There and back again, barelyNot too long ago, visiting Rara Lake meant taking on a daunting 15 day trek through arduous and treacherous terrain. It was only after Talcha Airport came into operation that the trip became relatively easier, if expensive. Then in 2006, when the Karnali Highway opened up, the wonders of Rara became accessible by road as well, although the highway—peppered with narrow lanes and vertigo-inducing drops—did not lend itself to easy commutes.
Text and Photos: Kiran Panday
Not too long ago, visiting Rara Lake meant taking on a daunting 15 day trek through arduous and treacherous terrain. It was only after Talcha Airport came into operation that the trip became relatively easier, if expensive. Then in 2006, when the Karnali Highway opened up, the wonders of Rara became accessible by road as well, although the highway—peppered with narrow lanes and vertigo-inducing drops—did not lend itself to easy commutes.
In May, in line with the spirit of Ghumphir Barsa 2073, NASA Bullet Club along with the Trooper Club of Pokhara decided to take on what no one had done before: Riding to the illusive lake on 26 Bullet bikes. Having had done several biking tours to promote biking tourism in Nepal, including one to Mustang in 2014, riders were confident about pulling off this trip without a glitch as well. That optimism, however, would be short lived.
Challenging right from the get go, we left Surkhet amid a savage downpour. Once the black-topped highway trailed off at Nagma, Kalikot, the 93 km of off-road trails to Rara were treacherous—with frequent landslides leaving the highway muddy and hard to navigate. Negotiating hairpin turns and precipitous drops, we were never able to push the throttle beyond 40 km/hr.
We had aimed to reach Sinja Valley in Jumla, but we were only able to reach Dahi Khola in Kalikot, where we were stuck in a landslide, stranded for four hours. The locals warned that if the downpour continued there would be more landslips along the way. This prompted us to chance crossing the landslide, carrying the bikes physically. We ended up having to stop overnight at Manma in Kalikot—three hours short of our destination. It was well after midnight that we called it a day and got some sleep, soothing our tired bodies and our calloused hands.
The next day, at Sinja, we distributed educational material at a local school. The locals were so excited and welcoming upon seeing us, we felt compelled to stop over for a night. We would reach Rara only the next day.
“People who spend millions to travel abroad are not aware about exotic destinations like Rara that is right here in our backyard. Once you visit Rara, you will be tempted to return time and again,” said Mohan Biswakarma, Chief Conservation Officer of Rara National Park, “Locals need to work towards its development so that it can emerge as a top tourism destination, not just in Nepal but all over the world.”
Although monsoon wasn’t the best season for us to take on the landslide-prone remote trail, we had it set on our minds on getting to Rara—one way or the other. And regardless of how arduous the road was, once we saw Rara, in all its serenity, all the stress disappeared (even without a spa treatment, someone commented).
Yet all the while, in the back of our minds, we were all mortified about how we would ever make it back. The terrain would not change nor would the incessant rain let up and yet, all that goes up must eventually come down, one way or another.