The Annapurna Circuit trek is an incredibly varied and exciting high-altitude trek. Located in Nepal’s central Himalayas, the Annapurna region boasts some of the world’s highest mountains, including Annapurna I, the seventh highest peak in the world.
On the Annapurna trek we hike deep into the Himalayas. We wind our way up steep, forested valleys and canyons, walk narrow paths that snake round the sides of mountains, visit an ice lake, and cross a bleak summit pass. The higher we climb, the fiercer the weather, with strong winds and temperatures that drop below freezing at night.
The people groups we meet along the Annapurna trek route vary greatly. At the trail’s start we meet Hindu communities with close ties to Indian culture, but when we enter into the remote mountains we meet Tibetic groups who are closely connected in culture to their neighbours to the north. Along the trail we encounter temples, prayer flags, stupas, gompas, prayer wheels, and more. Every day on the Annapurna circuit introduces you to something new and surprising.
During the trek we overnight in traditional villages that grow smaller and more modest the higher we climb. In the evenings we gather together in heated communal dining rooms for warm meals of local cuisine and chitchat with fellow trekkers from all around the world.
Another aspect of the Annapurna circuit trip that takes a few days – and is plenty of fun – is roadtripping there and back. We drive for a couple of days through lush countryside from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, westward to reach the start of the Annapurna trek route. Then, at the trek’s end, which leaves us in a particularly remote and desolate part of the Himalayas, we fly through a massive gorge known as Kali Gandaki to reach Pokhara. Our small airplane is dwarfed during the flight by the mountains rising up around us. We spend a night in Pokhara, which is a beautiful lakeside city surrounded by mountains that’s a popular tourist destination with both locals and international visitors. And then, finally, we wind our way back to Kathmandu.
The Annapurna Circuit offers more varied scenery and exposes you to more cultures than any other classic Nepal trek.
✓ Trek through the beautiful Annapurna mountain range
✓ Stay in small, traditional villages along the trail route
✓ See Annapurna I, the world’s tenth highest mountain!
✓ Visit the beautiful Ice Lake
✓ Cross the Thorung La mountain pass at 5,416 m above seal level
✓ Visit sacred Buddhist and Hindu temples, including Muktinath
✓ Stay at the famous village of Jomsom
✓ Fly through Kali Gandaki, the world’s deepest gorge!
✓ Relax in the beautiful lakeside city of Pokhara
We start our adventure with a two-day, 260 km road trip from Kathmandu westwards to the Annapurna region. On the first day of driving we pass through lush, subtropical terrain, with rice paddies a common feature. We really chew up the miles. On the second day, the terrain grows mountainous and more temperate, and we go more slowly as the roads become narrower and windier. We rest for the night in the village of Lower Pisang, where the next morning we strap on our trekking boots and start walking!
The trek runs in an anticlockwise direction through the Annapurna Massif. Over the days we hike deep into the remote mountains, eventually climbing up into a rain shadow. This part of the route exposes us to people and villages linguistically, culturally and religiously linked to Tibet. Colourful prayer flags and Buddhist stupas (religious monuments) can be seen all along the trek route.
Throughout the trek we stay in traditional and often incredibly picturesque towns and villages, which grow smaller and more modest the higher we climb. We have the opportunity to run our hands down the famous Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel Wall in Upper Pisang. We also visit the temple of Muktinath near the town of Ranipauwa. Muktinath is a pilgrimage site and devotees dip into its pools to cleanse themselves of sin.
During our trek we visit the beautiful Kicho Tal, a high and pristine ice lake surrounded by massive mountains.
Our highest point along the trek route is Thorung La Pass. At 5,416 m above sea level, Thorung La has us huffing and puffing from the rarified air. The pass route we follow is actually a centuries-old trade route between the Manang people to the east and the Mustang people to the west. It’s still in use today by locals, who use horses, donkeys and yaks to transport goods.
The Annapurna Circuit trek lets us encounter some truly amazing mountains, which include:
The name Annapurna is a Sanskrit word that means Goddess of Harvests. Annapurna I is actually the most dangerous mountain in the world for climbing. It’s claimed more lives than any other mountain – far more than Everest – in terms of the ratio of those who attempt to summit it. Machhapuchhre, on the other hand, has never been officially climbed, and the Nepalese government won’t provide climbing permits for it. It’s an incredibly beautiful and striking peak, and we can’t help but be happy that it’s being protected in this way.
