Ajaya Bikram Shah, CEO of Laxmi Bank is a travel enthusiast. He says he is fond of hiking and trekkingand has a long bucket list of destinationshe wants to explore in his lifetime. Tamish Giri of New Business Age magazine caught up with Shah to note down his remarkable trek to Thorang La Pass.
The Journey Begins
I am fond of traveling and exploring new destinations. If given a choice, and to the extent of practicality, I prefer to walk rather than drive to places which is why I am fond of hiking and trekking. I have not been on many treks but the most recent and extremely memorable one was the Thorang La trek, which is part of the Annapurna Circuit that I completed in March/April of 2018. I consulted Altai Nepal, a leading trekking agency in Nepal for the trek.
Adventurous Drive to Chame
We drove from Kathmandu to Besisahar, the headquarters of Lamjung district. After spending the night there, we hired an SUV to take us to Chame, Manang. The 8-hour drive from Besi Sahar to Chame is a thrilling experience in itself. It is a bumpy ride on a track road that is carved on tall rocks and hills that twists and turns along a deep gorge with the mighty Marshyangdi River flowing past you. The drive to Chame is a separate adventure in itself and highly recommended if you like long scenic car rides. It is not for the faint-hearted or those who are prone to motion sickness.
Reaching Manang Gaun
We started our trek in Chame and ended the first day trek at Pisang after about 6 hours of uphill walk through the dense green forests surrounded by tall hills capped in snow. However, we spent the night in Upper Pisang, a small village at an altitude of 3,300 meters. It was a good place to acclimatise. The next day, we trekked up to Manang Gaun and since, it had snowed the evening before,and it was a cold, wet and windy walk through the hauntingly beautiful landscape.With towering mountains looming on either side, we passed through the village of Humde, which has a small airport that is not in use and the famous Braga Monastery. Manang, located at an altitude of around 3,500 metres has plenty of things to do and see with good hotels for accommodation.
A Scary Night
At Thorang Phedi, our guide Chakra Rai asked me how I was feeling to check if I was suffering from altitude sickness. He then explained that it would be better if we trekked on to the High Camp which is at an altitude of 4,850 meters. We had a choice of staying the night in Phedi or doing an extremely steep 1 hour climb to the High Camp,to make the next day’s trek easier. I had a mild headache but we decided to carry on. By evening, my head was throbbing and I was scared of suffering from altitude sickness. It was a restless night, headache with eerie silence broken only by snowfall and the occasional howling wind that threatened to lift the tin roof above our head.
It was snowing regularly and there were concerns that the Thorang La Pass might be blocked, so, at High Camp we woke up at 4 am in the dark and snowing condition to cross the pass safely. It wasn’t said aloud, but I could tell that the guides were worried that we would have to walk in the dark on a track that was no longer visible due to heavy snow.
There were some mutterings about the 2014 incident when many people lost their lives at Thorang La due to the snowstorm. Some of the guides decided not to risk it and advised their clients to stay back while some even turned back. However, Chakra was of the opinion that returning was more dangerous than climbing the pass. So, we started in almost pitch black conditions with torch lights – a line of around 30 trekkers, guides and porters. The porters lead the way, making the track for the rest of us to follow. If there was any point in the entire when I regretted deciding on this trek – this was the moment. The headache was duly forgotten as the need of the hour was to remain on the track and avoid falling off the steep snowy cliff to god knows where. We were climbing up in the dark, snowy conditions amidst the sound and echoes of booming avalanches around us.
Sunshine at Thorang-la
The reason for the early morning walk in the dark was to reach the Thorang La pass before 10 am. After this, apparently it gets too windy and dangerous at the top. This knowledge was enough ‘motivation’ to make the climb and we finally reached the pass just before 10 am and I got an opportunity to take my picture at the iconic sign that says “Welcome to Thorang La Pass, altitude 5,416 meters”. As we reached Thorang La it stopped snowing and the sun was out. We then descended down to Muktinath slipping and sliding in the snow – that might sound like its fun, but believe me it’s not.
We were lucky to have made it over the pass that day because we heard the route was closed due to heavy snowstorm the next day.