Nepal is famous around the world for its fantastic number of treks. Treks are dotted all over and among the Himalayas, varying in length, difficulty and landscapes. If visiting Nepal, a trek is a compulsory must do- even if it is just a day trek that surrounds Kathmandu valley, it is a tourist attraction that if ignored, will be resented. You don’t have to be a professional trekker with all the right equipment, in fact many trekkers in Nepal are first timers with rented equipment, just give it a go- it is easy to do so (although a level of fitness is required, it is a trek after all).
Those who have a large bank balance choose to do the Everest base camp trek. Although apparently a boring and lengthy trek, the trekkers that pick this trail do so for the views of Everest, (as well as the confidence and superiority to say they hiked Everest). The trek is expensive, although you are paying for the fame- and hiring a porter is a must do.
A cheaper and much more popular alternative to trekking in Nepal is the Annapurna area. There are a number of options to choose from, however the main three are: The Annapurna Circuit- 17-21 days of hiking the entirety of the Himalayas, allowing you to walk amongst the mountains and become part of the scenery yourself, Annapurna base camp– a 7 day trek where you reach the base of the mountain Annapurna South, or Poon Hill– the shorter, but in no way easier, trek of 4/5 days that offers 360 degrees spectacular panoramic views from a mountain point.
I decided to hike Poon Hill due to a number of reasons: I didn’t want to spend 3 weeks trekking, it was my first trek, and I’d rather do more extreme sports instead. Meeting other backpackers who were doing the Annapurna circuit, talked me out of hiring a guide, (I was going to hire a guide from Three Sisters trekking Company, whom employs local women as guides as I’d heard male guides can harass lone female trekkers throughout a trek). Unfortunately, I was still suffering from food poisoning from Delhi airport (a nice leaving present there India) and so, I couldn’t start the trek with the friends I made. Told of how popular the route was- when I recovered, I started off the trek alone. Although quite a brave, (or mad) thing to do- I still do not recommend anyone to do the same. Although it is Poon Hill, and not the freezing and isolated Annapurna circuit, anything can happen.
Yes, the path is easily marked, maps are easy to buy and local people happy to direct you, keeping this in mind, trek with other people. As my dad likes to say, “Safety in Numbers” and here is the perfect place to adopt this attitude. It is cheaper to get your own TMS card and Annapurna permit from the TMS office (no commission and available in Pokhara or Kathmandu), as well as not hiring a guide, although if trekking alone or in pairs, having a local number, radio and GPS is advisable.
Having said that, it is easy to meet people to trek with. I immediately stuck near to other trekkers who started the trek at a similar time as me (stalkerish I know) and later on in the day, had made friends with two mature Portuguese men (who were equally or even more fit than I am), who adopted me for the trek. Although it can feel like Rome on a mountainside; with constant tour groups, traffic whilst trekking, restaurants and guesthouses, I trekked in the popular time of March- with warm weather and flowers in bud. Keeping this in mind, there are moments where the path separates to alternative routes, leading you into the wilderness of the forest, where one wrong slip, could be fatal. I carried a 10 kilo bag throughout the trek- which was soul destroying (try hiking up 3500 steps with that on your back- in the sun) and so my advice would be to: carry the simple basics, or if needs be, hire a porter- possibly sharing a bag of items with others to split the cost.
Although the Poon Hill trek is short, it is definitely not sweet. Making the trek easier in the long run, I started Day 1 from Nayapul via Birenthani, ending in Tikhedunga. The path escalates higher and higher, on a road with rocks making you slip and side, this day is un enjoyable as the route is on a road, unlike a trek at all. Day 2 is the hardest, from Tikhedunga we headed to Ulleri and then on to Ghorepani. It is uphill all day, steep and fierce steps are carved out onto the path, each step a humongous effort and painful for your shaking calves and thighs (or maybe just mine). However, reaching Ghorepani, being so near Poon Hill, gives you immense satisfaction. Day 3 is the most beautiful, but the longest. We started that day with the 5am climb to Poon Hill in darkness (more steps) followed by a continuous up and down passageway through the mountains to reach Ghandruk. The views are the most magnificent on this day, with stunning views of the Annapurna colossal mountain range, standing imposing and breath taking beauties of ice and snow surrounded by blooming flowers, descents through forest and past rushing rivers, and lunching in a valley. The final day is from Ghandruk back to Nayapul via Birenthani. Half of the journey is made up of descending dangerously steep steps whilst rural life and herds of buffaloes and donkeys clatter past you on the path. The patchwork quilt of greenery is magnificent, cut out steps of land to grow crops dot the landscape and warm and friendly school children with matching plaits and red ribbons tied in their hair descend the steps, skipping with ease.
If you do decide to book with a guide, be careful with what company you go for and do your research. My Portuguese friends had a guide who overstepped his mark with me, and at times made me feel uncomfortable, (a quick lie about me having a boyfriend in the army whos coming to meet me in Pokhara shut him up, as well as my Portuguese friends reminded him of the correct social decorum). I also say this because there are a number of “package” deals on the internet organizing treks. These are expensive and are commission filled. My friends fell into the trap of prebooking a guide, all food and accommodation in advance and did not receive the right amount of food and quality accommodation they should have.
After all this advice, and what seems like a summary of a treacherous journey (I told you I’m a truthful traveller) – don’t be put off. The views are worth it and the satisfaction you receive is immense. As well as this, seeing an 82 year old Japanese women do the same hike as me, has highlighted that anything is possible, take your time doing the trek when you find it challenging, and that I’m going to be hiking mountains and travelling the world along time yet. Sorry Mum and Dad.