

Before we did that, we explored a couple of places on the Nepal side of Sandakphu. A Buddhist Monastery near a Shiva Temple and a small pond of water… One that never dries…

Buddhist Monastery in Sandakphu

Buddhist Monastery in Sandakphu

 

This is near the Buddhist monastery of Nepal part of Sandakhpu… This is apparently the head of the river Maahi…. a very famous river of Nepal. Never dries.. This well or a small pond as they’d call it is perennial.  Once we were done visiting these places, we headed towards the top and after a short walk, and a bit of rock climbing we moved to the top and even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on top. With us were a lot of people, but one of the most amazing thing was that one of the trekkers who was a 50 year old Suchita aunty, she bravely climbed the rocks and made it on top… That was something no one from the other groups had done so far, said the camp leader!
We finally reach the top...

We finally reach the top...

That’s the spot, the highest peak on Sandakphu… 3600 Meters around 14000 feet! Our trek is finally complete… Well, at least the climbing… The next couple of days were a lot more stressful, especially since alighting means, knees would have to bear the brunt of your body weight… Nonetheless, despite the fact that we couldn’t see the Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest, we enjoyed every bit of the trek so far. If we were lucky, maybe we’d get to come back again and see them… or better yet, go to Mt. Everest Basecamp… 😉 It was time for us to go back to the camp, have dinner and rest as much as we could… For the next day beckoned a lot of walking… only downhill…

Kalipokhari – Land of the Black Lake

So, as soon as we set off for Tumling, we actually entered mainstream Nepal. Tumling was still on the borderland but as soon as I received a Vodafone SMS letting me know they gobbled up 99 bucks for International Roaming, I was sure about the fact that we had entered Nepal. Anyways, my phone would be obsolete soon as the network and battery was going to desert me soon. Having said that, it was not even something I should have bothered about.

One of the best things about these treks is the fun of disconnecting yourself completely to the world and hibernating in a true sense. With great landscapes, beautiful view of mountains and valleys on both sides, what more do you want? So, one of the things I was waiting for was the Jaobari Monastery. It was a monastery in one of the villages in Nepal. Having said that, there was an interesting story I’d like to share here…

Lakhpa - One who's born on a Wednesday
Lakhpa – One who’s born on a Wednesday

After an hour or so, we managed to reach Jaobari… where I happened to meet this cute kid, called Lakhpa… I asked someone later what Lakhpa meant? I got to know that a lot of Nepalese folks, name their kids after the day that they are born on. Which would mean, there would be a whole bunch of Lakhpas and Pembas (One who’s born on a Saturday) and many such names, which I don’t remember all that much now… But why this guy was interesting, was cause of his insatiable smile and his spirited greetings to us when we entered the Tea shop. He had a fire as well as heartwarming gracious look in his eye. Another thing, I’m also born on a Wednesday… So if I was Nepalese, I’d probably be a Lakhpa. 😉

Jaobari Village
Jaobari Village

A beautiful view of the remote Jaobari Village in Nepal….

Jaobari Monastery
Jaobari Monastery

So here’s a little bit of the story I encountered in the Jaobari Monastery… While this monastery is a very quiet one on the corner of the village, something I learnt and something I’ll never forget that day. As I walked across the place, I found a few kids with books on Buddhism, which they were reading with great joy! As I entered the monastery I was greeted by it’s caretaker and the monk who taught the kids.

Shange Norbu from Jaobari Monastery
Shange Norbu from Jaobari Monastery

Shange Norbu… Shange means Buddha as he told me with a bit of pride and subtle smile on his face. One that denoted the passion he shared towards the religion he followed. He gave me a short tour of the monastery inside. Showed me a picture of his master / teacher a certain Pemba Norbu… Said he’s learnt a lot from him and he also showed me a picture of His Holiness Dalai Lama…

He asked me if I knew who he was? Smiling politely I said, of course I know who he is… “He’s the guy who hosted a Google+ hangout recently and I’m following him on twitter.” 😛 as I sheepishly thought in my head…

Being a traveller that I am, besides anything, boundaries and horizons always fascinate me. Distances and roads and maps and calculations are always on my mind when it comes to my travel… Just an impulse sometimes… Sometimes a bit too much this trait, that it makes me realize how travel is and should never be about these trivial pursuits or these kinds of funny meaningless achievements…

So I was thinking in my head (I’m in a Nepalese monastery… Just admiring the fact in my head, that I’m at an international location, since I havent ventured outside India yet)

“Is this monastery in Nepal?” I asked him.

“There is no Nepal no India… It’s all the same”  he replied smilingly…

I was speechless for a moment… I thought I’d explain to him that I didn’t mean it that way, but I realized, I got my answer… And that was quite a profound moment for me… I just smiled and shook his hands as I walked away…

Sherpa Kid
Sherpa Kid

After trekking for 4-5 hours, when we reached a pit-stop, we decided to stop over at a small place, which served amazing food and great mint tea… While I’m not a big fan of mint tea or tea as much, I decided to try out the Nepalese instant noodles… This was their answer to Maggi. Rum Pum as it’s called.

Those are instant nepalese Noodles
Those are instant nepalese Noodles

That was our last stop before we actually reached the Black Lake a.k.a Kalapokhri or Kalipokhri… It is believed that Nepalese villagers worship the black lake and no one is allowed to take a swim or a dip in this lake.

Kalipokhri Lake
Kalipokhri Lake

The temperature was freezing and it was already evening as we approached this village. We were waiting for the camp leader at the camp and he was waiting for us… Once we settled down, we sat by the fire inside the kitchen and started mingling with the locals… So much so, that we even had a chance to listen to Nepalese radio channel. Koshi FM… Some bollywood songs, and some Nepalese… The hard part or at least the first half of the hard part of this trek was taken care of…

Now the most trivial and the most exciting journey awaited us as we were about to move on to Sandakphu…