The bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara felt very long, with its bumpy roads.
Note to travellers: one might pick a certain bus line, but you never know what the actual service will be like (e.g., met a couple who paid for the same bus line but way less options and creakier bus). We used Greenline, which is said to be the oldest, most established, but seemingly, most overpriced of all the options. There is a new line offering “airplane seats” on the same route now, but we did not use them so cannot comment. Also a quick note, the buses advertise “direct service”, yet there are a lot of stops (e.g., picking and dropping people off), and this seems typical and makes the trip longer.
Pokhara is a great base for doing short or long treks, or just lounging around away from the bustle of Kathmandu. It is the gateway to all trekking in the Annapurna circuit, with the imposing mountains setting the backdrop for the town (when you can see them). Tourism is the main industry and there were a staggering number of hotels, hostels, trekking shops, and restaurants along its main strip, which runs along a beautiful lake. We spontaneously booked a place called Global Inn, which turned out to be a great budget hotel. The room had enough space and a great breakfast (food kept coming) and an extremely warm and family-feeling hotel. The hot water was a bit inconsistent, which was a slight drawback but seems normal in Nepal. The manager helped create our trekking route to Poon Hill and advised not to get a guide (in retrospect we should have hired a porter as the trek was steeper, longer, and tougher than we expected).
Note to travellers: doing the trek on your own will cost about ¼ the price as with a tour; some people also just hired a porter; there are lots of different options. We wanted to take our time and take pictures so we opted to go on our own, however, if you are a bit older like us, not used to trekking, or not in shape we strongly recommend you hire a porter. They are inexpensive, you are supporting the local economy, and you will enjoy the trek so much more.
Poon Hill Trek (circle route):
Day 1 - Drive (taxi) to the starting point village, Nayapul, and then trek up and up and up (3400 steps straight up, gaining 1000 meters in elevation in 3 or 4 very tough kilometers) to Ulleri. The views are ok, travelling through many small villages and then stairs seemingly forever. The first hotel we saw was heaven to us and we took it (they gave us the room for free, as long as we ate there – no problem for us). We woke up to amazing views of the mountains from our hotel.
Day 2 - Next day Ulleri to Ghorepani still had us climbing, but we had some even terrain in the forests. The views on this day were much nicer, with pretty forests, waterfalls, viewpoints and rest stops. Same deal in Ghorepani, if you eat at the hotel you can get a very cheap overnight rental price (we stayed at Nice View). Saw some grey monkeys, and many different hiking terrains. Ghorepani was pretty cold though, and the many blankets helped at the hotel. The temperature in your room at night will fall to around 5 to 10 C, which is great for my mother (J), but a bit cold for most people.
Day 3 - The third day started at Ghorepani (eventually toward Tadapani). This was the base for the Poon Hill Trek. We started our trek to Poon Hill at 5am to reach the top (3210 metres) by sunrise, along with about 80 other people or so and a steady stream of headlamps. Some people were effected by altitude at this height and turned around. Still, it did not feel crowded, and there was a lot of space to take pictures of the mountain ranges. It is very cold on the top waiting for the sun to rise (around 0), but there is a little cafe that sells hot drinks in metal cups to warm you up. We were lucky the day before and that day the sky was very clear and the sunrise and mountains were perfectly visible. The time of season is usually cloudy (like most days have been in Pokhara); so we were pretty happy to have a clear sky after all that climbing! This day involved a climb up to Poon Hill, a climb down, and then a climb back up (same elevation, 3200 m) to eventually get to Tadapani. Don’t believe the arrow that says Tadapani is 3 hours away from Ghorepani (maybe for a local’s hiking pace), it’s more like 6 hours, or more, if you take a lot of pictures. The scenery for this day of hiking was amazing. Beautiful clear views of the mountains the entire time we climbed out of Ghorepani, which helped to make the second climb more manageable accompanied by the sweet smell of wild Jasmine. The second half of the day travelled through beautiful lush forest. The last hour was a climb to Tadapani and had little signage, but we finally found it. There were only 8 options for hotels there, and picked a newer built hotel.
Day 4 –Tadapani to Ghandruk/Kimche/Not Sure?
This day was shorter, but finding the actual road to a city took a bit of hunting. The hike was mostly down with beautiful forest views, waterfalls, and following river and gorge. The second and third day of the hike also had amazing huge Rhododendron forests, which were about 20% in bloom as we hiked. The trees in bloom were breath-taking and we can’t even imagine how beautiful this hike would be in a month when they are all in full bloom. Finally, reaching somewhere around Ghandruk/Kimche we found a road and were hoping for a vehicle to get us back to Pokhara (bus, jeep). On the way we met a lovely couple (Alex and Jessica) who we ended up sharing the last day of the trek and the jeep ride back. The jeep was also shared with a friendly and informative Nepalese family. This worked out well, except for the extremely bumpy roads – outrageously bumpy. We all reached Pokhara by dinner time, with time to recharge and relax.
Travellers Note: Imagine the bumpiest road you have ever driven on in your life. Now imagine that a road crew of 1000 men have been sent to this road to dig potholes for one month. This is what the main highways in Nepal feel like, not to mention the non-main roads. If you have back issues or sensitive stomachs, then flying is the way to go (between the main cities). The main highway literally has 3 foot deep water crossings and continuous bumps and holes which are 3-5 feet deep. Expect to have all of your major organs re-organized on any bus, taxi, or jeep trip.
The next day we ended up changing hotels because our old bodies really required some consistent hot water after that journey. We randomly found Kuti Resort, which delivered all that, plus a heated pool. Again, the Nepalese people are so sweet and were fine with us changing places. We really notice the sense of calm and peace with so many Nepalese people we met so far. It seems there is a lack of greed or competitiveness (an attitude of “what will be will be”), which makes the atmosphere so welcoming and warm. This is such a great feeling to be surrounded in. Another day trip we did in Pokhara was climbing up to the Peace Pagoda, which has a lovely history and an amazing air of calm and serenity at the top of a mountain with beautiful views of Pokhara, the lake, and Annapurna range on a clear day. Also we did a random hike to a new Buddha statue in the hills (so new we had to tell some locals about it).
Of course, nothing is ever perfect and we (Glen more so) was hit by food poisoning the last day of our stay in Pokhara. Stick to established restaurants on the strip to be safe (this was a first attempt at semi-street food and it did not go well). The hotel staff helped a lot, and made sure Glen got medicine (even spoke to a doctor who had medicine delivered to us free of charge). Unfortunately, this cancelled Glen’s mountain bike adventure that day. On a positive note, Glen lost 5 pounds in 24 hours (street meat diet)
Nevertheless we managed to get to our next bumpy bus ride to Chitwan the next day.