Sunday, September 6, 2009

I've Been to the Shivapuri Mountain Top & I've Seen the Promised Land !

It has been a long time that I’ vent updated this blog. I’m doing it today coz I reached the mountain top again yesterday…after so many days. I’ve been wandering in the Shivapuri Jungle for more than six months now…and, I often think that I’ve also become sort of specialist on Shivapuri Hiking!

The trail I took this time goes in the opposite direction from Nagi Gomba. It’s shorter to the Shivapuri Height than via the Nagi Gomba. The trail goes up and up, until you reach a point from where two trails appear: one going downward to Sikre Village, and another going upward to the Heights.

It seems that I’m getting used to the Shivapuri jungles. I was not afraid at all even on the top as I was in my last visit. This route was shorter and a real hiking. You go only up and up until you reach the top.

Since, I was there in the summer last time, the top was also more grassy this time. The top is not like a sharp ridge as it seems from far below. Its like a small playground where there are many Hindu and Buddhist symbols, such as Trishul the Trident, chorten, prayer flags, etc. In fact, the Kathmandu side is not that clearly visible from the top, but the northern side is visible with four or five mountain ranges.

My favorite place again was that huge rock just below the top. It’s a really a very huge rock tilting on its side, as if it’d begin rolling. This reminds me of Sisyphus’s rock. A few small rock steps take you to the rock top. There are Buddhist prayer and symbols on the top. It’s the same rock where I’d got Acrophobia. I had it again…coz it feels like the rock would begin rolling under your weight. And if you slipped, you’d fall far below into the abyss. No way!

I sat on the rock leaning backward to assure my sense of security. I tried to enjoy the shapes the clouds were making. I also remembered Martin Luther King’s saying, “I’ve been to the mountain top and I’ve seen the Promised Land.” Mind you, the seas of clouds flow below you with a great swirl. Suddenly, its all dark, and suddenly the five mountain ranges are visible. Even if it was heaven, one can’t avoid feeling eerie in the heaven.

I was there on the top at about 4. Didn’t feel like going to the Baba’s Way. It would take time while greeting the Baba, and I also didn’t feel like talking heavy things even in the jungle. Even spirituality is not a talking matter, what i was feeling was already spiritual. Talking would only disrupt my trance!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hiking to Kakani and Socio-Political Musings in Kathmandu

Yesterday, since I didn’t feel like doing a strenuous hike at Shivapuri, I went to Kakani… …Once you reach to a certain height, you wish to go higher next time…just a few days ago, even getting to Panimuhan at the foothill of Shivapuri and looking toward Kathmandu was a great experience…then reaching Nagi Gompa and watching the panoramic spread of Kathmandu Valley was another great experience…then reaching the Shivapuri Height and watching on the other side from a huge rock was a magnificent achievement…My limitation is that I have to reach a destination and get back to my room the same day…

I was visiting Kakani for the first time…Got up and put a water bottle in the bag...this time I though of taking my bag to carry water as the days are getting hotter...and yes, i bought a binocular that cost about 500…i was simply fascinated with binoculars…lately I’d begun noticing birds and butterflies as well…so took the binoculars so that I could watch them closely…

Reached the Naya Bus Park and then Machapokhari Bus Stop where you can find buses for Trishuli…I’d been up to Osho Nagarjun Meditation Retreat before, but not beyond that….so i didn’t know where you get off for Kakani…i kept reading the signs for knowing about the place names…Tinpiple, Okharpauwa…then I got off at a comparatively larger market as I read a sign say Kakani…But later found that it was not Kakani, you have hike upward to get to Kakani…

After eating Sel Tarkari at a roadside Chiyapasal, I asked a boy there if it was Kakani…no he said….you’ve to walk half an hour up for Kakani…However, it seemed to the right place to get off from the bus to Trishuli…The boy said it was called Kauli…the thing I noticed in Kauli was children selling strawberries, and another local yellow colored berry found in higher moutains in Nepal...called locally aiselu…I don’t know what it’s English name… I remember picking aiselu when I was a kid…You can see strawberries grown around Kakani in Kathmandu as well, but I’d not seen aiselu being sold anywhere in Kathmandu…even in Kakani, there were not much Aiselu...a few kids were selling it on leaves...Strawberries were introduced by the Japanese and now farmers around Kathmandu cultivate it as a cash crop…But Aiselu is still a wild berry of Nepal…

