An Expert’s Guide to Annapurna Circuit

Last week we had a glorious conversation with one of the most experienced guide who runs his show in the trekking trails of Nepal. And what we have come up with is an article that contains the most personalized tips that only comes through experience. And we also have a video about the conversation. 

 

I believe most of us fantasize about having a life where we get to travel a lot, reach out to those mighty mountains and soak up in adventure. Wilderness calls everybody, but not many can respond to it. Among the few successful people living their dream life, we would like to introduce you to a young, jolly and interesting personality, Ricky Yonjon, who happens to be an adventurer by heart, a mountain biker by passion and a trek leader by profession. Inspired by his father, Ricky went to his first trek at the tender age of 7. He believes that was the day he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, making him the person he is today. He has been in the trekking field for 14 years now. He leads groups to the most of the popular trekking routes of Nepal including  Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp.
So we stole an hour from him to share with you what an experienced trekker, who is familiar with all the stones and mosses of Annapurna Circuit to share his thoughts about this apple pie trek. Here is a Guide’s guide to Annapurna Circuit.

But first, let us know a little about the changes in the trekking scenario of Nepal these days as compared to a few decades back.

There has been a lot of changes in the trekking scene. It has been easier as the technology is really advancing. Anyone can check their mobile phones to know about many things. Culture wise, one can find trememdous changes. Also, there are a lot of lodges and the camping treks are getting lesser and lesser with the passing time. It isn’t very positive from the trekking point of view as the camping staffs and kitchen staffs have to find a new works now. Camping treks will be no more in a few years. However, the trails have been nice and ‘going into the unknown’ feeling doesn’t exist any longer. There are tea houses every step you take. But mountains are there; and that’s what people come for!

The trend of Independent Trekking is increasing these days, not just in Nepal but all over the world. How easy or hard it is to trek independently in Nepal?

What Nepal needs is people coming, no matter it is in a package or independently. The technology has advanced so much that you can sit in your country and book a lodge in Namche Bazaar or any place. It is probably going to be a lot cheaper for them. Many people have this urge to be independent or challenge themselves or be like Bear Grills. There are shows which put people in challenging situations and stuff making people want to travel alone. But the bad part is, independent trekking for female and male can be risky if people don’t have adequate information and are planning to go to the high passes. We can also hear a lot of news about people getting lost in the mountains while trekking. So if you are planning to go alone, please collect a lot of information as there are lots of lodges or tea houses on the trek. Talk to locals, ask them questions or at least inform them beforehand, so that there can be a search party on rescue in case of any problem.
Crossing the roads in Kathmandu may be more dangerous than going to Everest Base Camp. You just have to know to do it right.

Something about Annapurna Circuit!

Well, some people confuse Annapurna Circuit trek with Annapurna Base Camp trek. First of all, these are two completely different treks. Annapurna Circuit trek is getting more feasible due to building of motor roads. They are all Nepali style roads- so good luck with that. But if we compare the treks, Annapurna Circuit is a good experience that you can have in Nepal. This is because you trek from a really plain 500/800 meters to 5400 meters and in that altitude change, you see tropical vegetations changing, climate changing, people changing as well as religion changing. The mountains are always there. One probably thinks of Annapurna, or Fishtail while booking a holiday, but eventually it is the people and culture that one falls in love with. So, Annapurna is a great trail to savour all the spices in one.

Your best season to trek in Annapurna Circuit?

I don’t know if it is global warming or what, but it has been like 3/4 years that the weather has changed. The monsoon, which is supposed to be in June/ July has shifted a month or two back. So when it should snow in December, it snows in January or February. My friend was just there to trek in April and so many people had to return from Manang as they couldn’t do the complete Annapurna Circuit due to heavy snow. So I prefer to go in October or November, despite the fact that the national festival is around. Also, this the best time for mountain bikers as well.

What equipments should one take with them while trekking?

I am not going to talk about usual boring stuff like trekking boots and caps because probably now it all by now. The best thing to bring with you is a good vibe and a good attitude. Be open and positive to whatever comes. Also, sometimes a small guitar might be helpful to make new friends from all around the world if you know how to play. You might even get a chance to learn chords from popular Nepali songs like ‘Resham Firiri’.

How or where to shop for trekking gears?

Thamel would be the best place to shop for gears as there are many shops here. Quick tip: Try to bargain. (but not so much that the shopkeeper gets annoyed). Just go around two three shops, compare the prices and you will have the idea.

What level of fitness is required to trek in Annapurna Circuit?

Well, I don’t believe that it is the level of fitness that matters while trekking. Anybody who enjoys walking in the mountains or enjoy a healthy living can do the trek.  But no matter how fit you are or how hard your ambition is, there is no certainty that you won’t fall sick or will make a hundred percent. Because with my experience, I have taken a seven year old to a 75 year old to Everest Base Camp. The seven year old kid broke the world record for being the youngest westerner to reach Everest Base Camp. So as I said earlier, it is the positive vibe and set of rules that you need to follow to be able to trek Annapurna Circuit.

What is your personal preparation before going to trek?

I eat momos 😀 My backpack is always ready with all the trekking gears. So I choose to be with my family, my dogs and obviously momos before the trek (things I would miss the most). If you are in Nepal, you must eat the momos here.

The best foods one must try in Annapurna Circuit?

