When I am at home spontaneity is not one of my strengths. I like to plan things, to have a rough idea of what I am going to do, what I am going to need and the time frame in which I will do it. So, I was surprised to discover during my trip that I hated planning and committing to anything until the last minute. Booking hostels for that very night, not knowing where I was staying or what I was doing on the following day, or not booking flights until one or two days to departure was a common occurrence during the course of my Himalayan trip.
I was 5-6 weeks into my time in Nepal and I had recently completed the 10-day Discover Buddhism retreat at Kopan Monastery. Despite having an amazing time discovering meditation techniques as well as learning about the religious and philosophical elements too, all for a mere £108, I felt itchy. It was time to see other places within this beautiful country full of adventure. So I said goodbye to my friends I had made at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu and booked a bus journey over 200 km’s west to the city of Pokhara for RS.700, the following day.
The bus was exhausting. Buses are not made for tall people (I am 6ft 5” or 196cm) but regardless of this I still really enjoyed the travel, the mountain landscape combined with the winding roads and erratic traffic is certainly unique. But after 10 hours of one of the most cramped and bumpy journeys of my life on some notoriously dusty Nepalese roads, I had arrived in Pokhara!
Phewa Lake, Pokhara
Once arriving to the Lakeside area of Pokhara and at Pushkar Hostel (a great place for meeting people and enjoying yourself, with beds from £3.50 Per Night!). I checked in and began settling my bag etc when I met a French-Canadian woman named Marion. After a brief conversation she invited me to go and grab some food as it was approaching early evening. As we spoke over dinner I gathered Marion was on holiday from her job in Bangladesh and seemed to have a really strong character, so we got on pretty well. After paying the bill we headed back to the hostel, buying a few beers and the cheapest whiskey we could find on the way!
Walking up an alleyway to the sound of someone playing the guitar echoing through the quiet neighbourhood and conversations being spoken in chorus as it lead us to the hostel. A group sat on the first floor balcony having what seemed to be a great time and so we decided to sit and join. We sat there drinking and having fun (sorry for the drunken face time mum) for hours. At roughly midnight Marion, a few others and I decided that seeing the sunrise would be a great idea. So four of us booked a taxi up to Sarangkot at 4:30 am and headed to bed around 2/2:30 am, because we were smart and sensible adults! Many tour operators will offer this experience with a guide for a premium price, however buying your own ticket at the top will cost your around Rs.50 and booking your own taxi (or through the hostel) will result in only paying around Rs.450 (£3) depending on how large your group is, the more people the cheaper it is per person.
I awoke to my 4.15 alarm feeling well rested and enthusiastic about the little excursion to follow, because well why wouldn’t I? Then we were off to Sarangkot, roughly a 30 to 45 minute drive away. We arrived somewhat early for the sunrise as not to miss it and sat down in the chill and due that always accompanies dawn. Warming ourselves with coffee and tea as we waited for the black sky to begin to turn to shades of navy and purple, a sure sign the sun is on its way.
Not long after, the first rays of light touched the white and snowy tips of the Annapurna region. The Navy and purples gave way to reds, yellows and oranges as the sun crested the mountainous horizon to shed it’s light over the sprawling city of Pokhara and Phewa Lake. I rested against a rock with a second, or possibly third coffee in hand, looking at the mountains and the mist of evaporating snow on their peaks with only the soft murmur of the others talking breaking the silence. I felt the inexplicable urge to escape from the road. Shirk the busy roads full of cars and pedestrians. The convoluted and saturated spaces that are towns and cities, I wanted to be alone in the mountains and the forests with the only sounds being the wind rustling through the trees and the ambient noises of rivers flowing and birds singing. So that’s exactly what I did!
We returned to Pokhara around 7:00 am and stopped in the Himalayan Java Café for breakfast (The only one I could find open this early). As we sat I collected the information I thought I needed, where the permit office was and when it opened, what I needed for the permit, where to start the hike to Poon Hill, where it ended and the villages along the way. The others left to go about their days as I stayed filled up on as much food as possible (and more coffee). Once my hunger was sated, I began walking back to the hostel and grabbed a Map of the Annapurna Region as well as some snacks on my way.
After discovering the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) Office opens 10 am – 4 pm Sunday-Monday. I arrived there at 10:30 am, I was packed and ready to go. Pacing in the reception as I awaited my ACAP Permit and TIMS Cards. These were surprisingly straight forward to get, all that’s needed are 2 passport photos (which you can get taken there for free), information on the trek you intend to do (entrance/exit routes of the national park etc) and of course payment which is around £25-£35 depending on time of year, or so I have been told. Once all the Permit and forms were completed, I was in a taxi and en route to the start of my trek.
*You can find all the information regarding ACAP permits here*
En Route from Tikhedunga to Ghorepani
By 1:00 pm I was entering the Annapurna Conservation Area at Nayapul and beginning my trek up through the forests and alpine meadows that lead to Poon Hill, which sits at 3193m (or 10475ft) above sea level. Which was set to take 5 days in total.
Travelling through the villages of:
There was no need to book any tea houses or lodges for the trip as almost every village has plenty of options available for a marginal price. All of the accommodation I stayed in did a deal whereby if I purchased my evening meal and breakfast from them (which just makes sense anyway), they would give me the room for free or for a heavily discounted price. I think the most I paid for a room for the night was £2. Some lodges offer free electricity to charge your mobile phones and cameras, whereas some also charge extra for this service as well as hot showers or Wi-Fi.
Taken from first day in Nayapul to Tikhedunga
View from Poon Hill at sunrise
Another view from Poon Hill at sunrise
Sunrise view from my door at Ghandruk
I arrived back to Pokhara on the fifth day feeling tired and yet satisfied. Also several friends whom I had met in the monastery had arrived and I bumped into them walking down the street, which meant a nice hearty meal and a few beers were required. My appetite for adventure was sated, for the time being!
So that’s how I went from having a great night out to deciding to run away into the Himalayan mountains for almost a week, in a mere few hours. If you have any stories of making on the fly spontaneous decisions like this, comment and let me know!
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