Nepali Times

Don't have the time, inclination, or gear for a siege, or to put it kindly, 'expedition-style' trek? Done Poon Hill and want something a little more challenging and a bit shorter than the so-called Royal Trek northeast of Pokhara's other lakes, Begnas and Rupa Tal? Do the Landruk Loop.

Start at Phedi on the Pokhara-Baglung road, slog up past Dhampus, stay the night at Landruk, climb up to the better-known Ghandruk, home to anthropologists, eco-tourism-types and conservationists. Then swoop down to Birethanti and cab it back to Pokhara in an hour.

The hardest part of this trip will be waking up at crack of dawn in Pokhara, likely after a night of carousing on lakeside, and swilling what breakfast you can get-probably the subcontinental chiura-omelette-five cups of milky, sugary tea. Off you go, on the bus to Baglung, or the flying taxi to Phedi.

The reason it's vital to wake up early is not so much getting to Landruk by nightfall, as slogging up past grazing forests, fields and a stone staircase en route to Dhampus before it gets too warm, and getting some good mountain views. Past the forest, the air is crisp, and the golden rice fields in the Seti valley below provide a warm contrast to the foregrounded hills and azure sky. It's a spin on the classic Annapurna Circuit vision that more than makes up for the two-and-a-half-hour, almost 700 m climb to Dhampus, on the ridge.

After Dhampus you hit the rhododendron forest and a stone-paved trail that climbs steadily for an hour-and-a-half to Pothana, which opens up a vista of the Annapurna with Machhapuchhre taking centrestage. (At this point, though, it looks more like Matterhorn than a fishtail, but it's still an excellent bit of mountain.) Past the Pothana lodges, where fortifying and delicious noodle soup is available, is another stone-paved trail to the top of the hill, as it were. Pittim Deorali, a 45-minute walk, offers a great view of Annapurna South and Hiunchuli, and a real sense of accomplishment when you look down at where you came from.
The day gets a bit easier from here-or harder, depending on how you like the steepness of your descents-as you walk down the other side of the hill into a canyon of the Modi Khola through lush forests with waterfalls, ferns, orchids, butterflies, birds and what you can imagine to be the sound of barking deer. Down at the head of the canyon you start climbing again, stone steps this time up to a ridge where the trail opens to the Modi valley and Tolka village. Down another staircase here, up past streams and fields and the Modi Khola way down and before you know it you're in Landruk.

This is happiness. Almost every public room in every lodge in Landruk looks on to the mountains. The ACAP-regulated food is good, the pleasant exhaustion after a good day's walk has set in, and being catatonic is the only way to be, if you intersperse it with half-hearted attempts at playing cards or something similarly mind-numbing.

Up bright and early the next morning, walk along the trail leading down to the Modi Khola as the first rays of the sun hit the himal. The stiff climb up to Ghandruk, the social hub of the Annapurna trekking routes, might just leave you gasping for more! Further north! To Chhomrong! Or Ghorepani! Contain yourself-you didn't take than much time off work.

While in Ghandruk, though, check out the Gurung Museum, which has weapons, clothing, utensils and household items used by Gurungs dating back to the 1800s. Slug back some millet dhindo and whiz your way down. It almost doesn't matter whether you go slow or try to save some knees for old age on the steep walk down. As you plunge past fields, rivers, and forests, your ears will pop anyway. Two hours and you're in Syauli Bazar, a perfect place for a quick snack as you take in the green fields and the roar of the river before you walk the last hour to Birethanti, asphalt, unpleasantness, and taxis.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)