The another name for Annapurna Circuit is the Apple pie Circuit and why? That’s because there are lots of apples. You should try some apples, obviously! Marpha (which comes after the pass) is the best place to try apple cider as well as apricot. Talking about before the pass,  you will be eating dal bhat a lot. It is good for trekking as well because once you get a plate, you can ask for the second for free. So for Independent trekkers, it’s a heaven of a food. But that doesn’t count for meat. You cannot ask a second go for the meat. Other than that, Manang is a famous place for Yak burgers, which is something people can rarely experience anywhere else in the world. So you should try that mix of European and Nepali taste. And after the pass, on the second part, go for apples and desserts. If you like bakery like muffin or just a nice sandwich, there is this small hidden gem in Jomsom before the army barrack on the right side. All you have to do is, smell your way to this place 😀 So don’t forget to look out for this one. It would be a treasure hunt. (Know the 5 Wierd Things about Jomsom Muktinath Trek here)

Best sidetrip for Annapurna Circuit that one must go for the best experience.

Well if you have a spare two or three days, go to Tilicho. This side trip will leave you mesmerized. Apart from that, after the pass if you are planning to fly back to Kathmandu from Jomsom, make sure you go to the Marpha village (One hour walk/ 15 minutes on a vehicle). It’s a really  nice white-washed village, which is not very commercial and you will get to witness the vibes from older times.

What should one expect before going to Annapurna Circuit trek?

You should probably expect lots of awe inspiring moments, lots of emotions and lots of happy people. What I’m saying will make sense once you get there.

3 Breathtaking Viewpoints

Well, obviously the one is from Thorung la Pass as it is one of the best attraction of Annapurna Circuit trek.
If you are going from Muktinath to Jomsom in a jeep, maybe you should cancel it. There is a walk from Muktinath to Jomsom via Lubra high hill, which is a really nice viewpoint.
Before the pass, Chame should be another best viewpoint in Manang, as it the first place from which you can see all the big mountains like Lamjung, Annapurna II, etc.

Best places/ poses to take selfies in Annapurna Circuit trek.

If you are not freezing cold, or not ill, or not out of breath (literally), take a selfie in front of the sign board in Thorung la pass that says ‘You are on top of the pass. You are 5416 m above sea level.
Also if you see a marijuana plant, just take a selfie. I’m just gonna say ‘Purple Haze all in my brain, lately things don’t seem the same.’

Things that you do during the treks to kill time.

I take a deep breath in the fresh mountain air and look at the majestic mountains because it is so peaceful. Being a Nepali local, it’s easy for me as there are a lot of Nepali people around. I go to local hooch place to have raksi and have chat with the local people. You can do the same. They welcome everybody. Reading a book can be done in a hotel room at Kathmandu or on an airplane as well. But as you are here only for once, go to the Nepali local shops, explore the culture, talk to the locals.

Things to remember or know before going to any high pass alone.

Try to stick in a group. There will be a lot of other individuals like you or groups that will be crossing the pass the next day at 2 or 3 am early in the morning. If you are have a headache, just stop. Don’t go! Maybe, come down and take a rest. Go ahead only after it goes away. Try to consult a clinic or a doctor about what problems you are facing. Other than that, as there will be a lot of people doing the pass the next day, ask them what time they are planning to set out for the pass. Don’t try to rush to get to the pass first. Go slow and collect a lot of information beforehand.

Your suggestions to stay healthy during the trek.

What I have found from my experience is that, no matter how healthy you want to be, you may have upset tummy or may feel unwell due to the change in the climate or food . If that happens whenever you are in the city, it’s okay not to eat. But in the mountains, as you have to walk the next day, what you need to do is eat well to gather strength. It is good to avoid the food out of cans and go for local food like dal bhat which is very healthy. Also, drink plenty of water. There are many pure water stations in Annapurna Circuit area (much cheaper than the lodges). you can fill water over there or use tablets as per your doctor’s prescription.

As a trek leader or as an individual, what is the perfect touch to mark the perfect end to Annapurna Circuit trek.

I recommend everyone not to fly from Jomsom and at least go to Tatopani (the word literally means ‘hot water’). There is a natural hot spring where you can soak yourself in, relax and have a beer to celebrate. Later, you can celebrate even more once you reach to Pokhara.

Any funny, memorable or overwhelming experience during the circuit trek.

All the interesting things have always started from alcohol and not with a salad. So there are a lot of things that go wrong or right or just funny when you are having alcohol. There are plenty of people who do hooch in the mountains and we can witness funny incidents everyday.
Rather than funny, there was this incident where a group of men and women who were doing the Circuit. Somehow they got an idea of getting naked and taking a picture on the top of the pass. But the Nepali folks didn’t like it as every mountain for us is a goddess. So they had a really bad fight on the pass and most of these people were hospitalized. A word of advice- Do not take your clothes off. That is probably funny to listen to, but probably not funny if you are in that story.
Other than that, a friend of mine, came from Germany to mountain bike with me around 2/3 years ago. After a year from biking trip in Annapurna Circuit trip, she was really happy that she did this adventure of a lifetime. And just a year ago, her younger sister emailed me saying that she is no more and the last thing that she said to her sister was that the adventure that she did on Annapurna Circuit was the best thing she had done in her lifetime. So this was a really emotional moment for me because you take so many people with you who have their own different story and to get a feedback realizing what it meant for her is something I will take with me my whole life.

Tips for mountain bikers going to Annapurna Circuit.

Wear a helmet. Although the biking trip is faster than the normal itinerary, while doing the first part before the pass, be patient and go slow. Only after you finish the pass and get to Muktinath, then you can make your own itinerary and go to Pokhara. Also, don’t be a bad mountain biker by shouting ‘Move to the side’ or coming in speed. Try to be gentle. Enjoy your biking but at the same time, let others enjoy!

There are several interesting personalities associated with Annapurna Circuit you might want to know before heading out. This might be worth a read as well. 🙂

 

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