Travelling rejuvenates my soul and brings calmness and inner peace. It re-energizes my senses and keeps me grounded. I travel whenever I can manage (management in terms of time and finance). There are limited places that I have been to and all of those places hold a special place and memory in my heart and mind.
One such place is Khaptad. This trek was special to me in so many ways. First, because it was “The Khaptad”, where I had always dreamt about trekking to all my life. Second, I was trekking to Khaptad with the love of my life. It was our first trek after marriage and his first visit to the Far West. Third, I was also trekking with my sister who is very close to my heart and who I was seeing after about four years. With proper preparation of a week or two, we left for Khaptad from Mahendranagar on 31st Ashoj, 2078 BS.
Day 1 was travel from Mahendranagar to Jhingrana. Since some of us had never been to the hilly far western region, we decided to take in every bit the journey had to offer. We stopped at multiple places on the way to enjoy the beautiful sceneries. The roads were windy and narrow with Skyscraper Mountains on one side and the burbling Seti on the other side. We reached Jhingrana at 4 PM. The only hotel was about a 45 minutes’ walk from the last village with access to transportation. The hotel we stayed in was as you would expect from the rural part of the country, with no lights or running water in the toilet. The view however was epic, the beautiful tall mountains, brisk wind bending the boughs made it look like entire nature was welcoming us. And to add to my excitement, I met one of my hike buddies along with her girls’ gang at Jhingrana. Our excitement and enthusiasm for this hike however were kind of dampened by the stormy night. It rained dogs and cats all night. Little did I know that this was just the trailer of our journey.
We woke up to a stormy morning. The next morning all of us hikers congregated in a small cafeteria to have our breakfast and started discussing if it was even safe to go any further from the first point. It was clear after less than an hour’s discussion that every one of us wanted to summit this beast and some rain and storm was not going to stop us. Looking back, I don’t know if we are foolish or brave souls.
With some final preparations, we started our hike to Khaptad from Jhingrana. The journey from Jhingrana to Bichpani, which is the midpoint to Khaptad, is about 12 km steep hike. We were only about 15 minutes into our trek, and it started pouring again, soaking all of us. All six of us in our group had our entire backpack soaked including our sleeping bags even before we got to the army barrack in Jhingrana. Armies stopped us from going any further because of the dangerous weather. There were already two groups ahead of us stopped at the army camp and they were using all their “sources” to make that journey happen. Wisely, armies advised against this trip because just one night’s heavy rain had flooded some areas and there was the weather prediction of things getting worse. But why would we listen, we were in the mission to challenge nature and make Khaptad happen for us. We were ready to take any challenge to summit this beast. One of the trekkers used his “source” and armies had to succumb. With an agreement to be responsible for anything that comes along our way, we decided to move forward and continue our trek. The continuous rain dripping in our eyes made it hard to see. The trail was flooded and the uphill hike with soaked backpack made our journey even more challenging. As we moved forward, it started raining heavily. The strong wind combined with pouring rain made it impossible for us to take shelter at any resting place. Since we were soaked, standing still chilled us to our bones, walking at least provided some warmth. After a continuous walk of 5 hours in rain, we saw a small sack. Our happiness knew no bounds when we get to warm ourselves by a campfire and have some warm food. Bichpani is located at top of the hill and the view from Bichpani is breathtaking. Bichpani, like the name, suggests is a midpoint from Jhingrana to Khaptad. There is only one hotel at Bichpani which is owned by an old man. Our group was discussing if we should spend the night at Bichpani or just hike up to the Khaptad the same day. The hotel owner recommended us to go to Khaptad because he was running out of food and there was practically no space left for us. He suggested that it only takes him 1.5 hours to reach Khaptad from Bichpani, and it should only take around 3 hours for us to reach Khaptad. Since we did not have any dry clothes on us, we thought it would be smart to tough it out and make it to Khaptad. Additionally, according to the weather forecast, it was going to rain the next day as well and we could not afford to get wet the next day as well. The hotel owner also added that there was better accommodation at Khaptad with more lodgings. However, our friends decided to stay at Bichpani and wait for the day. We, the team of six, headed for Khaptad at 3 PM in heavy rain.