Another thing that I noticed at the Chiyapasal and at other places were the flies, and the lack of hygiene… Even so near to Kathmandu and with all basic facilities, Kakani people were not different from village people of other parts of Nepal…The area seemed to be Tamang dominated…it was really interesting to see that just ten kilometers away from Kathmandu where the Newaris dominate, you could hear a different language and kids with slightly different features than Newars…However, the most common trait that I noticed among the Tamangs and the Newars or Jyapus of Bhaktapur where I’d visited last week was that both people had pathetically poor sense of hygiene….

While I was going up…sometimes on road…and sometimes off road…I suddenly arrived at a place from where appeared the Himalayas far away…it was about 10 in the morn…and the sky was getting misty…but I was happy to see the Himalayan peak…and took out the Binoculars to get closer views…but I found that Binos are only good for watching things just away from your vision…or smaller things within your vision…about 2 hours later, even those hazy views of Himalayan peaks were not visible…due to white clouds above them…

Three things that I enjoyed most in my Kakani Visit were:

I saw an eagle from the bus soaring below me while heading toward Kakani…

Walked down to the main road from Kakani top finding my own way in the mountain shortcut trails…I so hate walking on the roads

Traveling on the roof of the bus while returning…you don’t always get the opportunity of an open travel on the bus top…it was my first travel on the bus roof in five years…and views from the roof are truly awesome!

What I hated most on the Kakani Road:

Poultry Farming…you certainly do not enjoy the awful stench that come from Poultry Farms near the road…

Fish Farming by blocking natural Waterfalls…

While retuning from Kakani, I was happy that i was from Nepal who can walk into the mountains just by getting out of his room…I was also happy that I realized the pleasures in of walking in the mountains before it was too late…before I was too old to walk…

Kakani is no different form any other place in the mountains…except that it is easily accessible, with all basic needs for travelers and picnickers, and yet isolated from Kathmandu’s hustle and bustle…

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Geography & Biodiversity of Nepal: Mountains, Rivers, and Flat-land Terai

Nepal’s contrasting features basically emanate form its diverse geographical variation. The country’s small width of 193 Km covers a landscape ranging from the Gangetic plains almost at the sea level in the south elevating to the tallest mountains in the north. The geographical variation creates diverse climatic conditions from a sub-tropical climate in the southern part to the alpine temperatures in the north.

The combined effect of geographical and climatic variations fosters diverseness not only among the people and their culture but the flora & fauna and their habitats as well. Despite very little effort on the part Nepal Government to work toward a greener policy, Nepal’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for 2008 scores 72.1, well ahead of both its neighbor China & India.

Geographically, Nepal has been divided into three regions – the plains or the Terai, the mountains, and the Hills. Each region is unique – geographically, culturally, as well as in terms of vegetation & animal variety. This sheer diversity of Nepal attracts not only the thousands of fun & adventure loving tourists & trekkers, but hundreds of scientific, social, and political researchers also find Nepal as a perfect place to conduct their research pursuits.

The Himalayas:
The high Himalayas of Nepal is one of world’s youngest mountain systems formed by the collision of Indian plateau with the Tibetan (or Eurasian) plateau some 55 million years ago. One of the startling facts that the early mountaineers & trekkers encountered in the high Himalayas was the fossil rocks of sea creatures. How come the fossils of sea creatures arrive at the world highest places? The fossil that are still found abundantly especially in the area of world’s deepest gorge the Kaligandaki are the evidence that the highest peaks were sea-beds of the ancient Tethys Seas.

Another interesting fact about these mountains being young is that they are still growing! Recently world’s highest peak the Mt. Everest was found to have grown 2 meters taller than its earlier recorded height of 8,848 meters.

