For travellers looking for an alternative to the tourist highway of Ghandruk to Ghorepani, take the less well-trodden path up to Isahru and Dobato to reach Muldai Viewpoint.
My friends and I headed up on the first day of the season, and while we were prepared for some snow, a new fall on day three turned our trek into a winter wonderland. The sun shone, the sky was blue and cloudless and the mountains of the southern Annapurna range looked like they were mere fingertips away.
A week of heavy rain had made the plants look green again, removing every speck of dust ingrained on leaves and stalks since monsoon. But rain down here means snow up there, and up there was where we were heading. “Bring waterproofs,” everyone recommended.
The morning we set off was glorious. I’ve never seen Machhapuchhre so clear; a canine against the deep blue sky. We followed that view all the way up to Ghandruk – Fish Tail followed by Hiunchuli and Annapurna South. Our first lunch was bathed in sunlight, on a grassy terrace dwarfed by the peaks.
Up we headed that afternoon to Tadhapani – Far Water – where the guesthouse dining room was filled with trekkers. The iron chulo was surrounded by boots; socks and inner soles hung from lines above the fire. Some of the walkers had crampons to go over their walking boots. Ropes are just as good, our guide said. They exchanged snow stories, lamented wet seats and the impossibility of certain trails without chains. Sticks, it appeared, were not much help. I asked where they’d come from. “Ghorepani, via Deurali.” We were going higher.
The next morning we set off on a trail leading north west heading out of Tadhapani. Within moments we hit snow on the constant climb to Isahru for lunch. We saw no one else on this trail. Isahru is at 3,120 metres and deeper into the foothills of the Himalayas. We skirted Hiunchuli, Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre at a cautious distance, yet were close enough to experience their might.
After another two hours up snowy trails to Dobato (3,426 m), the guesthouse appeared like Shangri La out of the blinding white landscape. On the edge of the hill, you can sit sipping chiya while taking in the vertiginously steep slopes, green pine trees with snowy boughs and vast swathes of white nothing. Deeper into the valley bottom, waterfalls cut through the rocks, the forest grows dense, there is so much space. Breathing was pure joy, each lungful rejuvenating. If you ever need to feel small, go and sit near a mountain. Perspectives are put into place up there. We are tiny. Nature wins.
Later that evening, we heard the ringing of yak bells and a voice calling out. The herd was moving the animals to the gotalo, or shed, nearby because of the weather. We should have realised then that this might be significant, but we didn’t. The herd spent the night in around the guesthouse chulo, drinking raksi and lamenting the loss of several yak – a baby and several others buried in the snow. We woke the next day to snowfall and a cloudy sky. Climbing up to Muldai Viewpoint would be pointless. We would hang our flags elsewhere.
Following the yak trail down was helpful, until it got so slippery we had to forge new trails in the deep drifts either side. A few yaks decided on an early stop and sat blissfully in the snow, unwilling to move until they felt like it.
The panorama from Muldai Viewpoint was spectacular, I noted when we finally reached the guesthouse at Deurali. They’ve got a fantastic poster on the wall depicting all 25 of the mountains. Even though we didn’t get the view, even though the next day was crystal clear and staying on a day doing nothing in Dobato would have been worth it, we were happy to have made it.
The next morning we sat watching the hoards walk back down from Poon Hill. A great breakfast activity, almost better than climbing Poon Hill itself. The sun was a piercing star lifting up along the ridge high above us. The trees straight, unassuming, like an Alpine oil painting. I followed the line of the ridge along, and then lost the path. Where did we go from there? Down through a beautiful forest, past trees banked in snow, we made more than one reference to Narnia.
Article by Helen O’Gorman.