The Annapurna range in central Nepal is home to some of the world’s most iconic mountain landscapes and crisscrossed by some of the country’s most popular trekking routes. For those looking for a less-travelled and gentler glimpse of this spectacular terrain, the 4-5 day Mardi Himal trek is perfect.
Slightly more rigorous than your average mountain ramble, the trek consists of walking up and then along a ridge that juts into the Annapurnas, to a viewpoint perched at the end of it. Stunning views of the lesser-known side of one of the range’s most famous peaks – the 6993 metre-high Machhapuchhre (Fishtail) – alone make the trek worth doing.
Last March a friend, needing some respite from the pollution and haze of Delhi, took a week off work and came to Nepal. From Kathmandu, we took a microbus to Pokhara, around seven hours away. The next morning we bought our permits at the Annapurna Conservation Area Project office in the city, and then took a local bus to the village of Kande, about an hour to the north, where we were to begin walking.
The first section of the trail consisted of a lot of stone steps, going up, and fields and villages of thatched roofs on the level stages. The way was well signposted (the whole trail was, and Mardi Himal can easily be done independently). That night we stayed in Pokhara, a cluster of lodges and hotels that we reached in the late afternoon, lulled to sleep by our tired legs and a pre-monsoon thunderstorm.
The next morning the mountains revealed themselves on both sides of the ridge, massive and imposing, snow dazzling in the bright early sun. They were much closer than we had imagined the night before, and after a breakfast of porridge, roti and whisky we set off to get a bit closer, feeling doubly encouraged.
We reached Forest Camp by late morning and had a long lunch as another shower passed over. The afternoon ascent was steep again in some places, and the path sometimes slippery, but this was made up for by the beauty of the woods. This time of year they were a riot of pink rhododendrons, firs, and birches glinting in the fading light.
Just as the sun was going down we caught a glimpse of Machhapuchhre through a clearing in the trees. Instead of the endlessly-photographed flat, rather two-dimensional triangular façade, in front of us were two separate peaks, twisting upwards in near-symmetry with each other. They looked like the fins of a fish’s tail as it dived into the earth, and I finally understood why the mountain was given its name.
Low Camp (thankfully only twenty minutes further on) offered fantastic views of Machhapuchhre and other peaks in the range. While there was light left we alternated between standing outside to look at the vista and warming our hands by the stove in the lodge. It was finally mountain cold.
Climbing again in the morning of day three, we soon noticed more and more rock and cliff around us, and a sharp wind. The fairytale woods appeared less regularly, and the patches of snow reflected the pinks, reds and purples of the rhododendrons.
High Camp (around 3500 metres) is the final resting point on the trail before the push along the ridge to the viewpoint, approximately two hours away. It is windy and exposed, and you could easily imagine yourself somewhere in the marches of Rohan. With the panorama of rock, snow, ice and sky in front of us, and the ridge stretching back to the green hills behind, we whiled away the afternoon here. It was cold at night and the whisky was again welcome.
We descended the next day, and when we reached Forest Camp late in the morning, we decided to leave the path that went along the spine of the ridge and drop down into the Mardi Khola valley. After a long afternoon of walking downhill we arrived in Bhuijung, a hamlet set lower down on the ridge’s flank. It rained heavily until late afternoon, when the sky broke and we were treated to stunning views back up the valley, the twin peaks of Machhapuchhre still visible above the dark green of the valley walls.
In March, the short trekking season, the trail was quiet. The accommodation at all stages was fairly basic. The food, which is far more important, was sufficient, with plenty of high energy stodge, apple pie and chocolate on offer.
You can be extremely flexible with the Mardi route: we could have descended the west flank of the ridge instead, into the Modi Khola valley, and made our way back to the road from there. A Welsh lady we walked with had already spent six weeks in the Annapurnas and had joined the Mardi route to make her final descent to Pokhara before flying home. She said she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave the mountains. The next morning, as we left Bhuijung and dawdled reluctantly down the valley to catch a local bus back to Pokhara, we glanced back regularly to catch final glimpses of the newly-discovered face of Machhapuchhre. I think we had some idea of what she felt.
- How to get there from Kathmandu: take a microbus (around US$7, 6-7 hours) or fly (US$100, 25 mins) to Pokhara. You can make further arrangements to Kande from there, either by local bus or taxi. If you find this difficult, you can contact Royal Mountain Travel, one of Nepal’s leading tour operators, they will arrange everything for the Trek.
- What to wear: Sturdy shoes and warm layers for evenings at high altitude.
- When to go: March-April (chances of pre-monsoon thundershowers); October-December (the busier trekking season).
Author: Ross Adkin