Ghorepani Poon Hill Ghandruk Trek / Nepal

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There is endless trekking to be done in Nepal and we will not pretend to know any more than our week of prepping and trekking provided us. The trek you choose will depend on the time you have, the terrain you seek, what trails are open that season, the peaks you want to hashtag on Instagram, and your threshold for altitude. We had limited time and limited gear (coming from six months of prior travel), so we opted for one of the shorter treks that leaves from Pokhara – the Ghorepani Poon Hill Gandruk trek is about five days, four nights, relatively easy on the body (reaching a max of 3210 meters above sea level), and has lots of tea houses to choose from along the way. We were exhausted at the end of each day, but still had time to read, huddle under a blanket for warmth, and chat with other travelers. It gave us a good taste of trekking in Nepal and is inspiration for a future trip!

Getting to Pokhara
We started our trip in Pokhara, a 7-hour bus ride from Kathmandu. We opted for the $25 bus with Greenlines, over the $100 flight, and were pleasantly surprised. It was comfortable, we stopped often for the bathroom and stopped for a buffet lunch (just make sure you get back to the bus in time, Reece almost got ditched!). We spent two nights in Pokhara, which was the minimum you really need to be able to coordinate a trek, pick up gear, and get your permits. It’s also a nice town to hang in if you need extended wifi time, as there’s plenty of western restaurants and cafes…or if you want to Parahawking (feed hawks while paragliding)!!

 

Permits
You will need to pick up two permits, both from the same office, the Pokhara Tourist Service Center. It’s walkable from town and not far from the bus station. You will need the TIMS (Trekking Information Management System) and National Park Conservation fee, which are 2000 R each. You will need four passport photos, which you can get at a stand right outside or at any camera shop in town. We were also advised to make a copy of our passport and visa to have on hand on our trek. Know before you go – the trek you want to go on, the start and end date, the start and end point, your travel insurance provider and their contact, an emergency contact abroad (mom), a local emergency contact (we just put the hotel), your porter/guide/agency info. It fine to change your trek along the way or exit at a different point, but it’s important to carry your permits and stop at the checkin points along the hike, so they can keep track of you.

 

Pack List (for an April 5-day trek)

  • healthy snacks and rehydration powders – there were lots of chips and cookies along the way
  • wool socks – 2 pairs were enough
  • Nalgene for refilling along the way – try to avoid buying water bottles
  • iodine tabs just in case
  • sandals for showers and hanging out
  • sleeping bag liner – I used a fleece one for warmth
  • camera – if you want good photos it’s worth bringing for the Poon Hill summit, but you might curse the extra weight.
  • poles – not essential, but we preferred to have them
  • towel and soap – tea houses have showers
  • boots – if there’s no rain or snow you could get away with sneakers. I preferred having boots either way.
  • cards/book to pass the downtime
  • warm layers – Reece had a puffy vest and I had a fleece jacket, hat and gloves. Nights got cold and the sunrise hike up to Poon Hill was really cold.
  • other layers – I brought two sports tanks, lightweight hiking pants, one cotton top, running shorts, Patagonia R1 layer. Reece brought two wool tees, one cotton tee, two pairs shorts, one pair hiking pants. I wore pants every day, as it’s polite to dress modestly as you pass through villages.

Local Gear Shops
There are tons of gear shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara hawking fake North Face, Mammut, Patagonia, Arcteryx for a tenth the price at home. Backpacks, shoes, warm layers, water bottles…all the gear you could need. Some of it’s convincing, until you look closely at the poorly sewn label and weak zippers. Shop around, bargain, and pick up the extra gear you might need, just keep it all as lightweight as possible, especially if you are carrying your own bag. If you have excess gear after the trek, you can donate to KEEP and Porters Clothing Bank, which apparently gets better gear on the porters than they can normally afford. Most shops will rent sleeping bags and jackets, but we didn’t find any that rented poles, simply because they are so cheap to buy ($7-10).

