Beat the crowd to Khayer Lake
Sewa Bhattarai in Myagdi
The Ghorepani-Poon Hill Trek? That is so last century. Now that road access makes the scenic viewpoint easily reachable with a night stop, more and more trekkers venture on up the ridge to Tadapani, Khopra and the hidden holy Khayer Lake.
This extension to the traditional Poon Hill hike is worth it even for those who have done Ghorepani-Ghandruk Ridge before. Strike off the path through rhododendron forest at Tadapani to Mulde Peak for a overnight stop, and then it is another day’s walk to Khopra. An alternative route from Ghorepani is to descend to Swanta and up again to gain the ridge.
The only warning to trekkers is to make sure there is a tea house as night falls, and to keep your eyes on the narrow trail because the views of Annapurna, Machapuchre and Dhaulagiri are so dramatic. Mulde Peak itself is about 700m higher than Poon Hill and beats the view from there by leaps and bounds. The view of a full moon rise from behind Machapuchre is an out of this world sight.
Khayer Lake with Annapurna I peering over the ridge (pictured above) is a further 5-6 hours walk away with a small temple of Khayera Bharani sacred to the local Magar community. Hindu pilgrims from down valley also walk up to the lake on Janai Purnima festival in July-August.
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During the monsoon, the slopes are ablaze with fresh flowers and you do not want to step on them and spoil the beauty. Shepherds graze herds of sheep on the fresh young grass, and people buy sheep from them to sacrifice at the Khayer Bharani shrine.
At this time of year, the lake is partially frozen and the ground is still brown and barren. The trekking season has not started yet, so the trails are deserted.
“About twenty years ago when this area was uninhabited, we used to see big groups of foreigners trek up to the lake to camp and bring their own food and we saw the potential for a lodge here,” says Bhakta Tilija, who operates the lodge at Khopra Ridge. Word about the ethereal beauty of Khayer Lake is now spreading and in the trekking season the dozen rooms at Khopra are full, and so are the outhouses made for porters and unsuspecting Nepali guests.
Social entrepreneur and rural internet pioneer Mahabir Pun founded the lodge in 2007 with prize money from his Ramon Magsaysay award. The proceeds from the lodge go to a school in the nearby Paudwar village. He has set up a string of eight other lodges in the area, including in Mohare Danda.
“We know that we need to expand the facilities, and we are looking for funds to build another lodge,” Pun told us. “Mostly, tourism does not benefit the local community so much. We try to get the community to run the lodges and plough the profits locally.”
Proceeds from the lodges have been invested in building a 50KW micro hydropower plant, which supplies electricity to the lodges for lighting, heating and wifi routers. “Eventually we intend to make the lodges smoke-less zero carbon,” says Pun.
As the better travelled destinations become passé and remote ones become more attractive, Khopra Ridge (pictured, above) is poised to rival the more popular ABC Trek this spring.
And with the road access now making the Annapurna Circuit less pristine, Khopra and the neighbouring Mardi Ridge to the east will be attracting more visitors. The question is how soon the facility will manage to keep up with the influx.
Gosain Kunda's Six Lakes in Spring
Sikuma Rai in Rasuwa
Gosain Kunda is a place to avoid in July-August when tens of thousands ascend to the holy waters at 4,380m for the Janai Purnima festival. But now is the time to go as the winter snow starts melting, the rhododendrons start coming out in full bloom, and the trails are relatively deserted. You will have the mountains, and the lakes, all to yourself.
Being so close to the city, the Gosain Kunda trek is a quick getaway for trekkers and pilgrims. The forest path may look easy at first, but it can be a grueling two-day climb from Dhunche at 2,090m on the highway.
Gosain Kunda can be either a destination, a stopover, or a traverse. As a destination, it can be done in a relaxed way in five days, giving oneself enough time to acclimatise and take in the views. It is better not to rush it.
Trekkers can also just stopover in Gosain Kunda and continue along a narrow path around a steep spur and descend to Langtang Valley two days away. As a traverse, hikers from Dhunche can cross the pass and descend to Helambu and back to Kathmandu. Or, if you really want to punish yourself, you can do that route counter-clockwise. The trails are now much more stable after the earthquake four years ago.
The simplest itinerary is to take a 5-7 hour bumpy jeep ride to Dhunche, and if you want to get away from the sound of trucks, head off immediately to Deurali for the night. Those relatively more fit can climb on to Sing Gompa at 3,250m, a smallish settlement with tea houses and a monastery. It also has a government dairy outlet run by Chatra Bahadur Tamang where you can stock up on yak cheese.
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After morning breakfast in Sing Gompa the trail goes up and up to Lauri Binayak (3,700m). More and more of the mesmerising vista of Ganesh Himal, Langtang Lirung, and Manaslu become visible as you gain altitude, and the scenery energises exhausted walkers. This time of year, rhododendron buds are popping open all over the forest.
The really steep bit comes after Lauri Binayak, and this is where the pace will get slower on the endless uphill. The tea shops at Gosain Kunda look deceptively close, and it is still another few hours of hard slog to reach the ridge to look down at Saraswati Kunda.
When you get there, you find that Gosain Kunda is not one but a series of lakes at over 4,380m. The air is thin and crystalline, and the mirror surface of the lakes reflect the sunset in all its hues. The stunning views, the sacred energy of the spot, and the exhilaration of the climb will make even the most non-religious person slightly spiritual. For true Hindu, Buddhist or Animistic believers, however, this is a pilgrimage of a lifetime.
Those still not sated by the view can trek on to Lauribina La (4,610m) to inspect six other lakes, and the trip is rewarding and therapeutic as the lakes hidden behind ridges glisten like jewels in the sun.
There are 108 lakes in the Langtang National Park region but more are popping up due to global warming, and many do not even have names yet.