Only a few more steps, I could do that. I’d already climbed what felt like 100,000, I could manage another dozen or so. Huffing and puffing along with a flock of other early-bird trekkers, we reached our destination on the Nayapul to Ghandruk Trek, Poon Hill. I had just enough time to catch my breath before the sun’s rays streamed over the horizon, bathing a 360-degree panorama of snowcapped mountains and leaving me yet again breathless. Yes, those extra steps—and going on this trek—had definitely been worth it.
Although I’m a big traveler, I’m more likely to be found hiking through a city than a national park. Nevertheless, when I finally booked my ticket to visit my longtime friend Linda in Nepal, I knew that doing a trek was part of the Nepal experience and the best way to take in the country’s incredible natural beauty.
“If you want to do a short and easy trek, I’ve got the perfect route for you,” said Tashi, a new friend and trekking expert I’d met on my first day in Kathmandu. “You don’t even need hiking boots!” He added, glancing down at my dusty running shoes.
A week later, as I was dropped off in front of at the starting point of his trekking route, I wasn’t so sure if those dust-coated shoes were going to cut it… or if I really needed all the stuff I’d jammed in my 40L backpack. Despite this, a huge smile plastered across my face and I eagerly set off on my mini Himalayan adventure.
Tashi’s recommended four-day route would take me on a part of the Annapurna Circuit, traveling from the ancient villages of Nayapul to Ghandruk. This particularly picturesque stretch is well marked. Along the way there are plenty of rustic teahouses serving hot meals and providing simple accommodation. Every day involves four to seven hours of trekking, rising from 1,050 to 3,210 meters, and then back down to 1,600 meters.
“The first day will be the hardest, but then you’ll be fine!” Tashi’s reassuring words were not echoing in my mind towards the end of my first day. After already walking on a gradual incline for six hours, I was faced with the route’s toughest challenge: the 3,200 steps that zigzagged up to the tiny village of Ulleri. I’d chuckled at the bottom when I read the sign announcing that it was another two hours to Ulleri. Two hours for a staircase? No way! After an hour and half and what seemed to be a never-ending spiral of steps, my laughter had vanished with the dimming light. I made it to the top in the nick of time, collapsing at the first teahouse I found and left wondering if this trek had been such a good idea after all.
Luckily, the friendly faces of the fellow trekkers gathered around the teahouse’s fire made me (almost) forget about the interminable steps. From the four corners of the globe, we exchanged trekking tales and life stories over hearty dishes of fried noodles or dal bhat.
Tashi was right, the trek did get easier the next day, and I had an extra skip in my step courtesy of the appearance of my first snowy peak, Machapuchare (Fishtail). The scenery also transitioned from the first day’s rolling fields into a magical forest, populated by monkeys, stray horses and the dancing sunlight gently cascading through its canopy of branches.
Not only is the second day shorter, once you arrive in the overnight stop of Ghorepani you are rewarded with an even more jaw-dropping vista of mountain peaks. However, to see the even-more-spectacular view from Poon Hill I would have to get up at dawn and make the hour-long climb to the top of the hill, 3,210 meters. Not a morning person, I reminded myself that we only live once. I threw on some thermals, met my new Chinese friends, and rallied together up to the lookout.
The unforgettable sunrise gave me my third wind, which stayed with me on my descent towards my third overnight stop at Tadapani. The next morning, as I hiked further south towards Ghundruk and then on to nearby Kimle where the bus departs from, I had a mix of emotions. I was both sad to be leaving behind this utterly heavenly setting, but somewhat relieved to rest my weary legs and take a long hot shower.
I boarded the bus back to Pokhara with a lighter pack, muddier shoes and a mind brimming with images of soaring mountains and the countless other delightful memories I’d collected on my trek. Was it as easy as Tashi had suggested? No, but apart from a few minor things, I wouldn’t have done it differently.
Tips for first-time trekkers
- Do some advance training. Even if it’s an occasional day hike, preferably with some hills, this will help you build endurance and prep your legs for Himalayan trekking.
- Don’t overpack. Remember that you’ll have to carry around this additional weight. If you’re traveling with a larger backpack for your whole trip, try to leave this safely in Pokhara or Kathmandu and just bring a smaller pack. It will be tempting to bring snacks for the whole four days, however, since there are enough places to pick up supplies on the route, just bring enough water and snacks for around your first day and a half.
- Bring a sleep sheet instead of a big sleeping bag. All guesthouses will have thick blankets already. This will save a lot of space in your pack. An ultra-light sleeping bag would also be fine instead of a regular sized one.
- Layer your clothing. As you start hiking your exertion and your backpack with heat you up quickly. I trekked in February and for most of the day I was in thick yoga pants and T-shirt, but started with a hoodie over the top. Other things you’ll need are a down jacket (easy to stuff in your pack when you don’t need it), a set of thermals in case it gets cold at the high altitudes, thermal and normal socks, gloves, a wool hat, sunglasses hiking poles and flip-flops (for the shared teahouse showers).
- Do wear hiking boots. Besides having less traction, running shoes do not support your ankle in case you take a step wrong. Hiking poles can also help guard against this.
- Bring cash. It won’t be possible to pay by credit card in most places, so carry enough rupees on you. You should need around US$20-25 per day, not including guide fees.
- Take breaks. Don’t be afraid to take many short breaks, especially on the first day. There are regular sitting areas, and even a small rest of five minutes will give you more energy to carry on.
- Avoid alcohol. This will reduce your energy level. You can celebrate over a Gurkha beer when you finish the trek.
- Stay an extra day Ghorepani. If you have the time, consider taking a day off in Ghorepani so you soak up the gorgeous views and rest.
Article and photos by Lily Heise