Himalayan trek: Poon Hill

For anybody who is planning a trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal, we would like to highly recommend to you our guide Prakash Dhungana. He is based out of Pokhara. He is very easy going and friendly, and he knows so much about the area. If you’d like to contact him, his email is prakashdpd@gmail.com, and his mobile number is 0977-9846029552.

Nepal is very famous for its mountains. In the world, there are 14 peaks over 8000m above sea level, all are in the Himalaya, and 8 of them are in Nepal. The highest peak outside of the Himalaya is Aconcagua of Argentina and Chile, 6962m. The most famous mountain in Nepal is shared with Tibet, 8848m tall, first summited in 1953 by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary… Mt. Everest! Nepal is a dream destination for anyone who likes looking at, walking among or climbing the mountains.
Our number one reason for visiting Nepal was to go trekking. Nepal is an amazing hiking place because of the diversity. In some places, you can hike in a dense jungle, then walk over a 5400m pass, then visit a Buddhist temple, all in one day! The most popular trek is the Annapurna circuit. It circumnavigates the Annapurna range, just northwest of Pokhara. It takes about 20 days. The next most popular trek is the Everest base camp trek (EBC). It takes about two weeks. It starts at a place called Lukla, northeast of Kathmandu. Most trekkers fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, because it takes a long time by bus (the distance isn’t big, but the roads are bad). But we chose the Poon Hill – ABC (Annapurnna Base Camp) loop. It is a “teahouse” trek, meaning that you eat and sleep in basic guesthouses and you don’t have to pack a tent or food. Since we would already be in Pokhara to do the “Solar Sisters” solar panel install, it would be very convenient because the starting point, Nayapul, is only two hours away by bus. From Nayapul, we would trek northwest for two days and arrive in Ghorepani. Then, the next morning, we would do a side trek to Poon Hill (3200m) for sunrise and get a fantastic view of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges. From there, we would turn east and trek two days to Chhomrong. Then, for a few days, we would follow the Modi Khola river north all the way to ABC (4130m), where we would be surrounded by mountains. Finally, we would retrace our steps to Chhomrong and continue south all the way to Khare. This would take us about 10 days. As for the blog, we will divide the trek into three parts: approach to Poon Hill (me), approach to ABC (my mom) and descent from ABC (Jake).

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Our route is in red, and the places where we stayed are in green.

This trek goes up to 4130m altitude, which is quite significant, and it is not uncommon for people to get acute mountain sickness (AMS) at ABC. AMS is nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and pounding headache – not what you want to get in a remote place. I know this from experience, because last time we went up that high was on the Ausangate trek in Peru, when Jake and I got sick. We were a bit worried about getting sick on this trek, but one of the reasons we chose Poon Hill – ABC was because there were many quick exits. If one of us got injured or sick, there were places where we could make a shortcut to the highway. We had AMS pills, and, just in case, our travel/health insurance covered emergency helicopter evacuation.
One thing you need to think about before trekking in Nepal is hiring a guide or a porter. The trails can be steep and difficult, so many people hire a porter to carry their things. We decided to pack light and skip the porter, and turns out, that worked out just fine. But we hired a guide, Prakash Dhungana. You can’t really get lost on this trek, but having a guide can really enrich your experience by teaching you about what you’re seeing. And guides know how far/difficult it is to the next guest house in terms of planning lunch or the night stop. We learned so much from Prakash, we were very glad that we hired him!
So… we had bought our equipment in Kathmandu, we got our required trekking permits in Pokhara, we found a guide… we were finally ready to trek. We started with a two hour bus ride from Pokhara to Nayapul. The distance between the two is only 34km, but the road is so bad and the bus is so old, so it takes two hours! Most trekkers take a private jeep because it’s much faster, but we took the local bus. We were sitting at the very back, so on some of the biggest bumps I think I caught air! It was absolutely jammed with people, and getting on and off with our packs wasn’t easy. It also rained the entire time. But it was an experience!

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On the bus

We got off at Nayapul and did our final preparations. Then, we headed off in the rain.

