The Annapurna Circuit is the ultimate trek when it comes to variety and adventure. With her you will shrug shoulders with polite Brahmins, gutsy Gurungs, regal Ghales, smiling Lobas and hospitable Thakalis. With her, you will earn bragging rights for scrambling past one of the highest mountain passes and gliding through one of the deepest river valleys. With her, you will have mountains for breakfast, plunge pools for lunch and the milky way for dinner. Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Griffons, and Monals will give you company while primulas, irises, and rhododendrons will light up your way. Before we go overboard, let us clarify that not every trip works out that way, but it comes pretty close. Go check it out for yourself. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of the chimerical Snow Leopard.
Welcome to Paradise!!
Now, this is hard. With so much variety, coming up with a top ten things to see along the Annapurna Circuit is not only tricky but possibly meaningless too. Think about it, it will take at least 18 days to complete the entire circuit. Can you imagine the variety that you will be witnessing? It is mouth-watering, eye-watering, basically all-your-senses-watering. Think about the changes in the landscapes and vegetation. From dense forests in the hills, the snowy Himalayas with absolutely no vegetation and then the trans-Himalayan region of Mustang, you will see how the terrain changes before your very eyes! The variety of people that you will meet along the way, their culture, food, lifestyle and their diverse languages!! The views of the fabulous mountains that give you constant company. Woahhh! No wonder Annapurna Circuit trek is deemed as the best trek in the world by many trekkers. As they say, Change is the only constant, and it is the very thing that will keep you entertained throughout the Circuit. Anyways, to give you guys a brief overview of the best of Annapurna Circuit we have listed down the top 10 best of Annapurna circuit down below. The details of every place along with place cards can always be referred to if you want to know more.
This is perhaps the unsung hero of the Annapurna Circuit. The homestay route provides a pleasant experience as you walk past one homestay village after another. After all, we being the social animals we are, what makes the best experience is the people. And the homestay villages have the best people. They will provide you with an experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Not only the people and the villages but the trail itself that needs some climbing will better train you for the walk ahead. At the very start of the trek, you will be able to see the mountains sooner. For those who are the ‘Desperado’ and your Salma Hayek is the mountain, the homestay route will be your blessing. Basically, you will start your trek from Besisahar and walk/drive to Khudi, then after the beautiful village of Siurung, you will descend down to Mipra and ultimately to Syange where the homestay route finally meets the usual trekking trail. However, if you are planning this route, we would strongly recommend you call the head of the homestay at Siurung in advance. We have provided the numbers for your reference in our homestay itinerary section.
Bhraka is a quiet and a mystical little village. It is like the wild west with no wild. It is serene and beautiful and a possible alternative to Manang for a rest day before the Thorung pass. This lesser crowded neighbor of Manang is magical with an ancient settlement and the stunning Bhraka gompa. Although some may argue that Kagbeni is perhaps a more beautiful village. It is true, Kagbeni is beautiful, but the side trips you can do from Bhraka is simply priceless. All in all, Bhraka could very well be that unexpected right hook that could knock you out.
Tilicho lake is hands down the most exciting side trip you can do during the Annapurna Circuit. Anyways, Tilicho is just stunning. Even if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (take your pick) pose in their birthday suits in front of the Tilicho lake, your eyes would still be fixed on the lake! So stunning is the lake! During winter, the lake freezes and in the other seasons the lake is that impeccable blue and shouts with all the confidence in this world, “I am pretty!” When you reach Manang, check the side trips section there because it is from Manang that you do this side trip. And let nobody fool you saying that Tilicho lake is the highest altitude lake in the entire world because that is not true, but hey! It is a beautiful lake nonetheless, and at an altitude of 4919 m, it is still pretty high. The view of the grand barrier from Tilicho lake is another sight to drool over. Out of all the things we could have chosen for the best of Annapurna circuit, this one was a no-brainer. We have got brains, we just didn’t use it. Get it?
