Bishnu Neopanae, founder and executive director of The Last Resort is a spiritual and travel-loving person. He identifies travelling as a means to learn anthropology, history, and geography. Neopanae is an enthusiast of marine life and has a graduate degree in Marine Biology reflecting his aim to explore the oceans.
He is also fond of trekking. He says that he wishes to trek to Everest Base Camp someday. In a conversation with Tamish Giri of New Business Age, Neopanane talked about the adventurous and slightly surreal details of his Jumla trek.
First Trek Experience
Back in 1979, I was working with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) as a junior officer for the AHW project handled by Canadians in Surkhet. During that time, I was 22 years of age and had lost my maternal grandmother just weeks prior to Dashain. During Dashain, I received a 15 day vacation that year. I was in search of a new experience, so I decided to go on a trek because I had never been trekking before. I decided to trek to Jumla, and it became my first trek.
Jumla is 12 days away from Surkhet with 6-7 miles of hiking daily. I was fearful that I might not complete the trek all alone because I had never been there before. I searched for a travel companion but couldn’t find any and at last started the journey on my own. Tim Thomson, my director at IOM, lent me his rucksack with an aluminium frame. There was no trend of carrying a sleeping bag in Nepal back then, and I instead loaded a thin blanket. I put on my jeans bought from a second-hand store in Thamel for Rs 240, loaded a bottle of vodka and started my walk to Jumla.
I had decided to stop at Dailekh since I knew a friend there and it was the first stop on the Jumla trek. While crossing a two-way path to climb up from Gutidadha (a village before Dailekh) something strange and funny happened - I saw a woman in Nepali attire cutting grass. I called out to her to ask for directions to Dailekh. Since she was far away, I shouted out, “Eh Didi” (Hey Sister) but upon hearing me she rushed towards me with a sharp sickle in her hand. She was seething with anger and scolded me. This made me anxious, and I ran away. Later I realised that I had made the wrong pronunciation; people in the region only say “Eh” to their wives. This language mishap is funny in hindsight, but it was quite scary when it happened.
While on the run from the sickle-wielding woman, I came across a mountaintop located between Surkhet and Dailekh. Upon reaching the place, I was worried as everything in front of my eyes started to appear yellowish in colour; people, trees, almost everything. I was afraid, and I started wondering whether the continuous running had made me sick. However, I later discovered that things in Pihale appear yellow to human eyes due to a naturally occurring phenomenon. In fact, the place is named Pihale because of the phenomenon.
Friend the Troublemaker and Delikot
I reached my friend’s place in Dailekh at the end of the first day of my trek. My friend was shocked that I had reached Dailekh from Surkhet in only a day. He said I could easily reach Delikot, crossing the Mahabu Mountain the next day. After eating breakfast early the following day, he told me to start my trek soon. Pointing at a buffalo shed located on my trekking path, he advised me to eat my lunch there. I reached the buffalo shed as directed and had my lunch there. While resuming my walk, I asked a person for directions to Delikot, he showed me a narrow hilly path and told me to follow it to the end. I further asked him about the duration. His response made me realise my friend had played a prank on me. The person said that government officials usually took three days to reach there, whereas my friend claimed I could easily reach there in a day. Later on, I found Delikot was eight days walk away from Dailekh, this made me apprehensive, but I kept on walking the steep mountainous stretch, hoping to reach my destination by the end of the day.
Search for Water and Tiredness
I kept my pace on the lonely narrow path to Delikot but unfortunately had to slow down near a mountain as fatigue was setting in and I felt dizzy at that point. Tired, thirsty and hungry, I stopped at the edge of a cliff. Since I hadn’t found a water source on the entire trail, I was dying of thirst. Further, altitude sickness started to hit me slowly. Moments later, I saw a guava peel by my side and then suddenly, I heard a voice singing a traditional Nepali song, and this scared me.
My father used to tell me about the forest scaring people. I had not observed a single individual in my entire walk. However, I gathered my courage to speak up. I shouted out asking for water. Luckily the voice replied, “Come up, there is a big lake here.” This puzzled me; however, I collected all my leftover energy and walked up the 100 metre treacherous path to the water. On the mountaintop, I saw two individuals resting by the side of the Mahabu Lake. One of them was singing the song. Later, after drinking plenty of water, I asked them the direction to Delikot. The view up there was mesmerising; the lake, grasslands, and the snowy mountain combined to form a stunningly picturesque portrait.
Hospitality and Special Food
I was touched by the response and support of the locals throughout my trek. My stay in Delikot was exceptional; my hunt for shelter late in the evening in Delikot brought me close to a family. Since the wife of the family belonged to a Neopanae family, she treated me like her sibling. She offered me the best she had and requested me to revisit her while returning from Jumla for Bhai Tika. I ate rice with buffalo milk and pumpkin, it tasted delicious, and I had never eaten it before.
On a trek in Nepal, be prepared to take everything you need - medication, food, trekking tools, and a communication gadget. Depending on the destination and climate, I suggest people carry a tent with them. Furthermore, I advise people to stay warm because Nepal is a cold destination. Additionally, I recommend travellers not to take tents with holes in the end.