Several months ago (May 2017 - clearly writing timely blog posts isn’t my forte), I had the amazing opportunity to go to Nepal. Throughout the past couple of years I’ve traveled to several countries over 6 continents (not quite sure if I’ll ever make it to Antartica tbh) and Nepal stands out as one of the most beautiful ones I’ve been to, not just because the Himalayas, but also the vibrant people and culture. Highlights of the trip include trudging forward on our trek after hearing some words of motivation from an encouraging sherpa, getting my eyebrows done by a hardworking cosmetician who refused to accept an extra twenty cents as a tip, looking up and seeing more stars than sky and staying in a traditional Newari type hotel in Kathmandu. Full disclosure: my sister and I went primarily for the trek so didn’t do as much city exploring as most people would likely do so while I still have some general insight into Kathmandu and Pokhara like places to eat and a few sights, this post won’t be the most helpful for those types of recommendations. Also, I tried to keep the post concise, but I ended up failing pretty miserably, so if you want a more barebones itinerary, please refer to this.
Before I get into a day by day rundown, here’s what I’d tell anyone that’s looking to do a trek in Nepal:
When deciding what trek to do there are a few things you should consider.
- Time Off - Since we had a limited amount of time to be in Nepal doing something like Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna Circuit wouldn’t have been feasible for us. The Poon Hill trek was the perfect trek for us to get a glimpse of the Himalayas and all the adventure Nepal has to offer in a short amount of time, but if we had more time, we definitely would’ve opted for the Annapurna Circuit because both of us had heard amazing things.
- Fitness Level - To do a trek like Everest Base Camp or some of the other more rigorous treks you should be in pretty great shape. Although the companies help you with acclimatization and you often ease into the trekking, it’s a lot of elevation gain daily so there really are no off days. I hike very regularly and am pretty active so I thought the Poon Hill trek would be relatively easy for me because it’s considered a beginner-level trek, but it definitely was not. It was a challenging, albeit doable, trek, so make sure you’re prepared physically for whatever adventure you choose. To be fair, I didn’t get a porter and carried all of my own stuff for the trek and packed way too much, with a porter I think the trek would’ve been a lot easier so that’s definitely an option worth considering if you have the budget and don’t want to lug around all of your stuff.
- Solo vs. Guided vs. Group - If you’re opting to do a more rigorous trek and not super budget conscious, it might be a good idea to do it with a guide or through a company. We felt that we could definitely do the Poon Hill trek without a guide because it’s very frequented and not super long and we both are experienced hikers. I definitely would’ve gotten a guide if I were doing anything more challenging. We met an amazing guide that I’d highly recommend named Ram, if you want a more independent experience (i.e. not large group setting) but feel like you need a guide. Definitely get in touch with me if you’d like to be connected! We also met a group that was with Intrepid Travel and they all had great things to say about their program and their guides, so I would recommend checking out the packages they have to offer.
- Season - There are peak seasons for trekking in which prices go up and you need to book accommodation and packages ahead of time. Planning ahead is not something my sister and I are good at, so luckily we were still trekking during monsoon season which many people avoid because of the frequent, sporadic rainfall. If you hate rain and are afraid of having to alter plans, perhaps traveling during monsoon season wouldn’t be the best idea for you, but if you hate crowds and are cheap and super flexible, it’s probably for you.
A few more quick points before I jump in:
- Make sure you buy your trekking permit as soon as you get to Kathmandu (unless you’re going with an agency who would be doing it for you)
- It’s completely possible to do a trek without a guide or porter and just depends on your preferences/budget
- Not to miss in Kathmandu: Patan Durbar/Staying at Newa Chen, Monkey Temple, Dhokaima Cafe
- The bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara is a bit rough, so be prepared if you get motion sick or plan ahead and buy a flight if your budget permits
- Even though May is rainy season in Nepal the trek was definitely doable and only hindered a bit by rain, if anything I enjoyed it more cause it was probably less crowded than normal, even though it was still pretty busy
- There aren't that many mid-length treks, so if you don’t have over 10 days allotted for trekking, the Ghorepani/Poon Hill trek is one of the best bets and apparently you can add on 1-2 days by going to a hot spring in the region for a total of 5-6 days of trekking rather than 4-5
- Nepal is amazing, the people are so nice and humble and you’ll have a blast. Make sure you eat a bunch of momos and take advantage of the unlimited Daal Bhat!
