Trekker’s Journal: To the sacred waters of Gosaikunda
By: Priya Panchwadkar June 20, 2016
In this week’s Trekker’s Journal follow Priya’s journey through Langtang National Park in search for the sacred waters of Gosaikunda Lake.
“Do you know what heaven is?” asked Sandesh.
“Yeah, I guess…” said I.
“Well, its right here.”
Ever since I heard about Gosaikunda I was more than stoked to hit the trail. After a long time of convincing my parents to let me venture on a solo trip to Nepal, they finally agreed to let me go. I trekked Everest Base Camp two years back so I was pretty familiar with a tour operator and instantly contacted them. I had a friend who decided to tag along too. And so it happened!
Day 1: Kathmandu – Dhunche
We left for Dhunche on the 13th of May, on a very cramped 7 hour bus journey with hardcore Nepali music on tape. Thinking back, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to travel in a private car. An experience in itself, the small seats on the bus numbed my knees early on.
Dhunche is a bustling little town, serenaded with huge Himalayan mountains and a street cutting through two parts of the town right in the middle, with a lot of food and utility shops running along till the end of the street. It was fairly cold and the anticipation for the coming days on the trails were slowly building up. We spent the evening at Hotel Annapurana where my room faced the back of the town overlooking the valley.
Day 2: Dhunche – Chandanbari
I woke up to a very calm sunrise that illuminated the valley, revealing the beauty that I had missed the evening before. Our destination for the day was Shin Gumpa. The trail leads through the town and starts ascending after crossing the river outside Dhunche. The trail was so green! I tried taking in as much fresh air as I could. It feels like magic when all year round you are in a city where there is not a single day that you get to breathe fresh air. After a lot of uphill and a trail that lead through the clouds, we reached Chandanbari, a very serene place consisting of the Red Panda lodge, the Shin Gumpa monastery and the cheese factory which is really more of a cheese storage. Since the settlement sits at a lower elevation, Chandanbari is a natural place for farming land and the locals cultivate their own vegetables (mainly spinach, that we all love so much with the dal bhat) on the terraced fields surrounding the village.
Day 3: Chandanbari – Gosaikunda
After a hearty muesli and Himalayan Thornberry tea breakfast we set off towards Gosaikunda. It was yet another day of uphill. The trail lead through a secret forest of sorts. Pine trees adorned the pathway and the fiery red Rhododendron flowers added a contrast to the greens, blues and dark brown mountains. By the feel of the ground below it had rained the previous night and the air was smooth and moist. As we walked higher the vegetation virtually started depleting, the ground was getting lighter and there were rocks instead of shrubs and plants. I could not help but notice the ridges and the discrepancy of the overturned earth that was clearly a result of the 2015 earthquakes. The surge of thoughts made me uncomfortable. After a lunch stop at Laurebina it’s almost a direct uphill climb and the four-feet-wide walk was accompanied by a deep valley to the right. The erratic clouds that rolled in made it impossible to see a couple of meters ahead. It was a very rocky yet thrilling path. And suddenly, there it was! A clear blue body of water, slightly rippling, a cluster of little hills on the opposite side that made it look so compact and secure. After I was satisfied with the photos that I took I continued my walk only to be welcomed by another lake twice as beautiful and clear and blue as the one earlier and all this while I thought the former one was Gosaikunda. What a treat! Two birds, one stone kind of a situation.
“Do you know what heaven is?” asked Sandesh. “Yeah I guess…” said I. “Well its right here!” he said, pointing towards the lake. Sandesh was one of the Kathmandu boys who caught up with us a little before getting to Laurebina. They had started their walk from Dhunche the very day we started ours from Shin Gumpa. The boys were visiting Gosaikunda to take a holy dip in the water. I was completely take aback by the serenity to even take a picture of it. That evening we lodged at Lakeside tea house which was run by a very pleasant young lady who was a mother of two really smart kids. As soon as we reached the lake I decided that I had to take a dip in the water too. I would just regret it if didn’t. It seemed like an adventure, submerging myself in ice cold water at 4,600m. I certainly do not regret taking one little dip although I was cold for the rest of the day, my hair was wet and a hot water bucket shower didn’t really help. But hey, I don’t go to Gosaikunda everyday. The Kathmandu boys took 10 plunges each. I spent the rest of the day trying to get warm outside the tea house by doing some yoga poses and inside by consuming the heat around the fire place. That night I had a a very interesting conversation with a fellow trekker, Tibout, a French engineer who has been trekking in Nepal since October. It rained, hailed and snowed that evening.
