• Accommodation
  • 08 November, 2016

Yoga and a Monk on the Poon Hill Trek

Yoga and a Monk on the Poon Hill Trek

I’m embarrassed to say that I had been living in Kathmandu for over two years and had only been on one four day trek. So when I was asked to teach yoga at Poon Hill this October, I was all over it. I didn’t take my ageing knees into consideration nor the massive number of steps. I did, however, focus on the fact that we’d be trekking with a monk.

My clients had five days in Nepal. They were a young, eager, strong and successful couple from Phuket, Thailand.  Their eyes were sparkling and their bodies and minds ready to soak it all up. They wanted a tough trek incorporating views of the tallest Himalayan peaks, some yogic action, and to learn some methods of meditation. So we got a yoga instructor: me, Ang Losang the monk from Kopan, Zhangmu Sherpa the expert guide, and two beaming porters.

Then we trekked to Poon Hill. The itinerary went like this:

  • Day 1:  Fly Kathmandu to Pokhara.  Jeep drive to Birethani (1065m).  Hike uphill to Ghandruk (about 2000m).
  • Day 2:  Long trek ending at Ghorepani (2850m).
  • Day 3:  Wake up before dawn to catch the mountain views at Poon Hill (3210m), and then trek down to Hille (about 1400m).
  • Day 4:  Trek back to Birethani, Jeep to Pokhara.  Take a very long shower, eat something besides trekker food.
  • Day 5: Morning flight back to Kathmandu.

I have to admit, I underestimated Poon Hill.  I’ve heard about the trek for years, but had always dismissed it as easy.

“Oh, you’ve just done Poon Hill?”

“Yes, that’s all we had time for.”

“Oh.  Well, where did you eat in Pokhara?”

I know differently now. Poon Hill is not for the faint of heart, weak of knees, ankles, calves, quads– or mind. It’s intense. The stairs go up, the stairs go down. The stairs turn into stones and pebbles and they don’t stop. It wasn’t easy, but we had some tricks: yoga and a monk.

The first evening after a three-hour ascent to Ghandruk, we did a lot of pranamaya (breathing). We inhaled the crisp air and drove the thick air of Kathmandu far, far away. We did gentle asanas (poses) as the sun set, massaging our calves, ankles, hips and knees.

Ang Losang broke down the basics of Buddhist meditation, tying it into my yoga practice. He laughed easily throughout his teachings, making them easy to understand. We finished for the day with hot, spicy Nepali chicken curry and fried Gurung bread that tasted phenomenal in that crisp mountain air. That night we slept like rocks.

yoga-trek-in-nepal

 

Morning came early. We did some awakening yoga under the warming sunshine, then we polished off a solid breakfast of muesli, apple pancakes, boiled eggs and masala tea. We hiked eight hours that day, including two hours after lunch through an unseasonable downpour. Luckily no one got leeched.

The rain stopped at 4pm, just when we reached a viewing spot at the same time as a very excited group of Chinese travellers. One by one each record-holding peak unveiled itself. It was like a show!  Machchapuchare (Fishtail), Dhaulagiri, Gangapurna, Manaslu, and that massive Annapurna South all came out to be admired, one by one.

There’s something about the white peaks, powerful and jagged in the distance, that melted the memories of sore muscles, blisters, and soggy socks. We stayed until dusk snapping away, or standing in awe. Slowly and almost giddily, we took our rusty knees down into the village of Ghorepani for an approximation of pizza and an early night.

The next day, the pre-dawn air was thick with fog. It was a tricky decision whether to wake up and hike to the highest point, Poon Hill. Ang Losang made an appearance with a toothbrush and his maroon robe, flashed us a little grin and shot back to his warm room. The rest of us went up though. If we were on the famed Poon Hill Trek, we’d better go to Poon Hill! If there was no view, we were promised hot chocolate.

This small climb was hard. Our muscles were tight. I tried to keep up morale and asked Zhangmu, hopefully, “Are we almost there?”

“No.”

We got there in the end along, with 200 other eager view seekers. Some turned back in defeat, but we remembered Ang Losang’s talk on patience. We stayed. This was a sweet decision. We were rewarded with full views of the range, including the background star, Annapurna 1. We also got hot chocolate.

The day trek down to Hille was not fun. Everyone suffered some form of knee or muscle cramp. It was a mental game, searching for the right footing, not slipping on the waterfalls, repetitively putting one foot down in front, a serious walking meditation. But in Hille, the altitude was low, and our mood rose. We shared one last partner yoga session, using the weight of each others’ bodies to gently ease the muscles and the breath of the other. Ang Losang came in with his grin and gave us an hour of beautiful words, personal stories, and tools to continue to focus our minds back in Kathmandu, back in Phuket, and anywhere else in this big wide world.

We all got what we were after.  A little yoga, a sprinkling of meditation, and a lot of laughter while trekking to see some of the world’s most beautiful peaks, They were five of the best days I’ve had in years.


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