Our long cherished journey to Dolpo kick started as the Yeti Air plane bound for Juphal landed on the airstrip of Juphal. As we got off the aircraft, we felt as if we were at some faraway settlement.
On the trail, we came across many places - Dunai, Bhedigoth, Kagsi, Raktang, Sangta and Chhepkaka - before reaching Lake Phoksundo. The trek that had taken uphill from the confluence of Sulighat and Bheri River an hour away from Dunai continued till the Tapiricha School of Saijal, situated at the foothill of the lake. Now our destination was just an uphill walk of four hours.
We were astonished when we saw the villages, hotels and schools on the way all empty. We learnt it was the season to collect worms in the highlands. The locals call the Yarchagumba life saving worms as a single bug costs from Rs 50 to 75. For us, it's like a seasonal cultivation, said Bishnu Lal Budha, the Kantipur reporter in Dolpa, People have no time to stay at home during the season.
We headed towards the lake, coercing our feet against the steep mountains. The uphill trails adorned the serpentine queues of the worm collectors. The people hailed as far as from Jumla, Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot, and had their ration transported on the backs of donkeys and jhopas.
We were accompanied by Thinley, the chief protagonist in Caravan, from Dunai. He was on his way to his village Saldang. He, along with daughter Dawa, was returning from Kathmandu with a stock of medicines for the health post at Saldang. It'll take three more days to reach home, he said, standing on the bank of the lake.
We felt his popularity everywhere in Dolpo. The CDs of Caravan were available at the shops in Dunai. I'm amazed when people approach me, saying they want to cast me in their products, he told us, laughing.
The emerald blue lake of Phoksundo looked tranquil and pristine that morning. Mount Kanjiroba was mirroring on the lake. To our amazement, the lake, immensely popularized by Eric Valli's film Caravan, was in full solitude, having literally no tourists due to the protracted conflict. Lal Bahadur KC, the Principal of Govinda Primary Scholl told City Post that an eerie silence has enveloped this region due to the conflict.
Though (the film) Caravan has given Dolpo an international exposure, the hardship of the people is never any less, correspondent Budha explained, The dispute over the depth of this lake hasn't yet been subsided. The Department of Meteorology, in its survey three years back, had suggested the depth to be as 145 meters. However, other data contradict it to be as deep as650 meters.
The data of the Shey-Phoksundo Conservation Office too suggest that foreign tourists visiting the lake numbered just 36 till November this year. Tourists visiting this destination had reached 254 two years back. The arrival took downturn since the Maoists imposed US$100 per person as entry tariff to the area.