Travel diaries: Kutumsang

the host

Pemba was telling stories one after another. He had our attention and was enthusiastically sharing tales-tales of dolphins, fish, lions, superheroes and all. We were amazed by this four year old who kept us entertained during our dinner at Kutumsang Yak Lodge & Guest House. Just that afternoon, our eight people trek team (Akhilesh, Nirmal, Pujan, Rijna, Rupak, Salvi, Soyesh and Unika) had reached Kutumsang and made ourselves at home.

Leaving from Kathmandu on Friday morning, we took the bus to Sundarijal, hiked to Chisapani and made our way to Chipling by the evening. The next day we hiked for five hours from Chipling to reach Kutumsang. We spent the afternoon and stayed overnight at Kutumsang and took the bus back to Kathmandu on Sunday. This is how we got here…

the explorer

Rupak brought lunch from home most of the times. This particular day, he had brought chicken curry and rice. Today he had an agenda. His agenda was to get the lunch group to go to Kutumsang for a weekend preferably for two nights and three days. An avid traveller who had recently visited RaRa lake during the Dashain break, Rupak was always energized to explore new places and meet people from around the world. Rupak’s eyes lit up as he spoke of Kutumsang, a place his friends had travelled back in 2008 and he had missed the chance to go with them. Nevertheless, he had not given up hope and was convincing this lunch crowd (Akhilesh, Binny, Durga, Manjul, Nirmal, Pujan, Rijna, Rinesh, Rita, Ruby, Salvi, Soyesh, Unika) to trek to Kutumsang.

The lunch crowd was keenly listening and then asked questions about the route, sightseeing places, days, budget etc regarding the trip. Rupak had done his research-he came prepared. The lunch hour finished with the group semi-convinced on the trip. Next up was talking to our parents and getting their permission for this trip and also getting the Friday leave approved at work.

On Monday, while nibbling on lunch, the conversation came back to Kutumsang. Rijna inquires about the route to Kutumsang. She had done some research on the destination and had queries. Rupak answered them. Soyesh inquires about the budget and Unika adds her two cents in the conversation as well. Akhilesh checks Google maps of the whereabouts of Kutumsang and its routes. After some discussion, the budget for the trip is decided: 2000 Nrs per person. The group finishes lunch and agrees to collect 2000 from each person by Thursday. Conversations regarding the trek ensues on chat and the group members are anxious for the trip. By Thursday’s lunch time, everyone had handed the money for the trip. It was happening. Rupak had convinced the group and now we are about to make the trek to Kutumsang a reality. Rupak prepares the itinerary.

On Thursday night, I’m starting to pack. Warm clothes, medicine, chargers etc. I message Rupak on the exact location to meet for the bus on Friday morning. I setup the alarm at 5am and get to sleep. After getting up, I pack the rest of the stuff, grab the safe tempo and head towards Chabahil Stupa. The rest of the group would catch the bus at the Old Bus Park and would pick us up on the way to Sundarijal. I call Akhilesh and he updates me on the whereabouts of the bus. He texts me BA 3 KHA 9277-the bus number. I called Rupak to meet me at the corner and he says “Dai countdown till 10 and I’ll be there.” The bus approaches Chabahil Stupa, we aboard the bus and reach Sundarijal.

the breakfast

At Sundarijal, we had two options for breakfast. Eat at the bus stop area or hike up a little bit and then have breakfast. We decided for the latter. As we approached the first stop, Rupak recognized the lady as Bimal dai’s wife and inquired if there is breakfast available. For breakfast, we get roti, vegetable curry and tea-the typical Nepali breakfast.

