© Corinne and Noel Fenech 2019

Shots and Tales - Enabling Independent and Responsible Travel

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    The Annapurna-Dhaulagiri Community Trail is a network of treks that can be done independently or with a guide.  It is run by the Magar community and is very well equipped for trekking. This trail features community dining halls and lodges, is quite well sign-posted and offers impressive mountain views. The community also trains their own guides as well as porters, and we definitely recommend going with them, as they know the place, know the people and they welcome guests as family. Proceeds from the trek go towards the wellbeing of the community including children’s schools, as well as health care.

    Day 1: Pokhara to Banskharka

    Our guide, Lukesh picked us up from our hotel in Pokhara, and we headed off to Ghumaune Tal by taxi. We had lunch there, whilst our guide and porters were preparing for the first part of our trek. Then we headed up to our first night in an authentic homestay in Banskharka. We took the time to take in the view from Banskharka Community Lodge.  As it got dark, fires in houses afar seemed like stars dotting the whole landscape above and below.  We helped out at the community kitchen and learnt how to cook carrot pudding and rice pudding with our new friends Mina and Mongu!

    We had been considering Nepal as a destination for at least eight years, and for the best part of the past four years, we were planning and looking for a good trail which gives us great views but most importantly a feel of a community. Our decision to go for the Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community trail came after we looked at a lot of alternatives. It was the one which gave us a sense of purpose and a longing to know how the Magar community are managing to make a successful trail together with a number of initiatives, such as lokta paper manufacturing, jam production, yak farming, and forestry. All this, in order to ensure schooling for the children and health care in such remote areas.

     

    Once on the trail, we went slow, taking time to see the places, to take a breath as we were going uphill, drink some ‘tatopani’ (hot water) with ‘kagati’ (lemon) and ‘maha’ (honey) and to get to know the people. It was not a mad rush, we were not running after time, but we were after learning new things and getting to know new communities. You can read all about how we arranged for this trek and get to know the team who made this trek a reality. 

    Our Trek - Day by Day

    Day 2: Banskharka to Nangi

    The day started with a bit of uphill in the morning, but Lukesh did a great job of reassuring us that we were doing fine. We had a lunch of momos with a great view at the Community Lodge in Danda Kateri. Danda Kateri is a small hamlet with remarkable views of the mountain range, which, as days got by started getting closer and closer. In the afternoon we had a short walk to Nangi Community Lodge and visited the wool weaving factory, where women were happily weaving and who enthusiastically explained to us how they do it. 

    Nangi school is a great project worth mentioning! The people of Nangi and neighbouring villages are doing a brilliant job out of giving an education to local children, plus they also welcome any donations you may be able to spare. 

    Day 3: Nangi Village Tour

    On this day we made sure that we spend the full day in Nangi. We had a leisurely walk up to the sacred forest, then we were taught about medicinal trees by Moti, a very knowledgeable ex-gorka soldier.  We also learnt about the process of making lokta paper (and brought home some truly handmade souvenirs), had a great reception at the local school (not to be missed) and later we had a tour of the local clinic. We spent the evening ‘helping’ out in the community kitchen and in the cosy community dining lodge, as a storm raged on outside.

    Day 4: Nangi to Mohare Danda

    During the night there was a thunderstorm and as we woke up, the air felt quite chillier.  “It snowed up in the mountains last night” we were told at breakfast, so we’ll probably see snow today.  This was the hike to the first of two major viewpoints – Mohare Danda. It was a surreal experience. As we were walking up, we started encountering snowy patches here and there.  But our hearts really missed a beat when we reached Hampal pass, as the view underneath emerged magically just above the tree line. We had lunch of fried rice in a scenic open spot and reached Mohare Danda a bit later on, in the afternoon. For people form a sunny Mediterranean island, the weather felt very cold, but was warm inside near the fire as we sipped our masala tea and looked at the snowy landscape outside.

    Day 5: Mohare Danda to Danda Kharka

    Yes, it was cold.  Very cold for us in the morning! But waking up early to watch the sunrise over the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna range is something we would do the world over! Our walk for today was short and slippery due to the melting snow. We could afford a late breakfast, to linger on a bit and take in the views, as the morning clouds started rolling over the hills below. After a short downhill walk, we arrived at a scenic place with warmer temperatures.  Many people use this place for lunch and move on to their next destination, but it was definitely the right decision to spend the night here, as this came to be our favorite spot in the middle of the rhododendron forest.

     

    Gam, the person who takes care of the place, is a great cook and we were so lucky to eat here three times (lunch, dinner and breakfast). We had the whole lodge for ourselves as well as a volleyball court.  The evening was spent around a fire talking to an elderly gentleman who takes care of the cattle and likes to have a drink too much, as well as with our companions Gam and Bam.

    Day 6: Danda Kharka to Swanta

    Our trek today took us to the sweet village of Swanta, after having lunch at Phalante. There are really some picturesque spots along this trail with mountain views together with yaks, zopas, horses and sheep. At the end of the day, we arrived to our cosy room at the Candle Inn Hotel where Devi (Gam's sister) and her family hosted us.

