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Great Himalaya Trail Part 6: Rowaling and Panch Pokhari

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Happy that the rain is gone

After taking an embarrassingly high number of rest days in Kathmandu (six rest days, probably my new record), Buckey and I were all set to get back on the trail. We made the brutal nine-hour bus ride back to Jiri, where we had left off. For this section of trail, we were headed to Panch Pokhari.

Our plan was to get on the high route, which meant lots of hiking uphill for a few days.

Monsoon season came early this year…

Summer in Nepal is not a popular time for trekking because of monsoon season. Unluckily for me, it came a month early this year. For the last few weeks, we have been getting a few hours of rain almost every afternoon. I don’t actually mind hiking in the rain that much. What I mind is putting on clothes in the morning that are cold and wet from the day before. I also dislike it when I spend my day gaining 5,000 feet of elevation and the view is obscured by clouds. sigh

However, I’m learning to work around monsoon season. Usually, we try to wake up and get hiking as early as possible in the morning. We don’t take a lot of breaks during the first half of the day. When the afternoon downpours come along, we’ll try to find somewhere to take shelter. There’s a surprising amount of rock overhangs and abandoned huts to choose from.

Megan and Buckey: 1, Monsoon season: 0

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Our crowd of onlookers probably wondering WTF we’re doing

Rowaling

It took four days to get from Jiri to the Last Resort. Almost no one does this hike, although we did meet a German GHT thru-hiker. He had been on the trail for two months (same as us). He was a few days away from ending his hike for the summer, then would return to complete the second half in October and November when the weather is ideal.

We were looking for a place to set up our tent one evening. I usually try to avoid camping in villages because I prefer more secluded areas when sleeping outside. We were tired and saw what looked like a good spot just off of a dirt road. There were only four houses in sight. We used our Nepali language book to assist us in asking a teenage girl if it was OK for us to sleep there. After getting the go ahead, we set up our tent.

So Much Attention

It took ten minutes for about 15 children and several old ladies to emerge from no where and clamor around to observe us. Turns out our campsite was not as secluded as I thought. I very much dislike being stared at, and it’s even more awkward when it goes on for an hour straight. Although everyone seemed to mean well and were just genuinely curious. It was nice that the teenage girls kept telling me, “You are so beautiful.” Then they would shyly look at Buckey and tell me, “Handsome boy,” and giggle anytime he acknowledged them.

The following day was both the best and worst of the Rowaling section. It was the worst because I didn’t ready the guidebook and we got on the wrong trail and walked uphill in the wrong direction for over an hour. Had I read the guidebook I would have known we were actually supposed to be intersecting a road all the way up to Tinsing La pass.

Locals Taking Us In

Things turned around once we were on the right track, and we met a group of seven Nepalis who were headed in the same direction as us. They invited us to join their group and showed us all the shortcuts. During our first break, one woman pulled a pitcher of clear liquid out of her handbag. The Nepalis started doing shots of roxi (a homemade millet wine), and insisted we join.

When the rain started, they told us we were too slow with our huge packs. Two of the men insisted on carrying our packs for us, so we could keep pace with them. Then they told us we would be spending the night in their home just before the pass.

Upon reaching the home of one of the couples in the party, they parked Buckey and I in front of the fire and gave us hot drinks. Their two children (who were 13 and 12) were on break from school. It was interesting seeing how hard the kids worked and how respectful they were to their parents in comparison to the average American kid. Literally, the kids happily did all of their chores. Anything their parents asked of them, they did without question or argument.

They next day we said goodbye, and continued over Tinsing La and onto the big town of Barhabesi. It was such a long day, but thankfully all downhill after the pass. We saw several paw prints of a big cat (likely a common leopard, according to Buckey) in the mud.

Barhabesi is technically on the low route. Tired of the heat, we decided to get on the high route and head for Panch Pokhari. The Last Resort is directly north of Barhabesi, so we took a taxi up that way. A nine mile road walk did not sound appealing.

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Relaxing in front of our safari-tent

The Last Resort

The Last Resort was a splurge for us, but might just be my new favorite relaxation spot in Nepal. It’s best known for having the highest bungee jump in all of Asia. Crazy people hurl themselves off of a suspension bridge into a 500 feet deep canyon. I did not partake, but it was fun watching others do it.

Coming off of the trail, the Last Resort felt like paradise. There were “safari-style tents” with soft beds, hot showers, a full bar, and big buffet-style meals. Buckey pointed out that to anyone coming from a city, the resort would probably seem like a primitive jungle camping experience. I almost wanted to take a second rest day there. However, when we paid the bill in the morning I was happy we only stayed one night. It was $100 in total for the nights’ accommodation, three meals, and several drinks for both of us, which is expensive compared to usual Nepal prices.

