A caveat to exploring Lukchi and Saldim valleys is chucking out thoughts of travelling single; experienced local guides are an absolute must.
Though there are two routes to the wilderness, the one through Barun Valley can only be penetrated during early spring.
Even with experienced guides, Barun and Lukchi (don’t expect even makeshift bridges here) become too swollen to be safely forded with the advent of the pre-monsoon rains. The upper Arun, incidentally, is the Cherrapunji (or Mawsynram, to be more precise) of Nepal, with pre-monsoon arriving earliest and strongest here.
The large Singsa’ village of Hatiya Gola, perched upon a spur over Arun, is the most convenient point for the trek. Lying some hours walk from Gola, the trail winds through the foaming Arun, perhaps the greatest stretch of white water in Nepal (if the Yarlung Tsangpo is the Everest of river rafting, then this stretch of Arun is its Makalu, at least).
Climbing northwest from Hatiya, the trail passes through a steep hill of dense temperate forests. The nuisance of the pestering leeches, ticks and the unrelenting midges are compensated for by stunning views of snowy peaks straddling Popti La directly across to the north.
Almost a day’s hike takes one to the ridge running parallel to Lukchi Valley. Here finally is a sweeping panorama of the greatest wilderness in Nepal - Lukchi Valley straddling the view like a giant green sentinel and Barun Valley looming a grizzled shadow over the farthest horizon.
The more daringly adventurous (and better equipped) can cross Lukchi straight across, turn down south to its confluence with Barun and climb up to Yangley Kharka.
However, this route, perhaps the wildest in Nepal, has never been penetrated till now (the route north along Lukchi Khola to its source too has yet to see outsiders). A more ‘conventional’ route to Yangley Kharka starts towards the left of Lukchi’s confluence with Saldim Khola.
The latter however - except during late spring - is steeply snowy, which, along with extreme precipitation, results in the area being cut-off completely for the rest of the year.
The route to Saldim meadow, however, turns right down from the ridge and shoulders Lukchi Khola for a day (for the willing hiker) before its confluence with Saldim Khola. Just before this confluence is an opening in the forest - the only viable camping site in the entire valley.
Here, amidst the surreal echo of deer barks, bear scratches and a host of peculiarly mysterious sounds emanating all around, one feels a heightened sense of instinctive alertness: a sense of oneness with the surroundings which makes the whole experience even livelier.
What rattled the plates? A Yeti sniffing around, perhaps? No matter, it might present itself again on the trail to Saldim meadow, now less than a day away.
Story & Photography: Badri Rai
(This story is PART III of a four-part-series. PART IV shall be released soon.)