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Himalayan high routes

My good friend Praveen Partha is a very determined trekker. The Sun had disappeared behind a screen of clouds, the air had become dark and misty and a few stray hail stones had begun to fall. We were near Banthanti (2307 m) on the long trail to Ghorepani. The rain gathered strength and hail stones began to splatter us relentlessly. Our fellow trekkers began to hunt for shelter but luckily the hail stones were small and we (Praveen & I) decided to continue.

Annapurnas from Poon Hill

It was around three in the afternoon and we had started from Birethanti at around half past six. We had climbed around 1300 m and had another four hundred still to go before we reached Ghorepani. The Sun Rise lodge at Birethanti is very comfortable and the food is excellent. We had spent a comfortable night there but had been awakened by the sound of drums early in the morning. There are a group of people who go around awakening the village when even the roosters are fast asleep.

The trail was along the Bhurungdi Khola. The blue waters were a pleasant contrast to the murky whiteness of the Modi Khola, saturated with glacial silt (Khola means a stream or small river in Nepalese). There was a beautiful waterfall and a picturesque pool on the river. The settlements of Sudame and Ramghai were long and straggling. Hille and Tirkhedunga were further ahead and we were joined by a well-built dog. Its coat was a beautiful mixture of black and brown. Dogs often join trekkers for short distances along the trail; they do not seem to expect food or treats in return. Maybe, they have occasional bouts of ‘trekking fever’; the search for adventure, new places and new experiences. But dogs being fiercely territorial fights often break out between newcomers and the locals who resent the intruder.

You cross the river on a long suspension bridge and there is a very pretty lodge with a wonderful garden. The climb is steep and the hill side is terraced for cultivation. It was harvest time and the lilting tunes of harvest songs carried far in the quiet valley. The village of Ulleri is a two hour climb from the bridge. Ulleri is a picturesque Magar (an ethnic group in the hills of western Nepal) village at around 2073 m but like many Nepalese villages it sprawls more than a hundred metres across the hillside. I have sweet memories of Ulleri having stayed there with Brahmadathan Sir and Jacob around two years back. The lodges within Ulleri proper are however, nothing to write about and I would recommend lodges further up the hill, around thirty minutes away.

Harvest in the terraced fields

There are 3767 steps to Ulleri which were counted by a trekker, Lance Hart. I am sure he must have found it very difficult to climb and count in the same breath. The old slate roofed houses were magnificent but unfortunately they are being slowly replaced by cheap, ubiquitous asbestos.

The climb becomes more gradual after Ulleri and is through lush oak forests crossing numerous streams. We stopped for lunch around thirty minutes from Ulleri. In Nepal we take lunch quite seriously. The ingredients are fresh, the food is hot and the process of preparation takes over an hour. It is the time to rest, to drink in the surroundings, stretch one’s legs, read a book or just dream away. It was Holi (the Hindu festival of colours) and the lodge owner’s daughters wanted us to join them in the celebrations.

Banthanti (a place in the forest in Magar language) and Nayathanti (new place in the forest) were our rest stops on the way. The rhododendrons were in bloom and whole hillsides were coloured a riotous pink. The pink rhododendron (laali guraans in Nepali) is the national flower. The trail emerged at Ghorepani (2819 m). I often call Ghorepani, the ‘blue town’; the lodges are all painted blue and covered with blue roofs. Ghorepani has grown by leaps and bounds and is a far cry from the single building seen by Bezruchka (author, trekker, mountaineer and doctor) in 1969. The place even has a pulsating discotheque!

Poon Hill

We continued on to Deurali and the Snow Land lodge. The lodge has a cozy dining room, a beautiful garden, a fantastic solar shower and lovely bed rooms with dramatic views of the Annapurnas. A snow storm was brewing and snow flakes began falling turning the ground a magical white! Sitting around a burning fire, nursing a cup of hot chocolate and watching the snow flakes drift down was a magical experience! The storm slowly cleared and watching the Annapurnas and the Dhaulagiri Himals (snow covered mountains in Sanskrit) slowly emerge from the veil of clouds was a treat for the eyes and the soul. Everything was covered with a fresh layer of snow. The Annapurnas were seen in a different perspective from the much photographed view from Pokhara (a town in western Nepal). Macchapuchare, the pyramidal Matter horn which lords over the Pokhara sky line was cut down to size. However, it was seen in its true fish tail aspect.   

It was a hard uphill slog the next morning through a snow covered landscape. It was around five in the morning, the stars were still out and we were walking up to Poon hill by torch light. A long line of torch lights and head lamps were snaking up the hill side as trekkers set out in the pre dawn darkness to catch the Sun rise on the Himals. Poon hill at around 3200 m is reputed to be one of the finest view points in the Himalayas. The Dhaulagiri ranges, Nilgiris, Annapurna I, Annapurna south, Hiunchuli and Macchapuchare. The giants lie in peaceful repose under the comfortable cloak of night; waiting for the Sun’s warm caress to stir to life!

Neel Kanth and Choukham

The sky was gradually lightening to the east and the multitude was waiting with bated breath for the dramatic entrance of Surya, the Sun God. Dhaulagiri I was the first peak to catch the Sun rays followed by the massive hulk of Annapurna I (the first 8000 m peak to be climbed by Herzog and Lachenal). The Himals blushed a tender pink under the Sun’s loving gaze and then were gradually burnished with gold. Cameras and flashes were popping as people tried to capture the magic moment for posterity.

Praveen was striking dramatic poses against the backdrop of the Himals. It was around eight when we finally started down from Poon hill. The crowd had thinned out and peace had returned. It was a long and slippery descent to the lodge. Cornbread and honey makes for a delightful combination! The cornbread just melted in the mouth! We wanted to tarry and admire the Annapurnas bathed in the warm morning sunshine. However, it was a long knee-cracking descent to Birethanti and it was already past nine.

The Dhaulagiri range from Poon Hill

Poon hill and Ghorepani had touched a tender chord in our souls. Magic in the mountains! It was a light show worthy of the Gods. The Himalayan giants getting lit up one by one in quick succession. We vowed to return and spend a leisurely weekend in gorgeous Ghorepani!

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