Andrea heading home to visit family for a little over 3 weeks made the perfect excuse to make my third trip to Nepal. This time would be kind of strange as it wouldn’t involve the Icefall, the Lhotse Face, nor the summit of Everest! I had to find something different to do.

Overcoming that dilemma was easy as the Everest region was only one part of this amazing country – it was time to hike one of the other big mountains, with Manaslu, Kanchenjunga, and Annapurna being possibilities. The latter being far easier to access and hike solo with plenty of side trip options. If I couldn’t make time for the full circuit then basecamp would suffice.

Turns out after a little research that some of the other regions require at least two hikers with a compulsory guide, the cost too much to pony up on this trip. I wasn’t willing to book anything in advance and with Covid still throwing huge spanners in the works my optimism was not so high on even gaining entry into Nepal. Then there was the potentially fickle December weather – would the gods co-operate and delay winter for me!

Annapurna Region

Basecamp, the endpoint of the Annapurna Sanctuary trek

Everything came and went so quickly that the Qatar Airways flight was touching down into Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport before I knew it. Unfortunately this was the beginning of a day that I hoped was a one off!

I hadn’t bought a dime with me, in any currency. But I did have a couple of debit cards, or so I thought, or so I thought I thought! The airport was a zoo, everyone scrambling to use the prehistoric visa-on-arrival form machines, the ones that lost their ability to print donkeys years ago; now requiring that you just take a pic of the inputted information with your smartphone. Moving on, it was time to pay the $50, or equivalent, at the cash desk – but I had no money remember. They were not happy to be put out by some foreigner insisting to pay by credit card!

Anyway, surprisingly the also dated credit card terminal worked and I was soon handing over the receipt and visa application phone image at another counter… Job done, and with a new passport stamp, a quick and easy luggage pickup, it was time to buy a SIM card and head to the hotel for a quick nap! I still had no money, but the lady at the cell phone provider pointed me in the direction of the ATM. As well as having no line, which was great, I also had no debit cards – what the hell, I don’t recall taking them out of my wallet, they’re always in there! With no money or access to money I was screwed – the saving grace was that the hotel had sent a car to collect me. Pity I couldn’t drop the luggage guys or any of the other kind Nepalis that were assisting me even a 10c coin – so embarrassing.

The city of Kathmandu is full of colour and vibrancy

The city of Kathmandu is full of colour and vibrancy

Some rare space without the typical crowds of Kathmandu

Some rare space without the crowds of Kathmandu

Broke but happy to be back, I soon rolled into the International Guesthouse in the touristy Thamel area of the city. I opted for the upgraded room and went off in search of money! First ATM; nothing, second ATM; nothing, and so it continued, all of them declining each and every Visa credit card I possessed. A visit to a bank came back with the same result – I was hungry and getting pissed! I kept on trying and not sure why but eventually an ATM accepted my pin and spewed out the equivalent of $100, followed a bit later by another couple of hundred, then the following day a few hundred more – this wasn’t going to be cheap with foreign cash withdrawal fees and crazy high credit card cash advance interest rates. Oh well I was soon going to be in the land of giants!

After devouring two plates of spicy veggie momos it was time to get things done, starting with a trip to the Nepal Tourism Board office to secure both TIMS and ACAP trekking permits (note that this can also be done in Pokhara). The TIMS permit, or Trekkers’ Information Management Systems permit is a basic trekking permit required for all treks in Nepal, and then the ACAP, or Annapurna Conservation Area Project permit is solely for the Annapurna region. The combined cost for both of these came out at 5000 Npr, or around $42, then throw in the 1500 Npr for a bus ticket and things were looking up.

Having never been anywhere in Nepal other than the Everest region it was time for new pastures. I had made a reservation at Hotel Lake Shore, situated a few minutes walk from Fewa Lake in the fun Lakeside part of town – the manager, room and breakfast were all top notch… and he knew how to make a pretty good cappuccino too! Unfortunately this stay was a single night but the plan was to bang out some hikes and return for a couple more later.

