Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hiking the Gosaikunda, Part 4

Day 8 (Dec 19, 2016): Ghopte to Kutumsang (2470 m)

 Today was perhaps the climax of the trip. We were feted with the most epic views. At this one place, the clouds unfurled like a wavy carpet, stretching towards the horizon, with the setting sun providing the most magical golden hour I had ever witnessed. We were busy clicking away when I saw Rafiah, lying contentedly whilst savouring the view. "Enjoy the moment before you capture it," she said wisely. So I did. I put away my camera, lay next to her and soaked in the indescribable beauty in front of me.

When the sun had set, we were brought back to earth. We still had to trek for another two hours in the dark. It had been days since we had last showered 🙈 Our skin was dry like sand paper, our lips chapped, our hair coarse, and our toes were black and blue. Truly, we weren't fit to be seen by people. We all longed for a nice, long, hot shower and was hoping that tonight's guest house would provide just that (and WiFi!). The primitive toilets and near-freezing water we had had so far meant that we could only brave brushing our teeth. Even then, gargling the water would cause our teeth to chatter uncontrollably.

When we arrived at Kutumsang, our hopes were dashed cruelly: No hot shower, no WiFi and we learnt that, tomorrow, we would have another 8-10 hours of hiking. Everyone was stunned as we all thought today was the last day we would be hiking in the dark. We asked one of our porters for confirmation, just in case our guides were pulling our legs. When he confirmed it, everyone fell silent, contemplating about our bleak future 😭

Day 9 (Dec 20, 2016): Kutumsang to Chisapani (2115 m)

It was a very cold, foggy morning in Kutumsang. If you looked out the window, you could see nothing but white. Ghatta Raj, our guide, predicted that snow would fall in four days' time. We started the trek cheerfully but halfway towards our lunch place, the PAIN grew harder and harder to ignore. Madihah and Shu had knee troubles and the rest of the girls weren't doing too great either.

When we reached Chipling, lunch was a sombre affair. Achan asked how everyone was doing and judging from the unenthusiastic response, he made arrangements for us to hitch a ride with a lorry to get to our next destination. The decision was met with cheers and applause.

The mood was considerably lighten and for the first time in days, we had hours to talk, joke and socialise (for the past few nights, we usually slept right after dinner). In Chipling, we saw humbling sights: a 15-year-old girl bent double carrying a 50-kg load, a grandmother carrying firewood and kids who looked older than they actually are. Life in this remote, mountainous area is tough and beyond my comprehension. I've realised that travelling is not only an eye-opening experience; it's a humbling one too.

At last, our lorry arrived and we all hopped onto it. There's just one small thing: we had to leave Chiko behind. Remember the stray dogs that had followed us in Dhunche? Well at first they were four, then they dwindled to two, until Chiko was the only one left. He followed us for six days across the most challenging terrains! But we had to say goodbye now. Our guides assured us that Chiko would be just fine; he would soon follow other hikers that came across his path; that's the nature of his nomadic life.

With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to Chiko and the lorry sped off. But Chiko chased after the lorry for a good half an hour! It was heart-rending and Aishah even started to cry. We lost him in one of the villages we passed by. Hopefully, he is now cared for by other hikers or the kind villagers there 😢


The lorry ride was bumpy, exciting and scary, all rolled into one. Each time the lorry made a sharp turn, we cried in alarm and excitement. It was oh-so fun! I asked Suraya: "Is this moment worth not showering for days? Is it worth having dry skin and suffering pain for?" Suraya answered YES emphatically.

That night's dinner was a festive affair. At long last, we had WiFi and could catch up on what's going on at home. Plus, Hairi cooked Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi and all of us devoured it heartily. That night was to be our last with our porters, so all of us delivered farewell and thank-you speeches. Afterwards, the porters started to dance to their folk songs and urged us to join them. Having not a single dancing bone in my body, I pray that the videos from that night will never see the light of day.

