10 April 2015 – 19 April 2015
Kathmandu and Pokhara are both bursting with agents and shops ready to sell you everything you need to undertake a trek in the Himalayas. As a rough generalisation about trekking, from Kathmandu you can either go east towards Everest, or west towards Annapurna. We went west. You see, we had this idea that we’d do a short trek in the Annapurna conservation area, see if we liked it and how we coped, then if we felt like it, we could finish our trip in Nepal with a wee trip up Everest Base Camp.
I’d been in contact with a university friend, Michael (another Michael, so many Michaels!) who has done extensive trekking in Nepal – he has a beautifully written and well researched blog, Mongolian Horses and Cups of Tea, which you should definitely check out – and with the advice from Mike and Vic – we initially thought that a trip up and around the much trekked Poon Hill in Annapurna would be a good starting point for us. But once we arrived in Pokhara, saw how many people were there and heard of hundreds of people on the trail, we changed our minds and decided to do five nights, six days on the less trekked Mardi Himal. Mardi Himal has only been operational with teahouses along the way for around three years, before that you would have had to carry your own food and shelter. Perfect for a little more isolation on our Himalayan adventure.
Through an agency, we organised a guide named Hem. A lot of people don’t seem to take guides into Annapurna as the trail is so well marked, however our travel insurance became void if we were not on an organised tour, so we hired one. That, and we thought it was a wise idea for two complete novices to have some local knowledge on a lesser walked trek!
Side note: We really didn’t want to organise a guide through an agency as the agency, obviously, takes a cut of the guides fee. Here are two guides based near Pokhara which we can highly recommend. You can contact then directly to organise your trek.
- Hem Raj Adhikari
- Ram Paudel
We didn’t have any gear with us but with shops galore along Pokhara’s main street, it only took a few hours to gather what we needed. $110.67 NZD is what is cost to kit Michael and I out each with boots (second hand), pants (the zip off variety! shorts or pants? so versatile and THEY LOOK GOOD TOO!), rain coats, hats, gloves and socks. We then hired sleeping bags and trekking poles ($5.60 and $3.99 NZD respectively for six days).
And so with trekking permits in hand, we were off with our guide Hem.
Day One | Pokhara – Kande – Pothana – Pitham Deurali (2000mt)
We were up early and had a sandwich from our sandwich man to start the day. Hem took us on three different local buses to get to Kande where we began our walk. Initially everything was going just fine, well for the first 10 minutes anyway. It was hot. Significantly hotter than Kathmandu or Pokhara. Drippy face hot. There were lots of other groups coming down the trail, not carrying bags, in singlet tops looking all cherry – and they didn’t have trekking poles? Maybe we’d gone a bit over to top with our gear? Maybe the 13kg on my back wasn’t necessary? Turns out they were either doing a day walk or a one night walk.
We stopped in Pothana for lunch. I had fried rice. Hem had daal bhaat, and I mean he had DAAL BHAAT. Daal bhaat is the national dish of rice, lentils, curried vegetables and pickles and basically, you can eat as much as you want without paying extra. Seconds, thirds, fourths. I’m pretty confident Hem ate over a kilogram of rice. I was impressed. Daal Bhaat power, 24 hour – no wonder he’s so good at climbing mountains. Hem told us to enjoy our lunch because from here on in the food wasn’t going to be as good.
We carried on after lunch, me sweating out every place possible again, and then suddenly, at around 2pm, we arrived at Pitham Deurali where we’d spend our first night. The teahouse was basic with bare boards separating rooms, but it was fine. By 3pm it was getting really cold. By 3.30pm there was a massive hail storm in full swing. We played cards and had cups of tea and we met our new buddies, Dante from the USA and his guide Raj. They were going on the same route as us so we’d be together for the next five nights. Yay.
I was feeling good. If the trek is this easy I could definitely smash out Everest Base Camp!
Day Two | Pitham Deurali – Korkar/Forest Camp (2550mt)
Up at 7am and porridge for breakfast with this as our view.
