A cloudy, chilly morning in February. A group of children runs to a school bus parked at the side of the sandy road. Clouds of dust stirred by small feet stain maroon uniforms. The air is full of screams, shouting and laughter.
A few minutes later the bus disappears carrying away the commotion created by enthusiastic students. Streets of Nepalese Nayapul, however, are not getting any quieter.
Local shops start their usual business day. The buildings, even though gnawed by time, look unfinished. Rusty scaffoldings lean against non-plated walls. Open terraces of the second floors scare with the void, unfurnished spaces. Ground floors – these are finished. Spacious, open halls, with repainted walls, slightly stained with the dust of the road running through the town centre. Inside – dining tables, carpentry workshops, shelves cracking under the weight of rice sacks and other goods.
Women sweep thresholds with straw brooms. In the folds of their thick, woollen skirts lurk barefooted sprats. Nearby, on a makeshift stove placed at the side of the road, a diner owner fries samosas – tapered buns filled with meat, vegetables and spices. One of them, fragrant with herbs and still steaming, she hands over to a few-year-old boy. The little fellow, dressed in a coarse jacket, eagerly takes the treat. The fact that from the waist down he is completely naked does not seem to bother him the slightest.
Shopkeepers, dressed in worn-out windbreakers and thick tracksuit trousers, set up their stock. In front of one of the stalls, stands a herd of mules carrying saddlebags.
“Sacks of flour, rice, potatoes and vegetables, soaps and wool yarn. Anything else?”, asks the shop owner.
“No, no. That’s all”, replies a swarthy, slender man, straining the harness of an impatient animal.
“Are you coming back today, or tomorrow?”
“Today, if the weather lasts. It’s a short route – to Banthanti only. The Green Hill View Lodge has a new batch of tourists. They need the goods to be delivered before dinner.”
“Safe travels then!” shouts the shopkeeper, shooing away a stubborn mule from the shop doors.
Behind Nayapul, starts a popular trekking route to Ghorepani village. Over 3000 meters high Poon Hill mountain is its highlight and ultimate tourist destination.
The beginning is easy. Wide, rocky paths wind through the woods and between the fields. They cut through the mountain streams and gently climb the hills surrounded by rice terraces. On a gravel road, a herd of brown, long-eared mules, sways the saddlebags in a steady trot. Suddenly, a piercing whistle of the herdsman causes them to slow down. In front, two tourists, their guide and porter squeeze as deep as possible into the grassy bay on the road side. Politely, they give way to the caravan. Travellers return to the path, once whistled commands start to fade. Road traffic culture in the Annapurna mountains.
It is warm. The sun rays noticeably raise the temperature. A fast-moving march warms up further. With every step, the terrain changes more and more. Rocky hills replace vast, flat fields. The broad track turns into a narrow path in the form of uneven, rocky stairs, climbing up steeper and steeper. At their summit, buildings of the mountain village Tikhedhunga, shimmer in blue and white. The view straight from a fairy tale.
Half-brick, half-metal cabins are attached tightly to the protruding rock shelves. They seem to hold onto the stone only by the strength of their cement will. Nearly every one of them is either a diner or a guest house. Those equipped with the luxuries of hot showers announce it with the huge hand-painted signboards.
The herdsman stops his animals at a square of one of the dinners. It invites with breezy half-open halls, and mouth-watering scents coming from the kitchen. Before he enjoys the break, however, herder loosens mules’ harnesses and from underneath the nearby table pulls out metal bowls. He fills them with corn grains and gives to the visibly excited animals.
Finally, the herder sits at a small table covered with a flowery oilcloth. Glancing through the window overlooking a deep green chasm, he shouts towards the kitchen:
“Dal bhat and tea!”
“Dal bhat power – 24 hour!” shouts back the amused waiter, placing a huge plate with the dish in front of his guest.
Dal is a thick lentil soup seasoned with cumin and turmeric, boiled with onions, garlic, tomatoes and herbs. Bhat – steamed rice. It comes with roti – unleavened bread, and a bit of vegetable stew. For the dessert – strong, hot and a very sweet tea. One serving of the dish is enough to keep one going for a good few hours.
“Heading to Ghorepani?”, asks the waiter.
“No, only to Banthanti”, replies herder rolling a cigarette from thin tissues and aromatic tobacco.
“Oh, that woman is going to Banthanti as well. She delivered woollen shawls and now heads back”, the waiter gestures towards a stone shelf right next to the wall of the diner.
At the edge of the rock, sits a woman wrapped in a purple woollen plaid. An empty wicker basket lies next to her. Upon hearing the conversation, she lifts it up and throws over her back. The woman places a rope entwining the container on her forehead, softening the cord roughness with a small piece of cloth.
“To the Green Hill View with delivery?”, she asks the herder.
“Yeah, yeah.” – confirms he, finishing his cigarette.
“Me too, so let me join. I have a laundry order to pick up there.”
The slightly enlarged caravan moves on. The higher, the colder. Clouds begin to descend from the mountains, covering everything with wet droplets of the cold fog. Traffic on the track increases. Everyone wants to get to their homes before the weather breaks down irretrievably. The destination – another “hanging” village Banthanti – is already near. Just a few more minutes and you can see small buildings of the Green Hill View Lodge.
The large terrace divides the guesthouse from the tiny kitchen building, where the preparation for an evening meal is on. Wooden shelves, burners and a large clay fire plain surround joined tables. Over these, the cook and helpers prepare supper. The space of the room is small, and the fire from the hearth warms the place. Still, the chill outside is so severe that the kitchen crew cower under jackets and hoods. The cook warms up the company further with imperious commands. Like a skilled dancer, she swirls in a narrow space between worktops and fireplaces, shelves and stoves. Here, she prepares rice, there – potatoes in curry sauce, there again – in a huge tin pot she sets water for the tea. Noticing the herder, the cook runs to meet him.