The Himalayas have been divided into five parts that stretch from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim (India) to Tibet (China), but the longest extension falls inside Nepal. Nepal’s Himalaya extends from the Mahakali River in the west to the Tista River in the east in a range of about 800 kms. The Nepali part of the Himalayas boasts of eight out of world’s 14 tallest peaks.

Nepali Himalayas have inspired the Hindu & Buddhist monks as peaceful abodes for their spiritual practices & meditation. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Geological Survey Department of the British Raj the East India Company sent expedition teams of explorers to map the entire Himalayan region. The highest Himalayan peak was baptized as Mt. Everest after Chief of the Survey Department Sir George Everest.

However, the world interest in Nepal mountains increased only after Sir Edmund Hillary & his guide Tenjing Norgay Sherpa’s successful accession to the Mt Everest summit in 1953. In those days, Nepal allowed only one expedition a year to scale the Mt Everest from its side, while China has prohibited the accent from the Tibetan side. Since then more than … mountaineers have scaled the Mt Everest, and 193 expedition teams were granted approval in 2008 alone. One interesting historical fact about Mt. Everest is that China which had been claiming its sovereignty on the Mount Everest accepted Nepal’s claim only in 1960.

Trekking routes and itinerary were later developed by the experts as apart from the professional mountaineers & hikers, general people with adventurous spirit started visiting Nepal mountains. Today, the Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Base Camp Treks are rank among world‘s most popular outdoor adventure routes along with more than two dozens other long & short trek courses within Nepal alone.

The eight out of the 14 world’s highest mountains that lie in Nepal are: (1) Mt. Everest(called Sagarmatha in Nepal) (2) Kanchenjunga - 8586 m, (3) Lhotse - 8516m, Makalu - 8463m, (5) ChoOyo - 8201 m, (6) Dhaulagiri - 8167m, (7) Manaslu - 8163m 8) Annapurna- 8091 m

The Mountains:
The middle hills of Nepal are found within a short area of about 60 km but they constitute the largest portion of total land area. The range between low lying Churia hills (610-1524 meters) and the high Mahabharata mountains that grow up to 4877 meters cover about 64 percent of Nepal’s land area. Majority of the large towns including the capital Kathmandu lie in this range. The vast and tricky mountains provided Nepal’s military strategist to keep themselves at an advantageous position in the wars with Britain & China. The Maoists too exploited the inaccessibility of the intricate mountain systems covered with heavy forestation in waging their war against government forces. In a Nepali folk song, a girl laments with her lover who has gone abroad to come back from a land which is “nine mountains, and seven seas away”. When you climb a hill to discover a series of parallel mountain systems, you’d realize that the girl was not exaggerating even geographically.

The River Systems:
There are three large river systems in Nepal: the Kosi, the Gandaki, & the Mahakali. The area between the high mountains is made by large rivers flowing from north to south. The large spaces that were once lakes filled up by the downward traveling rivers later became fertile valleys like Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are still several freshwater lakes like the world famous Fewa Lake of Pokhara. These river systems bring great amounts of sand and silt that are deposited and fill up the lower Gangetic plains. The Kosi River is considered the largest river in the world that deposits heavy amount of silt & sand in the lower delta of Gangetic basin. Freshwater sports like River rafting is getting increasingly popular in Nepal’s large rivers like Bhote Kosi, Trishuli, etc

The low-land Terai:

Rhino Injured by Poachers in Nepal Terai

Nepal’s Terai which is the extension of the Gangetic plains constitutes about 15% land area but provide more than 50% of the country’s food requirement. Lush dense tropical forests make home for the most of the endangered wildlife species in the region. Most of the country’s national parks are in the Terai plains including the World Heritage Site listed Chitwan National Park. The national parks at Chitwan & Bardia are the region’s major protected natural habitats for such rare wild mammals like the Bengal Tiger, Asian Rhino, Asian Elephant, Gharial Crocodile, and the deer species. The elephant safari rides, bird watching, and natures walks with camping inside the jungle are favorite activities among the tourists in Nepal.

