NEPAL: trekking around POKHARA: POONHILL and further

• The idea is to describe in this section the treks between Pokhara and JOMSOM we do. In November 2019 we did the POONHILL TREK. What will hopefully follow is trekking from Kagbeni-Jomson to Gorepani and continue doing the Kophra trek and/or Mardi Himal.

• We had quite a colourful guide for our Poonhill trek. He explained that Nepali people divide foreigners in 4 categories:

1. “Hippies”: these were the first visitors to Nepal. Foreigners were originally just called “hippies”. Hippies were just around to get high. Australian Camp was founded by them. Freak street in KMD was named after them.

2. “Backpackers”: these come late December or in the summer months; they walk alone on the treks, without a guide. And try to avoid paying any trekking fees.

3. “Tourists”: they fly into Kathmandu and hire a helicopter to go to Everest Base Camp. Future tourists may travel by bus to Everest Base Camp, Larkya Pass and Thorung La Pass, get off, take a few pictures and hop on again. Like most Chinese are travelling today anyway already.

4. “Guests” are those that hire a guide, speak a few words of Nepali, sample plenty of Dal Bhat and are interested in the Country and do a lot of trekking; they think everything is wonderful and (when American:) awesome!

• He further explained that:

o Himalaya means “white peak”
o Pokhara means “pond”, the city was malaria infested until about 150 years ago
o Annapurna means “Future Food”: the more snow on the mountain, the more water for the fields (irrigation).

DAULAGHIRI en NILGIRI
Dhaulagiri range from Poonhill

INTRODUCTION POON HILL TREK

1.The POONHILL trek is named in memory of Major Tek (Tul) Bahadur PUN whose memorial plaque can be found on the top of POONHILL, the official highlight of the trek. Major Pun was a Ghurka who joined the British Army, earned the Victoria Cross for bravery – saving actress Joanna Lumley’s soldier father in the process. Joanna later campaigned for him and all Ghurkha’s in general to be allowed settlement in the UK after having served for the British after a number of years.

Major Pun also sought to improve schooling in the area around Myagdi and spent lots of time on the mountain top, now named after him, enjoying the magnificent views of the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna ranges.

2. We did the trek 18 years ago, in March 2001 with our 2 children aged then 6 and 8. The rhododendrons were in bloom but the weather was so unstable that during the 7 days trek we hardly saw any mountains nor immediate surrounding scenery of the trail.

We had 3 days left of our holiday in Nepal in December 2019, so we decided to do the walk again. Poonhill is now advertised as a 3 to 7-day trek… (see conclusions). Also, as a “luxury” trek, meaning that most Guesthouses (GH) along the trail have ensuite toilets and showers and Wi-Fi.

Our guide Raju suggested to start in Ulleri and finish in Dhampus, so clockwise around Poonhill. This was an excellent choice! So, the agency arranged for a 3-day package, including guide, transport to and from the trail, accommodation and 3 meals per day plus one drink for 570 US$ for 2 persons. (guide: 3 days x 30 US$, jeep: 2 x 90US$, accommodation and food: 3x2x40 US$, permits: 2 x 30 US$. ) (See our note about these “packages” in “trekking the Manaslu circuit” )

ROUTE

Day 1: Jeep to Ulleri from Pokhara: 3 hours (Via Sarangkot, Nyapul, Birethanti and Tikhedhungga);Walk from ULLERI (at 2010 m) to GOREPANI (2873m): 7.41 km in 1h39minutes, 854m up and 73 m down.

The ride went up first from downtown Pokhara to Sarangkot where we had a quick stop at the “morning platform” for pictures of the Annapurna’s and Fishtail or Machapuchre. After Kaskikot we took the “highway” to Jomson which was under MAJOR repair. You could call it rather “construction”. At Nayapul (“New bridge”) we took the junction to Birethanti where you pass the entry gate for the trek and quite a few tourbuses and vans. The “road” here becomes very scenic but very bumpy; almost unbearable after Thikhedhungga.

We got out at Ulleri, had lunch first and did the pleasant walk to Gorepani. We stayed in the Snow Mountain View GH, a brand-new unwelcoming concrete structure on the top left (where the trail from upper Gorepani to Poon Hill goes behind). It resembles a Chinese hotel of the 70’s with cold dining hall – with emphasis on “hall” and long dark corridors.