I was under the impression that today was going to be an easy day walking… but it was straight uphill for what seemed like hours. Sweat puddles. Puddles of sweat. Granola bars. But feeling good despite how hard it was.
We’d come at the perfect time to see the rhoderdension forests in full bloom.
We had breaks, went deer spotting, saw plants that looks like cobra snakes and Hem kept us on the right trail, following the blue and white stripes.
We arrived at our second night stop again at around 2pm. 2pm seemed to be the magic time because again by 3pm is was freezing and then it started pouring and hailing.
Our teahouse at Forest Camp was super cute, complete with a chicken sitting on a water buffalo.
And the fire kept us warm.
We set in for another afternoon of cards with Hem and Raj while Dante had his nap. Raj spends most of him time being asshole in ‘Kings and Assholes’ – he pretended to not like it but I secretly think he did! And Hem showed us a few, sometimes successful, card tricks!
As it’s getting dark Hem races off with the husband of the teahouse because a tiger has killed a goat in the forest. I’m not to sure if there was a tiger, but Hem seemed pretty certain that there was and that it did indeed kill a goat! We didn’t see the tiger, but we did see the goat. Dead. And then we saw it again… being cooked with spices!
Day Three | Forest Camp – Low Camp – High Camp (3500mt)
Up early. More porridge. This morning is feeling harder than yesterday which is a real shame as today we have our biggest acent.
It’s a really steep climb through dense, mossy forest. You could almost mistake it for New Zealand. It’s lovely but it’s a very tough and a really slow journey.
We stop at Low Camp for lunch (boiled potatoes) and this is our view.
The clouds moved quickly and sometimes you wouldn’t even know the mountains are there!
We each take turns at having kicks with a wee boy who was on school holidays. He’s a pretty good goalie!
After a decent break we push on into what seems like even denser, mossier forest. It’s really tough going. Up. Up. Up. I start repeating ‘GIRL POWER’ over and over in my head and all I can picture is Geri and Baby Spice with their big shoes and Mel C doing a backflip on the dinner table in the ‘Wannabe’ video. I can do this. I’ve got this! GIRL POWER! Girl power with 13kg on my back! Then we clear the trees and the forest gives way to tussocks and it’s flippin’ fantastically beautiful. There’s Hem – King of Mardi Himal!
From here I was kind of hoping we were close to High Camp. I’d about reached my peak of trekking for one day. Hem pointed out where we are going – a little bit up, a little bit down, a little bit flat – not far he says – trying to keep us positive! I count about four massive peaks. It’s gonna take ages.
A little bit up, a little bit down. We put our merinos on. The wind is getting gusty. A little bit flat. Around some giant boulders. Hem tells us to put our rain coats on. We reach the top of the ridge and the wind in racing through us. The view is incredible but we’re walking through snow on nothing more than a skinny trail on the edge of a ridge. I want to look up at everything around me but I’ve got to concentrate so hard on not stepping off the trail. This is how people die right? One wrong step and I’m gone. It starts to rain. Girl Power?! I’m not feeling it anymore!
Visibility is appalling as it starts to snow. I’ve got pins and needles in my hands and feet. It’s so cold and SO windy. I’ve forgotten about Girl Power. All I can see in my mind now is that bad hypothermia video made in 1971, the one they show you in Year 8 before going on school camp, ‘Hypothermia – Such a Stupid Way to Die’ – I’m sure every school kid in Southland has seen this, and if you haven’t, you need to watch it. Now. My favourite parts are at 5.20 & 7.07 minutes. Bonus points if you can spot the part where the actor says “We’ve gone the wrong bloody way!” – perhaps the funniest in class moment of my entire schooling career.
Anyway, it’s bad. And Hem tells us we’re still 20 minutes away. That seems like forever right now buuut we make it. I can see the teahouse. The mountain has almost broken me. I’m freezing cold but we’ve made it.
