Mount Dhaulagiri across the green & blue landscape from Panchawati Peak of Baglung
Driving trip from Siliguri to Mustang, Nepal:-
1st March, Day 1: Drive along Asian Highway 2 across Bagdogra to Panitanki and crossed over the Mechi River bridge into Nepal. Obtained Vehicle permit from the transport office after paying INR 2200. Mercifully the system at the transport office has been upgraded to online, as such it was smooth and easy. Another temp road permits fro. Makeshift virta more office for INR 300 including INR 200 for the requested tip that we gave generously! I was surprised that we were asked by a transport official and 3 police personnel as to why we wanted to go into Nepal for 7 days. I told them this was the Nepal tourism year and should they be asking such questions instead if welcoming us. The going was good while the road condition was smooth and traffic mild. Nepal drivers and traffic is much better disciplined than those in W.Bengal, Bihar, etc. At Itahari old buddy from the Regiment, Nepal Rhino Veteran, Hav NarBahadur, (Retd) was waiting by the city traffic roundel with 2 Nepal sim cards, kind courtesy Hon Capt Baburam (Retd) of my battalion. We stopped at a wayside restaurant and had veg lunch
Serene approach Road to ancient Kalika Bhagawati Temple
for INR 400 for 4 while INR 80 for tea. Taking turns to drive with buddy Venu and driver Jackson Sangma, we reached Bardibas by 7 pm and checked in pre-booked Vinayak hotel for the night. INR 7800 for 4 rooms while total amt came to INR 8600 incl dinner, breakfast & tips.
March 2, Day 2:- We started the journey after breakfast at 8.30 am and drove on towards Hetauda-Pokhra. Again it was smooth traffic and we maintained an average speed of 60-70 km per hour. Reaching Hetauda at 1 pm we were received by 4 Nepal Veterans who treated us to a grand lunch of traditional Nepali Thali. After photoshoot and farewell chat we resumed our drive towards Pokhra. Paid
road tax Nepali Rs. 40 after crossing Hetauda. We pressed on while Venu's SUV, Gorkha Force ran powerful and easy. After crossing Narayana we took the turn towards Pokhra. Drive was beautiful along the broadened highway through scenic countryside as the road snaked through mountains and valleys crossing small hamlets. As we approached Pokhra by 4 pm we were rewarded with a clear view of larger than life, most majestic mount Maccha Puccherey (Mt Fishtail) lording over
Kalika Mahakali Temple
Pokhra as her guardian deity. The sight was just awesome that mesmerized us. By 5 pm we reached Pokhra and headed for Indian Embassy Pension Paying Guest House to be received by Hon Capt Baburam, Hon Capt Harey Krishna, and other Nepal Veterans. After tea and chat, they dispersed. We took a power nap and woke up at 7 pm to celebrate our safe arrival with generous pegs of brandy followed by veg dinner at the officer's mess.
March 3, Day 3: It was a break day in Pokhra and we took a cab to Phewa Taal (lake). We walked around the footpath by its shores while weeping willows gently swayed with the morning breeze. It was cold and not so bright day so we tucked ourselves with warm jackets, woolen caps, and mufflers and moved around leisurely shooting with cameras. The highlight of the morning was sumptuous breakfast at Boomerang Restaurant overlooking the beautiful lake and the awesome view beyond. At 1230 PM we reached the Venue for Nepal Rhino Veterans gettogether Barakhana. We were awestruck by the most affectionate grand reception by 40 Nepal Rhino Veterans and families with traditional Nepali Khadas and marigold garland. What followed
A baby posing from her Crib in Sarankot
was a mesmerizing nonstop event of welcome address, presentation of momento of Golden Lord Buddha and more affectionate exchange of ideas. We presented the gathering with a case of rum that brightened up the smiles even wider. In an energetic speech the Chairman Nepal Rhino Veterans organization, Hon Capt Harey Krishna spoke about the need for more Rhino Veterans from India to visit them in special Regimental days as also to streamline the communication process with Indian Rhino Veterans. The fun and frolic started with songs and Nepali dance wherein I initiated our all-time favorite peppy Regimental Song, "the Champion Regiment Kwan ni alo". Drinks and heavy snacks were served generously while group photoshoots continued with different battalion groups. Lunch was again a very delicious Nepali thali in buffet style. After lunch, we gathered for the main Regimental song, "Badlu Ram ka Badan Zamin ka Nichey Hai" with full josh and dispersed, albeit with a promise to be back again!!
