Four Belgians, two couples, two times two best friends. So my best friends’ boyfriend is my boyfriends’ best friend. What a dream. Well it is, kind of, but apart from just a few double dates in Antwerp, we never spent a lot of time with the four of us. Until now. Jeroen visited Karen (my best friend) in Nepal for 2.5 week and we decided to do a trek together. After doing quite a bit of research, both online (blogs) and offline (trekking companies in Pokhara), we decided to hike the Mardi Himal trek by ourselves. We were looking for a trek for about 4 to 5 days, not too difficult and not too crowded. We didn’t have the means to hire a guide so it had to be easy, but not too easy and famous like Poonhill. We heard Poonhill was amazing, but also the most common hike for families and travelers who didn’t hike the Annapurna circuit. Mardi Himal is quite a new trek, it’s popularity is on the rise, but still not as touristy as the Poonhill trek. Depending on your preferences, physical condition and the route you take you can do the trek in 3, 4 or 5 days. We decided on a 4 day trek, but calculated a 5th day in case one of us would feel tired or would have trouble adapting to the altitude.
Preparation in Pokhara
Permits – ACAP & TIMS
Unfortunately, you can’t just go and hike in the Annapurna conservation area. You need a trekking permit (TIMS) and an entry permit for the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). In Pokhara you can arrange both permits in the Tourist Police and Permit office.. Every time you enter the Conservation area you need a new entry permit. So in case you have more time than we did and you want to do more hikes; it’s worth staying in the area and combining different routes. The TIMS permit is 2000 NPR (1000 NPR if you go with a tour/guide) and the ACAP 3000 NPR. Quite some money for us and this made the whole 4 day trip rather expensive. But again, if you decide to trek for a longer time, you can spread the costs. We met some people who did the Annapurna circuit, the Poonhill trek and were now doing Mardi Himal. They were on their 19th day when we met them. Pretty impressive if you ask me. I thought those 4 days were quite the adventure already, but I guess it all depends on your reason to visit Nepal and the time (and money) you have.
Info needed for application
To apply for your permits, you don’t need much (they make passport photos for free in the office) but you do need to know some info. Firstly, make sure you know which entry and exit point you choose for your trek, you need to write this on your application form. For us it was Kande (entry) and Sidhing (exit). I will later explain our route on the map. Secondly, you need to write down some details of a contact person in Nepal. If you don’t go with a trekking company or a guide you can just write down the details of your hotel or guesthouse. Lastly, they will ask for your travel insurance policy. I needed to write down my policy number, the name of my insurance company and their emergency contact number.
The whole procedure was fairly easy and only took us about 30 minutes. Make sure you have enough cash with you, you can’t pay by card and don’t count on the ATM in front of the office… I didn’t manage to get any money out of it, luckily my friends could borrow me some.
No need to hike with a tent. There are enough tea shops and guesthouses along the whole length of the trek. We were advised to make reservations 1 or 2 days up front (you can ask the guesthouses to make a call for you if you don’t have any phone reception), but in our experience this was not necessary. We easily found a place to sleep every night for hardly any money. We were told you can often sleep for free if you buy your meals at the guesthouse. We didn’t try this but we haggled very cheap prices between 75 and 300 rupees per person per night. In case you don’t want to take any risks you can plan your trip up front and reserve your spots by calling the guesthouses in the different camps:
Clothes & gadgets
Since I always try to travel ‘light’ (don’t always succeed though) and mostly in warm countries, I didn’t have everything I needed to protect me from the cold up in the mountains. We left for Mardi Himal the 1st of November and we were told day temperatures would be quite warm but at night it would go down to zero or even a little bit below. We didn’t really count on rain (October/November is dry season) but don’t make this mistake because it can actually rain during this time of the year, unfortunately we experienced this first-hand.
What to rent
We were advised to take a sleeping bag, not only for the cold, but also because of dirty blankets up in the mountains (they don’t have running water, so they do not get washed very often). I rented a sleeping bag from one of the trekking stores in Pokhara for 160 rupees per day. If you don’t want to carry a sleeping bag it might be wise to just take a travel sheet, usually they had enough blankets to keep us warm in the places we stayed. I also rented walking sticks for 80 rupees per day. The trek can be very tough for your knees, especially during descent and sticks will give you support. I really don’t regret taking them, I could easily attach them to my small backpack when I didn’t use them.
