IT is one of the most beautiful glacial lakes nestling in the inner Himalaya in the Dolpa district of West Nepal. In April 1956 the oriental scholar Snellgrove trudged through torrid terai for a week from Nepalganj and reached Kaigam. After three weeks of delightful trekking amidst the hills, he reached the lake. In June 1962 the mountaineer Miss Josephine Scarr after doing some considerable climbing in the Kanjiroba region visited the lake and chose to return to Fokhara by a high altitude route, parallel to and north of the Dhaulagiri range. For several days she trekked through the arid, barren, high plateau Of Barbung Khola. She crossed the 18,000 ft. Mukut Himalaya pass to reach Tukche. She took about four weeks to reach Fokhara. In October 1971 Dr. Noordyk followed a route south of Dhaulagiri via Pokhara, Beni, Dhorpatan, Jangla Bhanjyang (15,125 ft. pass) and Suligad. He took 3J weeks to reach the lake.
The sight of the lake moved Snellgrove to the core—, "We had come at last to the paradise of Buddha-Boundless Light . . . one of the most blissful things I have known. In such a scene, one loses all sense of urgency and practicability. These villagers (near the lake) dwell in one of the most glorious places on earth, without being remotely aware of it. Miss Scarr felt "it was a perfect spot with the smooth wide expanse of the lake stretching into the distance between rocky mountain-sides, not a ripple disturbed the surface. The water was that incredibly deep tur¬quoise blue of the Italian mountain lakes. An apogee of peace and beauty. The lake was so idyllic that I could happily have never moved from its shores."
On 2 October 1974 my wife and I flew from Nepalganj to Jumla. There is a direct flight from Kathmandu to Jumla. The winter schedule of R.N.A.C. starts from 1 October and coincides with the best time to visit the lake. In April-May thick haze mars clear views of distant snow peaks. In October the clear skies, perfect visibility, and autumn colours lend a unique enchantment to the spirit (as well as to colour transparencies!.) However, October happens to be the time of Dashera holidays as well as harvesting time, and we had to wait for four days to get three Mugu porters. We paid N. Rs. 20 a day per porter. Mugu porters carried 35 kgs. and took delight in pitching and un- pitching the tent, inflating the air mattresses and doing other chores in real Sherpa spirit. They chose to sleep in the open, even though a hut was available and the temperature was far below freezing point. The funniest part was that possibly to save wear and tear, every night they took off their shirts and trousers before sleeping. Between three of them they shared one rug only and slept curled up the whole night.1
We left Jumla on 6 October morning. Two miles away the Folice-cum-Customs check post rummaged our baggage for an hour in search of musk. They even wanted to unwind our colour rolls !
Our first halt was at Guthichaur, a government sheep-farm where an employee vacated his room to house us and gave us tea and dinner—a glimpse of Nepali hospitality. Guthichaur is a bowl of golden green grass with five crystal clear rivulets running through the meadows. It sported a happy harmony of Yusmarg and Pahalgam (Kashmir). No wonder, as the story goes, King Birendra lands here in a helicopter half a dozen times a year, just to spend a couple of hours. Next morning the descent along a khola was enlivened by Plumbeous Redstarts, Scarlet Minivets, Forktails, Thrushes and Flycatchers.
The third morning gave us the first view of the snow peaks soon after we crested a lip. The tiring steep ascent to the 13,000 ft. pass began at 1 p.m. After 3 p.m. the path zigzagged down very steeply for 3 hours.
In this part of the Himalaya it is very difficult to find level ground for pitching a tent. The camp site is determined by the location of a level patch coupled with the proximity of a water spring. Due to the failing light in the middle of the thick forest, we had to camp on the path itself.
We descended the Whole day of 9 October and reached Kaigam in the evening. A flock, of Spiny Babblers reminded me of the book In Search of the Spiny Babbler by S .Dillon Ripley and his ornithological expedition to this region.
On the 10th we began a gentle ascent through terraced fields and then through pine, oak, rhododendron and birch forests, accompanied by the sweet notes of Tits, Finches and Thrushes. The forced halts for bird watching prevented any feeling of fatigue that evening. We could not make the Balangra pass (13,000 ft.) and camped in the thick forest.
On the 11th we crested the pass at 8 a.m. and saw a wide valley. Vast terraced hill sides stretched twenty miles to the south-east upto the confluence of Suligad with Thuli Bheri. Till evening we could not find a level spot for a tent. Soon we reached Para village. The houses were too small to accommodate us. The owner of a house asked us to pitch our tent on the mud terrace of about flat-roofed house. The idea of hospitality was so deeply ingrained in his blood that he also hammered some tent pegs in the terrace, surface, little dreaming that in case of rain, muddy water would percolate and pour into his room through the cavities left by the pegs. Para gave a panoramic view of the northern spurs and slopes of Dhaulagiri.
1. It 1S a common Practice amongst mountain people to sleep together make .Under one common covering—the cumulative body heat generated can make it far more comfortable at much less expense than under individual blankets-Ed.
On the 12th we continued to descend. At noon we reached Tibrikot the lowest point (7500 ft.) in our trek. The ancient ochre coloured temple of Tripura Sundari added to the charm of the valley. It is here that Thuli Bheri takes a sharp bend and flows south between two vertical rocky hill sides. We halted for the night at Ruma village, a verdant shola in an arid barren Tibetan landscape. From Tibrikot another level track goes all along Thuli Bheri to Dunai the check post and the district H. Q. of the newly formed Dolpa District. From Dunai one track again goes north up the Suligad and the other to Pokhara. We pre¬ferred the high level Ruma track to avoid Dunai where in their zeal to check musk smuggling the police open up even your exposed rolls and you can't do anything about it.
