|Sunset, as seen from Mangmalung.|
It would turn out to be a lazy day. I was mumbling on my bed as the clock stroke 4:30 am. However, I had to catch an early night bus from Itahari that would take just one hour to reach Damak – our starting point of the unplanned trek. Generally, the local buses take up to two hours to cross the same distance.
It was raining cats and dogs and I unwillingly packed my laptop, diary, pen, toiletries and sets of clothes for the week-long trip. As I waded through the water-clogged streets, the street dogs barked at me and hadn’t it been so early in the morning, I would have howled back! Funny, isn’t it?
Finally, I jumped on a bus heading to Kakarvitta. Since it was coming from Kathmandu, all seats were packed and I had to stand while everybody was sleeping without any worries. And exactly in an hour I was at Damak!
I met with my friend and trek companion Dilli Rai at the bus stop and went to his house to have some breakfast before starting the journey. His sister-in-law fed us well and handed us a comb of bananas and a kilo apples which we tucked inside our bags.
Since it started raining again, we thought of buying raincoats. However, while buying biscuits and other tidbits in a grocery, the shopkeeper suggested an ingenious idea. We bought one and half metres of plastic sheets and he helped us tie them around our bodies as makeshift raincoats. It would, at least, save our laptops and cameras!
Then it was the turn to buy shoes and sandals. Since it was raining and we would need to walk through flooded rivers, I bought a sturdy pair of sandals and my friend bought a pair of Goldstar shoes for the stretch of trek following the crossing of the infamous river on the way.
|Beldangi Refugee Camp|
From Damak to Beldangi, the Bhutanese refugee camp, was the easiest part of the journey since we rode a city safari, a battery powered tuktuk. From there we started on foot and walked the whole day braving the rain, landslides and flash floods on the way. It took us an hour to reach Chapeti where we crossed the Ratuwa Khola.
|A wild flower, clicked on the way to Chapeti.|
After three hours of continuous walk in the incessant rain we arrived at an eatery in Singphere run by a Limbu lady from Kurumba. She offered us hot coffee and noodles soup and while parting refusedto take the payment. The kind gesture is rare in the cities these days, however, it is still common in rural areas. The Limbu women treat visitors from their maternal place as special guests and my trek mate hails from the same place as the lady’s maternal house.
|The river and the gorge|
We then passed through gorges, with hills on both sides covered with moss and water dropping from the top. It felt like some rain forest adventure. After crossing the same river more than hundred times, we started climbing a hillock. Trekking uphill for almost an hour we reached Larumba and a scenic landscape was before our eyes. Larumba is dominantly inhabited by the Limbus and the area is famous for its black gram, called 'mas' in Nepali.
|Scenic view of Larumba|
Then we came across a fresh landslide on the way. The mud and stones were still flowing down with the landslide. We were afraid of the sight but when we saw two girls crossing the section, we followed them. They were busy washing their feet in a stream after the crossing the section but asked us where we were headed to. We said, "Panchami." "Oh, it's still five hours away," they said.
The clock stroke seven in the evening when we reached Banjho. Only few minutes ago I had fallen asleep near a graveyard and woke up only when my friend called me from uphill. I dragged myself up to the main road. But I could not walk further. It had been 10 hours and we had stopped only at some places for few minutes each. We decided to ask for shelter and the house owners kindly offered us free food and free stay. It was good decision that we stayed – it rained cats and dogs just after we laid down on our beds!
|A traditional house on the way to Panchami|
Next morning, we started early and passed through traditional houses, small tea-shops and community forests. On the way we came across fields of amriso. Ilam district in Eastern Nepal is famous for five 'As' -- aduwa (ginger), alainchi (cardamom), amriso (broom grass), aaloo (potato), and akbare (hot chilli).
Finally, after four hours’ walk we were at Chitre, a small bazaar on the way to Panchami. We talked with local leaders who would accompany us to Mangmalung the next day. We stayed at Panchami bazaar which was again an hour’s walk from Chitre. It was a stop-over for people travelling to Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan in the earlier days.
|Together with local leaders from Mangmalung|
Next day, along with the local leaders and the main priest of Mangmalung religious site, we headed to explore the area. This religious site spreading over 45 hectares comprises forest, caves and huge stones of different shapes and forms. ‘Mangma’ means a lady shaman and ‘lung’ means a stone in Rai and Limbu languages. According to the caretaker priest Yahanchang Bhavendra Mampahang Rai, Guru Jyotinanda discovered, excavated and identified the huge stones scattered here and there throughout the forest. Famed yogis and gurus like Falgunanda, Atmananda Lingden among others meditated in the caves sprawling around in the forest.
|Guru Bhavendra Rai|
“The area was a dense forest and travellers had to pass through it on their journey to Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan,” said Kiran Rai, a local leader from Chitre. “According to legends, there lived a huge serpentine ghost in a pond and it used to devour the travellers, cattle and the local people frequenting the area.”
|The stone with seven cracks|
To get rid of the ghost, the locals called a ‘bijuwani’, a lady shaman who used a brass plate to foretell the existence of the ghost and while doing so, the stone nearby got seven cracks. She was finally able to kill the serpentine ghost which slithered down a hole to the current Ratuwa Khola before dying. People still believe the river got its name after it turned red from the blood of the serpent. And Mangmalung got its name after this incident!
|The pond where the serpent lived|
It took us almost a day inside the forest to visit each of the stone of different shape and form. Guru Bhavendra Rai was generous to talk about the importance of each stone relating to the incidents mentioned in Hindu scriptures. The most mysterious among them is a huge rock balanced on another rock which moves easily even if you pressing its tip with your small finger. I tried it and it started moving up and down. It has been there since many years and nobody actually knows how it is balanced in such a way. People, in the past, tried to move this rock to another place but none were successful in doing so.
|Mysterious rock that can be easily moved by the tip of your small finger|
|A rock at Mangmalung|
|A rock at Mangmalung|
We also ventured into two caves. At places we had to crawl like crabs and it was dark throughout with only small openings for light and air. However, one needs to be aware of bats and snakes in these caves. Since there are numerous rocks bearing interesting structures resembling animals, snakes, birds, gods and goddesses, you’ll need a local guide to learn more about the structures and the area.
|Mangmalung Tea Estate|
In the evening we went to Mangmalung Tea Estate. The tea gardens offer a spectacular sight and it’s different from other tea gardens in Ilam. And if you stay till the sun sets, you’ll be able to see the breathtaking view!
So when are you planning your trip to Mangmalung?
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