"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."
~ Edmund Hillary


Across the Himalayas - Part 2

Vineeta Muni takes us through an incredible seven-month expedition across the Himalayas. She was part of an eight member women's team: "Indian Women's First Trans Himalayan Journey 1997".

In the Land of High Mountains ... Nepal
A fairly good trail climbed to a pass (3,400 m) across the "Deorali Danda". A precarious, slippery and steep descent through bamboo forests saw us at the local school at Yamphuding village. We had now been on the trail for 58 days and were averaging 25 kms a day carrying heavy sacks. The initial aches, pains and blisters had worn off. Like horses we had been "broken in." We always carried our water proof and wind proof gear as well as warm clothing in our sacks. Special mountaineering gear like ice axes, snow shoes, crampons, etc. would be carried only in case of need, otherwise our support team would carry this equipment to the next meeting point. Tension amongst the team members had surfaced. As sparks flew, the venture became more demanding. I reminded myself of the goal I was committed to.

In one of the sections of eastern Nepal, on the way to Salpa Dhara (3,315 m), we came across a local who had stored big round vegetables, which resembled watermelons.

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Throughout the day, we had been trekking in the hot sun. Though the man declined to sell the vegetables to us, our leader insisted that he sell us a few. Having bought two of the so called water melons for Rs.10/- each, everyone felt happy. The old man who had sold us these vegetables had a strange meaningful smile on his face. The load was carried another hour or so along the steep slopes. As we reached our destination we were all eager to cut the vegetables. The local women and some of our porters started laughing as we discussed how we should cut it. Finally when it was cut open, it was white and raw with tiny seeds inside. One of our porters said, "don't you know this is Kaddu. This is pig's food" and burst out laughing again.

We had breathtaking views of Makalu on the distant horizon. It is the fourth highest peak in the world and forms a part of the main Himalayan range of north-eastern Nepal. We trekked across varied terrain of eastern Nepal crossing Salpa Dhara (3,315 m) and Bodi Danda. The scenic beauty of Salleri captured my heart. Each pass had it's own distinctive charm. We crossed Lamajura pass (3,540 m) walking through Nepal's thick rhododendron forest. Magnolias were in full bloom. The Lamajura Pass led us towards Jiri, a fairly big town.


We had to rely heavily on local guides as the maze of trails was very confusing. Here every alternate day we would cross a 'Dhara' or 'Danda' or 'Devrali' - all meaning a pass. These were not difficult or technical but it was like a roller coaster ride - up and down every other day. We took 23 days to cross over from the Yalung glacier into Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

I fell in love with Nepal - it's magnificent countryside, the gentle and good-natured people. Despite the poverty and meager resources Nepal has lessons to teach on how to live happily and adapt to one's surroundings.


In Kathmandu we indulged ourselves with goodies (junk food actually!) - vegetable burgers, pizzas and pastries. All the pampering of the taste-buds that we city-slickers crave for. Yet like the villagers in the eastern Nepal districts, we too had lived and relished the few simple, staple items. I left Kathmandu feeling slightly guilty. Was simple living, just a phrase?

We now moved into Central Nepal towards the Annapurna circuit. This is a favourite trek among many trekkers. After making feverish arrangements for the remaining trek across Nepal, we proceeded to Besisahar. It is an old town and the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit trek. To me Annapurna means "the one who feeds your spiritual and emotional hunger". This trek is one of the magical ones as the beauty of the place captures one's heart. Annapurna 2 from Chame is very prominent. Looking at Annapurna, one feels satisfied simply because one is alive. The villagers maintain their traditional lifestyle and warm hospitality. At the same time, they can whip up Continental dishes and other delicacies. Fresh bread and cake too at 16,000 ft, in a typical Thakali lodge-what more can a trekker ask for?

The trek across the Thorung la at 5,416 meters passed through some picturesque spots like Pissang, Manang and Muktinath. From the fascinating village of Kagbeni, with its distinguished red Gompa and strong Tibetan influence, we trekked into the upper Dolpa region. We crossed the Sangda pass (5,123 m) - one of the wildest places on earth. It was a heart-stopping trek with its precarious approach on loose scree slopes, and scarcity of food and water. The presence of ammonite fossils in this arid terrain was a treat. None of us would miss the morning breakfast at 6.30 a.m. Lunch was packed in the same tiffins that we carried with us. Throughout the trek we sustained ourselves mainly on a diet of rice and dal. Breakfast consisted of tea with puries. Vegetables could be eaten only when available and affordable.

We depended largely on the availability of provisions from locals. Sometimes we picked up wild edible vegetation like 'zankar leaves' (local name) to garnish our dinner. We were now on our way towards India beyond the Dolpa and Dunai regions. The terrain was comparatively simple. However the scarcity of food, the humid weather and long distances between two camping sites made this stretch an arduous one. This region of Western Nepal does not have motorable roads and therefore has remained underdeveloped. We trekked in the lower foothills where our trail often crossed from village to village. We crossed Devrali (2,700 m), Bhoti Lekh (2,445 m) and Goshada Pass (3,200 m) before reaching Chainpur. The name suggested a well developed place and we hoped for a good bath. It turned out to be a place where we had to camp out at night. We had seen all kinds of extremes in our 66 days walk from east to west Nepal covering 14 districts-in terms of vegetation, comfort, terrain and climate.


Crossing Shivripakha (3,110 m), and finally Dal Lekh (3,440 m) we reached the India-Nepal border at Dharchula on June 7 -- 124 days after we had set off.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.