Traveller’s Tales From Nepal -3

Dhumba Lake, a sidetrip from Jomsom [Annapurna Circuit Trek]

Story By: Ujjwal Silwal
Destination: Way to Dhumba Lake, Jomsom (Annapurna Circuit Trek)

It was like a scene from some movie or we felt it that way because it was so distant from reality. I, along with two of my friends, after reaching Jomsom, decided to climb to Dhumba Lake. We were on our way to Muktinath and had reached Jomsom on the third day of our trip. We were so excited to be in the mountains, see them up close and were filled with fervor and immense zeal that we could not simply stay in our hotels for the remaining part of the day. It is then we found out about the lake after inquiring the locals if there were any side trips we could go. Despite the fact that we did not have any maps with us and only knew it’s whereabouts as per the description given to us by the locals, we were eager to follow the call of the mountain and tread our souls to the playground of mother nature (Maybe it was not that poetic when we started the trip but we were truly excited).

We reached a small village on a nearby hill above Jomsom after walking for a couple of hours and we could see the snow, and not only see but touch it and feel it (Well, you see I had never played with snow all my life and neither did my friends). We could not contain our excitement and jumped and cried at its sight. We fooled around for some good time (we had forgotten all about the lake by now).

Later, we realized that it was getting dark and knew we had to descend lest we would be in trouble. We thought there must be a shorter route back so we entered the village we had crossed earlier to enquire about the way. But, the village was strange! We could not see a single being there and all the doors and windows were closed. Suddenly, a man appeared out of nowhere on a horse with a crossbow on his arm. We were so darn scared and curious all at the same time. Just as the man galloped out of nowhere, the windows and doors started to open and people peeked out from those openings. We thought this is how it must have been in movies. But, we had to make it to our hotel before dark and so my friend conjured up all the courage he had and asked one of the persons from that village about the way back (He was a real human and not some figment of our imagination, we found out). He told us the way back and how we needed to be careful since it was a confusing trail back to Jomsom and we could get lost. He also offered to send a guide with us all the way down but we were kind of paranoid about the whole rendezvous with the villagers that we turned down his offer. We were rushing downhill as the last shimmer of sunlight was fading away. We could not find the way back and lost the trail and were jumping terrain to terrain. One of my friends was cursing and shouting at us, telling how he would never go on a trek with us ever! (It is really funny to think of it now as we went to many treks together after that). Finally, we reached a place where the landmarks were familiar and breathed a sigh of relief. It was one of the most memorable times of my life as there the mountains were shining brighter than the moon in the sky and even our legs were tired, our souls were soaring high up along the mountain breeze. It then took us an hour to reach our hotel and the hour hands of the clock had pointed to 11. Although we could not reach Dhumba lake that day, we made to our happy place!

Can’t Get Enough? Here’s More 😀

 Traveller’s Tales From Nepal -1 and Traveller’s Tales from Nepal -2


5 Best Side-trips of Annapurna Circuit

The Annapurna Circuit Trek is the ultimate trek in terms of variety and adventure in Nepal. With her you will shrug shoulders with polite Brahmins, gutsy Gurungs, regal Ghales, smiling Lobas and hospitable Thakalis. With her, you will earn bragging rights for scrambling past one of the highest mountain passes and gliding through one of the deepest river valleys. With her, you will have mountains for breakfast, plunge pools for lunch and the milky way for dinner. Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Griffons, and Monals will give you company while primulas, irises and rhododendrons will light up your way.
And besides the obvious, the Annapurna Circuit trek also offers alluring bonuses that you would want to grab and add up to your itinerary. Know the Best Side-trips of Annapurna Circuit.

1. Guru Sangpo Cave:

Possibly one of the best side-trips in Annapurna Circuit Trek, Guru Sangpo Cave is a 2 hr 40 mins walk from Larjung. The trail to Guru Sangpo goes through the village of Naurikot as well. Once you reach the cave and enter inside, you will forget all your miseries. The inside of the cave is spooky, to say the least with the stream flowing into the subterranean crevices below and weird brain-shaped rock formations. The main cave is supposed to be a manifestation of Yab-Yum, or in other words, the merging of male and female. The cave somehow is a metaphor for the masculine and feminine forces in the world, the rocky walls of the cave are the male force while the water that flowed is the female force. And the weird lifeforms that grow there was the result of the meeting of this masculine and feminine force. The world inside this cave is magical if you start to understand the meaning of every other weird forms that are present. Some structures even appear as a male and female organ. Yab Yum will finally make sense to you then.
Altitude: 3020m/ 9908ft
Lunch pack: light snacks

