First snow, shooting stars, and the Thorong La pass

Published On: March 23, 2018 10:56 AM NPT By: Priyanka Gurung

May 30 is not only her birthday for 25-year-old, Dongaala, she shares she looks forward to it because it’s the time of the year she knows she will be on the road. Regardless of work or obligations, she has been making sure that is the case for the past three years now and her intention to continue the tradition is strong this year too.

“There are already a couple of travel options in the mix,” she says. A colleague has been talking about taking her to Sikkim. Personally, she is also aiming to travel throughout India and within the country. “Dolpo, maybe?” she says. 

Her work with SIT Nepal as well as her fondness for heading out and about on her own has taken Dongaala to many places both locally and internationally. And be it treks to underrated spots like Orangchugolan, at the eastern border of China, or a frolic around crowd favorites like Pondicherry, she says she is open to all kinds of travel experiences and has enjoyed them too. Perhaps her prerequisite is to travel in a small group, if that because “some trips are meant to be taken alone.”
With The Week, she talks about her biggest travel challenge till date, the Thorong La Pass.

But can it be done?
My first ever trek was to Manang in 2012 and I spent the first two days cursing. I was with a German friend and we were carrying our own bags. Unlike many people, we started walking from Besi Sahar and all I remember of the start is its difficulty level. It was my first time challenging myself in this way.

However, once we started seeing the landscapes, the experience took on a different narrative. I had never been exposed to such greenery before. I realized this then during our Manang trek. What’s more, we also woke up to several inches of snow one morning. It was mid-April and incredibly unlikely but I got to experience my first snow. Looking back, it feels like eventually everything fell into place.

But back then, I still hadn’t heard of Thorong La Pass. It was actually only during my second trip to Manang (which was work related) that I heard people talk about it. 

As we know, everybody talks about the pass in awe. It’s revered among the trekkers’ community and the conversations always end up with elaborate tales of the challenges it presents. But I kept asking them, “Can it be done?” I remember coming back home to my sister and telling her, “I have to continue trekking. I have to go.”

Fourth time lucky
After the first trek to Manang, I went there two more times before finally making through Thorong La. The second trip was work related and it only fuelled my fascination with the trail. By the third trip, I was determined to make it. 

However, my friends had tagged along. It also snowed and unfortunately many of us got sick. Some suffered from severe altitude sickness as well and even though they were telling me to go ahead, I couldn’t bring myself to leave them there.

Once I had returned and was again thinking about planning a fourth trip, my sister even had a word with me. She thought it didn’t make sense to spend all that money to go to the same place. I ended up promising her that this would be my last try. I told her I wouldn’t do it again. 

Initially, I was also planning to go at it alone but she wanted me to take somebody. I settled for one friend. It was his first time trekking but I chose him as a trekking mate because he could handle stress. He knows how to keep his calm during emergencies.

He kept saying, “This trip is about life and death for me, Dongaala.” I kept insisting we would be fine.

Nepali cheli on the pass
Whenever I talk to people about my Thorong La experience, I always tell them about the stars. I didn’t think it was possible to be so close to that many stars. Was it difficult? Yes but I keep pointing out that it isn’t impossible.

As it happened, I was the only Nepali girl trekking through the trail at the moment. There were many foreigners but I was the only Nepali and all the guides and trekkers found it very amusing. They kept saying, “pass ma Nepali cheli ayeko rahecha” and were very generous with their encouragements. They say there are disadvantages to travelling as a woman but, in my experience, there are many pros as well. 

I believe the way you think has a big impact on how your travels are going to turn out. It isn’t that I didn’t get altitude sickness. The hardest part was right before we were about to reach Phedi. But even before we reached there, I was determined not to quit. I had bought plenty of medicine and was planning to go down a level to acclimatize myself, but not return.

As it is, everybody had his/her own share of problems. You hear about everything from sore muscles, blisters to bum rashes. The trick is to not give in. Everybody has his/her own way of doing this. My friend chose to climb up and come back down to acclimatize himself. I just rested to preserve my energy. And thankfully, despite the dull headache, the steep climb and the freezing breeze all around us, at around 5 am, we made it. 

When the guide told us we had reached the spot, I threw my bag and myself to the ground and just stayed there. That’s when I noticed the amazing stars. Two shooting stars even intersected right above me. It was an emotional moment. But soon, everybody was congratulating and hugging each other. We forgot we were essentially strangers.

The right way to give it a go
My mother is funny in a way because she doesn’t mind these adventures of mine. She just insists on giving me prayer beads and simply says that she prays for me at Boudha all the time so I should be fine. There never is a question about how I might not be able to do it.

When you are travelling, I think the most important thing is to be flexible. Things won’t go according to the plan and, if you aren’t able to roll with the punches, you will suffer. 

Even during this trek, for example, we were supposed to get up at 3 am and start but my friend and I didn’t have torchlights with us. My friend was really concerned. But I talked and sort of made friends with the guides taking a French group with them. We settled that we would join their group for this phase. We didn’t have to worry about the lights at all. The fact that I can adapt has helped me the most during my travels.

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