“A map is not the territory” – Alfred Korzybski
My (Toby) Sunday morning may have started in my favorite way, with fresh coffee and cake, but not at my favourite time 6:30am. Pokhara was its usual misty self as I wandered over to get my caffeine kick, and before I knew it we were sat on a state bus, map in hand, heading out to Nayapul to begin our trek. As the bus rose above the mist we were treated to our first sights of the real beauty of Nepal – the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
The journey out took 1.5 hours and as one indistinguishable village after the next passed by, my anxiety levels rose slightly – would we get the right village? Would they tell us when to get off? I checked the map, trying to work out how many more villages to go. My worries were for nothing, our driver knew where we needed to get off – evidently a fairly common start point for trekkers.
The hardest part of the navigation came next, finding our way to the start point. No joke, this was the toughest part navigation wise, we were going to find out that the Himalayas are very well signposted! Once we had been through the pass checkpoints, (trekking not with a tour company meant we had to buy more expensive permits, but we were called Free Independent Trekkers, acronymed on the signs as F.I.T. – why thank you very much), we set off upwards towards Ulleri our village we were staying in that night.
Heading up we couldn’t stop admiring the scenery of the woodlands, river, farmland, terraced hills – such a lush environment compared to our trekking in Leh. Little did we know what was to come! As we walked up, we were shocked at not only the quantity of bags porters were carrying, (3-4 full size backpacks), but also that they didn’t use shoulder straps and supports, but instead carried them from a strap around their head. I hate to think of the health problems this must cause. Porters weren’t the only people carrying huge quantities like this, with us also passing locals carrying bundles of crops and cages of chickens – gotta give these trekkers their protein!
We arrived at Ulleri at around 2pm, our youth allowing us to cover miles fairly rapidly. We found a decent place to stay and wandered up to a lovely garden to get some lunch. In the evening we ate in our hotel and then retreated early to bed as there was no heating anywhere and as soon as the sun set it got very chilly!
We found that the accommodation whilst trekking was very cheap, but food and drink prices were much higher comparatively, (still cheaper than the UK), due to being in the mountains. We had bought some water purification tablets before leaving and these proved a great money saver, we’ve just bought a load more to keep us going through India.
Day two was the easiest day of the trek. A mere three hours climbing up the Gorepani. You may be thinking – why didn’t you do this yesterday afternoon? – but the reason for this was the views from Gorepani which deserved an afternoon relaxing by. We got lucky with the guesthouse, getting the last room as the rest were booked up by tour groups, and settled onto the terrace with huge chunks of fresh cake and coffee.
The colours of the landscape were breathtaking – sharp blues of the sky contrasting against the sparkling white of the snow covered mountains that owned the skyline. Further down, the landscape was awash with the greens of the forests that covered the valleys. Within these were splashes of deep reds and burnt oranges as autumn slowly crept its way in. As I sat there with my feet up on the railing, sun beating down on the back of my neck, I watched the late afternoon clouds slowly tumble over the hillside gradually reclaiming the mountaintops back to their mystical shrouded state. The crisp refreshing air was such a contrast to the air lower down, and invigorated both the body and the mind – leaving me sat there with the feeling of pure unadulterated happiness amongst the mountains.
As the temperature dropped the layers of clothing increased, but I stayed on the terrace revelling in the view. The photos cannot do it justice, but we have tried our best! Finally when the shadows fell heavy on the mountainside and the clouds were encamped around me did I retreat inside to the warmth of the wood fire in our lodge ‘Nice Viewpoint’ – somewhat of an understatement!
The third day started pre dawn at 4:30am – we wanted to be up Poon Hill (a 45 minute climb) to watch the sunrise. To battle with the cold all layers stayed on, including my checkered pj bottoms under my walking trousers, so I can now state that yes I have climbed a summit in my pyjamas. Combing with this was some lovely spare sock mittens and tied together sock headbands to keep our ears warm – suffice to say we were the most fashionable pair heading up that morning. Joe also wore a pair of boxer shorts on his head.
We hadn’t figured out the exact way up, but this wasn’t a problem with plenty of people heading up, the summit of Poon Hill was probably only beaten by the Taj for the number of tourists in its small space. Sunrise was incredible though, the sky was basically cloudless around the mountains as the sun slowly revealed them. Included in the wrap around of mountains was Daulagri, which stands at 8172m, making it the 7th highest mountain in the world! Our layering prevailed and we didn’t freeze up there, making it down for our 7:30 porridge and caffeine before properly starting day three.
Climbing up our first accent of the day, I understood what an online article had said about the buzz of hiking in the Himalayas without a guide. To our left the snowy mountains soared over us, whilst on our right we looked down over valleys, above the clouds. As we walked the only sounds accompanying us was the crunch of frosted leaves beneath our feet and the exhalation of our breath as we climbed higher. We were two explorers venturing alone in the wilderness of the Himalayas – at least until we hit the next tea shop!
Day three won for views (4 being a close second), with a long 3000m ridge providing incredible views of the mountains before a descent down through a forest following a stream that frequently cascaded over cliff faces and waterfalls to our final stop at 2000m Gandruk – which had a lodge that actually provided its promised hot shower – a treat!
Our final day involved a route change. Gone was the relaxing few hour stroll back down to the bus stop, and in its place was a punishing 6 hour undulating day. Beginning this was a few hundred metre climb down into a valley, only to climb back up the other side. The altitude change was noticeable from the previous day with the forest being lusher and the air filled with the chorus of birds and bugs that inhabited them.
The views again were incredible, with the weather smiling on us throughout the trek. We arrived back down on the road in one piece, feet blister free and our bodies without too much ache. A rather packed state bus brought us back to Pokhara, which has seen a turn in its weather, with the clouds and mist gone, making the place feel so much nicer (and it was pretty nice to begin with!)
Trekking in Nepal was a completely different experience to in Leh. I was trying to think of an acronym on the same wavelength to ‘glamping’ to describe it. The best I could do was ‘lukking’ – for luxurious trekking. I don’t think it’s very good, any suggestions would be much appreciated! It is evident that Nepal is known as the trekking capital of the world – the paths are well maintained, routes signposted and villages very developed. We were staying in budget places and even they had the offer of WiFi, full menus adapted for any range of tastes, electricity, hot water – basically the equivalent of amminities offered at ski resorts.
This did mean you didn’t get the same authentic feel you got in Leh, staying and eating with local families at the only home in miles, but it was fantastic and its scenery is the next level. Suffice to say I have loved the trek and planning it as well as walking it was brilliant. Anyone could go explore the region independently, with villages and other people’s guides more than willing to help point in the right direction. So if you visit don’t get sucked into the hugely expensive tours, grab a map and jump on the local bus out there!