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LENSMAN TRAVEL DIARY OF RARA

As I have a keen interest and passion for traveling around Nepal, I headed to Itahari on Wed-20-oct-010, to ride a bus to Kohalpur. I started my journey from my beautiful home town Dharan for a destination called Rara Lake in far western Nepal. Rara National Park is located in North-Western high mountains of Nepal. The Dashain festival was not over yet and I was at home after a long time. While I was about to leave I felt awful but I couldn’t stop myself from grabbing this opportunity. Bhogendra Rayamajhi, my maternal uncle, assistant preservationist officer of Rara national park was meeting me at Itahari and this was the privilege to go along with him.

city is the main junction of eastern region. Around 1:30 pm, we rode Yashoda travel, the night bus to Kohalpur from Itahari. It was the very first long distance travel by bus and I was excited, enthralled to hastily reach Rara. Passengers were boarding and getting off the bus so it was getting boring and cumbersome but the ineffable thrill of travel kept me going. Almost 16-18 hours of ride but I didn’t dozed off a little bit. Nearby my seat was a small kid who was making fun of my moustache and calling me “Uncle with Moustache”. I made myself busy asking questions to my uncle about Rara. I wished I could have reached Rara soon but there was still a long way to go. At around 6 am next morning we reached Kohalpur and then headed towards Surkhet with the next bus. It was a chilly morning as the winter season was approaching. Surkhet was around 56 km from Kohalpur and in between was Bardiya National Park. Babahi Valley, inside the national park, was a suitable living place for Rhinoceros. Rhinos had been Trans-located there from Chitwan National Park. I didn’t stop by to shoot some pictures of Rhinos as my destination was still far away. However I have plans to do it some other time.

We reached Surkhet valley after 4 hours of ride and then checked in in a hotel to eat and to take some rest. Thus-oct-21-010, we stayed overnight and early next morning went to the airport hoping to get a flight but we returned with our luggage to another hotel near the airport. I wasn’t used to this but when my uncle told me that he had stayed there for 13 days to get a flight, I was really shocked. Thank god I had carried my laptop and internet device to pass time. There was no regular flight schedule at Surkhet airport. People used to gather around and wait for a plane for Mugu early in the morning. Local passenger charter was not available and people were helpless to pay NRS 6,500 for a ticket worth NRS 3,500. Only Tara air conducted regular flight for Mugu. In the name of service, passengers were exploited and looted but after staying for 3 nights, we too bought tickets for NRS 6,500 and headed towards Mugu. Flying above the Chayanath Mountain and Dafe Lake, full of Rhododendron amidst Mugu and Dolpa, the airplane landed in Mugu airport which was inside the buffer zone of Rara National Park. We left for a hotel to have our lunch. This place although having lots of possibilities for tourism promotion, was very rustic and underdeveloped. There wasn’t a single hotel likeable to stay or to eat. However, we had to eat somehow and then I rushed desperately ahead to capture Rara’s view. I walked uphill with Santosh Humagain & Sambhu Paudel, the foresters I had met at Surkhet. We were walking through national park area and I was taking information from them about the forest. I was excited as my aim for wildlife photography was going to be fulfilled. Sambhu was in search of olive and was conducting research in districts where olive grew such as Mugu, Dolpa, Bajura and Humla. After 3 hours of vertical climbing my uncle informed me that Rara Lake was just 10-15 minutes ahead and suggested me to take pictures. The very first moment I saw Rara Lake I shouted loudly saying ‘wow!!! I am in heaven’…..yes the lake was really fantastic. The Panoramic view of Rara fascinated me and I was busy taking pictures as much as I could. I was at first nervous & petrified to see such a huge water body right in front of me but then I started shooting pictures. To reach the national park’s quarter we walked one and half hour by the lake side and I was too tired. Sitting by the fireplace and sipping rum was refreshing and warm. It was quite cold as I had come a long way from the low land.

The next morning, our two friends ascended up hill and I busied myself taking pictures around. From my uncle’s quarter window, Nepal’s biggest lake was a 180 degree view, which was 167 km deep, almost 5 km long and 3 km wide and 10.8 sq. km of round length. The residential quarters of national park employees were inside the army barrack. Walking trails was all around the lake’s circular area and I strolled around taking pictures. I was lost in the madness of lake’s beauty and the whole natural beauty. That night, after dinner, everyone was sound asleep but I was unable to sleep as I had blisters on my body and I was feeling itchy. I had noticed some blisters at Surkhet but I hadn’t thought that it would be so intense. I misjudged it to be normal allergy.

