“Tell me again… You’re going where?” asked my friend
“Jomsom! For fifteen days max!” I replied with a kid like enthusiasm when he sees a box of chocolates in front of his table.
“So, you’re saying that you are going to an that altitude in this season with you’re cousin, who hasn’t been in the country for the last 7 years. Plus you’re not even that close to her? For half a month!”
“We were close when we were young! About 12-13 years ago…” I tried explaining my friend’s horrified eyes but i knew she wouldn’t get it. So i just started laughing instead. “Oh come on! At least we canceled our trekking to Tilicho lake! You said I wouldn’t come back alive if I tried doing that one.”
Still processing on what i had just told her my friend seemed to be unable to relate on whatever I had planned. But I didn’t required anyone to understand what I was about to venture. I love traveling. Aside from writing, it is another pursuit I crave with passion. The feeling of finding new places and getting absorbed in the unknown land enthrall me with excitement every time I think of a new place to go. That is why, despite having such an awkward distance with my cousin, I decided to go with her.
We started our journey to Jomsom from Pokhara early on a Wednesday morning in a Range Rover with a bunch of relatives of my cousin’s best friend. Having the phobia of motion sickness, my cousin’s friend took a flight to Jomsom while we decided to go by the road to experience what nature had to provide (Kidding! Me and my cousin were simply running on a budget!). The path went smooth from Pokhara to Beni. However, after that, everything we experienced became the antonym of smooth. The bumpy ride throughout the route was fierce and unusually humorous. After almost 4 hours of drive, we stopped by Tatopani (Lit. Hot Water) for lunch. This natural hot spring is famous in the country to for medicinal purposes and people from different parts come with ailing body in the belief that they find a cure in these holy water. Us on the other hand only observed the premises and went over for lunch.
First meal of the trip felt heavenly. The traditional food from the village made by the locals there was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. The simple rice with lentils soup, curry, spinach and a few different varieties is what I believe is the key to make any Nepalese feel good. This also gave all of us some time to get to know each other and bond a fair amount in terms of our eating habits. After a couple of hours of rest, we headed further towards our destination and with multiple stops for pictures, friendly relative visits and a punctured tire, we finally arrived to our destination.
Almost sunset, the rocky ride surely had us tired as hell, but when planned to get together for a drink and we were all up for it, fresh as a dew! With me, my cousin, my cousin’s best friend, her cousin, her cousin’s friends, (Tried making it as complicated as possible!), we went around for a few drinks to get to know each other. The drinks kept on coming, and as we talked about each other, we had a really good time. I opened up to my stories, others opened up towards theirs and soon enough when it was time to go home, we were all happy drunks enjoying the start of a fruitful friendship. Only doubt in my head: would it still be the same after we get sober tomorrow?
My doubts dissipated when we all met again the next afternoon, fresh and sober. We had all gathered to see the inauguration of Thakali’s traditional festival at Larjung-Kobang. Celebrated by the four clan members of Thakali caste (Gauchan, Tulachan, Sherchan and Bhattachan) this festival apparently is hosted every 12 years for about 18 days. The four clan members and their families gather to hear and commemorate the origins and emergence of their forefathers. It describes and dramatizes the glorious history of the origins of the Thakalis through the recitations of the Chronicles. Me and my cousin sat in awe looking at the beautiful ladies in the village get ready for the inauguration ceremony. Dolling themselves up in their traditional attire, each looked charming and exquisite as they flourished their culture through the clothes, jewels and accessories they sported.
We couldn’t find any seats in the designated hall for the inauguration, so instead, our newly formed group started off our own small hike upward the hills. The beauty of being in an unknown place with new people, I think, is that everything you experience, you are doing it for the first time, together. So despite not having any connections, you feel linked with each other and not just the place, the feeling of being in that moment becomes even more special. The higher we walked, the more spectacular the view got until we saw the whole horizon of the village. We all took pictures of the place, but i wonder if any of those would ever justify the exquisiteness that we encountered.
