One of the constants of travel in the Upper Arun is a stay at Aarati Hotel in Khandbari. Located in the town centre, it is run with homely convenience by a very pleasant Gauli family, with antecedents in western Nepal.
For the romantics, the stretch between Khandbari and Num – though scarred by a motor road since the last few years - provides the most pleasant of walks in the Upper Arun.
A more jarring alternative is the rickety taxi ride that has to be endured for hours on end before reaching the hamlet of Num, the focal point of travels in northern Sankhuwasabha.
Any thoughts of smelly blankets in Num’s sphagetti western – invoking inns (Mr. Nar Bahadur Tamang’s inn is the safest bet in the area) will be compensated by the eager sleep induced by aching muscles.
Num provides the first real sense of the Upper Arun. Right to its north across the Arun River sits the village of Seduwa, the starting point of Makalu trek.
Kasuwa and Iswa Kholas plunge almost vertically down wild misty cliffs, evoking the legendary Yeti expeditions of the past. On clear days the mysterious black cliffs of Lumbasumba loom eastward to the hamlet.
An early walk from Num down through Phyaksinda (site of the proposed Arun III) takes one across to the village of Gadhi for lunch. With no hotels in the village, one needs to be politeness personified to be able to entice a homely meal.
The walk winds further through the large Rai village of Hedangna (site of a historic battle between the Tibetans and the house of Gorkha) before reaching Gurung village of Simma. It provides a basic shelter for the more weary; a sturdy walk of a few hours along the raging Arun will however take one to the hamlet of Gola by late evening.
Gola, a tidy dwelling consisting of no more than a dozen houses, feels like the last outpost of civilization in the upper Arun. Less than an hour away lies the village of Syaksila and the Barun, plunging down one of the greatest wildernesses in the Himalaya.
Now begins Singsa’ country. Little studied, the Singsa’ are probably the most peculiar and interesting of Himalayan communities in Nepal.
For, among no communities in the Nepal Himalaya are there clearer outlines of interaction between tribalism and Buddhism. For example, the village of Hatiya Gola has at least half a dozen Singsa’ (originally from Tibet) households who trace their origin to the Rais of Makalu VDC lying to the southwest.
And these Singsa’ are indispensible to penetrating the wilderness of Lukchi and Saldim valleys.
Story & Photography: Badri Rai
(This story is PART II of a four-part-series. PART III shall be released soon.)