We arrived in Pokhara late in the evening and went over the game plan with our guide Shanta. We were about to embark on a five-day adventure through the Annapurna Range! Trekking in Nepal has been an ambition of Cameron's for quite some time. After the intense and very rewarding four-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, Cameron was determined to do another multi-day trek before our trip was over. What better place than the trekking capital of the world?
We didn't have the time to do the famous 21-day Annapurna Circuit or the popular 12-day Annapurna Base Camp trek so we elected to take on the 5-day Ghorapani to Ghandruk trek (known as the Poon Hill Trek). It is considered to be a 'mini-Annapurna' hike that has spectacular panoramic views of the majestic Himalayas. Nicole's ideal trek was a two to three day affair, she was a little apprehensive about five.
This opinion changed, albeit temporarily, when she learned of the sleeping accommodations that the region is renowned for. The trails pass through several small villages with simple guest houses for exhausted hikers to rest, eat and clean up. It was a very cool experience spending each evening in remote traditional villages; and having a warm shower and soft bed wasn't too bad either!
We started our Poon Hill Trek in the village of Naya Pul, about an hour and a half taxi from Pokhara up into the Annapurna foothills. Trekking through the villages was an incomparable experience. The rice terraces were easily the most amazing that we had ever seen, even more impressive than the ancient rice terraces of Banaue in the Philippines. They were simply spectacular!
Our first day was a strenuous five hours that ended in the small village of Tikhedhunga. We only travelled about 500 meters in elevation but the first part of the day was spent walking in a torrential downpour. We were drenched but thrilled that we didn't have to tough it out in a damp tent that evening. We closed out the evening sitting on a covered balcony sipping sweet milk tea while overlooking the peaceful misty valley of rice terraces and thunderous rivers… outstanding!
The second day was straight up to Ghorapani. Not just part of the day, the entire day! It was seven grueling hours up rocky stairs and slippery dirt paths through jungle stretches. It was a tough day but we felt a great sense of accomplishment at the end of it. We were at 2,850 meters and the temperature was quite a bit cooler, a refreshing change from the midday humidity. We asked Shanta how far we had travelled that day, looking for a kilometer number to gage our achievement. He replied, "In the mountains we don't calculate kilometers. We calculate hours and days. We travelled seven hours today". So we have no clue how far we trekked, but it felt far.
It was so calm and peaceful in the mountains, a welcomed change to the insanity of the Asian big cities we had previously visited. The landscapes were beautiful and like no other we had seen before. However we did notice that the trails had a considerable amount of litter, something that would never fly on a British Columbia trail. We were irritated and disappointed by this lazy act of disrespect and asked Shanta about it. He said "it's not from tourism. It's actually from the locals". He added that "tourists actually pick the garbage up and rarely ever litter".
The villages were quite impressive. All of the materials had to be transported by either Sherpa or donkey. It must have been so tedious and strenuous building these communities; some were more than five days of straight hiking away from the main town! Every guest house has glass windows, every room has mattresses, and every restaurant has furniture… think about it? The villagers are undeniably creative and resourceful people.
Our goal for the following morning was to wake up at 3:30am and hike up to the Poon Hill viewpoint (3,210 meters) for sunrise, weather permitting. We went to sleep engulfed in damp, misty fog with lowered expectations. As feared, the morning's weather was terrible and visibility was as poor as it could possibly get. Our vision of glorious Himalayan Mountains was squashed by Mother Nature. We were bummed but knew it would be a coin flip on actually seeing the Himalayas during this time of year. Unfortunately, like Mount Fuji in Japan, luck was not on our side… it just kept raining.
We had a decision in front of us.
The third and fourth days were through thick jungle and with the heavy rain the leeches would be out in full force. We had been attacked the previous day while walking through a typical 'leech friendly' area and cringed at the thought of more. Shanta seemed conflicted and apprehensive about trekking through the jungle with the poor weather conditions (not a good sign). He proposed an alternative itinerary because we would not reach another panoramic viewpoint, and that was ultimately our goal for the trek. When Shanta said we would "be ripping off leeches by the handful and having to check every ten minutes" we jumped onboard with Plan B.
Plan B was to backtrack the same way that we came, two days worth of trekking combined into one very long and exhausting day. We spent 9 hours descending down slippery stairs and flooded trails until we reached a village about 45 minutes away from Naya Pul, the starting point. It was grueling. It was long. It was wet. We were drenched and miserable by lunch. By mid-afternoon we were sore and our muscles barely responded to the signals sent from our brain. It wasn't that the terrain was that difficult, we were just physically and mentally fatigued. By late afternoon we were delirious and started to see the humour in it all… it still hadn't stopped raining for more than 30 minutes.
In fact, whenever we took a break the rain stopped and when we started to hike, it started up again!
The following day was a hike to Sarangkot from the backside of the mountain (Sarangkot is a typical hike directly from Pokhara that only takes a few hours). We travelled back to Naya Pul at the crack of dawn and caught a 7:00am bus to some other place we can't recall (the new 'starting point' of a two day trek). We had breakfast and hiked three more hours to Sarangkot village. The weather was fine… until we started hiking! We arrived by lunch and were exhausted, the previous three days were taking its toll on us. After a well deserved nap we walked to the viewpoint at dusk in hopes of catching even a glimpse of the Himalayas. Finally our luck changed!
We sat at the top of Sarangkot Mountain for over an hour and gazed in awe at the enormous Annapurna Range. Although we didn't get the entire panoramic view cloud free, each major peak had its moment of visibility. We were glad that we called an audible and changed the play; many trekkers we met on the trails were disappointed because they didn't see any of the giant peaks.
The final day was a plunge through thick jungle. The morning was crisp and clear. But, naturally, twenty minutes into the hike it started to pour again… are you kidding?! We fittingly finished our trek completely drenched yet again… luckily we were heading to a nice hotel with hot showers and laundry service!
We were extremely sore and had each torn both of our calve muscles. We came to see the incredible Himalayas, trek through the mountains and witness the traditional Nepali/Tibetan village life. We left fortunate and satisfied to have completed it all.
It was another challenging and truly rewarding experience that we'll never forget!