The only constant, it is said, is change. In the last few years, Nepal, too, has undergone great change. A 250-year-old monarchy is no more. An army of Maoist insurgents who were at war for ten long years has made peace and won elections, and their leader has become the prime minister twice, including in the present time. One cannot predict the future, more drastic changes may occur, but it is unlikely that the Maoists will ever again go back to the jungle.
This fact makes the ‘Guerilla Trek’ all the more an adventure. You’ll be walking on trails used by the Maoist guerillas not long back when they were conducting an insurgent struggle against the government. This trek will also give an idea of why the communist ideology still works here, even if it the dawn of democracy had occurred a long time back. When on the ‘Guerilla Trek’, you’ll be walking through many villages and towns of far-western Nepal, an area that has been neglected for far too long in the development aspects. An area where infrastructure is woefully inadequate, and people are very poor for the most part. An area where the lure of communism still holds strong.
You will come across many indigenous tribes that have been downtrodden and poor for ages. The trail goes through the remote districts of Myagdi, Rukum, and Rolpa, centers of the Maoist ten-year insurgency (1996-2006), where their sway was firm during that decade. This history of not so long ago makes this region interesting, and a source of knowledge for the curious. It is not that the far-west is devoid of natural resources. It has plenty of lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests, caves, etc. But, as said before, due to negligence, the region is steeped in poverty and backwardness.
The starting point of the ‘Guerilla Trek’ begins in a small town called Beni, and travels along the boundary of another mountain town, Baglung. It then passes the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, one of the country’s three hunting reserves, which was in the news recently for having a dismal hunting season this past year, with barely half a dozen game being killed, thus incurring significant loss of royalty for the reserve.
The trek then takes you to Rukum and Rolpa, the strongholds of the Maoists during the insurgency, with the latter being their headquarters. While trekking on these trails, spend some time at teashops, and try to engage the locals in conversation. You might hear some pretty interesting stories; now that the Maoists have come into the national fold, people will not be afraid to relate what they have seen and experienced in the recent past. Be aware that if you were here during those days, you would have been viewed with strong suspicion, and people would certainly have avoided all loose talk. Tight-lipped was the name of the game then, let me assure you!
Here’s what a two-week-long ‘Guerilla Trek’ entails, as planned for by trekking agencies:
On day one, you’ll travel by bus from the capital to Beni, a ride of about nine hours. Day two will see you trekking some six hours to the village of Takam (1,665 m). Day three takes you to Lamsung (2,250 m), about six hours again. The next day, you walk through scenic landscape for seven hours or so to reach Gurjaghat (3,020 m). Remember that, in some places, you’ll be staying at homestays, while in some places, you may have to pitch up your tent. The homestays are an excellent opportunity to get up close with the local lifestyle.
On the fifth day, you walk for about five hours, before arriving at the famous Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve (2,860 m). Keep an eye out for the mountain goats and the bharials (blue sheep), as well as a variety of deer. If you are a birdwatcher, you’ll not be disappointed, either. Plenty of exotic birds around. The following morning, rise and shine, before starting the five-hour trek to Nisi Dhor, and then the next day, the seven-hour trek to Tallo Sera. All the while, you’ll be encountering the fascinating ecology all around you, and meeting different indigenous communities. The Himalayas, too, will not be far from you, with peaks like Gurjal Himal and the Dahualagiri range always in the backdrop.
The trails you are walking on were used extensively by the Maoist guerillas during their ten-year war, and this knowledge is sure to add some more excitement to your adventure. The eighth day sees you walking for about six hours from Tall Sera to Rujhikhola, and the ninth day you’ll again walk for a similar amount of time to reach Thabang. Now, you are really into deep Maoist territory. Just imagine, if you had been here during the insurgency, you would be coming across numerous heavily armed military personnel at checkpoints, and they would probably have stopped you from going any further. Too dangerous. Anyway, this is just imagination, in the first place, no one would have been foolhardy enough to go on such a trek.
Day ten, and now you will be walking for another five hours to one of the best known names of the insurgency, that is, Jaljale. In fact, rumor had it that ‘Jaljale’ was a secret password used by the Maoists during those years. Just mentioning that name in public anywhere in the country would have got you into trouble with the authorities. The next day’s trek is to the village of Jelbang, while day twelve takes you to Suliochaur, from where you take a thirteen-hour bus ride back to Kathmandu. Well, congratulate yourself on having been the few lucky ones to have experienced the famous ‘Guerilla Trek’!