Notice how we mentioned Thorung-La pass? Well, that’s a wrong way to mention it because La in Tibetan means pass. So when you say Thorung-La pass, the ‘pass’ is redundant there. Anyways, so much for grammar corrections. Thorung-La is the ultimate prize of the Annapurna Circuit trek which every trekker has his/her eyes set on. It is the gateway to Mustang valley from Manang. Again, it is heavily advertised as the highest pass in the world which is false. But again, 5416m is higher than Bob Marley ever got and will earn you some serious bragging rights. Grab a beer or two once you get to Muktinath. With Thorung-La you will literally be touching the mountains. Make sure your camera batteries are full for once you get to the pass, you will want to take that perfect thumbs up photo.
The Snow Leopard is the one thing on this list that you will most probably not see. But if you do, Oh boy! These are magical creatures with so much swag and charisma that you can consider yourself to be touched by the gods themselves if you ever see them. Just don’t let it roll you over and feast on you. There have been numerous news in the past that have reported sightings of snow leopard in Manang and in Mustang as well. Some sightings were reportedly very close to human settlements. Think about all the bragging rights you are going to have if you are lucky enough to see one.
We aren’t talking about the Muktinath temple but the whole Muktinath region. The Muktinath temple or the Vishnu temple is relatively new than the other more interesting gompas that you can see in this area. Muktinath was only built later to stamp the Hindu authority in this part of Nepal.
What’s more interesting than the main Muktinath temple itself is Dholamebar gompa with its eternal flame. Now we know it is just natural gas as you will instantly be able to tell as you enter the gompa. In fact, this is where the actual history of Muktinath region lies since it is much older than the main Vishnu temple. And then there is also Marmelakhang gompa that is being renovated now. In Janai Purnima every year there is a big fair that takes place here. All in all, Muktinath is a pretty interesting place and the most famous temple in the entire circuit.
Yartung is perhaps the most famous festival in the Mustang and Manang region, and many trekkers try and coincide with their trek so that they can witness this festival. It is basically 4 days of debauchery and daredevilry. The main attractions of this festival are archery contest, horse riding and not to forget, lots of drinking! It will definitely be a fun festival to witness. And if you want to impress the ladies ride one yourself and yeeehaw! Check out the Yartung place card for more information.
Guru Sangpo cave is a cave that will ask all the right questions. It will ask you questions about life and if you look around carefully the answer will also be presented to you right before your eyes. Don’t you see it? That’s probably because your torchlight is turned off. Turn it on, and you will see weird forms inside the cave that will mean so much more than just weird forms. The main cave is supposed to be a manifestation of Yab-Yum, or in other words, the merging of male and female. The cave somehow is a metaphor for the masculine and feminine forces in the world, the rocky walls of the cave are the masculine force while the water that flowed is the female force. And the weird life forms that grow there was the result of the meeting of this masculine and feminine force. Metaphorically speaking, the cave is an entire world inside a world. We are not kidding, it is truly a psychedelic cave Jimi Hendrix would love to visit. The cave is a side trip from the village of Larjung or Kobang.
Will Hunting: How do like them apples?
HoneyGuide: Apple cider, please!
Marpha is a neat little village which has got a charm of its own and not to forget, apples! This picturesque Thakali settlement is so pleasing that you will probably want to spend more than just one night here. The stoned pavements and whitewashed houses play a vital role in defining the character of this charming village. This village is very relaxing! You need to visit it to feel its quaint hospitality. The stars of this village are definitely apples. And the best of the lot is the homemade apple cider and delicious freshly baked apple pies. Hasn’t your mouth started to water yet? Well, out of all the villages in the Annapurna Circuit, Marpha is definitely right up there amongst the elites.
What best way to end your trek other than a refreshing dip in a natural hot water spring. The hot spring at Tatopani is truly amazing and does wonders to your aching limbs. Grab a beer, some snacks and hop in for the perfect ending to your circuit trek! Come to think of it, it’s kind of sad that your trek has come to an end. Don’t you worry, there are other wonderful treks in Nepal that you can do, and HoneyGuide will always be there to help you.
