After washing the Holi dye off our bodies (actually we would continue to find it in our ears, nose, and between our toes for a few days to come), we set off for the main attraction of our Nepal trip: a five-day trek through the Annapurna Conservation Area, a part of the Himalayas well known for its trails and endless trekking possibilities.
We took a taxi to the trailhead, about 1.5 hours away from Pokhara, and set off with our packs. This seven-hour day of trekking started off hot and dusty, and ended with two hours of steep stairs up 400 meters (out of a total elevation gain of 1000 m for the day).
Day two was a little easier, with an elevation gain of "only" a little over 800 m. The trails passed through rhododendron forests, and some of the trees were in bloom with beautiful pink flowers. During our tea stop, and on and off for the rest of the afternoon, there were snow flurries, reminding us of how quickly the weather can change with elevation. The day ended in Ghorepani, a town (basically a cluster of blue and white lodges or tea houses) blessed with lovely views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains that were covered in clouds when we arrived.
However, the next morning, when we awoke at 4:30 am to hike up 45 minutes to a higher and popular spot for sunrise called Poon Hill, we looked out the window to find a completely clear sky and impressive 8000-meter mountains, seemingly in grasping distance, lit up by the almost full moon. We strapped on our headlamps and climbed up the path leading to Poon Hill, arriving second only to the chai-walla (the tea seller). Our eagerness was rewarded with a bone-chilling 45-minute wait until the sun actually started to rise and the crowds started to arrive. The full moon was directly west, and from 180 degrees opposite rose the sun, lighting up the bright white peaks and coloring the sky with a hazy pink hue. From east to west we could see an impressive 13 peaks, most of them between 7000 and 8000 m in height. To say that it was stunning and humbling would be an understatement.
After we were satisfied that we had more photos and video than could ever be useful, we headed back down to our tea house and took a rest day. Nick's dad wasn't feeling great, and we were more than happy to spend a lazy day sitting around the fire, reading, and playing hearts (which was more like "watching as Claudia tries and fails to shoot the moon"), while gazing out the windows at the mountains.
The next day turned out to be our favorite. Already having over-indulged on snow-capped views, we weren't expecting the views to get better, but they did. The hike took us up in elevation first, leading to a viewpoint called Gurung Hill that topped what Poon Hill had shown us the previous morning. In addition to all the mountains we had seen before, we could also see the endless foothills and valleys in the other direction, and the view reminded me a bit of a scene from the Appalachian or Smoky Mountains in the Eastern U.S.
With huge smiles on our faces, we weren't too bothered by the up and down path that took us to our last and final tea house in Tadapani, where we were blessed with more amazing views from its patio, and where we sampled something called a "Snickers Roll", which was essentially a Snickers Hot Pocket, except fried, not microwaved. We felt very American!
On our final day, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise, and then got started on the long haul back. It was hot and annoyingly downhill, as final days of mountain treks usually are, with a total descent of 1600 m. Our knees were shot, but we were glad that we pushed through and couldn't have been happier with the beautiful peaks we spent the last few days gazing at.
You do not need to hire a guide for this trek, or other treks in this area, since the signage and other hikers you'll see make it impossible to get lost. However, it is not a good idea to hike alone. Hiring a porter to carry your bag is also possible either in Pokhara or in most of the villages you'll pass through. While the Ghorepani-Ghandrunk trek wasn't exactly an unbeaten path, it's popular for a reason: it affords gorgeous views in as little as 3-4 days (if you're a fast hiker or short on time). We did it in 5 days, but that included a rest day on the day we saw the sunrise at Poon Hill. Taking it really easy, or lengthening the route by going north to Chomrong or east to Landruk, you could turn this trek into 6 or more days. Altitude shouldn't be an issue, since the highest point is around 3200 m (but the highest point you'll have to spend the night is 2800 m).
Get a massage at the Seeing Hands Clinic in Pokhara Lakeside South after coming back from a trek. The organization trains blind Nepalis in massage therapy, and the massage was one of the best I've ever gotten. It's a good value too, at around $15/hour.