Machhapuchhre, commonly known as Fishtail Mountain, guarding Pokhara

Fishtail Mountain overlooking Pokhara

This Thakali was so good I ate almost every night at the same restaurant

Thakali set meal

Colourful boats on Fewa Lake

Colourful boats on Fewa Lake

The bus ride from Kathmandu had taken in the region of 10 hours, far longer than the 200km distance would suggest. Keeping an eye on the appalling state of the roads, the sheer amount of traffic, and the highly decorated colourful trucks, ensured that the time did actually pass far quicker, but still left a shortage of daylight hours to go explore Nepals second largest city. The only objective was to check out bus times to the start point for the Annapurna Sanctuary trek. Simple, just ask the hotel manager!

Pokhara, Lakeside in particular seemed like a fun place; full of bars, restaurants and shops aimed primarily at tourists. Its location overlooked by the hugely impressive unclimbed peak of Machhapuchhre. It was time to go photograph the goings-on around the lake, be mesmerised by the performers at a local cultural event and devour some local Thakali food.

Mardi Himal Day 1: Phedi to Mardi Forest Camp
Distance: 21.06km, Ascent: 1759m, Moving Time: 7h 58m
Total Distance: 21.06km, Total Ascent: 1759m

After an excellent breakfast an awaiting taxi dropped me and a camera gear heavy backpack at the Pokhara bus station – I was heading to Phedi around 90 minutes away. The alternate I found out later was to continue another 30 minutes on the same bus to Kande, in turn reducing the first days hiking distance. My initial plan was to get at least as far as Landruck, see how my legs and lungs felt, and decide from there – then… the thing is that I met a group of Nepalese students on the bus who wanted me to join them on another trek up to Mardi Himal basecamp. I had previously seen that on a map and toyed with the idea before eventually dismissing it, and here I was considering a route change so I’d have some company! For now, as planned I wished them a good hike and got off at Phedi.

The trail started steeply, not really letting up until I arrived at Australian Camp two hours later with 900m of up covered.

Mardi Himal Day 2: Mardi Forest Camp to Mardi High Camp

Distance: 11.5km, Ascent: 1192m, Moving Time: 5h 07m
Total Distance: 32.56km, Total Ascent: 2874m

Mardi Himal Day 3: Mardi High Camp to Landruk

Distance: 12.82km, Ascent: 120m, Moving Time: 3h 23m
Total Distance: 45.38km, Total Ascent: 3071m

Annapurna Sanctuary Day 1: Landruk to Dovan

Distance: 22.6km, Ascent: 1755m, Moving Time: 6h 04m
Total Distance: 67.98km, Total Ascent: 4826m

Annapurna Sanctuary Day 2: Dovan to Annapurna Basecamp

Distance: 21.85km, Ascent: 1664m, Moving Time: 5h 05m
Total Distance: 89.83km, Total Ascent: 6490m

Saw Nepal gray langur monkeys but too skittish for photos. Easy hour hike to Himalaya where had great cappuccino from a barista with a fancy machine. Next up Deurali also well within signed times. Lots of waterfalls. From there moved out of trees and into views. Big big mountains straight ahead. Following glacier river often with huge rocks. Bit of a slog up to MBC but perfect views once there of hiunchuli, machapuchare, Annapurna South, and other monsters. Time for more veg momos. Final 400m ascent took to ABC. Easy walk relatively comfortable climb before ending with epic views. Couple feet of recent snow with nicely walked in trail luckily. Lots of snow at ABC. 11 at teahouse. Coldest night so far at 4130m. Star photography. Great sunset of Machapuchare. 5:15 total hike, comfortable pace, well under posted times. Down to 200 npr for bed, less than $2.

