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Hike through the Himalaya's while giving back to the Nepalese community. Lisa Young got her hiking boots on...

In the early morning darkness I clamber into a taxi that will transport me from the peaceful lakeside town of Pokhara to Naya Phul, a gateway to Nepal’s Annapurna Range.

Over the next few days, I will explore ?a new community trek route that passes through the spectacular Annapurna mountains to Kopra Ridge. This route focuses on what’s known as ‘socially conscious trekking’, which means we ?will stay in lodges that help support ?the community.

The car climbs slowly out of Pokhara and 90 minutes later I arrive in Naya Phul, the start of my trek. The first part of the trail climbs deceivingly slowly, then there is an abrupt change of pace; the next two days require me to climb a steep stone staircase and rolling hills passing through small villages, forests and terraced fields to the villages of Birenthanti and Ulleri.

Mule trains descend past me – a string of spindly-legged donkeys transporting ?huge loads of goods up and down the mountain.



I stop regularly to take photos and check out the views, but find myself focusing ?on my feet rather than the spectacular scenery. It’s hot at this lower elevation, about 30-degrees during the day, but it cools as we edge towards Kopra Ridge, ?the highest point on this trek. On ?average I’m walking six hours daily, covering up to 7kms, depending on ?the mountain’s incline.

My goal today is Swata (2450m), ?a tiny village. From Ulleri my uphill slog continues for four hours, then the route leads me over a stone wall and through a small farmyard. This is where the trek changes: this area has very few tourists as it has only recently opened for tourism. For the next four days I will stay in ?lodges run by local communities.

Funds raised by local villagers and donations from trekking businesses, such as Imaginative Traveller, have enabled the construction of the lodges. This pioneering concept creates village rather than private ownership, and profits from trekkers who
stay at the lodges will contribute towards various community projects.

The scenery here is lush and green, ?with ingenious contour farming and immaculately cared-for terraced fields. ?The ingenuity of the people here who have cultivated this land and managed to bring the terraced fields up to such elevations is to be admired.

A lot of thought, too, has gone into the construction of the lodge – its rustic, spacious rooms are basic-yet-clean and have great views.


I shower under hot water heated by recently installed solar panels. There is a big storm outside and there’s no power, so I dine on Momos (Tibetan dumplings) by candlelight.

The next day, we make our way to Upper Chistibung. It takes five-hours and 4km ?of steep trekking to get there. I navigate thick rhododendron forests and rocks until I reach my home a small herder’s settlement at the top of a ridge. This is my home for the night. It’s clean, comfortable and well-constructed. Again there’s no electricity, but the herders charge their mobiles by using small portable solar panels.

I dine daily on Dal Bhat – the staple diet in Nepal, generally served twice daily and consisting of rice, runny lentils and vegetable curry. Lodge menus are loaded with high carb meals from pasta, rice dishes, noodles and dumplings, with an increase in price the higher the elevation.

Six steep hours of zig-zagging trekking ?fill the next day, as we climb up to Kopra Ridge (3870m). We’re now above the tree line, a less rugged setting. The best way to tackle this leg is to ascend slowly, take breaks and drink plenty of water.

At the top of the ridge I’m greeted ?with widescreen panoramic views of ?the mountains, with Annapurna South ?just 6kms away and Fang and Niligiri to the north. Across the Kali Gandakhi Valley – the deepest valley in the world – the western skyline is totally dominated by the Dhaulagiri Himal.

Kopra Ridge lodge is the highlight of the community trek and profits have contributed to a secondary school in the nearby village of Nangi. It’s a lot cooler up here, avout 10 degrees. I huddle by a fire ?fas I wait for hot Dal Bhat to arrive. The ridge is home to a yak herd. Watching more than 100 of the animals coming down the ridge with the snow-dusted Annapurna mountains and an incandescent orange-and-red sunset behind them is nothing short of spectacular.

The following morning I rise with the sun and am soon traversing the ridge along a narrow path with steep drops and rocky terrain to Bayeli Kharka (3448m) 3kms away. The trail rises ?and falls all the way. My latest lodge boasts awesome views of the sky-scraping Dhaulagiri Himal, with Dhaulagiri towering 8167m high above me and the 6000m deep Kali Gandaki Gorge below.

