The most distinctive memories of my first ever visit of Nepal were from the trans-Himalayan region of this Himalayan nation. However, this post is not about the mountainous landscape but about 3 guys, Alex, Bvor and Robin (ABR) who, in an undecided manner, also happened to be my first travelling companions in Nepal for 5 days. During the time with ABR, I developed a better understanding about Nepali people, Nepali culture (songs to be particular), and socio-political complexities of this nation. Besides that they also helped me to escape the region where I had entered without any legal permit.
While in the bus from Pokhra to Jomsom, I was the only Indian among the Nepali nationals. Because of being from the Indian subcontinent and many socio-cultural similarities, its not always possible to mark the difference between many of the Indian and Nepali nationals. So nobody knew that I was from India until they received “I do not know Nepali language” as my reply for any of the questions which I could not understand. Among many brief conversations, the significant one came after the last tea break of 10 hour long bus journey when a guy, who had covered his face to avoid the dust of the dry terrain, got seated next to me. Although he was a little familiar with the Hindi, our conversation was only in English and it was mostly centered about knowing each other better.
After a 10 hour long journey, the bus reached to the final destination of Jomsom, the headquarter of trans-Himalayan Mustang district of West-Central Nepal. After looking for various homestays, I opted the cheapest one where I was the only guest of that day. After settling my luggage, I decided to have dinner at some different guest house as that could be a nice beginning to explore that new place. While leaving for the search of a new place for the food, I had an introduction with three Nepali guys who were seated in the dining room of the guest house I was staying in. Although Nepali, they were not the locals of Mustang. Those three guys were, Alex Rana, Bvor Sapkota and Robin Bhujel. They were from the capital city of Kathmandu and had come to Mustang for the first time. They were staying in a different hotel and had come to the guest-house I was staying at only for the dinner. After a formal introduction they asked me to join them for the meals. Since I had found some interesting people to talk with, I dropped my idea of going out. Soon we were joined by more young people. During the meal and wine (locally made wines) we all had a very friendly and enjoyable conversation. While most of them were interested to know about my experiences of Nepal, I was interested to know about their country and people. At one of the moment when I was confirming their names again, Robin informed me that he was the same covered face man with whom I had a long conversation in the bus. I was a little surprised but delighted to meet that friend again.
After the dinner, Alex invited me to join them for a self organised musical gathering at the dining room of their hotel. Soon I came to know that Alex was a guitarist, and Robin was a semi-professional singer who had given many stage performances in Nepal and some Indian regions of significant Nepali population (like Darjeeling of North Bengal). When I entered in their hotel, which was just adjacent to mine one, I found that their place was full with the people. All of them were Nepali citizens but none, except the owners of the house, was local. The environment had started to get filled with the noise, excitement, laughter, music and songs. A fraction of the excitement was also because of the drinking (home made apple wine) and smoking. Since everybody was talking in Nepali, I could not understand their discussion. But their cheerful expressions were enough to inform about their excited state. Everyone was enjoying the songs of Alex and Robin and and very soon I was one among them. For next 4-5 hours, Alex and Robin played a number of Nepali folk, traditional, modern songs. Besides that they also played a few Hindi and English songs as well. Although unfamiliar with Nepali songs, I could recognize a few which I had been listening in local buses from Kathmandu to Jomsom. On that night, I was deeply fascinated by Nepali songs because their newness strengthened the realization of being in an alien location of a different culture.
The first morning of Mustang was very calm and cold. I had no specific plans for that day. Since I did not even had any clue of the existence of that location, the region was an alien land for me. The only information I had, which was gained just a few days before at Pokhra, was that the Jomsom was the nearest and easily accessible Trans-Himalayan location. So I had reached to Jomsom without any detailed planning. However, everyone else came there for the purpose of visiting a Hindu-Buddhist shrine of Muktinath. I came to know about that religious site from Bvor when he gave me the invitation to join them for Muktinath Trek. While everyone was leaving for Muktinath in jeeps, those 3 guys had the plan to trek over there. When they told me that unlike other people they had decided to walk till Muktinath, as that would allow to observe and absorb the landscape better, it was inevitable to join them. Since even they had come to the Mustang for the first time, the region continued to keep its mystery as none of us was any guiding person.
By the end of 9 hours of trekking we managed to reach upto the Jharkot, a village just before the Muktinath. The sun had disappeared much before and so we decided to stay at Jharkot before resuming the rest of the journey. The village was in complete darkness as there was no electric power at that moment. After asking a few locals, we found an accommodation (a room with four beds) in one of the village home. Bvor informed me that the area had power supply only on the alternate days and so drained camera and other equipment could be charged only after the midnight. Because of the high altitude, extreme cold, and lack of electricity, the whole village, particularly the home we were staying in, was appearing as if I had gone back in the time to live in an ancient civilization. Except the kitchen, there was no visibility and warmth in any other part of that home. We and the family members could see each other only in fire light. The oldest member of that family was a lady who was nearing the age of Hundred. We spent all of the time in the kitchen and for most of the time ABR were in conversation with the family members. Because I was not able to understand their conversation, I was just observing the surroundings of that mysterious place. Alex had dropped his guitar at Jomsom hotel and so any kind of music was only by their smartphones. After the food and wine, the only thing that could be done was to get inside the thick blankets and sleep. After the power supply was resumed, I woke up for a few minutes in the midnight to put the camera and phones on charging. In the morning I went to the roof of that home from where I could see the whole village. Soon we left that home to cover the remaining distance for Muktinath. We spent around 4 hours at Muktinath shrine and had a great time there.
From Pokhra to Jomsom I was alone, but during the return journey I was accompanied by ABR. Robin left for Kathmandu on the same day. The next day, with Alex and Bvor, I also reached to Kahmandu and thus ended the 5-day journey with ABR. One of the advantage of Trans-Himalayan journey with ABR was that they could use the local language to ask the right directions. Although the directions could have been asked in English, Hindi or by non-verbal communication as well, later I realised that any such attempt could have landed me in some minor trouble. Mustang, which can be divided into the upper and lower Mustang, is a restricted area and all foreign nationals need proper permits to visit this region. Lower Mustang, that include the areas of Jomsom and Muktinath, needs ACAP permit (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) and TIMS card (Trekkers’ Information Management System) to enter. Unknowingly I had avoided any such permit. I had escaped all the check posts as concerned people might had considered me as a Nepali citizen. So any kind of communication could have informed the people that I was an illegal entry in that protected area. That particular experience helped me to be careful during my second Nepal visit for Annapurna Circuit.