Brain-shaped rock formation in Guru Sangpo Cave

2. Tilicho lake:

This is hands down the most exciting and sought after side trips in the entire Annapurna circuit and one cannot blame anybody for wanting to do this side trip. Although Tilicho lake is not the highest altitude lake in the world, at 4919m, it is definitely very high. And it is a big lake too, the area that it covers is a little under 3.5 square km. Tilicho lake is a stunning glacial lake with Tilicho peak and the grand barrier nearby keeping their watchful eyes over the lake. If Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (take your pick) pose in front of the Tilicho lake your eyes would still be fixed on the lake, that stunning lake! Some people not only take this side trip for the sheer beauty and experience but also for some crazy antics. In 2000, a Russian diving team made a world record for the highest altitude scuba dive. Surely only Russians are capable of such a record. But just recently on 7 March 2016 that record was broken by a Polish guy by scuba diving at 5985 m in Cazadero lake, Argentina. Surely, only a Polish could have broken a record held by a Russian.
Nonetheless, you don’t have to scuba dive to take away the experience of being at Tilicho lake.
Altitude: 4919m/ 16138 ft
Lunch pack: not required

Tilicho Lake

3. Gangapurna Lake:

First, you need to look for a sign directing towards the Gangapurna lake to the south of Manang. Then start your walk towards the lake. It is a fairly short walk to Gangapurna lake (30 minutes), one that won’t exhaust much of your energy and will bless you with the awesome view of the lake. Gangapurna lake is a very young glacial lake formed about 50 years ago and what a lake it is! It takes merely 20 minutes to get to the lake from Manang village. With a color that resonates a greenish blue tone, this one is a crowd pleaser for sure. The serenity and beautiful views it provides should be compelling enough reasons for a stop and some photographs. The name Gangapurna is derived from the fact that the lake’s water trickles down directly from Gangapurna mountain just above it to its south. You won’t see the lake freeze in winter so don’t bring along your skates just yet. Just above the lake, there is a viewpoint by the name of Chongkor which provides breathtaking scenes of mountains and the majestic Gangapurna lake itself. It will also help for the acclimatization purpose if you indeed decide to take the climb. The trail is the same for both sidetrips.
Altitude: 11568 ft/ 3525 m
Lunch pack: Not required

Gangapurna Lake

4. Milarepa Cave:

Among the many sidetrips in this region, Milarepa cave is one of the most famous. This side trip (over a 2 hours hike from east of Bhraka) is very well one of the most exciting places, not only because of the scenery visible from the cave but also the story behind it. An eccentric Tibetan poet named Milarepa is said to have meditated in this cave somewhere during the 11th century whilst his journey in the Himalayas. Milarepa meditated and lived solely on stinging nettle that is said to have transformed his whole body green. One will be surprised to see stinging nettles still growing outside the cave. If you see Milarepa’s illustration in any book or papers then that depiction most probably will be in the color green. The story goes that a hunter named Kera Gumpa Dorje was hunting deer with his dog. After seeing a deer, both the hunter and the dog started chasing the deer which after a while sought refuge behind the meditating Milarepa. The poet refused to hand over the deer and the hunter refused to leave without killing it. After a long discussion, Milarepa’s magical influence caught on and the hunter gave up hunting and became Milarepa’s disciple. You can still see the bow of the hunter hanging on the cliff above the cave.
Altitude: 4200 m/ 13780 ft
Lunch Pack: Light Snack

Milarepa Cave

5. Ice Lake:

For this side trip, you start off by walking past the Bhraka gompa and the old settlement of Bhraka. We suggest you not to take this side trip during winter and during snowfalls as the route to the Ice lake can be very very slippery and dangerous. So be very well prepared if you are willing to take the risk of seeing the lake in its frozen state. Once you reach Ice lake you will be blessed with a beautiful panoramic view of Annapurna III, Gangapurna, Singhu Chuli and other smaller mountains. If your luck favors you can have some yak milk by paying the yak shepherds who live just beside the lake.
Altitude: 4627 m/ 15180 ft
Lunch pack: necessary!
Ice Lake

How I found Yab-Yum in Mustang -Trekking Tales

There is this amazing cave called Gurusampo not too far from Tukuche in Mustang. Although only a few hours from the main trail of the Annapurna Circuit Trek, very few people go there. And perhaps it is better that way, for the place is absolutely beautiful. The panorama seen from the trail is unrivaled for at least a fifty kilometers up and down the Kali Gandaki and if it is late spring, you will see one off flowers that are hard to come by in other places. But that is not why I am going to talk about that place today. I am going to talk about this place for my wife Mamita, and I had one of the most memorable experiences here. And no it isn’t kinky.
About two years ago when my wife and I were collecting data for HoneyGuide, there were talks of a great Lama from Sikkim who was staying at the Gurusampo cave. He could reportedly see the future and many a lodge owners vouched for his clairvoyance. Some even claimed that his words had made them burst into tears from revelation. Also, the outwardly driven would note that the Chief Minister of Sikkim had come to pay the Lama a visit only a few weeks earlier. Growing up in Nepal, you hear such hyperbole about godmen much too often to take it seriously. We decided to visit the cave nevertheless not for the Lama but the view and the flowers.

