Hiking in the Annapurna range, Nepal

All hiking posts, Annapurna Base Camp/Annapurna Sanctuary, Hiking, Khopra Danda, Nepal, Mahare Danda, Nepal, Nepal

I hiked in Nepal’s Annapurna range, combining three routes – Mohare Danda, Khopra Danda, and the Annapurna Base Camp – to make one two-week trek. Below I talk about my experiences & include information about costs and time taken for other hikers to make use of. I include information about whether there is phone signal/electricity so that hikers have peace of mind. I hiked in February/March 2018 (ooops – it took me a long while to publish this!!).

The town of Pokhara is a hiker’s mecca. It’s filled with fake North Face gear, and we join  other travellers, stocking up on hiking clothes. It does occur to me, however, that we will be hiking the mighty Himalayas, and that clothes of dubious quality could potentially be life-threatening. It also astounds me that I can’t find a really decent map of the hiking routes I want to do, and I end up buying the bog-standard map sold everywhere, which is okay if you are also relying on a having a guide with you. (We’re not).

A grim haze of industrial pollution blankets Nepal’s valleys, obscuring all views in Pokhara. It’s the Asian Brown Cloud season, and to see the mountains, you have to climb above 2000 metres.

We spend a few days preparing for our hiking route. Not wanting to join the masses on the Annapurna Circuit, we finally decide to join up three other routes to make a two-week hike: the Mohare Danda, the Khopra Danda, and the Annapurna Base Camp (or Annapurna Sanctuary).

We take a four hour bus ride to Beni (ask any locals in Pokhara and they’ll tell you where to get the local bus from), and armed maps and the OsmAnd map app on my phone, we begin our hike.

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Beni, blanketed in pollution. There’s mountains behind there somewhere…

Mohare Danda trail

Day 1: Beni (830m) to Baskharka (1526m)

Time predicted: 3.5hrs
Time taken: 2.5hrs with lots of breaks
Terrain: Stone steps & dirt vehicle tracks
Water on route? No
Sleeping: Homestay – 250 rupees per person. Free plug sockets in rooms.
Food cost per person: Veg dahl baat – 400 rupees, breakfast – 250 rupees
NCell phone signal? Yes
Wifi? Yes, in Mallaj

The Mohare Danda hike is special because it’s a route that takes you to family homestays and community-run lodges. The official start of the trail is in Galeshwar, but it’s easier for us to begin in Beni, climb the insanely steep steps up the cliffside next to the river and join the route.

Soon we arrive in a beautiful little village called Mallaj, which looks just like rural France with its stone houses.

We continue along a dirt vehicle track to Baskharka, another quaint stone village set steeply on the mountainside. We’re hosted by a lovely family in their homestay. There’s usually a community dining room, but today it’s closed and the family cooks us dinner.

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Climbing the steep steps to join the trail above Beni. The pollution doesn’t get any better…

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Baskharka

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At the homestay in Baskharka

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Our host in Baskharka

Day 2: Baskharka (1526m) to Nangi (2320m)

Time predicted: 5.5hrs
Time taken: 5hrs with lots of breaks
Terrain: Mostly stone steps, some vehicle dirt tracks (but where are the vehicles?!)
Water on route? Yes. Taps & streams in various places
Sleeping: Community lodge – 300 rupees per person. Free plug sockets in rooms.
Food cost per person: Menu ranging from 200-500 rupees
NCell phone signal? Yes, when standing next to the school
Wifi? Yes, free.


It would be easy to combine days one and two, from Beni to Nangi, into one long day. Today is spent climbing stone steps through rhodedendron and pine forest. We pass some local men using the trail to get between villages, but so far no other hikers.

We pass Dandakateri, another typical stone village set amongst terraces on the steep hillside. We’re invited to stop for lunch at the community dining room here, but we’re pushed for money so decide to eat our own food we bought in Pokhara.

