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Ghandruk, Poonhill, TatoPani, Marpha, Jomsom, Muktinath trek

Posted on Aug 3, 2013 by rkunwar under Tour

Tags: Ghandruk,Poonhill,TatoPani,Marpha,Jomsom,Muktinath

I’d had actually thought of doing this trek since quite a long time. And it got cancelled a couple of times before because of one reason or the other.  This time too, there were times when I doubted if I would actually do this trek. There were times when I’d thought of scrapping the plan this time too. I would vacillate in indecision for the most stupid of reasons. I knew one thing: I didn’t want to go to Kathmandu for an eight day vacation. (I’m a Nepali studying in India). Big cities had lost their charm for me by now. Moreover, there wasn’t anything I could look forward to in Kathmandu apart from home. So rather because I didn’t have a choice, I decided, I’d do this trip anyway even though it was only two of us. And moreover, it was considered the best time to do this trek.
I arrived in Pokhara on the evening of 22nd March, 2013. I didn’t have much to look for in Pokhara after a tiring journey from Butwal. Taking a shower and having Thakali Dinner was just enough for that night in Pokhara. It was a long time since I had good Nepali meal: Dal-bhat with rayo ko saag, gundruk, golbheda ko achar and yes, kukhura ko maasu. Needless to mention the quality of food, the meal took all the tiredness out of me. And as it was a Friday night, live music coming out of Club Amsterdam soothed our ears more. So after a sumptuous meal, what we needed was a good night’s sleep so that we’d be able to walk properly the following day. And the cosy bed in the lovely hotel in Pokhara was just good enough.

The next morning, we met one of our friends at a restaurant in Pokhara. He had come with 10 other friends to hike till Ghandruk. We decided to join them till there. They would return from Ghandruk whereas we’d go forward, wherever time would take us. ;) So two of us with our friend took a taxi to Naya Pul, from where our trek would begin. The rest of our new friends took another jeep to Birethanti. It took us about an hour to reach Naya Pul from Lake Side. We started walking from Naya Pul at around 11.30 in the morning. We had packed our bags with tucks beforehand as we were told they would be pretty expensive in the trail. It’s no issue to carry a few extra pounds when you only have a relatively small back pack to carry. We were meeting this friend of ours properly after a long time. So it was nice to chat over the long walk about the updates and developments all of us had been through. The initial walk till Syauli Bazaar was pretty easy and not tiring at all. Perhaps it was because we had so much to share. Soon, we marched way ahead of our friends. We’d go way ahead, look back at the path we’d covered and then see our friends faraway. Goodness me! When would they reach here, I’d say out of exclamation.

It was after we reached Kliu that the steeper part of the trail began. We got tired very easily and took a lot of short rests while walking this part. Perhaps it was because none of us had walked a steep hill since months. Although we were getting tired as we walked, exchanging greetings with everyone we came across refreshed us and encouraged us to carry on without any trouble. After walking for about an hour and a half from Kliu, we reached a small bridge with a stream flowing below it. As all three of us were way ahead of other friends and we were pretty tired, we decided to Jacuzzi in the stream or at least dip our feet in the water. The water was so cold and soon after dipping our feet in the water for a few minutes, we felt so relaxed that we couldn’t resist our temptation of a natural Jacuzzi. And even after all this time we wasted, it was still only after we had some snacks that our friends finally arrived there. They looked too weary. And we left soon after they arrived. Ghandruk was still about an hour away from there. We became so relaxed after our break that we didn’t even feel that we had already walked for more than 3 hours. After reaching Ghandruk, we freshened up and my friends were soon ready for some beers with the view of the mountains. But unfortunately, the mountains were too shy that evening and they were totally covered by the clouds. For me, the view was good enough even without the mountains. Especially for wanderers tired of the hustle and bustle of busy cities, it’s a peaceful retreat. A friend of mine challenged that if god existed, the mountains would show up. I wasn’t much hopeful of seeing the mountains from here if it were to stay like this. I couldn’t see a single star in the night. How on earth would I be seeing mountains next morning? I woke up once in the night to take a leak and didn’t still see any stars in the skies. Ghandruk was located at an altitude of 1940 metres. We would be going almost double this altitude so I didn’t care at all about seeing the mountains.
It was about 4.30 when someone called me to see the sight outside. Without big expectations, I pulled myself out of the bed lethargically to say good morning to the pre-sunrise skies and the hills that surrounded me. To my surprise, God didn't disappoint my friend. The 1080p view (or rather 4k view) of the mountains greeted us in style. This was only the second day of our trek and we were pleased with the splendid views.