Day 10 (Dec 21, 2016): Chisapani to Kathmandu

Before we could board the bus to Kathmandu, we had to hike for another 14 km! Everyone was excited to go back. The past 10 days (and 100 km!) had satiated our thirst for adventure (for now at least). It's now time to hit the hot shower 😄

It was the most fun adventure I've ever had. I will miss the breath-taking scenery, the deep conversations we had about family, work and love life (or the lack thereof) and the jokes we shared. Until next time, guys 💜

Oh, I'll end with some practical tips on what to bring if you were to hike during the off season:

What you should bring:

  • travel insurance (that includes a helicopter evacuation if the need arises)
  • a 60L bag (to be shared with another person. This will be the bag your porter will carry, if you choose to hire one)
  • a daypack
  • thermal wear
  • a down jacket
  • gloves
  • hiking poles (2)
  • headlamp
  • -10 degree Celsius sleeping bag
  • high-energy food
  • water-purification tablets (alternatively, you can always buy mineral water from the guest houses but it gets pricier in proportion to gains in elevation)
  • medication: painkillers, motion-sickness pills, analgesic cream, etc.
  • spray (for ablution)
  • maggi-in-a-cup
  • 3-in-1 Teh Tarik / Nescafe / Hot Chocolate sachets 
  • Alat Bantuan Makanan (e.g. sambal, serunding, chilli tuna, etc.)
  • enough Nepalese Rupee to cover your food and shopping expenses. And do remember to tip generously!
  • And most essentially: crazy friends to ensure that your trip will be enjoyable & unforgettable 😉

This trip was made successful by:
Pakatan Bejalan, and

Monday, December 26, 2016

Hiking the Gosaikunda, Part 3

Day 6 (Dec 17, 2016): Chandanbari to Gosaikunda (4380 m)

The never-ending journey towards lunch

Today was the first out of four consecutive days of hard trekking. I actually cried when I reached our lunch place at Langtang Lirung. I was physically spent and emotionally drained. And when some of our porters came to help us with our bags, I gladly gave my pack without any protest. I kept my head down throughout lunch but a few caught me wiping my tears away. When I saw the look of pity on their faces, the tears flowed more freely.

We had another fours hours of trekking after lunch so I had to pull myself together and recentre. I reminded myself why I signed up for this and repeated this phrase like a mantra:
“It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.” 
Alhamdulillah, I felt much better in the second leg of that day's journey. But many in the group started feeling worse. Due to the gains in elevation, many had started developing mild symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) such as headaches, nausea, vomiting and lethargy. For the first time, we had to trek in the dark. Though we could see our guest house before the sun had set, it was the typical "dekat-di-mata-jauh-di-kaki" situation.

When we finally arrived at our guest house, we were served garlic soup by our guides. It is said to be a good remedy for AMS. That night's dinner was the quietest meal we had ever had. No one was in the mood for socialising or cracking jokes.

 We had been monitoring our oxygen levels and heart rates since Thulo Syabru. Not surprisingly, that night, everyone's readings were not good. Our oxygen levels had dipped to 80% to 86%. In comparison, just a day earlier, everyone's oxygen levels were 90% and above.

Day 7 (Dec 18, 2016): Gosaikunda to Ghopte (3430 m)

Although we had achieved what we had set out to do, reaching Gosaikunda was not the end of our journey. Today we were going to ascend to the highest point of the trek: The Lauribina Pass at 4610 m. The uphill ascent was slow and laborious. Everyone was in celebratory mood once we reached it. It was all downhill from here, or so we thought.
Imagine our bewilderment when we were still going up and down while supposedly descending to lower altitude. At one point, when I saw another steep hill, I let out out an anguished cry that was meant to convey: "You have got to be kidding me!"

That night, we trekked for two hours in the dark. To prevent anyone from getting lost, we trekked in a single file, with the slowest amongst us in front. Again, our porters came back to help us with our packs. We were so glad to see them because it meant that the guest house wasn't that far away.

The guest house at Ghopte was our simplest and most austere lodging. The area was one of the worst hit in the 2015 earthquake, so most of the dwellings there were still in the midst of reconstruction. The guest house had a dirt floor and plastic sheets for windows. It had no running tap in the toilet; just two buckets with some water which quickly ran out (thank God for wet wipes).

There were not enough rooms for everyone so we had to share. I shared mine with Suraya and Wany, and with two 60L bags, three daypacks, sleeping bags and blankets, we were left with very little room to maneuver.
All the inconveniences taught us 1) to be grateful for all the luxuries we have at home and 2) how very little we need in order to survive and be happy.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hiking the Gosaikunda Trek, Part 2

Expedition Itinerary

Day 1 (Dec 12, 2016): We flew from KLIA2 to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. The flight took roughly 4.5 hours. Our 18-member team consisted of 10 girls and 8 guys, whose ages range from 21 to 33 years old.