On the 13th we descended to Suligad, the stream which flows from Phoksumdo lake. Great cliffs of rock tower on either side of the Suligad gorge.
The slopes are so steep that it is well nigh impossible to find anywhere a place to accommodate a tent. We climbed high above the cliffs and reached Parela.
On the 14th we still had to ascend the steep mountain side to reach Roha by lunch time. In the evening we were about to camp on a small grassy ledge when we spotted a maize field and camped there.
Next day we climbed and traversed through a beautiful forest, but did not march after lunch as I had a slight stomach upset. On the 16th the path went up and down in a thick pine, deodar and birch forest and came to a junction of one stream descending from the PUgmo monastery and the other from the Ringmo monastery. There is a bridge a little above this confluence. We crossed it and cried halt for the day, because two miles away there was an extremely steep ascent of 2000 ft. and we would reach Ringmo much after dark.
On the 17th we started early. The track ascended gradually for 2 miles upto Palam—the winter quarters of the villagers of Ringmo. Their summer resort at Murwa village is just opposite Palam but on the left bank of the stream and a little distance away. From Palam the ascent is extremely steep whereas it is quite* mild and circuitous from Murwa. We preferred the shorter route. At 10 a.m. we saw four musk deer peacefully grazing in an alp below us. At 11 a.m. as we crossed a massive ridge, we saw a stunningly beautiful waterfall. A wide sheet of foaming water cascades down 300 ft. in one slow bound. In another quarter of an hour, we had the first glimpse of the gleaming turquoise blue lake at the north eastern end of the valley. A sparkling blue sheet cradled in a basin of gigantic precipitous rock walls. There we descended through a leafless birch forest and passed through an undulating meadow interspersed with scrub and brushwood vegetation. We came to Ringmo village, the lakeside dwelling of the people who stay at Palam in winter and Murwa in summer.
The villagers had stacked piles of brushwood on the flat roofs. At least one hundred yards intervened between any two houses, and indicated a good planning for preventing spreading of fires. In spite of apparent abject poverty the people radiated happi¬ness and cheer. Everyone was all smiles. They were in want of nothing. We wondered if they had missed anything in life, and the only thing that struck us, was play. In their simplicity of life, they possibly did not need toys for the creation of joy. They were full of joy even in the absence of tools of play. The lake is hardly a hundred yards from the village. There is no path whatsoever on three sides of the lake because of steep rock. The southern end of the lake is flat and grassy and about a mile wide. We pitched our tent here. Our joy was boundless at the fantastic splendour.
We could not see the glacial streams emanating from Kang Jeralwa which fed the lake, because of absolutely vertical grey rock walls. These rock walls were bereft of snow, except the southern and south-eastern bank. The north-eastern end was about two miles from our tent.
There was no path skirting the lake. There was no fish in the lake because the fish had nothing to live on, neither vegetable life nor microscopic insect life. A preservationist would consider it an ideal dream lake for the absolute absence of pollution. Due to the absence of roads and modern methods of transport, the modern industrial man—the polluter of his environment—has never picnicked on the shores of this lake, nor placed a boat on it. He has not bathed, nor washed his sins in it. The few escapists that have visited Phoksumdo have been captivated and inspired by its serenity, mysticism, grandeur and beauty. They have become unconscious worshippers of its ultimate reality, established original concord with nature and won salvation from their present man-made plight.
The smooth, wide expanse of the lake stretched about 2 miles into the distance between rocky mountains. Till about 10 a.m. not a ripple disturbed the surface and the water was an incredibly deep turquoise blue. From our tent we would see the whole Bhanjyang range mirrored in the transparent waters, while from the monastery we could see Kang Jeralwa's perfect reflections in the lake.
The altitude of the lake is about 14,000 ft. according to Himalayan Pilgrimage by David Snellgrove. The mountain side on the south eastern end of the lake was covered with tall pine trees for about 1500 ft. A tree belt upto about 15,500 ft. would be a botanical freak and I have a feeling that the altitude of the lake is about 12,000 ft
The Ringmo monastery nestles in splendid isolation from the village on a high promontory just above the lake. At its south¬eastern corner, it is fringed with pines. About a mile from our tent across the fields and also across the stream which is the over- outlet of the lake, a group of ten white-washed houses comprise the monastery. Huge prayer flags flutter on poles, and are festooned on every structure. The Ochre coloured broad dado distinguished them from residential structures of the village. The perfect reflections of the widely separate twin peaks of Kang Jeralwa enhanced the tranquillity of the monastery. An old monk chanting Om Mane Padme Hum, while turning a silver wheel in his hand, lent an air of solemnity. A shepherd boy was grazing the yaks. We could not enter any gompa since they were closed, but the radiation of blissful peace and joy pervaded the whole complex.
The habitat is ideal for Monal, Rubythroat, Pekin Robin, Thrush and Finch. They delighted us. The foremost feeling we expe¬rienced here was that nothing here was spoilt or changed by the hand of man (except the small area of the village and the monastery complex) and we were amidst real wilderness. We took ten days to return to Jumla. Next we flew from Jumla to the pollution of Nepalganj and the flesh-pots of Bombay. When Oft upon my couch I lie, in the acrid air of the city, the lake blissfully flashes upon the inward eye.5
2 . And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the Phoksum- dils ! !—Ed. (with apologies to W.W.)