From Dandakateri to Nangi, the walk is very easy, and we arrive in Nangi at 2pm, where they have a community lodge set up, along with a dining hall.

We meet a hiking guide, who is walking the trail alone, testing it so that he can take international trekkers in the future.

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Dandakateri

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Bed for the night

Day 3: Nangi (2320m) to Mohare Danda (3313m)

Time predicted: 5hrs
Time taken: 5hrs with lots of breaks
Terrain: Mossy forest, hiking trail, steep
Water on route? small unreliable creek after Hampal Pass
Sleeping: Community lodge- 350 rupees per person. Free plug sockets in dining room
Food cost per person: 200-650 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 650 rupees
NCell phone signal? Yes
Wifi? Yes, free


Today is a great – but steep – trail through mossy forest, with pines smelling of strawberries. There would usually be good views, but we’re shrouded in cloud the whole day.

We get tired easily, and this could be because we’ve never hiked this high before. There’s no village to stop for lunch, but we’re carrying food, anyway.

We arrive at Mohare Danda at 2pm. Weather permitting, it would be easy to continue on to the village of Ghorepani. We contemplate doing this, but soon after we arrive in Mohare Danda, snow and hail belt down on us, followed by a massive thunder storm.

We’re happy to be cosy in the community lodge – run by friendly young people in their twenties – up in the mountains and far from villages.

We wake up the next morning to a spectacular view of the mountains – Dhaulagiri 1, 2 and 3, Nilgiri, Annapurna, Annapurna South, and Machapuchare: the most special mountain of all, made all the more intriguing because mountaineers are banned from climbing this sacred giant.

 

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Snow storm on Mohare Danda

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…But the next morning is pretty special

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Day 4: Mohare Danda (3312m) to Swanta (2300m), via Poon Hill & Ghorepani

Time predicted: 5-6hrs
Time taken: 7hrs, including 2hrs of breaks & getting briefly lost
Terrain: Forest, grass, tussock, villages & steep steps downhill
Water on route? Lots of streams & taps after Ghorepani
Sleeping: 4 guesthouses in Swanta. We stay in Swanta Guesthouse – 400 rupees per room but we get a discount. Free plug sockets in kitchen.
Food cost per person: 180-600 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 500 rupees
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? Not in Swanta Guesthouse, but there is in other guesthouses in the village

We leave the mountain at 9am. The hail from the previous evening has frozen on the ground, making the steep path through the forest difficult and icy. Dhaulagiri looks magnificent in the morning light.

We pass grasslands where yaks graze, and through rhodedendron forest, then walk through tussocky ground.

In order to get to the Khopra Danda hike,  we have two choices: to go via Poon Hill, or to go via Dandakarka. We use the OsmAnd app on the phone to navigate to Poon Hill (the signs on the trail lead to Dandakarka).

Popular Poon Hill, with prayer flags flying in the wind, is roughly 3000 metres high. It’s the beginner-hiker’s version of Everest Base Camp – popular because of its amazing views. We’re the only people up here (everyone’s already been up for sunrise and gone back down again before the clouds descend). A disgusting metal viewing tower ruins what would be a beautiful natural place.

We take hundreds of stone steps down to Ghorepani Deurali, a hiking village which sits on the popular Annapurna Circuit route. There’s lots of guesthouses here, and even a couple of bookshops.

It’s surprisingly quiet as we have lunch in one of restaurants. We watch donkeys struggling to carry slabs of rock up the mountainside.

We continue briefly on the Annapurna Circuit, to the village of Chitre, where we join the Khopra Danda trail. We head steeply down through forest, over a bridge then up to the lovely village of Swanta, where we stay at the very friendly Swanta Guesthouse.  Here we meet an older French group of hikers from Lille, doing the same route as us. These are the first western hikers we have met on our trail.

