The mist that had shrouded the views the day before
had lifted and had left the skies bright and clear that morning. Low clouds still lingered over the lower slopes however, and the added contrast brought out the silhouettes of pine trees (Pinus sp.
) way off in the distance. We peered at the distant trees from out of the windows as we ate a pancake with honey (NPR180
/2) for breakfast. Before we climbed back onto the road and left Thanchok
(elevation : 2660m
), we cut up some tibetan bread (NPR220
/2) into strips and packed it away for lunch later on.
It was already the fifth day but the sun was out for the very first time. I could see my shadow stretching out in front of me as I walked and the deep blue sky could be seen between the gaps in the clouds. There was a fairly prominent light brown pyramid-shaped peak to the west, but when I asked the locals for its name, all I received were chortles. They said that it was unremarkable and had no name, and that in Nepal, if there was no snow on the peak it would just be considered a hill. Nevertheless, the views of the mountains (or rather, the hills) were magnificent, and this was our first chance where we could really appreciate the views. The hills themselves were comprised of dark and light brown streaks that were interspersed with pine trees, and their ridges traced a sharp outline across the blue sky. We were also alone on the trail and did not see other trekkers for many hours. As such, things were very quiet and we were able to appreciate the wildlife a lot more: the constant melodic birdsong, Himalayan pikas (
) occasionally scampering across the path, as well as insects in abundance.Looking west over the hamlet of Thanchok
As we followed the cobbled road that led to a bridge and crossed over a waterfall, the hamlet of Koto
(elevation : 2600m
) appeared down the valley. The TIMS checkpoint was located here, as was the turn-off for the Nar Phu trek which veered northward up the Nar Khola valley. After getting our TIMS and ACAP permits checked, one of the tourist police officers escorted us westward along the road. At first I had thought that he had just wanted to make sure that we were not trying to sneak up the Nar Khola valley, as an expensive permit was required for the Nar Phu trek; but when we passed all the Mahindra Bolero vehicles that lined the road, I knew that a landslide lay just ahead. The officer brought us to a trailhead on the left of the road, where lines of porters emerged as they scurried up and down the trail with bags that were to be picked up by vehicles on the other side. The trail was very narrow and, judging by the fresh plant damage, had been very recently opened up. After circumventing the landslide, the trail rejoined the road once again just before the large village of Chame
(elevation : 2670m
).Snow-capped mountains were occasionally glimpsed through the low cloud-cover
We continued along the road to Talekhu
(elevation : 2720m
) after stopping for a short lunch of tibetan bread and peanut butter. There was apparently an alternative NATT trail around this section so we kept a lookout for it as we made our way forward. We eventually spotted a red & white NATT marker that was right next to a cairn, but the entire area just beyond was covered up by a huge pile of stones and several fallen tree trunks. We continued to follow the pine-fringed road and past the numerous waterfalls that streaked the hills on the other side of the valley.Waterfalls thundered down to the left and huge landslides were seen up the valley aheadForests of pine (Pinus sp.)
(elevation : 2850m
) eventually appeared in the distance, as did a huge patch of the hill that had been devastated by landslides. The pine trees that had survived hung precariously on to the edges of the cliff, seemingly waiting for their turn to drop down into the river below. There were easily as many landslides as there were waterfalls--that is, just too many to count. We continued along the road for a while and stopped just outside Bhratang for a second short lunch. The road followed an undercut in the rocks that was carved through the cliff face, and when passing through the section, I had the impression that there was a waterfall directly above me. It turned out however to be just the sounds of the water from below reverberating off the cliff face.The cobbled lane leading to the hamlet of Bhratang
At one point, the path seemed to lead down to a sketchy bridge on the left that was located just across from a waterfall. We ignored it and continued along the road however, which switch-backed up the hill twice--the second of which had a short trail that cut across the hill. The road then rounded a rise and we spotted a huge polished wall just beyond the pine forest directly in front of us. This smooth wall was what the locals referred to as 'Swarga Dwari Danda' (the gateway to heaven), as they believe that the souls of the deceased have to ascend past this wall as they make their way to heaven
.Not too long after, we reached a suspension bridge (16.5 km from Thanchok) that crossed over the Marsyangdi river and to the edge of a forest of Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana
). The synthesis of all the elements was incredibly invigorating: the colourful prayer flags fluttered jauntily in the brisk wind, the roaring river churned violently below us, the tranquil pine forests lay directly ahead, and eagles (
) circled the thermal currents alongside the clouds that topped Swarga Dwari just behind us.The suspension bridge that crosses the Marsyangdi river with Swarga Dwari Danda in the background
The gravel path switch-backed up through the forest and the views of Swarga Dwari gradually appeared behind us once again as we ascended. The trail passed a tiny seasonal settlement of huts and shacks, before it intersected with the road and continued on the other side. We came upon an area that was completely pock-marked with flags and cairns
not too long after, which I found tainted the surroundings.
The second time the trail intersected with the road, we turned left to join the road instead and followed the NATT trail markers. The road followed the valley to the north-east and all the way to the hamlet of Dhikur Pokhari
(elevation : 3060m
). We decided to stop at Gangapurna Hotel as they agreed to waive the accommodation costs if we were to stay for dinner, which was dhal bhat (NPR550
) once again. The place was quite decent and came with electricity, a gas-heated shower (which normally costs NPR200
in the peak season), and even a rooftop view!