Rara Taal: A retreat like none other
The boy from Babhnan had skipped a beat, or two, aboard that 10-seater Cessna Caravan. It was such a surreal experience. No safety demonstrations, none asking to switch off mobiles. The pilots sat right ahead of him, setting up GPS, as radar system doesn’t work in the Himalayan mountains!
Don’t worry; this is just a truck that flies, said Ashok Singh, a friend who was with me on this trip. The plains of fertile Terai were soon behind us, and the snow capped mountains ahead. Karnali, the river that becomes Ghaghra in India, the river in my district, flowed below majestically. It was a scene to die for, just that he was too scared to appreciate the abundant beauty. No one aboard a small aircraft flying dangerously close to the mountains would with sudden gushes of wind throwing the plane away by meters.
And then came the descent, a steep descent seemingly into nowhere. The plane was losing height, dangerously, and he could see no runway. He looked back, the 9 others seemed calm so he reassured himself. The plane, suddenly, took an almost impossible 90 degree turn and there it was, Talcha Airport. The runway strewn with small pebbles. The first things the pilots did after getting off was checking the tyres!
His eyes settled on the wreckage of two similar aircrafts, neatly packed on each side of the ‘runway’. Aaah, no one died in that crash, Ashok, sensing his unease, volunteered. They both did not mention the other one. The trip of a lifetime had begun. It is just that he was to take the same flight back a week later. Climbing up, he also realized that the runway had no electricity.
They left their luggage to be taken to Gamgadhi, the district headquarters of Mugu that was a 6 hours trek away, and started for Rara lake, the biggest in Nepal and second highest sweet water lake in the world. Lying at an altitude of 2900 meters and surrounded by snowy mountains, it was the most beautiful one too as he was to learn later. The 6 hours (three for locals) hike had begun.
A kilometer into the trek and there came a river of snow, the first of his life. A war broke out shortly, with snow missiles being thrown at one-another. They, in the human rights movement, did not often get to make merry. For them, whose days began with stories of extra-judicial killings and ended at starvation with everything else thrown in between, the snow was a welcome break, a very welcome one.
Back on the trek and they just encountered the first human beings. A few Nepali workers looking at them, intently. They boy asked for a photograph, and got a stubborn no as the answer from a woman. She must be a Maoist, Yubraj later speculated. They are the only ones who have the guts to say no to such requests coming from apparently affluent Nepalis, he argued. That fact that the boy was in the heart of the region that gave birth to Maoist insurgency was slowly dawning upon him. Soon they crossed an army post as well.
Rara was there, in its unabashed glory, right there. Speechless is not the word that can define the sheer beauty of it all. They stayed in Dafe Guest House proudly displaying a ‘clean Rara Green Rara’ signboard. Not that they had any choice, this was the only place to rest. The food was simple and bland, boiled potatoes with salt and chilli with rice, some strange daal and a local spinach. Hardly did he know that this was going to be the menu three times a day for next week. There was no dearth of alcohol, though.
We sat the night, okay a part of it, out chatting with western backpackers and local guards listening to the stories of daring raids that the Maoists conducted, of the sellout thereafter and the ‘transition’ the country was going through. It was a long night. And a very chilly one too as the temperature goes sub zero in the night. I had never woken up to such melodic chirping of the birds as I did the next day.
We, then, had to leave for another trek to Gamgadhi. It was supposed to be a 4 hour one though I could cover it only in 8. The scenic beauty was the same with rivers of snow crisscrossing the trek. Tall pine trees stood their guard, lovingly watching over everything that passed under them. There were mules too, no ordinary mules though. They were in the service of the World Food Project transporting rice to this chronically food short region. And then they found the trail washed out by a recent landslide! The way out was climbing on a tree and trying to negotiate the washed out section. They did it.
Many such small tragedies and breaks later, they were finally in Gamgadhi, a place more politically charged than any the boy have ever seen. A week of encountering the truths- from beautiful to horrible was ahead.
And then getting back to Rara taal. For another day, or two, of escape from all the horrors of life!