himalayas, trekking, nepal, backpacking

How to hike the Himalayas without prior training

Words: Mike Cianciulli
Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

Here’s a four-day, three-night itinerary through the foothills of Nepal’s Annapurna range that will get you a front-row view of the Himalayas.

Forget what you’ve heard about Nepal and just go. Countless people dream about visiting this spiritual little nation, nestled between India, China and the massive Himalayan mountains. Thing is, you don’t need to be a diehard climber to enjoy the mystical aura surrounding some of the most coveted peaks on earth. 

There are options for a stroll through quaint villages draped in colourful prayer flags while standing in the shadow of awe-inspiring summits. To hike this land, you don’t even need much backcountry gear at all. Just a sturdy backpack, reliable footwear and a wallet full of rupees.

No camping gear either. Nepalese mountain people and Tibetan refugees have called the Annapurna region home for centuries and offer plenty of homestays and eateries scattered along the track. The accommodations are cheaper than what you’d pay in the capital of Kathmandu, but the food prices skyrocket the deeper you get since most provisions are hand-carried in from the main throughways.

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See that green ridge across Fewa Lake? That’s part of your route for a close-up view at the monstrous Annapurna range.

© Wikimedia Commons

Nepal’s Mount Everest is hardly visible from an amateur trekking route since it’s often shrouded in clouds and inclement weather. But the Annapurna tour presented below is a great hike for the novice who wants to get close but not too extreme. Plus, it doesn’t require permits or even a trekking guide. 

This four-day, three-night itinerary through the foothills of the Annapurna range came together from a variety of sources including three highly-respected Nepalese trekking guides — Phuri Kitar Sherpa, Bir Magar and Kesha Khadka. It features stunning views of Annapurna I, II and III as well as the highly-photographed Fishtail Peak, some of the tallest summits in the world.

Day One: Phedi to Dhampus 

Hike time: 2 hours of stair-climbing.

Must see: Endless terraced farmlands.

Don’t forget: Hit the ATM in Pohkara before you depart.

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Nepal’s terraced highlands.

© Chris Brinlee Jr.

The city of Pohkara is the hub for trekking around Annapurna, for both amateurs and professionals, and serves as a jumping off point for any memorable journey. Take a local bus from Pohkara to Phedi where you’ll begin your initial ascent. But no matter where you kick off, the first day is always the most difficult because you have to climb a few thousand feet to get to the top of the final set of Himalayan foothills. 

The path from Phedi to Dampus is a series of ramshackle stone steps that weave through hilly farmland and terraced highlands. You’ll be fuelled along by warm Nepalese smiles, so don’t be afraid to stop and support the locals by purchasing food, water or walking sticks. Dhampus is a small village with a few dirt roads and makeshift shops. But there’s plenty of accommodation options. The most iconic views are arguably from the Dhaulagiri Guest House, on the west side of town. You’ll see the entire valley, plus it puts you 15-minutes closer to the morning trailhead for the most stunning route of your entire trek.

Depending on the time of year, the snow-capped Himalayan peaks can be blanketed by dense clouds. If that’s the case during your journey, the best chance for these once-in-a-lifetime views often comes during the pre-dawn hours where an electric sunrise illuminates the majestic range. It may be chilly, but set your alarm for 6:00am and enjoy the colour show bouncing off craggy peaks with a warm cup of tea.

Day Two: Dampus to Australian Camp, by way of Pothana 

Hike time: 2-3 hours.

Must see: Sunrise over Annapurna I, II and III.

Don’t forget: Drink Masala tea in Pothana.

sign, australian camp, pothana, dhampus, annapurna

Nothing hi-tech here, but signs like this definitely help.

© Mike Cianciulli

The path rises and dips through lush forests, over babbling streams, across open meadows, past local homes and farms, all while offering varied views of the towering mountains. In about an hour and a half, you’ll reach the small village of Pothana, an ideal spot for a tea break.

The tea in Nepal is highly popular with locals and visitors alike. It’s brewed with hot milk, sugar and a variety of masala spices and hits the palate with a unique sweetness. Think of the best Chai Spice Latte you’ve ever gotten at Starbuck’s except you’re in Nepal and this is the norm here. 