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Trying not to slip on ice on the way down from Mohare Danda

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Clouds on Poon Hill

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Steep steps down from Poon Hill

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Ghorepani Deurali

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Donkeys doing hard labour in Ghorepani Deurali

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Swanta village with beautiful mountains in the background

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Baby buffalo

Khopra Danda trail

Day 5 – Swanta (2300m) to Chistibung/Dandkharka (3012m)

Time predicted: 5hrs
Time taken: 3.5hrs
Terrain: Steep forest, hiking trail
Water on route? Lots of creeks and a bigger stream
Sleeping: Rockland guesthouse, officially 500 rupees per room. We are given a discount & pay 300 rupees. There is a community lodge which is closed. No electricity to charge phones.
Food cost per person: 200-550 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 550 rupees
NCell phone signal? Yes
Wifi? No


We wake at 6.30am, eat a leisurely breakfast and leave at 8.30am. We climb through forest for most of the morning, passing some men at a river, working on a small-scale dam.

We arrive in Chistibung – which consists of just two lodges, perched on the mountain – by midday. We decide not to hike on because we’re taking acclimatisation seriously and don’t want to ascend too fast and get sick.

The French people arrive a little later, and Harry, a Dutch woman, also stays here with her guide, Dimitri. Dimitri tells us that both the Mohare Danda and Khopra Danda trails are community-run. The communities have meetings to decide how to distribute the profits between everyone.

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What is this supposed to mean?

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Washing my stinky socks in Chistibung!

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The lodge in Chistibung

Day 6: Chistibung (3012m) to Khopra Danda (3600m)

Time predicted: 3hrs
Time taken: 2hrs
Terrain: Hiking trail through steep forest and grassland
Water on route? Not reliable
Sleeping: Community lodge – 500 rupees per room. Phone charging: 100 rupees per phone
Food cost per person: 380-600 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 600 rupees
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? Yes


Today is a really short day, climbing through steep forest and then up above the tree level to Khopra Danda. We arrive at 10.15am to amazing views of the mighty mountains, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Nilgiri and Daulagiri.

We’re becoming friends with our fellow hikers doing the same route, and a group of us climb the nearby mountain to roughly 3750 metres until it starts snowing.

When we’re back in the hut, heavy snow, hail and a thunder crash down on us. We’re quickly learning that the weather changes for the worse at about 2.30pm in this mountain range.

We all huddle round the fire, which is lit with a mix of wood and yak poo. Our hosts cook us a delicious dahl baat.

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The lodge at Khopra Danda: a very special place

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Making friends with other hikers

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Day 7: Khopra Danda (3600m) to Dobato (3426m)

Time predicted: 8hrs
Time taken: 6.25hrs
Terrain: Hiking trail through forest & above the treeline
Water on route? Yes: springs & streams
Sleeping: Mount Lucky guesthouse. Official price is 600 rupees per room, but we are offered 300 rupees. There are other guesthouses perched on the mountain.
Food cost per person: 300-550 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 550 rupees
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? No

 

We all wake up early for sunrise. Huddling in bed, the wind howls along the ridge, and I wonder whether I really want to see the sun come up! Snow lays thick on the ground after a night of snowfall and hail.

We hike along the snowy ridge back down the way we already came, to Chistibung, as the upper route to Dobato is now closed.

From Chistibung, we climb through beautiful forest and cross streams, following the contour of the mountainside to Bayeli. Bayeli Lodge is closed: it’s a good job that we didn’t plan to stay here!

We continue up past burnt grass – apparently it’s burned so that it grows better for the sheep to graze on – and through snow. I’m the first of the day’s hikers to walk on this fresh thick snowfall, so I have to find the way myself.

The way up to Dobato is never-ending. We finally arrive, and stay with Harry and Dimitris at Mount Lucky guesthouse. The views from this little place are unbelievable.

We spend the evening in the lodge, chatting and reading. The wooden walls are insanely thin – which is common in many of the guesthouses. Another thing that’s common is that the thick duvets provided stink of other hikers’ feet. At 3000 metres high, and no running water around, it’s difficult for guesthouses up here to wash things.

