Published in: INSN.org | Chautari-Canada | Pratibhapunja-Nepal
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher and Father of Taoism
“A good traveler has no fixed plans”, says a Taoist teaching. Why would be an unplanned travel be better than a planned one? Having heard of the extreme importance of planning for too many years, I was bewildered. This made me curious to trace back into my own life to inspect validity or invalidity of this statement. I noticed that most of my technical and scientific knowledge was acquired through a planned and institutional process and most of the wisdom was drawn from random situations never thought of encountering. Further, most of the mind-stimulating situations of my journeys were neither guided nor planned. One of those most rewarding journeys of my life was made in Rasuwa, a mountainous region North-West of Kathmandu. This was among the and they shed much light about nature, people, and governance than many long and planned journeys. Therefore, I want to scratch a small fraction of that journey in Rasuwa in this article.
It was in early 1980s that the forces of inner struggles and youthful thoughts were channeling me to take an unknown journey. I had traveled to Dandagaun, Rasuwa, in a hope to become a teacher but my dream to obtain the job had not come true due to administrative changes that had just occurred, which I learned about only after reaching there. Faced with uncertainty, I embarked a new journey to Dhunche, the administrative headquarter of Rasuwa, in search of other opportunities. However short or trivial this journey may look to the familiar, it has left me with unforgettable memories and unprecedented lessons of life.
I said bye to an extremely hospitable and warm family of Dandagaun in a winter morning at sub-zero temperature. They had given a clear direction about a route they had taken uncountable times to go to Dhunche. The directions were obvious to the hosts and so to me: descend down the mountain, at the end of the trail take a Tuin, cross over Trisuli River, climb up the trail until I reach the trade route to Tibet, head northward till I reach Dhunche, which would be less than a day’s journey. Born and grown up in a mountain, I was enthusiastic and care-free and everything seemed so evident to me. It did not occur to me to ask the finer details of the route and potential missteps it could bring. My complete lack of understanding about risk factors and their mitigation strategies gave me a series of problems that opened my eyes, albeit partially, for the rest of my life.
Everyone in Nepal’s mountains experience bitter cold in one or another winter and I certainly had, although at a height much below Dandagaun. However, experiencing cold near the safety of our home is different than being exposed to it for a prolonged period of time away from home. I was unprepared to treat the Dandagaun’s winter cold with respect. Duty bound, I had given morning wash to my hands and face but had not dried and warmed them as I left. Within minutes of saying bye to the hosts, my hands were near frozen, fingers curled up, and throbbing pain had started to emerge underneath the fingernails. It started feeling as if the Jali Jhola (net bag) was cutting my fingers. I hung the bag on the arm and let the palm be free as I headed down the trail with mixed bag of feelings. In front of me was an interesting landscape, full of rocks, and vegetation in between. The steepness of the slope, the enormity of the gorge, the mountains on the yonder and beyond were quite different than those I saw in Baglung. Amongst difficulties and apprehensions, they supplied excitement and wonder to my imaginations.
I was proud of the speed at which I descended, first through farmlands and then through a forest on a steep landscape. Those mega steps on the trail looked simply easy and they never dampened my youthful spirit. Whatever time it might have been, I approached Trisuli River before the winter sun rose high enough to peek deep down through the gorge into this narrow valley. There was just one trail that intersected near the river and ran north-south along the Trisuli Basin. I continued on my trail a bit beyond the intersection to meet the Tuin that connected Archale and Paire sides of the gorge over the Trisuli River. This is what I was supposed to cross.
I was excited to see a Tuin up close for the first time. To my amusement, a Tuin was a much simpler structure than a bridge. There was a rope strung over the river on which hanged a trolley that was tied to another tiny rope for pulling. The trolley had metal frames and bars. They made me guess that some wooden planks were laid on the trolley and people and goods once rested on the planks when navigating the Tuin. But that was a long time ago and the planks had all fallen off over the years and what was left now was the metal skeleton. The bottom of the trolley was fully open. Travelers must put their feet on the outer bars and hang on to the frame. I inspected it and applied my imaginations to figure out how it was meant to be operated.
