The Arniko Highway is one road that has seen a lot of trekkers making use of its smooth asphalt surface to reach starting points for many of trek to areas north of Kathmandu. One trek that also starts on this road is a bit different from most others—it’s the one to Kalinchowk. It’s not due to any special reason except that it’s quite isolated and you have to walk through dense forests to reach there, which means that there are chances of you being robbed on the way. Or, at least that’s what knowledgeable old folks are likely to warn you about if you say you’re going to Kalinchowk. As mentioned already, you first take a five-hour drive down the Arniko Highway to reach the town of Charikot, some 133 km northeast of the capital, at an elevation of 1,733 meters. The trek to Kalinchowk from here is a challenging one as you’ll be climbing up to an elevation of 3, 782 meters. Quite a climb, wouldn’t you say? However, you will surely enjoy it, not only because of the exercise but also because you’ll have the opportunity to see some splendid landscapes. The trail goes through millet and mustard terraced fields and you’ll come across groves of bamboo and pine trees all along the way. Some distance away from Charikot, if you look back towards the south you’ll get a fantastic view of the Tama Koshi River far below, while towards the northeast are the majestic Himalayan peaks, Gauri Shanker (7,134 m) being particularly impressive. Soon, you will arrive at a small settlement called Chothang (or, Hotel Danda as it’s also known as). Around here, you will notice the presence of several stone memorials with inscriptions in the Tibetan language. You’ll also see a number of chortens (stupas) similarly inscribed, only they are in Devanagri (Nepali) script. Ask around, and some local or the other will tell you that these are memorials for long-departed souls and that it’s a common enough practice among the people of the area, mostly Tamangs, Lamas, Magars, and Sherpas.
Kuri village @ Kalinchowk.Photo by Manoj Shrestha
As you walk on higher and higher, you will notice a definite change in the geography. The higher the altitude, the denser the pine and rhododendron forests. You walk for some time through the thick forests, and all around you, you’ll see tall pine trees almost blocking out the light. Yes, this is the place where the forests are indeed dark and deep, as the poets say. By and by, no robbers having accosted you, you suddenly come out into a picturesque clearing. There’s a pool of moss-covered water here called Simpani that’s shaped somewhat like a heart. This, and the tall pine trees, combine to create quite a scene; take a breather so as to enjoy this bounty of nature. However, walk on you must, if you are to reach your destination that very day. Your next stop will be at a place called Deurali (2,350 m) some half an hour later, where there are some teashops serving piping hot tea, which you can really do with since the weather up here is certainly chilly. There’s a fork in the trail up ahead—some tracks meandering down to the small villages of Chhyamamwati, Makaibari, and Shuspa. While the former two are inhabited mostly by Sherpas, Magars, and Tamangs, the last is inhabited by an ethnic group called Thami. You walk on ahead on the main trail, and after two hours or so you’ll be at a small settlement called Thangsa. Carry on walking for another half an hour and you’ll reach an interesting place called Gairidanda. It should be mentioned here that most places with the suffix ‘danda’ (ridge) are naturally interesting because they are vantage points from where you can expect to have great views of the surroundings. This particular ‘danda’ is at a height of 2,540 m and weather permitting, you can have spectacular views of the northeastern Himalayan range. Please note the words, ‘weather permitting’, because more often than not, there’s banks of cloud all over the place at these altitudes. Nevertheless, chances are high that you’ll at least see chauris (crossbreeds of cows and yaks) grazing on the grass slopes. This aside, Gairidanda is the place where you will be better-off having a substantial meal and a longish rest, because for the next four hours or so you’ll not be coming across any settlements at all. Try the grilled yak meat while you’re at it, and finish off with tea that’s made with chauri milk.
Sunrise over the Himalaya. Photo by Ramesh Shrestha/Flickr
Having had your fill, and having rested enough, you should be ready for the challenge of your life. The route now becomes a pretty grueling one, straight uphill through forests thick with pine, oak, and hemlock trees as well as rhododendron, the national flower. As you continue climbing, you begin to think that the climb has no end; it’s a climb that takes about four hours. You are well-advised to rest now and then because, besides the obvious (i.e., giving your tired limbs a respite), it will also allow you to acclimatize yourself to the high altitude. Altitude sickness is a real risk and not to be taken lightly. Finally, after some four hours of hiking uphill, you will be mighty relieved when the trail levels off at last at a place where there’s a stone statue of a deity beside the track. From here, the route takes a descending path to a small valley. Up ahead is a settlement called Kuri Kharka (3,200 m). You spend the night here in one of the dozen or so shacks that pass for guest houses. After a good night’s sleep, early next day, you start off again. In the morning, you will probably view the towering mountains around you in a different light. They make for a magnificent sight, no doubt about it and will surely fill you with new enthusiasm. You’ll need it. The trail, running across the mountain face, goes straight up. The pace is slow and the breathing becomes pretty labored. When at last you reach the ridge, you will of course want to thank the gods that you’ve done it. And, who better to thank than the goddess mountain, Gauri Shanker, which in all its majesty, looms large among the other Himalayan peaks on the horizon. Melungtse Himal (7,023 m) stands sentinel beside her. The final 200 meters of the climb to the Kalinchowk Temple is a fitting end to such a challenging trek and a matter of some two hours. You have to walk on a narrow track with the mountain on one side and a deep gully on the other that’s pretty scary to look at. You have to cross an iron stairway across the two sides of a chasm separating the two crests and climb up to the top. Here you’ll be surprised to see that the flat top hardly measures 200 square feet all around. This is where you will find the Kalinchowk Temple dedicated to Goddess Kalinchowk, also known as Bhagwati. There are a lot of tridents around the site, and a small pit with a natural spring that is representative of the goddess, besides idols of Lord Ganesh and Kali Bhagwati. And, while the temple may be an object of great interest to you, one can assume that your eyes will be more drawn towards the sight of the magnificent Himalayan peaks stretched out in a panorama before you. You will surely want to spend a considerable time on this high vantage point to have a filling look at these towering snow-clad peaks, a sight that will remain with you for the rest of your life.
Title Photo by Dhilung Kirat/Flickr
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