Driven away by new highways, trekking guides are exploring new routes and also a new model of trekking that benefits local communities more.
With jeeps and motorcycles now raising the noise and dust levels on the road up from Beni, a new 'high road' from Beni to Khopra and Khayar Lake is being reactivated. This had always been the choice of slightly more adventurous tourists because there were no lodges.
However, things are changing under the initiation of internet activist and educator, Mahabir Pun in Nangi village. Two private lodges and a community lodge have been set up and private local entrepreneurs and schools are being encouraged to invest in lodges. This way, tourism earnings goes directly to local education.
Nangi is a steep six-hour climb from Beni, but the views of Dhaulagiri and Gurja Himal make the effort worthwhile. At Nangi, we see Pun's effort to network villages through wireless internet and also telemedicine. Next day's walk is to Swanta, where there is now a community lodge.
From Swanta to Khopra Lake is another eight hours and there are lodges being built there as well as in the next day's night stop- Danda Kharka. The walk is through dense rhododendron and oak forests with spectacular views of Annapurna South-closer and clearer than any low-level trek.
Khopra will soon replace Poon Hill, Sarangkot and Ghorepani as the scenic viewpoint. From its 3,600m vantage point, the Kali Gandaki gorge (the deepest in the world) at sunset is breathtaking. The valley floor is carpeted by clouds and the mountain glows orange as the full moon rises from the east. In the cosmic movement of the setting moon and rising sun, the horizon wears amazing shades of pink and blue, setting a lovely backdrop for morning-fresh Dhaulagiri. Thanks to Pun, even this lonely place has an internet connection to the rest of the world.
Khayar Lake at 4,600 m is another six hours trek from here, where there is a big festival on Janai Purnima every year. This is the highest point that the local sheperds go and there are trails. On a November afternoon, the lake is already frozen in its fringes.
After the pilgrimage to the lake, hikers have a choice of either walking towards Bayali and then to Tadapani, Ghandruk and Pokhara. As you join the Annapurna circuit, you finally start seeing trekkers, more shops and fancier lodges. And the more familiar silohouette of Machapuchre to guide you back to Pokhara.