Remember that while crossing the Thorong La at 5,416 m (17,769 ft), you will be seriously short of oxygen. To be precise, there is only half as much oxygen at that altitude as at sea level. Your body’s reaction to that shortage is called AMS, and it usually starts as a mild headache that deteriorates to a severe headache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. However, if you ascend gradually and take rest days in between, your body gradually acclimates to the altitude, and the dangers of AMS goes down.
However, be warned that the symptoms of AMS can begin at altitudes as low as 2,500 meters. Hence, if you are considering hitching a ride directly to Manang, Don’t!! Or if you have to, consider using Diamox preventively, and stay at Manang for 2 nights. Also read about AMS in detail here.
Yes, the reports are true: there is a road all the way to Manang now. Also on the other side past the Thorung La Pass, the trail meets the road at Muktinath. Is all lost for trekkers? It really depends on who you ask. For those who don’t want to see any vehicles, perhaps so. But for those who are okay with some road crossings, some trails avoid the road most of the time. However, for trekkers who want to avoid the road completely, there is a new high trail in the region called the Annapurna Seven Passes Trek. But the one thing that has not changed even with the road are the mystical forests, beautiful mountains, and welcoming people.
Thorong La Pass, or for that matter any other pass in the Himalayas pose many challenges. First, there is the altitude, and second, there is the weather. Mountain weather can change with little warning. What day that starts clear and beautiful can easily progress to one with snowstorms and whiteouts by early afternoon. The only defense against this is to be well prepared. Flip-flops and harem pants are not going to cut it. Consulting with the locals, charging your mobile phones, and checking the weather online are some of the things you can do before attempting the pass. It also goes without saying that attempting the Thorong La (or Mesokanto La) during bad weather is simply stupid.
The best answer to when to do the Annapurna Circuit is, “Whenever you are ready.” The Annapurna Circuit has something unique to offer just about every month. Hence rather than settle for the conventional March-April and October-November narrative that only favors mountain views, we would like to walk you through a year in the Everest Region and show you what it has to offer.
Summary: January/February in the Annapurna Circuit is good for trekkers who are willing to brave the cold for some decent mountain views and empty trails. However, be prepared for deep snow and the possibility that the Thorung La might be unpassable.
Popularity: January/February is not a very popular time among trekkers and only about 4% of the trekkers visit the Annapurna Circuit Region during this period. While you will not be alone by any means, you will mostly have the trail to yourself!!
Natural Attractions: Winter is an excellent time to see large wildlife like Blue Sheep, Musk Deer, or if you are lucky perhaps even the elusive Snow Leopard. The reason for the high rate of wildlife sightings during winter is that most large wildlife descends to lower valleys during this period. In addition to the wildlife, the mountain views are decent during this period.
Cultural Attractions: Chances are that Tibetan New Year Gyalpo Losar and Mitha festival of Manang/Pisang will fall sometime in February. For those lucky ones who happen to be in Larjung/Kobang Area (Lower Mustang) in 2029, January/February is also a time for the 12 year festival of Lha Phewa. This is an epic festival which involves multi-day parties, masked dances, and colorful parades.
Weather: While the nighttime temperature can be as low as -10 degrees C at 3,500 meters, it is pretty tolerable during the day. With snow highly likely, a bright and open day can quickly deteriorate into cold and gloom. UV exposure can reach dangerous levels at high altitudes especially with all the snow lying around.
Planning Tips: Consider good waterproof boots to slush through the snow and warm layers including a decent down jacket for the variation in temperature. High passes are high risk. Prepare accordingly. Snowshoes will be very helpful. It is also a good idea to sleep at Thorung High Camp for the High Pass day as opposed to Thorung Phedi as daylight is short. Make sure to carry a good flashlight. Also since snow blindness is a real issue with all the snow and the altitude, make sure to bring good sunglasses and sunscreen. Also, make sure to book lodges in advance.
Summary: March and April offers mountain views in the mornings, beautiful flowers and birds during the day, and occasional showers during the afternoon.
Popularity: March/April is the second most popular period for the Annapurna Circuit Trek with about 26% of the trekkers making their way through the circuit.
