Recently I made a trek to Annapurna. I had a desire to go for trekking since my first trek in Annapurna a long ago. The dream came true when Hemu dai arrived from US to do this popular trek and his friends Sudarsan and Jayram joined in the team.
We kept our vehicle in Birethanti from where our trek began. The motorable road led us to quite a distance.
Well, local people certainly need road but we did not enjoy walking on road. On the way, we met some trekkers walking back. Hemu asked an old guy, "Survived?" He replied, "Yeah, Oh.. It was easy." As we walked uphill, we left behind the motorable road and the real trek began. The scenery was splendid and we all enjoyed the trek.
Since we started the trek quite late, it was already 6 pm when we came to Hile, the beautiful village overlooking green hills on the other side. We stayed in Green View Lodge that looked decent. We took shower and relaxed on the patio.
A herd of ponies were grazing on the steep hill just above the hotel. Just above the grazing land, sparse forest stretches up to the summit. It was really wonderful feeling to observe the beautiful scenery of hills and villages. There is electricity in almost every villages generated through micro-hydro projects initiated by Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and managed by local communities.
We enjoyed the evening with gossips and jokes that was amply supported by beer and light snacks. Hemu shared some funny moments he had with his friends at the restaurant in US. They had fair bit of debate over the authenticity of a woman's bosom. One of his friends dared to ask her, "Is it real or fake?" "Just couple of installments and it's all mine!" she replied flaunting her body. We enjoyed more jokes that I do not dare to share here. We were hungry and tired with long walk, had delicious Dal Bhat Tarkari (DBT) and good sleep in comfortable bed.
We had porridge and boiled eggs with black coffee as our breakfast. Clear weather in the morning excited us to go for second day trek. On the way, I heard many birds chirping but didn't have much time to spend for bird watching as I had to pick up the pace with fellow friends. However, I recognized some of them at cursory glance through the binocular.
It was indeed difficult job to walk steep Ulleri hill during the day when sun was at its zenith. Miniature planes were flying every now and then through narrow gorge for mountain viewing. Seeing a plane whizzing by just above the head, I thought, I would have real hard time to discern between delight and fear if I had been to such flights. Beautiful scenery of waterfall, rhododendron forests, hills and mountain was eye-catching. As day progressed, golden mountain was gradually changing into whitish.
We passed through narrow alley of Ulleri village spread with many hotels and restaurants. We continued the trek up to Banthanti where we had spaghetti as lunch. I have an Italian friend who once told me, "My mom makes good spaghetti; why don't you come to my house to taste it?" I never had a chance to taste that spaghetti but this one was good.
Elderly women at the backyard were hitting the dark-green leaves with makeshift hammer to make gundruk of this broad-leafed plant called dhakayo that naturally grows in forest at higher altitude. There was sudden downpour and day looked gloomy. Weather is usually fickle and unpredictable in the hills as the sudden rain was followed by sunshine and we were on our way to Ghorepani. But, intermittent rain disrupted our walk on many occasions.
One of our brief stopovers was at a restaurant in Nangethati where we drank mint tea. Rain followed us till Ghorepani. Blue roof of the magnificent hotels at the backdrop of dark sky were clearly visible from the distance. My hand got stiff with cold rainwater so that fingers were not moving easily. As we desperately needed the refuge, we stepped in Hotel New Glacier that came to our way. Apparently this is the good hotel run by two sisters Jamuna and Laxmi (J & L, as written on their visiting card).
I was taken by the fact that women were in-charge of most of the hotels and the restaurants. In the hill and the mountain regions, it is a tradition for men to go overseas for work. We were informed that remaining youths were also driven away by the Maoist activities during the insurgency. Once they were displaced from the villages, most of them settled in the big cities like Pokhara and Kathmandu. The abandoned villages, homes, hotels and the restaurants are in care of these brave women. And their services are excellent. Especially the hospitality service is world class. It is the innate ability that comes within your heart when you know that your smile, laughing, chatting and welcoming gesture would attract the visitors and earn your living.
We settled in the hotel and warmed ourselves sitting around the improved fireplace in the dinning hall. A big metal drum coated with grey clay has a small opening at the side to put firewood, that burn inside, and smoke rises through the chimney that is attached perpendicularly to the drum. Before dusk, we rambled around the narrow alley which was alive with classical music played on dimly lit restaurants. After preparing dinner, J & L joined us in chatting and playing marriage, a card game, since they were free and relaxed as we were the only guests in the hotel. Immediately after DBT, I went to bed for my body was aching and had to rise early next morning for visit to Punhill.