Let’s now see what each day of the Annapurna trip has in store …
Everyone flies into Kathmandu, Nepal, today. We meet you at the airport and bring you to our B&B for the night in Thamel, a district of Kathmandu. If you arrive early enough and wish to explore Thamel a little, you can just step out the B&B and you’re sorted: restaurants, shops and more are all right there.
Today is the start of an incredible adventure! After an early rise, we make our way from Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, to the small village of Jagat. The drive is long, but the lush greenery, sprawling rice paddies and quaint villages are incredibly beautiful to pass through. This is the perfect time for you to get to know your fellow hikers. Now is also a good time to mentally prepare and set your intention for the trek ahead.
We stop for lunch at Besisahar, a town set down in a wide, green valley as though done so with a postcard in mind. We then drive on to Jagat for the night. Besisahar is the starting point of the original, three-week Annapurna circuit trek. We’ve chosen to drive further than Besisahar given the new access roads.
After lunch we head up into the mountains to reach Jagat for the night. The roads grow narrower and windier as the terrain steepens, and the towns and villages become smaller and remoter. Jagat is a little village surrounded by trees, steep mountains and cliff faces. We get excited just talking about it!
Another day of driving is on the cards today. From Jagat, we make our way to Chame, where we stop for lunch. Chame is a traditional village of stone buildings, reached via a set of stairs cut into rock. A colourful stupa sits atop the square-arched entryway. The village has plenty of small shops should you decide your snack stock needs a little extra padding.
After lunch we continue our drive towards Pisang, a high and beautifully situated village divided into two parts: Upper and Lower Pisang. We are deep into the mountains now, with peaks rising towards the sky all around us. The village is surrounded by forest, but locals have cleared some land on the outskirts of town to grow crops like buckwheat. We stay the night in Lower Pisang before embarking on the start of our trek the next morning.
The start of our trek has arrived! We meet up with Sonam Sherpa, our awesome and highly experienced Annapurna circuit trek guide. Sonam’s job is to guide us on the trail, share his knowledge and understanding of local customs and the natural habitat, and keep us safe. He’s an integral part of our trekking team.
From Lower Pisang, we start with a short climb to Upper Pisang. We then head northwest up the Marsyangdi river valley. Today’s trek is arguably the most beautiful stretch of the entire Annapurna circuit, with breathtaking views. To the south of the trail one can see the magnificent Annapurna II and III, and to the north Pisang Peak. We also pass through a handful of small villages, like the picturesquely placed Braga. Braga is a small, old village that sits on a steep, rocky slope leading up to a series of jagged limestone pillars. At the highest point of Braga is one of the region’s oldest Buddhist monasteries, which is open to visitors.
Our destination for today is the town of Manang, which has a population of roughly 7,000. We spend three nights in Manang to help our bodies acclimatise to the high elevation. You’ll see the fields where residents grow maize for the yaks they herd. And you’ll see said yaks all over, even wandering the streets on occasion. There’s a distinct Tibetan influence in Manang.
“When it comes to picturesque, panoramic viewpoints and breathtaking backdrops, the Annapurna circuit does not disappoint.” Eden Ayers
Today we embark on a scenic round-trip hike to Kicho Tal (the ‘Ice Lake’). The hike involves a climb of 1,000 m, so while it’s short, it’s tough. The outing also helps our bodies to acclimatise, in keeping with the adage to ‘trek high, sleep low’. In other words, it’s good to introduce yourself to a higher altitude but then recover overnight in a lower one.
Kicho Tal is an incredibly beautiful lake. It’s surrounded by snowy mountains, including Tilicho Peak, and you’ll be blown away by the pristine lake itself. There a small gold-and-white stupa on the lakeshore, indicating the lake’s significance in local culture. The lake hike also holds appeal as being a quieter offshoot of the main Annapurna trail. One really feels the remoteness here.
Today is another acclimatisation day. We take it slow and spend our day resting, playing games, reading, exploring Manang, and also visiting the Himalayan Rescue Associations Clinic. The clinic is in Manang and has an important role to play in the safety of locals and visitors to this part of the Nepali Himalayas. You can learn about the rescue efforts of the association during the infamous 2014 Nepal snowstorm disaster, as well as the changes that have been brought about in the wake of that event.