Day 2 (Dec 13, 2016): Spent the whole day shopping for hiking gear. I didn't buy anything though as I had everything I needed and partly because my bargaining skills are non-existent 😅

Day 3 (Dec 14, 2016): We took a bus to go to Dhunche, which took about 8 hours. I'm not sure of the actual distance in kilometres but the narrow, winding roads carved from the hill sides made the journey longer which belied its distance.

Spot the tiny lorry!

The width of the unpaved roads could only comfortably fit one vehicle so when another vehicle came from the opposite direction, the gap between both vehicles was mere centimetres. And if you looked out of the window, the space between the tyres and the cliffs was even more terrifying.

Day 4 (Dec 15, 2016): Dhunche (1960 m) to Thulo Syabru (2210 m) 

Finally! Our first day of hiking proper. It was nice to exercise our legs after days of relative inactivity. It was a light trek which had us ohhh-and-ahhhh-ing over the magnificent scenery. We were quickly joined by four stray dogs whose story I'll elaborate later on.

Multiple layers of mountains and terraced-hills for plantations formed most of the backdrop on our first day of trekking. We reached Thulo Syabru at about 5.00 p.m., just half an hour before sunset.  

Day 5 (Dec 16, 2016): Thulo Syabru to Chandanbari (3330 m)

The second day of trekking afforded us even more spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and alpine trees. Our diet had become strictly vegetarian which was palatable for a few days but after a while, we craved spiciness and our local cuisine. So supplies of sambal and serunding were highly coveted and zealously rationed.
We spotted wild yaks on the way to Chandanbari but our main target, the red pandas, remained elusive until the end.
Again, we reached our lodgings just before dark and were rewarded with the most stunning sunset. On a side note: One of Chandanbari's claims to fame is its yak cheese. So be sure to try it out when you're there! 

pink clouds!

Day 6 onwards coming up in Part 3!

Hiking the Gosaikunda Trek During the Off Season, Part 1

How it happened

I haven't been anywhere since Mulu (in March) because the 2016 school mid-year break was during Ramadan and the mid-semester 2 break was during Hari Raya Haji. So I was itching to go somewhere - anywhere really - during the year-end break.

I came across Pakatan Bejalan's ad for Gosaikunda and impulsively signed up for it since the dates fit nicely into my schedule.

I wasn't going to go with my usual gang and that made me a bit hesitant but the allure of Nepal was too strong to ignore.

Gosaikunda 101

The Gosaikunda Trek is located in the Langtang National Park. The Trek isn't that well-known compared with the more famous ABC and EBC Trek (Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Base Camp, respectively).

We were probably the first Malaysians in a big group to hike there. Previously, the only Malaysians spotted came in pairs or as solo hikers.

The Gosaikunda Lake is a sacred lake, located at an altitude of 4380 m. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims ascend to this area in the month of August, but in December, we were virtually the only visitors there. We only crossed path with a backpacker from Holland at the Lake and throughout our 100-km hike (from Dunche - Thulo Syabru - Chandanbari - Gosaikunda - Ghopte (via the Lauribina Pass) - Kutumsang - Chisapani), we came across very few other hikers (less than 15 in total).

Though we escaped the crowd, hiking in the off season meant that we had to endure the cold weather. Supposedly, by mid-December the place should have been snowing but due to global warming and the erratic weather patterns, the sky was clear and blue throughout our hike (Dec 15 - 21, 2016). It was still very cold though and coming from a tropical country where the temperature hovers around 30 - 35 degree Celsius, surviving the cold weather was quite a struggle.

Even with thermal wear, fleece, a jacket, socks, a sleeping bag and a blanket, my feet and fingers were still deathly cold and once I returned to Malaysia they began to swell (probably Chillbains or Raynaud's). So make sure you're well-equipped for the cold weather if you do decide to hike sometime in December - March.


Kathmandu is a feast for the senses. It is crowded, busy, chaotic, dusty and full of energy. There are innumerable shops selling hiking gear and trinkets but be prepared to bargain as almost none of the prices are fixed. The streets in Kathmandu are typically narrow so pedestrians, motorists, street vendors and trishaws jostle for space. The drivers there seem to follow their instincts, rather than conventional traffic rules. Their incessant, colourful honking provide background music to the city. On our last day there, Suraya and I took a taxi to go to Swayambhunath. The 15-min ride was a hair-raising experience. On multiple occasions, it felt like we were heading straight towards the oncoming traffic but fortunately, our driver swerved (or the other vehicles did) at the very last moment and all potential accidents were averted.

Part 2 (coming soon!) will detail our hiking adventure. For more pictures, click here, or check out the hashtag #pbgosai on instagram.