As Jon Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” This was the reason I originally came to Nepal, but the rich culture and my involvement with various projects has kept me from my goal for some time. I recently managed to escape Kathmandu’s chaos and enter the peace of the Annapurna Conservation Area, on the Mardi Himal Trek. My friends and I chose this trek because we wanted to walk away from the well-beaten tourist paths of Poon Hill, Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Base Camp. We also needed a short trek that would accommodate one friend’s injured knee and fit into her brief 10-day stopover in Nepal.
We got what we wanted – only a few others walked the trail. Of these, mules outnumbered humans. This resulted in a somewhat muddy but ‘authentic-feeling’ trip. Shepherds’ camps were dotted along the path, a route that their forbears had walked stock along for generations. Even though we walked in the height of monsoon, this trek could not have been better (apart from the continual presence of a tiny, legless, and almost-blind creature: the leech).
As is common in Nepal, our intended itinerary required several changes. We planned to get a jeep into Pitam Deurali, make it to Forest Camp, then Low Camp, and High Camp, before descending. However, a landslide on the road meant that we started walking from Dhampus. We passed the Australian Camp and reached Pitam Deurali. However, the trek onwards to Forest Camp seemed a long way and a lot of climbing, so we decided to drop down to Tolka. This was a good move as our local friend’s connections ensured that we had amazing hospitality and the best dal bhat of our lives!
The next day we walked through Landruk and up a newer path to Forest Camp. It was similar to a lot of trails I’ve walked at home in New Zealand: steep, technical, and scrambly, definitely not a well-beaten tourist path! After lunch at Forest Camp, we made it up to Low Camp (2,990m) in order to acclimatize overnight before heading to High Camp.
This was my first (relatively) high altitude trek, and I started to feel the difference in air whenever we were at 2,500m elevation. As we climbed upwards to the 3,580m of High Camp, the air felt like it was evading my lungs. To make matters worse, I had picked up a bad cold after getting soaked the day before. We continued to climb slowly, stopping for water, snacks, pictures, and a much needed sit-down!
We were lucky to receive very generous hospitality at the Fish Tail Lodge, which featured garlic soup, plentiful dal, and a local recipe for an illness-fighting soup. After such kindness, my body seemed to acclimatize to the altitude and mostly recover. We set off eagerly before sunrise the next day, up the ridge towards High View Point.
While climbing up towards the viewpoints, delicate clouds played hide-and-seek with the mountain panoramas. I’ve always gazed out of the window on planes and wished to float around amongst the fluffy egg-white, blanket, or dawn-tinted clouds. My wish came true at Mardi Himal.
As the sun started to warm the morning air, the clouds sleepily rose from the valley on one side, engulfed us, and then melted down into the other valley below. The result was a constantly-changing, but always stunning landscape.
Although the clouds and rain make the monsoon season unpopular for trekking, I felt that these added a bit of unpredictable adventure and majesty to our trek. We were lucky to get such amazing views, although we did pay for them with a few days of soaking rain. Much worse than a little water falling on us, however, were the leeches.
The leech problem was definitely the worst aspect of the trek; the little creatures demanded constant vigilance around our shoes and ankles. We adopted the strategy of using a firm flick to dislodge the buggers as they sneaked their way remarkably quickly up our shoes. We sprinkled our shoes with turmeric and salt in the hope that it would slow down their journey, and in turn speed up ours.
More salty turmeric was on hand, should any find their target and start a snack. Luckily, my skin-tight lycra trousers seemed to be impenetrable for the boodsuckers, though several found my way through my socks. In the future, I would wear plastic bags over socks and tuck them into my lycra skins: leech-proof!
Descending back down to Low Camp and then Sidhing the next day was easy; leaving the mountains behind was harder. This was once again a deviation from our plans, but it allowed us to finish the trek early – and take a well-earned rest. We took a rather jaw-dropping jeep ride across landslides and rivers and back to Pokhara.
Mardi Himal is a great trek, and it’s adaptability to short time frames makes it perfect for those with limited time. You could feasibly do it with just 2-3 nights by taking a jeep to Sidhing, walking to Low Camp to acclimatize overnight and then heading to High Camp for early-morning views, before descending and returning back to Sidhing in time to catch the early morning jeeps. Of course, if you have more time, enjoy the beautiful forests and perhaps hike up to Mardi Base Camp, which is still on my to-do list. The mountains haven’t stopped calling.
Article by Florence Reynolds.