    Day 7: Swanta to Dhan Kharka

    After a bit of sida (Nepali flat trail), we arrived at a peaceful spot for lunch in Al Kharka. What do you do, when you arrive at the lunch place, there is no one there to cook and you are hours far away from the next restaurant? Not to worry!! Our team managed to get crops from nearby fields and ingredients from the restaurant kitchen.  They conjured up a delicious dhal bhat with bean potato curry to die for, left money for the meal at the restaurant and we headed off. After lunch there’s quite a bit of ukalo (steep up) but we managed to arrive at Dhan Kharka Community Lodge in good time. Dhan Kharka is higher up than Swanta, but the fire was so good, that we did not feel the colder weather at all.

    Day 8: Dhan Kharka to Khopra Danda

    Singing Ressham Firiri (a Nepali folk song), we headed up to Khopra Danda, which was our second major viewpoint of the trail.  It is a bit of a steep uphill, but nothing one with a good hiking boots, trekking poles and some encouragement, cannot handle. The views from Khopra are AMAZING! To us it was one of those, once in a lifetime emotional moments, as we stood there feeling the cold wind on our faces, looking at the massive Dhaulagiri, Hiunchuli, Baraha Shikhar and Annapurna South mountains. We felt humbled and lucky to be here. It was worth all the years of googling, all the years working to be able to come here, and all the days of trekking to get here. There is peace in the sound of the cold wind blowing through the rocks, and happiness in experiencing such majestic beauty of nature.

    Day 9: Khopra Danda to Swanta

    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!  Today, we were meant to go up to Khayer Lake, but our guide had prepared us well beforehand that at this time Khayer Lake will be snowy and slippery, so it was not a feasible option. We were lucky to have known this beforehand, so we planned ahead. The decision was to go back to our cosy room at the Candle Inn, in the village of Swanta. Devi and her family made us feel at home and we spent an evening eating, drinking and sharing stories around the fire.

    Day 10: Swanta to Paudwar

    The trail today took us down from Swanta to Paudwar, passing alongside picturesque villages. It is here, as we descended to lower and warmer altitudes that we really started feeling that we are going back to civilization. Our room in Paudwar was just above a school and we had a sweet experience of watching Nepali children running, shouting and having loads of fun, in the playground below. We visited an interesting cheese factory, which made delicious cheese and watched a very good game of volleyball in the playground below, as the evening drew on. 

    Day 11: Paudwar to Tatopani

    The easy trail down from Paudwar to Tatopani, felt much harder than it really was. Our feet were aching from the descent between Khopra Danda and Swanta and our hearts were heavy as we started hearing the sounds of truck horns down below. We hit the ground near Tatopani with mixed feelings.  It was like coming back on earth after having been in heaven for ten days, but we were glad that we were able to make it. Our hotel in Tatopani was nice, with a garden which smelled of sweet orange blossom. We were able to enjoy the Hot Spring (which is really hot!), were surprised with a visit from the Headmaster and Toya Pariyar, a teacher from Nangi School, and had a relaxed evening with our Nepali second family.

    Day 12: Tatopani to Pokhara

     

    A taxi picked us up in the morning and we said goodbye to Bam and Gam, who had not only been our porters for the trek, but also our companions, our guardian angels, but mostly our sathi haru (friends). The road between Tatopani and Beni is amazingly rough, but the ride was cheerful as with us in the car, we had a sweet little girl named Christina.  She eats five buff momos, is learning English and rode with us up till Beni. We had lunch at Beni and headed off to Pokhara through Sarangkot, where we watched paragliders descend to the valley below. We said a heartfelt goodbye to our guide Lukesh and spent the rest of the day in Pokhara, really and truly realizing what a beautiful adventure we have been through.

    We are not going to lie.  Arriving back to the luxury of our hotel in Pokhara felt hollow.  It is that feeling of missing the simple life. Not wanting to see bars or restaurants, cars or black top roads nor luxury bathrooms, because your heart is elsewhere.  It is a feeling that even years later we can say ... it never leaves you!

    Travel light.  Even though other people will be carrying your bag, they are still people who do great sacrifices to bring food to their family’s table!

    You will find that, nearly everywhere, you can wash your clothes and dry them in time for the day after. Use merino wool, which dries up fast and does not remain humid during the trek

    On most of the days internet is available and the quality is good enough to make video calls with a few interruptions. As for telephony, Ncell does not work very well, but Nepal Telecom should work better

    Bathrooms…we don’t do treks for luxury, do we? But the amenities were always good enough. Sometimes asian toilets, sometimes hot bucket showers and sometimes no water at all. But on most days everything was as comfortable as it can get in the mountains

    The trek is not the average walk in the park, but ieven a chubby one like me can make it, so don’t give up!

    Top Tips for this Trail