By the time we arrived at Khaptad Patan, it was all dark. We could not even see the way, our torch/phones were dead, all our gadgets and belongings were wet. We thought we were lost because we just couldn’t find the bridge. We roamed for half an hour but due to heavy rain and dark, we could not cross the river. We were stuck at the middle of the jungle helplessly. We could not reach Khaptad which is just 45 minutes away (just a river away) from Khaptad Patan nor could we go back to Bichpani because it was dark, and we had already walked 5 relentless hours. We started looking for any shelter to spend the night but could find nothing except a “pratikshyalaya”, which was just tin-roofed shed with no walls and a wet muddy floor. Everyone one of us was shivering and chattering their teeth. I don’t think I have ever experienced that level of cold. Our hands and faces were swollen and could barely finish a sentence without chattering. We tried to make fire by burning some wood that was lying in the shed, but nature had a different plan for us. We even poured vodka to make the fire, but all in vain, nothing helped. The strong wind along with wet wood was not in our favor. All of us were shivering. We hugged each other tightly so that we could get some warmth off each other’s bodies, but nothing helped. We laid our wet sleeping bags on the floor and tried to get some rest, but the spine-chilling cold kept all of us awake. The entire night was spent shivering. It was a very tough night. We could not think of anything except our lives. I saw my life vanishing out of me. We prayed for life. I thought this was it for us. This is how we were supposed to die. At the moment of crisis, it’s not your life that you worry about the most, it’s actually the lives of your loved ones. I was worried about Dinesh, my husband, who had recently recovered from COVID with a severe lungs infection. I was worried about my sister, who had flown from the USA for this trip. I was heartbroken to see my little brother (who is just 15) in so much discomfort. I was just hoping and praying that nobody dies of hypothermia and sheer exhaustion. My older brother and my bhinaju were trying their best to mask their fear and keep our morale high. I was thinking of our families back home, the last words that we had exchanged. Life seemed so fragile in front of nature. That night definitely made me believe we are so small in front of nature. We should never challenge nature. All of us were praying in our own ways for the night/storm to pass by. I am actually out of words to express the intensity of my feelings of that night. The night was a struggle in terms of physical pain and emotional trauma. I was desperate to hear my parents’ voice. It felt like the last moments of our lives. That night shook us to our cores for sure. My face had been swollen up and I could not even open my mouth. Somehow our prayers were answered, and with the grace of God, we survived the night.
The next morning, we remembered that we had some food in our bags. We ate down some cookies and chocolates, drank some water, thanked God, and moved ahead for Khaptad. We couldn’t find the bridge the previous night because the river had flooded. It had reached all the way close to the shelter we rested at. The high currents in the river made it look like the river was mad at us and yelling at us for trying to challenge nature. There was no way we could cross this river so looked for alternative ways. We climbed to the mountains to see if we can skip crossing the river or if there were any other bridges. But, that didn’t help. The water in the river has reached really up and even the water current is so high that it is not any way for us to cross the river. We even tried placing the flooded wooden bridge back, but the river flooded it right back. It was like nature had all her plans to fail us. Finally, with no hope to reach Khaptad which was just across the river, we decided to return to Bichpani. I guess, by this point, we had learned not to challenge nature.
