Pokhara, a valley of natural beauty is beautifully located on the shadow of Annapurna Himalaya ranges. In no other place do mountains rise so quickly. In this area, within 30 km, the elevation rises from 1000 m to over 7500 m. The Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu ranges, each with peaks over 8000 m, can be seen from the valley.
Annapurna Treks including Base Camp and Circuit trekking are very popular in Nepal. Seventy per cent of the visitors who come to Nepal travel to the Annapurna areas near by beautiful Pokhara. The Annapurna treks will be even more interesting in spring as the whole forest along the trail turns red, pink and white with rhododendron flowers. This wonder trip can be done anytime of the year except during the monsoons [July thru August].
The trail takes the visitors through fascinating traditional villages of Nepal’s ethnic communities of the Gurung, Magar, and Thakali who will greet you very warmly if one cares to stop for a conversation. The hike continues through dense rhododendron forest with towering snowy peaks in the background.
The return walk is even more fascinating as the trek winds around different ridges towards Ghorepani, where you behold breathtaking views of an early morning sunrise where a red halo seeps through glistening gaps over the snow capped peaks of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains. The sceneries observed throughout the trek embellish the Himalayan landscape where mind’s eye defines the natural splendor as an experience that can be never elapsed.
Birethanti (1050m) is the root for starting trek in the region. Being very close to Pokhara, there is ACAP office at Birethanti from where entry permit is issued. It is a place pleasant enough to stay by the side of beautiful big streams. This route leads to both Ghorepani to Jomsom and Ghandruk to Chomrong and Annapurna Sanctuary.
Ghorepani (2750m), the famous down pilgrimage, is widely popular to watch the sunrise across a spectacular Himalayan panorama from the summit of Poon Hill (3193m). Poon Hill is situated 450 m above this village. Tens of thousands trekkers pass through Ghorepani to view sun rise from Poon Hill with breathtaking views stretching to Dhaulagiri (8167m) and Annapurna ranges. Poon is a Magar family and the hill was named after them. It is a junction for Ghandruk and Chomrong, and for Jomsom and Muktinath.
Ghandruk (1939m), the picturesque town of slate-roofed Gurung people who are traditionally Buddhist is the headquarters of Annupurna Conservation Area. It gently goes uphill through cultural Gurung hamlets which take you to the foot [Base Camp, 4130m] of Mt. Annapurna, one of the most magnificent peaks in the world. Ghandruk is a kind of Thamel in Kathmandu. There are many hotels and lodges in a traditional way. [There is now an alternative route of journey that begins from Pokhara heading towards Phedi on about 45 minutes drive through Pokhara-Baglung Highway. It gently goes uphill through cultural Gurung villages to a plateau of Ghandruk.]
Jomsom (2710m), capital of Mustang district and there is Nepal Army School of High Altitude Mountain Warfare. It has a small landing and take-off airport. The Mustang Eco Museum, impressive collection of various themes, is well worth a visit. Amchi, a traditional herbal medicine doctor uses the extensive herb garden planted around the museum. The trekking route from Ghorepani to Jomsom passes gracefully through very popular points such as Tatopani (hot water), Lete & Kalopani (black water), Dhaulagiri Ice-Fall, Tukuche, and Marpha. There are very good hotels and resorts available and many more services needed for tourists.
Following Kagbeni, Jharkot and Ranipauwa from Jomsom., Muktinath (3800m), Hindu pilgrimage with walled temple complex of Muktinath (liberating/salvation God), is shrine for both Hindus and Buddhists for centuries. It is the second most holy place in Nepal after Pashupatinath. Beneath the alter in Jwala Mai temple, a nun lifts the grubby curtain to reveal, deep within the cavity, a thin blue flame of natural gas burning from a hole that also emits a trickle of water. Vishnu Temple with its courtyard of 108 brass water spouts stands in the centre of the complex. It is believed that bathing under the freezing water of 108 spouts brings salvation to Hindu. Marme Lhakang, Buddhist temple with the sacred grove of poplars which is said to have sprouted from the walking sticks left by the 84 great magicians on their way to Tibet, is just beyond Vishnu Temple. Gompa Sarwa, another Buddhist shrine also known as Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava was a Buddhist saint who passed in the 8th century leaving his foot prints in a stone outside the temple closure, is very famous.
Chomrong (2170m) is the right place from where we can see Machhapuchhre (Fishtail Peak) as its exact name. The peaks that surround Annapurna Sanctuary look very impressive from Chomrong, an excellent place for relaxing and enjoying the scenery.
Annapurna Sanctuary lies as a natural amphitheater at the location from the top of the trail that begins in Chomrong and follows the Modikhola. This valley is as magical as its name with 10 peaks of 6000-8000m rising from it. Annapurna Base Camp/Chelo Gya (4130m), Machhapuchhre Base Camp/Khili Dung (3700m) and Tharpu Chuli (Tent Peak) Base Camp, are lying magnificently at this area. Three Annapurna peaks, Hiun Chuli and Gangapurna add grace to this area.