The last two days of the trek descend sharply from 3448m to 2100m, a drop ?of 1,348m straight downhill for 7kms over knotted tree roots, past gushing waterfalls, across old landslides and through humid jungle. The temperature increases with each step I take. Down and down I go, through stunning scenery until the beautiful Gurung village of Gandruk is reached. The mountains ?still stand out with Annapurna South (7237m) Machhapuchhare (6993) ?and Gangapurna (7455m) standing to attention ?before me.

Returning to Naya Phul, ?I head straight down ?a stone staircase through small farms. In contrast to the serene and peaceful mountains, ?I return to Pokhara ?and onwards to the organised chaos of Kathmandu.

Essential information

When to go: During the dry season, between October and May. October and November are the best months with consistently warm days, but they are also busiest. December to February is quieter but can become cold at altitude.

Getting there:
Fly from London to Kathmandu via Delhi with Air India, Jet Airways or Kingfisher Airlines. Flights cost from £700.

See:
welcomenepal.com

Trekking tips

  • Travel insurance is highly recommended before setting off.
  • Take plenty of small Nepali Rupee notes as lodges struggle to find change.
  • Avoid trekking alone in remote areas, especially if you are a woman.

  • Carry a dry-bag or plastic rubbish bags to protect your gear from rain.
  • Take two water bottles. Avoid buying bottled mineral water. Instead pay a few rupees to the lodge staff for freshly boiled water – let it cool over night.
  • Tips are discretionary, but the going rate is £2 - £3 for each porter, Sherpa and guide per day from each trekker.
  • Trek at your own pace, it’s not a race and your body needs time to adjust to altitude.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and prevent altitude sickness.
  • Be polite and courteous to locals and fellow trekkers, ‘Namaste’ is the local greeting for ‘hello’.
  • Always ask before taking photos of people. You wouldn’t like a camera shoved in your face, would you?

Kathmandu

Kathmandu is fun, inexpensive and lively. Thamel is the main tourist area, ?with its narrow bustling lanes that burst with small souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Duck into one of the many cafes and restaurants for some Momo ?(local dumplings).
Take a visit to the magnificent Bodhinath Stupa, the Buddhist heart of Kathmandu, where pilgrims and Tibetan refugees flock.



The Tibetan Refugee Centre is nearb – here you can purchase goods and know that proceeds help support the community. Nearby, at the holy Hindu temple Pashupatinath, on the banks of the Bagmati River, it’s not unusual to witness a cremation ?in progress.

  • Visit Dwarika’s Hotel in Batisputalli – it’s a living tribute to the architectural and cultural heritage of Nepal. Dine al fresco in the beautiful oasis of gardens – a rarity in Kathmandu. See dwarikas.com.
  • Bhaktipur is a great place to soak up local history and culture, with an overnight visit to nearby Nagarkot for amazing sunset and sunrise views over the Himalayas.
  • An Everest scenic flight (about US$75 per person) will give you spectacular views of the majestic mountain peaks.

Pokhara

Pokhara is a peaceful sanctuary, a bolthole from the chaos and noise of the big smoke that is Kathmandu.

  • Pack a picnic and spend a relaxing afternoon in a rowing boat on Phewa Tal (lake), visit the small island and temple in the middle of the lake.
  • Take an Ultra-Lite Plane ride into the mountains, about $161 for 30 minutes. See aviaclubnepal.com
  • Browse the shops and dine lakeside or stop for coffee and cake in one ?of the many bakeries.
  • Visit a real bat cave to see thousands of live horseshoe bats clinging to the cave ceiling, Chameri Gufa, NRs10
  • Visit nearby Sarangkot, spend the night and take in the stunning sunset views of the Annapurna Himalaya.


» Imaginative Traveller’s (0845 564 9868) 11-day Annapurna Community Lodge Trek tour starts from £495pp land only, including accommodation (six nights’ lodge, four nights’ hotel/guesthouses), transport, trekking staff services, porters and a tour leader. Flights available from £619pp.


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Ethical hiking in Annapurna, Himalayas, Nepal
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