Annapurna Sanctuary Day 3: Annapurna Basecamp to Chhomrong

Distance: 24.70km, Ascent: 709m, Moving Time: 5h 31m
Total Distance: 114.53km, Total Ascent: 7199m

Great sunrise of Annapurna. Cold morning at ABC. Long hike to look forward to today hopefully down to Chhomrong. Need to make the most of early morning clear weather as rain is coming. Another cheap bill. Left at 8, 40 mins to MBC, and great pace to Deurali. Made to Bamboo by time rain arrived – perfect place to devour a pretty darn good cheese and tomato pizza. More than prior days distance in lot less time. Wet hour or so almost to town before Chhomrong. Another cappuccino. Dreaded climb down then back up to Chhomrong, not forgotten since outbound! Pretty busy teahouse as recommended by Mr Capuccino, then the rains really came down. Shower time! First room with a balcony

Annapurna Sanctuary Day 4: Chhomrong to Ghorepani

Distance: 19.93km, Ascent: 1716m, Moving Time: 5h 51m
Total Distance: 134.46km, Total Ascent: 8915m

Probably my penultimate day of hiking due to the looming winter closing the high passes and lake access. Today was going to be one of those days as I made way to Ghorepani via Tadapani. Miscalculated elevation profile as thought was down to Tadapani until at first tea stop it was pointed out to me high in the tree covered hills. Great to be alone for much of the day, other than the thought of looming tigers – idiot. Unlike previous day it was back to hiking in sunshine, the result a sweaty mess. Pulling in to Discovery Lodge it was time for first fizzy drink, eagerly devoured as I sat watching the owners round up a cluge of chickens. Now trail entered jungle, the tiger thought back again. Tadapani was lunchtime and perfect for watching a family of langurs come through. I was already beat and only half way, the thought of staying put for the night strong! The final 10km would take me up a long trail to Deurali pass, a cursing kind of a trail. Another tea at Deurali and the meandering trail wasn’t too bad, especially once Ghorepani came into view down below in the distance

Poon Hill Day 1: Ghorepani to Nayapul

Distance: 24.74km, Ascent: 499m, Moving Time: 5h 25m
Total Distance: 159.2km, Total Ascent: 9414m

Big long descent with almost no up. First off sunrise at Poon Hill lookout, the scenery dominated by the 8000m Peaks, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. Wake up at 5.30 for a 30 min walk from upper Ghorepani. Another local breakfast of porridge, potatoes with veg, eggs, toast (should have asked for gurung). Nothing exciting about initial descent, eventually arriving 45 mins above Ulleri, the first place with jeep access to Pokhara – I daren’t ask how much a jeep for one would cost to Pokhara. Ulleri had the sounds of millet beaters, the ladies, and sometimes guys too, bashing the crop with wooden sticks to separate the seed in prep for the impending winter. Lost count of the Nepalese, possibly Indian, migration up the relentless trail to Ghorepani! Poon Hill is one of the few treks possible when winter is coming and the high passes close. Quaint community of Hile was also popular for jeeps, and a local bus ride back down to Nayapul. From here on down it was all on potholes road to reach Pokhara bus some 9kms later. Bus typically crammed making for a long 2 hours to Pokhara.

Still surprised at how good the baristas are here of making cappuccinos!
Far too much trash, with locals regularly throwing their wrappings onto the trail. Have some fucking respect for your surroundings!

Indian "Government" Elephants

Indian “Government” Elephants

The critically endangered Gharial

The critically endangered Gharial

And moving on from the mountains…. Chitwan National Park

Moving on from the mountains, mainly due to the winter weather arriving, it was time for something different. How about tigers I ask myself? Chitwan, sitting around a half day drive from both Kathmandu and Pokhara was the easy option but was always going to be the most touristy! The other tiger hotspot, Bardia was many hours west, almost on the border with India – on this occasion far too long by bus on really crap roads.

From the smallest kingfisher to the largest hornbill the park was a birding mecca. We were regularly seeing ringneck parakeets, plum headed parakeets, green pigeons, peafowl, and countless pretty birds that thrive in the parks grasslands. Moving on to the bigger stuff; there were one-horned rhinoceros, sloth bears, langurs, macaques, marsh mudder crocodiles, critically endangered gharial crocodiles, leopards, and the rarely seen Bengal tiger. The countless walking trails were alive early morning and then seemed to quieten as the day progressed along with the increase in temperature. Although there were very few other tourists, almost entirely Nepalese, they all traveled into the park in jeeps. Talk about breaking the silence! Why anyone would want to use this mode of transport and miss out on pretty much everything the park had to offer was beyond me.