I hurried to my room and pulled my tripod and camera out of the bag and set up to shoot for the sunrise. It was a small terrace with five photographers in action to shoot the day’s first rays of the sun on the Annapurna Range. We enjoyed the views till sunrise and at about 7, we freshened up for breakfast. After having breakfast, we set off for Ghorepani at about half past eight. We were pretty delighted with the local reviews of the Ghandruk – Ghorepani trail. We were told that it is a beautiful trail along the woods and the hills would be full of blooming rhododendrons.
Although we tried to persuade our friends to join us at least till Ghorepani, they had other commitments and had to get back to Kathmandu. So it was only the two of us from here. It was a long trail and trekkers generally preferred to do it the other way round to avoid steep ascend. But we were not regretful of our decision to trek the opposite way. The start to our day was wonderful and we had abundance of energy and enthusiasm in us while starting the trek.

The trail was an experience that I could never get rid of. The grandeur of the mountains, the beauty of the rhododendron-clad trees, the smell of the soil and the harmonic sound of the birds and insects ascertained that Mother Nature showered us with joy unmatched to any other material existence of the world. We reached Bhaisi Kharka in about an hour. We felt that we didn’t need any rest so we carried on. We passed a number of porters as we walked. Unlike us, they carried huge luggage and walked with cheap slippers and yet, they did it without any complaints. It was saddening to accept the economic adversity of our country and realise that such brave people had to do menial jobs like these. Hats off to these guys for doing such a commendable job. Soon after Bhaisi Kharka, there was a water fall where I wanted to take some pictures. I stopped and set up and shot some pictures and headed to Tadapani. Being an avid amateur photography freak, taking pictures while walking made me get rid of my tiredness.

We reached Tadapani at around 11 am. Although this part of the trek generally took slightly more than three hours, we had managed to do it within two hours and half. We patted on each other’s back for our commendable “Nepali” walking speeds. We thought we’d reach Ghorepani by 3 or 4 if we walked like this so we decided to stay at Tadapani for an hour. Tadapani was the place from where the trek to Chhomrong separated from that to Ghorepani. You have to go towards Chhomrong if you wished to go to Annapurna Base Camp or Machhapuchhre Base Camp. We ordered lunch at a restaurant in Tadapani. As everything was being cooked fresh, we had to wait for quite a long time here for the food. It was a sumptuous meal and our stomachs were full. We had to take a catnap of about 15 minutes to be able to walk properly. The weather wasn’t particularly beautiful in this part of the trail. We thought it could rain any time so we marched ahead towards Ghorepani at about 12.30 pm.

We had to descend from Tadapani and then climb again to reach Banthanti hill. We were tired a bit so we rested after we reached Banthanti hill. The view of Ulleri village from above the hill was impressive and the hills we just came from were dressed in different shades of red. How beautiful! After about 10 minutes of rest, we descended down to Banthanti where the hotels and lodges were situated. Here, I could not stop myself from rushing into a stream to take a picture of a waterfall emerging from within the hills covered with rhododendrons. Soon after that, we headed towards the steeper climb of the trek. I came across a sweet little princess, barely five or six, during this part of the trek. She was carrying a backpack and walking with her father. Her mother and sister were walking ahead of them. She was really cute, full of energy and not at a bit sad about having to walk. We shared greetings with the Israeli family and came to know that they had taken 5 days to do the trek we’d completed in 2 days. I was really impressed by the kid. I knew it wasn’t easy at all and if my parents took me along this trail when I was five, I wouldn’t even walk a step with the backpack and tell them to carry me all the way. So we walked slowly with the family upto Deurali. From Deurali, we had to descend to reach Ghorepani. It would still take us about 45 minutes more to reach Ghorepani. Upon arrival at Ghorepani at about 5 pm, we started searching for a hotel to stay. We didn’t have to search much as we soon found one with clean rooms and reasonable rates. Ghorepani being at an altitude of about 2874 metres was slightly colder. We freshened up and took a walk around that evening. We determined the way to Poon hill. We’d be coming this way the following morning. We headed back to the hotel for dinner.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up at quarter to five in the morning to see the sunrise from Poon Hill. Poon Hill was 45 minutes hike from Ghorepani and at an altitude of 3210 metres. It was dark when we left our hotel. As it was steep uphill, it was exhausting. I could already see the golden tint on the sky when I was nearly midway through the trail. I felt I would not reach on time to see the sunrise. When I reached the top of Poon Hill, I was glad I didn’t miss out on the sunrise. There was a view tower on top of the hill which I felt was redundant given that the view without climbing the tower was mind-blowing. I enjoyed the calmness for a while before getting ready to take pictures. The serenity I could experience after the tiring walk made me forget everything else. More than 200 tourists had flocked the hill to see the sunrise but you could easily experience solitude, triggered by the natural beauty and tranquillity of the place.