The journey to Nepal from Seattle was, unsurprisingly, long and boring, but it’s definitely worth the flight time. Both my sister and I arrived pretty early to Kathmandu on Sunday 5/13. We made our way to our hostel from the airport. The price of the airport taxis seemed to be set and regulated, so even though the fare was a bit higher than expected (800 Nepali Rupees, ~8 USD) I don’t think we were getting ripped off. The hostel wasn’t in Tamel where a lot of backpackers and tourists stay because my sister heard from a friend that Tamel is pretty hectic and crowded so we opted to stay in Swayambhu, a bit outside of the heart of the city, where the popular Monkey Temple is located. I think staying here especially for our first two nights was a good idea since a lot of our time was spent sleeping to get over our jetlag. Our intention was to stay in Kathmandu one night and make our way over to Pokhara and start a trek the next day, but we quickly learned our plans wouldn’t work for two reasons: 1) Nepali elections were taking place Monday the 14th, so all roads were basically closed so getting in and out of Kathmandu would be impossible and 2) There isn't really a 6 or 7 day trek which is what we were hoping to do, or at least none of the people in Kathmandu we asked for recommendations knew of one. The trek we ending up doing was 4 days, some people even did it in 3. Apparently there is a hot spring we could’ve added on that would’ve been 1-2 extra days which would’ve been good to know but probably wouldn’t have worked out anyways since we had to spend an extra day in Kathmandu due to the election. Most other popular treks such as the Annapurna circuit, Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Base Camp are much longer (10-17 days) so none of them could’ve fit in our time frame.
We used this day to get our trekking permits, which you definitely need to have. There are a couple of permit checkpoints throughout all of the treks so it’s good to keep the permit easily accessible on the trek. The permits cost $40/each, which was definitely one of our biggest expenses throughout the trip. I’d recommend having a fair bit of Nepali rupees or at least USD upon arrival. We struggled to find ATMs and often times my card didn't work for no apparent reason, so not having to worry about taking out any money and just converting cash would’ve been a lot nicer.
Due to the Nepali elections a lot of roads were closed down, so we opted to walk to the nearby Monkey Temple, which is overrun with savage monkeys who definitely do not fear humans. The monkeys steal any and all food from the tourists (the locals seem to be better at holding on to their stuff) and I even saw a monkey unwrapping and chowing down on a KIND bar. I decided to purchase watermelon from a local vendor, but after eating a total of two slices of watermelon a monkey ran by and knocked all the watermelon out of my plate and started eating it. Although, I was pretty annoyed cause the watermelon was tasty, it was kind of hilarious. The monkey temple also had a pretty awesome view of Kathmandu itself so was worth visiting outside of just the monkeys themselves.
Kathmandu > Pokhara
Because our trek started in Nayapool, which is closer to the Annapurna region and a bit Northeast of Kathmandu, we needed to make our way over there. Nayapool is a pretty small town with limited accommodation, so some locals recommended we stay in Pokhara, which is a lakeside city filled with lots of tourists about one hour from Nayapool There are multiple ways to get from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The three main options are to take the tourist bus, a local bus, and a plane. The plane is somewhat expensive (compared to the $8 tourist bus) and requires planning ahead and the local bus apparently is a pretty hectic experience with a lot of stops, but apparently can get you to Pokhara a little bit faster than the tourist bus. Taking those factors into consideration, we opted for the tourist bus and just asked our hostel owner to help us purchase tickets and show us the stop. If, as the locals say it is, the tourist bus is smoother than the local bus, I definitely DO NOT recommend taking the local bus. I felt extremely sick the entire ride to Pokhara because of the terrible road conditions. It may be a good idea to bring some motion sickness medicine to plan ahead for this bus ride. Upon arriving at the tourist bus station we were swarmed by people trying to sell us rooms and we were able to find accommodation for 400 rupees each or 4 dollars, but apparently that is the mid-range of the prices in Pokhara. The town has a bunch of backpackers and hippies and there are hostels and guest homes everywhere making prices pretty low. There were some cute restaurants and shops at the lake that we explored and we especially loved having some delicious (albeit expensive for Nepal) smoothies at am/pm organic cafe. I’d recommend finding accommodation in the area near this cafe, it was a bit less crowded and hectic than some of the other areas of Pokhara where people seemed to be partying all night.