Everyone’s getting ready for the day. I’m about to charge my phone. Pujan, Salvi and Rijna are going through their trek bags and some are about to wear sunscreen. Unika is searching for her glasses. Rupak is taking out his camera. Akhilesh is setting up his headphones. Soyesh is relaxing on the seat. Rupak announces “Oh I missed my lighter at home” and goes to the shop to see if the store has a lighter or a matchbox. Breakfast arrives and we devour what’s on the plate. The seating area overlooks a gorge and there are big rocks below. I head down to check out the spot and Rupak has ample opportunities to capture these moments in his beloved Canon camera.

the “30 min hike”

We are about to enter the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. The person on the desk inquires about our trek and suggests us to also check out some spots along the Kutumsang trek. We state that we have to return to Kathmandu by Sunday but thank him for the suggestion. We tread on. I confide in Akhilesh that hey we made it happen-we are actually here hiking today. Akhilesh tells me about another possible trek next week-Mardi Himal. Akhilesh is ardent about trekking-he’s just about ready to go anywhere if you make it happen. A vegetarian who has the appetite of a sumo wrestler and the metabolism of an olympic swimmer, Akhilesh is a calculative hiker and will lead the group in many parts of our trek. There are hordes of domestic tourists hiking up just as we are. A group of young kids pass us by and I inquire about their destination. Sushil was hiking up the hill as part of his annual trip from his hostel in Boudha. He asks me tapai haru kaha bata aauna bha to which I swiftly reply Kathmandu. Sushil in dismay says tapai haru english ma boldei hunuhuthiyo tesai le sodheko. I smile and we continue our hike. We make a short stop, fuel ourselves with water and Snicker bars.

The sun is out and its getting hotter. I had to change into a t-shirt and trekking shorts. Now I felt like I could fly. The breathtaking views are all around us. Clear blue skies, hills around us and 100% fresh air-something missing in our capital these days. I was thinking to myself how beautiful a place there is not so far away from Kathmandu. A pitch road comes by and few kids are coming down the road. They’re asking pach rupaiya…chocolate. Soyesh grabs a Snickers and hands one of the kids the bar. The kid is happy and returns to his group. We snap a group picture and then continue our journey to Chisapani.

Chisapani, Chisapani, Chisapani…I had heard a lot about this place and now I had made it here. A security personnel asks about our destination and we state that our final destination is Kutumsang. He nods his head and we carry on. The first thing I notice as soon as we get to Chisapani is the sight of the buildings. It looked like we travelled back in time to April 2015 when the massive earthquake took place and the buildings were shaken from the ground. Two buildings were titled and seem ready to fall on any minute. What a sight…

Rupak and Salvi had already reached Chisapani before us so they ordered lunch for the whole group. For lunch we would be having rice, dal, vegetable and achaar. I immediately search for the power outlet and charge my phone. When you hike/trek it’s crucial to keep your phone charged whenever possible especially in treks like these. As we wait for the meal to arrive, we take pictures and inquire with the local people about places to stay in Chipling-our final destination for the evening. Our lunch arrives and we’re busy finishing our plates. I tell the restaurant owner, a middle aged lady khana mitho thiyo. She responds maileta chini haleko thiena. We both giggle after her response. Now we’re ready to continue our journey ahead. Rupak notices some kids watching us and reaches for his camera.

We make our way to Patti Bhanjyang. Salvi notices a group of people on the rice field and inquires the way for Chipling. They murmur something amongst themselves and then reply Chhaang khane baye aaunus yaha. Salvi says thanks for the offer. I look back and ask Rupak is he’s ready for some local chhaang. Rupak is excited and says to the group that we’re coming down for some chhaang. When we meet the local group, they kindly offer us a cup of chhang. Chhang is a popular beverage mostly among the Newar, Sunuwar, Rai, Limbu, Gurung, Magar, Sherpa and Tamang communities. The millet flavored chhang is slightly strong and delicious. They offer us more chhang as we chit chat for a few minutes. The elder in the group points to the other hill as Chipling which we have to reach before night falls. The rest of our group has carried on and me and Rupak head back on the trail to catch up.

We met some locals and they say that Chipling is just 30 minutes away. I’m saying to myself “Wow another 30 minutes……hmmmm” We are anxious to reach Chipling in 30 minutes or so. We climb some steep hills and I’m starting to get tired. My pace is slowing down. After a steep climb, we find a water station. I’m craving for some tea to quench my thirst and to take a breather. The group decides to continue on and is optimistic that we’re almost at Chipling. I ask the locals in this village how far Chipling is and they respond with 30 minutes. 30 minutes for a local of this area could mean a couple of hours for us. In this part of the trek, we don’t find any other trekkers; just locals going about their day. Rupak is at the front of the pack rushing to reach Chipling and find us a good place to stay. Then there is Akhilesh and Rijna followed by me. Salvi is right behind followed by Pujan, Soyesh and Unika. We reach Chipling right before sunset.

