By: Katey Freeman
I had never been on a trek before in my life, but arrived in Nepal with a determination to go trekking and experience the wonder which is the beauty of the Himalayas and the abundant wildlife here. So on November 2 I left the city for the adventure of a lifetime – the Mardi Himal Trek.
I met Khadak at 6am in the morning and we took a private car to Kande, where we unloaded our kit and my very first trek got underway. It seems I have a lot to learn about packing. Even though I thought I had taken only “the essentials” my pack seemed much bigger and heavier than his! Arriving at Australian Camp for a cup of divine Nepali tea was amazing, and the view reminded me that I was really trekking in Nepal, and doing something quite amazing. We continued along the trail, which was surrounded by stunning forest and amazing scenery.
We stayed out first night at Archana camp and we were the only people there. It was absolutely magical. I was not sure what to expect with the accommodation at the tea houses, but I did think it would be very basic, and it wasn’t at all. The rooms were lovely and the beds very comfortable with thick duvets to curl up in. We had fried rice for dinner, followed by several cups of hot water-buffalo milk which I became very fond of. The proprietors invited us to eat with them in their kitchen, and the whole experience was very personal as we were welcomed and made to feel like family, not guests. We sat and watched dusk fall over Annapurna South and Annapurna Massif, and watching the snow-capped peak turn pink in the sunset I could not believe I was seeing it with my own eyes. It was a surreal experience for me.
The following morning we had boiled eggs, hot roti & honey and Nepali tea for breakfast. I am reasonably fit, but most of my hiking is done on the flat, so I found the uphill parts of the trek quite challenging but worth every step. I did appreciate having a walking pole which was great to help me keep my balance. I got side-tracked easily by the myriad of colourful butterflies and tiny delicate flowers that I had not seen before, and Khadak was always so patient when I stopped regularly for numerous “photo opportunities” of either the wildlife or the scenery.
That night we made it to Forest Camp, which I immediately fell in love with. The setting is beautiful and the camp is surrounded by forest with Machchhapuchchhre visible through a break in the trees. The weather we had was spectacular and it was lovely to relax in the warmth of the sun after several hours trekking. The sight of 3 water buffalo grazing quietly in front of the tea house was amazing to me – I had never seen them before (except in books) and was quite stunned to watch them. I decided to have chocolate rice pudding for a snack and it was definitely not something I expected to see on the menu! My one weakness in life is my desire for chocolate (usually every day) and it was without doubt, the best chocolate rice pudding I’ve had in my life !
Wandering around the camp Khadak found a large silk nest with 30 or so tiny black caterpillars clinging to it. Every few seconds, all the caterpillars would raise half of their bodies and “wave” in unison. I was enthralled. I did not think I would get to see dancing caterpillars in Nepal! Trekking through rhododendron forest was amazing, I have seen rhodos before but did not realise they grew so big, and it was amazing to me that I was hiking through a forest almost completely comprised of them. The clouds were now visible settled in the valleys below us and the realisation that we had trekked so high took my breath away.
The following day we trekked up to Low Camp, where we had hot milk tea and got to meet several other trekkers from England, Australia, Brazil and Germany. After a quick stop there, we continued on towards Middle Camp (Badal Danda) to stay the night. 10 minutes after we arrived it started to snow. It was much colder up here and during the last hour of the trek we had left the cover of the Rhododendron forest behind, instead passing only the occasional tree. Most of the landscape was now covered in shorter scrub and many clumps of yellow and orange long feathered grasses. The velvety soft broad silver leaves of native poppies grew abundantly between the rocks. Large rocky outcrops became more and more frequent and the wind whistled around the hill tops. The sunset view from the hill behind the camp was spectacular, with clouds swirling in the lower valleys and Pokhara visible in the distance as a tiny collection of pin-pricks of light. The bright orange orb of the sun finally disappearing behind the stormy clouds and the mountainous peaks was incredible. Machchhapuchchhre was stunning to see – the ridges on the peak seemed so sharp that they looked as if they had been carved by hand, not created by nature.
