Nepal - Winter hiking and cooking in hail storm.by
January mostly is the coldest month in Nepal. This year we received heavy and lasting snowfall in mountains. The hills where snowfall is not frequent and rare were covered under white blanket. I planned a winter hike and outdoor cooking trip in Arghakhanchi district - to a small village Darakateri. There is an observation point surrounded by forest at the peak which was our destination.
I made a stop at my cousin’s place who lives in beautiful village Amlabas in Palpa district. Amlabas is some 30 KM away from Arghakhanchi district. Rain started pouring in noon. Generally it is a good indication for the weather next morning because it could become clear of haze and we have a perfect view of Mt Dhaulagiri. By evening rain had stopped and our decision to ride in motorcycle to Darakateri village was confirmed. We would stay a night in Darakateri and early morning we would start our hike to the peak. Late evening when sun did set half an hour ago we reached Darakateri village. It was freezing cold. We sat around wood fire and enjoyed the basking in heat to warm our bodies. After dinner we tucked in our bed early for our next morning.
My biological clock isn’t accustomed to waking up early but that morning I woke up when it was still dark outside for no sound of morning activity from outside was coming. I looked at my watch showing it was 6 in the morning. I had slept in my light pure wool sweater and spacious wool track pant. I did not feel much chill. I needed to get ready to shoot the sunrise and catch the first rays of light hitting the peak of Mt Dhaulagiri. I was being optimistic after yesterday’s cloudy weather. I grabbed my camera, checked the cards and battery - put on my down-jacket and opened the door when chilly air of wind hit my face waking me up if I wasn’t up enough already. I look straight at horizon to a clear view of majestic Mt Dhaulagiri range. Mt Dhaulagiri sat there with red crown on its head - looking at little subjects laden in white snow. There was no obstruction in the path of sight. Slowly intensity of red tint increased and revealing all the parts of mountain range in pure white over the contrast of blue sky.
We had a light breakfast and took off for our day hiking. The hike wasn’t too steep but gradual. After clear sky in the morning, in distance dark clouds were brewing. Air was chilly. Grounds were still covered in frosts. We hiked on. We made our way though the forest. There were some annoying thorny bushes that kept scratching us while trying to wade through it. We reached deep where trees were covered in lichens. Sun light mustn’t reach here. We realised that we lost the trail and walked directionless for sometime until we stumbled on very old beaten stone-trail covered in tall weeds. In old days locals used to take this path to reach pilgrimage site at peak but for some reason path was abandoned. We had to bushwack our way through it to find and join the actual trail out of the forest. We cheered and hiked on. Trail lead us through rhododendron trees, abandoned houses and fields. I could smell aroma of Sichuan pepper lingering in air. Many bushes of pepper grew along the trail. They were ripe for picking. We also come across some wildlife where we saw a small deer grazing in the mustard field, kalij pheasant running across the trails. It was all nature in its pure and simple form. We enjoyed every instance as a free spirited soul.
We reached and climbed the observation tower at more than 2000 metres elevation. We had an amazing view of Dhaulagiri mountain range in north and vast plains in south. It was unique. We took in the breathtaking view and had rest. After a time dark clouds were hovering above us. We were expecting rain in an hour or so. We decided to get off the tower and head into the wood to break a campfire and cook our lunch. We brought pasta, veggies and seasoning along with us. We took out mess kit from our bags and ingredients. I went to collect firewood while my cousin started digging a pit. From yesterday’s rain everything was wet. I found some wet firewood but needed some dry kindling to sustain the fire. Fortunately there were some dry twigs and on bushes. I brought a pine fat wood with me to start a fire, knowing it would be wet from the earlier rain. We made a fire after carefully sustaining it. We boiled the water for pasta. We brought pure virgin coconut oil. It was easy to carry, knowing it freezes solid so no hassle of accidental leaking inside bag. The best ingredient for a delicious food is hunger. After hours of hike and cooking, we devoured our pasta.
When finishing our lunch hail storm broke - hailstones were falling from above. Our campfire was under dense roof of tree foliage. It did slow down the fall of stones. We began packing our things. I made sure to remove any trace of campfire before leaving. We ran through the hailstones and took shelter under some kind of park shelter. After a while hailstones stopped and it was simply raining lightly. We decided to take a tour of pilgrimage site. Lord shiva resides in this site. Every year there is a holy event where pilgrims comes to pay their prayers to the deity. After taking a stroll around we headed back down the trail to reach Darakateri. Trail was all covered in white hailstones from earlier storm. The surroundings looked very different in fog and path covered in white.
We reached the village, had a jasmine tea and headed back to Amalabas in motorcycle with a desire to do Dhaulagiri circuit trek one day soon.