Trekking in Nepal – 30th October – 14th November 2011
Ramblers Holidays have been organising treks in Nepal for many decades. In recent years, however, they have abandoned the rigours of camping treks for the more comfortable delights of tea houses. These houses, scattered throughout the Nepali Himalayas, offer basic, but adequate, accommodation and cooked meals. I have recently returned from a seven-day trek in the Annapurna region, coupled with a few days sightseeing in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Pokhara.
The first two days were spent in Kathmandu. Love it or hate it, it is still a city of considerable character and charm, despite the traffic jams and the ever-present air pollution. The atmosphere and sense of history at Boudhanath, Pashupatinath and the monkey temple at Swayambu had the whole group spellbound. A half-day was spent in the old city of Patan, together with a wander around a couple of unspoilt Newari villages a short drive from the city. The hazy sunshine everywhere offered the perfect atmosphere for photography.
Day three saw us sitting patiently at Kathmandu’s very basic domestic airport, waiting for an early morning flight to Pokhara. “Delayed” showed for hour after hour on the display board. By 2.30pm it became evident that the flight was not going to depart that day and, in order to keep the tour on schedule, we decided to take the bus. This involved a seven-hour ride on a road which has been dubbed the most dangerous in Asia. Luckily, it was dark for most of the trip and we were blissfully unaware of the precipitous drops alongside the road. We arrived in Pokhara at 11pm in relatively high spirits.
Next day the trek began. We were introduced to our guide and six porters and, after a short bus ride out of the town, we were soon plodding uphill towards our first destination, the village of Dhampus. The tea house hosts were very welcoming and after dinner we were soon singing and dancing with the guides and porters, who were very keen to integrate with the group. We were very keen to keep warm.
Next day, with some of us shaking off our Khukri Rum hangovers, we continued up the Modi Khola to Landruk, a village perched rather spectacularly high above the steep-sided valley. From there, on trek-day three, it was downhill for a while, to cross the river on a long and rather wobbly suspension bridge.
Steeply up again to reach the most northerly point on the trek, at Chomrong. This village has a superb view up the Modi Khola valley towards the Annapurna Sanctuary. However, the misty weather that had forced the cancellation of our flight to Pokhara had continued for the first three days of the trek and we were becoming resigned to never seeing the high mountains. But, the following morning, at 6am, the guide was shouting “mountains, mountains”. We struggled out of bed to see the first rays of the sun illuminating the face of Annapurna South, towering over 7000m above us. The element of surprise made the view all the more rewarding. Around us were the snowy peaks of the Annapurna range, Hiun Chuli and the spectacular sacred mountain, Machhapuchhre, the renowned fish-tail. After a breakfast-with-a-view on the tea house terrace we set off in high spirits, crossing the valley of the Kimrong Khola, to lunch on the Komrong pass. By late afternoon we reached Ghandruk, where we planned to spend three nights, with day treks from the village.
Ghandruk is the largest village in the Modi Khola valley and has a school and a government clinic. These we were able to visit on what was something of a ‘rest day’, during which we meandered around in the sunshine and were welcomed into local people’s houses. We also had a spectacular day’s trek to Tadapani, our highest point so far, where we had a leisurely lunch at a tea house with the most wonderful views of the Annapurnas.
The clear sunny weather continued, but regrettably, we had to continue southwards, downhill all the way, to Nayapul, which has a road connection to Pokhara. An elderly bus took us over a switch-back route back to civilization. At the top, near Kande, we were rewarded with a clear Himalayan panorama, with Annapurna and Machhapuchhre now quite distant.
We spent the next two nights in Pokhara. After a morning pursuing the shopping delights of Lakeside, the more energetic group members climbed up to the World Peace Stupa, about 800m above the town, through a forest of beech and rhododendron trees. A steep descent on the other side of the hill brought us down to the lake shore, where we hired a canoe to take us back to the town. With five of us and an elderly Nepali lady paddler aboard we made slow and somewhat nerve-wracking progress across the lake, with water lapping the gunwales.
Our flight back to Kathmandu, although delayed, was not cancelled this time and we returned to the delights of the Shangri La Hotel for a further overnight stay. As our homeward flight was not until late evening, we were able to spend most of the day in Bhaktapur, an ancient royal city in the Kathmandu valley. The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been carefully restored with financial help from Germany.
Our overnight flight to London on Etihad Airways, with a change of aircraft in Abu Dhabi, did nothing to spoil our enjoyment of the tour. Etihad is a superb airline, with courteous cabin service and excellent catering.
Trekking and tea houses in Nepal – an experience I hope to repeat.