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trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles
The Royal Trek was named because Prince Charles and his 90 person entourage followed this route in 1981 shortly before he married Princess Diana.
It was once a BIG DEAL. Mick Jagger did it too, for example.
Some walked a loop to and from Pokhara. It was jungle.
But by 2019 (during the dry season) you could drive most of this route. Take a taxi to any of these villages. Buses run to each, in fact.
Road building has degraded the experience to the point where very few hikers now visit.
That’s a shame because it’s a great way to see three of the highest peaks in the world from one spot: Manaslu 8,156m, Annapurna 8,091m, Dhaulagiri 8,167m.
Companies will still guide you. 9 days for $600 and up.
We did it independently in 2 days. Walked no more than 35 km.
A taxi from Lakeside, Pokhara to Kalikasthan cost $26.
It’s almost entirely a road walk now. Dusty at times.
Do not go unless the weather is clear. You want to see the big mountains including Machapuchhre (Fishtail).
The highlight for us was not the mountains, however, but learning about Gurung village life in the foothills.
You’ve heard of the Gurungs. They’ve been prominent soldiers in Nepalese, British and Indian armies.
Winter is coming. They were bringing in firewood.
Every village now has water pipes. But in the old days it was carried up from far below. Rain collected in giant concrete cisterns.
Our plan was to hike to Syaklung where I assured the guys there should be plenty of guest houses and restaurants.
Despite having 3 online map apps and a hard copy of the Around Pokhara Valley map, our main method of navigation was to ask people ‘which way to the Royal Trek?’
Eventually … we were lost.
Backtracking to the village of Lipeyani, we were incredibly fortunate to meet a gentleman named Rishi who had come up to the family farm for the Diwali festival. We met his people too.
Moma is age-71, but still works the farm. Her eyes have been damaged from decades of cooking smoke.
She picked fresh ginger and chilies. Their small, hard oranges were excellent too.
Rishi’s brother brought fresh buffalo milk for our coffee (Nescafe).
For Diwali, Nepalis clean and decorate their homes.
Fresh coats of mud applied.
They illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas (oil lamps or candles), electric lights, etc. .
They offer puja (worship) to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. Many homes have a trail into the house.
Rishi suggested we stay in his village instead of Syaklung Danda, our intended stop. We were very happy we did.
It was Dal Bhat for dinner, of course. The staple. But for an appetizer we were offered a special treat — dried, smoked, spicy goat meat from the high Himalaya. They call it sukuti.
That night we were welcomed into the annual Diwali festivities. Much dancing, chanting and singing. And a bit of drinking. I had the local boiled rice wine called roxy.
We slept well on hard mattresses. And dreamed of having the big vistas early morning.
It dawned not as clear as the previous day, but we did see the three big peaks from one vantage.
Mission accomplished, we decided to walk out as directly as possible to Begnas Lake. Our Royal Trek route ended.
It was mostly downhill on dirt or paved roads.
Rice looks to be the most important crop.
Rishi is a specialist in rural development. He told us these village are in trouble. The young people leave for the cities, India or the Middle East, and those who remain have trouble making ends meet. He consults on new initiatives for the foothill farmers.
Begnas lake is impressive, but I prefer Lakeside, Pokhara as a tourist destination.
We took lunch at a local restaurant in Begnas Tal Bahar, then caught the Lakeside bus.
It’s only 30km back to town, but the local bus is SLOW. If I did it again, I’d taxi back to Pokhara.
Best months for the Royal trek are March – May and September – December. It can get cold at night.
Annapurna: A Trekker’s Guide by Sian Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons might still include the Royal Trek. Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (2016) does not.
If you like this vista, do the Royal Trek on your own. You’ll be unlikely to see any other foreigners.