In December I went for a short trek along Mardi Himal ridge as I heard that recently new lodges had been built now making it possible to do this as a teahouse trek rather than camping. I started walking from Phedi a short taxi ride from Pokhara and then walked up to Dhampus following the standard Annapurna Sanctuary trail up to Pitam Deurali where one turns off this main trail to Mardi Himal.
From Pitam Deurali the trail continues through forest and is very quiet compared to the busier trail from Phedi in fact I only saw one other trekker during the whole of my time on Mardi Himal. At Forest Camp (2,600m) there are three small lodges I stayed in one near the camping ground. The rooms are quite basic and there is no dining room so I had my meals in kitchen, so in some ways this is more like a homestay and very enjoyable to get to know this friendly family from Siding village.
From Forest Camp to Low Camp the trail continues through the forest and at Low Camp there are two basic lodges one with a basic dining room with open fire. The view from Low Camp is superb with Mount Machhapuchhre visible up the valley. An hour or so above Low Camp along trail to High Camp one breaks out above tree line and towards the west there is a good view to Annapurna South and Hiunchuli. The trail continues along the Mardi Himal ridge mainly on grass with some isolated rhododendron bushes along the way. Look out for colourful Danphe pheasant on this section of the trek.
The lodge at High Camp is larger than lodges at Low Camp and Forest Camp, this one has eight rooms and a separate dining room with heater. The view from the lodge is superb to Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre (Fishtail). My plan for next day was to get up early for sunrise view of the mountains then walk up the ridge towards Mardi Himal.
The following morning was cold and clear with a heavy frost on the ground and after a quick breakfast I started walking up the ridge. There is a reasonably well established trail through the grass with a few steeper sections however overall not too challenging. Look out for the dzos (yak/ cow crossbreds) grazing up here as well as many more Danphe pheasant. In the summer the sheep and goats from lower villages are brought up to graze I passed a number of herders huts along the way however at this time of year unused as too cold.
After three hours I reached Upper View point at 4,200m this is where one can look into the Annapurna Sanctuary unfortunately at this stage the clouds rolled in so I decided not to proceed any further to Mardi Himal Base Camp as it was getting quite cold. From speaking to the lodge owner at High Camp he told me Base Camp was a further hour or so along the ridge from Upper View point therefore it should be possible to do this in a day trip however a long day and no doubt you would feel the effects of altitude at Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4,400m.
On the way back down I decided to go take the trail down to Siding Village rather than follow Mardi Himal ridge back to Pitam Deurali, this is a better option for a circuit trek and so that you can see these traditional villages in Mardi Himal valley. The owner of lodge at Low Camp has a homestay in Siding so I stayed there for the night. This was very enjoyable as the couple speak good English and interesting to see village life and talk with the family. The owners have a buffalo behind their house so at breakfast I had fresh milk which was very tasty!
From Siding I walked out to the road head at Lumre, on the way from Siding I passed the villages of Kalimati and Ghalel. I gather Kalimati is mainly a Brahmin village with Ghalel and Siding mixed Brahmin and Gurung. From Lumre there is a shared jeep departing ever hour or so however this is a very crowded so better to organise a jeep from Pokhara in advance.
Overall I enjoyed this trek and in some ways this is similar to Kopra Ridge, both of these treks would be a good choice if you are looking for a short trip away from the busy trails of Annapurna Sanctuary however still getting superb mountain views. Mardi Himal trek has a good variety of scenery from forest lower down on the ridge to grassy slopes higher up with views of the big mountains followed by visiting several traditional villages on the walk out.The Mountain Company plans to start organising treks on Mardi Himal Ridge from Spring 2012, shortly we will have a trek webpage set up for Mardi Himal with Trip Dossier on our website however in the meantime please get in touch if you are interested in joining this trek.