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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

1 November 2010

Upon Poon Hill


Day One, we start hiking at 10AM through the straggly villages of Nyapul and Birithani. The day soon heats up and it also soon turns out that the heat, climb and pace of the trek are a bit tough on John and Ann. We are sweltering our way up a valley of terraced farmland and odd villages, and our trek leader Peter decides to abandon the original plan of reaching Bun Thanti (where a lodge is booked for us) and just aims to get us as far as Ulleri. Unfortunately when we reach Ulleri at dusk after a two hour climb up almost 3,000 steps there is no room at the inn – the lodges in the village are all full. So we continue to climb on into the night, until our assistant guide comes trotting back out of the darkness to announce he’s found an isolated lodge with rooms. Rest!


And so begins our love affair with trek lodges. Our room contains two single beds and nothing else whatsoever, the walls are of plyboard, there is only one rather grubby squat toilet for the whole lodge, one shower, and no such thing as a wash basin – just a tap outside that produces cold water. Maureen has her first of three cold showers, as the gas supply to the tiny boiler hadn’t been switched on when she started. The rest of us get hot and attempt not to gloat.


Day Two, on the trail by 8AM and up (ever up) into the mountain rainforest of rhododendron and oak. It’s fascinating to see these big gnarly plants in their native habitat, much more beautiful and diverse than the dark sterile mounds of purple-flowering bush we see in English parks and countryside. The Himalayas were a plant-collector’s paradise, and as we trek I spot other garden favourites like Berberis, Mahonia, Viburnum and Daphnae all growing wild and free yet instantly recognisable. We reach Ghorepani by 2:30PM and our lodge seems very much better – we even have an en-suite bathroom! And yet Maureen still manages to get a cold shower, as someone somewhere forgot to switch something on. Ann and John get hot, and I forego a shower to show solidarity. It is c-c-c-cold tonight and our sleeping bags are very welcome.


Day Three begins at 4AM, because Poon Hill stands above Ghorepani and it is a 45 minute walk to reach the top for sunrise. We set of at 4:30 and make it in 35 minutes, Ann and John sensibly deciding to stay in bed. Alas, it is a cloudy morning – we sip hot milk tea on top of the hill with fifty or so other trekkers and watch while the sun comes up, the clouds either occluding the mountain panorama before us or actually drifting over the hill and leaving us in dense fog. It still feels like an accomplishment (3,210m high, twice the height of Ben Nevis) and we’re 25 minutes descending.


The trek today is through more rhododendron forest, looking moody in the mist. This is a popular route, and there’s other trekkers to pass or passing us every five or ten minutes. After lunch we make our way down the most amazing gorge full of rust-red maple trees catching the sun. More amazing still, the path is almost entirely paved with good steps – just as it has been through well over half the route.


We reach Tadipani by 3:30ish, staying at Fishtail Lodge which has just one outside wash basin for everyone, and one loo. To our amazement, the one hot shower actually works. It is another cold evening, and we’re a little chilly waiting for dinner, but the staff have a trick up their sleeve. They ask whether we’d like the kerosene heater on in the dining room, and we agree readily… at which they shove a roaring open-flame kerosene burner right under the long table amongst our legs! Somehow the table doesn’t catch fire, neither do we, and everyone is warm.


Clear blue skies on Day Four and the view from Tadipani is almost as epic as Poon Hill would have been. The jagged white peaks seem both incredibly close yet huge and unattainable at the same time. We spot a langur monkey as we trek through dripping forest before emerging into farmland.


Then on one of the vary rare sections of perfectly flat pathway, I twist my ankle. Ouch. A nice old chap who happens to be there finds me a bamboo walking pole, I pop a Neurofen, and after making sure the ankle isn’t going to collapse every other step, we go on.


It is actually perhaps the best day in spite of the twist; the langur in the morning, a stop for curd milk at a little farm, a chat with an old Gurung gentleman who was a retired Gurkha, and to avoid a landslide we detour off the trekking route through farm terraces and feel for the first time like we are on a country amble. Of course, after that we have a 1,500 step descent. We reach the lodge by 4ish, and are entirely unsurprised to find that trekkers arriving earlier have used up all the hot water for showers. No matter! We trek an extra 20 minutes down to the hot springs at the riverside, and relax in the warm water as the sun goes down and bats fly overhead, while big moths for no apparent reason start dipping into the water around us.


Day Five dawns and the ankle is very swollen and stiff, but turns out to be okay for walking. This is a long slog, almost entirely flat or downhill, with the mountains behind us and a valley ahead. The day is marred at lunch when we have to watch a mule-driver belting his poor animals with a stout stick – just something else that needs fixing in this backwards country that wants to come forward. During the afternoon the path gets increasingly wider and eventually busier until we are in Nyapul once more, startled by the rubbish and litter and by the sight of cars and motorbikes. But looking forward to our Pokhara hotel and a proper shower.


So thanks to Ann and John for coming all this way to trek with us, and to swelter in the Bardia jungle with us. None of us have done anything like this before.


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