From Poon Hill, we could see aeroplanes flying below our level. The Jomsom-Pokhara flights made its way between the hills to get to its destination. The flight is considered to be a wonderful experience in Western Nepal. After taking some good photographs and wandering around for about an hour, we decided that we’d start the descent to Ghorepani. We reached Ghorepani at about 8.30 am. I liked the Tibetan bread with Nepali styled potato curry I had for breakfast at Ghorepani. Our destination for the evening was Tatopani. This trail was downhill almost all the way. We’d be descending from an altitude of 2874 metres to 2410 metres. So we started off our trek at 10 am and reached Chitre in about an hour. Although it was descent all the way, it wasn’t as easy as we had expected as the path was rough and rocky all the way. As both of us didn’t want to eat anything heavy for lunch, we bought 200 grams of Yak Cheese to eat while walking. We didn’t require anything else till before dinner that day. I was surprised by how 100 grams of Yak Cheese was enough for me for the entire day even when I was burning plenty of calories. It was nice talking to the locals and trekkers along the way. I once stopped to ask some women what the village visible on a hill nearby was. She asked me if I was asking it to go there to find some girls to marry. I said I was just curious and then she joked that girls in the village would easily fall for boys like us before she told me the name of the village. Lovely sense of humour these beautiful women of my country have, you see. Although it wasn’t so boring, this trail wasn’t as good as the ones we’d done during the previous days. We passed Sikha, Ghara and reached Kali Gandaki River. Tatopani was only 20 minutes’ walk from here. From here, the trail was the same as the dusty road where the vehicles travelled. So every time a vehicle passed, we had to bathe in the dust.

Soon after we reached Tatopani, we found a decent hotel to stay. I was not so pleased with this trail and I was too tired. So I freshened up and the locals suggested us to go dip in the natural hot spring to relax. Obeying their advice, we paid NRs 20 each to unravel the hidden pleasures of a bath in natural hot springs. The price was slightly higher (NRs 60) for foreigners. Two pools were constructed and the natural hot water was pumped from the source. I felt the heat as I dipped my feet in the water. The spring was often known for having natural healing powers to various skin diseases. The pool was filled with trekkers coming from Ghorepani as well as Thorong La. For beer lovers, you can grab beers for NRs 300 per bottle and relax in the pool. Chilled beer, hot natural spring: you decide how the experience would be. It was nice talking to the guides and trekkers about their experiences while still immersed in the pool. We stayed in the pool for about 3 hours until 8 pm after which we went back to our hotel to have dinner. We slept soon after the dinner as we decided we’d be taking up a bus to Jomsom early morning tomorrow at 7.

It wasn’t possible to get a direct bus to Jomsom from Tatopani. We had to go to Ghasa and take another bus from there. Ghasa was about an hour away from Tatopani. And as we had to walk the same road which the vehicles used, we decided it would be fine if we’d take a bus. We had lunch at Ghasa and soon after that, we went to Jomsom. We reached Jomsom at about 2 in the afternoon. As soon as I got out of the bus and crossed a wooden bridge I could feel that I was being swayed by the wind. Later, I had to cross a suspension bridge and the wind was blowing so fast that when I reached the middle of the bridge, I couldn’t stand straight. Damn! I feared if the wind would blow me away so I got to the other side right away. The high wind speed of Jomsom after the noon, perhaps due to its high altitude of 2720 metres and its location just beneath the mountains, is well known all over Nepal.

As we wanted to walk more, we decided we’d hike to Dhumba Lake from Jomsom and get back to Jomsom that same evening. It was a relatively easy trek. While leaving Jomsom, I saw a hotel which claimed to have hosted Jimi Hendrix in his visit to Nepal during 1967. And on the way to Dhumba, we passed the beautiful Thini Village. The houses hoarded plenty of wood on its terraces probably to dry and use them as fuel. Some yaks passed us carrying heaps of wood on their backs. I walked enjoying the splendour of the place and we reached Dhumba in an hour. The lake was surrounded by barbwire to prevent people from accessing it. It was a deep green lake just beneath the mountains. I wonder how cold the water must’ve been. Sitting by the lake, enjoying the tranquillity the lake and the setting sun, I realised how wonderful the trip had been till then. As we were getting back, I saw a waterfall and started taking some pictures. It soon got dark and unfortunately we lost our way. We were walking on a dangerous part of a hill which apparently seemed like a trail but it was only the part of soil which covered water pipe below it. By help from the wonderful locals, we soon found our way back to the hotel.

