I was recently in Nepal for, I believe, my eighth visit. This is just a country I cannot stop loving! I am familiar with most of the major, popular treks, and have either done them or seen lots of pictures. But this time my Nepalese friends suggested something different. They told me about Rara Lake, Nepal’s largest freshwater lake located in the Mugu district, in the far west region of Nepal. I saw some pictures and was absolutely astounded by the beauty of this lake.
At an altitude of just under 3000 meters, and the option of non-difficult trip involved with bus, plane, and jeep rides, I agreed. And it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in Nepal, and Nepal is full of beautiful places! The first day was a short plane ride, maybe one hour or so, from the Kathmandu airport to Nepalgunj. The plane was tiny but the hospitality was better than on most US domestic flights. We were given water, candies, snacks and a newspaper.
When we landed there were the inevitable taxi drivers competing for our business. We chose one finally after negotiating the cost and destination. That night we stayed in a lovely hotel in town, for probably twenty US dollars. But it was worth it, there was a casino, a gorgeous swimming pool and very nice restaurant. Yes, it was a splurge, but since we anticipated a rugged future, we did it. Hotel Sneha was the name!
The next morning we were up early to meet our jeep and driver, our transportation for the next couple of days. He was quiet, did not talk much, but turned out to be a fantastic driver. We left Nepalgunj on a real road and passed through the Surkhet and Dailekh districts. The road became progressively less of a road and more of a wide, rocky trail. That night we reached the village of Kalikot around 7 pm. We found a hotel, had a good dinner of dal bhat, drank beer and fell asleep.
The next morning our driver woke up and ready to head out with the jeep for another long day of driving. And it was! Breakfast came somewhere along the way, I don’t remember when, but I do remember thinking how different my Nepalese companions where from Americans who have to have coffee and food first thing in the morning without which functioning was not possible. We drove then to Nagma, a rather large town. There we bought some supplies, basic necessities for camping at Rara Lake, plastic ground covers, canned food, and whiskey. We knew there was one hotel there but were not sure of what was available. After Nagma we continued towards Jumla, a very large town in western Nepal. When the “road” to Jumla continued, we kept to the left along this terrifying, edge gripping Karnali highway, which, I must say, in spite of the fears I constantly entertained of spilling over the steep rocky cliffs, had stunning vistas. And then my friends told me that the off road starts here. I could have described most of the road so far as that! So trying not to look over the edges and confident in our drivers amazing skills of maneuvering this rocky, muddy often water filled road, I sat back and took in the Nepal landscape.
It was the raw beauty of unspoiled hills, smoky villages, happy kids running naked in rivers, forests that never end, and just the absence of commercial stimuli that we are exposed to constantly in our country. But I must add though, with amazement, it seems that WiFi is available in even the most remote places! One small village we passed was remarkable for its bridge, or series of bridges that spanned a small river. One in particular was wooden, ingeniously crafted in its architecture alone, but along the walkway carved with small statues, a soldier, a woman, a priest I think. It was a piece of art in the middle of nowhere. We stopped in Gothjiula for a quick lunch then continued on to the lake. We knew it was a lot of off road driving to cover, and we still had maybe six more hours to go. We took the direct road, trail, to the lake and suddenly came upon a landslide.
Not able to drive, we sent the jeep driver to Gamgadhi, the district headquarters of the Mugu district. We loaded all our gear onto our backs and decided to walk the next two or three hours to the lake. But it was late, I was tired, the gear was heavy. I am sure my Nepalese friends could have done the short trek without problems, but I said no, its getting dark, any excuse I could think of. There were few houses in far sight, no guesthouse, but there was a small shed in a flat cow pasture. Across the trail were a few men tending to horses in a huge pasture. Above the pasture the hills went on and on. We approached them and asked if we could pitch our tents by their shed for the night, and the answer was of course yes. No dinner, a cold night, but Nepalese hospitality as always warming my heart.
In the morning we woke and walked to the lake, accompanied by some of the shepherd boys who also offered me a horse to ride. Just because they were going that way. The walk to the lake was enchanting. Pine and spruce trees, gentle streams, soft undergrowth. And then the lake suddenly in view, blue crystal clear, pristine, quiet, peaceful. Hills surrounding it and snow mountains far in the distance. I think I may have dreamed of a place like this but never saw it until now. We walked forty minutes or so to the hotel. There were horses everywhere, grazing, running around, and children jumping on them from time to time for wild bareback rides. We set up tents in front of the hotel and facing this dream of a lake. The hotel manager was kind to lend us blankets. We ate, rested, walked, and found after a few hours that really, you don’t have to do anything here. Just stop, be still and be in this moment and nowhere else.
I have to say, as a Westerner, it took me until the next day to be able to accomplish this. I can’t explain what it was about Rara Lake, but I felt more peace here than I have felt anywhere, in years. I don’t know when I will ever physically go back, but in my heart I will never leave!
We set up a hammock the next day in a cool grove of trees. We learned to be as still as the lake, for a brief moment. But paradise can’t last forever, there is life and schedules and timetables and duties and all the things that distract us.
On the following day after two nights, we had to leave. The airport was in Talcha, a three-hour walk, and flights were limited if even there were any. We left this piece of heaven, flew to Nepalgunj and back to Kathmandu the same day. If you have limited time in Nepal you can do this trip in six or seven days. But if you do decide to go, do yourself a favor, take the time and linger at Rara. It will be good for your soul.