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First, we walked through a village
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I loved this bridge! Those are Tibetan/Buddhist prayer flags, very common in Nepal.
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From then on, we were in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). It's the oldest and largest conservation area in Nepal. It is well managed, and there are many rules that locals and trekkers must follow. For example: no heating water with firewood, because deforestation is a big problem.
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The first few hours were on a rough road. It continued raining, so we had no view.
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We stopped for some lunch at a little guesthouse.

The food on the trek was something that surprised all of us, and I’ll explain why now. Everything in ACAP is controlled, and so is the menu. It’s pretty much the same everywhere, but the price varies from village to village, getting more expensive the further and higher you go. Unlike the rest of Nepal, it’s “fixed price”, meaning “no bargaining”.  It’s a good system, because it prevents neighbours from competing for the lowest price. Instead, it encourages the guesthouse owners to make good quality food, because the guides will always bring their clients to the best kitchens.
But the thing that surprised us the most was what was on the menu. Breakfast: pancakes, toast, french toast, muesli, porridge, “gurung” bread (Tibetan fried bread). Our favourites were gurung bread and muesli. Lunch and dinner: Dal Bhat (classic Nepali food. “dal” means lentil soup and “bhat” means rice. It usually also comes with some curry or veggies, and to eat it you mix it all together. The guides and porters always have it because they get a discount on it. It is high in protein and vegetarian, and it gives so much energy to keep walking), spaghetti/macaroni, roasty (very delicious potato pancake, felt like comfort food even though I had never had it before), various soups, momos (yummy Nepali dumplings), and even pizza! Imagine going to ABC, very remote, and ordering a pizza! Most of these meals came with the toppings of either egg, veg or cheese. Most Nepalis are vegetarian, so most of the meals were too. Sometimes, they could mix in a little bit of tuna or chicken, although that was much more expensive. Here’s why:

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Live chickens. Fresh meat. We tried to be as vegetarian as we could!
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And they aren't always carried by donkeys. A woman was carrying this on her back!

Our favourite meals were dal bhat and rosties. We loved them so much that we want to make them at home. We were very surprised and impressed by the food on this trek. But Prakash said that on the other treks, it isn’t the same. The menu is similar, but the taste is not.

So, after lunch, we continued on in the rain. We walked for a few more hours before stopping for the night in Tikhedunga village at the Indra Guesthouse. Now I’ll explain what the accommodation was like during the trek. Most rooms had two beds, so we needed two rooms. Sometimes, we got a family room for four, and once we shared in a 6 person dorm room. But at most guesthouses, the walls were so thin that you could hear the conversations 5 rooms over. So I guess you would call that half dorm, half private room! The mattresses were usually pretty hard. The sleeping bags were necessary, because we didn’t know how clean the sheets were. I don’t know if anything would ever dry in that cold wet weather! The guesthouses usually provided blankets if we asked for them. They were quite warm, but heavy! I felt so bad for the porters who carried them up!
There was always a shared toilet. Usually, it was an Asian style “squat” toilet, and if you’re lucky there was a western style “sit” toilet. Bring your own toilet paper. Most guesthouses had solar hot water as well as a propane tank, and charged about 100 rupees/$1 for a hot shower. They used to use firewood to heat the water, but deforestation was becoming a big problem, so ACAP banned it.

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All of the guesthouses were self sufficient in electricity and hot water using solar technology.

All of the guesthouses had connected dining rooms (or sometimes “dinning” rooms) where everyone hung out and ate in the afternoons and evenings. We played lots of card games: euchre, hearts, and we taught Prakash our favourite game onze. He kept winning! We also learned a Nepali card game, I forget the name. We all had our books to read, so we were never bored. The accommodation was nicer than we had expected.
Alright, so now you understand the food and accommodation of the Poon Hill – ABC trek. It’s time I start talking about day two.
Day one had been so rainy, so we were excited to wake up to a blue sunny sky. We saw the view across the valley for the first time because of the clouds on the previous day. But, as Prakash warned us, day two was of the most challenging of all. We checked the map, and here’s what the morning looked like: the trail crosses a river, then crosses a lot of contour lines in a short distance! Sure enough, we crossed a river, then we saw this sign:
Tikhedunga to Ulleri
3500 steps
Ok. Inhale. Exhale. We started up.