Natural Attractions: This is the perfect time to see the flowers set the forests on fire. At altitudes of 1,500-2,500 meters above sea level, rhododendrons can be seen. While nowhere near as dominant as the south slopes of the Annapurnas and Eastern Nepal, one can still see these beautiful flowers. This is also the pre-breeding season for most birds and animals. Most migrant birds which come to the high alpine pastures to breed are making their way to the alpine pastures. Mountain views are still fantastic.
Basically, spring is one of the better times to appreciate the full spectrum of biodiversity in the Annapurna Circuit.
Cultural Attractions: Chances are very high that Buddha Jayanti, Lord Buddha’s Birthday, will fall around the end of April. Make sure to visit a monastery if you are around one during this day for some somber celebrations. Also possible is the Mitha festival of Manang/Pisang during early March and the Deer Dance Festival of Gyasumdo Region (the region around Dharapani, Tal, Nachai, and Tachai) during mid-April. On the other side of the pass in the area around Tukuche, you will be able to witness the archery festival of Toranla during March. If you are lucky and happen to be at Thini in April/May in
Weather: Rain and snow are as likely during this period as they are during January/February. However, the temperature is noticeably warmer at least by April. Be prepared for snow at high altitudes during March. However, April is noticeably drier and warmer. Days, however, generally start nice and clear and clouds only develop from afternoon onwards.
Planning Tips: Make sure to pack rainwear and warm layers. A good waterproof boot will be your best friend as you might have to trudge through the slush and rain. Prepare for UV exposure with good sunscreen and sunglasses.
Summary: May is excellent for mountains, flowers, and landscape. June is good, but don’t count on mountain views, but if you are into flowers and smaller wildlife, there is no better time than now.
Popularity: May/June while by no means popular still sees 8 percent of trekkers trudging their way past alpine flowers, slippery trails, and amazing waterfalls.
Natural Attractions: The mountain views are still great at least during the early part of the day. The waterfalls during this time of the year are quite something and given the heat at the lower altitudes, a quick dip in a mountain waterfall can be a fantastic experience. Also amazing are the wide variety of wildflowers both in the forest and the alpine pastures. Birdlife also couldn’t be more active than during this period.
Cultural Attractions:Chances are high that the archery festival of Kagbeni, Dhajyang, will fall during this period. The Yak blood drinking ceremony held in the Sekong pasture close to Kobang in Lower Mustang also falls during this period. Also in 2029, the Thini area will host their twelve year festival of Pomo Aama during this period.
Weather: The days are warm, even hot at the lower altitudes. Until the third week of June, rainfall and snow are possible but not a fact of life. The day starts nice and bright during this period. However, later during the day, thunderstorms and flash downpours are possible. By the third week of June, the monsoon that comes from the eastern lands in the Annapurna Circuit Region. From here on, rainfall becomes a part of life, along with landslides, leeches and occasional floods. However, past Dharapani, the Annapurna massif blocks much of the precipitation. Hence, much of the Manang Valley gets only a small portion of the monsoon rains.
Planning Tips: Whether you are flying or driving especially after the second week of June, you should plan flexibly. You might find a highway blocked by a landslide and flights delayed. You should plan flexibly. Make sure to invest in a good boot and rain gear. You will get wet!! It goes without saying that good sunglasses and sunscreen is essential for UV protection. Consider carrying anti-leech oil (salt, alum, or iodine will also be fine) if leeches give you the creeps.
Summary: Only for hardcore trekkers who are willing to put up with the elements for an authentic cultural experience and high altitude flowers.
Popularity: This is the least popular period with only 5% of trekkers coming into the Annapurna Circuit Region during this period.
Natural Attractions: Even the alpine pastures at 5,000 meters are full of flowers by now, and the entire Annapurna Circuit Region takes up a green veneer that is absolutely amazing. The birds and smaller mammals are tending to their newborns, and while it is quieter than spring/summer, there are still a lot of birds around.