The Kosi Tappu Wild-life Reserve is home to the world rare bird species – including the Siberian cranes that travel over the seas & continents. The major overland entry points to Nepal from India are located in the Terai.

The region is also famous for its richness in ancient cultural & religious traditions. While the Buddha was born in the western Terai’s Kapilvastu region of Nepal, the central Terai region of Janakpur was ancient Mithila Kingdom ruled by King Janak. Thousands of Buddhist people from Sri-Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, India and other east-Asian countries conduct their pilgrimage to the Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini. Similarly, the ancient town of Janakpur, the birth place of Lord Rama’s beloved Sita, attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims every years.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rains in Kathmandu Nepal & Change in Shivapuri National Park

This is it! After a week of hide & seek, it really rained heavily for an hour on Sunday evening…that too unexpectedly…Kathmandu received a record rain of 19 mm in just an hour…and hails too…it really felt nice to see the wet leaves and small water ditches on the road 12 hours after the rain…the ground was so dry that the earlier showers were just soaked up leaving no traces of rain…but despite the winter drought, the Sunday and Monday’s evening rains kept their promise of the coming monsoons…I’m sure that all wildfires must have been quenched by now…& Shivapuri too would be different than i saw last week…

Monday, March 23, 2009

Social Needs in the Wilderness - Babas at Shivapuri Hill – Todke Baba

Baba: a human being
Humans are everywhere the same…even in the wilderness they behave according to their social training…even the solitary babas living inside tree holes (todka) feel pressed to behave socially…on the way upward from Baghdwar to the Shivapuri Top met a Baba inside a tree trunk…after i did him namaste he asked me in a typical hilly tone, ‘katabat aaunu bho koni, kata jan lagnu bho?’ (where you come from man, & where you going?) After my answer a social being spoke through the Baba, ‘have some tea first man?’ since it was getting darker due to the clouds, i told him that i’d meet him again after i return from the Top.

While walking down, I thought of chatting with the Baba a bit…asked him if he was the Todke Baba…’no, he live downhill these days, i’m living here for some six months…i was at Sundarijal before’…i told him that I really enjoyed the hill forest…’who wouldn’t enjoy Lord Shiva’s Durbar after all’ he commented, ‘we’re in bliss here….so much peace’ he was making some green leaves on a pan over firewood which he called wild veggies.. he again asked me to have some tea, but I felt like he was only being social…so said that I was getting late. He asked me to stay at his place…which was a big hole on a tree trunk…

Noise in the wilderness
At the downhill Kuti were three Babas with two other men around the Dhuni (Baba’s Bonfire) …it’d begun raining so I thought of getting over my shyness and chat with the Babas there…the Baba whom i recognized from a picture posted on the net as Kopche Baba was there…But when I asked him if he was the Kopche Baba… he answered with some uneasiness that Babas do not have any names…it’s the people who give them a name…& Kopche Baba was named so because of his old age & stooping figure…Another Mongolian looking man said that this was the Todke Baba…Todke Baba said that Kopche Baba had already passed away…the the Cemetery above and the cave below the cliff was Kopche Baba’s.

Todke Baba
Todke Baba began talking on the nature of the divine and malpractices in religions Another Bramhin looking man of about my age was more talkative…in fact I did not find anything holy in their talk…all they were talking about the malpractices…the two youths seemed to have come there for enjoying the Hashish smoke, which all of them began taking from the Chilim…Todke Baba was smoking from the Cigarette…After sometime Baba asked time with another fellow Baba…it was quarter to five…then he asked me if I’d stay there…I’d have certainly enjoyed staying there…but i’d to come back…sometimes family becomes more of a liability than need…moreover, I did not enjoy talking and making arguments even when you’re in the jungle…as it was still raining, Baba asked me to take his Umbrella or raincoat…but I did not want to take anything from Baba…

Todke Baba looked happy & friendly, but he did not seem to enjoy company…in fact I did not find anything special about him…but although i’d taken him for a person of Nepal Hills…he sounded like an Indian from his manner of speaking…

