It all started as a curious small talk at a cozy potluck lunch at my uncle’s place. Some of my aunts (who regularly exercise for at least one and half hours every day in the morning) wanted to hike across the Shivapuri hills. Plans were made, plans were thrown and finally the trip was settled. It would be a two day hiking trip commencing on Friday, December 5, 2008 and ending the following day. Day one from Sundarijal to Chisapani. Day two from Chisapani to Sankhu via Jhule. For someone to whom the Shivapuri range has been a spiritual sanctuary this was a godsend opportunity. I readily accepted to lead my family friends on this trip.
Although I had been to Chisapani on four occasions before and had even stayed overnight a couple of times, there was a nagging desire of mine that was never fulfilled. On previous visits, no fire could be lit outside in the open due to the then prevailing security situation. At Chisapani and even at Mulkharka nestled in the womb of Sundarijal the lights had to be turned off by eight in the night and loitering was not allowed. I love Kathmandu’s winter and one of my favorite pastimes in the winter is to wake up early, take a cold shower, light up a good fire (mostly in an old makkal that has been around as long as myself) and then sip good tea while being aware of cold weather, burning wood, fire, taste of tea, and myself sitting. Hence even though it had been exciting there was always something missing in previous overnight stays at Chisapani.
Pyre of transformation
On this trip, however, the tides had turned. When I asked the hotel proprietor Mr. L. B. Lama if he could provision some campfire for us, he readily obliged. We sat on a big circle around the fire lit up soon after sunset. The air was cold as usual and windy. The day had been very cloudy and it seemed that it might rain anytime in the night. The conversations ranged from everyday soap operas to some deep meaning of life stuff. The porter brothers from Ramechhap rocked with their melodious lok-geet and made us dance again and again. Apart from the physical and sensory joy (of warmth and light) that a well lit fire brings to the surrounding, this fire had a silent purging effect on me at many levels. This was a necessary prelude to another experience that awaited me in the night. The months of October and November are usually weird times for me when I am more often than not ruled by raw instinct rather than intellect (that too damaged by rote secular education for too long) and intuition (whatever little that makes its way to me given the level of receptiveness that I possess).
After a splendid dinner at the Dorje Lakpa hotel (on the Sidhupalchowk side) I hit the sack at around eight thirty. I woke up three and a half hours later only to find myself unable to go back to sleep. It was at two thirty in the night when an idea struck me to go star gazing. I dragged myself out of the bed and onto the terrace. To my greatest luck, the dark clouds of the evening had been blown away by the wind from the west and it was a clear night full of stars. It had been a really long time since I had seen so many stars, so clear and so near. It seemed that I could pluck a star with my hands! When I looked towards the Melamchi valley from the terrace of the hotel (on the east), the stars seemed to merge with the fading electric lights of the many villages that lay below but far in the horizon. I kept standing, looking up and rotated myself three sixty quite a number of times. The stretch of the Milky Way was strikingly prominent. The thoughts ceased and I started to simply enjoy the sight. Then suddenly I realized how small I was in this vast universe full of myriad stars and planetary systems. I am unable to articulately express the overwhelming feeling I felt at the time in words. It was something that was strongly experienced internally.
It was a very humbling experience and it brought me down. My hopes, my desires (some good for me, some not good for me), and ambitions all seemed too small and insignificant. This was not in the sense that they were unimportant but in the sense that:
“Look Bhaskar – you think you are important and big with your desires, hopes, ambitions – but see how small you are in the overall picture and scheme of things, and how petty your desires really are – and you don’t even know what is good for you and what is bad for you!”
Uranus in Pisces, two more years to go, what else in store for me?
Following this inner thought, looking up at the stars, I thanked my guru (spiritual preceptor or God or Creator or Nature or Nothing or System or whatever you prefer to call) for all the good things in my life and for giving so much to me (despite of me not giving anything significant in return to the community and life in general). Just then as soon as I had finished my silent prayer, I saw a big shooting star moving right in front of me, splitting my head symmetrically into two!
I felt so much at peace and continued to gaze in all directions in what felt like a state of grace. After spending forty odd minutes and having witnessed three more shooting stars (none so prominent and graceful as the first one) I felt sleepy and headed back to my room and slept.
I woke up at six to watch the sunrise over the Tibetan mountains on the east. It is impossible to describe the orange reflected on Mt. Dorje Lakpa, the streaking first rays of the sun beaming down on the valley set on Sindhu river and the shining trails to Kutumsang. The return hike to Jhule was superb. Almost midway en route to Jhule, a new trail discovered that cuts Shivapuri range in half between Borlang Bhanjyang and Jhule. This trail is clear and starts at the point where the trail from Chhapeli meets the gravel road rising through Gurunggaun along ThadoKhola. It then extends all the way to Gagalphedi. I am almost certain that this trail could be the missing link – the shortest route between Sundarijal and Chisapani!
The burning of the wood (in the fire), the burning of the minerals (in the meteor) and the burning of the atmosphere (in orange sunlight) acted as mirrors that reflected healing light onto my core. I feel really compelled to explore “fire” in its healing aspect and what it means to me at different levels. I think I might be returning to this theme again and again this winter as I write. Shivapuri woods have again been kind to me and with the culmination of this trip I have changed for the better.
Fire is elemental and now I’m fired up.
Click on the images below to enlarge. All photos in the blog taken by the author.
This home I came across while climbing up for about ten minutes from Karma restaurant at Mulkharka. It was interesting how everything was sort of “dry” around this house so I wanted to capture that.
I met this elderly lady approximately twenty minutes from Mulkharka, walking up. She was about to draw water from a nearby tap. I am not exactly sure what to make out from her expression.
Kodo placed on Nanglo to dry.
This is Chisapani – a confluence of Kathmandu, Nuwakot and Sindhupalchowk districts. The right most peak is Ganesh himal. It falls on the way to much bigger trekking routes to Helambu, Gosaikunda to name a few.
Walk from Chisapani bazaar towards the trail head to Jhule for about 3-4 minutes and turn back – you will see this view. To the left is a helipad and on the right is a valley with Sindhu river flowing gently.
The mountain right in the middle is Mt. Dorje Lakpa (6988m). The one on the left is Mt. Dome Blanc (6830m). The one on the right is Lonpo Gang (7083m).
A place of worship dedicated to Shiva. It is located south-west of the helipad at Chisapani proper. Personally don’t like the design, with less concrete “squares” and a more prominent Shivalinga, this would have been a sight to behold at such a vantage point overlooking Ganesh himal in the backdrop and a swooping valley below.
Porters from Ramechhap who were shy to sing at first saying they either did not know songs or their voice was not good enough. However with our encouragement and Khukuri Rum XXX flowing soon after, they produced couple of gems. Their madal playing was nonetheless superb.
The sunrise from the terrace of Hotel Dorje Lakpa. I rate this as one of the best sunrise I have ever seen from the vicinity of Kathmandu valley.
My breakfast at seven – plate of Tibetan bread and honey although maple syrup would have been the perfect choice!
An old store-house most likely constructed by the Army while working on the gravel road nearby. It is completely dilapidated now. However this location makes a very nice camping ground.
Marigold plants in full blossom.
The sign board at Jhule. It took us exactly three hours to get to Jhule from Chisapani. The trail was cross-country and full of twists and turns. The trail from Mulkharka to Jhule, Jhule to Chisapani and Jhule to Nagarkot are good routes for mountain biking as well.
The descent from Jhule to Lapsifedi was steep and through kanlas and crop fields. A small scale hydropower plant exists at Lapsifedi drawing the power from Salinadi.