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Machapuchare, aka Fish Tail Peak.

© Chris Brinlee Jr.

Pothana is the closest you can get to the Annapurna range without needing a permit or a local guide. Walk towards the checkpoint and explain to the official that you’d simply like to take a photo and he’ll allow you just that. After all, you’re standing adjacent to the 26,545-foot behemoth Annapurna I, the 10th largest peak in the world.

From Pothana to Australian Camp is less than an hour walk, with a small incline. There are a few accommodation options scattered along the top of a big hill. But hiking in, you’ll notice that Angel’s Guest House is clearly the place to stay. Quaint cottages line the ridge with a vast grass field in the centre - perfect for a picnic, some yoga or simply relaxing while taking in the mesmerising views on a clear afternoon.

Post trekking decompression, Himalayan-style...Nepalese rum mixed with hot water.

A post shared by Mike Cianciulli (@mikechinch) on

Day Three: Australian Camp to Sarangkot

Hike time: 4 hours (by bus); 8 hours (walking only)

Must see: World Peace Pagoda reflecting in Fewa Lake.

Don’t forget: Snacks and stamina. This one’s a haul.

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The colours of Nepal.

© Chris Brinlee Jr.

Be sure to soak in a final view of the Annapurna range before embarking on the longest walk of this four-day trek. And once you’ve kissed the million-dollar view goodbye, drop down the backside of the hill towards the main road below. It’s a steep, rocky descent that slowly weans you back into Nepalese civilisation. You’ll reach the road in around 45 minutes and now you have two choices —  take a bus from Kande to Naudande or simply walk along the road for over an hour reliving the previous day’s majesty.

From Naudande, pick up a dirt road that forks to the right and will lead you to your final night’s resting spot — Sarangkot. Push through with optimism, revelling in the peek-a-boo views of the Himalayas on your left and increasingly better perspective of Fewa Lake and Pohkara on your right. Thankfully, there are small shops along the way to purchase water, while Sarangkot’s peak looms in the distance. 

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The homestretch to Sarangkot.

© Mike Cianciulli

Once you near your destination, the journey is far from over. It’s time to climb higher yet again. The peak at Sarangkot is a popular day hike from Pohkara and boasts 360-degree views of the Annapurna range, Pohkara city as well as Fewa Lake. It’s also a sought-after paragliding spot for adventure tourists to get a bird’s-eye-view of the scenery. Settle in to the View Top Guest House for the night and be sure to catch the sunset from their rooftop restaurant before crashing well before 8:00pm completely famished.

Day Four: Sarangkot to Pohkara

Hike time: 2-3 hours.

Must see: 360-degree view from atop Sarangkot.

Don’t forget: That final glimpse at the Annapurna rage.

Your last morning will dawn with more epic views of the Himalayas but there’s a chance your gaze down on Fewa Lake could be completely blocked by dense clouds hanging over the water and city. If so, chalk it up as a benefit of hiking at such great heights — when you’re over the clouds, you can see the other things (i.e. mountains) that are also perched above the billowy whiteness.

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Your final descent.

© Chris Brinlee Jr.

The drop down from Sarangkot to Pohkara is going to be the most vertiginous of your journey. And depending on your energy levels, your weary legs might struggle since your backpack probably feels like a load of bricks by now. So rest often and dream of things like hot showers, pizza, full-body massages, soft beds and Wi-Fi. Once you reach the bottom, the trail puts you out into the far end of Pohkara’s Lakeside district, which is a groovy little hamlet complete with feral hippies, yoga studios, organic restaurants and an amazing accommodation called Green Peace Lodge. It’s a great spot for leisurely indulging in all the hot showers, pizza and Wi-Fi you’ve dreamed of.

By no means is this route for serious trekkers. But by the time you’ve finished, you may surely feel like one. All it takes is a few tips, a trusty map, some serious will power and the inspiring beauty of the Himalayan mountains to power you through a trek of a lifetime.

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