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Call of the Shivapuri Wild & Return Back to Kathmandu

I returned from the Shivapuri Height this time as well…with more experience & confidence…the most annoying part was the return walk from the National Park gate at Panimuhan to the Bus Park at Bhudanilkhantha. I was a bit late to catch the microbus at the gate when i got there at quarter to seven…so had to walk further to the Bus Park. As i had already spent my stamina, & the ankle joints were aching feverishly, really got a headache by the time I caught the micro. Another reason for tiredness and aches was my foolish & unsuccessful attempt again to bypass the winding road and hiking up and down the hills to reach Nagi Gumba. What I learned so far is that you can not cut short the main road to Gompa by more than one ridge upward and without losing your sense of direction …

Otherwise it was a momentous hike this time…and mostly due to the weather that allowed for a thrilling experience, and at the same time refrained from harming me in any way…yes, when you’re way thru in the mountain jungles, you feel like deifying everything…and would like to believe in the divine designs & divine cares for you…from the call of the Shivapuri Hills to the thunders over them…

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fire in Nepal Moutains: Human or Natural Disaster

Wildfire at Shivapuri?
Seems like it’d rain this evening…the sky is getting darker with clouds and occasional thunders…nothing is more welcome these days than the rains …The news reports say that Nepal’s jungles are seeing the largest wild fire in history. The Terai jungles see wildfires every year, but never before were there wildfires of this scale in the Himalayan regions. They say even the Shivapuri region is facing the wildfire. Why not, after all? While walking though the parched dry grasses & heaps of fallen dry leaves, the first thought that came to my mind was that a single spark can create a wildfire there. I saw several empty packets of PILOT cigarette. The villagers & low income people use the PILOT brand cigarette for its low cost, & I’d seen villagers gathering firewood in my both last visits. I also found a lighter at a grass opening chaur before reaching Baghdwar.

Environment: Whose Responsibility?
I feel like accusing the authorities at Shivapuri for its environmental degradation & wildfire. The army personnel, people at Nagi Gompa, and the Babas staying there may also be responsible. However, conserving a national forest near a heavy human settlement is easier said than done. And looking at the number of visitors and easy accessibility, the conservation efforts are certainly admirable.

Acrophobia at Shivapuri Height
I was really overwhelmed by the views seen from the Top toward the other side of Shivapuri. The Kathmandu side looks familiar from the Top, but the northern side appears & sounds really wild – except for a winding road seen far away. I climbed a huge cliff near the top, and when i looked at the views below it, a sort of dizziness swept over me…this was a place for testing one’s acrophobia…and I was really afraid to stand on the rock and look down…so i stepped back and crouched on my front…still, looking down from the rock sent shivers thru my body…I also realized that its more difficult to climb down a rock than climbing it up… so i crouched & crept down to the ground… I find it hard to keep a balance while standing when I know that there’s a possibility of falling down…is it an evolutionary instinct or my lack of experience in climbing mountains?

Dangers of Wild Mountains
Last night when I was wondering over the supposedly brief showers on Wednesday evening, i suddenly realized that it’d be dangerous to walk on wet & slippery trails…a village woman i met on my first hike warned me against walking alone or off the main trail, for encountering a wild bear or leopard… and a staff at the gompa said that besides wild animals, being attacked by miscreants was also possible…the notice also warns against walking alone…when a wild monkey threatened me, or when i was lost near the top, or when I was looking at the other side of the cliff, i was really frightened for my life…I was even thinking if I would return & write my next episode on the blog…

I’m thinking of sitting with the Babas for some time at Baghdwar in my hike tomorrow…last time, during my return a friendly looking Baba asked me to have some tea after I did namaste to him……later while reading other’s experience on the net, i learned that he was either one of the two famous Babas there – Kopche, or Todke Baba. I also found his picture posted on the net.
i was touched by Baba’s hospitality, but i was also getting late, so told him that i’d come often & would talk to them next time…