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Our Bagam stop for the night

A remote stretch of trail

Our intention was to hike up to Panch Pokhari, over Tilman’s Pass, and into the Lang Tang Valley region. We didn’t quite have enough food left from our last resupply in Kathmandu, but we were told there would be shops during the first few days. We often buy basics, like Ramen noodles and packaged cookies, from small village shops.

After the Last Resort, we were surprised to find a guest house in Bagam. Really it was more like a one-room tea house. It was full of locals celebrating the recent Congress elections. Before long, we joined in the fun. Everyone was drinking roxi and singing Nepali songs. The matriarch of the home kept insisting that we dance with her. They asked us to put on some American music, so we introduced the group to Bruce Springsteen.

In total, it took us five days to reach Panch Pokhari. The trails were not often traveled. As the days went on, we saw fewer and fewer people. It became difficult to get directions. We often had to backtrack, as the trails were not clear.

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Our abandoned hut

Getting Lost as Per Usual

One afternoon, we completely lost the trail just as it was starting to pour rain. We took refuge inside of an abandoned hut. It was made up of one stone wall with tarps on the other sides, a sheet metal roof, and a dirt floor. Plants were springing up inside. After the rain subsided, we left our packs to retrace our steps and look for the correct trail. Ten minutes back, we found it. It was already late afternoon, so we went back inside the hut and Buckey started a fire.

The previous day, we had found a shop in the village of Tembothang and bought Ramen noodles and packaged cookies, which was basically all they sold. Even with the extra supplies, we still had to ration our meals. We had enough food for breakfast and dinner, but not much for lunch. So by the time dinner rolled around every night, we were hungry. I was grateful for all of the freeze-dried meat and cheese we had brought from the States because it made our Pasta Sides much more filling. However, it still sucks being on a long hike, wanting to devour lots of food, and having to be diligent not to. Plus, Buckey has lost so much weight that the hip belt of his pack can’t tighten any further, putting too much weight on his shoulders and causing aches.

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
No view in sight
Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Drying out gear

Hit by Hail

The morning after our night in the abandoned hut, we thought for sure we would be able to make it to Panch Pokhari. We had 4,000 feet of elevation gain to go in a relatively short distance. Everything was going well as we hiked out of the jungle and into rhododendrum forests. Hail came along, but it didn’t seem that bad at first. The higher up we went, the worse it got. We ran into an older, Nepali couple who didn’t speak English but confirmed we were going the right direction when we pointed ahead and asked, “Panch Pokhari?”

Finally, we crested a ridge. We thought we saw a trail in the distance. At that moment, a cloud swept in to encompass us and block all views further than 30 feet. We stopped at a boulder overhang to put our fleeces on under our rain jackets and discuss the route. At this point the hail was in full force, and it was uncomfortably cold to keep still. The trail continued on up the ridge, and we figured it must be the right way. So we climbed further, got to what seemed to be the high point, and followed the trail down.

After 20 minutes of downhill, we knew it was the wrong way. Panch Pokhari was supposed to be at nearly the same elevation as the ridge. We shouldn’t have been losing that much height. So we backtracked once more up to the ridge and down the other side.

Calling it a Day

In the distance, there was smoke billowing from a boulder overhang. The older man we had met earlier came to meet us. While we had been wandering aimlessly for three hours, the couple had made a fire and been keeping dry. Buckey and I have been trying to learn basic Nepali. We learned from the man where the correct trail was and that it would take maybe two hours to get to Panch Pokhari. The proudest moment of my day was saying a sentence in Nepali, having the man understand me, and in turn understanding his reply.

It was too late in the day to continue walking along the ridge in the hail. There was a stream close by and an elevated chunk of land to put our tent. We decided it was a good place to camp. Buckey and I were finally warm and dry after setting up our tent and peeling off our soaking wet clothes.

I made us some hot Tang under the vestibule of the tent. Then I cooked us a meal of fajita-flavored rice, Ramen noodles, dehydrated vegetables, freeze-dried Mountain House beef, and freeze-dried cheddar cheese. I observed that Buckey and I have fallen into gender roles while on trail, like I cook and he deals with the tent. But you know what? I like cooking and absolutely loathe packing up the wet tent in the morning.

Megan and Buckey: 1, Monsoon season: 1

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.

 

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.

Panch Pokhari, at last

In the morning, we awoke to a three-hour window of sunshine. Taking advantage of our good luck, Buckey and I laid out pretty much everything we had, minus the dry clothes we slept in. With cold nights, we couldn’t afford to not dry out all of our gear and clothes. When the sun disappeared once more, we packed up and continued on our way.

