The Road Less Traveled – Trek to Panchpokhari

Day 0 and 1

A night before we started the trip, four of us went to Bipin Yadav’s house because it was pretty late to catch Dhulikhel bus. Next morning (Day 1), Bipin joined us for the journey which was unexpected and spontaneous. We took the bus to Dhulikhel and we had our lunch at Kathmandu University. AT AROUND 2:30 PM, OUR DESTINY WAS WRITTEN.

To reach Pachpokhari, there are two routes, via Melamchi and Chautara. We were waiting for the bus and fortunately or unfortunately we hopped into the “Chautara” bus. At 6 PM, we reached Syaule Bazar, which was 6 KMs ahead of Chautara.

This place was weird. Wherever we ask for the food, they are like we don’t serve food here even the small restaurants which had their restaurant name on the hoarding board. Weird, isn’t it? Lucky us, one of the locals showed us a small homestay where we stayed. 

Next morning, we asked the houseowner if we could use their scooter to go back to Chautara so that we can withdraw some cash and buy some essentials. They were kind enough to lend us the scooter and we bought 1 liter of gasoline for the scooter. The weather was pretty foggy.

We then started our “Pachpokhari trek” from Syaule Bazar (1749 m altitude) at 10 AM. As we were walking, we had some chat with the locals on the way and majority of them suggested not to continue because there is like 10 inches of snow up there and it’s off season. We anyhow continued the journey and the density of people gradually decreased. The destination for day 1 was to reach “Maidan” (2540 m altitude). We enjoyed the spectacular views of the natural scenery and reached the destination at 4 PM with a walking distance of around 12 kms. 

We settled our tent and we roamed around to see if we could find food. “सेर्किको आमा” got us covered. She served her hot milk tea at first and later for dinner, we ate “दाल-भात, मुला अनि टमाटर” 

It was pretty heavenly gazing at the stars, getting lost sitting next to firewood’s warmth. I was lucky enough to see 2 shooting stars.

Day 2.1 | The Search

Early in the morning, we woke up to spectacular views around us. It was freezing cold. We went back to “सेर्किको आमा” for our breakfast. There we ate “आलु, रोटि र कालो चिया”

As we were having our breakfast, she showed us some rare medical herbs. Yarsagumba was one of them. I personally bought a few of Yarsagumba because she was giving us a good deal. Later, she gave all of us “कुर्कि”, it’s a medical herb that is rare and it cures fever, cough, sore throat and increases the immunity power. And we bought some छुर्पि too.

We filled up our water bottles and we started our journey at 9 AM. Little did we know, she will be the last person we will be seeing for a couple of days now and those water in the bottles will be super essential for us in the coming time. 

Maidan is at 2540m altitude and our target was to reach 3400 to 3600m today. Hiking in the wild, enjoying nature, no stress at all. Just  being in the moment. As we walked, I made small vlogs here and there, took water sips to moisten our dry throat and rested for a while staring at the deep jungle. I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see. 

The blazing midday sun shone relentlessly on us. As we were approaching our destination, our water bottles started to get empty. ‏At around 2 PM, we were super thirsty and we ran out of every single drop of water by then. The hiking trail got difficult. Rocky trails and on our left it was all cliff (death is literally 1 slip away). We were carrying around 15 or 20 kgs of backpack. We were walking carefully with the help of a hiking stick. This extreme hike pushed us to our limits. It can get pretty hairy at times and at some points along the way you’ll just want to give up, but if you push yourself through, the reward of reaching the top and completing what you originally thought to be impossible, is like nothing else. It’s an epic feeling of pride, joy and… well, sometimes relief! 

We started searching for water or any kind of water sources. We saw a thin water pipeline. We opened it up but there was no sign of water. We had reached Chyo Chyo Dada 3400m. We walked for a few more hours. There was ice on the way. We broke the ice and ate it just to wet our mouths. 

The evening sun cast long shadows on the ground. The slanting rays of the setting sun gave a warm orange tinge to the sky.  There was a board saying that we had reached Sherpa Kharka 3381m after some descent. The mountains were looking gorgeous in the background. 

At this point, 2 of the friends were trying to light fire and 3 of us went to search for the water. We went through dense forest and about an hour later we knew that there were no people around and there were no water sources. We returned back to the spot empty handed. We stayed there for a while and I told everyone, “Look, staying here and spending the whole night is worthless, there is a way down to Pachpokhari clearly written on the board. Let’s not waste our time and gather us up cause there is a ray of hope that we might be lucky enough to get water on our way”. So all of us continued the journey. It was pitch black and the wind was blowing a little crazy 💨. One of the emergency lights was dead so we used a phone for the light.  There was a point where we were lost due to low visibility. AT THIS POINT, WE KNEW WE FUCKED UP. 