Hongde Airport is located at Chame (2670m), district headquarters of Manang district with a large white gate with a corrugated iron roof as an entrance. It has all the trappings of an administrative centre including various services and facilities.
Thurung Phedi (4450m) is a place to stay if you are suffering from the high altitude. This route comes from Manang and leads to Muktinath. The foot of the Thurung literally means one very large lodge and a smaller one below.
Manang (3540m) is a valley from where the views of the Annapurna, Gangapurna and the glacial lake (Tilicho) below it are spectacular. Lamjung, Annapurna II, Annapurna IV, the false peak of Annapurna III and the Gangapurna above the glacier are the peaks from left to right. Some 200 or so flat-roofed houses are tightly packed together with prayer flags on long poles. Manang Gompa is in the centre of Town.
Tilicho lake (4,949 m) is one of the highest lakes in the world. Mountain lakes are known to geographers as “tarns” if they are caused by glacial activity. Tarns are found mostly in the upper reaches of the Himalaya, above 5,500 meters. Due to the extremely mountainous surrounding terrain and the difficulties associated with reaching the area, this lake is rarely visited by outsiders.
Thurung La (5416m), one of the world’s highest passes, lies ahead of Manang. It is the place to take commemorative photograph of themselves. Two peaks – Yakwa Kang (6482m) and Khatung Kang (6488m) – rise up from the saddle of the pass. This is the pass to head towards Muktinath. Views of the mountains lining the Kaligandaki Valley and Dhaulagiri (8167m) are very panoramic.
Besisahar (820m) is the capital of Lamjung district, known as the centre of ethnic cultures. It lies at the end of the road. This district is adjoined to historical Gorkha district which was the beginner of present Nepal. This trek route also reaches to Thurung La Pass.
NAR PHU VALLEY
A fantastic journey in a wild and unexplored area located north of Annapurna: the Nar Phu Valley, adjoined to Tibet. This trek is perfect for travelers who want to discover the Annapurna circuit as well as explore an untouched valley. A rough and wild trek, this trek takes you to the exotic Nar Phu valley that lies in the remote corner of the Annapurna region. Opened to visitors only in the year 2003, the Nar Phu valley remains untouched by modernity. The inhabitants, who roughly comprises of about 350 Nepalese Tibetans, have retained their age old practices. Most of them are engaged in yak herding and farming.
Aptly named, ‘The Last Resort’ is the final resort on the Nepal side before crossing over to Tibet. The resort can be reached by crossing the metal suspension bridge built at a height of 160metres over the Bhote Koshi River.
On our return journey from Zhangmu we dropped in at the resort. We made our way one by one on the across the gently swaying bridge. Some kids ran down from the other side. I held my breath as the bridge swung (or was it just my imagination?). When I looked down, the river seemed to be flowing faraway. But obviously, I was looking down from a height of 160 meters! It was like looking down from the sky and I felt giddy. I gripped the railings on both the sides and slowly made my way looking straight ahead.
You enter the grounds of the resort as soon as you step off the bridge. Welcome to the popular haunt of adventure sports, the home of the famous Bungy Nepal and Canyon swing, the world’s highest giant swing where you get to swing at an arc of 240m at 150 km/hr. ‘The Last Resort’, a brainchild of Kiwi David Allerdice and Nepali Bishnu Neupane was established in 1999. Before the resort opened for business the duo initiated the construction of the bridge, employing world class engineers. The bridge, 166 meters long and 160 meters high, took three months to complete and was built using Swiss technology.
The very exciting bungy jump and canyon swing is done from this bridge. The building of the bridge has had a positive impact on the development of the local economy and infrastructure. Previously the local villagers had to walk five hours to cross the river gorge. Now they can do it in a couple of minutes.
There is lush greenery all around. Nestled in a cliff top gorge in serene and peaceful surrounding, high above the Bhote Koshi river, the resort also serves as an ideal weekend getaway for Kathmanduites seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. For accommodation the resort has put up spacious and roomy safari tents. The resort offers an array of exciting outdoor activities to suit your needs. For those seeking some adrenaline rush there is bungy jumping and canyon swing, rock climbing, kayaking, rafting, hiking and mountain biking. If you just want to relax and laze around, the resort has a spa where you can rejuvenate your tired senses.
Coming back to our visit, we made our way through stone steps and came to the Karma Bar. Built with stone and wood, the bar is quite spacious and tastefully decorated. The crowd gathered there was an eclectic mix of Australians, Americans, Israelis, French, Spanish and Nepalese. Most of them were there to do the bungy and canyon swing. At around 11 am, a guy came to brief the crowd. He began by saying that anyone whose weight is less then 40kilos can’t do the bungy or canyon swing. He told them the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ while ‘bungeeng’ and ‘swinging’. After the briefing, the participants’ names were called out and their weights taken.