In the morning, oct-27-011, I was about to go to Murma top hill but before that I went to a health post nearby and the health assistant prescribed me 3 injections.

Lensman with health assistant

It was due to altitude sickness. I took one and then settled with health assistant to take another on my way back from Murma top. I walked half hour back to residence quarter to eat and then headed back to Murma top which was about 4 hours trek up hill. The more I ascended to the top, Rara lake view looked more & more beautiful. My backpack and sleeping bag was with brother Tara who was ahead of us on a horse carrying our goods to the top. My camera’s memory was full and the spare memory was in my bag which was with Tara. I had to delete some old pictures to shoot new ones. “Being a camera man you must carry your gears all the time” suggested my uncle. He made a call to Tara and I was happy to see him bringing me the memory card. I was full of excitement when I reached the Murma top, almost 360 degrees view of Himalayas except one small portion of hill. I am unable to express in words the fascinating view that I perceived there. I was told that during winter the view was more mesmerizing all mountains covered with snow. It was windy and so cold and after I took some pictures of setting sun we moved towards a house nearby to spend the night. There was a tower of Radio Nepal and Hello Nepal. For protection of towers, Mr. Raj Bahadur Rokaya used to stay there. As my uncle was familiar with him and he was also kind enough to let us stay for the night, we sat beside the fire. Raj Bahadur used to work as a driver in India. He further mentioned that due to lack of infrastructures and facilities very few tourists came to this place. I also realized that there are lots of things to do to promote Rara as a tourist destination. In first place it was so difficult to get there, no roads for travel by bus, even flight was so hard to get. For tourism year 2011, this could be one of the best destinations. He further added that the government has done nothing for education, health facilities and people can’t even get rice to eat. He was talking right as our so called leaders are busy in their stupid quarrels and not doing anything to develop such areas. After our sad conversation we all went to sleep, besides having two sleeping bags I was feeling very cold but then I wasn’t there to sleep sound. I was at 3698 meters and cold wind was intensely blowing.

morning view of rara
my uncle sun rise in murma hill

I had to take pictures of rising sun so woke up early. I then made myself a cup of coffee and went outside. The first rays of sun striking on mountain tops, the rosy colors were so magical, so beautiful. I took lot of pictures there. While we were about to walk downhill and bid farewell to Raj Bahadur, he made a strong remark and urged me to help promoting the place as he knew I was a photographer and journalist. I promised him to do my best. For the record, Murma top was a good place to stay for a night. Although it’s a small area but up to 10 persons can stay there and feel the adventure. We walked down hill from the other way to reach Murma village. Rara Lake looked wonderful if wind wouldn’t blow and the still water was just amazing. Around 2 – 3 hours of downhill walk we reached Murma village. It was a very poor village and locals were deprived of any facilities a state can provide. As it was time for school, I saw some children running for their class, some were working and locals were busy in their daily chores. Locals were living a harsh life without health, proper education, and proper food; this was the true picture of our rural life. On this side people are living in minimal subsistence and on the next side our leaders & politicians are living in abundance fighting with each other in star hotels.

woman of murma village

work time in murma

murma village

children of murma

I had to reach health post to take my medication and after spending some time in Murma village I moved on. Observing & capturing the natural scenery, I walked towards the residential quarters and reached there by noon. I was so tired and hungry that I greedily ate my lunch, Japanese Rice. Nepali Rice was not available there. I was truly grateful to Japanese Government for providing rice in far away underdeveloped hilly regions. I had only one hour to rest as I had to pack my bags for jungle camping, we were about to go.

