Sandakphu-Phalut Trek - Day 04

 FROM: Sandakphu Day 03

Date: 19-Oct-2023

Day04: Thakom (3444m/11300ft) to Aahl (3535m/11600ft)

Distance/Time: 7km/ 3H

Pasang Lhamu

On the 22nd of April 1993, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was on her way to the summit of Mt. Everest. This was her fourth attempt to climb the tallest peak above sea level. She had successfully climbed Mount Blanc, Mount Cho Oyu among other mountain mountains before this. That morning, Pasang Lhamu, then a mother of three children, finally made it to the summit of Mount Everest. This was a remarkable achievement as she became the first Nepali woman to scale the tallest peak. During the descent, one of the team members fell sick. Pasang Lhamu offered to stay back with him while the others could get oxygen cylinders. However, the weather turned bad and she lost her life on the mountain. Her body was later recovered. Pasang Lhamu had trekked with her father since childhood. It was in the mighty mountains that she breathed her last. Our campsite was not very far from that location. 

I woke up at 5AM as usual but felt lazy to step out. Then I heard Abhishek scream – “Come out! Come outside! soon!”  He scared us all. I actually thought that he was in danger. But when we stepped out, we witnessed a spectacular view. What was hiding behind those clouds last evening was now revealed - Sleeping Buddha formation and Mount Everest. 

Right outside the tent, on my right, I saw Everest, Makalu and Lhotse. As I panned towards the right, I saw the Kanchenjunga Mountain range. 

Abhishek was running up the hill behind the guest house. We followed him up there. The rising sun tinted everything with a golden light. 

We spent a lot of time absorbing the magnificent view. We clicked a lot of pictures, recorded time-lapse videos and also some fun videos for my vlog. Though we had missed the view from Phalut, this view made up for the loss. 

Sleeping Buddha (Thakom, Nepal)

I was more impressed by Makalu than Everest. The majestic mountain resembled a Simhasan (throne) with its two arm-like ridges on either sides. 

At the Indian Border Checkpost below, we could see the army men wake up one by one and freshen-up. They played patriotic songs on loud speaker as they went about with the morning chores. 

Having spent more than an hour at the top of the hill, we returned back to the campsite. Usha was frying some hot pooris for breakfast. We had an outdoor breakfast, facing Mt. Everest and Makalu. 

We spoke to the owner of Yak lodge show as visiting with a friend of his on their bikes. He asked us to visit Thakom during winter and call him directly for the booking. 

Since we had some free time before starting the day's trek, I decided to go back to my tent and begin a sketch. This drawing is inspired by a view from Samanden village. 

We bid farewell to the owners of the lodge and two of our team members who were not continuing the journey with us. We offered a tip to the two porters/cooks who had travelled with us this far. 

On our way, we crossed paths with the land rovers and jeeps carrying tourists. Sandakphu-Aahl-Phalut is also an off-road jeep track. Part of our trail coincides with the this track. The jeep rides start from Mane Bhanjang. 

We met a group of villagers on the way. They were collecting a tiny violet-coloured flower. When asked, they told us that these flowers are medicinal and would cure fever. 

We stopped at a beautiful location for our mid-morning snacks. Since this was not a long walk, we had enough time to rest. 

A little ahead, we stopped at a Nepali dhaba. This place was run by a middle-aged couple. The woman was busy in the kitchen. Stuck on the wall of the dining area, there was a page from a school notebook. It was an essay written in English about the mother. I assumed it to be written by her child. I wondered where they were now. 

The man had worked in Bangalore for a couple of years. He had run away from his house in Nepal and spent a few years in Bangalore doing odd jobs. He spoke to me in Kananda. Along with him, there were two young men from Nepal. I think they were Government officials on duty, though I am not completely sure of that. 

One of the two stood out as he wore a pair of brand-new white boots. The boots were so bright that he could have been easily spotted from any distance. The owner of the dhaba was showing them around. When they reached the dhaba, he brought two chairs for them to sit outside. The man with the white boots sat there with his legs crossed.

We had a little chat with him. He was from Biratnagar which is closer to Bihar on the Indian side of the border. He asked us if we spoke Bhojpuri. So, I think he speaks the language. when he came to know that Usha was our trek lead, he seemed surprised. He asked her – What is your age? 

Usha was quick in replying – One does not ask a woman her age. She then added – I am sixteen. She laughed. We all laughed. 