Day 4: Gosaikunda – Ghopte
The descent was to start today. This day was going to be the longest, especially for us, people who live at sea level. The first leg of the trail was a straight up 300m climb i.e from 4,600 to 4,900m. I had a slight headache and a bit of fever from being cold the previous day. I kept fueling myself with water and dry fruits. I like walking strategically, slow and steady, giving myself enough time to breathe and not make the walk only about walking. After the Laurebina Pass I managed to spot a magnificent Blue Jay, hovering lazily beside us. The trail goes downhill after the pass. Downhill can prove to be a difficult task too. It gets really frustrating. Since we were descending slowly, grass was finally visible. The path ran right through the middle and the mountains looked like a humongous skatepark. We had a much needed tea break at Phedi and then continued down a stony pathway. The rhododendron flowers were starting to look pink. The color of the rhododendron flowers fade as the oxygen level depletes, such are the guidelines of the almighty nature! We finally reached Ghopte after a long day of some tiresome walking.
Day 5: Ghopte
We stayed in Ghopte for two nights since my friend had trouble coping with the aftermath of downhill. Pasang Chacha, our porter, and Man, our guide, spent the day playing carom, while I squandered the day reading amidst the quaintness of the surroundings and chatting with Kheem, the owner and caretaker of the tea house. She was young and enthusiastic girl who made me try butter tea and, trust me, it is mind-blowing. In Ghopte I witnessed a wrecked tea house, the sight of the ruined beds and the demolished walls gave me some serious chills up my spine. I couldn’t help but think how just a year ago the tea house was giving shelter and serving hot food to trekkers and how a stroke of nature’s rage tore it to pieces.
Day 6: Ghopte- Kutumsang
We pushed ourselves hard this day since we had lost a day and wanted to catch up. It turns out we finished the trek ahead of time. This bit of the trek was a cakewalk. A lot of straight walking and wandering on rosy wings through Langtang National Park. I hoped to come across a red panda but the rarely seen creature remained a fantasy. Nevertheless it was another beautiful fresh walking experience. We were supposed to be staying at Mangengoth but walked a bit more to Kutumsang and enjoyed another relaxed day. For lunch we had Wai-Wai and yak cheese pizza. It was significantly warmer at this altitude and I saw the sun set from the roof of the tea house and ate a lot of potatoes with dal bhat and had a glass of raksi to keep me warm.
Day 7: Kutumsang – Chisopani
Another very easy walk on a mostly sunny day. Most of walk was on track which was accessible by vehicle. A combination of uphill, downhill and flat terrain. During the whole day my friend and I were cracking jokes since his name is Sopan and we were heading to Chisopani. The villages that we passed through were still developing. Chipling had a lot of tea houses that were under construction. The walk got a bit heavy after lunch as I had stuffed my face with potatoes and cheese momos. The climb after Taikote drained all the energy I had and my legs felt like they would snap any moment. I thought I was getting a heat stroke but thank the weather Gods it got cloudy and I felt better. I took a bath at Chisopani after being drenched in sweat for 4 days. I felt like I was born again. It also turned out that there was wifi at the lodge. Back to civilization! A hotel opposite our lodge was bent at an angle and all the windows broken, a lot of rubble was scattered around the lodge. The earthquake had taken its toll here.
Day 8: Chisopani – Sundarijal – Kathmandu
The walk started on a downhill note as we entered Shivpuri National Park. It was a very distinct forest, wet and mossy. We were accompanied by two mountain dogs all the way from Chisopani. This felt like the longest day because all we wanted to do was get to Kathmandu and take a bath. It’s mostly downhill through a forest and yet another village crossing army barracks. Sundari means beauty and jal is water, so the town Sundarijal means “beautiful water”. The river Bagmati runs through this village, which is a source of water to Kathmandu. Getting to Sundarijal was a sharp realization that I was back in civilization. From Sundarijal it only takes an hour to get to Kathmandu city.
Gosaikunda has been an incredible trek, it has grounded me in every way possible. It’s incredible how tiny and insignificant the mountains made me feel. Although, when I look back I feel that I could do a bit more of exploring while on the trails and take a bunch of strategic photographs. But I have taken back a lot of memories and did learn a lot from small things worth learning from. I surely am looking forward to going back.
(Photo: The holy lake of Parvati Kund in Lantang National Park taken by the author Priya Panchwadkar. To see more images from Priya’s trip to Nepal and Langtang National Park, head over to her blog)
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