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Great Himalaya Trail Part 3: the Milky Danda Trek

Last Updated on January 3, 2019 by mountainswithmegan

Foggy days on the Milky Danda Trek

After departing Taplejung, we began the walk to Khadbari. For our first day out of Taplejung, our fifth day of hiking, we made the short walk down to Dobhan. Once there, we found a river side guest house. Half of the wall towards the river was woven bamboo and half was open. It’s been one of my favorite guest houses so far. Buckey says they’ve had the fastest wifi in Nepal yet.

From there, we decided to veer off of the low route and do the Milky Danda Trek. “Danda” is Nepali for “ridge”. We hoped for views and to get away from civilization. From Dobhan, at about 2,000 feet, this would mean an elevation gain of about 10,000 feet. We didn’t expect to find any villages along the way, so we set out with all the food we would need.

So much fog…

Basically, we spent the next 3 days walking uphill in the fog. And when I say fog, I mean we often had visibility of about 25 feet in front of us. This made it difficult to find the trail. I felt disoriented at times, as if we were walking in circles. One of the main reasons we chose to do the Milky Danda Trek was for the views, and we didn’t have any of those either. Twice the fog cleared enough for us to see the ridge ahead of us, but never enough to see the surrounding valleys and mountains.

Murky pond water

On our seventh day of hiking, we finally made it out of the villages where no one lived but yaks. We frequently passed by the hairy, humongous creatures and decided we didn’t have anything to worry about. Yaks seemed to be docile and would usually walk away when they saw us coming. Then we met one aggressive yak. As we approached the herd, this particular hairball started snorting at us like a bull would. We tried to cut a wide path and give him space, but he kept us in eyesight. Finally, the crazy thing began running toward us as if to charge. Buckey started yelling and waving his arms, and I followed suit. The yak stopped about 10 feet short of us. We moved along as the beast watched us suspiciously.

Our luck did not change much that night. We couldn’t find a water source, and therefore couldn’t cook dinner because we needed to save what water we had. We had a sad meal of crackers and peanuts. The following morning, our eighth day, we came across a murky, grey pond that looked like a water source for yaks and cows. We were thirsty, so we treated the pond water and drank up.

Most of the morning continued to be a cloudy, uphill climb. When we finally made it to the top, we joked about the views we couldn’t see. Buckey pointed to the West, “This direction is where we could see the Kanchenjunga range. And over to the East we have Everest.” That became our standing joke for the rest of the ridge line, “What a view!”

Still bright eyed and hopeful

Our hike down was on the shady side of the mountain, so we had to navigate snow and ice covered rocks. Thankfully, we found a cold, clear stream. We dumped the rest of our murky, pond water. Another hour of walking brought us in sight of a house with smoke billowing out. Two men waved at us, our first human sighting in over a day. We walked for a minute or two, then all of a sudden it started hailing. When we heard thunder, we knew we should get off the ridge. We ran back to the little house. The man outside told us, “Come in, come in.”

Of the two men, one spoke a little English. They were on a journey to take nine buffalo up the mountain to get rice to bring back down. They shared their rice with us for dinner and we shared our chocolate. The buffalo needed to be tied up at night, and Buckey helped herd one. The men were on a similar sleep schedule as us, and we were all in our sleeping bags around the fire by 6.

We hiked down the ridge the next day, losing the trail often. We found a pile of white poop which looked like it belonged to a big cat. Leopards are the local jungle cat, and we hoped not to run into one. Finally, we found a tent site right on the edge of civilization above some rice terraces.

Back in Civilization 

On day 10, we wanted to make it to the village of Wana. We got a rough start due to lack of common sense. We spent two hours wandering around the side trails in the jungle above the terraces before ending up in the same place we started. We spotted a road and were finally headed in the right direction. It was an easy road walk into Wana. People would come out of their homes to look at us. Through one village, we collected an entourage of schoolboys who followed us.

Coming into Wana the clouds finally cleared away

Coming into Wana we heard voices on a loud speaker. We walked over the hill to find a crowd of people gathered around a stage. Elections were happening, and candidates were taking turns speaking. The hotels were filled up. A retired teacher noticed us, and we followed him around town as he tried to find somewhere for us to stay. Finally, he set us up with a homestay. We had a balcony view of the event. The sound system guys motioned for Buckey to join them while I hung out with three little girls who showed me their dance moves. They were shy around Buckey and disappeared when he came back.

Our next destination was Khadbari, the capital of the district. The whole morning was an easy downhill walk. The last five miles was uphill in the hot sun and humidity. I felt sick at one point and had to rest in the shade.

Having only spent about $50 each during our first two weeks in eastern Nepal, we arrived in Khadbari and asked for the best hotel in town. Our room at Hotel Venus is $12 a night. We are eating and relaxing on our rest day. Tomorrow we will begin the Makalu Base Camp Trek, which should take about 2 weeks.

A momentary view of the Milky Danda

3 Things from Buckey:

  1. Class: Jungle 101, Professor: Far East Nepal, Lesson 1: When in doubt, follow the trail, when you think you see a shorter/easier route, follow the trail. Lesson 2: There isn’t always a trail.
  2. We saw a band of wild macaques walking from Wana to Khadbari. There were at least 20 monkeys, most of them swinging and jumping from tree to tree to put some space between us and them. Seeing the monkeys at the monkey temple in Kathmandu was great, but seeing monkeys in the middle of the jungle in their element is a different and more organic experience.
  3. The night of the hail we stayed in the small rock shelter with a tin roof, as mentioned above we were welcomed in by two young Nepali men who were herding cattle through the mountains. At first we assumed that they lived in this shelter, but we found out that they were also just using not for the night on their journey to a small town in the mountains. So, a lot was learned from this experience: there are community shelters throughout the mountains that can be used by passing travelers to wait out storms or to just have a shelter to sleep in, also the knowledge and skill shown by the two guys we met who were 26 and 27 to have the ability to navigate the mountains without maps or compasses and with 9 full grown buffalo demonstrates what life can be like for people our age living in eastern Nepal.

Miles hiked: 107

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