4 March, Day 4: It was now time to drive on towards Mustang and we took off at 8 am after breakfast. We drove through mild and smooth morning Pokhra traffic and took the narrow mountain road towards Sarangkot
Sel roti, famous & yummy Nepali fried bread in a stall by Phewa Taal
and Kaskikot. Reaching Kaskikot I lead the way to the house of Raju Biswakarma, a kind Silver Smith family who had treated me to a fresh glass of buffalo milk upon return from my trek to Kaskikot fort in 2016. I had taken gifts for the two little school girls and their parents who were kind of surprised to see me in their courtyard after 3 years plus. After a quick chat, photo and presentation of my last travel book, "Wandering in the Mist of the East" which features this family's kindness in the "Trek to Kaskikot" chapter, we moved on. Our immediate destination was Bagkung, 93 km from Pokhra. The road was reasonably good as it spiraled up and down the mountains. After crossing the narrow road about 10 km from Kaskikot we joined the new 2 lane highway. After tea breaks en route and diesel top-up, we reached Baglung by 1230 pm to be received at the Indian Veterans welfare office by a group of 10 Nepal Rhino Veterans under the chairmanship of Sub Damodar (Retd). The reception was followed by lunch in Hotel Rajan in the heart of the town with narrow roads that weaved through vehicles,
Road to Pokhra
Venu, Anuradha & Self with Venu's SUV Gorkha, taking a tea break in Bardibas
motorcycles, and pedestrians. An elaborate lunch was served in a traditional Nepali way with local fish as a side dish. It was during lunch that bad news greeted us. We were informed by Sub Damodar that a huge landslide had wiped away a portion of the road near Lete, between Lete and Jomsom. Upon further inquiry, we were informed that the repair and restoration of the road would take weeks. There was no choice. So we decided to stay the night at Baglung and visit the viewpoint at Panchawati peak. So we booked rooms in the same hotel and drove to Panchawati with Hav Prem Thapa, my old buddy as the guide. After 40 minutes drive the view from the peak of the valley below and Dhaulagiri range beyond was awesome. However it started raining and we returned to the hotel. Next morning was bright and sunny. After breakfast, we drove up to Panchawati again and enjoyed the grand and clear view of the majestic Dahulahigri peak. We spent about an hour on the top photographing the view and enjoying the scenic beauty of the mountain ranges. We paid INR 4100 for 4 rooms with complimentary breakfast and returned back
Catching up with Silver Smith's little girls in Kaskikot
to Pokhra. On the way back I visited the ancient Kali Bhagawati temple just outside Baglung. On the way back we stopped over and climbed the viewpoint at Sarankot and took photos of the grand view of Pokhra Valley tucked between the majestic Himalayan ranges of Maccha Puccherey Annapurna, Annapurna, and Dhaulagiri.
March 5 & 6, Day 5& 6: We stayed in Pokhra and enjoyed window shopping in the famous happening boulevard, the 15th Street and ate sumptuous lunch in the balcony of a restaurant treating ourselves with hot rum punch. I visited Fish Tail Book Store and Mandala book stores and sold my books at a handsome deal albeit after photoshoot of a book signing ceremony at Mandala Book Store.
7 March, Day 7: reluctantly we drove back and stayed the night in Hotel Gautam in Bardibas where the rooms were smaller but comfortable and no hot water for a morning shower.
8 March, Day 8: Final drive back to Siliguri with a very delicious lunch of pork "sekwas" and pork chops at Damak Thakali Kitchen. I made friends with a very sweet little girl, Reshmi Rai in her early 20s who served us lunch so
With Reshmi Rai, a waitress in Thakali Restaurant after presenting her my book, "Wandering in the Mist of the East"
efficiently. We became instant karmic friends and I presented her with a signed copy of my book. On the way, we had to pay a hefty fine of INR 1500 for one day overstay beyond 7 days permit. The Police guards at the check post were not so friendly while the transport official was playing delaying tactics apologetically. After I told him to get on with whatever fine he moved on completed the paperwork. The payment counter clerk refused to receive INR and we had to go to the exchange counter just outside the office in a makeshift shack. The entire process delayed us by an hour whereas it could have been completed efficiently in 10 minutes. 2020 is Nepal tourism year wherein they are expecting 2 million tourists. They need to be less hostile and more generous and fast in their dealings while being tourist-friendly. We drove on and back to the friendly and chaotic traffic of Siliguri.
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