Nepal quickly struck me as a country where my road or touring bike should be left behind and I must proceed by foot. Here in the foothills of the Himalayas, steep narrow paths twist up into the forests linking traditional villages stuck in time, set against a unfathomable, soaring skyline of the highest peaks in the world.
These are places only accessed by the porters busy downloading local produce to the markets, on paths that have been unchanged for centuries.
It was a wet day in Pokhara when I met my wife, it was a rather anti climatic moment of drenched GoreTex not like the rainy scene from a Hugh Grant movie, but we did bump into each other on a street corner like it was fate. It was the first time we had seen each other since Marion got lazy and stopped cycling in Georgia and I heroically carried on cycling to Kazakhstan 🙂
But there was no time for swapping our many travel tales from her trip to India nor from my riding, because we wanted to get out there and start exploring the Himalayan mountains. In Pokhara we by chance discovered a new community based trekking route called Mohare Dande. This route sounded promising in terms of being a quiet, non touristic trek through picture book Nepalese villages, offering panoramic views of the high Himalaya scenery. We debated getting a local guide but the track seemed clear enough and the map we bought appeared decent so we vowed to go it alone unless the going got tricky through the dense jungle.
We had a quick check of a couple of different weather forecasts and these showed the weather was going to be getting worse, but then clear up. The tail end of a typhoon was going to hit Nepal so the lower altitude on this trek combined with us wanting to escape the crowds on the popular trails, made Mohare Dande seem a good plan. After later learning the extent of devastation and sadly death that this storm caused just a few KMs north on the Annapurna circuit we were glad to have decided to play it safe.
We picked up a few last minute supplies like Indian Digestive biscuits, Bombay mix, dried chilli spiced fruit and dried fried lentils, before booking a bus to the town of Beni.
The trek technically starts up the river a bit from Beni but we decided to extend it and leave from where the bus stopped rather than rent a Jeep for another 4km. The bus journey felt a bit sketchy to me but in hindsight, it was relatively good when compared with what was still to come in Nepal!
After crossing the raging river on a high and narrow suspension bridge, squeezing past heavily loaded locals, we walked uphill on a decent path. It wasn’t long before we had our first realisation that the map was not the best, instead of navigating directly using it, we assumed it as more indicative, something needing to be supplemented by just asking the locals! We were soon on the main inter village highway: an ancient stone stepped path weaving like a dark snake through rice paddies.
These steps were seriously steep and went on for miles and miles. They represented the only link between most of the hill villages, so we passed locals carrying everything from plastic piping to sacks of insanely heavy rice all up the steep slope to Bhanskkarka and beyond.
In Bhankskarka we got a feel of how the trek worked: basically an Australian charity had helped set up a community dining hall in a few villages, these were on land donated by locals and built by locals at minimal cost.
They had nice set menus with a decent variety of locally sourced dishes. At least one villager, but normally many more would help cook and the profits were shared. The dining hall was also the hub where a home stay could be quickly arranged, the bigger places had beds attached to the village dining hall too.
There were no commercial tea house lodges, like those found on the popular treks. We were assigned a pretty little room in a home up the hill, the young village doctor kindly acted as translator for us when we arrived, he seemed pretty bored but it must be tough here at times, the only evacuation is by stretcher down all those steps. We received a fresh marigold flower necklace and hot lemon tea.
They were trying hard to be super hospitable, an indicator of how few tourists were passing this way. We also had fresh guavas while we waited under the starlit sky for dinner to be ready. The food was all local, freshly picked and wholesome, something we enjoyed all the way along the trek. I would say organic but apparently they like the odd chemical spray! The plastic piping we passed was being used to keep the endless local mandarin trees healthy, part of an irrigation project that another charity had organised.
The next stop was Nangi a bigger village on the map, we again just followed the main village path traversing on narrow steps in the jungle along a dramatic extremely steep mountain face. High above us was a cliff that has featured in a BBC documentary about the local honey climbers. The locals told us they use hemp ropes to abseil down and collect wild honey combs that gets produced here, sounds idyllic but the combination of weak rope and angry bees makes it pretty dangerous!
