Mardi Himal Trek
by Sanjib Chaudhary
Want to get closer to the mountains but don’t have enough time? Then, the Mardi Himal trek is the perfect choice for you. Annapurna South, Himchuli, and Machhapuchhre peaks play hide and seek with you while you climb to the Mardi Himal base camp. You’ll find them standing tall, right in front of you!
Among the many routes leading to the Mardi Himal base camp, we chose the Ghandruk – Landruk – Forest Camp – Low Camp – High Camp route. You can also get a jeep to either Kalimati or Siddhing from Pokhara, and then start the trek to Forest Camp or Low Camp from there.
After spending a night at Ghandruk, we woke up to an amazing sunrise, with Annapurna South, Himchuli, and Machhapuchhre (Fishtail) gazing at us. We were excited to see these peaks from a point much nearer to them. As we descended down from Ghandruk, we met locals in their traditional dresses, and bearing huge smiles. A lodge owner on the way said, “You’ll feel like you’re in the lap of the mountains, and so near that you’ll feel like holding them in your arms.” That was more than enough to raise our already high expectations.
Reaching the Modi River, which demarcated Ghandruk and Landruk, we started our climb with beautiful millet fields on the sides of the trekking route. It took us two hours to reach Landruk. The steep descent from Ghandruk to Modi River and the uphill climb to Landruk was tiring, but satisfying!
We had a sumptuous breakfast at Landruk. The Annapurna South peak was right in front of our eyes! After breakfast we headed for Forest Camp. The trek from Landruk to Forest Camp is treacherous. And, I really mean it. It's an uphill climb, almost an 80-degree slope at most of the places. It took us almost three hours to reach Forest Camp. The signs kept by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) on the way were really helpful. Since the route between Landruk and Forest Camp is not a much preferred route, you’ll find wilderness and rich biodiversity there. But, be mindful while getting close to the water resources—the leeches wait for humans and animals to pounce on.
On the way to Forest Camp, we stopped at an abandoned sheep shed. It was like a viewpoint, and we stayed there for a while taking pictures. A cool breeze blowing past our faces relaxed our senses. That's the power of nature! Reaching Forest Camp, we were amazed to see hordes of trekkers resting on the lodge grounds. All the lodges were fully packed, including the dining rooms, but we managed to get a room with three beds, where four of us would need to cramp together.
Forest Camp, at an altitude of over 2,600 m, is a preferred stop-over for trekkers going to Mardi Himal, as it has lodges with bigger capacity. Since we reached there early, we had an option to get to either Low Camp or High Camp, since we could walk really faster. But, talking with the lodge owners over the phone, we couldn't get a place either at the Low or the High Camp. The lodges at Forest Camp have large open spaces where groups gather and make merry.
Next day, after having an early breakfast, we started for High Camp. After crossing Low Camp, which we did in one-and-a-half hour, we saw a sneak preview of Machhapuchhre right in front of us. Amazing, it was!
And, as we moved further, we could see a small lodge on top of a hill called Badal Danda (meaning hillock above clouds), with Mount Annapurna South hovering over it. To its right was Mount Fishtail. And, all of sudden, clouds started covering the hillock, and the beautiful view of Fishtail hid behind the clouds. That's why they've named the hillock Badal Danda. Amazing was the transition in front of our eyes in a matter of seconds!
As we reached High Camp, everything was dark and gloomy, and covered in dense mist, (actually, the white fluffy clouds as seen from a distance). Then, suddenly, at around four in the evening, the clouds started moving away, and there was sunshine in the area. We could see the Machhapuchhre peak clearly, much nearer than that from Badal Danda. And then again, within twenty minutes, all was covered by the clouds.
We had a good night's rest at High Camp, but be sure you book a place before getting there, otherwise you'll have to get down to either Low Camp or Forest Camp to spend the night. You'll need to start early, at around 3:30 a.m., from High Camp to get to View Point and the base camp of Mardi Himal. Two stretches on this route are really dangerous. You'll literally need to grapple on four limbs to climb them, because there's a steep cliff on both sides of the stretch. Still, the Mardi base camp lures all adventurers to get there. If you've acrophobia, just keep up with your pace, and don't look sideways.
It was early morning and still dark when we crossed the dangerous stretches between High Camp and View Point. Since the day before was a full moon, the moonlight helped us cross the dark, narrow route made for the trekkers, aided by handheld torches. As we approached 4,000 m, we could see big animal forms grunting and grazing in the dark. We were afraid of the yaks, but they were gentle and let us cross the route. We'd thought they'd kick us for disturbing them, but none of them were violent. As we returned from View Point, most of them were resting after an early morning graze. They let us click pictures, and even pose in front of them.
After crossing the two steep sections, and an altitude gain of around 700 m, you'll get to View Point, which stands at an altitude of around 4,200 meters. On the way, you'll get to see amazing views of Annapurna South, Himchuli, and Fishtail just in front of you.
Reaching View Point makes you feel like you've achieved something. People get here early and wait for the sunrise. And, in the meantime, they click pictures, brave the cold gusts of wind, and drink black tea and hot water, buying it from a lone shop, and thinking whether to continue till the base camp. From View Point, it can be reached in an hour. We stayed at View Point and enjoyed the sunrise, the peaks slowly getting lit by the sun’s rays.
As we descended from View Point, we came across a yak farm run by Shiva Lal Gautam, who has been rearing more than fifty yaks. We had a glass of hot yak milk each, and it tasted superb! As we descended down, the white fluffy clouds started covering Mount Fishtail, but we had already clicked hundreds of pictures!
After lunch at Low Camp, we climbed down to Siddhing. The downhill trek was monotonous, and at times, it felt like we’d never be able to reach Siddhing on time. Getting to Siddhing, we hopped on one of the jeeps and reached Pokhara in two-and-a-half hours. Though the trek was short, I will always remember the tall mountains standing in front of us!