But the man with the white boots did not understand the joke or the commentary. He thought she was actually 16 years old and said something shocking – At this age, in Nepal, we do not let girls go out alone. It is very dangerous. 

We smiled and requested the dhaba owner to explain to him the joke about being 16 years old. While I write this now, I am thinking of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa. If her parents, who had a mountaineering background, had held her back, would she have achieved what she eventually did? I wonder why people do not understand such simple logic behind the concept of gender equality. 

Aahl is a small mountain village in Nepal with a few houses, shops and guest houses. It is here that I met Pasang Lhamu.  Our food was arranged at the guest house run by Namgyal and his wife Pasang Lhamu. 

My first impression of Pasang Lhamu, a woman perhaps in her late twenties, was that she did not fit into that environment. In the crowded kitchen of this cramped guest house, filled with mule men, she was the only lady. She was wearing black pants and a blue sweater with a grey woollen jacket over it. She had long black hairs that were held together by a band. She wore spectacles with a thick black frame which gave her a sophisticated look. 

If you saw Pasang Lhamu walking down a street in Bangalore like how she was dressed that day, you would take it for granted that she worked in the IT sector. But here she was, sitting between a bunch of drunk men with their mucky clothes and boots. I am not sure if this was my biased interpretation but when she looked at me and smiled, I did not see a happy face. I wondered if she too considered herself to be a misfit at that place. Her appearance definitely suggested that she wanted to look different from all the other women of her community who wore traditional skirts, jackets and head scarfs. 

Her husband Namgyal seemed like a responsible man. He helped her in the kitchen and made sure he was around all the time. He refrained from drinking too much while other mule men kept refilling their Tongba – a millet based alcoholic beverage. 

When we learnt from Usha that Pasang Lhamu prepares the drink herself, we wanted to find out more about the process. She told us that first, she boils finger millet (Raagi) and then sets them aside to allow fermentation by adding Marcha, an organic yeast which she refers to as “medicine”. The barrels were stored under the bed we were sitting on. After a few months, they are ready to be used. The fermented millet is added to a Tongba (A vessel) and hot water is poured on to it. The filtered water collected at the base of the Tongba is consumed using a straw. 

Pasang Lhamu spoke with a certain stability in her speech that to me demonstrated self-awareness and confidence. I wonder if her parents named her after the most famous female mountaineer their country has seen.

The owners also had a cat. She was the only cat in Aahl. All day she was seen exploring the neighbourhood or chasing birds. Since they had not named her, some of us decided to call her Bubu. 

After lunch, we assembled in the room that Tanuja, Abhishek and Rushikesh had booked in the guest house next door. I learnt a new card game called “7 of hearts”. It is now one of my favourite games. 

The weather outside got worse. The place was soon covered in mist and there was a light hail shower. We mostly stayed indoors and played cards. 

In the evening, we headed back to Pasang Lhamu's place and  ordered a few plates of hot momos. The special chutney she had prepared using yak cheese and chilly was delicious. We also shared two Tongbas. I had tasted the drink in Sikkim last year. I like the strong flavour the drink has. 

We continued to play cards until it was dinner time. Usha, Bijoy and Tikaram joined us. We wanted to finish a game and then eat dinner when one of the mule men who was heavily drunk came to us and ordered us to finish our dinner. When we told him that we would begin as soon as we finish the game that we were playing, he replied rudely - “Look where you all are sitting.” As he was drunk, nobody wanted to argue with him. Apparently, the dining area doubled as a sleeping area during night and we learnt only next morning that he was meant to sleep there. I recollected the events from the night at Sepi where one of the guests got heavily drunk and behaved weirdly; to the point that he had to apologise next morning. Here was another example of what alcohol can do to your senses. 

We had our dinner. Gulab jamun was served as dessert. We then went back to the room and played for some time before returning to our tents at around 9PM. Ninad and I shared a tent. Sayali and Ridhi shared another. The rest of them had booked a room with three beds. 

I am sure Pasang Lhamu had work to finish before she could rest that night. She had to wait until the last drunk mule man had vacated the kitchen. After that, she and her husband might have cleaned up the place. I wonder if Pasang Lhamu, who dresses up like a citadin, dreams of stepping out of Ahal some day. Or perhaps she is happy in this faraway land, to where, we city-dwellers come to find peace. It is highly likely that I am limited by my own prejudice and conjectures, while the Pasang Lhamus of Nepal have already found their place in the mountains. 

Continued Here: Sandakphu-Phalut Trek - Day 05