Mardi Base Camp Trek is a newly opened trekking route which lies in Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). It is lesser known than the famous Annapurna Basecamp Trek. However, locals and tour guides say that the spectacular view of the Annapurna, Gangapurna, Machhapuchhre and Hiunchuli along the way easily makes it one of the top trekking routes in the region. The trek can be completed in less than a week just like the trek to Poon hill, and provides an exciting alternative for trekkers looking to walk a new route.
The Mardi Base Camp is at an elevation of 4500m. There are a number of stops along the way- Forest Camp, Low Camp and High Camp for night’s rest and acclimatization to the increasing altitude. You may choose to skip some of the check points, but it is recommended you stop at Low Camp before making way for the High Camp. The trek from Low Camp to High Camp is above 3000m, and a night’s rest and acclimatization will be good for the body. If you have problem coping with high altitude, consuming raw garlic can help. However, none of us in our group of five had any problem with conditions resulting from thin air in high altitude.
We started our trip from Pokhara. We drove to Simai. Simai is also the start point for trek to Ghandruk. You also have the alternative of starting the trek from Sidhing. Our destination for the day was Landruk, the village opposite of Ghandruk. We started walking from Simai around 6pm. It was already dark when we reached Kyume, which had a hotel. However, we only rested for a while and left for Landruk. At 8:30pm, after two and half hours walk from Simai, we reached our stop. We stayed at New Peaceful Guest-House. A stop at Landruk is highly recommended. The food is good, you get warm-water for shower and the village is picturesque, especially in the morning sun. When you climb higher, the food gets simpler without meat items and variety in vegetables.
We set out for Forest Camp in the morning. The Forest Camp is at an altitude of 2550m. The Rest Camp in between Forest Camp and Low Camp is at 2600m. The Low Camp is at 2970m. Likewise, the High Camp is at 3700m and the Upper View Point is at 4300m. These altitudes are reported by Mardi Trek Tourism Management and Merchant Committee. However, a tour guide for two French trekkers whom we met at the View Camp said his altimeter noted the altitude of Upper View Point as 4200m. There might be some discrepancies in the reported altitude, but they give a close idea of what altitude you are in and thus plan your trek accordingly.
We walked from Landruk directly to Low Camp stopping at the Forest Camp for food. The trail led us through dense forests. The walking path was distinct and easy to navigate. A group of Indian trekkers got lost during the trek and reached High Camp one day later than planned. However, if you follow the blue and white paint on tree trunks and stones along the route, it should be very easy to navigate the trail safely. We did not have a trekking guide and even without experienced eyes to guide us, made it to the High Camp safely.
The walk from Landruk to Forest Camp took 4 hours and Forest Camp to Low Camp took 2 hrs. Experienced trekkers should be able to complete both part of the trip in one hour less. During the walk from Low Camp to High Camp, the surrounding vegetation transitions from dense trees to high altitude type. The straw colored shrubs are expansive and the yellow and light-green color spread in all directions dominating the landscape, punctuated by copse of trees and stony outcroppings. Rhododendron forests also form major part of the vegetation. However, to witness the forest in full bloom, you have to do your trek during the flowering season which starts from the end of March to April. When you get closer to high camp, the forest trails give away to high mountainous path. You get level with clouds and it seems like you are literally ambling on a heavenly stairway.
We reached High Camp in three hours and this was easily the prettiest part of the trip until now. We reached High Camp in the afternoon and spent the time enjoying the majestic view of the mountains around. The hills brimmed with clouds and looked like a divinely tub of bubble bath.
The weather was clear for the most part. But in late afternoon, the peaks got covered by clouds and the weather got chilly. We were staying inside the hotel common area sipping milk tea when someone told us that they had spotted a Daphne (Lophophorous) outside. We got out and saw the national bird in majestic plumage of green, blue, orange and more colors in its natural habitat. Someone speculated that as the weather had gone colder, the bird had descended down the hills. As evening set in, the view got even better. The clouds looked silver and even more surreal. The setting sun streaked the horizon in endlessly changing hues, seemingly reflecting the feathers of the Daphne. It appeared as if some invisible hands were dabbing heavenly paints from trippiest of imagination on the evening sky.
The next day we climbed till High View Point, leaving our bags at the hotel in High Camp. The vantage point provided a wide angle perspective of all the mountains around. This part of the trip was even more scenic than the one from Low Camp to High Camp. The weather was sunny and the world above the clouds seemed separated and majestic than the mortal one below. The atmosphere was peaceful and meditative. A number of paragliders capitalizing on the good weather jumped from High Camp, flew towards Mount Fishtail and circled it.
When we returned back, a local guy, who was building a new hotel at the High Camp, and a tour guide asked us to join them on a trekking route that they were trying to open. They told us a tour guide had taken a Spanish couple from Sidhing to High Camp on this route. Besides them, we would be the first Nepali visitors to go through the route. We made it to Sidhing in 6 hours. This route was the toughest part of our whole trip. We realized that going downhill is more difficult than going up because of continuous stress on calf and thigh muscles.
We made it through narrow mountain trails, the one you might have seen in the internationally acclaimed movie Himalaya or read about in Muna Madan by Laxmi Prasad Devkota. After that we reached the hills and paced along the forest floor littered with dead slippery leaves. We saw marks of bear claws on trees and bear droppings, squirrels scurrying around, thar deer, and wild monkeys along the way. When we neared Sidhing, we were exhausted and our legs felt like heavy wood. Since very few people use this route, there are no hotels in between for a night’s rest. So you have to make the trip in one day. The sun was setting, it was getting dark, our legs were tired, but we plodded along the trail seeking strength in the faint rays of the sun.