Poon Hill Trek in Nepal: Memoirs of My Adventure

by Raj Abhishek

Even as I start to pen down my memories of the beautiful trekking expedition to Poon Hill that I had undertaken, I can’t help but ponder over the massive earthquake that had wreaked havoc in Nepal. I would like to begin this piece by praying for the families who were affected by this sudden downpour of grief, and who now struggle to stay put each day. We all know that it will take time, but I’m sure also sure that the best possible is being done, and that Nepal will be back on the tourist circuit soon. So will I be, to this beautiful country and to it’s simple, welcoming people! For now, I would like to relive my moments once again! I don’t really remember the time when Nepal appeared on my list of places to visit this year, but I have always been intrigued by the sights that my beautiful neighbor has to offer; while at the same time puzzled by the country not featuring in the list of places that my countrymen yearn to visit. It may perhaps be the fact that Nepalese towns look more or less the same as ours (their durbar and other squares are pretty unique though) so the feeling of being in another country may not arise after all ! It may also be the fact that you need to trek to see most of the beauty around. An article in one of the travel magazines piqued my interest further. A particular feature about a trek to the Everest base camp caught my attention, and when it was time for some new year resolutions to be made, I decided that I had to be specific about my travel plans this time. A tryst with the Everest was to be the start of it! I started my research in early 2015, and started talking to a few travel operators. I now realized that a trip to Everest base camp would take 12-14 days at the least, and would cost nearly INR 50k or more ( only for the trek, flight costs to and from Kathmandu excluded ). My budget and the number of days in my hand constrained me, for I was to be in Nepal for a total of 9 days only. I posted my trip details (dates and my intention to do a trek) on couchsurfing, and was lucky enough to be noticed by Rina who runs her own trekking company. In no time she suggested the Poon Hill trek to me in which one is surrounded by beautiful views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges! She shared the itinerary and I quite liked it. It was within my budget and gave me an extra day to relax and move around Kathmandu as well. Here’s the basic stuff: Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu and stay put. Day 2: Drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Day 3: Trek starts after an hour and a half drive to Nayapul, and goes on till Day 6. At then end of it all, you arrive at Pokhara once again. Day 7: Drive back from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Day 8: Fly out or stay as long as you like ! And now for the details, the fun part !

Day 1:

Apart from the goose bumps that I had while boarding my first international flight alone (in-spite of the barely present immigration checks for us Indians travelling to Nepal as no visa is required), nothing much transpired that day. I arrived at Kathmandu late in the evening, and was picked up by Krishna, our guide. Affable and frank is how I’d describe him. Few words about the airport as well. It’s a beautiful one I think, but people of Kathmandu (and the tourists alike) need a bigger place to get in and out of their planes. The airport can get pretty worked up even if a few flights arrive simultaneously (read long queues at immigration, and a chaotic baggage claim and exit). The best you can do is to plan accordingly and keep some buffer time in hand. Never mind, I was out of the ‘port in not much time, and was taken to our hotel in Thamel (the touristy part of Kathmandu, it has kept up pretty well with all their expectations !), wherein I met the rest of the gang and we had a short meeting to discuss our trek. We took a stroll outside our hotel for a bit, and I could hear that the music scene in Thamel was up despite the supposedly late hours and deserted looks. It’s a place to sit back and enjoy music with some drinks (for that matter, liquor flows more freely in Nepal than it does in India. YOU GET THEM IN GENERAL STORES GUYS!). It was April and hence only a bit cold in Nepal. Of course it got colder even as we ascended our way up, but it wasn’t anything that could disturb us much, owing to the cozy accommodations on offer!