After that, the first group was ready to take the plunge. No traffic is allowed on the bridge during the sessions. The gates were locked and the first jumper was ready to bungy. He stood on the edge and at the final count of the jumpmaster, took the plunge screaming ‘bungeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’!
If you want to try any of these activities, you can contact:
The Last Resort Sales Office, PO Box 14431, Thamel, Kathmandu
Bird Watching in Nepal With more than 850 species of birds, Nepal is a veritable paradise for birdwatchers. A diverse topography and climate has resulted in a variety of habitats within the country, a home to over 8% of the total bird population. In the deep jungles of the Terai and the Kosi Tappu barrage, among the thick rhododendron and Oak forest of the middle hills and the windswept plateaus of the Himalayas you will always be greeted with a birdsong: the chirps, the cheeps, the twitters and the hoots. Grab your binoculars and head for the hills! In Kathmandu Valley The most popular bird watching spot is the Phulchoki hill, situated 20 km south- east of Kathmandu, with some 265 species recorded to date. Over here you can sight the babblers, warblers, tits, thrushes, minivets, woodpeckers, eagles and many migrant birds. Godavari, lying at the foot of Phulchoki hill, where the Royal Botanical Garden is situated, records over 100 species of birds including the lesser racket-tailed drongo, Tibetan siskin and the spotted forktail.
The wetlands and open fields inside the valley make up a diverse habitat for many species of birds. The banks of the Manohara river on the way to Bhaktapur, and the Bagmati river, which flows into the valley from Shivapuri hill and out through Chobhar Gorge, are good places for watching waders and waterfowls. Taudaha, a lake on the way to Dakshinkali,south of Kathmandu, also attracts flocks of migrant birds.
The Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve situated 11km to the north of Kathmandu, is another very good location. Nagarjun Royal Forest situated 5 km from Kathmandu on the way to Kakani from Balaju is also renowned for its blue magpies, kalij pheasants, Bonelli’s eagles, great Himalayan barbets, Forktails, Redstarts and Kingfishers. Gokarna forest, 7 km to the northeast of Kathmandu, boasts of the speckled mountain thrush, orange-headed ground-thrush, brown wood owl and the white-bellied yuhina among other colorful varieties. Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
The Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is renowned for being one of the best locations for birding. The smallest (175 sq km) and easternmost reserve in Nepal, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve lies north-east of the convergence of the Sapt Koshi and Trijuga Khola rivers. During monsoon (May to September) the flow of the river becomes torrential and covers most of the floodplain, while during the dry season, many flat, sandy islands are exposed. The habitat is a combination of scrub grassland and deciduous riverine forest, with over 280 species of birds recorded so far. See Swamp Francolins, White Ibis, Storks, Lesser Coucal, Striated Marsh Warbler, Black Bellied Tern, Imperial Eagle, Pied and Marsh Harrier, Common Quail, Bengal floricans (Eupodotis Bengalensis), and many other exotic and migratory waterfowl not found elsewhere in Nepal. . Chitwan National Park Chitwan is rich in wildlife. The Chitwan National Park is the ultimate destination for wildlife enthusiasts. With over 255 species of birds recorded, among them, many species of parakeets, the Blue-Throat thrush, Long-tailed Nightjar, Indian Peafowl, Great Barbet, red-billed blue magpie and Tickell’s red-breasted blue flycatcher, the park offers much for the serious birdwatchers. Bardia National park Bardia National park situated in the far West of Nepal is also a popular destination for bird watching. Covered by sal forest riverine and grass lands, a boat ride on the slow current of the Karnali River provides you with an opportunity to view the birds, including Ruddy Shelduck, darters, Brahminy kites, brown headed gulls, cormorants, oriental pied hornbills, , cinnaon bitterns, orioles and peacocks. The Annapurna Conservation Area The Annapurna Conservation Area supports a remarkable biodiversity, with 441 recorded species of birds, including the spiny babbler. The bird habitat ranges from the sub-tropical lowlands towards Pokhara in the south of ACA to dry sub-alpine conditions above the tree-line towards the North. Crimson Horned Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant ,Cheer Pheasant ,Kalij Pheasant are some species of pheasants seen around the conservation area.
In Pokhara and Fewa Lakeside you get to see Ibisbills, Wallcreepers, Brown Dippers, Green Magpies, Lesser Raquet Tailed Drongos along walking tails in the sub tropical forest and aquatic species during a relaxing boating trip
The Kali Gandaki valley is also a major migration pathway in the autumn, when 40 species, including demoiselle cranes , can be seen around Jomsom and Tukuche. Migrating West about this time further South around Kaare and Dhampus are about 20 identified species of eagle and other birds of prey. The most commonly observed are: Bearded Vulture and the Golden eagle.