The trekking between the villages of Tikhedunga and Ghorepani is a beguiling experience for the senses. With prayer flags, stone stacks and shrines dotted throughout the forest, it feels as though the stories told about forest spirits is more alive here than anywhere else.
Overnight, the clouds rolled in and by morning the surrounding mountains were enveloped in a dense white mist. Despite staring pointedly at the trail we would be trekking up that day it was impossible to gain a clear view of its path as it zigzagged up the sheer side of the cliff.
Still, the cool weather was a joyous welcome for some of our group, who were nursing hangovers after last night’s celebrations. Tenderly strapping on their boots, we all sat down together for a carb-loading breakfast session, before heading up into the misty clouds.
One of the scariest things when trekking in Nepal was crossing the bridges. Usually my fear of heights is reserved for airplanes, but crossing a wire bridge that wobbled beneath your feet with the sound of rapids crashing below is enough to put some sense into your head. On the bright side though we crossed so many of these bridges, including rickety, dilapidated wooden bridges, that within the first day I managed to quash my fear.
Over the next several hours, we climbed up flights of stairs, each more steep than the other. Constructed from great slabs of rock hewn into the mountainside, their uneven size and slipperiness from the mist meant every lunge up the next step required concentration to stop ourselves slipping and falling down the mountainside. Which was difficult, given the beauty scenery that was unfolding beneath us.
Pausing for a breath, we all turned and looked down; the myriad of waterfalls and rapids twisted and turned below, creating an elegance normally found in cursive writing. The villages we passed through earlier could still be seen, the bright blues and whites of the buildings’ tin roofs clashing with the dark green mountains and rice paddy fields surrounding them, in a way that was pleasing to the eye. And the air; each breath was brisk and clean, like a deep intake on a cold winter’s day, the kind that chills your lungs and spreads to your toes but makes you feel purified and restored on the inside.
Our efforts climbing up the hill all morning was rewarded with a lunch of soup and Dal Bhat at a hilltop restaurant. We were now firmly up in the clouds; any views were enjoyed earlier that morning were clouded over, bringing a chill on everyone as we ate. Presently a pack of three dogs and a cat trotted over to investigate, and hopefully glean a few morsels from us.
Open hilltops soon transformed into dense, dark green jungle, with foliage so thick only slivers of light managed to penetrate the blanket of leaves that had descended above us. The misty clouds continued to creep in however, giving the surroundings an eerie atmosphere. Tree roots and long beige vines twisted and contorted with one another into monstrous shapes, and the chirps of birds, which had been a constant background noise all morning, fell silent. Only the draping of ragged prayer flags, aged through the years by the adverse weather of the mountains, discerned to us that we were on the trail.
After trudging along for several hours in hushed, whispered conversation, our group stopped as the trail came to a halt in front of a stone platform. A slab of rock bearing rings of various brown hues, along with designs in pink and yellow paint, was placed in the middle, while small stacks of stones were haphazardly placed around the platform. Falling silent, we stopped and looked at the scene in mild curiosity, as if waiting for its meaning to suddenly appear. Peering left and right, it seemed no one was around to ask, and with the light fading we continued our march on to Ghorepani.
The next monument we came across featured a large grey tablet propped up on a stone platform. Runes were scribbled across the entire face of the stone in a language indiscernible to everyone, and this time we asked Narendra as to their meaning without hesitation.
“It’s hard to translate into English, but for some people you see, the people that live in these mountains they believe the gods, and urm, I guess you could call them spirits, live here,” Narendra explained.
“They believe they live in these mountains, and if you are crossing through and want a blessing or to give thanks, that you should bring prayer flags, or stack rocks around what you would call a shrine, for a blessing. Just to let them know you’re here.”
Looking around, with clouds of mist lazily circling around the twisted branches, and the shadows and greenery mixing together in the surroundings to create a murky backdrop, it was easy to see how people could believe gods and spirits inhabited these forests. A few of us scrambled around, looking for rocks to stack, and after some hasty building we moved on, eager to reach Ghorepani.
A blue and white arch announced our arrival to the small village of Ghorepani, but our rest stop was still a distance away.
“Our teahouse has the best views of the mountains, the extra distance is worth it, “ Narendra promised.
Climbing up the last steep stairs of the day with the rest of Ghorepani below us, we turned and wandered around the large viewing platform and entrance to the teahouse. Gazing uneasily at the surrounding landscape encased in clouds, it seemed my dream of looking at the Himalayas would be dashed. Keeping my fingers crossed for better weather tomorrow, we brushed the dirt off of our boots and entered the teahouse.
While Narendra might have been wrong about the views, he was definitely correct about the teahouse. In the centre sat a wood burning oven, puffing out heat and emitting the pleasant scent of burning wood. Clothes were draped on hangers along the roof of the stove, and the brightly lit communal area, complete with a myriad of benches and chairs, gave the place a cheery, homely atmosphere.
A short while later and everyone was lounged around the stove or dining table, playing card games and chatting animately while cupping steaming mugs of coffee and tea. Narendra came and sat with us all, and after a short interval announced a group meeting.
“Right everyone, we need to be up and ready at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Yes yes, I know, it’s early, but we will get the best sunrise views of the Himalayan range, and enough time at Poon Hill.”
On that note everyone turned to one another, with grins from ear to ear, and eyes bright with excitement. A rumble of clouds alerted us to the gathering storm outside, and we watched as dark grey clouds loomed over the horizon, and turned around with uneasy looks tempering our excitement for tomorrow.
I spent 12 days on Earthbound Expeditions’ Nepal Mountain and Tiger Tour, with our guide Narendra Timalsina, whom I would highly recommend. For more information about the tour, please click here.
I spent one night at the Nice View Point Lodge in Ghorepani, altitude 2850M, which I would also highly recommend.