Returning to Bichpani was another huge struggle for us. We were exhausted, hungry, cold, frustrated, and scared to say the least. We had no motivation left to walk for another 5-6 hours. I thought I would rather drop dead then and there instead of moving another step. In a weird way, death seemed easy then a hike back to Bichpani on a stormy morning. The strong wind and heavy rain made our cold bodies even colder, like if that was even possible. However, we consoled each other and started our journey back to Bichpani. The trail to Bichpani was completely destroyed by the previous night’s flood. There were fallen trees laying down on our way telling us the tale of what mad nature had done to them. They looked defeated and had surrendered just like us. Our bags had become so heavy because of being wet in constant rain. We were trying to move forward but it felt like the heavyweight that we were carrying was pulling us back. We knew we had to use every ounce of our energy and motivation to make it to our destination. The only thing that kept us moving was the hope for warmth. It took us even more time to reach Bichpani because of heavyweight and low energy. Finally, we saw the hotel from the top of the hill. At that moment, we knew we will be okay and that was the best feeling I have ever had. It was a victory, and we felt like warriors coming back from the battlefield, but we had lost our war against nature. It didn’t matter because we were alive and being alive was the biggest victory.
Finally, we reached Bichpani after a tiresome hike of 7 hours in rain from Khaptad Patan. As soon as we reached the hotel, our friends, who had also been stuck at the hotel for 2 days, provided us with much-needed warm clothes, hot water, instant noodle soup. They had made a fire for us to keep us warm. All of them were devastated to see our plight. We had continuously been in the rain for about 36 hours by this point. Their welcome comforted us so deeply and we knew we were safe. If this team of mostly strangers (most of them we met at Jhingrana) would not have been there to rescue us with warm clothes, food, and fire, we would definitely have been frozen to death due to hypothermia. Their gesture made me believe in humanity even more. They became our family and will always hold a very special place in our hearts always. They say adversaries determine your friends from foe. I thought adversaries bring the worst out of you, but not us Nepalis. In the moment of our crises, everyone was there, and they delivered more than we could ever pay. We are forever indebted to our friends for their generosity, kindness, and care. The evening at Bichpani was definitely one of the memorable evenings of our lives. We talked, giggled, shared our experiences, cooked food ate together, and danced our hearts out. We celebrated being alive.
The next morning it finally stopped raining. Bichpani welcomed the sun. It was a beautiful bright sunny morning. The mountains looked mesmerizing. Khaptad was smiling at us and all set to welcome its visitors. The morning looked so glorious. The team, except six of us, packed their bag packs and headed to Khaptad. However, we had decided to return to Jhingrana and go back home from there. But me being me, I was not ready to accept the defeat. I had not gone through all these challenges just to go home defeated. I came all the way here to see Khaptad and I had to summit that beast. I, Dinesh, and my sister were thinking alike, so we decided to head to Khaptad. My cousin, nephew, and bhinaju decided that they didn’t want to challenge nature any more than they already had, and they headed back to Jhingrana. We felt rejuvenated and our spirits were high. The way to Khaptad was already familiar to us. It was our 3rd time trekking the same route. We met many trekkers on the way who were stuck at Khaptad for 2-3 days due to the bad weather conditions. It’s amazing how just a few hours of the sun had already calmed the river; we could easily walk across the river. It only took us about 4.5 hours to reach Khaptad, partly because this time we were carrying a dry backpack instead of a wet one. Khaptad, simply put is a paradise. The beautiful green rolling hills surrounded by big giant mountains made it look like a safe haven for nature lovers like me. It’s tucked in the lap of mountains. The gentle breeze and the smell of the wet earth made it even more magical. Every pain that we went through was worth this heavenly feeling. I was also super excited to see the rest of our team who were not even expecting us to be there. We went for a quick hike to Khaptad Ashram which is nestled in a beautiful dark jungle. It seemed like even the sun would struggle to penetrate it. Saipal Himal was standing tall and smiling at us on a full moon night.
The next morning after breakfast we went to Khaptad tower and we finally had cell phone reception. We had not talked to our families for so many days. We learned how bad the flooding actually was and the damage it has caused in the far western hilly regions. Rightfully, our families were very worried for us; our phone calls definitely lightened their worries. The view from Khaptad tower was enchanting. We hiked down to the Khaptad Daha, which unfortunately was not very clear due to flooding and landslides. More travelers showed up at the resort that afternoon, but we had very limited space. We decided to head back so that other travelers like us get to enjoy Khaptad as well.