Pokhara > Nayapool > Ulleri
On Day 4, we got a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapool, which took about an hour and had some pretty bumpy roads along the way but amazing views of mountains that we hadn’t really been exposed to yet. Once we reached Nayapool we got some snacks from a small convenience store and headed on our way to the trek. We had no set itinerary except for basic outlines of what towns we’d want to stay in each night. We were told that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find accommodation (Nepali teahouses) because it wasn’t peak season, and that held true.
We asked a couple people for directions and eventually stumbled on a walking path and were assured this was the right place to start for the Poon Hill trek, even though it didn’t seem like it to us, but sure enough we hit at TIMS permit checkpoint in 1-2 kilometers and from then on knew we were going the right way. Our end destination for the day was a small village called Ulleri with a couple of teahouses, that most people doing this trek stop at. The trek was much different than what we expected. Most of the path is stone stairs, with a few dirt roads interspersed throughout. Also, the trek went through small mountain villages throughout and was not really remote. I never had the feeling that I was in the middle of nowhere, away from most civilization. Also, funnily, the paths we were on were also trafficked by mules, which sometimes had their own ideas of the best way forward that were not in alignment with those of their herders. The start of this day was not too taxing, but the last couple of kilometers was just climbing up a lot of stairs and by the end of the day we were pretty exhausted. We didn’t stay in the first teahouse we stumbled upon in Ulleri, as much as I was tempted to. And I’m glad we didn’t because the place we ended up staying was a bit higher up in the town and had a wonderful rooftop were I attempted to take my first starscape photographs of the trip.
The teahouses provided simple accommodation (normally just a barebones bed and a shared bathroom, that sometimes had a hot shower) and a restaurant. All of the teahouses along the trek we went on are regulated and have the same menu with some basic Nepali dishes and some western dishes as well. Tip: if you’re hungry and want good fuel for all the trekking you’re doing, stick with getting Daal Bhat. There’s a Nepali saying that goes “Daal Bhat power 24 hour” and it totally makes sense, it’s energizing food. All Daal Bhat is unlimited refills, and honestly probably the tastiest food at all of the teahouses, because it’s traditional Nepali food that most people are used to cooking. If you’re unfamiliar with Daal Bhat, it’s basically a full meal that comes with a potato curry, rice (bhat), and a lentil based soup (daal). Momos, which are basically Nepali-style dumplings, are also a tasty option. Overall, I’d stick with eating mostly Nepali food when on the treks if you want the best quality. The pizzas and sandwiches are pretty bad, at least at the teahouses I went to. I’m vegan and never eat meat, but I think even if I weren’t I’d stick to mostly meatless dishes to avoid potential sickness and to keep costs low. Overall, choosing a teahouse isn’t too difficult and most of them are pretty similar, but I did like to ensure the one I was staying at would have a good view from the rooftop and I’d ask to see the room before committing. Normally we would pay right before leaving for the next day, and we always just paid for our dinner and breakfast and that would include the accommodation (this is important to negotiate beforehand).