Clothes & shoes
I took my Northface winter jacket with two separate layers, the top one could also serve as a rain jacket. Depending on your resistance to cold (mine is very low) it’s advised to wear many layers. This way I didn’t have to buy expensive thermo-wear, but I could just dress and undress like an onion when I felt cold or hot. I did the trek on my Asics running sneakers, personally this was perfect for me, but if you have weak ankles it might be a good idea to take (or to rent) high hiking boots. I did buy some thick hiking socks against blisters and cold. I also bought gloves and was VERY happy I did. Karen didn’t take any and she suffered a lot. I hiked in my long leggings and took one pyjamas pants and thick panties in case.
I fit everything in my small day pack but I must admit Elias took a bigger backpack and carried my jacket and sleeping bag. If you have a medium size day pack (preferably with straps around the waist) it’s definitely possible to fit everything for 4 or 5 days. Ask your hotel if you can leave the rest of your stuff in a staff room during your trip, this shouldn’t be a problem.
We also bought a map of the Annapurna area but didn’t really need it in the end, since Maps.me turned out to be more up to date than this map.
Food, snacks & water
Potable water gets more and more expensive during the climb. After a certain point you even have to pay for a bucket shower, because all the water has been carried up the hill. I use a Lifestraw, which has a built-in filter so I didn’t have to spend any money on drinking water.
Buy snacks in Pokhara! The higher you climb, the more expensive the food. Apart from your 3 meals a day and maybe a coffee or tea, I wouldn’t risk having to buy anything else on the mountain. I took some muesli bars, chocolate, nuts and dried fruits and was very happy to have some extra snacks with me during the long hours between breakfast and lunch, climbing up.
For an exact overview of the costs of our trip, scroll down!
Day 1: Pokhara – Kande – Pittam Deurali
At 7AM we met at our favourite food spot for breakfast: Umbrella café. All fueled and fired up we walked to the bus stop at Lakeside (see map for details). The bus to Kande leaves from Zero Kilometer bus stop which is about 2 kilometers from lakeside, so we took a local bus for 15 rupees to get there but since you are already going to hike you could also walk. This part went really smoothly, within 10 minutes we were on our way to Kande. The trip takes about 1,5 hours and costs 200 rupees. As soon as you’re out of Pokhara the road get’s really bumpy and dusty and we were really happy to get out of the bus in Kande.
Our first plan was to take local transport to Pittam Deurali, so we would save some time (we preferred doing the hike in 4 days), but there is no road up from Kande so the only option is an expensive jeep which leaves from Pokhara. Or to go hiking, which was our only option since we were already in Kande. A lovely lady from the cafe in front of the bus stop pointed us towards the path we needed to take and we decided to see how far we got that day. It was sunny and we were in a good mood. We crossed some villages and after a while it was just us and a very green forest.
Around 2 pm we arrived in Pittam Deurali. After a very necessary Dal Bhat the sky got darker and the air colder. We had only 3 hours of daylight left and our plan to make it to Forest camp started to look a little overly courageous. We asked a Nepali guide who was also having lunch with his group if we would make it to forest camp. We got a clear ‘No’. It would take 3 to 4 hours and there was nothing in between. So even though we’d hardly hiked for 3 hours that day, we decided to be wise and stay in Pittam Deurali. There are a few guesthouses but we just stayed at the place where we had our lunch. We got two double rooms for 1200 rupees, but I think it’s possible to get it cheaper. It was very cold and we hid ourselves in the ‘dining room’, playing cards. I taught the group a game I used to play with my family (Boerenbridge) and we kept ourselves busy with just one, long game for the entire evening. We ordered a big thermos with hot water to make tea (I’d taken some Tulsi tea bags with me) and around 5 pm they got a fire started in the big stove in the middle of the room, so we managed to keep ourselves warm that evening.
After dinner we finished our game and went to bed early, so we could wake up for sunrise the next morning.
Day 2: Pittam Deurali – Badal Danda
We placed our orders for breakfast before we went to bed, and were told it would be ready at 6:30am the next morning. I woke up at 6am and was surprised to see our beautiful surroundings now the sky was clear. We could see the snowy mountains of the Annapurna South and the Machapuchare. Breakfast was simple (fruit and musli), as a vegan in the Nepali mountains you don’t have much choice. By the way, eating vegeterian food (including eggs) is advised for every traveler, since everything in the mountains has to be carried up and is per definition not fresh.
From Pittam Deuralli you can either go to the ABC trek (Annapurna Base Camp) or to the Mardi Himal. Mardi Himal is straight, ABC-ers go left. After this point it’s just you and the other Mardi Himal trekkers.
The morning was sunny again and the route took us through the most fairy-tale like forest I’ve ever seen. We made a stop at Rest camp to have lunch and continued until Badal Danda to finish the day.
