We had hired two additional porters at Beni, expecting to replace them at Dhorpatan, but because of the festival of Dasain we were unable to hire any (according to Gunjaman, the pay they were asking was "more than high"). Thus, when we left Dhorpatan the porters were carrying very heavy loads, and it took us three days (instead of the usual two) to reach the twin villages of Pelma and Yamakhar. These are the only villages between Dhorpatan and Sahartara.
From now on, there were no lodges. In traditional Nepalese fashion, when we arrived at a village, we would ask around for a house we could stay in. We would either cook on the fire of the house or on our own kerosene stoves. Usually, I'd sleep on the flat roof of the house. Where there was no village, we would camp.
From Dhorpatan we climbed north to the Phagune Dande pass (4054m, 13,300ft).
View north from Phagunde Dande pass. The two peaks are Putha Hiunchuli (7246m), left, and Churen Himal. There is a wall of 7000m (23,000 ft) peaks running from Putha Hiunchuli in the west to Dhaulagiri II (7715m) in the east, which we would skirt on the left (west) to reach Sahartara. The Barbung Khola runs behind (north of) the wall of peaks.
Children on the flat roof of a house in Pelma. The village of Yamakhar can be seen behind them across the river.
A woman on the roof of her house at Yamakhar. Behind her are storage bins.
According to Bezruchka, Trekking in Nepal, Pelma and Yamakhar are "populated by Kham Magar, a fascinating ethnic group that continues shamanistic traditions closest to the classic Northern Siberian custom".
We were able to hire two porters at Yamakhar, and after crossing several more passes, the highest of which was 4500m, we reached Sahartara (c3000m).
The Yamakhar porters.
Just before Pelma, we saw this bizarre poster on a tree, showing the heroic red army destroying that of the imperialist lackeys (I think).
No one would tell me what it was doing there. Later, it became clear that it meant we were entering the territory of the Maoist guerrillas.
As they passed through Pelma, Gunjaman and Thulo were "invited" to contribute 500 rupees (about $7) to the local Maoist school.
The day we left Yamakhar, while I was walking ahead of the others, I met a young man carrying a gun over each shoulder. Since this is an area of Nepal in which some hunting is allowed, I assumed that he was connected with a hunting party, exchanged friendly greetings with him, and continued on my way. The Tamangs later told me that he was in fact a Maoist guerrilla. However, they said that the guerrillas' fight was only with the police (and government), and was no concern of ours.
The next day, while I was again ahead of the others, I met two grim faced young men walking the other way carrying guns. This time there were no friendly greetings. I did, however, take a close look at their guns. They were muskets from about the time of the Napoleonic wars! When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950s, the only weapons the Tibetans had to defend themselves were muskets.
From time to time we would see the hammer and sickle painted on rocks and on prayer flags. This one, on a small pass, marked the end of the Maoist territory.