We passed old temples, stone stupas and raging white water streams in the jungle here. The birds were also fantastic, such colours and variety that I had no hope identifying anything but the larger wild pheasants and the eagles soaring, oh and the standard house sparrow that lives in the jungles here as well as the roof tops of Suffolk too! It was here that the locals were most busy collecting the hay from the meadows, it was crazy how much each person could carry.
We met a fascinating ex British Army Ghurka in Nangi, who recounted tales of slashing bandits in the Malaysian jungle and living in Singapore and Hong Kong, most of his friends now lived in the less than glamorous Aldershot! He ran a plant nursery here, that was British funded, then Japanese but now Nepalese so money was tighter, but he had some interesting plants.
The approach to Mohare Dande community lodge was magical as wisps of cloud swirled around us dotted by a gigantic Black Rumped vultures or an Indian Eagle. Sadly the full view from the top was hidden by menacing clouds, but we would see it unveiled in the morning.
We spent the evening with the lodge host and a local Yak herder, we were the only guests yet again. The normal host was the guys brother and he was away, so as a result the food wasn’t amazing but it was fresh and supplemented by Raikse the local home brew liquor. We had our first Mustang coffee that I was taught how to make by the local yak herder: First fry up yak milk curd, then add sugar until it went brown, add instant coffee to the mixture, then pour in the toxic Raikse until hot. It was not to everyone’s taste but I liked it, and so did our host who got friendly but incomprehensibly drunk on it. Luckily the cow herder guy guided him to sleep and promised me some of his herds fresh yak milk for breakfast! Here is Marion happier warming up on standard coffee!
The words breathtaking are over used but here and at 3300m it really was and better still we were alone to enjoy the peace and tranquility that a place like this deserves.
This was towards Dhaulagiri another 8000m+ peak.
From Mohare Danda, fueled by the creamy fresh yak milk we walked along a ridge with continuous views of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. As we dropped into the trees from the ridge, the route finding got hard on the way to Danda Karka and we did a couple of retraced sections. We finally asked directions from a random guy that we spotted and then we chose to follow along a path that steeply descended into a deep dark gorge filled with a spectacularly lush wild green jungle. This picture was in the higher up Rhododendron forest and a sneak peak of the view even closer to Annapurna!
The mud steps on the steep jungle path were useful as it meandered its way down further into the gorge, we kept our fingers crossed that our bearings were sound and this path, not on any map, would spit us out in the right valley. In the meantime it felt like paradise with exotic birds swooping past crashing waterfalls and gigantic creepers hanging from vast ancient hardwood trees. Next the path became pretty exposed as it followed a natural notch forming a ledge on a cliff face. We debated turning back but it felt a good direction and it was just so much fun! The highlight for me was when I saw a funky yellow throated black and white badger sized animal, that quickly scampered off. We also stumbled upon a pond with great reflections:
Finally we saw black plastic water pipes feeding off a crystal clear cascading stream and then goat tracks, both sure signs we might once again find civilisation. We did arrive where we expected and we were not far from another quaint village.
The trek carried on to Tikkot and then down to the road through similar rice paddy scenery. We had one more night in a pleasant home stay with great sunset views over Dhaulagiri. It was then just the trek back to Beni and a bus to Pokhara.
This was the view from our final home stay:
Here was the sunset:
This trek was a great introduction to Nepal because it had everything: the highlight was just experiencing traditional NepaIi villages that felt like living museums and with no real source of income up here it was good to be directly spending money that supported these communities. We saw so many interesting crops such as champa, millet, rice, lentils, soybeans etc and many tasty vegetables being grown which demonstrates how they still remain self sufficient in this remote environment.
Then the landscape was simply stunning from the green paddies to dense jungle to Mohare Dande’s panoramic of the two iconic Himalayan mountain massifs. I highly recommend the route to others as a really good warm up trek or for those looking for a cultural experience that is very much traditional Nepalese! It can also be extended into the Annapurna park to the fabulous looking Khopra view point which is up close and personal to Annapurna.
Arriving back in Beni to catch the bus: