Chuile to Landruk
The trek we had just completed, coming from Gorepani to Tadopani is called the Khyer trek. It’s very good, but if you need to acclimatise it would be better to do it the other way round, starting at Pokhara and driving to Gandruk and then finishing at Gorepani where it’s possible to take a bus or jeep back to Pokhara.
Khyer Trek Route Pokhara – Ghandruk – Tadopani – Dobato – (Mulde Hill side trip for dawn or sunset, better than Pune Hill, 30 minutes climb) – Bayeli – Khopra – either Paudwar and Tatopani, or Gorepani – Pokhara.
From Chuile we descended fairly gradually through dense forest, or jungle as the locals call it, to the large Gurung village of Ghandruk.
Ghandruk has largely maintained its old character with many two story stone and wood houses. The majority of buildings have kept their stone roofs and only a few have replaced them with tin. One or two families have built large concrete hotels but there seems to have been a realisation that the village attracts tourists because of its traditional character.
The traditional houses have two stories. A single room downstairs provides the living space and upstairs is used as a granary. Animals are kept in separate out houses. Ghandruk is just under 2000m and there is no need to keep the animals in the house with the humans as seems to be the case in some higher settlements. The buildings seem of a higher quality than we have been seeing, with better draught proofing.
We visited the hideous modem monastery and an old house that had been turned into a museum of traditional artefacts. I thought that Lewis Hill would have loved it.
We stopped by one of the modern concrete monstrosities for lunch. I enjoyed a tuna pizza on the rooftop with a spectacular view of the mountains.
From Ghandruk the descent to the river valley was very steep, following rough steps winding through paddy fields. I was following Rajendra, Dambar lagging behind for some reason. A long mule train cut in from a higher path and I quickly lost sight of Rajendra. Ten minutes later, with neither member of my team in view and multiple paths splitting off the trail, it occurred to me that I could be heading the wrong way. I stopped for a while and listened. I could hear Dambar making his pressure cooker impressions and singing from further up the hill and then spotted Rajendra about 500m further on. I was stil on the right trail.
As long as you place them properly waking poles are a great help in going down steep steps. We were soon in the valley bottom, across the bridge and the working our way steeply up to Landruk.
Landruk was surprisingly busy. The teahouse Dambar planned on staying at was fully booked by a Korean group.
I spent the evening charting to two Danish students and an elderly, eccentric and extremely well travelled Italian woman. She was most distressed as she was unable to find a room with an attached bathroom. There seems to be room for more luxury accommodation in some of the villages. The number of guesthouses, their facilities and number of rooms is controlled by village development committees however and this seems to stymie effective competition and innovations.
4 January 2014
Kew (or High Camp) to Mardi Himal base camp and back
We spent part of the morning discussing what to do next. I still had a few days left to trek, but without camping and rock climbing gear we were trapped on the Mardi Himal ridge. In a long day it is possible to trek down to the valley from Kew, but then we couldn’t work out what else to do, having insufficient time to head back up into the high mountains and not being too enthusiastic about doing a lowland forest trek or spending several days in Pokhara. Eventually we decided to climb as far towards the summit of Marsi Himal as reasonable and then take a rest day at Kew. We had been trekking continuously since leaving Kathmandu and were all a bit tired.
With a packed lunch of Tibetan bread we set out along the ridge in the early morning sun for the climb towards Mahdi Himal. Far below in the valleys a blanket of cloud obscured everything apart from the hill tops and mountains. Above the cloud there was a blue haze that finished in a sharp line on the horizon. Above that the sky was crystal clear and we could see every detail in the mountains.
The ridge was just above the tree line and we were soon hot as we climbed up and down the series of rocky hills on its back. The views kept on improving. As we climbed higher it appeared that the blanket of cloud rose with us, eventually obscuring everything below 2500m. It was like looking down from a plane.
Along the ridge there were the wooden skeletons of a number of shepherds’ huts. Above the tree line there is good spring and summer grazing. The huts are made from simple wooden ribs which can be covered with bamboo matting or plastic tarpaulin when needed. In winter it is too cold for the sheep, so they are taken down to the valleys.
Eventually we reached Mardi Himal Base Camp, a flat area with a couple of abandoned temporary shelters and where there is room to pitch tents. We decided to press on towards the summit, although it was now clear that we wouldn’t be able to make it. There was still a good 1200 m of ascent to go and the route finding would be difficult. We set as our goal a brown ledge some three hundred metres higher. The trail we had been following disappeared at this point and we had to pick our way up tremendously steep grassy slopes between rock buttresses. Our progress was slow, more because we were tired than due to altitude I think, and it took us almost ninety minutes to climb to the ledge at 4500m. From there progress to the summit would involve tricky route finding and some climbing. It was already 14:00 and so we decided to call it a day. Dambar lit incense and made an offering to the mountain, we took one last look at the views and then began the crazy descent. Steep descents feel all the more serious when the slope doesn’t ease off until it hits the tree line a thousand metres below.