We made ourselves at home at Lama Guest House-owned by a middle aged round figured man. He was soft spoken and working at his own pace. We warm ourselves with a cup of tea and then request for dinner in an hour as well. In the meantime, we’re chit chatting with each other. Rupak is mingling with other guests at the guest house and meets Viola from Italy. She had traveled to Nepal with her brother some time ago and was staying in Chipling teaching kids at a local elementary school. We have dinner and after that play some cards. Then we are done for the night and everyone gets their much awaited sleep. The next morning as I’m brushing my teeth at the water station, Viola says she’s also interested in heading to Kutumsang with us. She had not been out of Chipling much and wanted to discover the villages nearby. We have breakfast, leave Lama Guest House around 8am and prepare for a 4-5 hour hike to Kutumsang.

the destination

The hike feels good. It’s refreshing to trek early right before the afternoon sun scorches us. A steep hill greets us and we make that climb. Viola’s already at the top. Viola and Rupak meet an Italian couple and learn that they are returning from Gosaikunda-the popular lake. A few porters are making their way down. It always amazes me on how much porters can carry and how fast they move in the hills and mountains. As we get higher, there is a stupa followed by a wonderful viewpoint.

A flock of tourists are taking a breather and observing the serenity and beauty of this view-mountain ranges and dense forest. From here on, it is mostly downhill-there are pitch roads mixed with off roads. Rupak’s at the front followed by Rijna, Akhilesh, Salvi and I and then Unika, Pujan and Soyesh. We talk about anything and everything on our way. The hike is more smooth and easier compared to the long hike we did yesterday. We had covered a lot of ground in the prior day. As we pass by villages, we inquire about the bus to Kathmandu. We climb some steep hills, pass through a grazing field and hike down.

We reach Kutumsang around 12:30pm.

At Kutumsang, we talk to several hotels on their lunch/dinner options as well as accommodation rates. We quickly learn that most or all of the residences and hotels in Kutumsang is powered by solar energy and there is no electricity. At one hotel, an owner said he would get the generator on to charge cell phones if needed and a hot shower would cost 100rupees/person. Also we had been craving for a chicken platter for lunch since we left Kathmandu. However, there was scarcity of chicken in this area and one chicken would cost between 2500 to 3000 rupees. Akhilesh and Rijna had found Kutumsang Yak Lodge & Guest House which had the needed amenities for us-comfortable stay, hot shower, reasonable lunch/dinner rates. Run by a hospitable Sherpa family, Kutumsang Yak Lodge felt more like a homestay to me. The lady was versed in Nepali, Sherpa, English and Hebrew languages. She delightfully interacted with some Israeli trekkers as they came to the lodge. Now the lodge had two groups-our group and the Israeli trekkers.

What better way to top our trek than a warm and delicious lunch at our destination. The rice platter with vegetables, papad and aachar was the icing on the cake. Even Viola ate with her hands. We talked about the right way to eat a pizza, types of pasta and anything Nepali/Italian that came to our minds.

After lunch, we relax on the porch and also resume our card game. Rupak decides to venture to the stupa with Viola and we continue our card games. Within a few hours, I’m feeling tired from the accumulated trek and take a nap. As a group we watch a movie and then head to the kitchen/dining area of the lodge where the Sherpa family is cooking dinner. It’s a cozy atmosphere and feels like we’re a big family. Pemba is running around the room and starts telling stories to us. He’s animated, energetic and has everyone’s attention. We have a great dinner and then head outside. The sky looks so open and we can see thousands of stars. This is the closest I felt to the sky and was just amazed at the beautiful view. Over in the room, we recall our individual travel stories around Nepal and humble ourselves to know there are still so many places to visit in this beautiful country.

The next morning before breakfast, we hurriedly hike up to the stupa, take pictures and head back down to the lodge. We bid goodbye to our hosts, catch the bus and head back to Kathmandu.

For more pictures on the hike to Kutumsang, visit Rupak’s blog at Kutumsang: Exploring the Hyolmo Village

Photos by Rupak Shrestha Continue reading “Travel diaries: Kutumsang”