Cultural Attractions:As both the trekking and agriculture season comes to an end by now, for once the local people aren’t busy, you might even be able to strike up some meaningful and deep conversations with them. July and August is also a good time for a lot of high altitude festivals. Actually, throughout the Himalayas, a lot of Hindus make way to high altitude pilgrimage sites during the Janai Purnima Festival. You will also be able to witness the amazing Yartung Festival in the Muktinath Area during this period. Some places such as Tukuche and Marpha also have their yak blood drinking ceremony during this period. However, these festivals are held in pastures close to the village rather than in the village itself. Also possible to witness during this period is the Bhadra Mela at Thini.
Weather: It’s hot and humid, and it will keep on threatening to rain most of the time during the day. And when it does rain, it rains cats and dogs. Do not count on views, and you can be sure that your flight out of Jomsom will be delayed. If you are taking the bus, expect landslides. The temperature, especially at the higher altitudes, is as great as it could be easily topping 20-degree centigrade in Manang. However, during highly overcast days, it is possible that the mercury takes a nosedive.
Planning Tips: Plan very flexibly. It is possible to enjoy your trek during the monsoon with the flowers and solitary trails, but be ready for what nature is sure to throw your way. Carry top-notch rainwear. Avoid cotton inners at all costs. Also, be prepared for the leeches. Just carry some salt, alum, iodine or anti-leech oil if you don’t have the stomach for blood donation. Again the silver lining is that past 3,000 meters leech density starts to thin out and by the time you reach 3,500 meters you know you are past leech country.
Summary: This period is everyone’s darling. The rains have cleared the sky of dust, the monsoon is in the full retreat and mountain views are at their absolute best.
Popularity: This is hands down the most popular period for trekking the Annapurna Circuit Region with about 39% of trekkers coming here during this period.
Natural Attractions: The mountain views are at their absolute best. Even though the birdlife has quieted down substantially, you will still see a lot of them fleeting about. By the end of October, however, a lot of birds start on their annual southward journey. If you are lucky, you can witness the demoiselle crane migration in fall in the Kali Gandaki corridor.
Cultural Attractions: This happy season also sees the most important Hindu festival in Nepal, Dashain. And this festival is quickly followed by another important festival Tihar. Hence, in the lower stretches of the trek where the Hindu influence is strong, you will feel a festive air. Higher up the Manangis and Thakalis also celebrate these Hindu festivals in their own way. In addition to these heavyweights, you will also be able to see Marpha’s Dhekep festival during this period.
Weather: This period is everybody’s darling. The monsoon rains have cleared the skies of dust and haze. The clouds are retreating fast. The temperature is terrific during the day. However, at Manang, the temperature during the evening and nights can drop below zero. While everything is all great and good on paper, one thing you have to be prepared for are the post-monsoon cyclonic disturbances. Hard to predict, these disturbances can dump a significant amount of rainfall and snow at short notice.
Planning Tips:Get some extra layers but also carry a breathable jacket for the day. A good waterproof jacket will help you if the weather decides for rain. Other than that enjoy the views!!!
Summary: It is beautiful but the coldest weather time in the region. At night mostly the temperature could easily fall below the freezing points.
Popularity: While nowhere as popular as September/October, November/December is another popular period with about 18% of trekkers coming to the Annapurna Circuit Region during this period.
Natural Attractions: This is the driest month in the region. Most small birds have already made their way down to lower climates by now. However, this is also a time when large animals like the Blue Sheep start to migrate to the lower valleys. Birds of prey that summer in Central Asia are also making their way down to the Nepali hills and the Indian Himalayas during this time.
Cultural Attractions: This is a period during which everybody starts preparing for winter. Hence there isn’t much cultural activity. However, Manang village does host a once in three year festival of Badhe during November.
Weather: The temperature while cold, is still tolerable. However, make sure to pack in warm layers. As this season is the driest part of the year, the sky will be very very clear. This means good mountain views and high UV radiation. However, but the end of December snow from westerly disturbances becomes highly likely. Hence, if you are doing a Christmas Trek, it is essential to plan for this contingency.
Planning Tips: Pack in good sunscreen and sunglasses for the UV radiation. And, consult with locals and check weather updates before traversing the Thorung La pass. This is especially important if you are trekking during the end of December. Good boots and good down jackets will also be necessary.
