Khopra Trek: Annapurna’s Balcony

Khopra Trek: Annapurna’s Balcony

The Journey 
For decades, Khopra was only known as a camping trek, where only a few companies offered trekking packages. Now, the tables have turned, due to Mahabir Pun, a social entrepreneur who helped to open community lodges in Khopra and other places. Khopra is now a teahouse trek, which has led to a significant increase in the number of trekkers.  I had the chance of trekking to Khopra with my friend Raj, who is a long time experienced trekking guide, Berend, a 57-year-old from South Africa and Tobias, a 35-year-old from Germany. We boarded a jeep from Pokhara and diverted to Nayapool and drove along Modi Khola. We followed the 12 km dirt road, and reached the last motorable road at Kimche at 3 pm. After lunch, we began our trek towards Ghandruk Village and reached there at dawn. 

Ghandruk Village (1975m) 
Ghandruk Village is a beautiful and ancient Gurung hamlet with rich cultural heritage. A cluster village facing north-east, there are homestays, Gurung Museum and lodges that offer accommodation and food. As it is rich in Gurung culture, many travellers go to Ghandruk Village for holiday and research. However, due to local people migration towards the city and abroad and modernization of houses, there is a risk of losing the traditional architecture and culture. Kripasur Gurung, a local lodge owner is worried about the changes. He believes that building a local zoo, picnic spot and upgrading the museum will be added attractions that would lengthen the stay of the travellers in the village. 

Even though we missed the sunrise view from Ghandruk village, we still had the most amazing views of the long stretches of Annapurna South, Himchuli, Gangapurna and Mt. Fishtail.

We started onward, trekking uphill and met several trekkers who were returning from the Ghorepani-Poon Hill trek. The pleasant trek continues with a gentle climb, passing through the lush green forest against the backdrop of the snow-clad peaks. Bhaisikharka is a popular stopover, with teashops offering snacks and lunches.  From there, trekking for about one and half hours brings you to Tadapani (2680m). Tadapani is the common meeting and stopover point for trekkers along the Ghorepani, Ghandruk, Khopra and Annapurna Base Camp trek. A long time ago, Tadapani had large swathes of grazing land for sheep and buffaloes. As trekkers started increasing, there was a need for accommodation and food for these trekkers, which led to the development of tea houses along Tadapani. When we arrived at Tadapani, tourists where chilling, enjoying beer and tea. 

From Tadapani, we trekked towards the north-east direction through the dense forest. The trail passes through the deep forest with tall trees, rhododendron and oak trees. Mesar (2650m) is a good place for lunch and snacks, and we traversed forward to Isharu and reached Lucky Hotel at Dobate (3426m) around 5 pm - tired and trembling cold. We made our way to the heated dining room where tourists were already gathered around the warm, some sipping Khukuri Rum. It was even colder in the evening, due to the foggy day and minor rainfall. The mountains were hidden in a shroud of mist. 

The shrill alarm at 5 am woke me up the next morning. It was still dusk and misty. Waking Raj up, I said “Oh no! It’s bad luck.” We had missed the sunrise again, and with a bit of regret, we went back to sleep. After a nice warm cup of morning tea, we ascended towards the viewpoint, which was a 45 minutes uphill climb. The local name for the viewpoint is Mulde, but Raj prefers to call it “Yak Hill” due to the abundance of yaks nearby. And what a miraculous view it was from Mulde (3637 m)! The 180-degree mesmerizing views with the long stretches of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges were a sight to behold. From Mulde, we were stunned by the amazing views of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche, Annapurna South, Himchuli, Gangapurna, Mardi, Annapurna I, Manaslu, etc. Spending an hour there was heaven. Everyone was truly immersed in its beauty, capturing several photos to commemorate the moment. The far away hills were enclosed with a layer of fogs with the high Himalayas seating over it. Simply astonishing and indescribable!

Highlight of the Trek
No of days: 7- 8 days depending on the tourist’s preference
Type of trek: Easy & moderate 
Lodging & accommodation: Teahouse, homestay and local lodges
Entry Permit: ACAP and TIMS
Major attractions: Magar and Gurung culture and lifestyles, dense rhododendron forests, panoramic view of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna ranges including Manaslu.