(Note: Dobato and Bayeli aren’t on my paper map that I bought in Pokhara. They are, however, on my phone’s OsmAnd map).

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Morning snow on the route back down from Khopra Danda

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Mount Lucky guesthouse

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Harry relaxes after a day’s hike

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The mighty view from Mount Lucky guesthouse

Day 8: Dobato (3426m) to Ghurjung/Ghurnung (2060m), via Muldai Viewpoint (3611m)

Time predicted: 6hrs
Time taken: Muldai Viewpoint: 1.5hrs, Dobato to Ghurjung: 6hrs, including 2hrs of breaks
Terrain: Hiking trail through forest & stone steps through villages
Water on route? Yes, at lots of villages
Sleeping: Green Hill – 100 rupees per room, though official price is higher. Free plug sockets in bedrooms
Food cost per person: 200-500 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 480 rupees
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? No


We wake to watch the sun rising to the east of the mighty Machapuchare. After breakfast, we walk with Harry and Dimitri up the very snowy and icy path up to Muldai viewpoint, about twenty minutes uphill from the guesthouses at Dobato. We get our best views yet – even better than at Khopra Danda.

We slip and slide down the ice back to Dobato, then continue on the trail, descending through lovely mossy pine and rhodedendron forest to Tadapani. This is my favourite part of the hike so far: the forest looks like it’s from a fairytale. As we pass, buffaloes munch their way through foliage in the forest, unconcerned by us.

Tadapani has a number of guesthouses, and is a good place to stop for lunch. We say goodbye once and for all to our friends Harry and Dimitri, and continue on the trail, down through more forest, passing mules carrying heavy loads on their backs.

As we get close to Chuile village, the birdsong in the forest is incredible.

From Chuile the trail descends down steep steps for an hour, then over a metal bridge, which terrifies Chris.

We pass a school, which, of course has the usual plaque stating that another white-saviour person donated the fence. Wherever you go in Nepal, you will see western NGOs congratulating themselves for donating a garbage bin (seriously), a wall, or a building.

We continue over another bridge (complete with NGO plaque), then stop in the village of Ghurjung. We opt to stay at the Green Hill guesthouse, which has very clean sheets that don’t smell of hikers’ feet! The guesthouse is perched on the mountainside, overlooking the stunning valley below.

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Amazing view from Muldai viewpoint

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Enchanted woods

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Hiking in Nepal, you can not avoid these wobbly metal bridges. Not for those who are scared of heights

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Yes! Plastic bottle ban! I rely on my usual Grayl purifier bottle on this trail

Annapurna Base Camp trail

Day 9: Ghurjung (2060m) to Bamboo (2335m) (via Chhomrong – the start of ABC)

Time predicted: 6hrs
Time taken: 6hrs, including lots of breaks
Terrain: Stone steps through cultivated terraces and forests
Water on route? Yes, at villages and in creeks
Sleeping: Approx 5 guesthouses. We stay at Trekking Guesthouse – free in exchange for food, although official price is higher! Free phone charging in common area
Food cost per person: 200-600 rupees. Veg dahl baat – 500 rupees
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? No


We begin the day at a luxurious 10.30am after a couple of days of getting up for sunrise. The stone steps wind up and down today, passing villages and cultivated land, overlooking a steep valley.

The haze is particularly bad today, and visibility into the valley is terrible. I can feel the effects in my throat and lungs, and feel sad for the people who live here, who are doing nothing to contribute to this massive industrial pollution that engulfs their villages.

We arrive in Chhomrong, where we will join onto the Annapurna Base Camp trail. Here we join tourists, guesthouses and restaurants, and we have to register our passports at the ACAP checkpoint, showing our permits to walk in the region (which we sorted out previously in Pokhara).

