Khaptad to Rara

September 4, 2011 - Kathmandu, Nepal


"Only at the end of his journey does the traveller realize it was a mirage. All is complete at the begining, perfection is always present at the highest energy is one with the lowest." From godhead back to godhead.

"We're going for a month in the mountains. Wanna come?"
"Sure" I reply.

A new backpack, a couple pairs of trekking sandals, sleeping bag and a foam matress, a few clothes in the bag, flashlight, and we are of for a trip of a lifetime. Sad tropics from Claude-Levis Strauss, a french renowned anthropologist, in the pocket and of we go direction the wild west.

My 2 nepale friends, Bikas and Kiran wanted to explore west nepal, the most remote and unexplored part of nepal. Closed by the kings for the last few hundred years, western nepal is the least developed area of the country. Most of the NGO's stay in the east, and the lack of roads make west nepal a wild wild west.

After a couple weeks of finishing ongoing business, we finally take the bus one morning. We cross the country lounging the flat thorai land, pass Dhangadi, and take the last bus all the way up to Silgadhi, where the mountains start. A beautiful village on the mountains, a nice mandir dedicated to Shiva, the houses are kept clean, the market one of the oldest in nepal.


4 nepale friends decide to climb with us to Khaptad. They would like to start taking trekkers up the mountain. One day rest, and we start our journey up to Khaptad national park. If the big trekking roads of nepal, such as Annapurna, Everest of Gosaikunda are used to tourists, and have accomodations to welcome them with a quiet room and a hot cup of coco, the west is another story. With no such accomodations, every night was spent wherever we could find shelter and food for the night. From leaking goat houses, to families, we have to sleep where we could and eat what was there. The only choice to make being between roti (flat bread) or rice. Pepper tea spikes up the mouth. Knettle and bhang soup with whatever beans we have when nothing else.

After climbing up the mountains a few days, we get to Khaptad, at 3500 meters. The park is a treasure for botanicals and medecinal plants. Created around Khaptad baba, a bengladese doctor, the park is a succession of patans, flat areas. On the swampy grass, wild horses, buffalos and their keepers, the gopalis, live for 4 month out of the year. The rest of the year, the gopalis go back down, following the old grandparents road who lived according to the buffalos grass needs. Tired of eating boiled patatoes as their main meal, the liter a day per buffalo not being enough anylonger, and the harsh land, the gopalis would like to change their life style. ....but what to do, our grandparents were doing that? No one has come to tell them of other ways to live. The area has a big HIV problem. The men go to india for work, and the young women are sold as sex workers in indian's many brothels. A total lack of education, plus the old polygamous ways of the villagers spread the desease fast.


"There should be villages with just HIV people" proposes Kiran to the villagers. "In altitude, desease spreads less, and they would stop affecting the rest" he tells the gopalis.

4 days in the park eating boiled potatoes. We walk around and I relax in the room hanging out with Levi-Strauss, while Kiran and Bikas talk with the gopalis and it's time to keep going. The 4 friends go back down to Silldhagi and the 3 of us start walking towards Rara lac, the biggest lac of nepal. Someone took my shoes, I'll do the rest of the journey in flip flops.

15 days of walk, we get to areas where the closest road is one week aways. Most of the villages have never seen a tourist, and even less nepales like my friends, talking with the kathmandu accent, and dressed in modern fashion. For everyone, I am an "american", the only land they heard about, where all the white ghosts live. The radio follows us a few days, making our walk a political story. "The politics said they were going to build roads, but nothing was done. Tourists are coming, they are on their way!" says the radio, as we climb the mountains.


At each stop, my friends speak with the villagers, the old, the young, the teens, all come to see the curious creatures from another world. My friends talk of health, cleaning the villages, education and play music when the rain keeps us somewhere one afternoon. We cross one area with mountain pirates, wait for a group and run up a hill until the danger is past. Green valleys, dry rocky land, wet and luscious jungle, the mountain changes landscape every 2 days. As we go up and down, the vegetation changes accordingly, from jungle to huge cactus, to pines trees and bareness. The women's clothes and jewerly transforms from beaded geometrical patterns necklaces, to heavy amber, turquoise and other stones from Tibet. By the time we reach Rara lac, we're just a few days away from Mount Kalaish, Lord Shiva and Parvati's sacred abode, holly of holliest for hindus and buddhists. This is an old salt trading road, where flags remember the old travelers, blowing in the mountain winds.