After coming to a reasonable conclusion on how it worked, I held the trolley and the rope by my hands while contemplating about the mechanics of crossing and do my preparatory tests. However, my hands were bitterly cold and fingers almost stiff. All the descent I had made from the cold roof-top to the much tolerable valley had not done much warming of my hands. Cooled by the winter night and not seen the sun yet, everything on that Tuin was cold. I imagined going all the way to the middle of the sagging rope and not being able to pull up to the other side of the river. I saw too much risk in trying it the first time when I did not even know the true extent of its friction, weight, and minute complexities of its mechanics. I felt that the life was more precious than my bravery in crossing the river. Having met some locals a decade after this stint and learnt that they had lost their relatives from that particular Tuin, I do not regret my decision to this date.
I hoped for some other knowledgeable traveler to come around and waited in anticipation for some time but there was no luck. Resigned with the hope of crossing the Tuin any time soon, I came up with a new idea on navigation. I concluded that the trail that I had crossed earlier would certainly lead me to some bridge on the north and Dhunche was also on the north on the other side of the river. I was sure about finding my way, although not as straight forward as via the Tuin. With a wishful thinking, I headed north on the trail that followed the west bank of Trisuli.
Although somehow apprehensive on detouring, I was calm and not afraid. I thoroughly enjoyed the enormity of the gorge and greenery of the mountains that were unfolding in front of me. I was comparing the water of Trisuli River with Kali River. The same Dhursu and Pati that grew on the banks of Kali were growing there too. While relishing the wonders of the nature, I was also trying to make up for the lost time by walking briskly. Alone and unable to encounter a single person since I left the hosts, I was elated to catch up to a middle age man who was carrying a heavy load of merchandise on his back and heading north. I asked him how far north I would find a bridge over Trisuli. He replied, “There is none!” I further queried to find if there was a Tuin, boat or something. He replied that there is none all the way to the boarder of China. He said that the Tuin I left was the northernmost crossing point.
Resigned from the lack of hope in the upstream, I then asked for a bridge downstream. His answer to this was also equally discouraging. I had to go south along the river all the way to Nuwakot district to make the crossing and then follow the old trade route to Dhunche. Left with no choice, I made the decision to go to the bridge however far I may have to go in the wrong direction.
I don’t know what time it was at the moment because I did not have a watch. However, I certainly had wasted hours in my fruitless attempts to go over the river. I then turned back and followed the trail downstream and went past the Tuin in apprehension. Not much further in the downstream, I encountered a terraced farmland cleared of a new crop of rice where herders had made temporary barns and used the land as a winter pasture for their cattle. I went to the barn where two men and a boy were sitting besides a fireplace. I talked about my problems and predicaments in crossing the river. It turned out that they were helpful people and very compassionate to me. They sent the boy to help me cross the Tuin and so I was back north again. The boy asked me to hang onto the frame of the trolley and swiftly navigated it across the Trisuli River as if it was no big deal. I gave him two Rupees which would buy a few cups of tea in Kathmandu at that time; I don’t know what it bought in the village.
I had finally managed to cross a big hurdle but only after losing many hours of my precious time in futile trials, waits, ups and downs. I had overcome just the first of many difficulties I would subsequently encounter but all later problems were consequences of the mistakes I had already made. I was debilitated by hunger and exhaustion at the bottom of a steep mountain that required many hours of climb in a cold winter that demanded lots of food and drink in my body. However, I would leave for the future the stories of the trails that took me to Mani Gaun, Ramche, Garang, Boke Jhunda, and Dhunche. Today, it would be sufficient to say that this event took me completely off-guard. Had I learnt to inquire beyond asking simple direction to Dhunche, everything would have gone normally. Today I think of many questions which I did not then but I should have. “What is Tuin?” “How is it made?” “How is it operated?” “Is weather important?” “Had anybody run into problems before?” “What are the risks?” “What are the three things I must do?” “What are the three things I must avoid?” “What is the alternative?”
This journey exposed my vulnerabilities to me and made me learn many valuable lessons. I learnt more about life in those few days of my journey than I sometimes may have learnt in years. The biggest lesson I learned from this journey was that shallow inquiries and assumptions do not lead us far and they give us a false sense of knowledge while keeping us vulnerable to mishaps. Only deep inquiries could reveal us the most innocent looking traps that take us off guard. This journey taught me that we could overcome all adversities if we have patience and persistence. Unplanned journeys away from our familiar territories make us understand both the world around us and the world within us. Difficult journeys make us discover who we are, what is in our true nature, how to trust, and how to be trusted. The more obstacles we face, the more lost we feel, and the more drawn out our travels become, the more we learn. Every time we look back on an already examined journey, something new gets revealed to us. A journey without a plan can be good after all!