A peek at Poon Hill

A peek at Poon Hill

Ramakrishna Upadhya explores Poon Hill, also known as Annapurna panorama circuit, one of the more popular destinations in Nepal 

For the itinerant mountaineers and trekkers, who love to savour the beauty of nature up close, and feel grateful and humbled by its sheer magnificence, there is one tiny nation on the earth which acts like a magnet — Nepal.

There are only 14 mountains in the world which are over 8,000 metres (26,247 ft) above the sea level — which are popularly known as ‘eight-thousanders’ — all of which are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges. Nepal acts as a gateway to eight of these mountains, including Everest, Kanchanjunga and Annapurna.

While mountaineering requires a lot of training and skill development under expert guidance, besides considerable physical agility and endurance, trekking can be taken as a hobby by anyone, of any age, in a reasonable state of fitness with passion for exploring the nature.

There are more than 50 popular trekking destinations in the Pokhara region of Nepal. The duration of the trek may range from three to five days to 15 to 20 days with moderate to reasonably tough options. My friend and former colleague K Subrahmanya and I decided to explore the Poon Hill trek, also known as Annapurna panorama circuit, which is one of the more popular destinations in Nepal. 

It is possible to fly to Kathmandu and then take a short-haul flight to Pokhara, which is the starting point. Instead, we flew to Gorakhpur in the northeastern region of Uttar Pradesh, travelled by road for about four hours to Sanauli on the border with Nepal, before moving over to Bhairava on the other side for overnight stay.


A view of Bhurungdi Khola river.

What I found most intriguing was that, it can hardly be called an international border with hundreds of vehicles and people criss-crossing freely with zero checking. It’s funny that the present central government is talking about preparing a National Register of Citizens to keep the ‘foreigners’ out.

After reaching Pokhara, one can reach out to any one of the innumerable travel agencies to arrange both the Trekking Information Management System (Tims) permit and Annapurna National Park permit which are essential documents on the trekking route. One can also hire a porter who will also act a guide while carrying the heavier luggage.

After a 45 km road journey from Pokhara we reached Nayapul, a small picture postcard town, which is the starting point of the trek. The first day’s programme involved a 10 km walk to Tikhedunga, the first teahouse halt for the night. It traverses through villages and lush green mountains with the Bhurungdi khola (river) offering soothing company most of the way. Though it is supposed to take about five hours to cover the distance, the last stretch is fairly steep and it can take a little longer. 

Tikhedunga has a number of teahouses which offer simple vegetarian meal of roti and dhal-baath and warm bed for the night. The second day is more challenging as from Tikhedunga (1,520 metres), the next destination, Ghorepani, is 12 km away, involving an ascent of 1,360 metres. It would normally take about eight hours of trekking, but our journey was made easier as we were able to hire a jeep to cover the initial 3,000-step ‘killer’ climb from Tikhedunga to Ulleri, saving about three hours.

Ghorepani, which offers the first peek of the magnificent Annapurna and Machpuchare mountains from the rooftop of our teahouse, is the quintessential trekkers’ hub abuzz with activities. The teahouse owners thoughtfully offered a hot shower facility which acted as a refreshing balm for the tired limbs. As the sun went down, the temperature suddenly dipped, making one pull out all the warm clothing and other gear from the luggage. Since the ascent to the Poon Hill summit was scheduled to begin before sunrise, it was early dinner and curfew by 8.30 pm.

Call it the pre-summit nerves or the excitement of reaching the climax of our trekking experience, we were up before the alarms went off at 4.30 am and within the next 20 minutes, joined nearly 500 trekkers heading in one direction. 

With trekking pole acting as supporting anchor for each step and headband flashlight showing the way in pitched darkness, the trekkers almost raced along the steep stairs, halting only for deep breath every 4-5 minutes on the way to the viewing platform. As the emerging dawn painted a kaleidoscope of colours across the sky, we could get short glimpses of the mountains along every bend, fuelling our anticipation.

Once we reached the top, it was an amazing sight much beyond our expectations. The Dhaulagiri range of mountains on the left, the tallest of whom stands at 8,167 metres, is followed


A street in Pokhara.

by Annapurna II and Annapurna south, Nilgiri, Hiunchuli and Machpuchare, each vying with the other in terms of their majestic size and beauty. The first rays of the sun kissing the mountain tips one by one, marking their heights and gradually spreading their golden hew, was indeed a breathtaking sight. After enjoying a hot cup of tea, we slowly and reluctantly bid goodbye to the most spectacular panoramic landscape we had ever seen.

Back in Gorepani, it was time to have breakfast and begin the return journey. The trek involving a continuous descent for about three hours was tough on the knees and ankles, but once we reached Ulleri, we hired a jeep for a bone-rattling five hour journey to Pokhara the same night.

We were able to complete the expedition in three days, but there are a lot of trekkers who return to Pokhara after touching base at Totapani and Ghandruk over the next two days for a more wholesome experience of the picturesque region.

The Poon Hill trek can be done round the year, but in the thick of winter, there might be quite a lot of snow and ice on the trail with the temperature touching minus 15 degree celsius, which makes the trekking very challenging. The best season is from September to November and from February to March.

Even during best of times, one has to pray for a clear sky on summit day, as the presence of clouds can completely rob one of a lifetime experience.

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