Rhodo heaven in the Annapurnas

Colourful rhododendrons bloom in the Annapurna region
Colourful rhododendrons bloom in the Annapurna region

Words and images: Kathy Ombler

In my Wellington garden I have five rhododendrons. One is healthy. Every year it blooms a lurid pink; a shade I don’t even like much. The other four are struggling, looking set to join several predecessors who for reasons unbeknown to not very green fingered me have long departed to rhodo heaven. Go well, I say.

Because last April I found that rhodo heaven. Close, in a way, to heaven itself, 3000 metres high on the Annapurnas, those grand Himalayan peaks that soar from sheer gorges and steep valleys, their lower slopes lined by terraces and dotted with blue-roofed villages, all linked by ancient, worn, stone-step pathways. That’s where I found rhododendron heaven; beneath the snowy summits entire forests, blazing red, pink, cerise and more, blended with white magnolias, and sweet-smelling daphnes.


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Our group of 9 trekkers was supported by a head guide, trekking guide, two cooks, six porters and a Sirdar (boss of the porters and cooks). From left: Prasant (guide), Kathy, Govinda (trekking guide) and Dhobra (Sirdar).

Trekking is big in Nepal, and Annapurna is one of the country’s biggest trekking regions. Popular routes climb to Annapurna Base Camp, or trail around the entire range on the Annapurna Circuit (now more of a half circuit given new air and jeep access to the town of Jomsom). Or they take a shorter hike to Ghorepani Village then climb with the pre-dawn crowds to capture the mountain sunrise from Poon Hill, the overwhelmed ‘Instagram’ spot of the region.

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Sunrise across the Himal. Prominent on the left is sacred Machapuchare, or Fishtail, reportedly the home of Hindu god Shiva and banned from climbers.

During its long history of organising trekking tours throughout the Himalaya, World Expeditions has worked with local villagers and guides to develop itineraries away from these well beaten trails. For accommodation they have built relationships with remote farmers and lodge owners, and in places established their own, exclusive tented camps. Cooks travel with the groups. This lessens the risk of food-related illness, while their use of gas stoves avoids the need to cut rhodo forests to fuel cooking fires (increased trekking has increased demand for firewood here).

Plastic drink bottles are a no-no, everyday the guides boil water for trekkers to replenish their own refillable flasks or camel backs. The company hires local porters, and rewards them with both wages and trekking gear.

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Our porters climb through Ghorepani Village.

For the trekkers there are many positives: avoiding the masses, being kinder to the land, supporting local employment, opportunities to learn about local life, not getting sick and all the time of course enjoying that landscape drama; those massive white massifs and, draped around their lower flanks, the world’s largest rhododendron forest.

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At lower altitudes we trekked through cultivated terraces.

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Good morning Dhaulagiri (8,167m and the world’s 7th highest mountain). Looking across Kali Gandaki, the world’s deepest gorge, from Kopra community eco lodge.

 
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Rhododendron forests vie for attention with the Dhaulagiri massif.

Nepal, trekking, Annapurna, Spring, walking, hiking

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