Raj Gyawali, a local social and travel entrepreneur from Kathmandu, recently took leave of his day job as director of socialtours to go on an adventure through the Annapurna foothills. Ten days later, he returned full of ideas and excitement around a new route to Poon Hill via Mohare Danda.
How did this trip come about? Who did you go with?
There is a school group from Germany and Holland that has come to Nepal every year for the last 11 years. They have partner schools here in Nepal, and during their yearly trips, there is a trekking component and a village stay component in partner villages. As a travel company focusing on offbeat travel, we always recommend treks that spread the money into the local economy, and this trek is one that spreads the money to communities outside the main trekking routes.
Also, these students are special. For the last 11 years, they have been running an award-winning students’ company in Germany called Namaste Nepal S-GmbH that has been doing amazing fundraising to boost the schools in Gati VDC of Nepal via its Nepal counterpart Namaste Nepal. Since the earthquake, the commitment has grown to rebuild 11 schools in the VDC, which is progressing now.
What’s unique about the route you took?
Let’s start with the basics: the views are amazing, so that’s no different than trekking anywhere else in Nepal. The villages are stunning, the people are hospitable, etc. But, what’s unique is that the trekking route has the possibility to book with the local community, thereby ensuring that the money goes directly into the hands of the community. There are community eco-lodges in many of the villages along the way, and where there is not, then the homestays are equally charming.
What surprised you about this trek?
Most treks in the Annapurnas have a single highlight, a high point, a sunrise view at Poon Hill, reaching the amphitheater of Annapurna Base Camp, or the highest point where Hinduism has reached at Muktinath. This trek, done at a particular length, has two great highlights: Mohare Danda at 3,300 m, and Khopra Danda at 3,600 m. You can even combine it with a high-altitude lake highlight at 4,000 m above Khopra Danda. This is amazing.
What did you learn about the region that you didn’t know already?
I learned that a whole new network of possible trekking routes exist—doable, comfortable, and well-marked—and the Annapurnas need not be run-of-the-mill at all. Options exist, from going offbeat for just three days to over 11 days, that’s amazing.
What was the most memorable aspect of the trek?
There are so many highlights that it’s difficult for me to put into words. Leading students working on inspirational aspects, daily, each day getting the group to learn how different their lives are from the Nepali villages, and yet appreciating this simple life much more than anything: the sunrise at Mohare Danda, the pre-sunrise walk up from Khopra to 4,000m to view sunrise from that level… there are so many highlights.
Any advice for people looking to explore this region?
Read about it and learn as much as you can before you set off. When traveling off the beaten path, remember to use the local guides, they make some money, and you will feel fulfilled and happy that your money goes directly into the hands of the community. Remember also to book your stay well in advance; these are not mass trails, so accommodation is not always guaranteed. Hence, booking with an agency that knows what they are doing and has the right community connections is important.
The rest? Travel with the right attitude, and you will discover new sides of Nepal, and of yourself!
Raj Gyawali started socialtours back in 2002 as a way to promote socially responsible tourism in Nepal, and is a local partner for kimkim, a travel company from the U.S. that specializes in planning custom travel experiences in Nepal.
When he’s not thinking of new ideas and places to go, you’ll find him mountain biking on the trails around Kathmandu or enjoying a coffee.
For more information on Khopra Danda click here: