|Route||Driving (Kathmandu >> Mane Bhanjhang >> Halesi)|
|Date||January 28 – Jan 30, 2017|
|Team supervisors||Prajwal Rajbhandari, Sulav Shrestha|
|Participants||Prajwal Rajbhandari, Sagar Atri, Sulav Shrestha, Eliza Dhungel, Archana Yadav, Binita Basukala, Dikshyant Gautam|
|Report by||Eliza Dhungel|
|Photos by||Sulav Shrestha|
If travelling was free you would never see me again. Don’t we all adore this quote for it expression of love for travelling. As much as we love travelling, we love our work which provides us opportunities to travel. Okhaldhunga tour was one of them.
On 28 January we headed to Okhaldhunga with the plan and preparation to conduct training on conversion of Jatropa oil to biodiesel. Leaving the crowed city behind but collecting the team members, our sumo ascended the small hill of Sangha, then a bigger hill at Dhulikhel. As always I had thought to keep a log of every details of my travel and as always it was not long before I lost the track of hills we ascend, rivers we followed and bridges we crossed, all being captivated by the scenic beauty of northern mountains.
When we took the first break it was already 5pm but less than a quarter of estimated 200 km journey was covered. We were tempted to linger a little longer besides the stretch of the Himalayas for some peace and more shots of photos but we grabbed some food and headed to Okhaldhunga. The drive was smooth with occasional chitchat interpolating the music from Bluetooth speaker of Prajwal dai. After three more hours of driving, we took another break. A vast space of darkness extended around us except for the millions of stars shinning above us. Away from the digital light, it was the first experience of being under open sky after a long time for most of us. We relished the shimmering lights from the disc of Milky Way galaxy and learned to identify the “Saptarishi” constellation and the planet Mars.
Though most of us agreed that it would be a good place for camping, we had the destination to reach. So, we moved forward to Okhaldhunga penetrating the dark. The rugged bumpy roads, dim light from the sumo and the occasional bushes and rivulets on the way made me think that a night guided tour in Natural Park would feel the similar. We were already lethargic and missing warm food and bed at home when we reached Mane bhanjhang. Tek dai welcomed us and arranged for our dinner and lodging. We enjoyed the dinner offered to us and some of us were lucky to enjoy the home stay at him home too.
We realized that we had reached a beautiful village only the next morning. The air was fresh and the sky was so blue. I know even a child knows sky is blue but with the population and pollution increasing in the city, only in a serene place like Mane bhanjhang one get to experience this clear blue sky. Tek dai had already summoned the locals to attain the training. So, after galloping a cup of tea each and pampering the cattle at the house, not to forget taking some shoots of photos too, we walked a few yards to a football ground where we waited for the locals to complete their household chores before they could arrive for the training and what we did besides preparing for the training is of course, take some more photos, this time in the famous #DAB pose and posing as if for the photo shoot of rock cover album over a deserted tractor.
After a while people started to gather for the training. The training program was introduced by Sulav dai and conducted by Sagar dai. He briefed about the procedure of converting Jatropa oil into biodiesel to the eager locals who were searching for the motivation to protect their Jatropa plants and to find economic value of the Jatropa oil. Sulav dai collected various information about the cultivation of Jatropa in Mane bhanjhang through interaction and discussion. After completing the training, we toured a nearby mill where Jatropa seeds are processed to produce oil during peak season and then we returned to the lodge. We had our lunch in the lodge and went to Jayram Ghat to explore Jatropa plantation. It was at an hour drive from Mane bhanjhang over the bank of Dudhkhosi river. The farmer had planted Jatropa plant in wide acres of land. The plants were well branched and fully grown but seemed needing a little more protection from wild Banmara plant. We collected some more information about the maintenance of the plantation and then decided to spend some time on the river bank before we move towards our unplanned or rather spontaneously planned destination, “The Halesi Shiva Temple”.
We started the journey to Halesi through the dusty, serpentine roads which spiraled gradually over a hill and then another and then another. After three hours of driving we reached Halesi, Khotang. It was a small town village at the base of yet another hill. We enjoyed some khaja and then went to hotel to freshen up. Our driver was a very amiable person and as promised he guided us around the Halesi temple. We were mystified by seeing the devotion of people, some chanting hymns and prayers, others lighting the candles and offering puja. As offering puja is considered most sacred in the morning, we kept the task for the next day. In the evening we had a small party with the theme of revealing each other’s secrets ;-). We had a lot of fun though we were able to know about few secrets of only two of the members which I am not going to reveal here because what happens in “Okhaldhunga / Khotang stays in Okhaldhunga / Khotang.
We woke up early the next morning and after being clean and fresh, we went to the Halesi temple. On the way we bought some puja from the local vendor. The shrine of Lord Shiva was deep inside the cave in which stairs were made for the comfort of pilgrims. Along with the idol of Lord Shiva there were images of Lord Ganesh, Parvati Mata and more. The most commendable part of the cave was the tunnels and fissures which were named after various stages of life from conception and birth to sin, dharma and heaven. People would pass through these tunnels as a symbolic representation of their transcendence. Dikshyant, Sagar dai and Sulav dai tried one of the tunnel and succeeded too. There was a rear entrance to the cave as well. Upon entering the cave from rear entrance one could see a natural cavity on the wall which when blow correctly produced the sound of Shankha, a conch shell of religious and ritual importance in Hinduism and Buddhism. Inside the cave was the heaven passage which is considered the most difficult and holiest of all the passages. Dikshyant who dared to enter the passage was successful to come out of it. After spending some more time in the holy ambience, we returned to hotel, had our breakfast and then returned to Kathmandu with memories to cherish for life time.