Our camping site was about 3 hours distance from the quarter. Tara Jung Sahi, Karna Bahadur Sahi and Uncle were going for fun and adventure, me to shoot the Red panda. I was really excited as uncle told me that after camping at night we were to go in search of the Red Panda. I kept on questioning him about it as well as a lot of other things. I knew then where the pbest place for photography in flowering season and during snowfall was. Even if I was not there during those periods, I was feeling good to be in the nature’s arms and I totally loved it. Walking for 3 hours, we reached the camping place and first of all we gathered fire wood to start a fire. Tara forgot to bring spices but hill goat meat was so tasty. This was my first camping experience in the jungle. I was still unable to sleep sound due to allergy but I dozed off in the morning. While I woke up, uncle was busy taking pictures of Rara. I made coffee by the fire and moved to the jungle with uncle and Karna. We roamed around the forest but were unable to sight Red Panda…., instead we encountered some villagers illegally gathering forest products. I thought maybe due to villagers’ movements, Pandas were forced to change their habitat. There were foot prints of local cows and their leftovers that justified my thought. I talked with my uncle about the possibility of tracking pandas by putting GPS on them. But he told that “our government is not capable to run such project”. If you can bring such a project then I am ready to work on it, he said. I wish I could. I didn’t meet any Red Panda but this was my first experience in jungle with my camera gears. So I enjoyed myself a lot. A profound interest inside me was developing to make our natural places familiar to the world by promoting them with pictures. This was not an easy task as our country is suffering from political instability and places like this are still behind curtains waiting to be discovered and identified.

As my one week travel was about to finish, I took a good rest after returning from camping. Tomorrow was my last day and I had extreme desire to boat on Rara. Next day I went on to the other side of the lake by boat. It took me almost 1 hour. Boating on a lake which is 2,990 meters above sea-level was phenomenal. We left the boat and decided to walk back by the lake side. I took pictures while returning back. My uncle was very much interested on taking pictures. He asked me lots of questions about camera and digital photography. Few of them were really difficult to me…...

transportation on rara
morning view of lake

calm rara

In 2007, Ramsan Organization enlisted Rara Lake in the list of Wetland of International Importance. Three types of endemic trout are found in Rara water. This area was declared as a National Park in 2032 B.S. The park is home to around 20 different species of animals. This includes Musk deer, Himalayan black bear, Yellow throated marten, Otter, Wild dog, Common languor, Rhesus macaque and Red panda. The park has recorded 214 birds and some important species include coots, snow cock, different species of pheasants, grebes, mallard, common teal, red-crested pilchard and gulls etc. During the winter many migratory birds joined the residence. This was my last day and my uncle was helping me to transfer pictures form my two 4GB memory cards intoa  pen drive because my 8GB was already full. I still had lots of things to do.

Monday-nov-1-010, to reach Kathmandu tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, I left for Mugu airport, saying goodbye to every one there. On the way I passed through Rara Lake. It was a cold morning and I was still hungry for pictures as I took many on the way. I passed through headquarter Gamgadi as well. But I was late for my flight and I missed it. So, instead of flying to Nepalgunj I flied to Surkhet. I was lucky the airplane took of just above the Rara Lake and I could watch all the places that I had traveled to. It was wonderful. As the plane flew higher, Rara started to go slowly and slowly out of sight and I said ‘goodbye’ to Rara and Murma hill. Those were awesome feelings, only remaining in my memories. Yes… deep in my mind. Now my mind was thinking about Kathmandu, the chaotic and unorganized city, with the corrupt leaders who once promised those innocent villagers to make their life better but never showed up again. All the blood shed by our brave martyrs is still not dry and there isn’t a single sign of progress. When will the people living in Murma village and other poor villages of Nepal see the dawn of development that will uplift their lives? The only question all of us need to answer.

Nepal Tourism year 2011 is on and such beautiful places are still in shadow, waiting for the day. This is the worst scenario for the whole Nepalese people. If we try and promote such beautiful areas of Nepal then we can definitely make a change in the lifestyles of locals living there. We can then help them to uplift the socio-economic standards and thus helping the whole nation to grow. Now, a hidden treasure, the incredible Rara is far from my sight, so far away…

How to get there?

National Park is 2.5 days trek via Jumla or 10 days trek from Surkhet. The easiest way to reach the park is through Nepalgunj to Talcha airstrip or Surkhet airport to Talcha airstrip followed by 3-4 hours walk to park HQ. And please do not purchase illegal animal and plant.

Thank you for your stay. 🙂

©lensmanimageart


Posted on December 2, 2010   »   by Lensman

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