I’d never heard of a “Western Disturbance” until I was sitting in the airport, duffel bag checked, ready to fly to Pokhara to start my trek to Khopra Danda. Initially, I thought that was some sort of a misinformed directive from North America, but then I realized it was a severe weather warning. (Although it’s debatable as to which is more potentially destructive.) A Western Disturbance meant that big rains, which equal huge snow, were predicted to last from the following day to when we were at our highest point of the trek, in Khopra Danda. The notice told us to be aware of potential avalanches, mudslides, and landslides. A friend messaged me to warn me how to listen for “slabby cracking,” in case of an avalanche. My heart started to race and I became a little clammy in my hiking boots.
But then I took a deep breath and realized I was wearing two pairs of wool socks, so of course I was sweating. I knew I had the proper gear for all weather. I was confident with the trained, experienced team I was trekking with. I know the forecast in the Himalaya changes all the time, and one never knows exactly how the weather will settle. Right then, the skies were clear in Kathmandu, which was encouraging. I took another deep breath. In my gut, I had a feeling that doing this trek was necessary. Trekking always seems to ease my soul. I needed that. I was ready for this adventure.
The Khopra trek had been on my radar for a few years. There were three factors I was interested in. Firstly, I wanted to explore the variation along the trails, which makes it ideal for families.
I also wanted to see the advances in sustainability that the region is known for, notably with their community engagement projects that are set up in villages throughout the area.
The final thing I was going for were the views: Mount Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, Tukuche, Fang and Annapurna South. I’d seen the photos and I was ready to get out of Kathmandu, to tackle the trek, move my rusty city legs, and breathe some alpine air.
We trekked from Shayuli Bazaar to Ghundruk the first day, getting a lesson in incense making from a woman along the trek, heard stories of a 65-year-old man’s playboy status in the glory days of his youth, and watched another man methodically grind wheat on a traditional mill (two out of three sustainable practices). After meeting just a few people, after a few minutes of climbing, I turned around to look at the valley below, a view that revealed the white peaks of Machapuchhre and Hiunchuli right there, encouraging a higher climb from the very beginning.
From here, we continued to Bhaisi Karka for lunch with new puppies, then on to Tadapani. We walked along carpets of hot pink rhododendron petals, gaped at lemur monkeys hopping from branch to branch, and followed streams and waterfalls. The snow started to fall on the way to Dobota, but we put on our ponchos and micro-spikes and carried on. It was beautiful: the damper of fresh snowflakes in the woods.
The following morning was clear, so at 4:45am we climbed to Muldai Peak, where the sky was crystal. There were no other people in sight, just our team messing around, gawking at the mountains that seemed to repeat in layers until you couldn’t see any further into the distance. We took it easy that day, but by the time we reached Upper Christibang, the snow started falling harder, almost disturbingly so. But we were in by the fire so it didn’t matter.
It continued all night long. Packed snow occasionally slid off the sloped tin roof in loud swooshes that shook the tea house just enough to make an impression.
The morning we awoke to the ultimate winter wonderland, albeit in spring. Blue skies were the backdrop to trees covered with fluffy white snow. Pink spring buds poked out of the tips of branches. The ground held three feet of fresh snow.
Here we changed our plan. Instead of going up to Khopra, forging a new trail and risking more adverse weather, we changed tack and went down to Swanta, then on to Shikha. This way we took our time, throwing snowballs as the sun melted the snow on the trees. Everyone was in good spirits, even with someone’s rogue microspike jumping off every five minutes. We stopped for a while at the smaller hydropower plant and had a chat to Narayan, one of the two operators who live there year-round. This plant has been providing electricity to Chistibang, Khopra, and Bayali for the past two years. Before they’d relied on solar.
For the next two days we explored Swanta and Shikha, with the sun shining on us, the houses, and the organic fields. We spent time at the waterfall and the river, played with dogs who followed us, watched village archery games. We visited the Shikha Secondary School, played afterschool volleyball and basketball with the white Himalaya surrounding the outdoor court. We ate, drank beers, played makeshift ping pong, and told stories by the fire.
I don’t know why I was scared of any Western Disturbance. If it had been my life goal to reach Khopra this time, maybe I’d feel differently. But it wasn’t. I wanted to have a beautiful time out in the Himalaya, away from the news and social media. It was a beautiful thing to leave fears below, trust in the group and nature, and get out there in the freedom of the mountains and put one foot in front of the other every day.
Top image: Andrew and Annemarie/Flickr