We were out of every ounce of energy on our body. We took a rest and stayed at a place, all terrified. It was around 8 PM, there was no network but fortunately Rikesh’s phone showed 1 bar of NTC network. He searched our location and saw there was a river down the jungle approximately 1.5 miles downhill. Just to let everyone know, we were in this scenario that we got up just thinking about that river water. The jungle was dense and with limited illumination we went down. Our backpack was big and personally my bag was huge because I had a mat rolled up and kept on the top of the bag horizontally. There were small bamboo trees and plants that were literally obstructing me from moving. I was doomed. About an hour of trying to reach the bottom, I was hopeless, totally hopeless. I’ve never felt more hopeless in my entire life. Life seemed too hard at that moment. A ray of hope turned out to be a mirage. We realized that getting down is optional but returning back is mandatory for we had no network connection to contact anyone. I asked myself “WAS THIS ALL IN VAIN? WAS THIS ALL WORTH IT?”

Day 2.2 | It’s Not Always Sunshine and Rainbows

It’s not the conclusion, it’s just our condition. The more we went down, the more we always had it in our mind that we had to come up! And it was going to be even harder. We were losing hope for water; were we losing our energy to continue the trek. It was getting pitch black and we started hiking upwards with all our energy drained and not even a single ray of hope. 

We stopped, we looked each other in the eyes. Everyone was hopeless and full of fear. Fear – if we will get any help from anyone, fear – if we will stay alive, fear-if our family members can see us again. Just thinking of the scenario and writing this down makes my eyes tearful. But, “Giving up is not in the blood, Sir. It’s not in the blood.”

With every ounce of energy left in us, somehow we managed to reach the jungle (the point where we desperately decided to reach the bottom of the jungle to get the river water, which was literally downhill). We just couldn’t think anymore. We unfolded our mattress and rested there with no motivation left to make up the tent. Phones were dead and with some juice left on the power bank, Rikesh charged his phone and, luckily, there was 1 bar of the NTC network. 

We first called the police, and we managed to tell him our scenario as soon as possible, despite the network problem. He called us back from his personal number and suggested two contact numbers, which happened to be of the locals living in Sindhupalchowk. Both of them refused to help, and one was even using explicit words, maybe he was drunk. We tried calling the Army, but there was no hope of help. We didn’t want to put our parents under stress and trouble, so we decided not to call them.

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. Then we remembered our friends from Kathmandu University. It was around 11:45 PM. Sandesh Paudel Chhetri picked up the call, and we told him our scenario and asked him if he could help us. 

He immediately told every close friend in KU. Then we called Sudeep Aryal because he was from Sindhupalchowk and he might know people who could help us. He immediately called his relatives and then suggested to us, “Look guys, don’t lose hope. I know you can do this. It’s just a night. You better burn a fire, stay warm, and sleep tight. I’ll manage something. I’m here, don’t worry. I’ll call you in the morning.” He was the only ray of hope for us. We could barely sleep in that freezing, cold jungle. We burned firewood and started chatting. We did not get any sleep, knowing that tomorrow was going to be even harder.

Day 3.1 | If You Give Up, You Die!

The difficulty we faced till nothing was going to come ahead in the route we had taken on the way to Panchpokhari. Due to hunger and lack of water, we weren’t able to sleep at night. We had no energy to put up a tent to sleep in, so we just lay on a mat below a tree gazing at the view of the sky full of stars and planning the things we were going to do the next day.

We walked from home to visit this beautiful place, which seemed impossible at that moment, but like Nims Dai said, “Giving up is not in the blood, sir, it’s not in the blood.” We were dehydrated and starving. We couldn’t sleep the whole night but the passion and enthusiasm to reach that place was still there, so around 5 AM, we got a call from Sudeep Aryal and he told us that we were going to get a water source after 3-4 hours of walking from where we were currently. He also warned us about the wild animals that we could possibly encounter. 

We pushed forward, navigating through steep, dense forest. We couldn’t find any water sources, even after 4 hours of walking. We were at 3500m altitude and unfortunately, maybe due to lack of energy or due to altitude sickness, Bipin Yadav and my cousin brother, Sonu Shah were weak and they were suffering. I could see clearly that they couldn’t walk a single step now. It had been more than 24 hours without food or a single drop of water. You can imagine how exhausting it was to trudge uphill with heavy bags. Now, the only two options we had were either to call for a helicopter or some of us had to go forward in search of water. 

