Those on the group flight from London will arrive in Kathmandu and will be transferred to The Royal Singi Hotel in the afternoon. Those not travelling with the group from London will meet us in the hotel. There will be a full trek briefing this evening.
We leave early and drive westwards to Pokhara. This town is set in a beautiful valley and is overlooked by Machhapuchhare, one of the most distinctive of the Himalayan peaks. We continue through Pokhara to Naya Pul and from there have a 30-minute walk to the village of Birethanthi, where we stay overnight. Birethanthi is a riverside village at the confluence of the Modi Khola and the Burungdi Khola. If there is time we can bathe in the clear but cold pools of the Burungdi Khola.
We start our trek by following the Burungdi Khola upstream. After a lunch stop in Tirkhedunga (renowned for its variety of local beer called chang) we start the long steep climb up a stone staircase through the neatly terraced hillsides to the top of Ulleri (2,073m).
Winding out of Ulleri the trail now enters rhododendron forests. In spring the forest is a blaze of colour. Trains of mules provide colourful and noisy interludes to the continuous ascent today. Carrying rice and other supplies north to the kingdom of Mustang the trail resounds with the sound of their bells. Finally we emerge from the forests at Ghorepani (2855m) and suddenly a splendid mountain vista appears before us - Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Hiunchuli, Machhapuchhare, Lamjung and other Himalayan giants.
This morning there is an optional ascent of Poon Hill (about an hour's walk above Ghorepani) to see the spectacular sunrise over the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna Himals. As the sun emerges from behind the mountains the sky glows red and pink in the first rays of the sun and the panorama is surely one of the world's great mountain vistas. Best seen at dawn, the climb is well worth the effort. After breakfast we head east, following a ridge to cross a pass at 3,193m. We pass through more open country then descend again through jungle to a few lodges in a clearing called Banthanti at 2,620m. Climbing back to 2,745m, we reach another small pass at Tadapani where we have a superb view of Annapurna South and the peak of Machhapuchhare.
The trail descends through the forest to the Kyumnu Khola, a tributary of the Modi Khola. From here a steep ascent brings us to Chomrong, at 2,170m, another Gurung village and the last permanent settlement in the valley. Beyond here we shall see yersas, the shelters used by herdsmen in the summer months. From Chomrong we have good views again of Annapurna South and from this point onwards the twin-peaked mountain Machhapuchhare ('fishtail') which gives the mountain its name.
The trail from Chomrong descends first on a stone staircase to cross the Chomrong Khola and then climbs out of this side valley to re-enter the main Modi Khola Valley. We pass through jungle of oak, hemlock and rhododendron trees to Kuldi Ghar (2540m), previously the site of a sheep breeding project. Beyond here our route undulates through dense bamboo thickets. These are cut extensively to make 'dokos' - the carrying baskets as used by our porters - and woven mats for floors and roofing. We climb up through the bamboo, and then through forests of rhododendrons. In early Spring we may encounter snow on the trail from this point onwards. At 2505m we reach Dovan, a clearing in the forest where there are several teahouses.
We continue up through the forest, passing the lodges at Himalaya Hotel and then further on past Hinko Cave, where the first expeditions to the Base Camp used to camp. Crossing a ravine the trail climbs steeply among boulders, leaving the trees behind us. The valley broadens out and the scenery becomes wilder as we approach the gates of the sanctuary. Passing between the heights of Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhare, we reach Machhapuchhare Base Camp (3,700m), where we spend the night. The views are stupendous and the panorama includes Huinchuli, Annapurna 1, Annapurna 3, Gangapurna and Machhapuchhare.
In the early morning we walk for 2 hours up to Annapurna Base Camp surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of some of the highest mountains in the world. Hiunchuli, Annapurna South, Annapurna Fang, Annapurna 1 and 3, Gangapurna and Machhapuchhare all encircle us with unbroken soaring ramparts but for the route by which we entered. The sunset and sunrise are truly magnificent in this mountain arena. We spend the day in this special place with a chance to watch the sun rise the following morning. There should be time to make an excursion to the ridge overlooking the base camp from which Chris Bonington led the ascent of Annapurna's South Face. (Occasionally there is too much snow to stay at Annapurna Base Camp. In this case we would walk back down to Machhapuchhare Base Camp in the late afternoon).
We leave the Sanctuary today descending past Hinko, through the rhododendron jungle and bamboo thickets to Bamboo Lodge.
We return down the Modi Khola Valley, leaving it to cross the Chomrong Khola. We are back in inhabited country again as we climb the stone steps back up to Chomrong. We then descend very steeply on stone steps through terraces to Jhinnudanda.
A long day as we drop down to the Modi Khola River which we follow all the way back to Birethanthi. From here we pick up transport for the short drive to Pokhara, arriving late afternoon.
We catch a flight to Kathmandu. The rest of the day is free for sightseeing and shopping. (for those who choose not to fly, or if we are unable to fly, we return to Kathmandu by road, arriving in the early evening).
Today is free for sightseeing in Kathmandu. You may wish to visit Durbar Square in the heart of the old city where the old Royal Palace, with its intricate woodcarving is located. Outside is Kumari Chowk, home of the Kumari, the young girl who is revered as a living goddess. The whole area is a maze of temples and images. Alternatively you may wish to visit the monkey temple at Swayambhunath, one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world at Bodnath, or the most important Hindu temple in the valley at Pashupatinath. Sightseeing tours can be booked locally. For more details of all the optional activities please refer to the Optional Excursions section.
The trip ends after breakfast. Those on the group flight will be transferred to the airport for the flight back to London. Those not on the group flight will leave us after breakfast.