This morning we depart Manang and continue heading northwest further up the Marsyangdi river valley. The trail takes us through a harsh and windswept landscape. The views are unbelievable, with Annapurna II, III and IV, as well as Gangapurna, visible for most of the day’s trek. Hikers along this part of the Annapurna circuit route also often see herds of musk deer grazing on high-altitude plains. The incredibly lucky few have spotted a snow leopard.
Our destination for the night is the small and hardy village of Yak Kharka. Yak Kharka is 4,018 m above sea level. It looks down over the valley while mountains rise up around it.
We continue up the valley towards Thorung Phedi, our final stopover before we summit Thorung La Pass. It’s a relatively short trek, but as we’re climbing higher and higher, the effects of the lower reduced oxygen take their toll, so don’t expect it to be a dawdle.
Our footpaths in the higher portion of the Annapurna circuit route are often narrow, contour paths round bare mountains with steep drop-offs. Sometimes scree can fall onto them. Our paths are also sometimes covered with loose rocks and gravel. One of the reasons we recommend trekking poles be included in your Annapurna circuit packing list is so you can use them for extra balance during any treacherous sections of trail.
Today is a more challenging day as we must ascend to the highest point of the Annapurna Circuit – Thorung La Pass – and then trek all the way down to Ranipauwa in the Mustang District. Thorung La is an incredible 5,416 m above sea level – higher even than Everest Base Camp. The view from here makes you feel like you might literally being sitting at the top of the world. If you look where you came from, you see the massive, snow-capped Annapurna mountain range. And if you look ahead to the west, you see the massive, snow-capped Dhaulagiri mountain range. It’s a magnificent viewpoint and everyone understandably gets a little trigger happy with their cameras here.
We then descend into the isolated and sparsely populated Mustang District. This involves a descent of a over a 1,000 metres, so there might be some wobbly knees at the teahouse tonight. The Mustang people are a Tibetic people who maintain a strong cultural identity owing to their geographic isolation as well as having been in a demilitarised zone up until the 1990s.
Upper Mustang is in a rain shadow caused by the Annapurna and Dhaugaliri mountain ranges. It’s semi arid and you can expect some cold nights. We stay in the town of Ranipauwa, famous for its proximity to the important Vishnu temple of Muktinath. Muktinath, built in the pagoda style, is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, and is a popular pilgrimage site.
We start the day with a visit to Muktinath temple, then we hit the road for a relatively short drive to Jomsom. Our drive to Jomsom takes us into the upper section of the Kali Gandaki river valley. By this stage of the trip some time off our feet is a treat, and the relatively oxygen-rich air is a sort of treat as well!
Kagbeni is a mediaeval village that’s home to the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa, a Buddhist monastery. We’re allowed to visit the monastery, which was begun in the fifteenth century, and meet the monks who live there.
Jomsom lies on both sides of the Kali Gandaki river. The peaks of Dhaualgiri and Nilgiri create a dramatic backdrop to the town. The majority of Annapurna trekkers pass through Jomsom, as the Kali Gandaki gorge is a major drawcard.
We start the day by taking a short flight from Jomsom to Pokhara. This is probably the most exhilarating flight you’ll ever take: we wind our way through the Kali Gandaki Gorge for the first half of the flight. The gorge is the world’s deepest if you calculate depth according to the difference between the height of the highest peak and the height of the river. Our plane feels very small indeed flying through that massive gorge!
Tonight we stay at the three-star Mount Kailash Resort in Pokhara, the second most populous city in Nepal. Pokhara is a beautiful city on a lake, and is popular with local and foreign tourists alike. Phewa Lake is famous for its reflections of Machhapuchhre and other nearby mountains. The Tal Barahi Temple, a pagoda-style Hindu temple in honour of the Goddess Durga, is situated on an island in the lake which you can visit by hiring a canoe and rowing out there. Another, newer tourist attraction is the nearly 2 km long zip line that takes you over treetops to Pokhara.
Day 12 is our last full day in beautiful Nepal and what an adventure it has been! By now you’ll have broadened your adventure horizons and made new friends along the way. We make our way back to Kathmandu before our departure tomorrow. We stay the night at the upmarket hotel Yatri Suites and Spa in Thamel.
It’s time to say goodbye and leave Nepal with memories that will stay with you for a lifetime. We’re going to miss you!
“Trekking in the Himalayas and walking amongst the clouds is an experience I will never forget.” Aneesha Petersen
You can read more details about the Annapurna circuit route if you’d like on our blog!
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