We chose the second option. Sonam Sherpa and I took the decision to move forward. We left our bags and only carried water bottles. Nothing else. As we followed the trail, we saw lots of water bottles and energy drink cans, but not even a single drop of water in them. We both started freaking out. It had already been 2 hours since we left our friends behind. About 500m ahead, there was a huge steep hill in front of us, and our jaws dropped. It left us with no hope…

Day 3.2 | Man, Let’s Not Get Ourselves Killed Doing This

We all have our mountains to climb and rivers to cross! I believe we always walk forward to get past that hurdle for that beautiful sunshine everyone talks about. We stopped believing that, because we had been walking for hours and still hadn’t found the water source we thought we would by now. We believed we were suffering, as if God was testing us!

It was already three days and we had had enough. While there were lots of events where we were about to give up but maybe with all the determination, passion and belief we had in ourselves, we won. We won as we looked around and fortunately found a frozen water bottle lying down and our destiny took a turn. All our hopes had died at the time, but it was as if our heart got some fine thread of breath and it started pumping again. We realized that we all have two lives, and the second begins when you realize you only have one. 

There was a cottage, locked up. We broke the door and got in. We found like 80 ml of water inside a galon which we drank and later we found another 500ml of water which we carried along as we returned back to our friends. 

We could see in their eyes that they were brutally hopeless as it took us about 4 hours to get back. Last time we ate was about 40 hours ago. We couldn’t eat our snacks as they were all salty, and we had no water back then. So, we had our snacks and hit the trail again.

Sonam and I had left that frozen water bottle hidden in the cottage, knowing that we will need it once we return with our friends. We all got to the cottage and had jibanjal with that saved water. We all were now on that steep hill, filled with energy to reach Panchpokhari. It was tiresome, but nothing was going to stop us now!

After a couple of hours, we reached Nunthala at an altitude of 3700m. As we were just roaming, we found another cottage, locked as before. We got into it again.

There were drums full of ‘chyang’. It was a habitable cottage as we found some half liter of sedimentary water, some utensils and a lighter to ignite a fire. We had gauze in our first aid and we filtered the water, and boiled it later.

We rested for a while and cherished that moment as we knew in our hearts that we would finally be reaching our destination, Panchpokhari. We later started downhilling. It was a natural vegetation sight over there! We saw Danfe peeking towards us from shrubs. 

At around 5 in the evening, we finally got to the water source our friend Sudeep Aryal had suggested. We filled all our bottles with the ice-cold stream water, and we moved forward to Hile at an altitude of 3522m, where it started snowing.

Day 4.1 | From Lost To Found

The sun had long since disappeared behind the jagged peaks of the Himalayas, leaving only a sliver of light in the sky. We had been hiking for hours, and our feet were sore. The only sound was the crunch of snow beneath our boots.

We finally reached Fedi (3655m) at the base of the mountains. We camped there.

Inside, it was warm and cozy. We started a fire and boiled water, and we each ate a few spoonfuls of peanut butter before crawling into our sleeping bags. We were exhausted, but our minds were racing, we all slept early at 7.

We could feel the icy breeze through our feet despite wearing two woolen socks. A strong wind was blowing, causing the tent to shake violently at midnight. Because of it, we couldn’t sleep well. We all got up early in the morning. The tent was covered in snow, and the water we had was frozen. We attempted to start a fire to boil the water but failed due to the moist woods.

We gave up and began our journey at 7. It was a new day, full of possibilities, and the trail was just as difficult as before, if not more so. The trail was narrow, barely wide enough for one person to walk through at a time. On our left was a sheer drop-off, hundreds of feet down into jagged rocks below. If we slipped, we would surely die. On our right was a rocky cliff that rose up 1 foot above our heads. We had to be careful not to bump into it and knock ourselves off the trail. Just thinking about that trail now makes my heart race and my palms sweat. 

We arrived in a village with a few houses (motels) after 3 hours of continuous walking. Sonam said he saw a man from a distance. You won’t believe how happy we were when he said that. We had lost contact and hadn’t seen a single person on our route in three days. As we progressed, the person Sonam had seen vanished, and we couldn’t see anyone else in the village. We all had the same idea: break into one of the hotels. Then we noticed a woman whose hotel was open from a distance. 

Noshyampati (3700m) was the location. We went there ecstatic and quickly purchased energy drinks for all five of us. The owner prepared a delicious meal of rice, daal, and yak (chauri gai) meat. YAK meat, indeed! After such a delicious meal, we were all juiced up, recharged. We had our meal after what seemed like an eternity. Everyone called their families to let them know we were safe and that we would be home in a few days.

We spoke with the hotel owner, who was surprised that we were still alive, had survived the difficult trail, and had arrived at our destination. They informed us that the Panchpokhari is now a four-hour walk away.

Should we take pleasure in the fact that it’s only a few hours away, considering all of these obstacles we’ve encountered up to this point? Or should we be concerned that even more challenging obstacles are waiting for us further down the path? Or perhaps I should say further up the trail!