We slowly discovered our own pace and it took some time to get a balanced rythm for everyone. Jeroen liked to go fast and hard, Elias liked to hike without talking, Karen enjoyed her surroundings and went steadily but slower than the boys and I was mostly last because of my slower pace and my obsession with taking photos of everything.
In Badal Danda we haggled 2 rooms for only 300 rupees. The lady was very nice and we decided we wanted to stay with her. I can’t find the name of this hotel on Google.maps anymore but I have this photo.
It’s the last guesthouse before the 360 view hotel on top. The rooms were even colder than in Pittam Deurali and not isolated at all. Karen and I shared a hot bucket shower for 300 rupees. It meant we took turns in the squat toilet/shower space where it smelled of poo, poring hot water over ourselves with a small cup. It may sound horrible to some people, but in all my years of traveling I have really learned to appreciate the fulfillment of basic needs in primitive circumstances. Besides, when it’s that cold outside, having a hot ‘shower’ after a day of climbing a mountain is a kind of luxury isn’t it?
Unknowingly we’d created an evening ritual the day before and we ordered a thermos again, drank tulsi tea while we played cards, had dinner and went to bed early.
Day 3: Badal Danda – Mardi Himal Base Camp – High Camp
I woke up at 6 again and Elias and I climbed up the hill (at the 360 guesthouse) to watch the sunrise. I think it might have been one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen: the deep red sun popping out from behind the mountain, shining a red light on the snowy mountain tops and coloring the valley in thousand shades of red, brown and orange.
We’d ordered breakfast at 6h30 again and were disappointed with our ‘oat porridge with fruit’. The fruit consisted of a quarter of an apple in each bowl. I know you can’t expect a large bowl of tropical fruit on 3200 meters, but still… The porridge was really filling though and it had to be, because we were planning to make it all the way up to Mardi Himal Base camp, 1300 meters higher than Badal Danda.
It took us only an hour to get to High camp and we decided to have lunch when we got back after we made it to Mardi Himal basecamp. Like the days before, it was still sunny. Our mood was good as long as we had the stunning views over the valley and the mountains. But unfortunately, the higher we got and the later it got, the more cloudy it became. The mountain tops of the Annapurna started to get covered in clouds and soon we didn’t even see the valley anymore: it was all mist and clouds. Staying motivated to climb the top without the reward of a view on the Mardi Himal top was difficult and we struggled a lot. Between high camp and the lower viewpoint are steep stairs. It was the hardest part of the climb and the moment I switched from dragging myself up to turbo-mode. I wore my headphones and was listening to some upbeat music. I started breathing in and out on the rhythm of the music and aligned my steps with the same rhythm. This way I started moving more steadily and faster and made it to the top first!
We didn’t see anything but mist, it was super cold and we were all very hungry. But nonetheless, we were happy and proud that we made it up to 4500 meters. We made it down to high camp in about 2 hours. It was 3 pm and it was finally time for lunch. We hadn’t really made a plan for where we would sleep that night though Jeroen and Karen wanted to sleep a little bit lower than High camp. But during our fried noodles it started to rain and we all decided to stay at High Camp, it had been a tiring day. We stayed in Namasté Guesthouse, where we got two rooms for 500 rupees and we were the only white tourists. Thermos, games, food and sleep once again. High camp is at 3550 meters and like at Triund where we slept at 3200 meters my heart was reacting to the altitude and I couldn’t fall asleep. My heart acted like I’d just been scared. At some point I must have fallen asleep, my alarm woke me up at 6 am.
Day 4: High camp – Sidhing – Lumre
The last day was the most crazy day of all. It was the most beautiful, sunny, rainy, cold, hot, funny, intense and long day.
This morning, we had the craziest views on the Himalayas. We were happy and sad at the same time, happy to see the beautiful surroundings, but sad we hadn’t had the view on top of the mountain the day before. If this was the view from High Camp, what did we miss on Base Camp? But no time for regrets, we had to hike down to Lumre and it was going to be a long day.
Our plan had been to hike to Sidhing and take a jeep back to Pokhara. But that was before we knew that those jeeps cost 7000 rupees. So we had to hike all the way to Lumre, the first village where there would be buses to Pokhara. According to maps.me, this was another 3-hour hike from Sidhing. This meant that we had an estimated total of 8 hours of hiking ahead of us, descending about 2300 meters. There are actually two ways to get to Sidhing, one new route leaving from High Camp and one shorter route leaving from Low Camp. Since we didn’t want to walk the same way twice, we decided to take the longer (and more scenic!) route from High Camp.
