Poonhill: A trek to Backpacker’s Paradise

Poonhill Punhill Ghorepani
In Photo: Sameer Bhaila / Shot by RA

Poonhill and Ghorepani are two words that I yearned to go the first time I heard. Sometimes, simply the names are enough to know it must be a unique trek. Though, the plan to go Poonhill was made and then spoiled a few times, this time it was happening. We, the group of seven friends as batchmates, were gonna make it happen.

We had a heartwarming get together the other night until late. Therefore, we woke up only at around 10AM. After the routine morning work we headed to Nayapul with backpacks. But before that, we had to eat something. We were going towards the airport from Gharipatan, and all of a sudden, our friend Birendra spotted a dining cottage which was not so trendy and classy to look at. But later we felt we were quite lucky to have entered the place. After waiting quite a while, the owner served so scrumptious Nepali food Dal Bhat Tarkari and Rainbow trout gravy that we were totally astonished.

We caught a public bus to Baglung Buspark. It was already 1PM. The bus was destined for Baglung but we got off at Nayapul. It took one and a half hours to reach Nayapul. From Nayapul we reserved a TATA gold Jeep. The jeep is a four wheeler with around 2900 cc engine and is so appropriate for the 7 passengers. The rate was Rs. 3500 for upper station (It was Banthati we knew only later) and Rs 3000 for lower station (Ulleri). Since we knew only scanty information we thought at Rs. 3000 we can drop off at lower Ulleri and walk the village uphill with scenic beauty. We were wrong; we walked one hour uphill with no such difference in the scenery. It was an excruciating journey and became more painful when we knew if we agreed to pay Rs.3500 we would have reached Banthati so easily and started the walk from there.

The sun had just started to spread its warmth on the blessed land. While we moved up people were sitting in the sun and having their morning food. Quite diffident and retiring, they were eating a staple diet: Dhindo.

As the name suggests, it is the last station that a jeep can reach. So, there is Jeep Park as well where you can find jeeps that can carry you to Nayapul when you are returning from Poonhill. They, however, need 7-8 passengers. In the rainy season, no vehicles can play on the road. So, you have to walk. Actually, the road to Ghorepani-Poonhill starts from Ghandruk Chowk at the Highway which is around 200 meters ahead of Nayapul. The public bus to Ghandruk also leaves from there. So, many people start walking from Nayapul or Ghandruk Chowk without considering the jeep reservation because if your team members are three or less, the tour would go expensive per person. In one and a half hours we reached Ulleri and dropped off from the jeep.

Poonhill Punhill Ghorepani Ulleri Banthati
You have to cross through the Gorges of these hills to reach Ghorepani

The driver recommended a nearby hotel but we decided to walk further in order to shorten the distance for tomorrow and for warming up the body. As this was the start of walking, it was very hard to get habitual. After about an hour, we reached Banthati. Our friends, especially Rama, were lagging in speed so we waited at a Tea house. A lady and her hubby just came to greet us and asked where we were from and where we were going. It was 5PM on December 30, that means it was about to get dark. Generally in other places, we expect the owner would want to retain the possible customers. So, she would have warned us: “it is the only last place that you can stay tonight because now onwards the trail traverses right through the thick jungles.” But she advised genuinely: “In about one hour you can reach Nange Thati. So hurry up, some lads yesterday went by beaming flashlights. It's a little early for you than them.” After a few minutes we discovered the motor road. In fact the code language “Makhlo Station” that the drivers at Nayapul were using was for Banthati, the last station for Jeep. We tried to bargain Rs. 3500 to Rs.3000 and we endured the consequence. But at last, it was good. The sweet memory you get by walking can’t be repeated.