We pass a number of international groups coming back from Annapurna Base Camp as they huff and puff their way up the steep stone steps, whilst we cruise down.

Finally we get to another metal suspension bridge, high above the river. We climb through forest on the other side, following the valley of the Modi Khola river. Sadly, the dramatic views of the gorge are lost in the grey haze.

Lots more people are coming down from the base camp. Is this indicative of how packed it’s going to be up there? We also see lots and lots of porters carrying people’s luggage up a mountain. They’re carrying huge weights – each of them carrying roughly 30kg of luggage each. One local guide complains to us that some tourists even bring hairdryers in their bags for the porters to carry up the mountains.

We finally arrive at the village of Bamboo, which has about five guesthouses. We stay at Trekking Lodge with a friendly woman who offers us free accommodation in return for eating her food.

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Annapurna Base Camp route map

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Looking down into the haze

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Day 10: Bamboo (2335m)  to Deurali (3100m)

Time predicted: 5.5hrs
Time taken: 4hrs with short breaks
Terrain: A mix of stone steps & hiking trail through forest then over boulders
Water on route? Yes: creeks everywhere
Sleeping: 4 guesthouses. Panorama Guesthouse – 200 rupees (official price higher). Phone charging: 200 rupees.
Food cost per person: Veg dahl baat – 580 rupees
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? Yes: 300 rupees


Today is a clearer day, at least for the first half, anyway. We ascend up the valley through forest, over creeks and across small rivers. On the other side of the gorge, waterfalls crash down through thick forest. In front of us, langurs with bright white facial hair climb through the trees. 

Closer to Deurali, the terrain changes. The trees disappear, making way for grassland and rugged big boulders that had once crashed down the mountainside.

I’m surprised that lots of hikers aren’t giving the possibility of altitude sickness any thought. Many inexperienced people are climbing from 2310 metres to 3700 metres – from Bamboo to Machhupuchare Base Camp – in one go.

We arrive in Deurali and decide to stay here for the night. The next part of the trail passes an avalanche risk area, and I don’t know whether to be concerned about it. Because I’m worried, we decide to walk this section the next morning, before the afternoon sun warms up the snow and ice. No-one else is concerned by the risks of avalanches, and a guide tells me that if there was a risk, the trail would be diverted to the other side of the gorge, anyway.

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Day 11: Deurali (3100m) to Annapurna Base Camp (4130m)

Time predicted: 4hrs
Time taken: 3hrs
Terrain: Hiking trail over rocks and snow
Water on route? Yes – creeks
Sleeping: A few guesthouses. We stay at Panorama Guesthouse
Food cost per person: ?
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? Yes: for a charge


We’re the last of the hikers to leave Deurali, but we quickly overtake everyone because I’m concerned about the bad weather that’s due to arrive in the late morning.

We take just one hour to get from Deurali to Machhupuchhare Base Camp (MBC), and then another two hours to get to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). In between MBC and ABC, the clouds come in.

We’re exhausted as we climb – the altitude making us sluggish. We can see the guesthouses at ABC from miles away:  why don’t they get any closer? We finally arrive at them an hour later, at 11am.

We stay at the wonderful Sanctuary Guesthouse with its friendly owner who tells us that the family-run guesthouse has been open for 34 years, and was initially built with bamboo. We’re lucky enough to get the best room of all: a room with three walls of windows and the perfect view of Annapurna and Annapurna South.

Eventually, other hikers arrive, and everyone seems to be staying at our place: Alan and Carmille, two people from Argentina that we keep running into, and David from Melbourne, who is doing this hike with a guide.

We relax in our perfect room, and at sunset the clouds part for the perfect view of the mountain range. There, before our eyes, are the majectic mountains of Annapurna, Annapurna South, Barhachuli, Huinchuli, Tent Peak and Machapuchare.