Porters + Guides
We opted for not getting a porter or guide because we heard this trail would be manageable on our own and we wanted to simplify the process. It’s very common though to hire both, especially for the longer treks, and will cost about $40 a day. We were so impressed by the small porters along our hike hauling 3+ bags at a time on their backs, wearing sandals and dressed for a walk around town, not a multi-day trek. We even saw three porters with baskets on their backs, each filled with a snoozing kid! Apparently a lot of trek companies don’t provide porters the proper gear and often don’t pay them much, so beware of any cheap deals because that might mean the porter gets skimped. We preferred having flexibility on our own, but felt that having a guide would’ve been useful for all the cultural questions we had along the way. There’s a ton of travel agencies to arrange through, but it seems like the most reliable way is through an in-person contact, like your hotel owner.

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I think this room was an addition ha!

Accommodations
In my mind the tea houses would be small candlelit shacks where backpackers would sit around on handwoven rugs and sip tea, and we’d all sleep near the fire in one room. Maybe that was the case back in the day. All the tea houses we stayed in were two or three story cement buildings with separate rooms, a restaurant, some with hot showers, spotty electricity and wifi, all with an incredible view of the mountains. As a blogger suggested, we didn’t go with the first option, and instead walked through the villages each afternoon and scoped all options out, usually settling on the one with a bright layer of sea foam green paint, a stable looking structure (some look a littttle wobbly), and a potentially  unobstructed view. Each room was tiny and clean and felt like sleeping in a treehouse. The owners and their families were always so welcoming. Often hotels will only charge 200 R if you agree to eat all your food there too, otherwise they might be around 700 R for a double. Since the tea houses provide blankets that are often not washed, we didn’t bring a sleeping bag, but did bring sleeping bag liners.

Money
Prices at hotels and restaurants along the trail are regulated by a local tourism board, so things are fairly priced and do not require bargaining. Prices do increase the higher you get, but just consider that someone or some animal carried it all the way up there. There are no ATMs in the mountains, so make sure you take out enough in Pokhara. About 1000-1500 R is enough for two meals and a snack stop each day. If you’re going to buy water bottles along the way, consider that expense, as well as tip money for your porter and guide and taxi money for getting to and from the trailhead.

Food + Water

There are 16 clean water stations set up along the Annapurna Circuit – the Safe Drinking Water Scheme was set up by ACAP to minimize he plastic bottles used along the trail. We suggest bringing at least one refillable bottle with you. We also saw trekkers treating water they picked up from spigots along the way. It’s smart to bring purification tabs or a UV wand either way. Every 30 minutes or so there is a shop or restaurant, so you can buy water, but that’ll add up and you never know where the bottles will end up.

Choose Responsibly

Kathmandu and Pokhara are relatively clean compared to other developing countries we’ve been to. Shopkeepers tend to maintain the sidewalk and road in front of their shop. When you get right outside the heavily touristed areas you will see any greenery lined with trash and waterways that dribble through heaps of trash. Knowing that waste disposal is questionable here, buy responsibly. Treat your water instead of buying bottles and carry out your wrappers to dispose of at the end of the trek. Disposing of trash properly must get harder and harder for businesses the further into the mountains you get. We unfortunately saw a ton of trash along the hike. The more smelly you are the more satisfying the end of the trek will be, so minimize water use, especially hot water, along the way. Tea houses often use wood to heat the water and deforestation is an issue in the area. Also choose trekking companies that have an environmental policy and respectful employee standards.

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Route

Day 1
Our hotel in Pokhara, the North Face Inn, arranged a taxi for us at 7am to take us to where the trek stars in Nyapul. The normal cost is 20000 R per car. You can also take a taxi to the bus station where you can catch a bus to Nyapul for about 700 R pp, but it could take four hours. It was a bumpy 1.5 hours in the taxi. We grabbed a quick egg sandwich right where we were dropped then realized that there are a bunch of other restaurants down below in the town of Nyapul. We started at 9:30am and finished at 2:30pm, with a 30-minute break for tea and a few other stops to catch our breath. We continued through the town and along the main road, stopping at the TIMS checkpoint and then the other further down the road. It was easy to follow the road and the trail is well-trodden, though there were a few points that we waited to see where another guided group would turn. Some people stop in Tikhedunga, but we continued on to Ulleri. This took us another 1.5 hours and it was ultra steep stairs the whole way. We were glad we got that finished so we didn’t have to start the next day with that. We stayed at Kamala Lodge in Ulleri and it had tiny rooms, grand view, super nice owner and a bunch of other backpackers.