Reaching Khaptad was a huge struggle for us while returning back from Khaptad turned out to be an even bigger challenge. We decided to return back through Bajhang since neither way was safe. Constant heavy rain for over 3 days had caused massive landslides and flooded houses, schools, and roads. Our destination for the day was Daru Gaun. We encountered numerous landslides and none of them were easy to cross. Some of the mudslides were knee-deep. We had to take off our boots; fold our sweatpants to our thighs. Walking in the slippery mudslides at top of the mountains was really scary even a slight misbalance would slip us down the hill. We were all burned out and scared to death. The slippery mud with the sharp pebbles was cutting into our feet making us bleed. However, after the relentlessly painful walk of 7 hours, we finally reached Daru Gaun. Daru Gaun is a beautiful village with even more beautiful people. We were welcomed at one of the homestays. After resting for the night, we started our journey to Malu Mela early the next morning. We learned that we could get a bus from Malu Mela which was music to our ears. So, with high hopes and boosted motivation, we started our trek from Daru Gaun at 7 in the morning. On our way, it was heartbreaking to see the condition of the once beautiful village. Landslides and flooding had destroyed the entire village. Heavy rain flooded their houses, schools, lands, and pets. Though villagers had lost their families, lands, pets, they were very kind and generous to us. They offered us help in every way possible. They helped us cross the flooded river and dangerous mudslides. Some of them even offered us fruits from their gardens. Their kindness and selflessness touched all of us. Nothing makes a person more beautiful than a beautiful heart.
By the time we reached Malu Mela, we were exhausted as hell. As soon as we reached there, we had lunch in one of the restaurants. The restaurant owner arranged a vehicle. With full and happy bellies, we headed towards the jeep. It was a great relief to get back to civilization after a tiring journey of many days. We had only traveled 2km when we encountered another big landslide. We had to ditch that jeep and walk uphill for an hour or two to cross that landslide. We took a second jeep to reach Bagh Khola. Bagh Khola is a small town with multiple hotels and restaurants. Everyone looked bright and cheerful the next morning because we were finally getting close to home. Villagers told us that there were no major landslides for the rest of our path, but this journey was never supposed to be the easy one. To add to our misery and exhaustion, there was another landslide, which meant we had to hike again to get past this landslide. Here we thought we were done fighting nature, but we still had a long challenging journey ahead of us. We climbed the steep mountain like true warriors for another two and half hours. There were moments of despair where I just wanted to lay down and scream, “I give up”, but that was not an option. Finally, we made it to Baghkhola, where we had a bus waiting for us. We were thrilled to see the bus. We took the bus to Attariya and finally reached there at 11 pm. We bid goodbye to 4 of our gang mates. They were going to Dhangadi and taking the next day flight to Kathmandu and we drove to Mahendranagar and finally reached home on the 7th of Kartik.
The trek to Khaptad was one hell of an experience for me. This trek will definitely keep me grounded. After this trip, my love and respect for nature have increased tremendously and so has the fear. Every person I met during the trek had left a deep impression on my heart. The gang that I met remained close till the last moment. If it wasn’t for this gang, we might not have made it alive. Our gang was comprised of people from every corner of Nepal. It is rightly said that there is unity in diversity. The kindness and generosity that villagers showed us taught me humility. The trek was thrilling, exhilarating, and adventurous even though it was challenging and difficult. One thing I learned from this trek is to be prepared. It’s rightly said, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. First, do your research; make sure you are aware of the weather condition. Second, do not ever challenge nature. Nature can be generous and cruel at the same time. Be cognizant of the signals. Third, be kind because you never know what tomorrow has in store for you. Happy travels to all of you nature lovers out there. Promote tourism by traveling and sharing your experience.