It was sunny, the surroundings were stunning and we were the only ones on the trail. Jeroen put on his speaker and we listened to Nick Mulvey, the perfect kind of dreamy music for walking in beautiful nature. While taking a small sunscreen-and-pee break, we almost got attacked by a Yak that didn’t like us in his territory. It was at the point where trees start growing again and slowly we found ourselves in a green paradise. It felt like a fairy-tale forest and I imagined seeing elves and goblins peeking through the trees. Especially when we arrived at the first of many waterfalls we would encounter that day. What a dream. The water was turquoise and icy cold and Karen, Elias and I couldn’t resist jumping into one of the perfect pools underneath the waterfall.
The owner of the Namasté hotel had told us that after about 3 hours of walking down there would be a place to have lunch, but unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed. It really seemed like we were the only tourists on the path that day and we figured the owner had gone down to buy food or visit family. We had found another chai shop after about 1.5 hours of descent, but at that time we had wanted to keep going. So we survived on musli bars and nuts again until we finally got to Sidhing.
Slowly we started to see small houses and farmlands. We met some cute goats, cows, donkeys and people. The forest got less dense and we got some beautiful views over the rice terraces and the villages scattered on the hills.
Hungrily, we ran to the first guesthouse we saw and ordered a Dal Bhat. It was 1:30pm. They asked us if we would like to order a jeep or stay in Sidhing for the night and we told them we wanted to take the bus to Pokhara in Lumre. ‘The last bus is at 4pm, why not stay here?’ We first thought he was playing some sales-tricks on us, convincing us to book a night at his guesthouse. But after a quick Google search and some affirmative comments from other guests we realized he was telling the truth and we had exactly 2 hours and 20 minutes left to get to Lumre. After some hesitation as to if this was actually doable we decided we were going to make it. We got our Dal Bhat very quickly and the owner showed us a shortcut which saved us 30 minutes on maps.me. It’s time to trust these sweet Nepali people… It was 2pm and we had 5 kilometers to go, mostly downhill. That seemed reasonable…
But soon we discoverd the reason for the 3-hour estimate on Maps.me. The road between Sidhing and Lumre crosses the same river about five times, which is why only jeeps tend to use it. Sometimes we could pass over stones, sometimes we could take a shortcut along a different path but sometimes there was no other option than to take off our shoes and wade through the river. And then it started to rain heavily. The beautiful thing was that on the road to Lumre, every time we truly seemed to be stuck somewhere, a local appeared and showed us the way, it was like magic. And this way; keeping up a quick pace, wading through rivers, getting soaked by the rain, trusting Maps.me and the locals, we made it to Lumre at 3h45 PM.
We literally arrived at the starting point of the bus, where two people were changing the enormous wheel of the most rickety bus I’v ever seen.
Obviously, the bus didn’t leave exactly at 4 pm, but waited until more passengers got on and it was 4:30 pm when we really got moving. Within a few minutes my head was catapulted against the roof. That normally happens to Elias, because he’s too tall for Asian infrastructure, and the roads in Nepal are quite bumpy. But this was different, this road was the worst any of us had traveled on (and we’ve all traveled quite a bit). Jeroen hurt his ass by landing on an armrest while coming down from a bump in the road and I had to hold myself to the seat in front of me not to fly through the roof again. And all that fun for just 200 rupees… The windows were open, and let in the rain and the cold wind on our wet clothes. One and a half hour later, we arrived on a bus station in the North of Pokhara. We were miserable enough to pay for a taxi for the last bit, but not miserable enough to realize the fun of our crazy adventure and the fact that we’d made it to the warm, cosy and modern city of Pokhara. Time for a hot shower and a beer. We ended our trek at the same spot we had started it: dinner in Umbrella.
Tips & tricks
- Take enough cash with you, there are no ATMS in the mountains 😉
- Use Maps.me for the route, stops and the altitudes, it’s a good estimate
- Take enough snacks with you
- Buy a Lifestraw, it will save you a lot of money and the earth a lot of water
- Take tea bags so you can order a thermos with hot water
- Toilet paper, it’s very expensive to buy this on the mountains
Overview costs in Euros per person:
- TIMS & Entree permit: 5000 NPR = €43
- Snacks: €14
- Rent sticks & sleeping bag 4 days: €6.80
- Food for 4 days (3 meals a day): € 44.4
- Transport from Pokhara to Kande: (2 local buses) 215 NPR = €1,84
- Transport from Lumre to Pokhara: (1 bus 1 taxi) 300 NPR = €2.56
- Accomodation for 3 nights: € 4.27
- Other costs (map, hot shower, toilet paper etc.): € 2.32
Total costs: € 119.19
Total cost per day: 29.79€