Saturday, November 16, 2013

Poon Hill, Annapurna Himalayas


We arrived to the lakeside town of Pokhara, the main tourist hub in the Annapurnas,  after a long bus journey from Kathmandu (6+ hours to cover 130 miles!).  Our main goal on this leg of the trip: conquering Poon Hill (3200 m), a circular loop in 5 days, covering 55 km in distance with an elevation change of +1500m, staying and eating at simple "tea houses." The mountain scenery was spectacular with cute Gurung villages and ancient forest covered in moss.



For the four us, we hired out 1 guide ($25 per day) and 2 porters to carry our larger rucksacks ($18 per day per porter). For Keenan and I, we spent circa $25-$30 per day - pay as you go for food and accommodations ($3 for a bed per night, and $5 per vegetarian daal bhat meal). Many people asked me about the trek, so here’s a short review.


Day 1: Long (6 hours) and strenuous to Birenthani - We left at 7am to drive from Pokhara to Naya Pul (1.5 hr), the start of the trail where we registered our details with the government office. Then we were off on a 3 hour trek uphill, breaking for lunch in Hille. By the mid-afternoon, it was fairly hot and we still had another 3 hour “stairmaster-like” trek ahead of us until the town of Birenthani. Be sure to bring a walking stick as it puts less pressure on your knees, sun cream, good sturdy hiking boots, and a hat.


Day 2: Easy and short walk to Ghorepani - With the most difficult day behind us, the second day was a lot easier as we walked for 3 hours up to the charming village of Ghorepani. We arrived in time for lunch (dhal bhaat of course) and spent the afternoon browsing through bookstores and local Tibetan shops, reading, and playing mindless card games. We also got to know our trekking staff and learned about Nepali politics as well as the upcoming election.


Day 3: Rewarding but also exhausting - An early start at 4:30am to catch the sunrise over Poon Hill – a short 45 minute, 800m climb to get a glimpse of the sun rising over the Himalayas. It was freezing but the view was worth it. I’ve never seen such majestic mountains in my life – the big boys were seriously tall -- Annapurna I (8091m), Dhaulagiri I (8167m), Annapurna South (7219m), and Fishtail (6993m).


After breakfast, it was off to our next destination: Tadapani. But first it was more stunning views and vistas over Gurung Hill which in my opinion was better than Poon Hill. We also spotted two pairs of eagles gliding across the gorgeous blue skies.


As October is busy season, we ran into a minor problem where we couldn’t find a room in Tadapani, which meant we had to walk another 2 hours. At this point, we had been walking for 4.5 hours and were lucky to find one room with enough beds for the four of us, except the room wasn’t really a room, it was a storage barn of some sort… and the facilities were disgusting. By far the worst teahouse we stayed in, but we were grateful for a place to sleep, thank goodness for our mummy sleeping sacks…


Day 4: Easy downhill trek to Syauli-bazaar - We set off early after an uncomfortable night in the ‘barn room,’ Day 4 was relatively relaxed and easy. We stopped for an early lunch in the village of Ghundruk, a well-established town with good facilities. Then we continued to our last and final night on the trek, to a little town of Syauli-bazaar, and enjoyed the views over the river.


Day 5: Easy walk to Naya Pul - The last day  was somewhat a joke since we were “ahead” of schedule since Day 3. We were originally supposed to stay in Tadapani, and overnight in Ghundruk on Day 4. So what would have been a 4.5 trek on Day 5 turned into a 2.5 - 3 hour walk. The last leg took us through rice paddy and millet fields; the scenery was very picturesque. Arriving back at the gate to check out at Naya Pul, we were feeling fairly sore. Technically, you could do Poon Hill in 4 days if you are fit, but these would be very long days, so 5 days would be more relaxed. Back in Pokhara, we spent two nights at the upmarket Temple Tree Resort for some post-trek spa treatments and relaxation by the pool.


Nepal is a fascinating country and for mountain lovers, nothing tops this magical mountain kingdom. Definitely worth a trip, perhaps together with northern India, which was exactly what our friends did, whilst we went to Dubai and Oman. More to come...


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