Banthati, Nangethati, Ulleri, Ghorepani
Friends in a Tea Guff

In Banthati, there was a water pipe from which nearly freezing water outpoured 24/7. The splashed water slated as stone in the shades. There was an uphill trek to Maharay the trail was so organized and paved by stone stairs that we headed to it. While we were randomly photographing, a lady shouted that if we were going to Ghorepani then we were led astray. That was very kind of her for calling some strangers, loudly and repeatedly, until they hear and inform them that they were going the wrong way. Her deed paid off: we ate lunch at her tea house while returning. Nepali Dal Bhat Tarkari cost Rs. 400 per plate and she discounted twenty rupees. The actual road was downward from the motorway.

Banthati, Nangethati, Ulleri, Ghorepani
From L to R: Birendra, Asmita, Rama, Sameer, Sandeep and Jeewa

Then started the jungles. As we walked at our own pace, it was getting darker and darker. Some friends at back used mobile light while Sandeep, Sameer and I used remaining natural light to move forward. There was a dim reflection from the paved stone that guided us where to step on. The trail increasingly went creepy as finally mobile’s flashlight was the only light source and we had to climb down to the whooshing creek. The caving rocks and a small bridge added more thrills to our fear. And we found a small tea house after a few minutes but there was no one to avail. But we recovered from a psychological trance because the tea house was the sign that we might be approaching the dwellers' zone. Next tea house was lit from inside and locked outside. No signals on knocking. We did a little shopping here while returning. It had a striped pasture down a huge stone and an underlying den with fairly praiseworthy aesthetics. We also took some photographs seated on the array of benches (on return).

Banthati, Nangethati, Ulleri, Ghorepani Poonhill
Photo shot while returning (in the same wooden bench and a cave in the backdrop)

From that point the path was curving up through the forest but the horrifying sound of the brook was dwindling down slowly. But there were no houses, no lights, no nothing. We found some Indian guys on the way who were struggling with their heavy luggage. We outraced them to settle for the night at Lali Gurans Restaurant and Lodge at Nange Thati. Due to the off-season many motels were not offering accommodation so were closed in the evening and the owner did not reside there. Lali Gurans was the first lodge which was open. The owners were having dinner when we reached. While we were jolly making, they prepared us Nepali Dal Bhat. The Dal Bhat that we ate there was the most delectable in this whole trip. The freshness of mustard greens offered a smooth taste to eat. It was the best eating experience. So, we decided to eat Dal Bhat in the morning instead of a light breakfast before we leave for Ghorepani.

Nange Thati, Ghorepani
Nange Thati

Talking about the lodge, it was all wooden-made and really clean. The bed clothes and covers were crispy looking in pure white. On that cold night, even a single fiber blanket offered adequate warmth. Electricity is available for lights and device-charging. Warm water is available in the kitchen from the heated iron pipe kept at the firewood hearth. In the bathroom, there is warm water from the gas geyser. It seems to be targeted for foreigners as well but no availability of attached bathroom. There are three latrines (two pans and one commode) and a shower room. The cost for meals was Rs. 400 per person and for the bedroom (twin sharing with common toilet/bathroom) it was Rs. 500. We took three rooms: two for 5 boys and one for two girls. Out of tiredness, we slept so easily while a few of our friends enjoyed the Indian guys who, later on, also turned up to stay in the same hotel. They were loaded with a full entertainment package.

Laligurans Guest House Nangethati
Signboard: Laligurans Guest House Nangethati

The son they (owners of Lali Gurans restaurant) had had the name Max. To our surprise, they were all Christians. In the Himalayan areas like that where almost all people would be expected to be Buddhist, we saw many Christians and few churches along the way. Another fascinating thing about Nange Thati is that they have a water heating system of their own. They have set up a drum from where water would flush through the iron pipe kept across the fireplace. The pipe would then open in the sink. The water, thus, is used for washing hands and dishes. In the morning when I went to see the homemade water heating system I saw the landlady was boiling milk. Astounded I asked, “How come are you getting it? Is it powder milk?” Then she revealed that they were taming livestock for milk, mainly buffaloes. We had but to taste one more cup of tea, which then we knew was pure homegrown, fresh and organic. We also went by to see the shed where they tethered the livestock and garnered fodder.