Dante and Raj have been at the teahouse for over an hour waiting. But because there is limited wood, and as it’s a new-ish trek and they don’t have gas, there is no heating. The teahouse is super basic with a dirt floor, it’s freezing cold but there are warm smiles from all the men who live up here – they don’t make me any warmer physically, oh no-no-no, but they make me feel a little bit better. I’m told that it’s too cold for women to live up this high – bummer. I could really use a camp mother hug right about now. We get out of our wet clothes, have a hot tea and after a few hours the fire is lit so we huddle around. Too cold for cards today!
That night, Dante, Michael and I get into a VERY intense conversation about what sort of food we’d like to eat, if we could, knowing very well that options are limited at High Camp. We discuss burgers, pasta, pizza, meat, veges, salads, chips, curries we’d had in Pokhara – anything. We tell Dante about cheese rolls and kiwi dip. I fantasise about cans of reduced cream. You wouldn’t have to chill the dip at High Camp. This whole place is like one big fridge. Dante then gives us a full blow-by-blow of what his family’s thanksgiving dinner looks and tastes like. It. Sounds. Like. Heaven. Four types of potato. Four.
We’re in bed by 7.30pm. So pooped. And we all pray for the weather to clear so we can climb to the Mardi Himal View Point in the morning.
Day Four | High Camp – Low Camp – Sidhing
It rained for most of the night so when we got up at 5am to climb to the View Point, well, we knew that it probably wasn’t going to happen. We had some breakfast and waited a few hours. I even went back and lay in bed with the door open, watching the fog roll by and creep inside our little ice box room.
At one stage we thought it might clear and Michael got this photo of Dante. But within 30 seconds, what you see behind Michael was all we could see.
The visibility was too poor and it was too dangerous to climb any further so on Hem and Raj’s advice, we got ready to descend.
We began our decent a different way to where we came up yesterday. It was just as cold and windy, super foggy and at points, the muddiest in all the muddy world. It felt very dangerous and there were a few hairy moments. Hem had our back though.
Once we got off the highest part of the ridge, we dropped back into more snow.
It rained pretty much the whole way down to Low Camp and although it was freezing cold, it was still sticky and hot under our rain coats. We park up for an hour or so, dried our clothes on the fire and had some more potatoes.
I don’t feel like carrying on, but we have to. It’s a big day today where we’re essentially walking down hill in one day what we walked up in three days.
We set off again and it’s okay. Then it gets bad. I mean yesterday the snowy, windy mountain almost broke me. Today the near vertical descent definitely will.
The main issue was my knees. They weren’t playing ball and kept bending the wrong way, hyper extending. I fell over a few times, then a few times more. When my knees give way it seemed to flow into my hips and they’d jar out sideways in an effort to keep me upright. It’s all very painful. I’m holding it together… just.
We’re still high up on a hill when Hem points out the teahouse. It’s 20 minutes away. From where we’re standing it looks like beautiful mirage. Really. It’s double storied and so colourful!
And it’s about then that I hit wall. I’d done my dash and my knees weren’t going to hold me any longer. Hem propped me up on one side and I used my trekking pole on the other and we slowly made our way down.
And then this happened.
It pretty much sums up how I was feeling.
After spraying my knees and wrapping them up, a change on clothes and a hot tea, I was feeling a bit better. However walking or even making the slightest movement was incredibly sore.
There was lots of life at the teahouse, kids running round and even some men from the night before at High Camp showed up. Everyone was so kind and the view was equally as nice.
Day Five | Sidhing – Lwang
Woke up to this view out our window.
And had more porridge.
It was still so sore to move but there was no option but to get cracking and get going.
Dante and Raj took a quicker, uphill trail to Lwang while we followed a road for a while, walked through villages, a little bit up, a little bit down, a little bit flat. It took us about five hours to get there but settling into our home stay mid afternoon was extremely satisfying. We made it!