Day 2:

We took the morning bus out of Kathmandu to Pokhara this day. A decent ride, a simple lunch, and about 6-7 hrs is what it took us, even as we arrived at our pit-stop for the night. The Kathmandu Pokhara highway is a bit of a narrow stretch ( like most mountain roads are ), but is one of the best kept roads in the country. We passed on unhindered except for the stretch just before arriving in Pokhara, which was a bit of a discomfort. We were in Pokhara not long after lunch, and we had the rest of the day to ourselves. A short recess later, we were out on the lake facing street, which I feel is one of the best kept in town. A smaller place as compared to Kathmandu, Pokhara is much more beautiful and lively. The street I just mentioned, is perhaps the main attraction in here; what with so many shopping and eating ( drinking ! ) joints adjoining the very famous and huge Phewa lake. Tourists milling about, this certainly is the ‘touristy’ part to hang up your boots for a while ! And while there, you can plan your next adventures, which can include adventure sports ( We saw adverts for rafting trips and for some flying/gliding above the town ), or a trip to the famous view point of Sarangkot. You get a good view of the Annapurna range from up there. There’s a ( Shanti ? ) Stupa from where you get a panoramic view of the lake and the town itself. It’s quite a bit to indulge yourself in for a few days, and just as you thought you’re done here, there’s another big and beautiful Begnas lake just outside Pokhara, which allows for stay as well.

solitary reader phewa lake nepal

A solitary reader by the Phewa Lake in Nepal

The Phewa lake is great to sit by, any time of the day. That’s just what we did after our leisurely ‘check-out-places’ stroll early in the evening. A walk close to the lake and some photography later, we got back to our abode for the day. Dinner followed at one of the lakeside joints again, after which all of us tucked into our beds early in anticipation of the trek that was to start the next day!

Day 3:

After a morning photography session at the Phewa Lake once again, and sightings of the holy Macchapucchre (meaning fish-tail due to its shape) peak towering above Pokhara, we drove to this place 40 kms and an hour half ahead, called Nayapul. This was to be our starting point for the trek. The drive was good and the views nice (as is the usual norm in Nepal I guess!) Our porter ‘DilliRam’ was picked up on the way. Even if they don’t look it, these guys are pretty strong! Imagine carrying up to 20 kgs weight on oneself during such trips. Must see to believe!

phewa lake morning nepal

Phewa Lake the next morning.

After waiting a bit at Nayapul amid preparations for the necessary paperwork, we moved out soon with our backpacks and the porter in tow. The next couple of hours were spent traversing ‘kutcha’ village roads, ascending and descending as the terrain demanded of us! We passed through quaint little villages and crossed bridges over rivers and streams ( some big, others small ); chatting occasionally and stopping by for some breather and the good views! I learned about drinking water at regular intervals to ward off dehydration that the trek subjects you to. I must admit that the last bit of ascent before our lunch stop ( Birethanti village ? ) tired me quite a bit, and I was quite relieved to sit back and grab my food amid some much-needed rest!

bridge nepal

The motley crew on one of the many bridges that were crossed that day !

The lunch gave us some much needed rest for sure, because it was a very steep climb ahead, the steepest indeed for the entire trek. A total of 3,500 steps were to be left behind, and a height of 1000 m gained, in a span of 3-4 hours or so. I’m not sure about the exact step count, but was told so by some fellow climbers, so don’t bet me on that one! Now this is when my walking stick slid out of it’s comfortable position in my backpack! A much needed and quite a handy piece of equipment for the trek as I was going to realize now and later. With a strong sense of conviction (and nowhere else to go!), we made our climb through with quite a few stops in en-route, overtaking fellow trekkers at times, and then waving them through as they passed us! I was quite surprised to see people in their middle and late years making a go for those stairs, and I must admit that actually gave me the much-needed vigor at times. The girls in our group were much better off, quite sprightly trekkers I’d say! They would pass us and then wait for us at one of those many turns, enjoying the view whilst we joined them! In spite of all the hardships entailed, it was all worth it at the end of the day. A sense of joy, relief and accomplishment overwhelmed me as soon as the climb got over. The toughest part of the trek was done with (or so I thought!), and we had to enjoy the view from here on! We had reached our refuge for the night, a guest house at Banthanti (Ban = forest, ‘thanti’ is simply another place). We hung up our boots for the time being, relaxed, and had great Tibetan food for dinner amidst a lot of chatter (The owner of the guest house was a bit of a noisy lady, but in a sweet and affable manner!). Needless to say, we snuggled up to our beds thereafter! It was a getting a bit colder than the usual.

