Every visitor to the lake city of Pokhara will likely say that it is one of the loveliest cities on planet earth. That is because of its fantastic natural beauty. However, one could also say that Pokhara is a gateway to some equally lovely places. One such place is Ghandruk (2,010 m), a village inhabited by the Gurungs, a clan made famous by the bravery of many of its brethren in many wars all over the globe. Many of them have won some of the world’s biggest honors for courage under fire. Thus, this makes the heartland of the Gurungs, that is, Ghandruk, a especially interesting site for all visitors, for here, one will get the opportunity to experience firsthand the lifestyle of these famed ethnic group.
Located northwest of Pokhara, Ghandruk can be reached in just a day—a short drive, then a four- to five-hour walk. The village lies on the popular Annapurna Base Camp trek, and so is a much-visited place by trekkers from all over the world. The journey begins with a 55-km drive on the Pokhara-Baglung highway passing the towns of Hyangja, Phedi, and Naudanda, before coming across Lumle. From here, the road goes down to Nayapul, the starting point of the trek. The trail goes up a steep slope leading to a suspension bridge over the Modi Khola. Half an hour of steady hiking along the riverbanks gets you to Birethanti, an often crowded bazaar.
At Birethanti, the path divides into two. The path going west leads to the Bhurungdi river and Tikhedunga, and thereon to the trail to Ghorepani pass (a watering hole for horses once upon a time). The trail going right from Birethanti carries on to the Modi river valley and from there to Ghandruk. You don’t have to worry about carrying a lot of supplies; there are plenty of tea houses and such on the busy Ghandruk trail. One thing you will immediately notice as you pass Birethanti, are the mules on the trail. They are favored beasts of burden around here, and the distinct peal of the bells hanging around their thick necks make them impossible to ignore. On top of this, most, if not all the mules are decorated gaily with multi-colored ribbons, trinkets, and comical headgear. Go on, click away, you are assured of some really nice photographs. Further ahead, you come across another suspension bridge, this one over a small side stream, before the trail widens, becoming akin to a regular road. There’s another more typical bridge up ahead over the muddy waters of Modi Khola.
The river flows south around a hill, while the wide path (a seven-kilometer road) goes straight up. Here, you’ll see a notice that says ‘Old Trail’. It points to a narrow trail a little to the right and along the bank. Nevertheless, to set your mind at rest, you should know that both routes eventually meet at Syauli Bazaar. The old trail is the preferred route for most trekkers. One hour of walking later, you’ll reach Lamakhhet and pass a birch forest before arriving at Syauli Bazaar. This is a small Gurung settlement where you’ll also find a sizeable number of Magar people (another clan that has won great accolades for bravery). You can have a cup of tea here and take a breather before continuing. The trail now goes around the mountain to the left, and through terraced fields, before going down to the foothills to the banks of the Modi Khola. The trail then becomes a bit rough, paved as it is with stones, and steeper. You get to climb some stone stairs that are not exactly evenly constructed, so keep your wits around you. Focus, so that you don’t step on huge piles of mule droppings.
Keep a lookout also for the mule trains; especially if it’s likely that you’ll meet them while climbing the jaggedy steps. Give way, step aside. While doing so, don’t go downhill, step uphill away from the beasts (which will usually be carrying some pretty heavy loads). The tinkling of bells should give you enough warning to be prepared. Next, you’ll reach Kliu, and passing that, you will cross yet another suspension bridge, this one over the Sadhu Khola, a small stream. The stone steps trail goes steadily upwards, reaching Kuine Danda. As you walk up, you’ll naturally take frequent breaks to admire the engrossing view all around you.
You will probably be famished by now, having walked all those steps, but don’t worry, you will be resting awhile up ahead in Kimchi, a small village with eateries that can provide quite a wide variety of cuisine. You are well advised to eat here, and perhaps a filling meal of daal, bhaat, and tarkari would be best. After Kimchi, till Ghandruk, you’ll not find many eateries on the way. Having nourished yourself, and rested awhile, you carry on up the steep path. The closer view of the majestic Macchapucchre peak to the north should inspire you and egg you on. The path begins to taper off and become less steep as you arrive at Chane, an isolated-looking settlement. But, soon enough, the trail again becomes a bit rough and you cross through a large cluster of rocks and boulders.
Another half-hour and you reach a ridge. From then on, the trail transforms into an easy stone-paved path, with stairs at some places on the way. But, after some time, you find yourself again climbing steep stone stairs up the hillside. Finally, you reach your destination; a signboard on the road announces: ‘Ghandruk: 2,010 m’. The houses here are built at split levels on the hillsides and there are plenty of lodges around the village. Look around, and you’ll find the views awesome—a deep gorge, densely forested hills, terraced fields to the east; to the west, rolling hills; to the south, a deep valley. Look northwards, and you’ll see a line of craggy snow peaks—Macchapucchre, Annapurna III, Gangapurna, Hiunchuli, and Annapurna South. Macchapucchre, of course, occupies pride of place in this impressive line-up.
There are plenty of stone alleyways in Ghandruk, as are there lodges and inns, and solid-looking slate-roofed houses. One will soon enough discover, however, that it is the nature of the locals that is the best thing about the village. The Gurungs are as famous for their sense of humor and hospitality as they are for bravery. They are also well-known for their disciplined way of life (They are a martial race after all!), which means that the village is, at all times, neat and tidy as well. There’s a 200-year-old restored structure here that’s worth seeing. It’s made of stone and mortar and is known as the Gurung Cottage. There’s also a privately run museum in the village. This, more than anything else, should tell you about how popular Ghandruk is as a tourist destination!