It was early evening by the time we reached Kew and we were pretty tired. My shirt was soaked with sweat so I hung it outside in the late sun to dry. As the sun went down I retrieved it, frozen solid.
3 January 2014
Landruk 1600m – Forest Camp (Kokar) – Low Camp (Humal) – High Camp (Kew) 3570m
It felt pleasantly warm in Landruk but even so I had the hood up on my down jacket as I ate breakfast. Living in Saudi has obviously made me quite soft.
Most people heading for Mardi Himal trek to Forest Camp and Low camp, spending a night at each before Kew (High Camp), but because we were already acclimatised and fit we decided to do it in one day. The route started very steeply through terraces before heading into the forest on a narrow dirt path warn deep over the years. It would be a difficult route to follow in wet weather as the powder-dry frozen ground would turn quickly into slick mud. And there would be leaches …
I can see why the locals call the forest jungle. Huge lianas hang from many trees waiting on Tarzan and every branch hangs with thick, green moss. Where the sunlight filtered through small primulas were in full bloom and occasionally the path would be strewn with tiny red oval berries fallen from an unseen source high above. The forest was silent, with few birds or other animals about, although snow leopard, tigers and Himalayan black bare all roam this area.
Forest camp was a very pleasant place with a large lawn in the centre of the hamlet. It was tempting to stay but it was only 10:40 so we stopped for some lunch and pressed on. Low camp was like a building site as a team of very grubby men were building a new lodge. Once it is finished it will be a nice enough place to stay.
An hour or so after leaving Low Camp we finally pulled out above the tree line and onto the ridge. The views ahead to the Annapurna range and Fish tail, and down into the valley that is followed by the MBC and Annapurna Base Camp treks were tremendous.
The few huts that comprise Kew are perched on a col at 3550m. Being on the ridge it gets the sun from dawn to dusk, allowing the inside temperature to hover about 0°C during the day. There is an iron stove but this is only lit in the evening when it gets cold…
Macchapulchre or Fishtail shone red in the evening sun.
At Kew there were three other trekkers staying, two Italians who seems to have fallen out and a German body builder from Munich. He was particularly interested in big cats and was trekking with the specific purpose of finding tracks and other evidence of their existence. Denis showed us photographs of prints he had found in the snow that he thought were tiger and snowleopard. On the small screen of his camera I was unable to see enough detail to be convinced. He also had a photograph of some large droppings that he thought might be snowleopard too. We found some of the same droppings the next day (and later checks on the Internet do suggest that he was right). They had a lot of wool and hair in them and were undoubtedly from a large predator.
1 January 2014
Bayeli to Dobato to Mulde Hill to Tadopani to Chuile
The weather cleared overnight and the mountains were bright once more. The water pipes had frozen and we all crowded around the kitchen fire to glean a little warmth. Even the teahouse ‘boy’, who was about 25, admitted to being cold. But yet he had only added an unfastened denim jacket to his shirt and moth eaten pullover. He took every opportunity to waft his hands through the flames of the wood fire and complained that the skin on his fingers was cracked. The kitchen had running water thanks to a hose from high on the hill that came through the wall. There was no tap, just a constant stream.
The route to Tadopani was shown a dotted line on our map, suggesting that the trail was disused. Neither Dambar or Rajendra had been on it before but were keen to explore a new trek. It would become a day of pleasant surprises.
As we pulled into the ridge above Bayeli the views opened up and we could see the sacred mountain Fish Tail or Machhapuchhare and Annapurna South. Following the ridge we dropped through rhododendron forest to Dobato where we found a small teahouse. The owner pointed is in the direction of Mulde Hill, a short climb of 200m where he said the views were particularly good. He was right, Dambar was surprised. We were looking down on Pune Hill across the valley, a place famous for its good views of the mountains. But here the views were even better, he said, as the mountains were closer and we were higher.
Dropping from Dobato to Tadopani was a long, sometimes steep walk through dense forest. We passed through several vegetation zones, first rhododendron forest and bamboo, then deciduous woodland with huge magnolia trees and finally into a mixed cloud forest hung with moss and parasitic plants.
Maybe thirty minutes from Tadopani we came across a black pipe about an inch and a half in diameter. This brought the water supply from a spring to the village. Tadopani means far water. Small blue primulas dotted the forest floor.
Suddenly we pulled out of the forest into a clearing. We had arrived at Tadopani and were back on the main trekking route. The first thing I saw was a huge pile of red World Expedition bags. There were many trekkers in the village. I wouldn’t like to visit in the main trekking season, it must be like visiting a big tourist resort.
We took lunch and then walked a further hour downhill to the small teahouse at Chuile. There wasn’t a breath of wind and I fell asleep in the warm afternoon sun, lying on the lawn in front of the building with my hat over my face.