A TREK TO RARA DAHA LAKE WEST NEPAL, 1972
SUMANT R. SHAH
RARA Daha is largest natural fresh water lake in Nepal. It is situated at an altitude of about 9,800 ft. It is sometimes referred to as "Mahendra Lake".
Difficulty of access has preserved it and it still remains untouched by civilisation. A pear-shaped expanse of placid crystal clear water, it has a circumference of about 9 miles. In the mornings the tranquil waters delicately mirror the lofty green conifers, the blue hills, the white snow peaks and cast a spell of exquisite beauty and tranquility. Barheaded geese wander on the spongy soil. Ducks swim gracefully. Occasionally, a gold coloured fish leaps out of the water.
Five of us started from Bombay on 1 May - Mr. Chimanlal Tijoriwala, Miss Suchita Koppikar, my son Hemant, my wife Sulochana and myself. We reached Nepalganj on the 3rd. The trek from Nepalganj to Jumla would take about ten days, including five days trek through scorching hot, treeless plains almost at sea level. We, therefore, chose to fly to Jumla. A delayed flight of 35 minutes in R.N.A.C. Canadian de Havilland "Twin Otter" saw us at Jumla.
Jumla is a district town in the wide valley of the turbulant Tila Nal. The tiny air strip is on a grassy meadow on a plateau. The whole town comes to see the landing of the plane! A snow peak of the Sisne Himal range adorns the eastern end of the valley. In spite of the altitude of 7600 ft., green fields are all around and the whole valley is dotted with villages. But, no milk nor vegetables are available at Jumla. We were happy that we had brought all our provisions including kerosene and sugar from Bombay. We got the traditional Nepal, hospitality. The district Governor helped us to get a hut for our stay, and the P.W.D. officers helped us to recruit four Mugu porters at N. Rs. 12 a day inclusive of their food.
Our daily programme was to walk about 8 to 9 hours with frequent halts for bird-watching, a couple of stops for photography, half an hour tea break and a lunch interval of an hour. Generally, my wife and myself are very slow on the march, but this time the porters were slower. We left Jumla on the 6th. At noon on a pass (c. 10000 ft.) we saw about 300 choughs circling around. We stayed at the Padmara village school for the night. On the 7th, we crossed the Khali Lagna (11,632 ft.) Pass - Tsering, the overwise porter called it (incorrectly) Danfe Pass, named after Danfe (Monal), the national bird of Nepal. The Danfe Pass is a little to the west. Most appropriately we saw a monal on a nearby slope and watched it for more than 30 minutes as it busied itself digging for roots and tubers. Bumra village had no school and no hut worth staying in. So we stayed in the shelter of a cliff, a little away from the village. On the 8th, wT
e had a panoramie snow view from the birch wooded Ghurchi Lagna Pass (11,340 ft.) of possibly the Sisne Himal range. We then encountered an extremely steep descent to Pina, another miserable village. We stayed in the open on the terrace of a mud hut. On the 9th, after a level walk on an alp, we had the first view of the lake at 3 p.m. But what a happy exhilirating view!
The blue rippling lake set in a frame of hills with snowy peaks, spread out before us. On our left was Milli, a big sloping meadow. Four bar-headed geese were grazing on the margin of the lake - a spot (we were later told) where Barry Bishop had pitched his tent. A little later we found a cute little hut commanding the most fantastic view of the lake. We collected dry pine needles and spread them on the wet floor to insulate our sleeping bags from getting wet. We stayed for three days at Rara Daha, bird watching and lazing around.
On the 11th, we had the usual porter trouble. A porter reported that he was sick - possibly he was homesick and wanted to go to his village, Mugu -a distance of two marches. With difficulty we could recruit a porter from the village Rara. On the 12th, he did not report at 6 a.m. Instead, a deaf and partly lame lad presented himself at 8 a.m. We had to accept him and the late start. At about 3 P.M. the three Mugu porters cried halt for the day. They were tired and unable to make the next spot (where water was available) five hours away. The spot where we halted was an open place at about 13,000 ft. with no shelter. But it was a beautiful alp with a rich bed of pink primulas. Considering the fact that porters had only one coarse woollen rug for covering them during the cold night, we did not think it to be a ruse to earn wages for a day more. We had no alternative but to agree and sleep in the open.
We returned to Jumla by a longer route via Ghurchi Lekh and Tatopani hot springs in six days.
Many hill birds enlivened our trek. Among them were, Monal, Chukor, Rufous turtle dove, Rufous backed Shirke, Crested buntings, White cheeked Bulbul, Verditer Fly Catcher, Red billed and yellow billed Choughs. White throated laughing Thrush, Redstarts, Whistling Thrush and Scarlet minevets.
This summer was exceptionally hot. Thick mist and haze deprived our colour transparencises of considerable clarity. Mid- September to October would have been a far better season for this part of the Himalaya. But a tent would be essential on this trek.