Day 2: From Gorepani via POONHILL (3175m) to GANDRUK (1940m) via Deorali (3160m) and Tadapani : including the climb to Poon Hill: 7 hours, 17.7 km, 890m up, 1755m down. (we lost the breakdown in timing)

We left the GH at 5.30 am to be in time for sunrise. As written above, from here you have magnificent views over the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna ranges, including the Fishtail and over the hilly landscape towards the East. You are not alone though, expect this time of the year about another 60 to 80 revellers. During the high season months of April and October, allegedly there are about 500 people each day…

But the views from Deorali pass later on in the day almost match the early morning views! So, don’t let the crowds get too much on your nerves. You could even skip Poonhill or go later than sunrise (the sunrise is not that spectacular as such; the views in general are though!…)

It is a magnificent day to let the majesty of the place soak in and with plenty of picture opportunities while walking in pleasant forest!

Note that Gandruk has 2 musea, showing ancient Gurung life (we knew about one, found out they actually have 2…) and not that different from current Gurung life.

We stayed in the Breeze GH in Gandruk. Ok or “mamahuhu” in Chinese … . The Old Village Inn looked more promising….

Day 3: From Gandruk to DHAMPUS: 15.19km, 5h58min, 1032m up and 1208 m down.
Via Landruk bridge: 2.63km, 1h13’, Tolka Namaste GH 5.24km and 2h03’, Berikharka 2.37km , 50’, Pitam Deurali 2.94km, 1h13’, Pothana 2.01km and 38’.

The day starts with a steep descent to the Landruk bridge – look out for kingfisher and parrots towards the bridge. When early enough you will meet a lot of schoolchildren doing this climb to the upper road daily!
Once passed Landruk, you can marvel at the terraces the local farmers have built and maintain for their livelihood. We had lunch – our last dhal bat for these holidays, a good one! – at the lovely Namaste GH just passed Tolka. Enjoy the views of Annapurna South!

Southeast view from Poonhill
Southeast view from Poonhill at sunrise

We walked till Dhampus where the trail basically stops….

CONCLUSIONS

1. The Poonhill trek maintains its charm despite being now tremendously popular! Try to go either early to mid March (The rhododendrons will be in bloom then but you run the risk of seeing very little of the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna ranges – what happened to us the first time we did the hike) or after November 20…!

Note that around the place roads are being built everywhere… Soon (the word has a different dimension in Nepal though) you may drive around Poonhill…

2. Ideally 4 days: (when 3 days: first day to Gorepani)

Start in Tikhedunga (no need to endure the bumpy ride to Ulleri!) and take the 3000 steps to Ulleri: finish the first day here. With the transfer to Tikhedunga and the start of the walk, you will have had a full day already! And don’t let the steps frighten you! You walk in pleasant landscape! And Ulleri is nice, more so than Gorepani we thought.

• Day 2: continue to Gorepani: explore “lower” Gorepani and “Higher” Gorepani village. When the weather is nice with clear skies you could go up to Poonhill already…

• Day 3: Poonhill first. When in high season, you may skip an early ascent to Poonhill and go later – say around 08.00 am and avoid the crowds. Remember: the views from Deurali and around are as magnificent- plan time for this!! Stay in Gandruk.

• Day 4: to Dhampus and have transportation from here back to Pokhara (alternative: stay in Photana which is still in the forest with some nice GH (“See You GH”). Note that Dhampus is an anti-climax already, avoid staying there! And Phedi is a total disaster now because of road construction through it! And this certainly for the next 3-5 years!

3. In 2 days:
• Day 1: from Tikhedunga to Gorepani
• Day 2: From Gorepani to Gandruk and further on to Tilche (1.5 h from Gandruk) from where you can arrange (could have arranged beforehand) transport to Pokhara

4. You can connect from Gorepani with other treks: i.e continue to Jomson-Kagbeni or do the Kophra treks, Annapurna Base Camp, or Ganesh Himal trek. We want to walk from Jomson to Gorepani and continue doing the Kophra trek one of these years…