(*The title inspired by Peter Matthiessen’s ‘The Blue Pearl of Siberia’)
In the north-eastern corner of Nepal lies a biological treasure. A place where nature’s imprint still remains largely intact.
To paraphrase what botanist Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha said, the Barun watershed in Sankhuwasabha is Nepal’s last pure ecological seed.
Entirely uinhabitated, the area, comprising Barun with its sister valleys Lukchi and Saldim, is the only spot in Nepal where one can walk uninterrupted in wilderness spanning the sub-tropical right up to the highest elevations on earth.
It wouldn’t be off the mark to say that no other place in Nepal evokes a sense of primordial wilderness as these valleys. A sense of what the Himalayan flanks were like, before man climbed up the slopes to boot his ecological footprint. Not surprisingly, Barun and Lukchi-Saldim Valleys are the only areas in Nepal designated as strict nature reserves.
There are basically two trails into the wilderness. The first starts from Singsa’ village of Syaksila (also known as the Lhomi village of Syaksila) and enters the lower Barun Valley. It extends through the wildest cloud forest in the Nepal Himalaya and bifurcates in two directions at the spot where Barun meets Lukchi: one route radiates northwest to meet Makalu trekking route at Yangle Kharka in the mid-upper Barun.
Another route goes northeast through the pristine Lukchi Valley and opens up to the ethereal Saldim meadow.The second trail begins at Hatiya Gola.
Climbing up the village through a hill running parallel to the Lukchi Valley, the route goes down and turns right along the river.
Nearly two days of hiking north along Lukchi and Saldim valleys takes one to Saldim meadow.
This stretch of the trek can be extended by walking up the meadow and climbing on the shoulder of Popti-La pass to reach Thudam and Lumbasumba pass to reach Kanchenjunga.
However, the entire area is off the beaten track. From Num, visitors take the northern route to Makalu and the icy ramparts, while the northeastern trail to Barun watershed lies forlorn waiting for wilderness enthusiasts.
A word to the wise: for those inclined to more conventional Himalayan hiking, this overwhelming greenery can be claustrophobic. But, for wilderness enthusiasts, there is no place better in the entire Himalaya - the great bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo excepted. A place where, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad, the traveler feels transported back in time when vegetation rioted on the earth and trees were kings.
Story and Photography: Badri Rai
(This story is PART I of a four-part-series. PART II shall be released soon.)