We pull our boots and socks off, flick off a few leeches and bask in the sun. Someone addresses Raj by his name and asks a question. He responds, “Raj, who’s Raj? I’m Ram!”. Oh my holy shit. We’ve been calling this guy the wrong name for five days and he hasn’t mentioned it until now! It’s hilarious. Poor old Ram!
Our home stay mum makes us a late lunch. Ram put it on the table announcing ‘Nepali pizza’ for lunch. I’m excited. A cheesy pizza sounds great right about now. After hobbling over to the table, I’ve got to laugh. Our Nepali pizza is daal bhaat… and it’s delicious. The buffalo milk is less delicious but I’m sure it’s just an acquired taste!
That afternoon we have a lie down then go for a short and slow walk around the village. We say ‘namaste’ to a zillion little kids and check out local village life. Yep, that’s the buffalo I watched our home stay dad milk.
Funnily enough, late in the afternoon the weather clears and we get a pretty good view of when we’ve just walked from.
That evening we sit on the kitchen floor and watch our home stay mum and dad make chapati and daal bhaat before eating it with them. We finish our night the community hall with music and dancing to celebrate Nepali New Year.
Day Six | Lwang – Pokhara
We both had a pretty uncomfortable sleep – not due to the home stay, but it feels like all of our muscles have seized up and even making the slightest movement hurts. Walking, especially downhill is almost unbearable.
We say our thank you’s and goodbyes to our home stay family then jump in the jeep that will take us part way back to Pokhara. It’s a pretty bumpy downhill ride in the back, but today it sure beats walking, and the view is good.
And then we had to say good bye to Hem, our kind, warm and funny guide.
Back in Pokhara we found a room and enjoyed our first showers in six days. That night we met up with Dante again for a curry at Almonds Restaurant. We’d talked a lot about this curry up the mountain and now Dante was finally getting to taste it.
Michel and I had this curry five times while we were in Pokhara. It was that good.
The next four days
We don’t move a lot. It’s too painful. Then we both get the sneezes and a cold. It’s really rubbishy.
We do a bit of research as to what we’ll do next after Nepal. India? Everest Base Camp? Or do we extend our visa and stay for six weeks instead of four and just take it slow? We plan where we’ll go for May, June and July and start booking flights. It takes a day and a lot of faffing about but we get our Nepali visa extended and we book a flight out of Kathmandu for 14 May 2015.
When we’re feeling a little more mobile, we head to Tashi Palkhel, Hemja, on the outskirts of Pokhara. Tashi Palkhel is the largest of Pokharas Tiebetian settlements with up to one thousand residents, eighty of them monks. There’s a school, and old peoples home, a medicine clinic and a carpet weaving workshop. We visited the monostary for an hour of chanting in the afternoon which at the beginning was quite intense and scary, but after 10 or so minutes, quote soothing. It felt rude to take photos so the only one I have is of this dog. Look at him!
That night we have ice cream for dinner.
On our second to last night in Pokhara we found the Moonlight Movie Garden – an outdoor cinema playing Monty Pythons ‘Life of Brian’. It was a perfect little piece of paradise to sit there and watch a movie.
On our very last night we got free popadoms at Almonds Cafe with our curry. I think they’d finally realised we’d eaten there almost constantly.
Some thoughts about our Mardi Himal trek
It was much, much harder than expected but also more rewarding than expected. Even though we didn’t get to the view point or even get perfectly clear views of the Himalayas, it was still so, so, beautiful.
The best part though, for me, was spending time and getting to know Hem and Raj and all the interactions with the tea house owners along the way. Nepali truly are lovely, open and warm people. I was amazed at Hem. He is super fit and super strong and can power up and down mountains like no one I’ve ever seen. All he had was a tiny day pack, and I mean tiny. No down jacket or water proof coat, just a few changes of clothes, a few hats, an umbrella, a can of anti inflammatory spray for my knees and his phone filled with snaps of his baby daughter… and to play Candy Crush on.
Hard? Yes. Worth it? No doubt.
1 NZD = 75 NRP | All price in NZD unless stated