Thankfully, we made it to Panch Pokhari without incident. As we walked between the lakes, I saw just how beautiful they were. The still water made an uninterrupted reflection of the surroundings.

Panch Pokhari is known as the Five Holy Lakes (and translates to “five lakes”). In August it is a pilgrimage site for Nepalis.

There were a few buildings in Panch Pokari, including several lean-tos that we could sleep under. We cooked lunch then claimed a spot to sleep (not that we had any competition). After an hour or so, a man came over to tell us to come in his “hotel”. It was not actually a hotel, but he did make us tea and dal bhat, and let us sit by the fire. His brother-in-law was there as well.

Change of Plans

Buckey and I had already decided that we didn’t have enough food to go even further into remote wilderness and try Tilman’s Pass. And we didn’t want to deal with the weather at even higher elevations. Plus, Buckey kept saying things like, “We’ll go to Kathmandu, head to the airport, and I’ll be watching the NBA Finals with my brother in LA in five days,” and, “Let’s go back to the Last Resort, spend the rest of our money, and go home.” We needed to re-evaluate our plans and give ourselves a break.

From the men at the “hotel”, we learned of a village called Bhotang which was a day’s walk away. From there, we could catch a bus and be in Kathmandu in two days. That was the best course of action.

In the afternoon, the sun popped out. We took a stroll around the lakes. I decided that arriving at our destination was well worth the brutal journey to get there.

Kathmandu again

Now we are back in Kathmandu. We will be moving our resupply gear to Pokhara for the second half of our hike, as it’s further west and a more convenient location to return to for this stretch. We’ll leave our camping gear in Pokhara, and go meet our guide for Manaslu (guides are mandatory for this section). The Manaslu and Annapurna sections are all guest houses, so this means we will have light packs for two and a half weeks. Then we’ll return to Pokhara and gear up for Dolpa.

For now we are skipping a seven-day stretch in Lang Tang. This is partially because it makes the most logistical sense and partially to give our bodies a break from carrying heavy packs. The hope is to return at the end of our hike and snag this last section.

Gear That Doesn’t Work

Unfortunately, I had to buy a new sleeping pad in Kathmandu. I had got the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir specifically for this trip since it’s once of the highest rated and lightest air mattresses available right now. However, the baffles have gradually popped out and created a giant bubble under my back. I wouldn’t usually care because I got it from REI, and they’re great about exchanging gear for pretty much any reason. But since I’m on the other side of the world my sleeping pad not functioning well was actually a huge inconvenience, I slept uncomfortably for weeks, and I had to spend $130 on a new one.

Hiking to Panch Pokhari, part of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail.
Buckey’s new best friend

3 Things from Buckey

  1. Local shortcuts and losing the trail… again:

    On the way from The Last Resort to Panch Pokhari we probably lost our way 4 or 5 times. Once at the top of Cogormogor Karka, and a few times in-between Tembothang and Panch Pokhari. Most, if not all, of them can be traced back to locals sending us on shortcut trails that are not as well defined as the main trails. These trails are definitely shorter if you can move as fast as the Nepali’s do and have a pre-existing knowledge of the trail. For us we didn’t have either of those things, so we turned a 1 day trek into a 2 day trek and a 1.5 day trek into a 3 day trek. It was rather frustrating. Additionally, the the weather as we approached Panch Pokhari was horrible and without that factor we probably would have been more on schedule. When it is all said and done I’m sure we will take more local trails and get lost, but at least now I know to proceed with caution.

  2. Tilman’s Pass:

    After making our way to Panch Pokhari the original plan was to attempt Tilman’s Pass, a 17,500 feet pass. I was very excited to enter some more technical terrain and higher elevations! When it was clear that the safest and most reasonable thing to do was to not give it a try due to stormy weather and colder temperatures, I was pretty bummed out. Thru-hiking is so much different from anything else I’ve done because you have this long-term goal that trumps smaller more present goals. Safety and health are two aspects of long hikes that are crucial and in my experience not talked about as much. To ensure those two components, the decision to take a different route was clear.

  3. Pokhara vs. Kathmandu:

    After returning to Kathmandu to sort out permits, we moved our home base to Pokhara. Pokhara is a smaller city that, in my opinion, surpasses Kathmandu in almost every way. It’s located on a large lake, tucked into the foothills of the Himalaya. The vibe here in Pokhara is that of relaxation and comfort. The infrastructure is much more solid here, the roads are paved, there are sidewalks, less garbage everywhere, and more luxurious hotels and restaurants. Pokhara has all the amenities and east access of Kathamndu with almost none of the chaos. I am excited to return to Pokhara for a few more rest days after out next section of trail is complete.

Miles hiked: 440

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