From Beni to Jaljala—the Guerilla Trek

On the night of March 20, 2004, In the dead of night, about 6,000 Maoist guerillas descended on the district headquarters of Myagdi district in Dhaulagiri Zone from the surrounding hills. the quiet mountain town of Beni in mid-western Nepal, some distance away from one of the major cities of the country, Pokhara, was rocked by the sound of bombs and gunfire. After several hours of fighting between the guerilla and the local police force, Beni was in the hands of the insurgents. Some government buildings were burned to the ground, and symbols of the existing rulers, like a statue of the late king Mahendra, were destroyed. Beni was a high-point of the 10-year insurgency that plagued the once-peaceful Himalayan kingdom from 1996 to 2006.

So, it is fitting that one of the routes of the newly-promoted ‘Guerilla Trek’ should begin from Beni (823 m), which is some five hours away from the lake city of Pokhara. Located between the Kali Gandaki River and Myagdi Khola, this hill occupies an important point in the famed Annapurna Circuit, which is the most popular trek of the country, with some 80,000 visitors each year. The Guerilla Trek passes through Tatopani (Hot Water), a village renowned for its many hot water springs, which are considered to have healing powers and so attract a lot of visitors throughout the year. The trail goes steadily uphill through some serene villages before reaching Jaljala (3,414 m) from where you get panoramic views of the Dhaulagiri massif (8,167 m). Dhaulagiri is the world’s seventh highest mountain.

From this high plateau, the trail now begins to descend, following the Uttar Ganga River to Dhorpatan. The valley you walk through on the way is straight out of the postcards. You’ll also come across a Tibetan medicine seminary (Sowa Rigpa) where students learn about the practice of traditional medicine, the high Himalayan herbs being their tools for cure.  If you are so inclined, do have a consultation with an amchi (healer) at the seminary; might be interesting. You now reach the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, where a NRs. 3000 ticket will allow you to enter the sprawling park. Here, you could come across grazing blue sheep and tahr (mountain goats). If you are lucky, you might also see barking deer, wild boar, pheasant, and so on.

Actually, Dhorpatan is the place where the three Guerilla Trek trails meet. Two of the routes, the longer ones, go north, while the shortest one goes along the Uttar Ganga heading west to the small villages of Taka, Sera, and Bacchigaon. These are mostly inhabited by people of the Magar and Gurung ethnicities. You will also come across many Dalits in these villages. Here, it must be noted that one of the attractions of the Guerilla Trek is that you get to meet people of many ethnicities, the above-mentioned but being a few of them. The language of this area is Kham-Magar. It is a region where the unique Magar culture is well-established.  At the same time, some concentrated efforts of zealous missionaries have resulted in a fair sprinkling of Christians in the villages, especially in Bacchigaon.

As you continue on the trail, you’ll soon come across some more hot spring pools between the villages of Thulo Jarlung and Pelma. So, you can see that you’ll have lots of chances to revive your spirit and recharge your body as you trek along the Guerilla Trek. You’ll see Maikot as well. Perched upon a ridge top at 2,300 m, it is a spectacular sight due to its setting.  Maikot also has a place in Maoist insurgency lore due to its being the staging point for a Maoist attack on Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpo district in 2000. Another special point of the Guerilla Trek is Sisne peak (5,849 m) which stands splendidly alone and looks somewhat like the famous Macchapucchre peak of Pokhara. Both are, by the way, still virgins, nobody’s yet climbed them.

The Guerilla Trek, as is obvious, is an interesting trek, one in which, if you take time to talk to locals on the way, especially over a cup of tea at some teashops, you will likely hear some really interesting tales of the insurgency years. Many could well be firsthand stories related by people who have been there and done that. Anyway, continue on the trail, and you’ll soon reach the lovely Syarpu Lake (1,305 m). Rest awhile on its banks and feast your eyes on the wild mountain scenery as your senses make sense of the overwhelming natural beauty of which you are a part now. Next on the trail is Radhijhula, one of the gateways to Dolpo district, a district which, it must be mentioned here, is famous primarily because Yarsagumba (a much-in-demand natural aphrodisiac) is to be found here on its craggy highlands. A police post in this small village was one of the first to be attacked by the Maoists (in Feb, 1996), heralding the start of their revolt.

Reflect on this as you carry on walking through the serene surroundings, and soon you’ll reach Rukumkot which has quite a few lakes, none more beautiful than Kamal Daha (Lotus Lake), also known as Rukmini Tal, that is filled with blooming lotuses in summer. As you take in such sights, and walk through the tranquil valleys, always keep in mind that many of these places were the scene of fierce fighting hardly a decade ago. For instance, the ridge overlooking the lake was where 38 police personnel were captured by the guerillas in 2001, as they were camping for the night. It was one of the insurgents’ bigger successes. Another scene of regular skirmishes was Thawang (1,975 m) which was strafed time and again by government helicopters due to its being an important Maoist stronghold. Gradually, you reach another place called Jaljala (in Rolpa) which is at a height of 3.090 meters, near to which is a ridge-top called Dharampani (3,527 m) that is adorned with a Maoist memorial. This is a fitting end-point to the trek, it must be said, the memorial reminding you of what the Guerilla Trek is all about.

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