Panchase Peak: a short permit free trek in the Annapurnas
A free trek in Nepal? Well, you still need to pay for accommodation and food but the Panchase Peak trek remains free of any permit fees or TIMS card costs. This is a rarity in Nepal and might not last much longer. But for now, it’s worth taking advantage of!
Most trekkers head to Nepal for the Everest Base Camp trek, the epic Annapurna Circuit, the impressive Annapurna Base Camp or even the great views of Mardi Himal. However, not everyone wants to be in the mountains for over a week or wants to have an expedition style trek. That’s where the Panchase trek somes in as it’s only 2-3 days.
I’ve been on this trek several times. It makes for a great “starters trek” or a “get fit trek”. It also makes for a pretty nice weekend away. This is my day one of my day by day account of the Panchase Trek that I’ll be publishing over the next couple of weeks. I’ve also written an online guide to Panchase and included as an in-depth guide in both my trekking in Nepal guide book and full Nepal guide book.
Day one on the Panchase trek: Pokhara to Khande
Unbeknown to me my first experience of Panchase was when I went on a day walk along Pokhara’s Lakeside a few years ago. I’d walked from Lakeside though Kavre, Pame and several other villages when I got a telephone call. I told my friend where I was and he exclaimed “You’re nearly in Panchase!”
That’s how close the Panchase trek is to Pokhara. You can walk there in a day. However, as many people know, it’s not the destination but the journey getting there that counts. Since then I’ve actually “trekked” purposefully to Panchase and enjoyed it. It’s a great little trek if you are short on time or want to test how you’d do on a “real trek”.
One confusing thing about Panchase I’d like to put to rest right now are the various rumors, trekking stories and dubious trekking agents who claim Panchase is a 5-9 day trek. It’s not. Period. It’s 2-3 days at best. Anything longer and you’ll be looking at the same old views and villages. Trekking agents tend to add days to the Panchase trek so they can earn more. You can literally go up in a day, spend the night and come back the next day.
Yes, you can also take in Australian camp or view other villages in the area. But to actually do the “Panchase trek” it’s 2 days and 1 night. 3 days if you’d like to rest after the morning sunrise on day 2.
On the trek you are about to read I went with a trekking guide and a friends 14 year old son who doesn’t like trekking! Should be fun. Step one was to get from Pokhara to the trail head at Khande. You can take a 1.5 hour bus from Bunglang bus park or do as we did and simply take a 45 mintue taxi. Why a taxi? My friends son overslept.
Khande to Bhadaure
We arrived at Khande by 9am. There’s not much here. It’s basically a five local shop village and a concrete block used as a bus stop. The road is broken and stone strewn. I’ve seen worse. But it’s fairly indicative of a trail head and it’s a popular one for many of the Annapurna treks. Surprisingly my guide instructed us to take a left after the last little shop and literally begin trekking up some stone steps into the surrounding forest. It’s that fast to get going on the trek.
We trekked up the steps for all of 10 mintues before meeting another unfinished road bend. I should point out that most trekkers get disappointed when they see a road at the start of a trek in Nepal. Don’t be. This is how most treks start. Soon we’ll be in the mountains.
The road to the first village of Bhadaure is not that bad as there’s zero traffic on it. It’s simply like an old farmland country style road. We passed a few local houses with people pounding millet and waving as we went. All nice and friendly. The road went on for about an hour before we came to two short pillars by the left of the road signaling the “The New Trekking Route”.
My guide nodded knowledgeably, “This is where the real trek starts”.
Smooth stone steps and a path led the way along a nice ridge with views on both sides of a valley. It was all becoming more pleasant. We passed a small farmers house with a buffalo being milked and soon on our ridge looking down we could see the hillside village of Bhadaure.
Bhadaure for lunch
A village made of stone is perhaps the best hint you are actually on a trail in Nepal. Everything from the village house to the streets where made of grey stone. It’s a nice natural feeling. The type of place you know was built by hand traditionally.
There are only two streets in Bhadaure. The junction has a small Devi shrine and there’s a big stone at the center with a sign. We stopped to eat at a small tea house where my guide said we could spend the night if we wanted. I looked at him quizzically as we’d only been “trekking” for two hours. He looked at my friends son who was panned out on the balcony area. Hmmmm.
Dal Bhat at 11am is again typical in Nepal for lunch. It’s early but you’d be surprised how hungry you get. Moreover we had a small problem. Clouds.
The winter season had hung on in Nepal for longer than expected. Normally the views from Bhadaure were good. But this time all we saw were clouds. All week long the weather had been hit and miss. Would Panchase be covered in cloud? We certainly were here.
Our choice was simple. Spend the night in Bhadaure and hope for views in the morning. Or, head up to Panchase through the cloud and spend the night there hoping again the morning would bring good weather. I firmly decided we’d go on as we’d only been trekking for two hours so far. Our only issue would be my friends son who was still recovering from his first bit of exercise in … well, for as long as he’s owned an iPad it seemed.
We trekked on.
Bhadaure to Bhanjyang
Okay, so here’s a secret about me. I really like trekking through clouds. They are cool, refreshing and block out the hot sun. The only problem of course is you don’t get any views. But, for me the cool clouds made everything refreshing as we trekked up stone steps into a new section of forest. Of course at the back of mind was the whole “we won’t get to see any mountains at the top” worry most trekkers have with cloud coverage. But for now everything was quite literally cool.