"We live in caves here, in darkness. We want to wake up" says a woman, as she's serving us rice and the daily black bean dhal. Her 7 year old daughter screams when I enter the small room. The roof leacks, an old woman waits for her last few days lying on the dirty ground, the husband is an alcoholic. "She almost touched me, why is she entering our room, she's superior?" screams the kid. We eat, as my friend explains the woman that we are all equals, that they are not inferior nor us superior. The woman sold her buffalo, invested in a room, she waits for tourists to be able to make enough money to take care of her daughters needs, while the money gets drunken up by her husband. As everywhere in nepal, alcoholism is a main problem.

"I used to drink one or 2 bottles every day" says the old woman dying on the ground. No life is left in her eyes, liver is dead. The husband spits on the room's walls every few minutes as he comes and talks with us.

Even in the most inhospitable land, there are still people, few houses from composed family being a village. In this part of the world, life hasent changed for milleniums...except for a few small details that will change the old patterns for ever. Solar panels, half paid by the governement and half by the house holder have made their appearence. Along them came the phones, snack packets and plastic shoes. If the phones dont have reception, it doesnt matter. What is nice on the phones is the music, and even better are the indian videos, where the teens can see large indian cities, Taj Mahal and other dreams. In the phone, girls dance in skiny outfits. There is a world outside those mountains after all...The begining of the end comes with the dances of beautiful women, the old king is dead, praise the king.


A village lives happily. Even if life is hard, the houses are kept clean, the kids hair are combed, some might even have a school to go, and the women smile. The next village shows wild faces, torn of clothes, kids, adults and animals pissing and shitting together in the mud way crossing the village. The ground littered with tabacco and chew packets. Even at the end of the road, a little education goes a long long way.

"My mam died in a cowshed one winter, and my dad fell of the cliff and died the next year, now I take care of my sisters" says a 9 year old kid, as he walks with us down from his village. Hundreds of women die of cold every winter. The women being considered highly impure during menstruation, they stay in the animal shed, away from the family. If she touches a tree, the entire tree will give rotten fruits. Old believes die hard when the world has closed it's walls around you. The kid stops at the village gate, going further would be entering the forbidden outside world.


"Why should we clean the village? Someone else will come and doing it for us." says a manwiping his hands on his dirty shirt, while we take a chai break. Keep praying the gods dear man. God is busy helping those that help themselves.

Rara lac. Under the rain, painted with fog, the water sits in the pristine mountains, waiting for visitors to come and enjoy the mountains view. "No one knows how deep the lac is" explains a soldier as we take a boat under the rain. Some hold on to old mysteries, others create new and always deeper mysteries. A japanese radar went to the bottom of the lac, it's 160 meters deep. Pandora laughs at human pride.

Down, up, night envelops us in exhaustion while we fall down a hill. A couple of goat keepers offer us a dry place for the night, amen, I wont die tonight. A saving invisible hand carried me that night, no way I could go down that hill, in the dark, barefoot, falling and rolling in the rocky muddy night. Thank you dear god for watching after me and my friends.


Around Rara, we find villages with doors and windows made out of carved wood. Antiques rot in gardens, villagers unaware of the value of the wood. "I found a copper plaque with a sanskrit dating 800 years ago" says a french man we meet in Jumla. "It's hard to get any sort of information here, most don't know time, and every villagers tell diferent stories. A llloong time could be 40 or 400 years, its the same here" he says. The area is the birth of the sindhu culture, as well as the original nepale language, flash back to the middle ages.

Up and down, dry, wet, mud and ragging rivers, rice, roti, patatoe, rice, roti, black beans, up and down, dry, wet, mud and ragging waterfalls...the mountains keep a part of me in their ancestral mantras. Tantric land open my eyes in exchange for a piece of my heart. Beautiful women pass by, facial tattoos decorating the wilderness. The kings who used to come in the villages and capture any women they wanted wont take the tattooed ones, a nice way to keep your women at home.

Down from Rara, we stop by Gubu, a superb village from once upon a time. A festival is going on for Muster, the local god. Once upon a time, Muster came in the area. No one saw his face, except in Gubu, one of the most important Muster centers of west nepal. People come from all the villagers around, once a year, there is a chance to flirt with the other sex, once a year, the genepool gets enlarged. The green hill is covered in the womens red saris. Drops of blood, life giving, the women sit quietly while the men dance under the rain. Like dogs on the ground, the men go in trance, letting the spirits take over their bodies. A dog falls down a hill, maybe someone pushed him, as his last yaps break on the rock with the sound of his body falling. A couple of drunk guys are taken away from the festival, a group falls down the hill fighting, alcohol keeps spreading death and misery, under the eyes of the head priests.


6 years ago, the maoists closed the schools. The only school now is for the kids under 12. Bored teenagers spend their days gambling, playing cards and watching videos on the only window they have to the outside world, a few inches on the phone.