It was at Badal Danda that I discovered the delight of Mars Bar roll. Who knew that one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten would be a Mars Bar wrapped in pastry and cooked? Biting into a soft pile of melted chocolate and pastry was utterly delicious and I convinced myself that I had earned it after spending so many hours hiking. At 7.30 the following morning we left to make the final ascent to High Camp. The trail became rockier and the views more spectacular. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had a fine clear day again. Looking back to where we had come from, and looking forward to see where we were going was amazing. I couldn’t believe that I had covered so much ground and was at such an elevation – it was a huge achievement for me. High Camp has truly spectacular views, and just before the camp we came upon a large group of donkeys saddled with bamboo baskets. One donkey was particularly smart and rolled on the ground to rid himself of both his baskets before wandering off to graze. I decided I deserved another Mars Bar roll for dessert, after a fabulous plate of tuna and cheese pasta. I’m not sure if it was all the walking I was doing, but I have never in my life tasted food so delicious. Every meal was spectacular and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.
The plan was to leave at 4am the following day in order to see the sunrise from the view point. That evening, while testing my head torch, it stopped working. We changed the batteries but to no avail, it turns out I must have bought a dud. So in the morning Khadak lent me his head torch, which amazed me because that early in the morning it was totally and utterly pitch black and the ground was incredibly rocky and uneven. So not only can he obviously see in the dark, but he never loses his balance either! A great skill indeed to have as a guide! I found this section of the trek really difficult, and felt like I was wading through glue as several other trekkers passed me on the trail. But I was determined to do it. And eventually I made it to the top, in time to see a truly fantastic sunrise, highlighting the cloud filled valleys below us and illuminatingMachchhapuchchhre and Annapurna South in a pink glow as the sun hit the snow. There was the option to continue on to the Mardi Himal base camp which initially I was unwilling to do because I was already proud of my achievement. But the great thing about meeting so many people when trekking is the camaraderie and support that people offer each other, so with just a little encouragement from Khadak and the others, I decided to keep going. Arriving at the base camp which is at 4500 metres just blew my mind. I never, ever thought I would ever be able to achieve that sort of elevation without the assistance of a plane, a helicopter or a stretcher! We spent nearly an hour just enjoying the view, watching helicopters fly in the valleys BELOW us and having a rather meditative spiritual experience. Leaving so early in the morning was a perfect idea, because the clouds started to roll in and out around the peaks and by the time we left several trekkers were just arriving. We were definitely there at the best time of the day. Heading back down to High Camp, we packed up our gear and high-tailed it down to Forest Camp for the night. That was a 14 hour day for us, but it was my decision because I like Forest Camp so much that was where I wanted to spend the night.
The following day we hiked down to Landruk, which is a spectacularly beautiful village full of blooming hibiscus and a vast number of flowers I have never seen before. Once again the weather was perfect and stopping for lunch at Landruk was lovely, with amazing scenery to sit and gaze upon while we ate. Later that afternoon we arrived in New River Camp and had dinner with a lovely Scottish couple. I thought that a bird had got caught in the restaurant because we could see something very large flying into the walls, but it turned out to be a moth. The largest I’ve seen in my life, and incredibly beautiful. It was the length of my hand from my wrist to my fingertips. You don’t get moths that big where I come from! The following morning we headed to the Jhinu hot springs and had an hour and a half of relaxing beside the river in the natural hot spring. It was a perfect end to the trek – soothing sore muscles and very peaceful and beautiful.
After walking to a local town we caught the bus into Pokhara. My trekking package included one day in Pokhara which is really beautiful. I visited both the World Peace Stupa and the Pokhara Mountain Museum, then had 2 days in Chitwan National Park going on a dugout canoe river trip, a jeep tour of the park, visited the gharial breeding centre and went for a guided jungle walk. The following day I took the bus trip from Chitwan back to Kathmandu.
Everything was arranged for me, all the accommodation, meals, bus tickets and day tours. It was the trip of a lifetime and I would recommend it to anyone. A fantastic way to see some of the worlds’ most incredible scenery and wildlife.