The potential highlight of Chitwan was definitely the Bengal tiger, a majestic cat that we unluckily managed to avoid. There were far too many stories about tigers that acquired a taste for human flesh, and hearing that the cute looking striped feline killed 17 people last year almost made me turn to the jeep option! It wasn’t just tigers; my guide had been attacked 5 times by bears! I was very wary of how I was going to react when seeing a huge cat.

As well as a couple of full day walking safaris it was great to spend a night away from the main tourist town of Sauraha. Madi was that place, an off-the-beaten-path village with a couple of rustic homesteads. Located somewhere between park and no-park it was an amazing experience, the uncomfortable bus ride dropping us close to a sandy trail where tracks were already visible! Tigers were obviously more abundant in this more remote area, our continual nerve-wracking encounters of very fresh adult and cub tracks, far off growls, and at one point a steaming poo on the trail.

United guides: great service and excellent guides – Prakash, Raj, Aashish. Cost $243 in total for a personal full day then a 2 day trip, followed by another full day trip.

Seeing tracks in a national park and not trash in the mountains was a welcome change!

Indian "Government" Elephants

Indian “Government” Elephants

The critically endangered Gharial

The critically endangered Gharial

Nepal General Packing List
  • Samsung tablet/ charger
  • Headphones
  • Power brick
  • InReach/ charging cable
  • Reading glasses
  • Batteries
  • Camera/ charger/ SD cards/ tripod
  • Backpack/ cover
  • Drybags
  • Solar panels
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow
  • Microspikes
  • Steripen/ water purification
  • Sunglasses
  • Padlock
  • Aeropress, filters & coffee
  • Trekking poles
  • Headlamp
  • Baselayer top and bottom
  • Waterproof pants
  • Goretex jacket
  • Gloves – various
  • Hat
  • Down jacket
  • Softshell jacket
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking pants
  • Tee-shirts x2
  • Long sleeved tops x2
  • Boxer shorts
  • Hiking socks x3
  • Buff
  • Compeed
  • Plasters
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Ankle strapping
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Toothbrush/ toothpaste
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Diarrhoea/ electrolytes
  • Masks

November 30th – December 8th 2021

Medical insurance $42.55
30 day visa on arrival $50
TIMS & ACAP trekking permits 5000 NPR/ $42
Purchased in the Nepal Tourism Board Office on Pradarshani Marg, Kathmandu, Mon-Sun 10-5

Day 0: Pokhara
Hotel Lake Shore 30/11
$31 (3743 NPR)

Day 1: Pokhara to Forest Camp
Mardi Himal Trek ● Hotel Mardi Gate 1/12
$24.90 (2980 NPR)

Day 2: Forest Camp to High Camp
Mardi Himal Trek ● Fishtail Guesthouse 2/12
$16.62 (2000 NPR)

Day 3: High Camp to Landruk
Annapurna Sanctuary Trek ● Hotel Himalayan Front 3/12
$24.65 (2960 NPR)

Day 4: Landruk to Dovan
Annapurna Sanctuary Trek ● Annapurna Approach Lodge 4/12
$23.07 (2770 NPR)

Day 5: Dovan to Annapurna BC
Annapurna Sanctuary Trek ● Hotel Paradise Garden 5/12
$20.20 (2430 NPR)

Day 6: Annapurna BC to Chhomrong
Annapurna Sanctuary Trek ● Excellent View Top Lodge 6/12
$25.95 (3130 NPR)

Day 7: Chhomrong to Ghorepani
Poon Hill Trek ● Hotel Dhaulagiri 7/12
$20.85 (2510 NPR)

Day 8: Ghorepani to Pokhara
Hotel Lake Shore 8/12
$31 (3743 NPR)

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