"Why you bring this woman here?" a woman asks my friends. We are relaxing with villagers on the roof."She comes from a soft place, and you bring her to this hard place? She will bring her bad karma, now I am afraid" she continues "Now I have to go out of my village" she says.

"But outside your village, it's people like us, and her" explain my friends. "Where will you go?". The woman looks at us in silence, we all dream of running away, but where to go...When we live the village, we can feel that the villagers are happy to see us go. 2 nights of novelty is enough to scare everyone.

we get to Jumla, apple capital of nepal. A festival goes on, shamans in white robes and long hairs dance in the mudd. Tibetans flags float in the air. Another festival, another god. In ancestral times, the gods take all the human's time, like disancarnated spirits trying to find flesh again. No need to be or do anything when the gods dont leave you alone for a minute. No need to clean the village, no need to understand anything, the gods will take care of everything, as long as you give them your present and future lives.


The cops keep us a couple days for paper work, fax from Kathmandu and of we go, almost at the end of our journey. From Jumla, we catch a bus. Road cut, walk 2 days. It's been a week since I plan what food I will eat when I get back to the city. Chicken schnitzel at the Yellow House, my favorite eggs and patatoe with 2 toast and a coffe at Funky Budha, japanese breakfast at Momotsaru.

Menma, an old maoist outpost, is the last stop before we can get back on a bus. In the morning the bus wont start. Pushing the bus, tying a rope to a tractor to pull the bus out of the mud, the rope breaks, the bus doesnt want to start. Someone is sending bad energies, god is punishing the bus driver. We spend the day resting, taking a shower in the waterfall, I fall asleep in the bus. The rocky road smells like shit, the main way is the toilet. Finally, in the evening, someone comes with a new battery, the bus starts in a minute. The bad energy was just a dead battery, god was busy somewhere else punishing someone else...


The roads full of mud, due to no maintenance, or so little, the moonssoon helping, we change bus 3 times in a day, sleep half the night in a turn the bus could not take. Everyone takes their bags, walk 30 minutes to the next bus. The bus throws our head up to the ceiling, bumping, and praying, we finally get to a big valley, Surket. Bus to Kathmandu, we ran out of money 2 days ago. A MA tattoo for the Godess in exchange for 3 dhal bhats, it rains inside the bus, while the music plays the same typical womens high pitch voice in the same 7 songs for 10 hours.

Traffic, cars honking, people in the streets eating various foods, sawing machines, noise, we're back in the city, after 4 weeks in the wild west. Dear civilization, with your artificial temporal cultures, your learned skills, your lies and your technological beauties, I love you dearly. If I get angry at you sometimes, it's for forgetting your Mother, cutting your roots with the planet you live on. Dear civilization, you are not a bird, you need some rules, and your feet on the ground. Remember that you are never alone, and that each of your butterfly wings affect the whole. Dear civilization, please take care of your Mother, she needs you, as much as you need her.

The last night on the bus, my feet grew 3 times bigger. Puss oozes out of the insects bites which I scratched with nails that took 3 showers under a waterfall or in rivers. Back in the apartment, after a shower, I go sit at my favorite breakfast. 2 eggs, potatoes, and toast smile at me. The waiter brings a cup of coffe, the table is clean, everything is back to normal. 4 days of rest, my feet of the ground, antibiotics, and I am back to life. 800 splendid photos, a notebook of notes, enough material for a life time of meditation...the tantric Himalayas took a piece of my heart, and gave me new eyes in exchange...


Thanks to all that made this trip possible. Thanks to Kiran and Bikas. Thanks to the men who took my hand, in you I handed my life when you gave me the courage to cross the rivers with no bridge. Thanks to my mam, dad, sisters and my little nephew for bringing soft thoughts to me when the road was dark...Thank you Mother Earth for being our home, our healer, and giving us your heart to allow us to grow in your body.

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September 4, 2011
I was not aware there were such wild areas in Nepal! walking half-barfeoot for 2 weeks there... sounds incredible. You must have developed new earth connection roots in this experience!
Thanks for sharing this in any case. It reads so real...
September 4, 2011
Oh Manue..i do so love your ramblings...sounds like an awesome experience..that im glad you had..dunno if it wouldve been me..and certainly not after having my booties ripped seemed to have taken that all in your stride..(excuse the pun)...i think i may have reacted slightly to such an event being where one was...
It is an eye opening experience to be thrust into such different and challenging perspectives that are the norm there...but as you seem to have discovered, such things make us realise how farkin lucky we all important a smidgin at least of education is..and how soul destroying non scientific belief systems can kerlene writes above..thanks for sharing your experiences with us wonder girl
November 17, 2011
amazing site...
Passionnant et terrible à la fois !
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