Central Heating System

If we were to see the sunrise on the 31st, we had to start walking at 3AM in the morning; and so was our plan. But plan changed as Sandeep insisted not to walk in the coldest of night in a strange jungle and if by any chance we missed to reach on time, all our toil from the dawn would go in vain. He put forth a nice idea: having come so far, which is once in a blue moon, why not give some more time to Poonhill? Be it the last sunset of the year 2020 and first sunrise of 2021 in Poonhill. Awoken so early, we slept again only to see the swathes of sunrays right across our windowpanes in the green leaves of the forest as we rose at 8AM. The azure of the sky was amazingly clear and chirping white birds circled around their abode above the tree line. We started our strides at 9AM after having Dal Bhat at Nange Thati and we were sensing our new year eve and new year itself were gonna be special.

Water gutter turned into ice

Few minutes later, we noticed that there were rampantly spread icy blocks around the natural water faucet. The area (Nange Thati) was way too cold, particularly, in the morning as the sheer breeze swayed the tree-leaves. We saw buffaloes on the way and they were not black. They were whitish grey and clad in sparse hair quite unlike the ones we see in our area. The walk was pleasant as it was sunny. The altitude of Nange Thati where we stayed was around 2450 m and we were heading to Ghorepani located 2800 m above the sea level. The vegetation was predominated by rhododendron trees. So, if you plan your visit during March – April (Chaitra- Baisakh), you must be bewildered to see the colors of rhododendrons in all of your photos.

Ghorepani Village, Poonhill
Ghorepani Village

In just one and a half hours we reached Ghorepani which also happens to be the starting point of the trek to Ghandruk—4 hours walk takes you to Tadapani and another 4 hours to Ghandruk. From Ghandruk you can find local buses plying to and fro to Pokhara. Unfortunately, Ghandruk village was closed to tourists after the global pandemic. So, we would not be making a detour to Ghandruk this time.

Ghorepani Village, Poonhill
Ghorepani (upper region facing North)

The sight of Ghorepani settlement was really something to behold from a distance. It carries you to some villages in Manang: all stones—trail, houses and anything you see. Just inside the welcoming gate is the police check-post where you are required to enter your name, phone number and number of your team members. There is an additional tourist check-post beside which checks the tourist permits (Nepalese don’t require TIMS and Annapurna Conservation Area Entry Permit). We saw frozen stubs of ice in the gutter more often here than anywhere else in our travels. We gradually strolled up a stony staircase in the middle of Ghorepani village amidst the balmy late morning. The village belongs to Myagdi District and is preoccupied by Pun Magar caste.

view from Poonhill tower
Northern View as seen from the Poonhill Tower

The sun had just started to spread its warmth on the blessed land. While we moved up people were sitting in the sun and having their morning food. Quite diffident and retiring, they were eating a staple diet: Dhindo. In the meantime, Sandeep quipped, “This is what people were talking about—appley red cheeks. Isn't it Didi?” Didi in context—who had ruddy cheeks and—was sitting off the fence, barraged in a loud laughter with her friends. Due to the uttermost gelidity, girls were bilaterally patched with red cheeks just in the color of ripe Mustang apple.  

Ghorepani Village
Ghorepani (lower region facing South)

Birendra confirmed that our hotel is the one that lies at the top of Ghorepani hamlet. As we climbed further, we passed to see the Mountains just across the hill on another side. We fell in love at first sight to the snow caps because we had never seen mountains so close and so pristine. Machhapuchhre, Annapurna and Annapurna South looked down directly at us in full glory. We realized how blessed we were to see the mountains in just a few hours of elbow grease.

Our hotel, Snowland, was beautifully perched at the base of a huge hill that continued to become Poonhill in itself. The hotel typified a welcoming domicile for foreign tourists. The outside view was splendid. Inside, it was clean, cozy and warm. The ground floor consisted of a spacious common hall with plenty of dining tables and chairs. It had a central heating hub where people could sit around in a circle to warm their body and have a chin wag or booze. Occasionally aide would come to feed the iron furnace with firewood. It would ooze out the heat around until the darkness of night culminated in the daybreak. The exhaust pipe would pierce out as a smoky chimney right through the roof. The same heating system heated water in a couple of iron pipes.     

