Heaven is myth, Nepal is real – Our 5-day Poon Hill Trek in the Himalayas

Heaven is myth, Nepal is real.” There are many superlatives to describe the small Kingdom in the Himalayas that is Nepal, and this well-known quote is just one of them. It was resonated by the grey-haired but fit New Zealander who happened to be standing beside me in Ghorepani while we both gazed in amazement at the panorama that had just unfolded before our eyes. Dark clouds had given way to a view on majestic Himalayan peaks that were touched by the late afternoon sunlight. “This is the most phenomenal sight I have ever seen,” he says. To have someone from New Zealand, by many considered to be the most beautiful country in the world, proclaim this as the most spectacular view he has seen in his life – that’s quite something. And I have to agree. It is the kind of view that is mesmerizing and leaves an imprint not just on the retina but also on the soul.

We had climbed for two days to reach Ghorepani. Our hike had started easy enough, at some 1900 metres lower elevation in Birethanthi. This small mountain town is the starting point for many Himalayan hikes, among which the Poon Hill Trek, which is also known as the Ghorepani – Ghandruk Loop. We had planned to complete this trek in five days. In Birethanthi we had our trekking permits checked, upon which we tied up our boots, put on our rain coats due to the light drizzle that had started to fall, and hit a dirt road that led us to the town of Hile. At this point the road ends and a stony footpath begins that we would follow during our next few phenomenal hiking days. Motorized traffic is impossible beyond this point; you need to rely on your legs to carry you from here. The change in elevation was minimal however in the first few hours of our hike, and we enjoyed a pleasant walk past terraced fields lined with banana trees. The majestic mountain tops we were chasing after were not within our view yet. We had a lunch of chapati and noodle soup (including an unfortunate boiled fly) in one of the small villages before heading on. The rain had stopped and while the sun quickly heated the moist soil of the fields around us, causing us to break our first sweat, we passed through villages every 30 to 60 minutes. In these villages traditional tea houses welcome weary and hungry hikers. Access to drinking water is readily available here, as are simple squat toilets.

 

Of course a trek in the foot hills of the Himalaya requires climbing. I would have been silly to fool myself thinking the trek would be as easy as the first few hours led us to believe. After crossing a couple of suspension bridges – letting donkeys carrying a load and without any apparent owner in sight pass first; it looked like they knew their way – the feared stone stairs to Ulleri came into view.

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The target of our first day lay waiting for us at the top of these 3200 grueling steps. We started climbing. The steps seemed to be endless, and the only way to convince ourselves that we were making progress was to look back down from time to time and see the valley that we had been walking through earlier that morning getting smaller and smaller before it disappeared from our view. Small children herding cows swiftly hovered past on their flip flops or bare feet, and mules carrying gas cylinders and sacks of foodstuff allowed us to step aside and hold our breath for a moment while they passed in their steady gait.

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The sun shone on our backs – which was better than in our faces, but the humid heat added to our increasing agony. We often paused to drink water and continued to haul ourselves up one rocky step after the other, each one of different height and the path continuously zig-zagging up the mountain. A light rain started to fall and fog rolled in from the crags of the hills when we finally saw a sign that read “Welcome to Ulleri”. A common phrase is that traveling is about the journey, not the destination, a phrase with which I fully agree but I must admit that I was very, very pleased to have reached our destination for the day. In Ulleri we took a room in Super View Guesthouse. The broad view over the valleys below us was fantastic indeed, but the rain increased and darkness soon fell. We warmed our souls with fresh honey-lemon-ginger tea and dined ferociously on dal bhat in the common dining room. The guesthouse was a ramshackle affair built with wood and corrugated iron, and to reach our room we had to climb steep stairs (more stairs! Dear God) and shuffle through narrow, dim hallways. Our room was very simple but it had a small bathroom attached (shower included!). Despite the short beds and thin mattresses, you can imagine that we slept like babies that night while hard rains and thunder battered the mountains outside.

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We woke up at the break of dawn to the sight of a huge spider sitting on our window sill, as if it was guarding the view that had revealed itself now that the clouds briefly parted to offer our first glimpse of Annapurna II, the 15th highest mountain in the world. We were able to admire the mountain from the comfort of our beds for some ten minutes until misty clouds rolled in again and hid the summit from view.

 

An early breakfast with hot lemon (tea made of hot water with fresh lemon juice and honey, available all along the trail) and off we went. To our horror, more stone steps presented itself but luckily once we left Ulleri village behind the stairs changed to a forest trail. It was misty and moist as we walked through rhododendron forests, the trees covered in moss and ferns. Unfortunately a recent hail storm had caused the trees to lose their flowers, of which we spotted the deep pink remains on the forest floor.

