From sunrise to local heritage, Poon Hill trek is an enriching experience

|     Deepak Pariyar     |

MORNINGS at Poon Hill are cool, vibrant and contagious. The break of dawn sees wide-eyed onlookers lined up in a row, and on their toes—for what is to come is the most defining trait of this tourism hotspot. In no time, the crowd jitters and bursts into collective delight as the first, fresh rays of the sun strike the elusive Annapurna South, its pointed peak sparkling like diamonds. The crowd cheers once more, some even cry out in joy. And they hug each other, as if they have just witnessed the climax of a feel-good romance.

While the main attractions of Poon Hill are its sunrise and sunset, the journey up to the hill is no less remarkable. One has to tread through ominously dense, green forests and, if it’s springtime and the stars are in your favour, you get to witness the cold, white peaks right in front of your eyes.

The most popular trail to get to Poon Hill located in Nepal is the Annapurna Panorama Trek, also known as the Ghorepani to Poon Hill trekking route, which connects Kaski district to Myagdi. The trek starts from Birethhanti in Kaski and charts through Tikedhunga, Ulleri, Ghorepani, Tadhapani, all known for their own, unique specialties, to Ghandruk. The trek takes three to five days to complete.

Ghorepani lies at an elevation of 2,860m, and a 45-minute walk uphill is Poon Hill, at an elevation of 3,210m.

The highlight of Poon Hill is not just its famed sunrise. Poon Hill overlooks more than 20 snow peaks, three over 8,000m high. Rhododendrons paint the forests red during summer while the same forests are covered with snow during winter.

Tourists view the peak of Poon Hill

“A quaint residence, arresting sight of the Himalayas and quiet environment—is what I loved the most about Poon Hill,” said Lisa, a German national, upon returning. “And not to forget, the hospitality of the locals and fellow trekkers.”

There is an interesting anecdote about how the name Poon Hill came to be. It used to be called Lumthung ko Danda until some 45 years ago. A former major from the Indian Army, Tek Bahadur Poon, changed the name to Poon Hill, as the hill was a predominantly Pun settlement.

“Tek Bahadur was a visionary man,” said Dam Bahadur Pun, a local hotelier. “Even as far back as then, he had already envisioned the possibility of tourism in this hamlet.” In memory of Tek Bahadur, a view tower has been constructed on the top of the hill.

According to Dam Bahadur, Poon Hill hosts about 2,500 tourists every day during the “on-season”, including around 500 foreigners. Currently, there are 22 hotels in total in Ghorepani, while three are under construction. The hotels were constructed with investment ranging from Rs5 million to Rs30 million, said Dam Bahadur.

From Poon Hill, you can also take a detour to several other popular spots around the vicinity. Once you climb downhill to Ghorepani, you can go to Tadhapani, which boasts a total of eight hotels that can provide accommodation to around two hundred tourists. A local hotelier, Man Bahadur Kshetri, said that Tadhapani has resources and possibilities that, if explored, could rival Poon Hill, but it faces a legal hurdle. “Even though there is room for expansion, we haven’t gotten our permits,” he said. “Now we are providing whatever facilities we have and the number of tourists, especially domestic ones, is increasing by the day.”

One can then climb uphill to Gurung Hill, which is noted for its sunrise and the sight of snow peaks. It offers almost the same pleasures as Poon Hill, but it too has resources that remain unexplored.

Most tourists have their breakfast at Tadhapani before heading to another top destination—Ghandruk. It takes about a four-hour walk to get to Ghandruk from Tadhapani.

Ghandruk is a predominantly Gurung settlement, so visitors can expect to feast on ethnic Gurung cuisine and enjoy the indigenous community’s unique cultural performances.

One of the most exciting attractions in Ghandruk is perhaps the Ghandruk Cultural Museum, which boasts a variety of material, including weapons and garb related to Gurung culture and tradition. With the increase in the number of visitors, the number of museums has also increased to four, all of them displaying ancient material related to Gurung culture.

Dhruba Gurung, operator of the Ghandruk Cultural Museum, said that the museum has a two-pronged effect: it helps showcase Gurung antiquities, but also yields money from ticket sales. “The Museum has become a hangout for tourists, with them spending hours pondering the antiquities on display,” Gurung said. The number of onlookers reaches a hundred on busy days. “Heritage is our collective property. It’s what defines us as a community, and it gives us pleasure to showcase our culture to visitors,” said Gurung.

From sunrise and majestic peaks to indigenous culture and heritage, atrek along the Pokhara-Poonhill-Ghandruk route is bound to be a trek one remembers for months. If you’re a traveller with a thing for nature, local lifestyle and heritage, this is one trek you should look forward to. Text and Photo from The Kathmandu Post