By Nirajan Upadhyaya
Mardi Himal Base Camp trek is one of the newly explored and least popular trekking trails in Nepal. The trail was explored and developed after construction of roads shortened existing trekking trails in the Annapurna Region including the world famous Annapurna Base Camp Trek and Annapurna Circuit Trek.
The trail is gradually gaining popularity among trekkers, both domestic and international. It not only offers an alternative to the popular and crowded Annapurna Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit trek but also offers an opportunity to visit the unexplored areas in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The trail passes through several beautiful villages of Kaski giving trekkers an opportunity to experience the culture and tradition of the local people.
The itineraries to the Mardi Base Camp trek vary from 5-14 days. The trek that begins from Kandhe along the Pokhara-Baglung Highway reaches up to the Mardi Himal Base Camp before returning to Pokhara. It offers trekkers an opportunity to explore traditional villages, incredible scenery, diversity of culture, spectacular views of mountains and tempting views of snow-fed rivers. This trek takes you into one of the most untouched areas in the Himalayas. The trek gets its name from Mardi Himal – the triangular shaped ridge and its summit that form the westerly lower slope of Mt Machhapuchre which is popular among foreign tourists as Fishtail.
The trail takes you away from the ‘Annapurna crowd’ to the closest possible point of the Fish Tail or Machhapuchre (6997m) that stands as sentinel in front of the Annapurna range. As the beautiful settlements along the lower part of the treks have yet to get crowded, it offers you an opportunity to experience the warmth, hospitality, culture and tradition of the region. The trek also offers breathtaking views of mountain peaks like Dhaulagiri (8167m), Annapurna (8091m), Annapurna II (7937m), Annapurna III (7555m), Annapurna IV (7525m), Annapurna South (7219m) and Himchuli (6441m). The trail passes though the birch, rhododendrons, hemlock and pine forests.
The trek begins with a drive to Kande (1710m) from Pokhara. From Kandhe, it continues toward Australian Camp (2060 m) and Pothana before reaching Pitam Deurali – the destination of the first day. The first pit stop of the day, Australian Camp, offers a mesmerizing view of the dense forest below, picturesque Pokhara valley, Fewa lake and the adjacent hills in the south and the famous Annapurna Range to the north. The camp is also a popular hiking destination because of its close proximity to the Pokhara city. It is popular among visitors because of the mesmerizing views it offers. Before reaching Pitam Deurali, the trek from the Australian camp passes through Pothana. This small village has few houses and visitors here can experience homestay facility that the village provides. From Pothana, the trail climbs through a dense forest. It takes three hours to reach Pitam Deurali from Pothana. The view of the sunrise from Pitam Deurali is a thing not to miss.
The destination for the second day is Mardi View point. Trekking on this day takes to various places along the trail. The first place is Forest Camp (2600m) that can be reached after a trek of about five hours from Pitam Deurali, passing through a dense forest. The forest along the way gets so denser at some places that it looks completely dark. The view of sun rays piercing through the dense forest makes the trip even soothing. Forest Camp can be an ideal place for lunch. The camp is surrounded by a dense jungle with few lodges and a volleyball ground.
After the lunch and a brief rest, the trail then leads to Low Camp. It takes around three hours to reach Low Camp from Forest Camp. Mountain ranges become visible again from Low Camp. From here, Mardi Himal and the famous Mt. Machapuchhre can be seen at a close distance. After catching a beautiful view of the mountains, the trail further continues toward View point (2090 m). It is an ideal location for the night stop. There is only a lodge available, but can adjust more than twenty people at a time. Sceneries from the viewpoint is awesome. Annapurna and Machchhapuchhre can be seen at close distance and the view of the mountains during clear night sky is mesmerizing. Like its name, Machapuchhre gives the view of a fishtail and if the sky is clear, the mountains resemble the shining pearls because of moon light.
The Viewpoint also offers mesmerizing view of sunrise. The first rays of sunlight on the mountains bring out the golden shades of mountain. Watching the change in colors of the mountain here can be equally eye-catching.
From here, the trek continues to Badal Danda (3100 m.). It takes about four hours to reach there. The trek to Badal Danda offers breathtaking views of Ghandruk, Chhomrong, Landrung and Ghorepani villages and far below, we can see Modi Khola Valley leading up into the Annapurna Base Camp. From Badal Danda, the forests along the way are left back and the only things visible are surrounding hills and rocky boulders. A walk of around two hours from Badal Danda will take us to High Camp (3550 m). During the walk, the dense forests transforms into hills with mosses and lichens, tree ferns and orchids. Dancing clouds, Pokhara valley at far distance and the view of mountain ranges from here are equally rewarding.
The fourth day of the trek takes us to the Mardi View Point (4200 m) after an uphill walk of around two hours. The view point offers an astonishing view of the Mardi Himal and other adjoining peaks. From here, the trek continues toward the Mardi Himal Base Camp (4510m). The views along the trails are equally awesome. Annapurna South and Machchhapuchhre seem so close that they can be touched. The base camp offers fantastic view of Mardi Himal and other peaks adjoining Mardi Himal. The day can be spent exploring the Mardi Himal Base Camp. As there are no lodging facilities, you will have to return back. It takes three hours to reach the high camp and another two hours to reach Badal Danda. It is best to reach Badal Danda on the day, because of the availability of lodge and proper foods.
On the fifth day, the trek passes through the view point and Low Camp following the newly built trail descending to Sidhing (1800 m). Sidhing is a beautiful village with excellent home stay facilities. Either you can spend a night here and get an experience of local culture and hospitality or take a two hour drive to nearby Lwang village.
Lwang village also has a 150-meter waterfall which is popular among canyoneers. Lwang is a Gurung settlement and is one of few places in the area where you can see tea garden. Almond and coffee are also grown here. The village also provides home stay facility and you can experience local culture and hospitality here too.
From Lwang village, it takes a drive of around two hours to reach the Pokhara City.
If you think trekking to the famous Annapurna region is too mainstream and want to get away from the crowded and commercialized place, trekking to the Mardi Base Camp can be a perfect alternative for the highly regarded Annapurna trek.