 

In Nangge Thanti we had chopsi for lunch, a dish of crispy fried noodles mixed with egg and veggies. We put on our fleece and rain shells because the drizzle had started again and the air felt chilly. We passed waterfalls and bridges and just before we reached Ghorepani, our destination for the day, the skies broke open and a merciless rain poured down on us. We reached the checkpoint in Lower Ghorepani and took shelter in a wooden shed while the rain turned to large chunks of hail, and thunder and lightning ripped through the Himalayan skies. We waited until the worst passed and continued our final ascent to Upper Ghorepani, another 15 minutes of climbing, where we checked in at Super View Hotel which provided a wood fire to warm us and to dry our wet clothes, and a hearty dish of dal bhat to replenish our reserves, but at that moment no ‘super view’ because the rainy clouds blocked our view of anything beyond a distance of 50 metres. But after warming up to a hot lemon in the common dining area we saw the sky break open and reveal a magical panorama. We rushed outside, and it is here where I met the New Zealander who was as astonished by the view as we were. Tears filled my eyes in response to this natural beauty and a sense of gratitude came over me. The past two hiking days had been tough, but this view alone was well worth all the sweat and sore muscles.

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The next morning we rose early to start the hike up to Poon Hill at 04:30 AM. When we stepped outside it was dark and cold, but halfway our ascent the skies started to light up in advance of the approaching sun. We were lucky; the sky was cloudless. We climbed for 45 minutes until we reached the peak at 3193 metres where we waited another 30 minutes until the first rays of sunlight started to illuminate the mountain peaks around us. Yesterday’s unexpected panorama was just an appetizer for this overwhelming view. The Daulaghiri, Annapurna and Machhapuchhre mountains had distant ice storms raging at their summits, which was visible from the icy clouds that were whirling up at great speeds. We were looking at several of the world’s tallest mountains, and we were awed by how gigantic they were. The locals seemed unimpressed, this being the backdrop to their every day lives. Stray dogs ran after each other behind our backs, growling and baring their teeth, unaware of the impressive sights that unfolded itself before our eyes.

 

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When the sun had warmed our bodies and had fully illuminated the entire mountain range, we walked back down to Ghorepani where we enjoyed fried corn bread with honey and the best view we have ever had for breakfast.

 

We started hiking at 08:30 and primarily used soft trails instead of stone paths and steps. This was a welcome change even though the trail immediately led up to the Deurali Pass at 3090 metres altitude. Again, our efforts were rewarded with spectacular views of the Annapurna Himalayan range.

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We enjoyed another hot lemon in Deurali village upon which the trail steeply sloped down through a gorge full of blooming rhododendrons and a curiously large amount of ladybugs. The village of Ban Thanti was decor for a pit stop with dal bhat (an excellent hiking dish and provision of endless energy – dal bhat power 24 hour is a popular Nepali saying). The final part of today’s trail to Tadapani alternately led us steeply up, down, and then up again. Clouds had come back in the mid-afternoon when we reached Tadapani, where we checked into a room in Hotel Magnificent (the most magnicifent aspect of it being the views from its terrace) with shared bathroom and outdoor shower. Pakauda (deep fried veggie fritters) and vegetable curry with chapati preceded a restless night.

 

The sun rose after we had breakfast at 06:30 and another sun-lit vista of snowy summits revealed itself. Day 4 of our trek had begun. The first part of the trail to Ghandruk was easy-going as it meandered down through a forest along a mountain river. Arriving in the large town of Ghandruk felt like returning to civilization because of the sudden re-emergence of agricultural terraced fields where people were harvesting crops. The real civilized world was still far away though, because the only way to reach Ghandruk is on foot (or by helicopter, in case of emergencies).

 

 

Ghandruk is followed by another 2 hours of terribly steep stone steps going down to a river gorge. The descent was tough on our knees and when we finally arrived at the Modi Khola river we were happy to sit down and have lunch at a small tea house. On the opposite bank of the river gigantic honey combs hung from the rocky walls of the gorge. The Nepali pull life-threatening stunts to harvest honey from these combs by climbing to dizzying heights on rickety ladders and ropes.

 

After crossing the river another hour of climbing steps took us to Landruk, a beautiful quiet village with green fields and inviting guest houses. The road broadened and ran level for some time until another steep climb preceded the tiny dwelling of Pitam Deurali, where we settled for the night after enjoying a steaming hot bucket shower.

 

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The last day of our trek had arrived and it made us feel melancholic. Thinking back of our first day of venturing into the Himalaya, when we had to climb the endless and exhausting steps leading up to Ulleri, it was funny to realize that we did not want this adventure to end. Every tiring step of every climb and every knee-wrecking steep of every descent had been so worth the experience, and we did not want to leave it behind. To have walking as your only goal of each day while you are surrounded by nature’s extremes is very calming. Just putting one foot in front of the other is all you have to think of, and the steady climbing had put my mind in a meditative state that did not allow for any thoughts about the mundane world. So when our last day of walking slowly brought us back into real civilization – we passed an increasingly dense amount of villages and eventually started seeing motorized traffic again – it was not without a sense of remorse that we finished our trek. A final steep descent brought us to the end of the trail, where we took a taxi back to the bustling town of Pokhara.

