After five weeks in Kathmandu, I had yet to see the Himalayas. It was time to leave town. In true Murphy's Law style, as the local bus picked its way out of the city, the mountains were out: white, pristine, monumental, spectacular. Tantalising glimpses of these were visible between buildings as the bus wound its way through he city.
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The journey along the Privthy Highway to the lower cableway station for Manakamana, took three and half hours. Standing in the queue, another three hours. The trip up by cable-car about ten minutes.
Manakamana village is a thousand metres above, and 2.8km away from the Highway. Making my way up through the village I locate Hotel Sunrise, and booked a room. It was still only early afternoon, so I headed out again, on and up through the village to the Temple area. Here, hundreds of people packed the perimeter, either waiting to file through the Temple, or having been through watch others milling around. This is where wishes are granted. According to Hindu belief. Most pilgrims are young couples wishing their first born to be a boy. In order for this wish to be sealed, the sacrifice of an animal needs to be made, so this is no place to be a goat, or hen. Going by the hundreds of pigeons, these seem immune to the risk of being sacrificed The ritual killing takes place in the square, and the meat then goes to local restaurants. Blood and profit is the order of the day. The air is thick with the smoke from a constantly burning fire, consuming the other offerings brought here – coconuts, incense, candles, a variety of food.
I walked through the square, up a long flight of steps, At the top, a gravel track passes on and out through houses, then begins its descent. Lonely Planet is vague about the route up to Lakhan Thapa, the sacred cave from which there are uninterrupted views of the mountains. A pretty teenage girl greets me, and I can hear her English is better than average, so I ask about this cave. She has not heard of it. We separate, but she has not gone far when she calls back me. Checking with older local people she points in the direction I am going, and confirms the cave is up there. Somewhere. A little further on two teenage boys are seated together. By this time the road drops down, and forks. When asked, they point to the hill rising from between the fork, to the top, and say ‘Steep’ , ‘Far’! Their English is not so good as the girls', but I get the impression that for them, you have to be a crazy Englishman to want to go up there, The day is too far on, so I return to the Hotel, to sleep on the problem of what to do next.
By five thirty the following morning, I was still unsure. I don’t know the path, or the distance, and I am not sure I have the energy, neither can anyone be sure of cloud covering the views, But, over coffee I decided to go for it, so before sunrise, by six, I was on my way, taking ¾ litre of water, trail mix, and two Mars bars.
As I walked the same road as the previous afternoon, a friendly Policeman armed with an automatic rifle greets me from his Police post at the side of the path. His English was good, so asked the usual questions. I told him where I wanted to go, and he thought the trip doable although he wasn’t sure of the path either. When I reached the bottom of the hill, at the fork, another pretty little girl of about twelve was standing there, and smiled when I greeted her. I said ‘Lakhan Thapa?’ and she pointed at the path she herself had just descended. Reassured I began the climb. The first few metres of steps were badly broken by erosion, but these improved. Steps firmly built of hand cut rock, and these went almost all the way, interspersed by a gravel path threading through a scattered community. People responded to my Namaste greetings, and generally smiled.
It was steep going, and although I don’t know the altitude, this would account for some of the breathlessness. As I rested at one point, a little girl comes from her house, just below, and sits on her swing to eat, from a tin plate, what looked like muesli. At a junction of two paths, I was not certain which of these to take, and although there were houses nearby, nobody was around. A good excuse to rest. Soon someone comes along, and points to me the correct path. I reach a Temple, which does not receive a mention in Lonely Planet. A lady washing dishes tells me the name, but since it isn’t my destination I move onwards and ever upwards.
By now the sun is up, the valleys are filled with the mist from the night, a cloudy scene-scape lit by a low angle light. Black peaks poke through the whiteness, awesome beauty abounds. The Himalayas are still ahead of me beyond the ridge, but this backward scene is good. At a rest point a young couple from the Netherlands catch up, later I meet two local men, otherwise the place is deserted.
Eventually I reach the top, and locate the cave. Bells and prayer flags, a shrine or two, complete the facilities. But it is the distant white capped mountains set in the blue of the sky that almost moves me to tears. I take this all in, but as with many locations, the window of opportunity for photographs is open for only a short time, Within half an hour cloud banks start to move in, threatening the views. I set off back down the way I had come, to Manakamana. Earlier, when passing through the Temple square before sunrise, there were at least two hundred people in the queue, now on my return were hundreds more.
Reaching Sunrise Hotel at ten, the hike had taken four hours, and I wonder why I had hesitated over making it.