We returned back to Dobate, had breakfast and continued forward. The trek was gentle at first, with a few steep trails. Bayale, our next stop, has a community lodge which is reached in 1.5 hours. From there, there are two trails that diverge. The lower one goes to Chistibung with a massive climb to reach Khopra while the straight but irregular trail goes straight to Khopra. 

Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) has cautioned trekkers against using the upper trail as trekker had gone missing a few years ago. Not heeding the caution, we continued on with the upper trail and soon got lost! We were wedged in the middle of the thick rhododendron bushes and struggled for one and a half hours to find a way out. There was mud on the ground with tall grasses, bushes and leeches attached to our feet! 

Thank god, Deb, our assistant guide saw a trail mark across the rock, bringing back our hope again. We resumed the trek, crossing streams, passing through the thick bushy uphill trail. We met a shepherd who showed us the way forward. It was already late afternoon, and we were tired and hungry too. The few chocolates and water we had kept our energy going. We met another group of shepherds who pointed us to the right trail. With the little energy, we continued forward and finally reached Khopra, it was dusk and the weather was still gloomy! 

Local-kids-Buddha-Air-Yatra-Magazine-copyright-Buddha-Air

Khopra Ridge (3660 m) 
It was such a relief and relaxing moment to reach Khopra Community Lodge. We went inside the room to keep warm and satiate our hunger. Half of the day was foggy with minor rainfall. The long trek on an empty belly was exhausting. Berend and Tobias drank Khukuri Rum while Raj and I enjoyed warm raksi. As the body temperature rose, we talked about the long day. We feasted on Dal Bhat while our foreign friends had spaghetti. 

A decade ago, Mahabir Pun, a Ramon Magsaysay Award Winner had helped in opening many community lodges in the Myagdi district, which included Khopra. Mr. Pun also started Yak farming at Khopra. Initially, he brought 29 yaks from Mustang, and the number has now reached 150. The manager of the lodge says that the local community has benefitted with the income from the lodge and yak farming, which supports the operation of local school and clinic.  Mr. Pun’s efforts have also led to high-speed wireless internet connection in Khopra Lodge and other remote villages of Nepal. Khopra ridge is famous for its close-view and long ranges of peaks like Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. 

We spent the next morning exploring the natural views. After breakfast, we began our steep descending trail for 1.5 hours. Chistibung was the next stop for lunch. Then, it was a downhill trail through the river streams and woods, which takes about 3 hours to reach the village of Swanta (2200m) for an overnight stay. Despite the hazy evening, the dazzling Dhaulagiri was seen in the west for a short while before dawn. 

Trek to Ghorepani (2840m) 
The next day starts with a moderate descent. After crossing the suspension bridge, the trail goes up and in 2 hours we reached Phalate village. This village is connected with a jeep track. After 2 hours of ascending trail, we reached Ghorepani - the famous hill station. Poon Hill is another 45-minute climb. You can also head south-west, downhill trek to Phoolbari and follow the recently explored Karbakeli Eco-trek as well. Towards northeast, the trail leads to Annapurna Base Camp and Ghandruk via Deurali. As we had already visited Mulde for sunrise view, we moved forward after having lunch at the Hungry Eye Hotel. Passing through the thick rhododendron forest and waterfall, we reached Banthati for an overnight stay. The next final day was a knee-cracking downhill trek, where we met several trekkers climbing up to Ghorepani and Annapurna Base Camp. Soon, we climbed down to Ulleri and advanced to Bokemi where we caught a jeep back to Pokhara via Birethati and Nayapool.

Itinerary
Day 1    Pokhara - Kimche - Ghandruk 1975 (Jeep 3.5 hr, 30 min trek)
              Birethati- Syauli - Kimche - Ghandruk - 6 hr trek
Day 2    Ghandruk - Tadapani - Dobate, 3426m  (7-8 hr trek)
Day 3    Dobate - Bayale - Khopra ridge, 3660m ( 7-8 hr)
Day 4    Khopra - Chistibung - Swanta 2200m (6-7 hr)
Day 5    Swanta - Phalante - Ghorepani 2840 m(4-5 hr) 
              Sunrise view to Poon Hill - 45 min
Day 6    Ghorepani - Banthati - Ulleri ( 4 hr)
Day 7    Ulleri - Birethati - Pokhara ( Jeep 3 hr)
              Ulleri-Tikhedunga-Birethati, 3-hour trek

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