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Nepal’s Panchase circuit

The heat was becoming unbearable! We were passing through a forest and the situation was bearable in the shade but the open spaces were like a hot air oven. We took repeated swigs from our water bottles and Dhakal and Narhari collected a kind of berry from the roots of jungle ferns which were rich in water content.

Makanpur village houses

A welcome chautaara was beckoning and it felt good to stretch out beneath the welcome shade. Biscuits and noodles (chauchau) were consumed and the calorie imbalance was rectified. Ganesh, our MSc student (and a budding singer from the tea gardens of Ilam) was talking to the students of a primary school and entertaining them with his stories.

We were at the village of Makanpur (1500 metres). We (I, Narhari Timilsina, Dhakal and our two students, Ganesh and Baburaja) had set off from Thulokhet at around nine in the morning. We had breakfast around seven at Khahare, Lakeside and then it was a long taxi ride. Breakfast was fresh fish from the lake (actually the previous day’s catch) and chowmein. The morning sunlight was magical and it was a sheer delight to watch the oar boats cutting through the water. The taxi was cramped (a Maruti 800 and five guys) and it was a relief to get out and stretch one’s legs at Thulokhet.

The day was beautiful, the sky was clear and the Himals were visible to the north. We met an old gentleman on the way and enquired how much time it would take to Panchase. He very confidently replied slightly more than three hours. You should be there easily before one. The climb started and the valley was spread out at our feet. We were having splendid views of Annapurna II and IV. Lamjung Himal was clouded over while Annapurna South and Annapurna I were hidden behind the surrounding hills. Macchapuchare was seen in its true fishtail aspect and clouds were slowly ringing the base of the pyramid.    

The start of the trek, Annapurna in the view

The terraced hillsides were heavily cultivated and clusters of houses could be seen all around. The village of Makanpur was rather small. The traditional houses against the backdrop of Macchapuchare made for a great photo opportunity. The village seemed to be quite prosperous. We were passing ancient fortifications and wayside shrines, an eloquent reminder of the days of yore when the district of Kaski was divided into small principalities.

The small settlement of Sindure was reached around two in the afternoon. We asked a young lady, “How much farther to Panchase?” Her reply broke our heart. “At least three hours”, she said. We were hardly making any progress in the fourth dimension of the space-time fabric!

It was a long and tiring climb to the village of Bhanjyang (2150 m). The trail climbed steeply on stone staircases. We met a young herder en route who was climbing like a mountain goat! He quickly disappeared in the far distance!

Bhanjyang was a collection of houses and small shops. We stopped for pau roti and chiya in one of the houses which doubled as a tea shop. The festival of Holi was on in full swing and multicoloured revellers were playing in the cobbled alleyways of the village. Narhari was trying to negotiate a country fowl to take along with us for dinner. The negotiations broke down over price!

It was onward to Panchase danda (2509 m). There is a small temple and the location is fabled for fantastic mountain views. However, it was around half past four in the afternoon and the Himals were hidden behind thick layers of clouds. The trek had taken around seven and half hours. The temple is a site of pilgrimage and a fair is also held there.             

It was a long and steep descent to the village of Bhadaure, from where it would be possible to get a jeep to Kande. The descent was tough on the knees and we lost our way in a thick forest! Isolated rhododendrons were in bloom and I was reminded of my trek three years back to Ghorepani when whole hillsides were awash in pink! Baburaja was powering ahead but Ganesh was feeling quite tired and despondent.

The houses of Bhaduare could be seen. There was a lodge in the village and we were exploring the possibility of spending the night there. Narhari was quite skeptical about the lodge and wanted to spend the night in Lumle or Kande. The lodge was a disappointment! It was long past six and the last jeep of the day had already left!

Macchapuchare and a couple of Annapurnas

It was long uphill climb to Kande. The road was long and we were taking shortcuts along the ancient trail wherever possible. The trail was intersecting the road at intervals. The setting Sun was painting the western sky varying shades of pink. The surrounding hills were gradually becoming darker and smoke was curling up from small hamlets perched on steep hill sides. The light was fading away fast and the last stretch to the lodge at Kande was a treacherous descent on a crumbling stone staircase in pitch darkness!

The Thakali lodge in Kande was excellent! Narhari finally got his country chicken! The meat and the preparation were delicious. Thakalis are excellent cooks and this was evident in the care taken in food preparation and the subtle blending of spices.

The pau roti and tarkari we had for breakfast early the next morning was excellent. The Himals to the north were clouded over and the day was dull and hazy. We took a mini bus along the Baglung highway to Naudanda (Nagdanda) and then it was long walk along a kuccha road to Sarangkot. The Phewa Lake was shimmering in the distance and the settlements of Thulokhet and Pame were seen in the valley below.

The ancient village of Kaskikot.  We were walking the bylanes of history! An ancient pokhari was on the way. In the good old days, Kings and Queens may have bathed in the placid waters. Now it was being put to more plebian uses like washing clothes and children! The himals were shrouded in clouds and we did not take the steep stone staircase to the ancient fort. We met a few of our students. They were on their way to Naudanda. We stopped for ‘chiso’ and the chilled soft drinks tasted like nectar to our parched lips and throat. Kaskikot was a long, straggling village and continued for the better part of an hour. 

The Annapurna Sherpa resort and the outlying hotels of Sarangkot were reached. We ordered the staple of daal-bhaat-tarkari and waited for its preparation. Multicolored paragliders were taking off and hung suspended over the dark green waters of the lake blown hither and thither by gusts of wind and thermals. Narhari was giving a fascinating account of the early history of Pokhara. 

Early morning on Phewa Lake

The Panchase circuit can be converted to an excellent trekking route with the addition of more facilities. Right now it is a ‘catch-22’ situation. Less facilities, so less trekkers and facilities are not being built due to the lack of trekkers. The easier way to do the trek would be to take an evening bus from the Baglung bus park and get down at Kande. Stay there for the night and early the next morning take a jeep to Bhadaure and start the trek to Panchase. If the day is clear you will be blessed with superb views of the Annapurna-Dhaulagiri massif. After visting the temple you can have lunch in Bhanjyang and either return to Bhadaure or descend steeply to Makanpur and Thulokhet. In the evening getting transport back to lakeside may be difficult and the option of house stay at Thulokhet can be explored.

The circuit makes for a moderately difficult and fascinating trek through relatively unspoilt countryside. So pack your rucksacks, lace up your boots and hit the long trail to Panchase! Fantastic mountain views, unspoiled country villages, a fascinating slice of history and religion will be your reward for a day’s hard toil on steep hillsides!      

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