To the Back of Beyond: The Chepang Hills Trek
About half way between Kathmandu and Pokhara, we got off the tourist bus at Hugdi. Adjusting our backpacks, my friend, our guide and I set off from the roadside up a narrow track that was to take us up to Hattibang. After walking a few hours up the narrow track, we reached the small settlement of Hattibang. At the small lodge we had our dinner – dal bhat (rice, lentil soup and vegetable curry). Tired, we were glad of an early night.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, I was able to negotiate for some local honey. Honey from the Chepang hills has a reputation for being some of the best. Wrapping it up carefully so it wouldn’t leak in my bag, we set off, onwards and up. Following a beautiful little river through thick forest, we eventually climbed up onto a ridge. From here, the Annapurnas were clearly visible to the north, behind us. In the opposite direction, hills rolled southwards towards Chitwan. Resting to catch our breath, through our guide we chatted with a local lady who was on her way down in the opposite direction.
Very poor, the Chepang people are the last hunter-gatherers found in Nepal. One of the most underprivileged groups, their tiny villages are too far and remote from the roads. Few parents can afford to send their children to school. Living off the land, increasingly the Chepang people are being encouraged to settle and become farmers. Scratching a meagre existence on the hillside, small-scale tourism offers some additional income.
Gazing up at the nearby hill we could see Siraichuli, one of the highest hills in the Mahabharat range (1945 m). Promising ourselves to return in the afternoon, we contoured around the forested hillsides to our village homestay at Jyandanda, a Chepang village where we were to spend the night. Our room was in a typical wood hut beside the family home. Grandma lived in the room above.
After lunch, thinking to take a short siesta before tackling the hill to admire the sunset, next thing we knew it was too late and we were being called for dinner!
The weather was mild and we were happy to eat outside. After we had feasted on dal bhat, we were entertained by the local youngsters and their mothers, who came from the surrounding houses a little further down the hillside. Playing music, they urged us to join them in their dancing. Chang (a fermented grain drink a bit like beer) flowed, and the party went on until we, tired, fumbled our way back to our room and slept fitfully.
After a breakfast of chapattis and honey, we continued up from Jyandanda, very glad of our local guide from the homestay, who we had persuaded to show us up the heavily overgrown path up the hills. Up on the hillsides, some of the trails were not very well-trodden. After a short but steep climb, bush whacking our way up and around the hillside, we could see our objective below: Gadi, a village with its old fort on the hill top. Thanking our Chepang guide, we followed our noses down and then up into Gadi.
Here we spent some time exploring the old octagonal artillery fort that was used to defend the surrounding countryside during the reign of Bahadur Shah. The fort offers spectacular views in every direction.
That night, sitting in the garden of our little lodge swapping stories with our host, we were sorry that our jaunt into the back of beyond was nearly over.
The next day, it was a fairly steep descent from Gadi for a couple of hours to the roadhead at Shaktikor. Here, local buses make their way down to the main highway at Sauhara, where I took a bus to Pokhara and my friend and our guide took another back to Kathmandu.
- Day 1: Drive to Hugdi and trek to Hatibang (4-5 hrs). Stay at a community-run guesthouse.
- Day 2: Trek to Jyandanda, a pure Chepang village (3 hrs). Stay at a homestay.
- Day 3: Trek to Gadi (4 hrs). Stay at a guesthouse.
- Day 4: Trek to Shaktikhor (2-3 hours); bus to Chitwan, then on to Pokhara or Kathmandu.