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Day 2
We went up and up, often on stairs, at some points the path would level out which was always a relief. We took our time and took lots of breaks, stopped for a 20-minute ginger honey lemon tea (which we made a daily ritual…mostly because I was sick) with a good view. We left at 8:30am and arrived in Ghorepani at 12:30. There’s another TIMS checkpoint at the top of Ghorepani. We decided to scale one more staircase and made our way to Ghorepani Doerali just five minutes further for more hotel options and a better valley view. Lured in again by the pink and turquoise decorative paint, we stayed at Dhaulagiri Lodge and it was simple with clean sheets and shared bathrooms, yummy food. The temp was cooler here, so we were in our jackets and hats by midday. Some opt to climb up to Poonhill for sunset, but it was cloudy so we waited for the morning.

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Day 3
We left the lodge at 5am, followed others to the path up to Poon Hill and made it up to the top in 35 minutes. We zoomed up, but it should normally take 45-60 min. Until now we were angry that we brought our cameras, but it was worth it. The clear view of the mountain range with the sun peeking over is epic. Make sure to bring 50 R for the entrance, there is also tea for purchase at the top. After heading back down and eating breakfast, we set out again at 8:30am and made it to Tadapani by 1pm. The path climbs for 30 minutes then levels out and you roll up and down the ridge of a mountain through Rhododendron (in bloom in April), then eventually down along the river and through a deep crevasse with big mossy trees hanging over you at an unnerving angle. Then some steep stairs down, then some steep stairs up. We couldn’t decide which way was worse, up or down. Arriving in the sweet little village of Tadapani, we walked to the end of town and chose a sunny little hotel on the left called Mountain View. For 400 R we got wifi, electricity, and hot showers included ;).

Day 4
This was easy breezy compared to the other days. It was mostly rolling level trails and lots of stairs down, especially toward the end. We recommend the Gurung Cottage (gurungcottage@yahoo.com) in Ghandruk. Great view, well-maintained, organic French pressed Nepali coffee, but the lodge entrance is easy to miss – look for the stone steps sticking out from the stone wall…or just ask someone. We stayed elsewhere, but visited this spot for coffee. Not much to do in town, but there is a quirky little dusty Gurung museum with an ancient woman selling tickets and a conservation museum.

Day 5
The last day took us about 3.5 hours. We were speeding along, but somehow a little old man on the same route who was walking so slow kept getting ahead of us, even though we passed him twice! It was so strange, maybe he knew of a secret way…or was a spirit. The path is downhill, stairs the majority of the way. We were so impressed by the little kids in their pressed uniforms hiking one hour up to Ghandruk for school and ancient little women in sandals under a bundle of branches five times their weight making their way up. When we reached the end, there was the little old man calmly sipping a tea.

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Once you arrive in Birethanti you will have to check out at the NTNC and TIMS checkpoints, otherwise they’ll think you’re still up there. The bus back to Pokhara waits to fill up at the NTNC checkpoint and will swing by the TIMS checkpoint on the way out, so you can hop on and give your documents to the driver. There are also taxis that can squeeze three in the back and one up front for 2000 R back to Pokhara. If you walked 20 more minutes up the road to Birethanti there are jeeps for bigger groups. We opted for a one hour taxi, as we heard the bus can take 3+ hours and we would’ve been standing.

After the trek we chilled out for two days in Pokhara, visited the Pagoda across the lake and did much needed laundry. The trek was wonderful, SO worth it, and luckily we had no rain the whole time. The length was also enough for us – after five days we felt like we’d had enough time in our boots. The air, however, was crazy smoggy our entire time in Nepal, a thick yellow haze. We heard it was from more forest fires this year, in addition to normal pollution. So, I had a hard time breathing, even up in the mountains, and was constantly coughing and blowing my nose, but Reece was fine. I blame my asthma and assume that most people would be unfazed by this conditions. All in all, it’s worth the sweat for the wide-open views and that feeling you can only get at the top of a mountain.

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