The following night raveled in an unexpected situation when all of us tried to recreate last night’s cheerfulness and was outdone with defeat. The drink got a bit stronger, we all drank a little more and unlike yesterday, when we all walked back home happily, only few of us remember how we landed in our respective beds. Yes, we went overboard. But as embarrassed as I was about not remembering the events of last night, I was sure about one thing the next day, that I was hanging out with a bunch of really good people. Having had gone through repulsive events previously while intoxicated, within people I considered ‘friends’, this time, I was lucky enough to be taken good care of. The people with whom I was sharing my trip were genuinely nice people who sincerely cared about each other and I felt blessed, to know each one of them.
Not spending too much on trying to recall every incident what happened the night before, we started with yet another hiking towards Dhumba Lake. Situated around 2900 meters above sea level, this lake can be considered as an underrated asset of Mustang. Famous for its turquoise-clear water, the lake is considered sacred for Buddhist religion who believed that Guru Rimpoche Padhmasambhava had practiced the Buddhist rituals here. An hour and half of walking through a hanging bridge, a wooden bridge and constant gust of strong Jomsom winds, we finally reached the picturesque site that left me breathless, in many perspectives.
Whether it was the emerald green water of the lake that shone like the gem itself, or the mountains that stood right above the lake on one side, or the mighty plains on the other; it felt like the universe gave it all to make this place as graphic as possible. No picture, I repeat, no picture could ever give justice to the place’s natural beauty.
After admiring the nature, we visited two monasteries; one where we lit oiled lamp and offering our prayers, while we stopped for a bit longer in another monastery to listen to the story of the origins of the Tibetan Gods. The head monk was kind enough to retaliate us all the stories briefly while I believe it was our good luck that we got the opportunity to view all the five Tibetan Gods. Unfamiliar to this ethnicity, it was intriguing to learn a new philosophy that was separate from what i have learned through my own background. Yet, the belief on an Almighty who becomes our absolute hope is still the same in all religion and deep inside my heart, I knew, encountering all this must’ve not been a mere coincidence, rather a leverage to strengthen my beliefs.
That evening, we celebrated New Year’s Eve together (yet again) in a small dance party organized by the local people. In a school auditorium, with colorful lights shining everywhere and some particularly catchy songs, the youths of Jomsom needed nothing more but just to have a good time. We danced throughout every song that played until they ran out of music and replayed the same songs again. Ten seconds to midnight and as the counting started, the six of us ran towards each other and gave the final countdown of the year. The clock struck midnight as we hugged and kissed each other, wishing the best for the upcoming year. Unlike other new year’s eve, I wasn’t spending with my obvious dear people and I do believe neither had the rest of the group. But I guess, sometimes life throws you a dare and all you got to do is accept it. After all, some of the best dares give you the best memories to share.
The first day of the year had it all. The main day of the auspicious festival brought God’s to be prayed by all and as the whole village gathered, snowfall made the picturesque valley even more beautiful. The designated head of the Bhattachan household had dressed himself in his cultural attire and was responsible in donning the holy bells that apparently was extremely heavy to be lifted by just one person. He not only had to wear them around his hip, but had to shake them so that the bells made sounds as he jogged his way through the banks of the river to an appointed junction.
This is believed to be the power bestowed to him by the ceremonial God who himself possesses the person designated to fulfill the service. We followed the crowd to see the final ritual, where the God is offered with heaps of salt. As he dances his way to and fro to munch the offered salt, people cheered and howled to build the enthusiasm. After his third devour, the salt, now sacred after being touched by the God, is distributed to everyone present among the crowd. Some got lots, some just a sprinkle. The God then went ahead to another destination where he would be worshipped by few women of the household.