Ulleri > Ghorepani
The next day, after getting our first taste of teahouse accommodation, which was a lot better than we expected, we headed on our way to Ghorepani. Ghorepani was definitely one of the biggest towns along the trek, which makes sense, since Poon Hill is a 45 minute climb up from Ghorepani, so people probably stay there a bit more than some of the other places. The walk from Ulleri to Ghorepani was, again, mostly uphill and required climbing a bunch of steps, but didn’t seem as bad as the day before, maybe cause we were a bit more used to the grind. We did definitely struggle at the end but got some encouragement from an amazing sherpa called Ram Bhaiya, who told us we only had 20 minutes left to go before reaching Ghorepani and helped us find a teahouse with a good view where I tried to take some more starscapes, although it was a bit too cloudy for an standout shots.
Ghorepani > Poon Hill > Tadapani
We didn’t get to stay at the teahouse too long because typically it’s best to go to Poon Hill for sunrise, so we were up before 5 AM making our way up to the view point. I completely forgot about how annoyed I was at having to wake up so early and climb up 45 minutes worth of stairs by the time we reached Poon Hill because were rewarded with one of the most unforgettable views of the trek (after all, this is supposed to be the highlight - I’m not convinced it was for me though). We hung around Poon Hill for a bit and got some lemon teas, before heading back down to Ghorepani and preparing for the upcoming trek to Tadapani. Ghorepani to Tadapani was probably my favorite of portion of the trek and at one point we saw piles and piles of cairns by a stream and weirdly enough that was one of my favorite views of the trek, even though I had just gotten to see sunrise over the Annapurna region of the Himalayas that morning. I just really liked the sense of community around this trek even though it attracts people from all different pockets of the world and the fact that people just built on what was initially just one cairn (although I could definitely be reading into these cairns are a display of human unity way too much). It rained a bunch towards the end of our trek to Tadapani and this ended up being one of the harder days of trekking for us, probably cause it went a fair bit downhill and hurt our knees a lot. When we reached Tadapani, we again opted to find a teahouse that’d have an awesome view so we kept going up past the inital few teahouses we saw, and I’m really glad we did because I got this starscape photo that I’m really happy with (I think the heavy rains made it so that all the clouds had cleared up by night time). We also met an awesome group of trekkers that were going to go to Annapurna base camp with Intrepid Travel after finishing the Poon Hill trek. They were all super nice and let us borrow some massage rollers, which I didn’t realize I direly needed until after I used them.
Tadapani > Gandruk > Kimche > Nayapool
I was really dreading the last day of our trek because I really didn’t want to leave the mountains and I had such an amazing trek, but all good things come to an end eventually so we make our way from Tadapani to Ghandruk, where we stopped for lunch at a teahouse called Excellent View Lodge and had the most amazing Dal Bhaat we had of the entire trek. We hung around there for a bit and enjoyed our last bit of time in the Himalayas before continuing down to Kimche, where we were able to find a bus back to Pokhara. Once we made it to Pokhara, we found a hostel, ate dinner and passed out after a pretty full few days of trekking.
We caught the dreaded bus back to Kathmandu in the morning and luckily it felt slightly less bumpy this time around and I didn’t feel like I wanted to die. We decided to stay in a different area in Kathmandu for our last night in Nepal and I’m really glad we did. There are three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, which are all UNESCO World Heritage sites. From my understanding, Durbar Squares are basically plazas across from where Newari (indigenous people to Kathmandu area) palaces were built. We heard that the Patan Durbar square was a great area to stay in and a friend recommended staying at Newa Chen, which offers traditional Newari accommodation (very low ceilings, central courtyard, simple floor mattresses). I’m so glad we stayed there, even though it was one of the more expensive things we did on the trip. The location in Patan Durbar was awesome and it was a great to have a glimpse into how some Newari lived. Newa Chen is pretty close to a place called Dhokaima Cafe, which apart from the daal bhat at Excellent View Lodge on the trek, definitely was my favorite place to eat in Nepal. Today and the next day, I mostly explored the Durbar Square and enjoyed staying in beautiful Newa Chen. Exploring Nepal (at least for the first time) was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm happy to have ended it there.
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far and please comment or get in touch with me if you have any questions at all! Would love to talk Nepal/travel/trekking/etc!