Cloud Forests of Pink & Red: Himalayan Springtime
Trip Start Jan 28, 2012
19Trip End Jan 28, 2013
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On our flight back from Mustang; Jomsom to Pokhara, we flew just below the mist and above the hills to see the upland forest looking like a fairy floss landscape of pink, white and red… the Himalayas in springtime! Instantaneously we knew that we must do another trek, this time through the 'real’ Nepal of lowland fields, Gurung villages and cloud forests with monkeys.
On arrival back in Pokhara we had lunch with our guide and porter before they departed for Kathmandu and Chitwan. We talked about our plans for the following week as being relaxing days in quiet sleepy Nepalese villages, soaking up some sun and picnics into rhododendron forests. While chatting over lunch our guide Indra gave us many tips on where there were good places to see rhododendrons, but the best he said, was Ghorepani and Poon Hill, a minimum 5-day trek to 3,210m. By the end of lunch, the quiet relaxing dream of picnicking in forests amongst flowers had vanished and instead after a few days rest in Pokhara we doned our backpacks and ventured uphill into the Himalayan cloud forests without a guide or porter and a 7-day National Park permit in our hands.
Nepalese trekking guides are renowned for saying ‘a little up, a little down, and then a bit more up’… we didn’t have a guide but a topographic map…so we knew that our little up was going to be 7 hours of uphill trekking to reach the 2nd night stop-over of Ghorepani.
Growing up in the Southern Highlands of NSW in Goulburn and with my Mum being an avid gardener I knew of cool climate flowering plants like rhododendrons, magnolias and daphne. As a child I knew these plants by name, shape and smell but not their origin or what they looked like as a plant native to their country. To put simply, I was astonished! On our arduous 7-hour walk I hardly noticed the 1000’s of uphill steps but instead was drawn into the mystical forest that we were walking though. The rhododendrons were not the small shrubs that I was use to but instead these amazing huge old growth forests the size of river red gums! And daphne was not a small bush growing near our rainwater tank but instead an understorey shrub 4-6 ft high filling the air with a subtle sweet smell, arrh I was in love with the Himalayan spring.
Our numerous photos of the first sighting of a lonely rhododendron flower at the start of our 7 hour walk were quickly deleted by the time we reached Ghorepani. Here, the forest was more open with a large shrubby rhododendron species that were amassed in dense flowers of different shades of pink. A prerequisite of staying at Ghorepani is that you must do a 40min walk at 5am to Poon Hill to watch the sunrise over the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna’s. With spring being pre-monsoon season, getting a glimpse of these towering mountains is not easy, even at 5am! So being a bit disappointed that the mountains were awashed in mist, we slowly descended Poon Hill only to find that the best place to see rhododendrons was here. With an extra day up our sleeve on our self-guided trek, we decided to stay another night and do a second sunrise at a pre-selected quiet spot (there where at least 300 people watching sunrise from the top) only halfway up the slope, meaning we had a 5.30am sleep-in. And boy were we rewarded! The sky was clearer on the second morning and Mt Dhaulagiri (8,172m) was a spectacular backdrop to the rhododendrons.
On a rhododendron high, we continued trekking the Ghorepani - Ghandruk circuit watching the rhododendrons change to darker shades of red as the landscape changed.
By now being into the first week of April the Monsoon build-up had started with afternoon thunder starting to roll in at lunch-time with lightening, hail and rain soon to follow. With so many trekkers on the track at this time of the year enjoying the flowers, we quickly worked out that we had to find a guesthouse by 2pm not only to avoid the rain but to guarantee a room for the night.
Descending through the last of the cloud forests before reaching the lowland terraced hills of Ghandruk village I was starting to dismiss Glen’s stories of seeing forest monkeys when suddenly I heard the familiar cooing sound that one only hears in Australian zoos. I quickly used my bird spotting eyes and saw a family of monkeys sitting high up in a Magnolia tree feasting on the huge white flowers. As we sat and watched the monkeys I was in awe of these magical moss covered cloud forests of pink and red rhododendrons and the vast differences of the Nepalese Himalayas that I had experienced.
Arriving in Ghandruk by lunch-time we were able to spend the afternoon visiting the museum depicting traditional village life, which didn’t look that dissimilar to current life, as the village has been one that has preserved their culture extremely well, even though being situated on a two major trekking routes of Ghorepani and Annapurna Basecamp which can bring major western influences and often change.
Leaving Ghandruk and nearing the end of our trek we descended through the last of the rhododendron forests which had either finished flowering or flowers were stripped from the trees due the daily thunderstorms and hail, how lucky we had been to seen them in their full blooming glory at Ghorepani!