Tihar in the Arun Valley
After trekking in the high country, I walked out to the road via Salpa Bhanjang and the Arun Valley. Bill Tilman, the first western trekker in the Everest area of Nepal came this way in 1950, but the route is not much used by trekkers these days. There is 10 km of relief on this route, and now that air service to Lukla is good almost everyone chooses to fly out.
The fact that not many westerners go here makes it excellent trekking country. I saw maybe one other trekking party each day, and no-one else south of Tumlingtar. The accommodations were often primitive, and I made good use of my tent at times. Food was limited to Dhal Bhat, Ra Ra noodles (flavourless instant kind), and when we were lucky some eggs or chapatis for breakfast. I've been told that trekking in the main Everest area was just like this in the 1970's.
Just south of Lukla, the route leads through Sherpa country over several steep mountain passes to the Rai town of Bung. Beyond Bung is the Salpa Bhanjang, a 3500 m pass with a 2000 m ascent similar to the Lamjura La on the Jiri route. From then on it's all downhill, first along a rushing stream called the Irkhu Khola, then along the large Arun River which drains part of Tibet. I came acros some Maoist rebels here, but luckily they didn't bother me. This is a subtropical area where banana trees grow alongside the trail and local little mandarin oranges are for sale at trailside stalls. There are some nice swimming holes along both these rivers. Beyond the town of Tumlingtar a road is under construction, and we picked up a bus in Pakri Bash, a filthy roadside town just north of Hille.
The busride back toward Kathmandu was exciting. For part of it I rode on the rooftop, wedging myself between luggage and bags of produce while ducking branches and powerlines which whizzed overhead just inches above the bus, leaving me to wonder whether, if I were to get caught up in one, if I'd get decapitated or electrocuted first. Fortunately nothing nasty like that happened.
Bung is a large Rai village that sprawls out over a hillside perhaps 500 m high. The land is very fertile here, and the trail leads through countless terraced paddies planted with rice and millet.
Trekking lodge in Bung.
Along the Salpa Bhanjang route the accommodations aren't quite as posh as on the Jiri trail. The funky Pumori Lodge in Bung, though, was quite comfortable. Nara has just chased a chicken out of the common area. The village store is the room on the left.
Men playing carom board.
Even though it was harvest time, these two men didn't seem that busy. For an entire afternoon they sat in the main street on the village of Bung playing carom board and drinking cup after cup of Nepali milk tea. The rules of carom board are similar to 8-ball pool except that chips are used; the cue chip is flicked with the index finger. This game is very popular in Nepal.
The festival of Tihar, also called Diwali, is one of the most important yearly festivals in Nepal. Laxmi, the goddess of money is honoured, and on the first day of Tihar people gamble in the streets. Nara is making a wager (bottom right). I was sitting on the balcony handing bills down to Nara, and he would hand me back the winnings. I was doing very well for a while and then my luck ended.
Folk dancing, Tumlingtar.
As a part of Tihar celebrations in the town of Tumlingtar, these villagers are performing folk dances in the street. They are dancing to tunes sung by a group of boys behind the sign. The audience claps along and sings the refrains of all the songs. A plate with a candle, food offerings and money is put on the floor, and one by one the bystanders would put some more money on the plate. This would cause cheers, the beat would pick up, and people were dancing all evening long. Proceeds went to the red cross.
Tihar is a time for family visits, and the trails were busy with travellers going to visit their relatives. Flower garlands are presented as gifts, and even dogs and water buffalo get a tikka on the forehead.
Nara is standing on a bamboo bridge that spans the Irkhu Khola. Around his neck is his naamlo (tumpline or headstrap) he uses to support his load.
Crossing a bamboo bridge.
Crossing these bridges is loads of fun. The bamboo beneath your feet bounces as you walk across, and the handrail goes from side to side. Had one of us fallen in, it would have been an ordeal.
Trees in morning mist.
Two gnarled trees appeared out of the morning mist in the Arun Valley just south of Tumlingtar.