Stone steps are something many trekkers don’t expect in Nepal. But the country is full of them. Annapurna Base Camp has a serious amount of them that surprise many people. The steps themselves are not so difficult going up. They aren’t too steep or taxing. Coming down is another story we’ll discuss later.
The steps finally opened out into a grassy mountainside knol. We were now entering into Panchase’s mountainside farmland. Or, buffalo feeding land. We’re not talking vast acres here. Most are simply small stone huts big enough for two buffaloes. But in Nepal, two buffaloes can make all the difference to a farmers life.
Soon enough we where back on the stone steps and entering into more forest. Interestingly, despite being permit free, the Pancase trek is well marked. In someways better than many other trails. Even some trees here had scientific name plates. My guide was busy trying to decipher the Nepali name from one of these while my friends son looked like the end of the world was occurring as cell phone reception ended as did his music.
Our trek continued on through more cloud for another hour up alongside more lush forest until we came to another wide open clearing. My friends son was looking like he was summiting Everest and gave us no option but to rest.
The grass was muddy but there was a stone area he hobbled over to for a sit down. We tired to warn him, to no avail.
Attack of the leeches!
“Leeches!” yelled my guide just as my friends son sat down.
“Where?” he said jumping up and showing more energy than he had all morning.
My guide pointed to the ground. Then to his shoes. A couple of small worm like creatures were deftly squirming up the side of his shoe. On the ground there were more little brown leaches rising up into the air swaying back and forth.
Leeches in Nepal don’t harbor anything to be worried about. That said, nobody really likes them. So we moved on, quickly. For those wondering, leeches are common all over Nepal after a period of rain and can be avoided by not sitting in an open grassy area where they like to live.
We reached Bhanyjang after a total of 4 hours trekking. We were slow. But it was only 4pm and the cloud cover meant no views anyway so no rush. Bhanyjang in the clouds felt deserted. The first teahouse was Happy Heart, run by three sisters it’s popular. Hotel Midpoint was locked up tight. Then came Hotel Sunrise Sunset View and Restaurant. There were a couple of others but these are in the heart of Bhanyjang, Panchase.
There were some younger trekkers are Happy Heart having a few beers and a Canadian horse riding guy in Sunrise Sunset so we opted for the latter. It worked out in our favor too as they’d just built new rooms with super clean beds, working sockets and en-suites to follow.
I don’t know if you’ve trekked before in Nepal, but a new mattress is a rarity. The electrical sockets also kept my friends son happy as he could charge his iPad to his hearts delight. We didn’t tell him there was no Wifi until later.
Dinner was dal bhat over stories about horse ride trekking in Nepal by the Canadian. He was enjoying it all but hadn’t had much prior experience riding a horse so was suffering a little from posterior bruising. The horse guide he had was very good and friendly though. The owner of the tea house, Ram, was a character too and kept us entertained with raksi (rice wine) inspired stories.
The evening cloud was thick and even let loose some spots of rain. It seemed as though any chance we’d have of seeing mountains were slim and far. My friends son had just discovered there was no Wifi and wanted to know if we’d be going back tomorrow. I looked at him deadpan and explained that if it took a week of waiting for the clouds to go we would. He was wasn’t sure if I was joking. Neither was I.
My guide was convinced that the rain meant tomorrow would be good. But nearly all Nepali say this and it’s correct about 50% of the time. I asked Ram who gave some rather sage advice.
“If you want to see the mountains in Panchase wake up at 3am. If the stars are shining then leave at 4.30am. If it’s cloudy, go back to bed.”
So be it.
Sleeping in Bhanjyang
Ear plugs in, I was in bed by 9pm. By 11pm that extra water I drank before bed had me awake again. The mountain air was cold. Putting on all my clothes I made it down the steps, across the garden and to the toilet. Outside the cloud was heavy. So much for sunrise.
Do you know that feeling when you have an early flight and set the alarm but never get to sleep properly in case the alarm doesn’t go off? Yep, well I had it that night. I couldn’t sleep because of the 3am wake up call to look for a starry sky.
By 3am I bounced out of bed in the hope that a cloud filled sky would help me get back to sleep. Opening the door in nothing but a pair of shorts this time the whole night sky had changed to dazzling little stars. Not a cloud in sight. The next door opened and my guide came out.
He smiled. “It rained, so now we will have a good sunrise!”
Meanwhile, the snores of my friends son in the next room told me waking him up for our 4am trek in the dark would be just part of the next mornings challenge.
There are several routes up to Panchase. I recommend the official one which is well marked as it gives you a multitude of great environments from forests to farmland to rural villages and of course mountain views.
Likewise if the weather is cloudy and you have the time it’s worth going straight up to Bhandjang instead of staying in Badaure. That said, if the weather is great and you want to relax back then a night in Badaure can be relaxing.
Meanwhile do check out my online guide to the Panchase Trek and next up we’ll be covering day two of the Panchase trek here.
If you just arrived at this page then here is the full list of the Panchase Trek details:
- Day one on the Panchase Trek
- Day two on the Panchase Trek
- Day three on the Panchase Trek
- Do check out my online guide to the Panchase Trek
- For more treks here’s a list of Treks in Nepal
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