Day 4.2 | All’s Well That Ends Well

Now the journey was all uphill with the difficult terrain. The weather got chilly and foggy as we were walking. After about an hour, we met 3 trekkers returning back from Panchpokhari. We had a small chat with them and they informed us that there was only one hotel opened in Panchpokhari.

Another hour passed while we were on the trail; we met a middle aged man with a doko on his back. I asked him about the hotel situation up there and luckily he was the hotel owner who was returning back home since there were no people visiting now as it was off-season. We convinced him to walk back with us to provide accommodation for us and thank god he agreed. He was super friendly and jolly. We started hitting the trail together.

It was a rocky and super steep cliff of about 45 degrees. The 63-year-old hotel owner was way ahead of us. He informed us about a ritual where we all have to throw out hiking sticks at a place. As we were hitting the trail, there came 50m steep stairs uphill. It was literally the steepest cliff we had encountered yet.

Everyone had already reached the top and were waiting for me. In my mind, I was like “I have to walk continuously and reach that top in one go no matter what”. Trust me when I say this, it was intolerable to reach the top on one go carrying a 30+ kgs backpack and steep uphill at such altitude.” I threw my stick out of rage as I stepped at the top and apparently that was the exact place where everyone was supposed to be throwing their hiking sticks as suggested by the hotel owner earlier. 

While we rested for a while there, a veil of mist obscured the view and it started snowing. We wore our plastic and continued our journey. Everyone challenged each other with push-ups at that altitude. The feeling of invincibility and glory overwhelmed us after finally reaching our destination with toil and suffering. The moment was just surreal. Panchpokhari is literally heaven. Heaven is not a place, we understood; it’s just a feeling and this journey entitled that. 

Hotel owner opened his shop for us and made some tea. Sonam and Rikesh went to climb a mountain and vanished on their way up. It was snowing and the wind was wild. Even after hours they weren’t back so we looked out for them. Not gonna lie, we were so worried about them then. Later, they showed up with a big smile on their face saying, “Damn, it was so fun up there and we were almost lost 😅”.

Later at around 8, we heard a woman shouting “koi hunu hununcha?” (Is anyone here?) in a crying voice. We looked outside. It was a guy and a girl. They joined us and told us that they came from Melamchi to Panchpokhari in a day. We had our meal together along with a popular local liquor; Jhaikhatte.

Sonu went to sleep as all of us were enjoying the warmth of firewood. After a while, I went to see if Sonu was well but his face looked pale and swollen because of the high altitude and extreme coldness. We gave him more blankets and kept him warm.

Our plan was to wake up around 4 and reach the viewpoint which was at 4300m from where we could see all the Panchpokhari (5 ponds) clearly at once. We slept around 12 and woke up at 4:15. It was a dark night, almost dawn. The trail was covered up with snow and as we gained altitude we could see the beauty of Panchpokhari. 

This was one of the most beautiful mornings of my life. The golden rays of the sun gave a bright color to the mountains and meadows. The Panchpokhari looked so gorgeous that my words can never justify its beauty. We sat at the edge of a cliff living this wonderful moment together and I started thinking…

The Final Reflection

Sometimes you need to escape to a place you love. Traveling is my passion. You appreciate life’s simple pleasures. You abandon your mundane life to experience God’s wonders. I breathe deeply and stare at these massive mountains, which puts me in the moment and makes me grateful. My breathing pattern relaxes me and inspires a positive conversation. Uncertainty prolongs new journeys. We need to slow down and enjoy life because at the end it’s not about what you’ve done or how successful you are but how you enjoyed life.

Atop the lakes, facing east, one could see the pale gold light emerge in a swift sunrise. We were under clear blue skies aglow with golden brilliance, and we could feel the dawning of our memories for a new hope. We didn’t have Wi-Fi here—no network, no problem—but we did connect with ourselves, just creating memories.

People usually ask me, “Why am I always in the mountains? What’s so special about it?” Will I ever get tired of these places? To be honest, I don’t think I have an answer for that. These places can speak without saying a word and evoke feelings that are hard to describe. These places make me feel small. It makes me realize what’s really important in life and what’s not. Here in this place I feel I have all that I need. I can see and I can feel nature alive, everywhere. All my worries and problems slowly start to fade away and it’s what makes me feel free. It’s what makes me feel alive.  I love being in nature and mountains, that’s what I enjoy doing the most but it’s these small moments that mean a lot more to me. It’s when you start living for these small moments that you somehow really start to appreciate life. Hiking in the mountains, enjoying the silence of nature. Getting tired, exhausted, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. All these memories you create when you’re trying to get somewhere, these are the memories that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Even after all this, if someone offers me to go on a trek or a hike somewhere I have never heard of, will I say yes to it? Well, I guess it’s not about the destination where you end up but the adventure and memories you create along the way. I roam around places just to feel what it feels to return back home.