Trekkers in Nepal who don’t have the luxury of time—or the luxury of a budget that allows them to charter a helicopter deep into the mountains—have many options for shorter Himalayan treks that get right into the mountains and off the beaten path. However, finding information on these can be challenging, as most trekking and tour agencies promote the same, popular routes.
While those popular routes are recommendable, one side-effect is that most tourist dollars only benefit hotel owners and restaurateurs along those routes, rather than providing meaningful economic benefit to rural households is lesser visited areas. Even places less than a day’s walk from the popular treks may rarely get visitors, despite having the key elements that travelers in rural Nepal seek: warm and friendly people, charming rural homesteads, natural beauty, a feeling of remoteness, and stunning mountain views that lift one’s mind and spirit beyond life’s ordinary concerns.
One such short trek that can be accomplished from Kathmandu and back in a week or less is the Paudwar to Kopra Danda (Ridge) Trek. Typically, Kopra Ridge (3660m) is approached from the southeast as the last portion of the Myagdi Community Trek originating in Beni, or the Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Trail, originating farther to the southeast. However, by traveling directly to Tatopani from Kathmandu, one can get to the uniquely epic view point at Kopra Danda in just a few days.
Day 1: Kathmandu to “Dana” Tatopani Bazaar, Myagdi District
Day 2: Tatopani to Paudwar Village
Day 3: Paudwar Village to Kopra Danda
Day 4: Kopra Danda to or Paudwar
Day 5: Narshyang or Paudwar to Tatopani Bazaar
Day 6: Tatopani Bazaar to Pokhara
Day 7: Pokhara to Kathmandu
Day 1: Those pressed for time who cannot make an overnight stop in Pokhara or Beni can catch an early morning minibus to Beni from Kathmandu Ring Road, outside Balaju, at 6am. The journey is at least eight hours, and you’ll reach Tatopani from Beni by dark. Tickets do not need to be purchased in advance. For those traveling from Pokhara first, buses to Beni depart regularly from Prithvi Chowk or Baglung Bus Park, about a three-hour ride. From Beni, local taxis are available for the two-hour ride to “Dana” or “Burung” Tatopani (elevation 1190m), which should not be confused with “Singha” Tatopani. The route follows the southwestern side of the traditional Annapurna Circuit route to Jomson and Muktinath. A number of trekkers’ lodges are available in Tatopani Bazaar, all close to the roadside hot springs. For those seeking a more rustic experience, a local homestay is available on the opposite side of the river, just before reaching the local hot springs on foot. One should enjoy the wonderful healing power of hot springs in the evening to work out the kinks from the long road travel.
Day 2: If you are not already on the Narchyang side of the Kali Gandaki, anyone in Tatopani can point out the way to cross the river, either at the suspension bridge or at the steel bridge. After the bridge, the trail turns right, passes the local hot springs, and ascends for a four to five-hour climb to the scenic traditional Magar village of Paudwar.
Paudwar (elevation 2000m) has exceptional stonework. The labyrinthine paths, winding staircases, and attractive houses are some of the best surviving examples of Nepali stonework. Many houses are at least 80 years old (built since the major earthquake of 1934), and utilize a unique system of seismic resistant wooden locks and pins that bind the tops of walls to beams. The people of Paudwar are well known for being friendly and industrious, and one can arrange a local homestay by inquiring at the Paudwar Secondary School. Otherwise, the Dhaulagiri Lodge is quite homely, with a good menu. Cheese is available at the local cooperative cheese factory.
Day 3: The six-hour walk from Paudwar village to Kopra Danda (3660m) begins with a steep climb through cow pasture and bamboo forest, then wraps around the hillside into the Jarbhang Valley, uninhabited except for a buffalo camp and local teahouse at Loreni, about two hours above Paudwar. From Loreni, the trail enters a surreal old-growth rhododendron forest, which explodes with large red, pink, purple, and white rhododendron blossoms in March and April. The final few hours’ climb gradually ascends to Kopra Danda, which was only visited by yak herders and the occasional tent trekking expedition until local villages organized the building and operation of the Kopra Community Lodge a few years ago. Proceeds support the local schools.
The panoramic view at Kopra Danda is truly extraordinary. The entire Dhaulagiri Range stands as a mountain temple to the west, and Nilgiri Himal, Bahra Chuli and Annapurna South totally dominate the northern view. To the south, the sun and clouds play a game of colors throughout the day. For those with an extra day, Khayer Lake (4650m) is sacred to the local Magar community and worth a magical day hike, where one can find remote wildlife and more incredible mountain views.
Day 4: Satisfied with the view from Kopra and a night at high altitude, visitors may choose from a number of trails for the hike out. The quickest way is to drop back down to Paudwar to Tatopani, in one long day, with a lunch stop in Paudwar. Otherwise, a longer day’s hike northwest along the ridge toward Dhaulagiri Himal continues to reveal gorgeous views, before descending to the Upper Narchyang village, where one can spend the night, or walk another hour back to Tatopani.
Day 5: Visiting the waterfall on the walk back down to Tatopani from Narchyang is a magnificent way to complete the counterclockwise loop. It’s often considered to be the most spectacular waterfall on the Annapurna Circuit. Back in Tatopani, don’t miss a well-deserved soak in the natural hot springs, relaxing amidst the surging power and gentle roar of the famous Kali Gandaki River. From Tatopani one can easily catch a bus, jeep or taxi back to Pokhara or Kathmandu to celebrate an amazing trek. However, for those with more time, there are numerous adventures that await in all directions from Tatopani. For those who came back via Paudwar, the Narchyang waterfall should not be missed.
Since Kopra Danda falls within the Annapurna Conservation Area, an ACAP permit should be obtained for all foreign trekkers, in addition to a TIMS (Tourist Information Management System) card, both available at the Nepal Tourism Board Office in Bhrikuti Mandap by Ratna Park in Kathmandu or in Damside, Pokhara. There is a TIMS card check post just before Tatopani Bazaar. However, as there is no ACAP permit check post on the route from Tatopani Bazaar to Kopra Danda, it may not be necessary to obtain.
As always with trekking in the mountains, it is strongly advisable to travel with a guide, never trek alone, let others know your itinerary before departure, and plan accordingly for weather, altitude, and other potential hazards. Happy and safe trekking!
This article first appeared in Issue 6 of Inside Himalayas magazine.