Hiking the Sunrise Poon Hill Trek Near Pokhara in Nepal

Nepal trekking mountains view

If you want to do some serious hiking in Nepal and get a view of the mighty Himalayas, you can do a loop from near Pokhara that takes you up to Poon Hill and round to Gandruk for some great panoramas. You’ll also get a nice teahouse stay experience that’s still one of the world’s great adventure travel bargains.

When I was a younger man and the full Annapurna Circuit was a much longer route on foot, I carried my own pack for 21 days and got up to the highest point I’ve been in my life: 5,416 meters. To put that in perspective, the altitude at that pass is higher than the top of any mountain in the continental USA or the Alps.

I’m older now, supporting a family, in more of a hurry, so this last Nepal trip was not as ambitious. We went on a five-day hike that goes by many names, but is generally called the Ghorepani/Poon Hill Trek or the Annapurna Sunrise Trek. I was with a group who had a schedule to keep, so a five-day one was perfect. We had porters and this trek is considered easy by Nepali standards, so in theory this should have been a walk in the park by comparison. But nothing’s just an easy walk when you’re talking about the highest, steepest, newest, most jagged mountain range on our planet.

Ghorepani trek day 1

I’m going to write a real travel story about this trip for the next issue of Perceptive Travel, but here’s a quick rundown on what you’ll experience if you want to try it yourself.

The first day was a good warm-up as we sweated in the lowland tropical heat and drank a gallon of water each getting to our first guesthouse in Tirkhedhunga. There we lounged on the balcony and watched the mules stroll by, one train of them hauling baskets of chickens. The scenery on this first day was mostly fields, rice paddies, and hills as we climbed higher, with no snowy mountains in sight yet. The sun was baking and there was tropical vegetation around us.

On Day 2 the guide told us we’d be climbing 3,500 steps. The trails here are mostly made from flagstones. It seemed like a lot more though and one person in our group counted as as she climbed. She came up with more than 6,000 steps. I think her count was closer.

We kept climbing higher and higher, going up 1,300 meters in elevation between breakfast and dinner. There was just a little tease of a view of Annapurna South along the way, poking up between two closer foothills. We were ready to collapse by the time we crossed under the gate to Ghoripani. I drank my first beer to celebrate making it there, then immediately regretted it as the altitude hit me upside the head. The wood stove was warm and dinner was hearty though, so I slept like a happy yak after popping an Excedrin from another traveler, even after hearing our guide say, “OK everybody, tomorrow is the hardest day of the trek…”

The Snowy Himalayan Mountains Revealed

Day 3 was hard because we got up when it was still dark outside so that we could make it up to the top of Poon Hill for sunrise. The hill that didn’t seem so high from town turned out to be deceptively far from our guesthouse after what seemed like the end really wasn’t. There was no rush though since the clouds took their good ole time lifting. We were starting to worry we wouldn’t see much of anything when the sun shone through, the clouds drifted away for a bit, and we got views like you see at the top.

Then it got better.

After we returned to the guesthouse for breakfast and took off again, we hiked along a ridge that gave us this view whenever we looked left. That’s one of our guides and two of our porters, yes one of the porters was the guy with the gleaming white sneakers. (He cleaned them each night and was a busting a move in them the final night when the music got cranking.)

Poon Hil trek day 3 view

We got views of Annapurna South, Gangapurna, and Machapuchare. Afterwards it was through bizarre forests and up and down hills, the trek not seeming as hard since the landscape kept changing. The rain came out and doused us for a couple hours solid, teaching us which of our waterproof items really were and which were just “resistant.” Our Fishtail View Lodge wasn’t looking like it was going to live up to its promise. Then once again, the clouds lifted and we got the mighty Himalayas in all their glory.

Ghandruk NepalWhat could top that, right? Well a cool village and a traditional lodge with a killer view would do the trick. That’s what we got next in Gandruk, the town where we spent the last night. Stone houses with slate roofs tumbled down the side of a steep hill, looking out at green farming terraces one way, the misty mountains the other way. It was a terrific last stop for us.

Often this trek extends one more day, taking the path down to a waterfall, a path that existed as long as people were here, before the roads crept up higher and higher. We had a ride though, so we went for a short hike out and then a bumpy 4WD ride down the mountain towards Pokhara. Once there, 1) laundry sorted 2) hot shower 3) cold beers. We kept eating dal bhat though…

If You Go:

Our lodging and meals were folded into a package with Royal Mountain Travel in Nepal before the Himalayan Travel Mart where I was invited as a blogger, but if you do it on your own you won’t spend much. (See this post on travel prices in Nepal.) Figure $2-$3 a night for a bed and $6-$15 a day each for food and water if you’re not drinking alcohol. Then they’ll hit you up sometimes for hot water, Wi-Fi (when available), and the charging station at a dollar each. If you carry your own charger pack, you can save a few dollars, also if you have a water filter or purification tablets to get water from springs. When you get far enough up the mountain they’ve done away with plastic single-use bottles, thankfully, but you’ll still be paying for boiled water bottle refills.

Comments
  1. meshack

    Hiking the Sunrise Poon Hill Trek Near Pokhara in Nepal is my dream event and place

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