December 21, 2018 09:30 AM NPT
By: URZA ACHARYA
KATHMANDU, Dec 21: Prasuna Dongol, while studying filmmaking in the UK, returned to Nepal a total of five times during her four year undergraduate program. “I returned a month after going to the UK. I just missed home too much,” she says. In all the times she came back to Nepal, she traveled extensively to several places like Manang, Mustang, and Annapurna Base Camp, to name a few. “I could have gone trekking in the UK or in some other country but there is this innate sense of belonging when in comes to Nepal,” she says.
Dongol hadn’t been much of a traveler before going to the UK, minus the occasional few days trips to places like Nagarkot and Pokhara, and that too with her family. The first time she returned home, she reveals she yearned for some solitude as well as wanted to be away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. “There is always this pressure to go back home, finish your work or study when you go someplace around the city where you live but with long, distant treks, there is no tension about any of those things,” she explains.
In 2011, Dongol embarked on her very first trek to Poon Hill and she describes it as being a divine experience. “I was bewitched by the vast sky and all the greenery. There was neither construction or vehicle noise nor the pressure of reaching home on time. I had never felt so relaxed,” she says adding that following this uplifting experience trekking became an addiction of sorts.
And whenever Dongol traveled, she took pictures of people and landscapes from her phone and uploaded them on Instagram. “My friends and followers really liked the pictures. As a student of filmmaking, I was conscious about the lighting, saturation, contrasts etc. I guess that spilled out on my photography as well,” she explains.
Dongol, now 27, has been to most of the adventurous trekking routes of Nepal, her recent one being a 23-day long trek to Dolpa in August/September of 2017. This trek is her longest one till date. Initially, she had planned to go with friends but when the circumstances weren’t in the favor for that, she decided to go alone. And she got the opportunity to do just that when she participated in the “Solo Woman Travel Challenge” organized by Nepali Travellers.
“It’s a tragedy that we never think about traveling alone. It’s a surreal experience,” she says adding that though it took her about six months to prepare for the trip which included first-aid trainings, self-defense lessons, learning proper mapping etc, it made her feel confident that she could go on a trip alone.
According to Dongol, Dolpa is one of the places that haven’t been properly mapped. She had to sit with people from Dolpa to plan out her routes as well as locate different places she would be traveling to. “Very few people visit Dolpa. When I was there, maybe because it was slightly off-season, I didn’t see a single foreign tourist,” she explains.
Dongol crossed five passes in her journey, got caught in a landslide in Jajarkot and even got lost at one of the passes. “It was the Khoma La pass, apparently the shortest and the easiest pass, but I still managed to get lost,” she explains. She had reached the top of the pass at six in the morning and got confused regarding the way down. Dongol explains she walked down several routes leading to dead ends, and ending up walking a lot because of that.
“At one point, I took a route which wasn’t even much of a path and after a while I was completely stuck. I couldn’t go down or climb back,” she reveals. After a few sets of deep breaths and a quick self pep talk, she managed to regain control of herself and crawled her way back to the top. “That’s when I saw an old lady rearing her cattle and she showed me the way. It was around two in the afternoon then,” she explains.
This experience made Dongol realize the importance of proper planning when it comes to embarking on journeys like the one she was on. “It’s always better to over plan. I was a little scared when it came to longer passes so I was careful and aware but I underestimated the Khoma La pass which, in turn, gave me the biggest shock of my life,” she says.
Dongol also decided to document her Dolpa trek. “Initially, I had planned to do a vlog, not anything serious. But eventually I decided to document the places as well as the people,” she explains. The documentary she made recently got screened at the 2018 Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) and it garnered a lot of appreciation and positive reviews. “I’m glad people liked it so much. It gives me hope that people will be inspired to travel alone as well,” she says.
Dongol says what she loves about nature and traveling is how it’s 100 percent efficient – the give and take is equal. “With people or work, one can’t be sure if our effort will be reciprocated with recognition or reward. But with nature there is that guarantee that the more you walk, the better the view gets,” she concludes.