Mountain view as seen from our room window

Our room was at the front façade of the building whereby the windowpanes offered a marvelous view of the fresh mountains, apparently at arm’s length. It was too cold but the landlady provisioned an extra blanket for each bedroom. Overall, the cost per person for lodging and two meals was Rs.1000. It was very reasonable a cost as per the facilities and ambiance it provided. When we got to the rooftop, we were fascinated by the albescent mounts of the North. Minutes elapsed on photoshoot and time-lapse videos. Then we got down to the basement in order to relish on foods and beverages typical of the locality.  

Poonhill View Tower
Poonhill View Tower

The day was the last day of 2020. So we decided to climb up Poonhill at the dusk to witness the last sunset of the year 2020. All perspiring, it took us one and quarter hours to reach at the top. The trail was full of steps made up of slates and it looked so beautiful from below. Poonhill is a beautiful hill with a plain wide surface at the top adorned with a view tower. The altitude of Poonhill is 3210 meters from the sea level. We can see a whole range of mountain peaks including Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, Annapurna I, Annapurna II, Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre. We nosedived from the hill while returning in just half an hour.

Gate of Gorepani Village
Rama and Sandeep pose at the Gate to Ghorepani hamlet

The next day also we departed for the same ascent but this time in the dawn and for witnessing the sunrise. The calmness of the atmosphere as seen from that height under the scarlet line of horizon at distance made us nearly cry. It was so phenomenal to stand paused until the horizon gave birth to the first sunburst. Admittedly, it was a spiritual experience. As the red and yellow hue of the sun gradually increased the twinkling intensity of Venus was slowly decreased. Our gang was the first to reach the height and people started to gather bit by bit. Sun rose exactly at 7AM that morning.

Sunrise from Poonhill
In a trance to look at the colorful horizon (minutes before Sun rise)

We got down to the hotel and had breakfast to leave the place at 9AM. In three hours we arrived at Ban Thati and from a reserved jeep we returned to Pokhara downtown in three hours.

Overall, it was a great experience. A vlog is coming soon about this trek - Keep tuning.

How to reach Poonhill from Pokhara?

Here is the Best Itinerary (Best and easiest Method to go Poonhill)

Day 1:

1.5 Hours Public Vehicle: Pokhara to Nayapul (Leave Bokhara at 10 AM)

4-5 Hours Walk: Nayapul to Ulleri (stay Overnight at Ulleri)

Day 2:

4-5 Hours Walk: Ulleri—Banthati—Nange Thati—Ghorepani (Night stay at Ghorepani)

Day 3:

1.5 Hours Walk from Ghorepani to Poonhill (be sure to start walking at 4AM in the morning to not miss the majestic ambiance of pre-sunshine.

Return Back to Hotel, have breakfast and get down to Ulleri in 1.5 hours

Get back to Pokhara from Ulleri in Jeep in 3 hours

What we did?

Day 1:

Pokhara to Nayapul (1.5 hours in public bus);

Nayapul to Ulleri (from a reserved jeep in 1.5 hours)

Ulleri to Nange Thati walk: 3 hours

Day 2:

Nange thati (left at 9AM after Dhal Bhat) to Ghorepani (walk for 1.5 hours)

Enjoyed the full day @Ghorepani

In the dusk, went Poonhill to see the last sunset of year 2020 (1.5 hours walk uphill from Ghorepani)

Day 3:

Again went to see the sunrise from Poonhill (started walk @4:30AM

Returned hotel (Snow Land) at 8AM, had breakfast and left from there at 9:30AM

Reached Banthati @12:30PM, ate lunch Dal Bhat and left @1AM in a reserved TATA gold jeep

Reached Pokhara @ 4PM

The average cost per person (From KTM to Poonhill and back): Nepali 10K

From Pokhara : Nepali 5-6K

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