November 17, 2019.
Most hiking the Everest region in Nepal fly into and/or out of Lukla, a small village at 2,860 metres (9,383 ft).
You can walk in and/or out, but that requires a lot more time.
In order to ease congestion at Tribhuvan International Airport (in Kathmandu) and facilitate ongoing runway repair works … Lukla flights were rerouted to fly from Manthali.
An airport that had barely seen a dozen flights in the last decade began to handle 85 flights daily, and it was ill-equipped to deal with the hundreds of tourists arriving daily. The airport lacks proper parking, a waiting room, toilets and even a restaurant.
More than 800 tourists arrive and depart daily during peak season. About 85 flights a day.
It’s 132km (82mi) from Thamel, Kathmandu to the airport. That’s at least a a four-hour drive IF there are no delays. You leave Kathmandu around 2am.
Know that there are still a couple of Lukla flights departing Kathmandu airport after 8am each day. But it’s risky to buy that ticket as your flight might be cancelled.
Flights out of Ramechhap airport at Manthali — however — are shorter, cheaper and more reliably get you to Lukla.
The international airport in Kathmandu is terrible. Current renovations won’t help much.
The planned (2025) replacement will be situated 150kms from Kathmandu by road.
I’ll try to fly into Pokhara in future. We should avoid polluted Kathmandu, if we can.
My best ride EVER.
Jeeps and buses now shuttle up and down the valley all the way to Muktinath, causing some trekkers to dismiss this section of the Annapurna Circuit as ‘over’.
It’s not over. Most who do it still enjoy the hike down.
Still … cycling is better.
Cycling Annapurna is getting increasingly popular. But it is dangerous.
One guide I cycled alongside had 3 clients: all 3 fell over two days, one evacuated back to the U.K. with a broken collar bone.
Here’s the best easy & inexpensive option, in my opinion.
I did the Muktinath to Tatopani ride in 2014. Enjoyed it so much that I repeated exactly the same trip in 2019.
First you have to make your way to Muktinath (3800m) and be acclimatized to that altitude.
Many offer to rent you a bike. I went again with Mustang, as I like their professionalism. For this trip and 6 years ago the cost was $60 — and you could do the trip in 1, 2, 3, or 4 days for that price. Most do 2 days. They shuttle your luggage to Tatopani.
- Muktinath to Marpha (2650m descent)
- Marpha to Tatopani (1130m descent)
There are several ways down to Kagbeni, all interesting. This time I took the high route via Jhong (Dzong; 3580m) on the other side of the valley from the motor vehicle traffic. Loved it.
All day long you are staring at impressive Dhaulagiri (8167m).
Day 1 is dry, arid Tibetan landscape.
You definitely need protection from wind and dust.
You reach fantastic Kagbeni without passing any traffic. But road building is ongoing in the so-called Annapurna Conservation Area.
Riding through Jomsom is ugly and un-fun. But there’s no alternative to the busy main road.
Almost everyone stops in lovely Marpha. I followed the guide and her clients to this Guest House. In fact, I got the room of her injured rider.
Next morning I toured Marpha, the apple capital of Nepal.
… a pretty stone lined village which has survived the transition to the current time, by catering to trekkers and tourists. …
Dominating the village is the Nyingma monastery …
Day 2 you can often choose between the main road (bad), the river (hike-a-bike) or the new Annapurna trekking trail (single track with plenty of ups-and-downs).
I enjoyed it much better than 6 years ago.
The final ride down to Tatopani (hot water) is very, very rough. I’ll post video of that section later.
BUT … it is great to hit the hot springs after 2 long, dusty days.
There’s no easy way out of Tatopani. My first time here I continued trekking to Annapurna Base Camp, a serious commitment. This time I got on the local bus … $5.50 for a 7 hour, very bumpy ride back to Pokhara.
Waking up in Kagbeni, the morning sky was perfect.
I thought I might catch a bus or shared jeep up to Muktinath so started walking the (shockingly paved) main drag.