 

Behind us, the mountains of the Annapurna Range, the realm of the Himalayas, towered above the world like gatekeepers to the heavens. Except that heaven is myth. But luckily Nepal is real.

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Create your own adventure!

Most people complete the Poon Hill Trek in 4 to 6 days. We took 5 days and this is how we did it:

Day 1 – Birethani – Ulleri, 6 hours 15 minutes including breaks
Most people take a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul which is the official starting point of this trek. The great guy who organised our trek (more about him below) arranged with our taxi driver that he’d drive us a bit further, to Birethani where you will find the first checkpoint where you need to have your permit stamped. This saves some time and a bit of a boring walk, because the road from Nayapul to Birethani is not a very interesting one and is used by motorized traffic. At Birethani the true trail really starts. The steps leading up to Ulleri are the only really difficult part of this first day (and perhaps the most difficult part of the entire trek!).
Lodging in Ulleri: we slept at Super View Guesthouse which was basic but decent with a primitive bathroom and very cheap, but there are plenty other guesthouses in this small village.

Day 2 – Ulleri – Ghorepani, 7 hours 30 minutes including breaks
Relatively easy hiking with no extreme ascents or descents. At Ghorepani you will have the first amazing views of the summits.
Lodging in Ghorepani: you will find plenty of places to sleep in Ghorepani, but my recommendation is to continue to Upper Ghorepani after reaching Lower Ghorepani because the views are much better there. We slept at Super View Hotel which indeed had super views, a very nice common dining area and a nice bathroom with hot water.

Day 3 – Ghorepani – Tada Pani, 7 hours 45 minutes including breaks and the trek up and down Poon Hill in the early morning.
You’ll be happy to have left the stone steps of the first two days behind but this part of the trail also includes some steep sections. The trek up to Poon Hill is a little demanding because it obviously goes up all the time, but it is not too steep. Amazing views on the mountain ranges most of the day.
Lodging in Tada Pani: this was the only village where we had some difficulty finding a room. You may want to try to arrive early to secure a place to sleep. Also, apparently in all of Tada Pani there are no guesthouses with private bathrooms. We stayed in Hotel Magnificent which was nice albeit basic.

Day 4 – Tada Pani – Pitam Deurali, 10 hours 30 minutes including breaks
This day includes a tough section because you have to ascent and descent very steeply to and from the river. My recommendation would be not to walk all the way to Pitam Deurali but to call it a day in Landruk which is a little bit larger with more lodging options and a pleasant atmosphere. It will make your last day a bit longer but totally doable. The views on the mountains are great in the morning, in the afternoon you will have returned to lower altitudes in a greener landscape.
Lodging in Pitam Deurali: there is little choice here as there are only two guest houses. This was our most basic stay of the trek; there was no shower but buckets of hot water are provided.

Day 5 – Pitam Deurali – Pokhara, 5 hours including breaks
This was the least interesting day for us. Views on the mountains are still very good but you will slowly be making your way back into civilization. An easy-going hike. You can arrange to be picked up by a taxi at the end of the trail to be taken back to Pokhara.

The cost of our trek was € 365 in total for two persons, including lodging, all meals and drinks, the services of a porter and generous tip for the porter, transport from and to Pokhara, and trekking permits. Lodging was surprisingly affordable: € 18 in total for two persons for 4 nights. Meals are the most costly aspect of this trek (€ 126 in total for two persons for 5 days) because it takes a lot of effort and energy to bring fresh ingredients up the mountains. Note that most guesthouses expect you to eat in their dining room once you have agreed to rent a room with them. Remember that the cost of the room is cheap and these people make a living by selling you meals, so it would be rude to dine somewhere else. Most guesthouses serve the same type of menu, anyway.

We arranged our trek with the help of Raj Ohra of our guesthouse in Pokhara (which we can wholeheartedly recommend, Pushpa Guesthouse). Raj is a trekking agent and mountain guide and can arrange guides (or be your guide himself), porters and transport to and from the trail as well as any trekking gear you may wish to rent. He helped us plan our trek and arranged a reliable porter for us who carried our heavy luggage (click here to read more about our experience of hiring a porter on the Poon Hill Trek). You can contact him via pushpapokhara@hotmail.com

For practical advice on trekking in Nepal, check out our other article Trekking safely and sustainably in Nepal.

One thought on “Heaven is myth, Nepal is real – Our 5-day Poon Hill Trek in the Himalayas

  1. Hey, wat weer een mooie ingrijpende belevenis in jullie leven. Het staat geprint op jullie vaste schijf en ik vermoed dat wanneer de mogelijkheid zich voordoet, dit niet de laatste keer was om Nepal te leren kennen.

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