By chance when I was leading our Mera Peak Expedition in November I met Mick Chapman at Khare, in fact we also nearly met in Spring as he was also leading a group on Makalu Base Camp to Everest only a few days behind my group. Over a cup of tea in Khare Mick asked what my plans were after Mera Peak and I replied was interested in having a look at some community lodges in the Annapurna I had vaguely heard about. Mick quickly explained that he had helped set up these community lodges so I was speaking to the right person!
The concept behind the community lodges is the ownership of each lodge belongs to a village rather than individuals with profits contributing to community projects such as funding local schools. This pioneering project was started by Mahabir Pun a social worker from this area as well as Nima Lama and Mick Chapman from UK. Funds to build these lodges were raised by local villages, donations from businesses in Kathmandu and friends of Nepal from overseas. A training program has been provided to the local villagers who run each lodge covering food preparation and lodge management.
In Kathmandu earlier this year I met several people who had recently done Kopra Ridge trek and after seeing their photos I decided this was a trek I would like to do. From these photos and hearing about Kopra Ridge I had no doubt our clients at The Mountain Company would be interested in walking this trail in the future. The mountain views from Kopra Ridge include Mount Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Fang and Nilgiri and also from Ghandruk one can see Mount Machhapuchhre (also known as Fishtail) and Mount Hiunchuli. I heard that the best part of the Kopra Ridge trek experience is how quiet the trail is with few other trekkers around as this network of community lodges is quite new (completed March '09) so at least for the moment it is not very well known.
Photo: Ghandruk village
Photo: traditional house in Ghandruk
After my Mera Peak group left Kathmandu I took the bus to Pokhara and on November 29th took a taxi to Nayapool to reach the roadhead. On my first day I followed Modi Khola river and walked up to Ghandruk village (2,012m). Ghandruk is a mountain village inhabited mainly by the ethnic caste of Gurungs, this village is famous for being a major recruiting source of Ghurka soldiers for both British and Indian army. There are several Victoria Cross holders still living here. Most of the houses are of traditional design however there are now a few newer concrete buildings being constructed these days. There are fine views of Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Machhapuchhre and Hiunchuli from the village.
Photo: Common Langur monkey near Tadapani
The next day I walked for three hours or so to Tadapani following the main trail although at the junction I turned off and took the quieter trail to Kopra Ridge rather than continuing to Ghorepani. In fact as soon as we left Tadapani, Tekar my guide pointed out a Common Langur monkey swinging in the trees and then shortly after leopard pugmark and scraping. This section is a lovely walk through rhododendron and oak forest and follows a trail originally used by villagers from Ghandruk to take their buffaloes, sheep and goats to the higher pastures in the summer months.
Photo: Mount Dhaulagiri from Bayeli Community lodge
The trail starts to ascend above the tree line and follows a ridge to Deurali (small pass) and then continues up to Bayeli Kharka (3,420m) where the first community lodge is located. From the lodge the view to west is dominated by Mount Dhaulagiri and at 8,167m is the seventh highest mountain in the world. Several places along the way we saw the colourful Danphe pheasant the national bird of Nepal.
Photo: dzo near Kopra Community lodge
In the morning I walked a short way above the lodge for sunrise, this was well worth doing to see the colours change on the south west face of Dhaulagiri and then back to the lodge for a cup of tea before having breakfast. Shortly after leaving the lodge we saw a Himalayan tahr standing high up on the grassy ridge above us looking down as we walked by. This section of the trail is on a grassy slope and traverses through pasture with a number of herders huts and near Kopra lodge we saw a herd of dzo (crossbred cow and yak).
On approaching Kopra Ridge one sees the tip of Annapurna South however it is only on arrival at Kopra Community lodge the full panorama is revealed: Mount Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, Fang and Annapurna South can all be seen from the lodge. After lunch we went for a short walk down Kopra Ridge to a viewpoint overlooking Kali Gandaki river far below in this deep valley.
Photo: view of Dhaulagiri from Kopra Ridge
Photo: view of Annapurna South from Kopra Ridge
Photo: sunrise view of Dhaulagiri and Kopra Community lodge
The plan for next day was to walk to Ghorepani, after an hour of descent we reached Upper Chistibung community lodge and after a cup of tea we carried on down to Swanta village for lunch. Along the way we got more great views of Dhaulagiri with this mountain providing a lovely backdrop to the terraced fields and traditional houses in the nearby villages. At Swanta village we had lunch at the Swanta Community lodge and then visited Swanta Primary school. There are two teachers in this school funded by the profits from community lodges. In the afternoon after an hour or so walking we joined the main trail to Ghorepani where there are of course far more others trekkers making one appreciate the quieter days walking on Kopra Ridge.
Photo: Upper Chistibung Community lodge
Photo: dining room at Upper Chistibung Community lodge
Photo: Mount Dhaulgiri and Swanta village
Photo: Swanta Community lodge
Photo: Swanta Primary School
After having now walked the Kopra Ridge there is no doubt in my mind this is one of the best short treks in Nepal. This trek contains all of the elements of a classic Nepal trekking experience including villages, wildlife, panoramic mountain views and range of landscape from forest to high alpine. And of course at the same time you are contributing to the local community and supporting the various projects funded by profits from these community lodges.
The Mountain Company plans to start organising treks on Kopra Ridge from Spring 2012, shortly we will have a trek webpage set up for Kopra Ridge with Trip Dossier on our website however in the meantime please get in touch if you are interested in joining this trek.