I ended up on foot for 3-4 hours, but still enjoyed the road walk.
The highlight was weird Serthang Selfie Park. Yep, everyone stops here to take selfies.
Happily, this viewpoint is protected from evil spirits including ZOMBIES.
I stopped too as it was my first look at massive Dhaulagiri (8167m).
Walking asphalt is super easy. And the views kept getting better.
In arid Tibetan lands these solar powered water boilers are popular.
On arrival in Ranipauwa (3710m) I went straight to Mustang Cycle to organize my bike for the next day. They recommended the newest lodge. Probably the best room I’ve had, so far.
Muktinath (3800m) is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the Nepali Himalaya for both Hindus and Buddhists. There are far more pilgrims than trekkers at any given time.
In the afternoon I walked up to the main temple complex above town.
Many pilgrims choose to ride horseback. Indeed, this seems the biggest industry in town.
It’s easy to get confused as to what’s a Buddhist temple and what’s a Shiva temple.
Vishnu is worshipped here as Muktinath, the Lord of Salvation, while Buddhists associate the deity with Chenresig, the Tibetan bodhisattva of compassion (yes, it’s complicated).
From there I continued over 2 suspension bridges to the village of Jhong (Dzong; 3580m) on the other side of the ‘river’.
Six years ago one huge statue of Shiva was under construction. I sat on the roof at dusk, I recall. It’s finished now.
Great views from up there.
Muktinath in November is also filled with relieved trekkers having successfully crossed Thorung La (5416m) on the Annapurna Circuit, the highest most will ever climb.
That’s it between the peaks. It snowed up there during yesterday’s crossing.
… closely packed mud houses, dark tunnels and alleys, imposing chortens and a large, ochre-coloured gompa perched above the town. …
Click PLAY or watch a short video on YouTube.
Nov 5, 2019 – Tadapani to Ghandruk
The end of the Khopra Ridge trek (according to Lonely Planet) is Tadapani.
Unexpected rain resulted in a power failure for most of the night.
For trekkers that means Kindle light dinner.
Did you see what I did there? 😀
As usual on this trip, next morning skies were clear.
This has been the best vista so far of my favourite peak – Machapuchare.
After evening rain, the village was washed clean.
Lodges in Nepal are very similar. There’s not much difference between yours and HOTEL MAGNIFICENT.
Ghandruk was only a couple of hours downhill stroll. A very easy day for me.
Lonely Planet recommended Hotel Trekkers Inn in Ghandruk which had won many hospitality awards over the years. It’s good, but not much different than any other IMHO.
As prices are fixed at all lodges in each village, they try to match each other in features, as well.
Hotel Trekkers Inn did have good food including some menu items I’d not seen anywhere else. I tried the Moussaka … tasty, but unrelated in any way to Moussaka.
And also the local smoked, dried, spiced meat called sukuti,
In the restaurant I met a young American who will be volunteer teaching at the largest school in the area. She’ll be living at Hotel Trekkers Inn for the next 2 months.
We both met a Brit who’s an old Nepal hand. This trip he’s come to photograph the Kulung’ honey hunters‘, men who climb bamboo rope ladders to harvest the world’s largest bees. An interesting man.
Pro tip – bring a tiny luggage lock for your room. What they provide are bulky and awkward.
The Khopra Ridge Trek I just finished is excellent.
In fact, Nepal needs more like it. And there is plenty of opportunity to develop more trails in higher, less developed spurs of the Annapurna massif.
Widely circulated in local lodges is this 2014 article by Donatella Lorch who lives in Kathmandu:
… The tea-houses and lodges are packed. Hikers have to share the stone steps with Nepal tourism’s unsung heroes: the unending series of mule convoys, loaded down with everything from water and food to cooking propane, kerosene, mattresses, stones and bags of cement to feed the mountain region’s lodge construction boom. …
ACAP faces socio-economic, ecological and political challenges. New roads have jeeps and trucks competing with trekkers and brings with it increased risk of landslides. There is little variety as the vast majority of trekkers stick to a small number of routes that are at times crowded walking highways …
Many trekkers along the route are willing to pay more for a more Nepali experience, and were in search of less crowded trails. …Nepal’s trekking is at a cross-road, in need of a quality upgrade
Next morning — day 7 —dawned, as usual, clear. I never tire of looking at these peaks.