View from Banthanti next morning

View from Banthanti next morning

Day 4:

This day was a moderate trek from Banthanti to the foothills of Poon Hill, a place called Ghorepani. The greenery accentuated even further and we started to go deep inside the rhododendron forests that this part of Nepal is famous for. Rhododendron is the national flower of the country, and it’s sightings were aplenty thanks to the spring season! The trek that we had undertaken is referred to as the ‘rhododendron walk’ by many because of the same reason.

Foliage somewhere between Banthanti and Ghorepani !

Foliage somewhere between Banthanti and Ghorepani !

The smell of green foliage permeated our nostrils, and we took in all of it that we could, even as we ascended slowly towards our destination. This day’s trek was quite a relief after the steep climb of last day. It took us a mere 4-5 hours to reach Ghorepani, and this was good planning by Krishna, as weather prediction sites had anticipated a cloudy and rainy second half of the day. It was so in reality and we were lucky to be inside our guest house by then!

Rhododendron trees on the way to our guest house at Ghorepani

Rhododendron trees on the way to our guest house at Ghorepani

Ghorepani Village in Nepal

Ghorepani Village

We had a lot of time on our hands once we arrived at Ghorepani. It was only early afternoon, and we spent a lot of time in the dining area at our guest house; having food off course, then enjoying the view outside ( clouds, winds, rain, hail ! ), gossiping a lot, sharing experiences and playing some cards. It was one of the best times of the entire trek! We saw other groups joining in, and the dining hall had become pretty crowded and noisy towards early evening. We had a cozy corner to ourselves nevertheless. The view was awesome, even though obstructed by the clouds, and trekkers (including me!) were very trigger-happy!

Beautiful view from Ghorepani guest house

Beautiful view from our guest house at Ghorepani ! It would have been much more majestic, had the clouds parted way !

This merry making continued well into the evening, and we retired once again to our rooms to prepare for the early start next morning, to catch up with the sunrise at Poon Hill. It had become more chilly, but again, the accommodation was very comfortable!

Day 5:

This day started before dawn ( I remember setting my alarm to 4:30 am ), and we started towards the poon hill summit soon after. It was going to be a steep climb again, a lot of steps to cover the 800 mts of ascent, within the next 45 mins or so. Yes it was a tough one in the dark ( not really, we had our torches ), but we made it well in time to the summit. Panting hard, though it was all worth the effort !

Sunrise over the Annapurna range

Sunrise over the Annapurna range

And once the sun came up and the peaks came into view, it was like a panorama all around us. The peaks covered 270 degrees of it, while the rest was taken up many smaller hills. The peaks included those in the Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and the Manaslu ranges. There were quite a few, so I don’t remember their individual names, and moreover, I was busy enjoying the scene, rather than trying to remember them. People were clicking all over, and so was I !

The Dhaulagiri peak Nepal

The Dhaulagiri peak ( 8000+ mts )

Panoramic views all around

Panoramic views all around

We spent a good 1 hour at the summit trying to take in the scene. It’s not that we got enough of it after that, but yeah it was good enough ( We had had our pics and had strolled around quite a bit, taking in all the fresh air ! ), and we had a long day ahead, with quite some distance to cover towards our next destination, Tadapani. Krishna had mentioned good ( close ) views from there as well, and we were not disappointed ( well, for the most part ! ). We descended now from Poon Hill, clicking along our way again ( Just couldn’t get enough of it in my camera; that beauty can only be seen to be experienced ! ). Breakfast over, we checked-out from Ghorepani, with very beautiful memories and with another ‘trek day’ ahead of us !

poon hill summit

That proud moment at the summit !