Next morning, we would be setting off for Muktinath. Muktinath, located at an altitude of 3800 metres, is a temple of Lord Vishnu and an important religious destination for Hindus. We left Jomsom at about 10 am. Muktinath was about 5 hours away. Although we looked for Yak Cheese for our dietary supplement, we couldn’t find any this time. We reached Eklebhatti in about an hour’s time and it was a steep climb from there. We could see Kagbeni village from our path. We could even see Muktinath temple after about an hour’s walk from Eklebhatti. It seemed so close that I thought it would take an hour more to reach Muktinath from there but it still took us 3 more hours from that point. You could see barren land everywhere along the trail and herds of sheep and mountain goats grazed along the scanty pastures below the Himalayas. I had never seen so much of sheer beauty previously. After about 30 minutes’ walk from Jharkot, we saw two chairs placed for rest. The view was phenomenal. It was so magnificent that I did not realise how 30 minutes passed while I just lay on the chair. Detached from the world, I enjoyed the gusting sound of the winds and the quietude of my mind. Pointless to explain in words, the feeling was such that I’d never want to get out of that state of mind.

We reached Muktinath after about 20 minutes from there. Settling at a hotel and taking a hot shower, we got ready to visit Muktinath Temple. My friend showed how my skin had burnt because of dust and cold. He had the same problems. The temple was located at an altitude of 3800 metres and was surrounded by 108 water spouts. It was considered a holy practice to bathe in those spouts before worshipping the god. I touched the water to wash my face but retracted soon as the water was ice-cold. We returned after taking some pictures. We talked with a family from Kathmandu during dinner. They had come all the way in a jeep. Tsk tsk. I pitied them for the pleasures they had missed out on. We slept soon after dinner.

Next morning, we went up to the temple one last time before departing. It was the last day we would be walking. We left Muktinath at around 9 am. We planned to go to Kagbeni before going to Jomsom. We reached Kagbeni at about 12 pm. We had no plans at Kagbeni except for wandering around for about an hour. We saw the old part of the village and a few monasteries apart from the holy spot which was famous for performing the posthumous rites of a Hindu individual. This was one reason for which Kagbeni was famous. Some green farms of Kagbeni made it an oasis in the entire arid area around the district of Mustang. We left Kagbeni and were hungry by the time we reached Eklebhatti. Moreover, it seemed as if the wind would blow us away so we decided we’d better stop for some time at a restaurant. We had a bowl of hot noodles. The wind was blowing so crazily that it seemed as if it’d shatter the restaurant glasses that surrounded us. We left after about 45 minutes. We couldn’t walk properly at our usual speeds because of the prevailing wind in the opposite direction of our travel. We met a sage along our way. He was barely in his late twenties and was finding Shaligrams along the Kali Gandaki river banks. Shaligrams are black stones relatively light in weight and used for worshipping in Hindu religion. It is considered to be one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. He asked me how to identify a Shaligram because of which I presumed he was a beginner. He had come walking barefoot all the way and he was returning barefoot. As it was all stones and rocks along the trail, I wonder how much pain he must’ve suffered. I’m perplexed by these strange things people do to show their faith.

After reaching Jomsom, we went to buy some souvenirs for our friends. We bought some local apple products to pacify our friends. We’d already booked the flight tickets to Pokhara for the next day. Our flight was scheduled to fly at 9 am. We reached the airport at 8 am, only to find out that our flight had been delayed. Because of the extremely high wind speed after 12 pm, flights to and from Jomsom are scheduled before that. So we were not very optimistic of our flight. We immediately cancelled the tickets and decided to reach Pokhara the same night by road. We left Jomsom at 11 am. The bus was filled with passengers whose flight was eventually cancelled. It was a bumpy ride and we reached Beni at around 5 pm from where we took a bus to reached Pokhara at around 8.30 pm in the night. I was so badly covered with dust that I could wipe it off my jacket and see the wiped mark. I was glad to take a shower and refresh for dinner.

Before sleeping, I contemplated what I had been through the past week. The splendour of nature I witnessed, those wonderful people I had met and the sweet memories we had created. The natural beauty I saw was unparalleled to the beauty of any other thing. I was so glad to know more about my own land and my own people. I encountered numerous moments that took my breath away and made plenty of memories to last a lifetime. This trip only encouraged me to travel extensively and explore, go higher up and deeper within. To all foreigners: You’ll only make sweet memories from this trek. Don’t think twice if you’re contemplating about doing this trek. To all Nepalese: You’re missing out on some real beauty of Nepal if you still haven’t seen this part of the country.

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