It was indeed difficult to leave such warm and comfortable bed early in the morning but the desire to view sunrise got stronger and I was ready in a moment. Most of the guests were already on their way but we weren’t last as some of them were trailing behind us. It was really hard to walk steep hill early in the morning and I had difficulty to resist my temptation to lie on the bed. My thought was shifted to sweet melodious sound of warblers calling beneath the bush in dense rhododendron forest.
Sun was just about to break when we reached the summit. The first ray emitted between massive mountains was invigorating and splendid.
Sunrise was simply breathtaking as the entire mountain range was gleaming radiant with the reflection. Visitors were enjoying the scenery and clicking their camera from every vantage point.
Sturdy metal tower is erected at the center but, such an artificial structure is the anticlimax to the serene beauty of nature. We descended down together with some guests and a trekking guide who was explaining about his upcoming trek to Annapurna Base Camp.
Our breakfast was ready and served outside on the table. Unlike previous day, weather was fine, clear, and perfect to begin third day of the trek as the mountain was clearer and more beautiful.
One of the characteristics of the trekking is that you come to entirely new place in short duration of walk such that your level of excitement remains intact during whole trek. Passing many hills and forests, we walked downhill to get to Deurali. Many visitors were there; some of them having snacks and drinks, and others resting. We also drank tea while Hemu bought some stony trinkets at a curio shop. We continued to walk down the hill along the stream.
Forest was getting denser and darker; iridescent butterflies were fluttering beneath the canopy and sweet fragrance of wild flowers wafted in the air. I felt like I was traveling back in time. Spotting of a Spotted Forktail reminded me the moment of the last trek. I had shown the forktail to our team leader and upon this, he was joking, “I am good at cocktail, not forktail.”
After long and steep walk, we arrived at Banthati and had lunch in a restaurant that is adjacent to stream. The trail is little uphill from Banthati and all the way down to the stream then steep hill again up to Tadapani.
On the way, we met some local people with green vegetable (dhokayo) on their back. We came to know that Ghandruk used to be popular for gundruk made of dhokayo. This is a reason why name of Ghandruk was established.
From Tadapani, Machhapuchre and Annapurna South were seen as close as I could imagine. The spectacular beauty receded my pain and weariness but certainly felt cold out there (alt. 2680 m.). We stayed in Hotel Himalaya; were, in fact, accommodated in porter rooms as the hotel was already full. We did not bother to look for other hotels because of tiredness.
A beautiful mountain was really spectacular as the first ray of sun reflects from the mountain. After having breakfast, we prepared ourselves for the last day (possibly) of the tour. While walking little far, we found ourselves in the mature and old forest. People claim that wild animals like tiger (?), leopard, sloth bear and deer are found in the forest.
We came across the beautiful, lush green forest with plenty of colorful birds: flycatchers, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, warblers and finches. This is well preserved forest and I felt myself in heaven. Nature is resilient for it flourishes in full bloom with little care. This is the true example of the fact that when people know that their livelihood depends upon the well-being of the forest and natural heritage, they are motivated to protect them. Economic incentive is such an important factor for the conservation perceptive.
Sudarsan and Jayram went far ahead as we (me & Hemu) were entangled by luscious yeselu (yellow berry) on the way. Brilliant yellow berries enticed us to sting with its sharp thorns; surely beautiful things do not come easily on your way. Nevertheless, berry was really delicious. I thought that this recalcitrant bush might be the indication that human settlement is not very far. Further away, narrow trail became much wider and panoramic view of Ghandruk village was within our sight. Clean trail, tiled with stones, led us to village, the traditional stronghold of Gurungs.
I was disappointed to see the building boom in Ghandruk as the traditional houses and cottages have been replaced by the concrete structures. I had the faint memory of the wonderful, serene and tranquil village. The reminiscence of the past splendor was gone forever. Since we arrived early, we had enough rest before and after the lunch. We had a discussion whether to stay overnight in Ghandruk to observe the Gurung Cultural Program or go back home, but decided to leave eventually. After some two hours of rest and lunch break, we headed down to Birethanti. The path is steep up to half way then almost plain. There are many restaurants and teashops on the trekking route that follows many villages and cultivated land. Many prime forests were gutted to human settlement.
However, quality of forest seems good on the other side of the Modi River. This forest receives some sort of protection because of inaccessibility of area which is really steep down to the river. We had beer and snacks in a restaurant on the way. The trek was pretty calm and less adventurous till Birethanti from where we picked our vehicle and arrived in Nayapul. We made our exciting trek without much difficulty and scratch.
I was physically tired, yet mentally fresh. Now I consider trekking is such a wonderful experience not only to see the unique places and enjoy the diverse cultures but also to calm mind. In addition, I lost more than 5 pounds in less than 4 days!