The path this day was topsy-turvy, what with good views all the way; it was pretty sunny for the most part so we did indulge in all we got ! It was a pleasant ride most of the way, and only the final stretch before Tadapani was a steep one. It was post-lunch as well, so I had my stomach grumbling a bit !

Spectacular views even while descending down from Poon Hill

Spectacular views even while descending down from Poon Hill !

On our way from Ghorepani to Tadapani

On our way from Ghorepani to Tadapani .. we did have clear skies during 1st half of the day !

We reached Tadapani after a bit of a hectic ride and snuggled up in our rooms for some time. The weather turned cold and misty soon, and we had moderate rains. We could see other trekkers arriving in their ponchos and looking out for rooms in the village. Thankfully, we were taken care of well by Krishna, and we were inside our cozy accommodations before the weather turned bad. Do note that you need to carry good quality ponchos and bag covers to protect yourself and your stuff, from the changing weather; it doesn’t give you much time to duck for cover ! Once inside the guesthouse, time was spent in the dining hall once again, chatting up and playing cards. I took some time out to read and start thinking about this write-up of mine. Though we had mountains up close, we could not see much because of the clouds. After some time, though, the clouds parted way while the sun was setting, and we had this magnificent view of the macchapucchre peak once again, the rays shining on it’s summit ! We spent quite some time taking in the scene, and snapping up the same !

Macchapucchre peak Tadapani

One of the best views during the trip, the macchapucchre peak from Tadapani ! Clouds had mercy upon us during that fleeting moment !

Clouds on Macchapucchre peak Tadapani

And then there was this view of the Macchapucchre once the clouds set in … It’s incredible how the view changes so suddenly up in the mountains !

After sunset, it was the usual, and we went to bed pretty early. This was the first and the only night during my entire trip, when I had to use my sleeping bag ( so it was worth it carry one ! ), chiefly because the blankets in our room were not as warming. Another lesson learnt !

Day 6

I got up early in anticipation of a good and clear morning view, but then, it was to be cloudy as well. I still enjoyed a little walk around the village, and chatting up with some other trekkers while waiting for the dining hall to open up. We had our breakfasts soon, and were ready for the last trek day ( 4 in total if you forgot the count by now ! ). It was going to be a day of ( very ) steep descent all the way till our lunch point at Ghandruk, so I had to careful about my knees ! It was a relief to get to Ghandruk, after which it was a further 2-3 hours’ walk to Nayapul, our starting location. There are buses available as well, at Ghandruk, which can be taken all the way till Pokhara; so that’s another option for people who would like to give their knees some rest after the descent from Tadapani. The cloudy weather helped us quite a bit, because it was to be the ‘longest-walk’ day that day. The terrain was pretty green to start with, but the greenery started to wither down during the descent, as we reached the plains and more of the settlements came into view. The last stretch of walk after Ghandruk was a beautiful one even though, because we were walking by a river, and the terrain was almost flat!

greenery outside tadapani

The greenery outside Tadapani, and it was glowing all the more because of the rains last evening !

Once back at Nayapul, we did not waste much time in taking a cab back to Pokhara, our pit-stop for the night once again; and once at Pokhara, we did not waste much time in having a good time that was pretty well deserved after the successful completion of our trek. We had earned our certificates for sure ! The celebrations continued well until midnight ( ‘Busy Bee’ was our night spot; highly recommended if you are in Pokhara; doesn’t open beyond 12 though, so no late night partying ! ), after which we rushed back to our rooms, and to a good night’s sleep. It was not to be much of a sleep though, beacuse we had to travel to Kathmandu the next day, and that meant catching the early morning bus. Well, at least for some of us. Rest of our trek-mates had decided to stay on at Pokhara from hereon.

