Impressions from the Poonhill Trek in Nepal
Namaste! Now that I have completed my trek in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas in April, this post is a follow-up to The Healing Power of Travel blog I wrote while planning to go to Nepal. Below, I share some of my favorite moments, impressions, and insights from the trip. At the end, I list a few tips and resources, with links to my favorite gear, a section on illness prevention and my packing list. If you are planning a trip and want more details, feel free to reach out to me.
As I think about it now, I love many aspects of Nepal: the beautiful snow-capped mountains, the warm and peaceful people, the rich and diverse culture, the music, the food, the excitement of the trek, and the reward of completing it. But two things moved me the most. First, I was deeply present in the moment. My senses were fully awake to all the wondrous and new experiences, which slowed time and heightened that feeling of being very much alive. Second, at shrines, celebrations, and along the trekking route, we bore witness to what seemed like deep devotion by local people to their varied concepts of God, their families, communities, animals, and the land. This love of something greater than themselves had a pureness and peace that deeply touched me. It reminded me of who I am and what I am a part of. These are some of the reasons why I travel. It has the power to expand and transform, and Nepal wielded its magic on me.
DAYS 1-2 KATHMANDU
I loved Kathmandu for a short stay. Tangled globs of electrical wires on telephone poles and zig-zagging motorbikes, cars, and cows cluttered the roads. Without sidewalks, pedestrians are on high alert to navigate oncoming vehicles and potholes. What I found interesting was that although cars had to shift into reverse to let each other through narrow streets and stand-still traffic seemed commonplace, I barely heard a car honk. I did not see frenetic angst or anger, only people patiently helping each other navigate the road and saying hello.
On our one full day in Kathmandu, we visited four UNESCO world heritage sites. Our guide, Raju, asked if we wanted to go to the Hindu Temple of Pashupati for our last stop. We were not allowed in the temple since we are not Hindu, but we could visit the crematorium at the edge of the Bagmati River. After losing my father-in-law and father the past year, I felt moved to learn a little about the Hindu traditions around death. Raju explained that Hindus believe in reincarnation and that being cremated is a natural part of the life cycle. The whole family washes the body together, and the son usually sets the body aflame. There are a few steps, but ultimately, the ashes are placed into the water at the foot of the crematorium that Raju said flows into the Ganges River in India. Only smoldering remains, dark-colored water, and a few monkeys were around when we walked through the area. Raju said that for Hindus, the physical body is no longer needed after death and has no meaning. The person's spirit is loved, celebrated, and remembered, and the cremation liberates the soul from our worldly attachments. I thought of my father's recent passing, and the sadness felt a little lighter.
(The red color on the steps in this photo is a special paste, not blood)
In Nepal, about 80% of people are Hindu, and about 10% are Buddhist. Buddha was born in Nepal before heading to India for enlightenment, and I noticed both cultures represented side by side in many shops and buildings. There seemed to be freedom and tolerance for any religion.
DAY 3 POKHARA
The night before we started our five-day Poonhill trek, I began to have some mild diarrhea. I panicked. What if this continued to full-on travelers' diarrhea on a trek with no western toilets? The bathrooms in Nepal, like much of Asia, are nicknamed "squatty potties." You squat over a little hole in the ground, put the toilet paper (that you hopefully brought) in an open plastic bin, and manually flush with a scoop of water from a nearby pot. Lucky for me, two Imodium put an end to my gastrointestinal upset for the remainder of the trip. Please, don't leave home without it.
(This was one of the more stylish toilets. Not all look like this).
DAYS 4-8 THE ANNAPURNA REGION
My husband, Rich and I chose a moderate group trek in the Annapurna region called the Poonhill Trek. We did a 5 day circle from Nayapol to Ulleri, Ghorepani, Poonhill, Tadapani, Gandruk and back to Nayapol.
Some of our stats:
Day 1: 8.54 miles. Up 3,600 feet. Down 538 feet
Day 2: 5.35 miles Up 2,730 feet. Down 289 feet.
Day 3: 8.2 miles. Up 2,850 feet. Down 3,560 feet.
I had a technical issue and stopped recording, but the 4th day was about three hours of hiking, and the 5th day was about seven hours of descent.
Our peak elevation was 10,200 feet.
There were A LOT of stone steps.
On the first day of the trek, we hiked uphill for several hours to reach the blue welcome sign at the village of Tikhe Dunga. This was where we would start the 3,318-step climb up to Uileri. 3,318 are a lot of steps, especially after hiking a good part of the day already. It was quickly apparent at the start of this trip that I was the slowest in the group. As we began the climb, a tiny voice inside my head criticized how I was behind and out of breath. Luckily, a much bigger voice put a stop to that immediately. I was trekking in Nepal, for goodness sake!! During much of the trip, I stayed at the back, enjoying the solitude and grateful to be here.