I saw my first monkeys of this trip. Always entertaining.
As the bus stand below town looked good, I decided to take a chance on the local bus to get back to Pokhara.
Yeesh. Getting to and from trailheads in the Himalaya is by far the most dangerous part of trekking.
The only good news about this ride was the cost — $5 for 5 hours of very rough going.
Back in Pokhara, I took a couple of showers. Then headed for Utopia for Chicken Sizzler.
related – Click PLAY or watch another trip on YouTube. (30min)
Nov 4, 2019 – Khopra Ridge tenting 3640m to Tadapani
It was a cold night in the tent. I had to mummify myself in my ultralight sleeping bag and wear all my layers.
I only slept a couple of hours, the rest of the time listening to an excellent audio book.
At first light I packed up the frozen Hubba quickly (no coffee!) and got moving to warm-up.
n about 90 minutes I made it to Bayeli Guest House for breakfast. The sun was out and it looked a beautiful morning. I was happy to get there.
The Annapurna massif includes one peak over 8,000 metres (26,000 ft), thirteen peaks over 7,000 metres (23,000 ft), and sixteen more over 6,000 metres (20,000 ft). It’s 55 kilometres (34 mi) long. A monster.
I was a tiny ant climbing up and down ridges at around 3000m.
It clouded up early today. Unusual. November normally brings day-after-day of clear skies. Nepalis told me this was atypical weather. Yet this turned out to be one of my favourite days. Different. The autumn colours brightest.
Walking alone through these high grasslands was wonderful.
I’ll be recommending the Khopra Ridge trek to those who want to get away from roads and development. Most is wilderness, well above farms.
Loads are still brought up by horse or porter.
I heard they sometimes carry up to 90kg !
As clouds descended and I descended some vistas reminded me of the Pacific N.W.
There is still much accessible wilderness within the Annapurna Conservation Area.
Without a guide, I accidentally took a different trail than most. My lower track was empty. Quiet. Tranquil.
At this unusual shelter I left a Summit Stone.
Stopping for milk coffee at Isharu, I really enjoyed chatting with the lodge owner. He’d seen Himalayan Black Bear up here.
Everyone expects the Khopra Ridge trek to continue to grow in popularity. It’s part of a trend launched by one man — Mahabir Pun — who was educated at University of Nebraska.
Mahabir is helping mountain communities to promote new trails close to Annapurna & Dhaulagiri. To build eco-friendly lodges. Some distance from traditional villages. The idea is that Income from lodges goes to support schools and local health clinics.
Trails like Khopra Ridge will replace some existing hikes that have been degraded by road building.
Another nice touch in this section are trash bags at regular intervals on the trail. (Those are for locals, not tourists. Hikers don’t litter here.)
I also liked this day in that it was mostly downhill. 😋
I checked into a good room in Tadapani (2710m). My batteries needed recharged. And I needed a bed. It was only 2pm.
When I awoke from siesta the power had gone out. It was pouring rain.
It’s not supposed to rain here in November. Monsoon arrived late this year. Perhaps everything was pushed later.
As Warren often points out, weather should not be a problem for a hiker properly equipped.
Many were not prepared.
I wandered Tadapani in the rain. Yes, I was carrying good wet weather clothing.
Tadapani is not a particularly nice village. Yet it’s a super popular stop — a crossroads for many different hikes. In fact, it’s the official end point for the Khopra Ridge trek. From here I have options.
BEST would be starting up to the Annapurna Sanctuary, an amphitheatre of huge Himalayan peaks.
I’ve done that trip before so will head down — instead — to Ghandruk.