Day 7

An uneventful day, wherein we got back to Kathmandu after quite a long ride ( I remember at least 10 hrs ), because of the not-so-usual traffic jams on the highway, but most of it being in the city because of the Hindu new year celebrations the next day. We were a bit tired after the long bus ride, and the rest of the evening was spent in leisure, roaming in Thamel. It was quite a party in Thamel for sure, what with people dressed up in their finery for the new year celebrations. The place was crowded quite a bit, and people looked very eager and ready to party out ! It was a celebration and nothing else. Wish I could have clicked some pictures of the night, but then I was a bit tired from the ride and decided to rest my cam for a while. A quite dinner and few beers later, it was time for us to call it a night !

Day 8

We had this one whole day to take in the scenes in Kathmandu, and we had our plans cut-out for the same. The famous Pashupatinath temple was our first stop that day, but boy it was crowded quite a bit because of the new year. It’s what Kathmandu is most famous for, so it should top your list of places-to-see while there. Sadly, foreigners are not allowed inside, while nobody else is allowed to click inside anyway. We ended up spending an hour there still, taking in the architecture of the place. It’s a pretty vast complex, and due to the huge crowd swell that day, the main entrance was choc-a-bloc. Luckily, we found another entrance on the side, from which I went in. I came out quick, because taking pictures was not an option, and the crowd was too much for me to picture myself standing in the queue for hours. Cremation ghats behind the temple are something of an interest to the foreign tourists I’m sure, as I could see a lot of them observing the procedures being followed.

The Pashupatinath temple complex

The Pashupatinath temple complex, with the crowd swell included !

After strolling a bit inside and about the temple complex, we walked on to our next stop, the Boudhanath stupa. It was a half hr walk at the least, and on your way you can visit another temple complex which looks pretty big too. The stupa is a huge circular dome ( what else ! ) on a huge enough platform, wherein you can stroll and sit for a bit. It’s surrounded by restaurants on all sides offering terrace view. Photographers need to carry a wide-angle lens in order to cover the entire scene, as you are pretty close to it all the time. Try to find a good higher vantage point, may be one of those terrace views. I didn’t get a good enough view with my cam, so I enjoyed whatever I could picture in my eyes. This place will take up another hr or so again, and may be a little more if you decide to have lunch as well ( pretty many options available, so not a bad idea after all ! ). Our lunch done with, we took a cab from outside the Stupa and got back to Thamel, and then on to the Durbar Square. It’s a pretty unique ( and old ) part of Kathmandu, and you have to pass through compact bazaars packed up with spices and any other stuff for that matter, including people ! Very difficult to drive around in such conditions, so a walk is highly recommended, wherein you can take in the chaos and just pick your place, stand, observe, click and do whatever ! While on your way, you can have excellent "lassis" at a very famous joint bang-on Indra Chowk.

Busy Darbar Square in Kathmandu

The durbar square will blow you away with just the sheer no. of people on display !

The durbar square is home to the old palace ( now a museum ), and a host of other structures close by. Guess most of them are or were temples. Again, you could see a lot of ( young and old ) crowd sitting about those structures, so not sure if they really are protected monuments. Guess my words can’t do justice to all that I saw there, but these pics might just give you an idea before you go. All in all, you can end up spending at least half a day there ( including getting in and getting out ), so plan accordingly. I do hope, though, that many of them survived the recent quake.

The Kalabhairab statue at Durbar square

The Kalabhairab statue at Durbar square, the fearful form of Lord Shiva

Inside the old palace and museum in Kathmandu

Inside the old palace and museum in Kathmandu

That’s it ! A few clicks more and the evening drew to a close sooner that I thought it would. I wound my way to the guest house and after some much needed rest, finished it off with the much needed food. Thamel was a lot more quiet today, but not without the usual music scene up and running as always ! After a bit of humming with it, we raised our toast to Thamel’s nightlife, and drifted off to our rooms for the next few hours that were to be ours in Nepal.

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