On the third day of trekking, we woke at 4:30 am and, with headlights on, started climbing up to Poonhill. Shyam, our guide, said it usually takes an hour, but having a slow pace, I was resigned to miss the sunrise. I didn't care because it was the view of the Annapurna Mountain range I wanted. At first, we ascended quickly, and I had difficulty catching my breath. I had just read a book called "The Impossible First." It's an inspiring story by Colby O'brady when we became the first person to cross Antarctica unassisted. Of course, climbing 1,100 feet with a guide carrying my backpack was quite different from Colby's feat. But for me, it was my challenge. I kept counting my steps, as Colby did. One to fifty and start again, promising myself I could stop for water every four rounds and take in the views. I also had my kid's voices in my head. When I expressed concern before the trek, they repeatedly said, "You got this, Mom." And so I kept on climbing. At home, I would have been off the StairMaster by now, but the views were stunning and got even more so as we went higher. At one point, I looked up and was surprised to see everyone. I reached Poonhill in less than an hour, and the sun had not yet risen.
Day three was, by far, my favorite. During the hike from Ghorepani to Gurung, we had the Annapurna Mountain range in view most of the way without the crowds at Poonhill. As we walked along the path, we passed colorful Buddhist prayer flags hung at areas we could rest. The terrain then changed to forest with tall rhododendron trees covered in thick moss. It felt like an enchanted forest with streams running over shiny rocks that sparkled like silver and gold.
On the fourth day of the trek, Rich and I had a few hours free in the village of Gandruk. While wandering around, we ran into our guide and porters drinking what they said was Nepali wine. We joined them and bought a round for the table. Our wine turned out to be grain alcohol made from millet. I thought it was gross, but we had so much fun spending the rest of the day with them, drinking, eating a traditional dish of spiced dried buffalo called Sukuti, and chair dancing to Nepali music.
DAYS 9-10 POKHARA
After the trek, we went back to Pokhara. To our great surprise, Nepal uses the lunar calendar; this night was New Year's Eve for the start of 2080. The main road in town was closed off, and a stage was set up for dance performances. Hundreds and hundreds of Nepali people came to celebrate. We loved the traditional music and watching the entertainment. Families, groups of teenage friends, and young couples were enjoying themselves. The purity and innocence of the celebration were touching. There was no apparent alcohol or drugs, just a high on the festivities and the company of friends and family.
The next day in Pokhara, we hired a taxi and went to the Gupteshwar Mahadev Caves. Since it was New Year's Day, many local people were off and came to pay homage to Shiva inside the caves. Without a guide, we followed the crowds down the spiral walkway. We took our shoes off when we saw others doing so and ventured into the dimly lit cave with wet floors and narrow walls. The space opened up to what looked like a shrine. Although we didn't understand the details, we watched people humbly offer flowers, coconut, mango, and money to the central area, where a man would place them by a dominant stalagmite. We walked further to see a pool of water flowing into to the cave from Devi's fall. We could sense the holiness felt by most of the visitors. After a while, my feet hurt on some of the rocks, and I started to wonder about parasites. But it was a unique and beautiful experience.
We returned to the city in time for more celebrations on the streets. We walked by a park and heard drums coming from inside a circle. As we approached, I saw women in saris dancing. One man smiled and motioned for me to join, so I did. My movement and my clothing were quite different from the others. Yet, there we were, laughing and dancing and celebrating life in that very moment as the drums played on.
We were scheduled to fly from Pokhara back to Kathmandu, but all the flights were canceled early that morning due to poor visibility. We hired a private car last minute and drove. They have been rebuilding the main road for the past two years, so with construction, a 25-minute flight turned into an 8-hour journey. Although our driver was skillful, I had a pang of anxiety each time he attempted to pass a car on the single-lane curvy dirt road without clearly seeing if another driver was coming our way. Quite a few times, he swerved back quickly without the pass to avoid a head-on collision. I thought the trek would be the most dangerous part of the trip. I closed my eyes, squeezed Rich's hand, and eventually, we arrived at our original hotel in Kathmandu, where we reclaimed the clean clothes and souvenirs we left behind. It was time to go home.
TIPS AND RECS:
Bring your own pillow case on the trek. It will be a luxury.
Trekking Company: We used Nepal Eco Adventures. They were totally awesome.
Favorite restaurants: In Kathmandu, we loved The Third Eye. In Pokhara, we loved Fresh Elements, Rosemary Kitchen and Moon Dance Restaurant.
GEAR, ILLNESS PREVENTION AND PACKING LIST:
FAVORITE GEAR AND PRE-TRIP SHOPPING
FINAL THOUGHTS AND AN INVITATION TO JOIN ME ON MY NEXT ADVENTURE.
For me, travel expands my life and my world. As I said at the start, I feel more alive and come home with new perspectives. Nepal is a spectacular country; this was truly one of my favorite trips.
In addition to being a lover of travel, I am a physician and coach with a wellness business based on Lifestyle Medicine. I combine my passions by facilitating "Lifestyle Health Adventures" to experience the world together, moving our bodies and sharing in multi-cultural aspects of wellness and spirituality. If you want nature-based active travel with a cultural immersion, join me October 11-22, 2023 for a
12-day Women's Adventure in MOROCCO!
Embark on an extraordinary journey with like-minded women on a three-day moderate trek through the High Atlas Mountains experiencing the exquisite beauty of the land and witnessing daily life in the local berber villages. Follow that with a spectacular expedition into the vast and breathtaking Sahara Desert, where golden dunes stretch as far as the eye can see, offering a surreal experience of serenity, camel trek, and an unforgettable starry night. And, wander through Morocco's vibrant cities of Marrakesh and Fes, where ancient traditions, bustling souks, fragrant spices, and mesmerizing architecture await to create an unforgettablel experience.
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