Our long-distance hike #7: 27 Days and some 300 kilometers across the remote and little traveled region west of Pokhara. As this hinterland used to be the base for the guerrillas during the revolution (1996-2006), it is called the Guerrilla Trek.
Today this is a totally safe area and the trail takes you to settlements still unconnected through roads. To get there you’ll need hike steep ascents and descents and cross many suspension bridges. The trail offers you plenty of options to stay with at people’s homes and get an impression of daily life in Nepal’s countryside.
In this blog post I’ll share an impression of the hike and give a list of practical information to get you going for this amazing trek. Enjoy! Questions? Let me know in the comment section below.
A Day on the Trail
“Advisory: The route to Pelma by way of Tatopani is not for people with a fear of heights. The trail passes above high bluffs with precipitous drop-offs,” my guidebook said.
Precipitous drop-offs… that sounded discouraging enough, however just the mention of ‘Tatopani’ was enough reason to take this route nonetheless. Tatopani means ‘hot water’ and, in this case, a hot spring. After days of intense hiking, our bodies – and clothes – could use a bath.
Tatopani on the Guerrilla Trek
The setting was gorgeous with a clear river rushing through a gorge with steep walls, and a settlement consisting of exactly one farm. This particular Tatopani (there are more Tatopanis in Nepal with hot springs) was far away from the beaten track, impossible to reach by road and only used by locals (and the occasional hiker).
The bath turned out to be an ugly concrete basin along the side of the river, but the water was hot and it was bliss to soak our weary bones while the sun was setting behind the mountains.
With reinvigorated bodies we were ready to hit the trail once more and take up the challenge of the steep, treacherous section. However, when Coen checked the route with the farmer, the man had a pleasant surprise:
“That’s the old route. There now is a bridge. Instead of walking 3,5 hours, the hike to Pelma takes less than 30 minutes.”
Wow, what a surprise it was…
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Hiking to Pelma
Not just would we have the shortest day-hike of the 27-seven-day trek, the scenery was phenomenal. I don’t know how long the bridge is, but by far the longest of the 27 swing bridges that we crossed on the Guerrilla Trek, and it cut through and narrow gorge with vertical walls and wild water rushing deep below us.
It was a spectacular way to get to Pelma, which turned out to be one of the most charming villages on our hike. It wasn’t connected to the world by road yet, only by trails for people and horses. Today, a villager told us, was a special day: today Pelma got connected to the wireless world. So no roads, but access to the Internet.
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From the guidebook:
“Local residents often find imaginative ways of making the most of their natural environment, surroundings, and homes. Many dwellings in eastern Rukum have flat roofs that are interconnected to neighbor’s homes.
Rooftops function not only as shelter from the elements but are patios to gather socially, soak up the warmth of the sunshine and along with the rafters, a place to dry and store crops and firewood safely for extended periodes of time.
The hand-woven, conical bamboo and thatch storage bins that are commonly found on the rooftops in these parts, usually contain maize, the predominant, staple crop.”
We asked for accommodation and a woman offered to stay in her home, for which we didn’t have to pay but we would pay for meals. This is a common transaction in the Nepali hiking scene. Homestays in such remote areas generally means no proper (clean) room with amenities but sleeping in somebody’s bedroom amidst all their personal stuff.
As in all villages so far from everywhere, windows have no glass, only wooden shutters or – as here – a piece of cloth pinned in front of it to protect the room somewhat against the elements.
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If you like comfort, the Guerrilla Trek is not for you.
If you like to become momentarily part of peoples’ lives, the Guerrilla Trek is definetely for you.
Unfortunately the weather was closing in and we spent most hours indoors as the heavens opened their taps and flooded the streets. On the other hand, because it was so cold, the evening was spent together in the kitchen, around the wood fire.
People walked in and out, joined the circle for a bit, shared a chang or a roxy (undistilled and distilled drinks made from maize). While we didn’t share a language, we enjoyed watching the jokes going back and forth, joined in the toasting of yet another drink, and ate our umpteenth meal of dal bhat – the staple meal of rice, lentils and a bit of vegetables (which they eat twice a day).
Pelma was a memorable stay, and a highlight of our Guerrilla Trek.
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What you Need to Know about the Guerrilla Trek
1. The Hike
- The Guerrilla Trek runs west of Pokhara, a few hours drive to Beni. Daily buses can take you there. From Beni on, the guidebook offers a number four options, varying from 19-27 days. We hiked the 27-day trail, which covers about 300 kms.
- 27 days and 300 kms immediately gives you an indication of the average kilometers covered per day. Not many, and that’s because this is a tough hike. Expect days on end to hike steep up and steep down.
- This is nót a hike for inexperienced hikers. Be familiar with multiple-day hikes, hiking in mountains, and have experience in navigation, and do have some level of fitness.
- While steep, this is low-altitude hiking. General altitude is around 2,000 meters, with the highest pass at 4,000 meters and a few around 3,000-3,500 meters. This is not spectacular scenery like in the higher Himalayas, although in the Hunting/Wildlife Reserve north of Dhorpatan you do get some splendid views of snow-capped mountains.
- Main reasons for picking this hike: hiking where few others go and getting a peek into super remote Nepal with in many places still a very traditional way of life.
Don’t Forget to Bring
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- There are no trail markers, heck there are no road signs whatsoever. You may encounter villages to ask for directions, but not necessarily where you need one. The guidebook is not sufficient for navigation. Coen spent two days drawing a trail on his iphone, based on info from the book, Google Earth and so on. Even then, we weren’t always sure of the trail.
- There are numerous hiking apps, the one we use is called MapOut. One of the big advantages of this app is that you can use it offline and thus use little battery power. Talking about digital appliances, we could charge our phones at the homestays but there often were power cuts. So better bring a powerbank as back up
3. Accommodation / Camping & Meals
- With one or two exceptions, you will pass a hamlet or village every day, and in all but one we found homestays/guesthouse/hotel. You can do the hike without camping gear, but we did bring it and used it about five times to enjoy some wilderness camping as well.
- Homestays mean you’ll pay for food and sometimes lodging. Expect dahl bhat (rice with lentils) or dhirdo (mashed maize with a bit of meat / vegetables). Expect the most basic lodgings and you’ll be fine. As clean sheets possibly aren’t part of the deal, you may want to bring a liner or sleeping bag.
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4. Shops & Water
- There are small shops along the way but expect only biscuits and noodlesoups. No fancy candy bars, no oat meal, no nuts, no raisins or any of the other typical snack food you may want to bring. You’ll have to buy that before your hike, and you may stock up on some of it (like nuts) in Musikot.
- Water is everywhere, lots of streams. So you only need to bring something to filter it. We use a hand filter (MSR TrailShot) and bring Micropur tablets. No bottled water available in villages, but people do boil their water (‘tato pani’) and we had no problem water drinking in peoples’ homes.
More questions? Fire away in the comment section below or send us an email. We’ll be happy to answer them.
Books for your Nepal Hike
Additionally, I’d like to recommend a couple of books that we enjoyed reading on the hike and which taught us a lot about the country/region we were hiking in. (We bring a Kindle as the battery lasts so long and so we can keep our iPhones for navigating).
- Five Sons and a 100 Muri of Rice: The story of a five year old bride in rural Nepal, by Sharyn Steel
- Palpasa Café, by Narayan Wagle
- The Waiting Land: A Spell in Nepal, by Dervla Murphy
- Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan
- And the earlier mentioned guidebook: ~The Guerrilla Trek and Yarsa Trails; Off the Beaten Path in western Nepal, by Alonzo Lyons
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