After being astounded by the ceremony (and me almost fainting from the cold) we walked to the jeep that was driving us back from Kobang to Jomsom. With heavy snowfall, that grew thicker as we drove ahead in that rough road might’ve scared me other times. But the playlist in the vehicle had all the classic Nepali songs and despite the rough journey, we went drove with enthusiasm giving lift to the bike riders whose bikes had stopped working because of the cold. Finally reaching home, there wasn’t much to do except get ourselves cozy and enjoy each others’ stories through the first night of New Year.
A day of rest and next we traveled to Muktinath. Sacred for Hindus and Buddhists, the place is located at an altitude of 3,710 meters at the bottom of Thorong La Pass. Its name indicates a deity for liberation where mukti stands for liberation or moksha and nath means God. Pilgrims flock from across the world to worship the deity in Mustang in the spring and fall season. And here we were, six random people, right in the middle of winter, walking through the snow-covered path towards the holy temple. Reaching the top, we started off by sprinkling water in our heads from each of the 108 holy stone taps located behind the temple. People are originally supposed to take a quick shower in each tap, but with freezing cold and our already frozen hair, shower sounded pretty much like a suicide.
Completing the taps, we entered the temple. My mother had reminded me earlier, how she had wished to be in this pure grounds for such a long time and how I had just abruptly reached there with just weeks of planning. She suggested me not to take this opportunity for granted and thank Lord for calling me to worship him. So I stood there thanking him for guiding all of us present safely and wished for His blessings in each of our lives.
We walked uphills to have a look at the newly built monasteries from where the view was splendid. The sun was slowly making its way towards the sky as we heated our almost frozen bodies. A few minutes ahead the temple trail and we reached an enormous sculpture of Lord Buddha along with three huge stone cairns. They are usually seen in mountain passes and are offered as a request for the deity of that place to give the traveler safe passage. We all built a minute versions of ours and followed the trail towards another monastery. This was the Jwala Devi temple which had an underground flame, just above a stream of water that has been glowing continuously for decades. According to Hindu and Buddhist myth, the five most important elements that created the universe (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Metal) was all present in this temple. How amazing it is to know that in this era, where conflicts arise due to religions, two of the renowned religions simply blended with ease and harmony. Hope in humanity, I believe must still prevail for us to experience this virtue.
Returning from our religious expedition, we went to see the Mustang Broadcasting Community (MBC), a radio station to serve the residents and visitors of the region. Made up of locally sourced stones, this masterpiece was provided by Korean Embassy, Korea International Cooperation Agency to Nepal and was named as the most beautiful radio station in the world. We walked through the unique piece and took pictures inside and outside the premises. This was another underrated gem that in my opinion deserve much more attention than given.
We didn’t hang around for long as it was getting colder and two of our group mates were going back the next day. Me and my cousin were leaving after that and soon, this abrupt trip with a bunch of instantaneous friends was coming to an end. A week had gone by and I hadn’t even realized how close we had all become. It was not until the walk back home that finally triggered us all that there was other realities waiting for us than this happiness. So with a brief goodbye and promises to keep in touch, we parted ways.
To divert my mind from the discomforting ride back home, i retaliated everything that happened in Jomsom. The beautiful scenery; beautiful people with hearts too big for their body who were always welcoming; the hikes and hidden gems of the valley; those drunken evenings and funny stories; that random new year’s eve celebration and the crazy dance moves; the cold Muktinath valley; that tasty potato dish; all these wouldn’t have been the same had there not been the right kind of people to share them with. All six of us were different individuals, living our own life, doing our own thing and probably not expecting the least from the trip. Then just like meteors, we collided into each others’ lives and somehow, despite having different personalities, we all clicked. How did we end up interlinked in each other’s lives today, I don’t know. Perhaps it was our desperation to get to know new people, perhaps it was fate, or maybe we were just the right people at the right place in the right time.
At times, it takes years to befriend people, trust them and let them know the real you. But sometimes, some rare times, you meet a bunch of people and as you let them into your life, they let you into theirs and without realizing, you become a part of something bigger.