Sawan Vaidya Bhattedanda – all natural and pristine Bhattedanda clearly defies my definition and expectation of remote. This village is a part of Lalitpur district and is located only a few kilometers south of the Ring road. Yet, life in Bhattedanda contrasts starkly to that of a city. The tranquil and simplicity of village life seem to be completely unperturbed. One obvious reason for this might be the fact that the city folks find it utterly difficult to get there. Gravel road can take you all the way to the headquarters of Bhattedanda. However, I would not recommend driving there at all, unless you are an experienced driver capable of backing up your car up to inches off the edge of a steep cliff, and also unless your vehicle is as sturdy as a Land Rover. Coming back to my point, ironically, the decrepit state of the road must have been instrumental in keeping the beauty and serenity of Bhattedanda intact. Start of our journey Hiking is rarely easy. It can be very taxing physically. Still, people continue to hike - even to extreme locations. Why is there such a masochistic tendency in people? Some of us were about to find out. At around 8:00 AM on Saturday, Minesh, Pramod, Nitish and I were frantically checking off the last minute items from our list of provisions for hiking and camping, when the rest of the team rendezvoused with us at Satdobato. We had bought hydrating food such as fresh oranges, cucumbers and carrots, as well as first aid supplies for minor cuts, headaches and diarrhea. Ram, the driver, greeted us with his friendly smile. As he hit the gas, Kapil and Manish were already starting to bicker playfully as usual - this time over the choice of music. Narendra and Roshan, probably pro hikers, seemed very relaxed. And once Dinesh began to sing and Pramod started to crack jokes, we became oblivious of the dusty and bumpy road; and in no time we reached Tika Bhairav. A little past 10, we stopped by a local snack shop at Tika Bhairav to fill up our bellies and also to ask for information regarding Bhattedanda. The owner of the shop patiently answered our questions, but seemed puzzled as to why we were going to walk all the way to Bhattedanda. His bewilderment indicated that we had a tough journey ahead of us. After a protein rich breakfast of eggs and garbanzo beans, we started to pack our gear. We carried a sleeping bag and a mat each, four tents, flash lights and other camping paraphernalia. We commenced our journey with an estimate to reach Bhattedanda in about three hours. Enroute to Bhattedanda As we walked uphill away from the main road and past wheat and paddy fields, the concrete flat roofed architecture quickly faded away. Buildings made of light or local materials such as CGI sheets, thatch, mud and stone, plastered in red mud appeared, and then became common. Clear water spouted from strangest places. As the cell phones signals died, greenery kicked in. Bent double with the weight of our backpacks, some of us decided to sit down. During our brief picnic, the photographers, Minesh and Pramod, frolicked around the area with their cameras, the singers sang folk songs, and the comedians made everyone laugh. Some kept their silence staring at the landscape and delving into deep thought. A farmer walked past us carrying a wooden plow that could’ve easily weighed three times our burden. Encouraged by this sight, and replenished by juicy oranges and spicy Wai Wai, we walked much faster than before. Bhattedanda, where are you? We had walked uphill and downhill for at least a couple of hours, but there was still no sign of Bhattedanda. The locals gave varied answers as to how much longer it would take for us to get there - some said two more hours while others even said four. Dinesh and I were usually the slowest, mainly owing to our slippery shoes. At one point, he stepped on a pile of dried leaves and fell nearly a meter down, slightly bruising his hand. Now, on every step downhill, we used extreme caution. Our fear slowed us down more than our shoes did. Only after Minesh, came up with the idea of using a walking stick did we regain our confidence. We picked up speed, but compared to others we were still the slowest throughout our journey. Joy Ride We may have walked for another hour, when a pickup truck appeared from nowhere. Even though we were much enthused to continue hiking, riding on the back of a truck and cheating the hike seemed tempting. The truck ride was the craziest thing I did in a long time. The winding bumpy road and the risk of falling down the mountain had no effect on the speed. The truck picked up piles of dust to most of our disgust and irritation. Despite the harm the dust could do to our cameras, we were able to capture several blurry shots. Only about ten minutes on the dust blower, and we had had enough. We decided that hiking was way more pleasurable, and we got off. Then to our amazement and gratitude, we had already reached Bhattedanda. Bhattedanda – Here we come! Reaching Bhattedanda wasn’t the accomplishment of our mission. We needed to find a flat space suitable to set camp. After exploring around for a while, one native informed us that the nearest place would be another 2 hours away on the playground of a school. The tents and sleeping bags that we carried must’ve looked strange to them as they kept asking us what they were for. “Are these equipments for research or some kind of study?” asked a native; “Are you guys going to conduct measurements at the river?” asked another. The concept of hiking for fun sounded strange to almost every one we met