08 Jan 2018
3 min read
It's 5:30 in the morning, I'm at the base of Mardi Himal, and it seems as though the world is at a standstill. There is not a sound to be heard, except for the sound of the cold breeze that brushes past my face. But as the first strands of light start delineating the horizon, the stars start to fade away and the sky starts changing colour--from indigo to a fading pink, which then bleeds into a mellow blue. It seems as though the world is springing to life. Pure scattered sunlight now swiftly fills the sky and illuminates everything--the frozen morning dew, the surrounding hills' crevices and crags, the tips of the white mountains, the valley of clouds below. I knew this was coming but it still leaves me breathless. There are only a few places that have the power to evoke such sublimity, and Mardi Himal Base Camp is one such place--a locale reachable via just a short but rewarding trek.
Most people spend a night at Pokhara before starting their trek to Mardi Himal Base Camp, but because we (my brother and I) had limited days at our disposal, we skipped the stopover at Pokhara, took a night bus from Kathmandu and reached Lakeside, Pokhara at 5 am. By 7 am, we were on a bus at Baglung Bus Park, heading to Kande, from where our trek would begin. From Kande, after a filling protein-rich breakfast of eggs and granola bars, we started walking towards Forest Camp (2,600m), where we would be spending the night. The trail from Kande takes you via forested trails to the first camp, Forest Camp; en route, you will pass Australian Camp, a popular hiking destination that is just an hour's walk away from Kande. Forest Camp is a delightful little settlement of just a few lodges set in the midst of deep forests. At Forest Camp, you won't have a view of the mountains, but if you walk uphill for another 30 minutes or so, you will find two small hotels from where you'll get an unobstructed view of Mardi Himal and Machapuchare.
We stopped for the second night at High Camp (3,580m), which takes around five hours of walking from Forest Camp. We spent the third day at Low Camp (2,990m), after making our way up to the Base Camp and then descending. On the fourth day, we were in Pokhara, after descending through multiple forested hills and walking for more than half a day through small settlements like Sidhing, Lwang and Lumre. You can also take a bus from Sidhing to Lakeside, but we chose to walk till Lumre, from where we took a bus to Milanchowk, Hemja (near Pokhara).
Accommodation and amenities
Because the Mardi Himal trail is relatively new, there are only a few small lodges at every camp, and they offer only the most basic necessities--a narrow bed, a blanket (you can ask for more blankets if you need them, but you should do so early on, before they run out of them) and warm meals by the kitchen stove. The rooms are fairly spartan: you will find only two beds in each room, and maybe a table in the name of furniture. The stone walls of the rooms block the cold wind from entering but the cracks in between the stones let in chilling air. If nights get too cold (and believe me they do), you will have to resort to layering on all the clothes you have. And although the lodges do have electricity, you won't find a charging station for your phone at Forest Camp or High Camp, so make sure you pack your power bank.
Despite the trail's being in the middle of nowhere, as it were, the menus at the lodges offer a variety of items. You can order apple/buckwheat pancakes, Tibetan bread, omelettes or porridge for breakfast; dal bhat tarkari for lunch and dinner; or you can order anything from chowmein, pasta and fried rice to French fries, momos, etc. Because you have to ascend quite a bit in just one day, you might feel symptoms of altitude sickness, in which case you should drink some garlic soup, which is available at all the lodges. You can also try some of the local cheese from Badal Danda, which is a small clearing with a few tea houses, just a little after you cross Middle Camp. There are no tea shops along the trail, except for one small shack an hour before you reach Forest Camp--where you can get hot bowls of noodles, biscuits, coffee/tea, beer, even liqueur coffee.
Because you have to ascend up to 4,500 m (the highest point of the trek) and then descend in just three days, the trail--made of paths beaten down by herders/traders, and slated along some stretches with limestone slabs--is tough. The narrow trail takes you through forests carpeted with fallen leaves, grassy ridges, hills cut with waterfalls, and sheer cliff faces. The trail is beautiful, to say the least, but it features a lot of steep climbs and descents. Novice trekkers may find it tough, and can get lost too, if they are not too careful because the trail-markings are not placed properly.
The best part of the trek is undoubtedly the Middle Camp to High Camp stretch, which passes through lush ridges, and provides an uninterrupted view of Annapurna South, Himchuli and Machapuchare, and a sea of hills that stretches as far back as the eye can see.
Besides being a great trekking destination, Mardi Himal Base Camp also offers a peek into the lives of the people who call this region home. You will probably come across herders, with their herd of sheep, camping in temporary shelters and listening to the radio, while their dogs stand guard; along the trail, you will also meet locals going about their day at the lodges--cleaning the rooms, prepping the kitchen for meals, basking in the sun--before heading to their villages (at lower altitudes) after the trekking window closes, as the number of trekkers thins and winters become unbearable.