“Namaste! You’re already here. Good! I promised some young tourist momo for dinner, but don’t have veggies anymore!”. There is a trace of relief ringing in her good-natured laughter. Thanks to the caravan “some young tourist” will enjoy the fluffy dumplings with vegetable stuffing and spicy chilli sauce.
In the meantime, all the lodge guests already gathered in the common room. All of them tightly surround the room’s central piece – a small coal stove – the only source of heat. Hung on the walls, lodge certificates and diplomas in the tourist industry are almost invisible through the curtain of trekking trousers and jumpers lined under the ceiling. On the floor, around the stove dries an impressive collection of trekking shoes and woollen socks. On the tables – dinner, Everest beer – in the hands. In the TV, Bollywood hit ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ gives the situation an unreal feeling.
The lounge is full of buzz about the tour and plans for the further trip. There are tips, warnings, jokes and laughter. An atmosphere of home created by complete strangers in a distant country – so exceptional and unique to mountain shelters. The next day, early in the morning, after an icy shower and a frigidly cold night, everyone will be on their way again. They will arrive in Ghorepani and enjoy breath-taking views of the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna Himalayan mountain range. The next day they will start before dawn. In the darkness, they will walk to the 3210-meter high Poon Hill where they are going to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. Maybe the weather will be favourable to them. Perhaps a clear, blue sky will allow seeing the sunlit Himalayan peaks. Maybe it is going to be the opposite – drizzling rain and dense fog will cover a divine view with the aura veil. What will happen for sure is – each of them will leave part of themselves at the Nepalese trekking trail. In every place they passed through, in every person they met. They will lose their hearts for the Nepalese mountains.
The route to the Poon Hill
Poon Hill lies in Nepali mountain chain – Annapurna. This 3210-meter high peak is one of the most popular viewpoints offering a panoramic sight of the majestic Himalayas.
Nayapul town – about 40 km from Pokhara – is the starting point of the trek. The first segment of the route is usually divided into 2-3 days. Between Nayapul and Ghorepani – the village closest to Poon Hill – there are several picturesque mountain villages. Each of them consists almost entirely of accommodation and mountain shelters, where you can stay overnight if needed. From Ghorepani, it takes about an hour to get to Poon Hill. The walk starts before dawn. The return trip begins on the same day, just after breakfast. It usually takes two days to get back to Nayapul. The Ghorepani Poon Hill trek is a so-called circuit trail. It means that the return path to Nayapul can be traced along its northern thread instead of the southern one which took us to Ghorepani.
Nayapul – Tikhedhunga (lunch) – 4 hours
Tikhedhunga – Banthanti (overnight stay) – 2 hours
Banthanti – Ghorepani (overnight stay) – 4 hours
Ghorepani – Poon Hill (sunrise) – 1 hour
Poon Hill – Ghorepani (breakfast) – 1 hour
Ghorepani – Banthanti (lunch) – 4 hours
Banthanti – Ghandruk (overnight stay) – 4 hours
Ghandruk – Nayapul – 5 hours
The route leading to Poon Hill is moderately difficult. It begins with broad and accessible routes that gradually turn into narrower and steeper paths. These are usually formed by stone steps. There are no extremely dangerous drops, abyss, etc., but it is important to keep in mind that during the snowfall the difficulty of the route increases considerably.
Generally, the trail is pleasant, moderately demanding and fantastically picturesque. There are attractions in the form of “co-travellers”: goats, buffaloes, mules and birds of all kinds. If the trekking falls in the spring, the phenomenally colourful flora will further diversify the hike.
Know before you go:
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Water in Nepal is only drinkable after boiling or filtering. It is, therefore, worth investing in water purifying tablets or filters. Wherever you can, get bottled mineral water.
Poon Hill is located in the Annapurna Conservation Area, so entry permits are required. Here you will learn how and where to apply.
It is also possible to hire guides and if required, porters. Practically every hotel and travel agency in Pokhara offer similar services.
In our case, not only the Annapurna trek, but also the whole stay in Nepal was organised by HELLO SHERPA TREKS & EXPEDITION. A fantastic team, organised by Dendi Sherpa, who dealt with us not as tourists, but as a family.
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Poon Hill, Ghorepani, Nepal
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Ghorepani Poon Hill trek is possible all year round, although it is worth avoiding the monsoon season between June and September.
October – November: the after monsoon season, with clean and clear air. The days are warm, but at night temperatures fall below zero. It is a peak season with heavy traffic, busy routes and crowded lodges and mountain shelters.
December – March: the coldest period. Temperatures during the day barely exceed zero, and at night they fall far below freezing. Snow and ice significantly increase the difficulty of the route. There are fewer tourists on the track, though. The closer to March, the more thriving flora and fantastic scenic views of nature.
April – May: the second peak of the tourist season. Warm days turn into unbearably hot and humid toward the end of May.
June – September: the monsoon season with frequent rains and hordes of leeches appearing in the forests. On the other hand, the whole Annapurna flora is in full bloom, offering phenomenal fairy tale-like landscapes.
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Entry permit: 2000 NPR/20 USD
Guide: 20–25 USD per day
Meals on the route: 300-400 NPR/ 3-4 USD
Bottled water: 100 NPR/1 USD
Accommodation: 300–1000 NPR/ 3–10 USD per night depending on the standard. Not every guesthouse has a hot shower. Those with such luxury will ask from 450 NPR/ 4 USD up.