The red beauty, Maharanga emodi

The rare Roscoea alpina

The day was overcast and rain clouds enveloped the mighty Dhaulagiri. Once in awhile the Ice Fall would peek out from the clouds. But the flowers. The flowers made up for the view ten fold over. Having navigated through fields of Himalayan Asters liberally dotted with louseworts, we reached a stream. Unlike the year before there was a small wooden bridge there and some people were working to repair the bridge. To make a conversation, I asked them about the Sikkim Lama.

They looked mildly puzzled for a bit and then one of them said, “Yes that would be me. Haha. I know nobody recognizes me. Haha. Everybody thinks I am this old serious bearded guy, sitting in a dead serious meditative posture all the time. Haha. But that is so not me. I need to get my hands dirty. What are you doing here?”. He would talk very fast and was very very expressive to say the least. And he had a quirky habit of ending each sentence with a short burst of “Haha”. He was at once disarming and queer.
We said we had come to see the place and that we were writing about Mustang.
He laughed very hard and that laughter continued long enough to make us feel a bit insulted. He then asked, “Do you think you are qualified to write about this place?? Do you even understand what this place is about?? Hahaha. You come here take some pictures, look but don’t see, and leave as fast as you come and then you will write about it?? What will you write when you yourself do not understand the place. Why will people come to this place if you cannot communicate the true meaning of this place to them?? Have you been here before?”
Taken aback, I said a bit defensively, “Yes twice.”
“So tell me what you understand?”
I fumbled for words.
He laughed hard again and said, “Go up and this time actually touch every part of the cave and feel the water and tell me what you think, only then will I consider you guys capable enough to write about this place. Only then will I talk to you.”
I replied a bit haughtily, “Okay I will do it.”
I visited and revisited the cave and the waterfall in my mind as we made our way up. I remember it was just before we reached the cave that I had the answer.
When the Lama came up I explained that the cave was a metaphor for the masculine and feminine forces in the world, the rocky walls of the cave was the male force while the water that flowed was the female force. And the weird lifeforms that grew there was the result of the meeting of this masculine and feminine force.

Weird plant forms that have grown in the cave walls.

He smiled. That was a first. He then continued, “Yes that is correct, this is Yab-Yum. Come, I will show you.” He then led me to the entry of the cave and said, “Here touch here what does this feel like, Hahahaha. Doesn’t it feel like a woman’s part? Hahaha. Don’t be ashamed, people who understand should not be ashamed of things like this.” A little embarrassed, I looked around for my wife. Thankfully she couldn’t hear the conversation. The Lama continued, “Now look inside the cave, yes, yes, come here and look, what do you see?? What does it look like! Haha.”

With that he gave us a tour of the cave complex, putting on a layer of meaning on top of each of the rock formations in the area. What would otherwise have been just random formations of nature, now took on a layer of meaning and esoteric as it might sound, the place now suddenly made sense. I still remember one thing that he showed us in the cave as though it were yesterday. An opening in a rock had resulted in a formation that could very well have been a world on its own with lakes, forests, and hills. He asked us what it was to which Mamita had replied, “Oh it is a world inside a world.” At this, he jumped clapping and exclaimed, “Yes that’s it. It is a tortoise that is holding a world on its back. Good very good.” He then said, “You guys are good. You are good enough to write about the place now. You will be successful” While all that event seems like a distant dream now and all those associations seem abstruse, in that remote godforsaken cave in the middle of nowhere somehow it all made sense.
There was one more thing that he said that I still remember fondly. He had said that the only way to do something was to get your hands dirty. Giving donations for some purpose or financing some project or overseeing something does not result in any merit. Those are just illusions. Only when you put your feet on the mud and get your hands dirty do you actually achieve something.
And he walked the walk. He was helping the construction workers repair the bridge himself. He would shift stones along the trail as he walked making the trail safer for people who would come after him. He would weave bamboo with khatas (ceremonial scarves) and make a railing for the steeper sections of the trails. He said that how his plan was to make Gurusampo a safer place to travel, build a small hut for pilgrims, popularize the place, write something about it and then move on to another cave. He said that he had done the exact same thing at the Matarika Cave (Halesi Mahadev Cave) in eastern Nepal and Chungsi Rangchung Cave in Upper Mustang would probably be his next project. We left after a hearty meal of rice and wild mushroom soup.
Come to think of it the Lama directed me on a path of understanding. Not to regurgitate facts or state the obvious, but actually touch something, feel it and understand it through and through. Only after understanding will acceptance follow and acceptance is the first step to becoming a traveler from a tourist. I have realized that it is an acceptance that dictates whether you find things exotic and foreign or familiar and friendly, whether you return home with life-changing experiences or souvenirs, and whether you will be left with photographs or nostalgia. And this has been one of the things that I have kept in mind while writing for HoneyGuide Apps. I have tried to go beyond guiding people physically. Rather the focus is on guiding travelers through a journey of understanding, an understanding of the seemingly separate ways of life and an understanding of the seemingly exotic lay of the land.
I hope we have succeeded to some degree in our mission.

(This blog is based on a talk given by one of our co-founders (Ashish Shrestha) at Communitere Nepal.)