there. We understood at this point that not many people come to Bhattedanda for recreational hiking or camping. It is certainly a shame that so much remained unappreciated. I asked myself whether Bhattedanda would still remain beautiful if more tourists started coming here. Most certainly it wouldn’t. Hike – part 2 It was only about 2 o’ clock. We had a lot of time before sunset, and we were hungry to see more. Thus began the second part of our hike. The school was located on top of the Bhattedanda hill itself. The hill was dwarfed compared to all the other hills around it - so it looked easy. On the contrary, the road uphill was the steepest we had seen so far. The trail looked like it had been paved with stone once, but this day it laid in decrepitude. The vegetation was different here. There were more bushes, fewer trees, and some wild flowers. The hill was eerily quiet; we could hear the river flowing way below us. The experienced hikers who were leading the way had tough demands. Despite the availability of lesser sloped and easier trails, they led the team up near-vertical and harder trail on several occasions. Dinesh and I fell so behind that at one point we found ourselves lost for almost half an hour until we were rescued by Nitish and Pramod. We became nauseous of altitude and begged for the hike to end altogether. I missed the previous day, when I was sleeping in my comfortable bed at home and my belly grumbled for warm rice. We kept walking uphill at snail pace and miraculously we finally arrived atop Bhattedanda hill. The rest of the team had found a cozy hut with food and beer and were singing to the beats of an off tuned Madal. They were having the time of their lives. I threw aside my backpack and joined. Delicious Sel Roti, hot tea, Chowmein and dried meat – absolute bliss. I had just begun to relax when the team decided to head out again. Dinesh gave me the are-they-serious look. This time we were going down the other side of the Bhattedanda hill to the river basin. The locals claimed that there was plenty of flat space there. Thankfully, Nitish exchanged his lighter bag with mine this time. Hiking downhill is really easy; you just have to put your potential energy to make yourself fall at a controlled rate. At around 7:00 PM, Dinesh and I reached the base only about half an hour after the rest of the team, and having slipped only six times altogether – much progress made. Campfire A local villager had property next to the river, which he let us use to set camp. His land was like an island in the middle of a swamp, created by rivulets of Khulan River. The villager was wearing Dhaka topi, Daura and Surwal (traditional Nepali attire). He was very excited to help us - his sons and their friends more so. They didn’t leave us until we had completely finished setting up camp and darkness had taken over. Their most important contribution was bringing us loads of wood for lighting up the fire. Building the tent was the best part of camping. It was like putting together pieces of a puzzle. The engineers including me were the most excited. Magically, one by one, the tents propped up like they had always been there. I looked at the one I built with self-admiration. Minesh turned out to be the chef for the night. Diligently, he strung the pieces of chicken on the skewers and aligned them above the fire with expert precision. As charcoal formed, he buried the potatoes under them. The villager and his son had joined us around the bonfire and brought us freshly picked garlic. They also brought us thick delicious local chyang (a type of home brewed beer). Merriment began with the popular singing game, Antakshari. Kapil’s team played versus Manish’s team. Roshan and Pramod turned out to be experts in the game. Narendra and Dinesh brought their sleeping bags and started star gazing. The barbecued chicken, with side of fire baked potatoes and roasted garlic was served. Somehow even the burnt bitter flavored pieces were devoured completely. Everybody’s favorites were the potatoes. Our body did not let us enjoy as much as we wanted. By a little past midnight the fire had extinguished and the team was sound asleep. Good bye Bhattedanda We overslept by nearly an hour. Our bodies ached in the morning more than the night before. Half the night, the sound of Jhakris (people practicing witchcraft), who were conducting some ritual, kept us awake. Nonetheless, we dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags. The villager had told us to get ready to go by 7:00 AM. At this time, the milk truck arrived every day and allowed passengers, along with the collected milk, a ride to the city. We ate some tuna and bread that had turned into crumbs, for breakfast. Nostalgia had already begun as soon as we dismantled the first tent. Soon all of them were gone like they had never existed. On the other side of the suspension bridge, the milk truck luckily awaited us. It didn’t look like there was any space for us at all. After we had finally squeezed ourselves on top of the back of the truck, we already wanted to get off it. This truck ride was way scarier than the one on the day before. At one point our truck drove across a culvert bridge with a hole, large enough for a motorbike to fall through. The truck tilted nearly 30 degrees at some places giving me a clear view of a possible abysmal end. Were we riding on our deathbed and would we be able to make it back? We weren’t sure, but we had no alternative than to get back to our busy city lives on time. We thus bid adieu to beautiful Bhattedanda until next time!