We arrived in Pokhara after an 80 kilometer day, up and down through the mountains of Nepal. Pokhara is a comfortable tourist town which offers really good amenities, but was somewhat less interesting than the personal connections we experienced in the smaller towns we rode through.
What did stand out were our Bike Friday bikes. After our first afternoon in Pokhara the ice cream shop kids, local restaurant and hotel staff all made bike riding gestures or talked bikes with us every time we’d see eachother.
The first evening in town was a recovery day. It was also our chance to change hotels from the doozy we stumbled upon in our exhausted state the night before. Once we were settled, took part in some mild tourist food and ice cream, we were ready for our trek to see the famous Annapurna range.
Our first day trekking was short due to a late start and another thunder storm, which had us a little uncomfortable after our close call the night before. We decided to stop at a guest house just a few kilometers in, which turned out to be a lovely place with guest rooms above the lodge’s kitchen, a window overlooking the garden and terraced wheat field. We watched the rain and lightening throughout the early evening and got to bed early.
An interesting thing about Annapurna circuit…. You really don’t need to bring much since there are small villages scattered along the trail with restaurants, tea and guest houses. The park has turned into an ecosystem where the hikers use the guest houses, and the guest houses are supported by the hikers.
Our plan was to do a loop from the town of Nayapul, where you get dropped off, to Gorakpur, up to Poon Hill, then to Gandruk, and back out again. They said this should take us 3 days at the very least, but we figured we could do it in 2 since time was getting short for us and we had to make our way over to Bhutan to (I wince as we write this) stay on schedule.
The next day we trekked just after breakfast beginning with a dirt road which became a stone path mostly of stairs. It’s an elevation gain from 2,500 feet to 9,000 feet. At lunch time we were at about 6,000 and enjoyed a hearty lunch outside overlooking a valley, the terracing and enjoying the goats, mules and puppy at the lodge.(note: A lunch that took nearly an hour to come to the table because it is fresh, from chopping the vegetables to preparing the dough….a spring roll IS a spring roll in Nepal and definitely worth the wait)
We stayed at the large “See You” lodge in Ghorapani that evening and met kind man who was a guide out of Kathmandu who advised us to take rest and see Poon Hill at sunrise. Fantastic. It’s also worth getting up at 5 am to see the sunrise when the view is also 360 degrees of Himalayan mountains. We’ve seen them in many photos of The North Face expeditions, films and online…yet seeing them in person makes the heart go pitterpatter. Breathtaking. These mountains are hard to explain…they are massive, beautiful, reaching into heaven. By 6 am the summit often can’t be seen any longer due the cloud cover…
After our 2nd night and waking up in Ghorapani/making our way to Poon Hill, we planned to push hard to get through Ghandruk and out to the jeeps to return to Pokhara and on to Bhutan the following day. This was our plan, but of course we were reminded, one can’t rush in the mountains. As the day wore on, our hopes of getting to the trailhead began to fade as the use of our legs also began to fade.
We met 3 kind porters who carried ~90 pounds each and we kept pace with as they traveled with a gregarious group from Germany. When we sat for rests with them and we mentioned our plans, they shook their heads no and suggested we walk “slowly, slowly.” Late in the day after many descending steps and many Rhododendron groves, we stumbled into Ghandruk. As we discussed if we would push on for another hour, it began to rain, and we decided to stay put for one more night.
At sunrise, we were treated again to fresh mountain air, stronger (albeit sore) legs, and a stunning view of Annapurna South that we couldn’t see in the haze the evening before. We passed through Gandruk Village center and eventually out to the trailhead.
By noon we were back in Pokhara and rowing the calm Phewa Lake to visit the Tal Bahari temple. A blissful day granted to us by the mountains telling us to move slowly.