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The trail was in a very good condition, and there were a lot of trekkers, porters, and donkey trains!
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Here's what a porter's load looks like. Most of them use a tumpline around their forehead instead of a backpack. They must have such strong necks!

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This man was carrying stones downhill, probably to build a house.
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You really don't want to get stuck behind a donkey train!
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Across the valley
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At one point, the clouds shifted, and we got this view! It is Annapurna South, 7219m.
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This was painted on a post.

Two hours and 800 vertical meters later, we stopped for lunch in the beautiful village of Banthanthi. The dal bhat was so good. But my dad was having stomach problems that day, and he had eaten nothing for breakfast and ate nothing until dinner that night. He was hungry, though, and eyed our dal bhat enviously.

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Then, we continued walking toward Ghorepani village.

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It was really a cloud forest! Prakash said that he had seen red pandas before, but in a different season.

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One of the perks of coming to Nepal in April is the rhododendron bloom. It’s the national flower of Nepal, and it’s not hard to see why. I’ve got to say, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And the closer we got to Ghorepani, the redder and pinker the forest became!

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Prakash showed us that eating the petals helps sore throats. The taste was a little bit weird, though!

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It was a beautiful decoration to my mom's pack.
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Finally, after a hard day (we climbed 1300 vertical meters), we arrived in Ghorepani. Ghorepani means "horse water" because horses used to come to the nearby ponds to drink. It is a village built entirely for tourists, because everyone goes up to Poon Hill for sunrise, and that's only 1 hour away from Ghorepani.

Prakash took us to a very nice guesthouse that night, the Hotel Tukuche Peak View. It had a big dining room, and a fireplace! My dad was so hungry and he finally ate. Here is what my and my mom’s room looked liked like:

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We went to bed very early that night, because the next morning was the Poon Hill morning. The plan was to wake up at 4:30AM, and be walking by 4:45 to get to the top before sunrise. We got everything ready in the evening, including filling up water bottles, sleeping with our trekking clothes in our sleeping bag so that they would be warm in the morning, and perfectly placing our boots beside our beds. We didn’t have too much trouble waking up in the morning, and I think we were walking before 5. Headlamps on.

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Here is a steady stream of people walking up to Poon Hill. Apparently, in the October high tourist season, it can get quite aggressive.
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Then, we got our first mountain view of the day! This is Machhapuchhre mountain, 6993m. "Machha" means "fish" and "puchhre" means "tail", so the English name is Fishtail mountain. You can see the fishtail shape from some angles.
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Almost there...

The walk up took one hour. We found a “front row spot” and waited for the sunrise. The sun finally popped out from east of Machhapuchhre mountain. I’ll let the pictures explain… because words just can’t!

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First sun of the day on the Himalaya.
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Poon Hill has an observation tower.

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It took quite a long time for the sun to fully hit the mountains, but when it did, it was fabulous.

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This is Dhaulagiri mountain. At 8167m, it is the 7th highest mountain in the world, and the highest one any one of us has ever seen.
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Some tangled Tibetan prayer flags in the foreground.
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Namaste
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We took a lot of pictures.
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Douglas family + Prakash + Dhaulagiri

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Machhapuchhre again

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Prakash gave us a detailed explanation of all the peaks we could see from Poon Hill, and their height.
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These mountains look so small in the distance ... its hard to believe these peaks rise 4km from where we see their bases.

I don’t think that we would have ever left if Prakash hadn’t told us that in the next village, Tadapani, there aren’t many guesthouses, so to make sure we got a room, we had to press on. We found another picture spot part way down, where we could get the rhododendron AND Dhaulagiri mountain in the same shot!

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At the bottom, we went back to our guesthouse for a late breakfast that we had ordered the previous night. Poon Hill was absolutely divinely phenomenally jaw-droppingly beautiful. No wonder it is so popular! Some people turn around at Poon Hill and go back to Nayapul, so for the rest of the trek there would be fewer people. The adventure continues…
Kaia
PS- I was almost finished writing this post when WordPress app decided to throw it all in the garbage for no reason. Twice in a row this has happenned. I am very frustrated and will never use that app again. It has wasted so much hard work. Ugh! I hope take two was almost as good!
PPS – On our way out of Ghorepani, we saw a two-day-old horse! It really is horse water!

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