Khumai Danda: A precious gift of nature

Sanjaya Lama

Sanjaya Lama

Khumai Danda: A precious gift of nature

While searching for an unspoiled and secluded trail near the Kathmandu Valley to spend my weekend, I came to know about Khumai Danda. Situated at an altitude of 3,245 meters above the sea level, it lies to the north of Pokhara in Kaski district.

Though Khumai Danda trek, also known as the Great Machhapuchhre Trail, is a newly-developed trekking route in the Annapurna Conservation Area, it has become a popular trekking destination among the domestic tourists in a short period of time.

Upon coming to know that Khumai Danda trek is a relatively easy trek in the Annapurna region, I decided to take my mom (62) on this journey. Despite being a regular hiker and nature lover, she had not experienced the real adventure of trekking due to her busy schedule. That is why, her yearning for walking into the woods for days was limited to herself.

So, a day before the journey began, we went to Thamel to buy trekking gear for her. The new trekking shoes and stick among others brought a joyous smile of excitement on her face.

The next day, I along with my mom and a friend took a night bus to Pokhara. As it was the first time for all of us traveling in the night bus, the excitement was palpable. But the exhilaration turned into grouchiness as the bumpy road that started soon after we reached Muglin disturbed our sleep the whole night.

When I heard the conductor saying Prithvi Chowk… Prithvi Chowk, it was already 4:30 in the morning. The road was quiet and silent. As it was a chilly morning, we wanted to have tea to beat the cold but did not find any tea shop with its shutter open.

So, we decided to walk toward Harichowk from where we had to take a jeep to Ghachowk. It took us around 1:30 hours to reach Harichowk. On the way, we saw houses built in Newari architecture with decorative brick works and ornately carved windows similar to those in the Kathmandu Valley.

As we were fascinated by the old houses, design and architecture, we decided to explore the place. While walking through a narrow street, we saw temples and shops selling religious stuffs.

With curiosity, when I asked a man about the place, he said the area is popularly known as Purano Bazaar or Old Town. He said that the place is located about 4 km north of the Lakeside.

In the 17th century, Pokhara used to be a hub for trade and business with Tibet. With an objective to promote trade in Pokhara, the king of Kaski invited Newars (well known as traders) of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur to settle in the area. When the people migrated to Pokhara, they brought the Newari style engineering and culture with them.

The people have become albeit modern with changing times, while preserving their locality beautifully. We reached Harichowk at around 6 am. A man standing on the roadside announced that the jeep will leave for Ghachowk at 7 am. While waiting for the jeep, we got into a shop to have tea.

In the meantime, we saw two girls from Kathmandu waiting for the jeep. Later, we three and the two girls booked a jeep to Ghachowk for Rs 3, 000. The four-wheeler left Harichowk at 7: 15 am.

The driver, a resident of Ghachowk, was so responsive and friendly. On the way, we talked about Khumai Danda and various other matters. He said that the place became popular as normalcy returned after the Covid-19 pandemic. Lately, it has been drawing people from across the country, he said.

Though the driver was supposed to drop us at Ghachowk, he took us straight to Saripakha. We reached there at around 8 am. He also booked a hotel for us in Khumai Danda and also ordered lunch at Hilekharka.

Without wasting time, we started walking steep stone stairs from Saripakha. Just 10 to 15 minutes after leaving the beautiful hamlet, we got to see a scintillating view of Mt Machhapuchhre and Mt Annapurna.

After walking together for around 30 minutes, the two girls faced difficulties in walking and decided to abort the journey. Soon after saying ‘ciao’ to them, we reached an open ground where we saw a traditional cow shed. A herd of buffaloes were grazing nearby under the morning sun.

Not treading for more than 15 minutes, we reached Tubu. Usually, people who start their trek from Ghachowk have their lunch at Tubu. But, as we started our journey from Saripakha, we decided not to stop there. After walking for around 1:30 hours, we reached Hilekharka at 10 am.  While waiting for lunch, we opted to bask in the warmth of the morning sun, enjoying the panoramic view of high Himalayas.

The nutritious and local lunch at the Green Cottage was out of the world.

We left Hilekharka at 11:30 am. Once we crossed Hilekharka, we started climbing a steep trail into the forest of rhododendron trees.  For the time being, the forest was an immediate sunburn relief for us. We reached Chichimle at 12:30 pm.

As we trudged higher up to Deurali enjoying the pastoral beauty of the Bhurjung river and uninterrupted view of Mt Machhapuchhre and Mt Annapurna, we reached a place where some people were building a home stay. They offered us tea and snacks. We had tete-a-tete for around half-an-hour.

Saying goodbye to them with a promise to meet again in the future, we entered a dense forest. While walking into the forest, the sound of rustling leaves and twittering of birds recharged us. When we reached Lobruchu, some people were having noodles. We also planned to have something to muster energy but the weather suddenly became cloudy. With fear that the rain would make for a tough grind for us, we decided to reach Khumai Danda at the earliest.

It was just half-an-hour away from our destination, and snow started to fall. Though the snow brought chill air from the Himalayas ranges, we also felt lucky as the snowfall was the first of the season.

Soon after we reached Khumai Danda, Naran Dai, the owner of the Green Cottage, with a warm smile spread across his face welcomed us with masala tea and popcorn.

As the weather was cold, we went directly to the kitchen to sit around the fire.

Other hikers from Butwal and Pokhara were also relaxing in the kitchen. When they started singing and dancing, the environment became ebullient. The sad part of the journey was we could not see the sunset.

While staying in the kitchen, we made a decision that we would go to Korchan Danda (3,700 m) to see the sunrise if the weather becomes favorable. Otherwise, we would return to Pokhara. After having dinner, we went to bed.

The next morning at around 4, we saw stars twinkling in the sky. My mom told me that the weather would be clear. At around 6 o’ clock, we headed toward Korchan Danda.

When the sun started to rise above Mt Machhapuchhre to lift the mask of the night, the magical golden color made us forget all the pain and stress of our life. As we went higher, the beauty of the sun and the views also escalated. It was a dream-like moment and the best ever experience of my life.

We spent some time glancing at the unlimited richness and beauty of the snow-capped mountains and nature. We played with the snow and also took photos and videos of pristine views of the Himalayas before returning to the hotel.

The local and authentic breakfast was waiting for us at the hotel. Some people had already left the guest house and some were preparing to leave. As the weather was bright and sunny, we decided to stay that day in Khumai Danda to behold the beauty of the sunset.

Coming out of the kitchen after having breakfast, we saw a herd of mules transporting water.  A man, who was looking after the mules, said that he charged Rs 400 per mule from the hotel owner for ferrying the water. As we had nothing to do, we decided to go along with the man and the mules to see the source of water.

We walked behind the mules for around an hour to reach the water source. After having lunch, we freshened up and relaxed watching clouds dancing above the gigantic Mt Machhapuchhre. As the evening slowly descended, the red glow of the setting sun started to cover the sky. In what could be termed the ‘moment of golden hour’, the view was outside of the realm of imagination.

After having dinner, we went to bed to wake up early in the morning to see the sunrise. As there is a saying: just like the days, no two sunrises are the same, we felt like the sunrise on that morning was more beautiful than the previous day. That is why, one must see the sunrise and sunset from the Khumai Danda, the precious gift of nature.

Taking all the good memories with us, we headed toward Ghachowk from where we hopped onto a jeep and drove back to Pokhara. The breathtaking views of mountains, rich vegetation, culture and lifestyle of the people have made Khumai Danda, located on the lap of Mt Machhapuchhre, an idyllic destination among the trekkers in recent days.

Photos: Achitra Thieng

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