Two of Pokhara Area’s Best-kept Secrets
Tsukinoie in Dhampus & Hananoie in Astam
by Micheal Gill
The two Japanese-style lodges in Dhampus and Astam villages, northwest of Pokhara, are two of the area’s best-kept secrets. Thankfully, that is now changing. Both are run by Nepal Kaze Travel (P.) Ltd. The older lodge, Tsukinoie (House of the Moon), is located in the center of Dhampus village and has been in business for 23 years, since 1993. The other one, called Hananoie (House of Flowers), is located a leisurely three-hour downhill walk from Dhampus in Astam village. It opened in 2001.
Yet, despite having been in business for years, both are largely unknown to non-Japanese tourists, and even to non-Japanese resident expats in Nepal. It is true that neither place has a signboard that advertises its presence, so it would be uncommon for trekkers to find either place if they didn’t know about them beforehand. On the other hand, it’s not as if their existence has been intentionally kept a secret from all but the Japanese. One might almost say it is because by some strange magic, it is as if both lodges are magically located not in Nepal, but in Japan. Indeed, the moment one enters the gates of both places, one feels utterly transported to the Land of the Rising Sun!
The Gurung village of Dhampus is full of trekkers’ lodges. Some are better than
others, but none is unique. All are
basically similar to trekking lodges that one might encounter anywhere else in the Annapurna Conservation (ACAP) project area. Tsukinoie and Hananoie, however, are totally unique.
As soon as the tired and dusty traveler leaves the trail to enter Tsukinoie, one feels as if he has left Nepal behind and been transported to Japan on an invisible magic carpet. Except for the magnificent views of the himals, Annapurna South, Hiun Chuli, and Macchapuchare, one feels as if one has passed through a magic portal and stumbled into a Japanese mountain village, complete with a rotenburo (Japanese copper hot tub), where two guests at a time can contemplate the setting sun on Machapuchare while soaking away the aches and pains and fatigue of the trail in anticipation of a delicious dinner and a fully satisfying night’s sleep. The rotenburo at Tsukinoie is surrounded by bamboo walls on three sides, but open to the north, so that the bather feels as if he is sitting in his or her private Himalayan garden.
Hananoie, unlike Tsukinoie, is close by, yet still quite apart from the main part of the predominantly Brahmin Astam village, perched on its own hilltop. It is completely surrounded by its own gardens, orchards, and meadows, the very fields that grow the delicious foods served at Hananoie. There, too, one can relax in the rotenburo that is located inside a separate bath house. Before or after dinner, guests can gather around the open fireplace or sit on comfortable sofas and read a book or simply relax. It is so luxurious, in such an understated way, that it is hard to believe one is sitting at 1600 meters above sea level.
As wonderful as they are however, Tsukinoie and Hananoie may not be the right place for every traveler to Nepal. First, they are more expensive than the ordinary trekkers’ lodge, though they do provide full board and all amenities. Second, these are places where one comes for peace and quiet and a level of rustic luxury and comfort that one cannot find elsewhere, not to party and make a lot of noise. Finally, as delicious as it is, the food at both places may not be to everyone’s taste. But anyone who is looking for the finest, most authentic Japanese country-style food will not be disappointed. The menu at Tsukinoie mixes both Nepali and Japanese food, while that at Hananoie is almost purely Japanese, even for lunch and breakfast.