We all get excited and run outside, climbing up to the prayer flags and the memorials of the mountaineers who have died on these mountains. I have mixed emotions: excitement to be up here, yet a sense of humility, as we read the memorial stones. I look up in fascination at majestic Annapurna, Goddess of the Harvests in Sanskrit and worshipped by many, but deadly to many of those who have climbed her. A ratio of 34 deaths per 100 safe returns on Annapurna makes her one of the deadliest mountains in the world to climb. At just over 8,000 metres high, her peak soars 4,000 metres higher than where we are right now.

After eleven days of hiking, I can easily say that we have left the best for last. Annapurna Base Camp is out of this world. Even the helicopters which fly tourists up here from Pokhara (yes, really!!) can’t ruin this awe-inspiring spot.

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Annapurna Base Camp

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Memorials at Annapurna Base Camp

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Making friends on the ABC

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Slightly annoyingly, helicopters fly tourists up to Basecamp from Pokhara. People get out, take selfies, stay half an hour, then fly down to the city again.

Day 12: Annapurna Base Camp (4130m) to Bamboo

I forgot to write down the time it took, so these are guesses:
Time predicted: 8hrs
Time taken: 8hrs
Terrain: Hiking trail of snow, ice, boulders, then a mix of stone steps & trail through forest
Water on route? Yes – creeks
Sleeping: Lots of guesthouses. We stay in a guesthouse in Bamboo for free
Food cost per person:  ?
NCell phone signal? No
Wifi? No


We spend a slow morning taking it all in, savouring this place that we might never come to again. We watch the excited Australian hiker David (literally) fly off the mountain after our guesthouse owner offers him a deal to take the helicopter back down to Pokhara.

We’re last to leave Base Camp, going back down the way we came, but taking it slower, trying not to slip on the icy ground.

We arrive back in Bamboo, and stay at another guesthouse for free, on the unsaid condition that we buy food and drink.

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Day 13: Bamboo to New Bridge/Himalpani

We take the stone steps back the way we came, and finally climb back to Chhomrong, stopping at a cafe for a celebratory lunch.

Our mission now is to get to a road, and then hitchhike or take the bus back to Pokhara. Other hikers arrange pickups in various places, but we’re pushed for money, and figure that one extra day of walking isn’t really a problem.

We walk to Jhinudanda, where Chris goes to the hot spring and relaxes for an hour.

We continue on to New Bridge, staying in a guesthouse there.

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Steps steps steps. There’s a lot of steps on the Annapurna trails

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Day 14: New Bridge to Phedi (?), via Tolka, then bus to Pokhara

We spend the day walking through villages. It seems surreal to be walking on roads, some of which are newly built and are not on the paper map. We rely on the OsmAnd app, and ask locals, to navigate.

Late afternoon, we arrive at the main road. (Stupidly, I didn’t write a diary for this section. I think we ended up in Phedi!). We flag down a bus, which bumpily whisks us back to Pokhara. No expensive pick-up service needed!

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Walking on new roads to get to the big road.

Thoughts after completing the trail…

Combining these three routes is great. The Mohare Danda is the easiest, and the quietest trail (no other hikers!!). By doing the Mohare Danda first, followed by Khopra Danda, and then ABC, the route gradually becames more and more dramatic. (If I only had time to do two of these routes, I’d choose Khopra Danda and ABC. The ABC is quite busy, but it’s busy for good reason, and there’s lots of guesthouses to accommodate the people).

We purified our water so that we weren’t contributing to plastic waste. We use the Grayl purifier. In hindsight, I would have tried to find better maps before arriving in Nepal, although the maps we bought were adaquate when used with the OsmAnd map app on the phone.

Would I hike in Feburary and March again? No, not if I had other options to hike outside the disgusting Asian Brown Cloud season. When we were in the valleys, the pollution clung to my lungs.  Hiking in this season does, however, give you a realistic view of just how much humans are messing up the planet.

Overall, this hike was one of the best of my life, and as I write this post, I long to go back to the Nepal Himalayas one day.

 

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