Four girls with black, red-ribboned braids, collared white shirts, pleated navy skirts, and oversized pink backpacks asked me: “Where are you going?”
“Panchase,” I answered, pointing up the dusty road we were on. “This way?”
“Yeeeees,” they said giggling, braids twirling. “Where are you from?”
“California. But I’m staying at Damdame,” I said, as we formed a circle, smiling. “On your way to school?”
“Yesss,” they giggled. “What’s your name?”
“Liz,” I said.
“Liiiiz,” they shouted, followed by a burst of laughter and a school bell.
“Bye, bye, Liz,” they yelled, as they ran up the road toward my homestay in Damdame Village, a 30-minute walk away.
As the girls disappeared and I came to a teetering chain link bridge, I became worried about my second attempt to make it to Panchase.
When I’d left Damdame, a three-hour bumpy bus ride west of Pokhara, earlier that morning, I’d told my homestay family that I was trying the 2,500 meter full-day trek again. I’d missed a turn in the trail the day before, ending up on a dirt road up the mountain, instead of the trail. I decided to turn back because I ran out of food and water in nearly 30-degree heat.
I was wiser now, asking my homestay brother for more specific instructions, or a map. He showed me the trail on a map, but we decided I didn’t need it. He assured me I’d be fine as long as I “just kept going up, up, up,” pointing his arm toward the mountains surrounding the rice-terraced village.
His other suggestion: Don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
An hour into the trek, I passed a waterfall at Sidhone, where farmers watched as I climbed slippery stone steps.
“Panchase?” I shouted across the valley, pointing toward the trail.
“Shortcut way! Shortcut way!” they answered, pointing to a trail that passed along the rock wall of their farm.
I shook my head and yelled “Namaste!”
About an hour after I left the farmers, climbing hundreds more rock steps, absorbing Himalayan views, and dodging dozens of buffalo dung piles, two deep brown eyes appeared to be staring at me.
Do buffalos charge humans? I wondered, as I counted five of them grazing on the trail. I gingerly stepped through wagging tails.
The Panchase trek can be reached from homestays in Damdame, or in neighboring Ghatchhina, Sidhane, or Kutpi Danda. Ask the tourist office in Pokhara to arrange a homestay.
As the trail is in the shadow of Annapurna, I saw less than half a dozen hikers during my two full days hiking. However, the path didn’t disappoint on views or a sense of accomplishment for a novice in sneakers who didn’t want to rent and haul gear or hire a porter.
After about four hours, I made it to the welcoming prayer flags, altars, helipad, and sweeping Himalayan views at Panchase. I quickly made my way back toward Damdame—in half the time to took to go up.
The same schoolgirls approached me after I crossed the bridge.
“Liiiz,” they greeted me.
“Panchase! I made it to Panchase!” I told them.
They giggled and left me on the path as we headed in opposite directions toward home.
Article by Liz Shemaria.