There are numerous entry and exit points throughout the Annapurna Circuit. If you want, you can even trek only a few select parts of the entire Annapurna Circuit. Also, since there are a bunch of treks in the Annapurna Circuit Region, each trek has its own entry/exit points. However, the following guidelines will perhaps help you get to the various trailheads:
Besishahar used to be the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit Trek before the road snaked towards the mountains, allowing trekkers to start their trek from further up. However, no matter where you begin your trek you have to come to Besishahar.
To get to Besisahar from Kathmandu, you can either take the morning bus from, New Bus park. The buses that usually leave around 7am get to Besisahar by 1pm and cost around NPR 600. The actual local prices are actually around NPR 400, but as with all things in Nepal, tourists are usually charged more. Again remember that the local buses are not for everyone. It will pick up people at least for one and a half hours in Kathmandu until it is packed to the rafters and there will be very little sense of personal space.
If you are looking for a more comfortable ride, you could either take the tourist bus to Pokhara get off at Dumre and then catch a local bus to Besisahar from there. However, a much better option is to grab a micro-bus that leave from BG Mall close to the New Bus Park at Gongabu. Since there is no standing on these microbuses, you don’t need to worry about people’s elbows and bags!! They also usually fill up right there at the stop hence there is no endless hunting for passengers. And the price of around NPR 600 is pretty reasonable.
Still another option is to hire a private car which will cost anywhere from NPR 7,000 to NPR 10,000. While expensive, if you split it between three other people, it might come out pretty reasonable mainly because it will be very comfortable!!
All jeeps leaving from Besisahar gather at Manang Chowk which is where the TIMS and ACAP Checkpoints also are. From here, it is a matter of picking your stop, choosing your SUV and settling on a price. Here is a quick guide to costs and timings
|Route / Distance (Time)||Price|
|Besisahar to Chyamche (1,370 m) / ~30 km||NPR 1,500|
|Besisahar to Tal (1,665 m) / ~40 km||NPR 2,000|
|Besisahar to Chame (2,704 m) / ~65 km||NPR 3,000|
|Besisahar to Manang (3,540 m) / ~95 km||NPR 5,000|
The above are obviously Bideshi rates, and Nepalis generally pay lower depending upon the bargaining skills. Again prices might change depending upon the high season.
As for the places, Chyamche is the usual trailhead, but Tal is fast taking over. Chymache is preferred because once there, you can cross the river to catch a walking trail rather than walk on the dirt road. Tal is a more picturesque alternative to Chyamche and isn’t too far from it. Chame is the district headquarters and has shops, banks and a lot of lodges. However, at 2,704 meters, Chame is at an altitude that might test some people. So, if you are driving directly to this altitude be careful. As for Manang, it is a no-brainer that you should not take a direct jeep as driving from an elevation of 785 m to 3,540 meters is bound to put you at risk of Acute Mountain Sickness or worse HACE/HAPE.
Humde village is only 8 km from Manang and serves as the only airport in the Manang Valley. However, there are no regular flights to Humde. Your best bet is to charter a flight from Summit Air.
Jomsom is the most popular exit points for most people doing the Annapurna Circuit. Even though it is a shame and beyond Jomsom, there is the beautiful Thakali village of Marpha, the amazing Kali Gandaki Gorge and the hot waters of Tatopani. Jomsom is also the starting point of the Jomsom Muktinath Trek and Upper Mustang Trek. In a lot of ways, Jomsom is the hub of the entire Manang district. Hence your options of getting to and out of Jomsom are many.
The 25-minute flight between Jomsom and Pokhara will cost you USD 125 one way. It is one of the most amazing flights as you will pass right under the noses of the mighty Dhaulagiri and Annapurna mountains through the deepest river valley in the world, the Kali Gandaki River Valley. Summit Air, Tara Air and Nepal Airlines ply the routes regularly.
As of now, there are no direct flights between Kathmandu and Pokhara. The half an hour flight from Pokhara will cost you USD 124.
There are multiple options if you are looking to get to Jomsom by road. Here is a quick breakdown of your options
|Route / Distance (Time)||Price||Ticketing Information|
|Kathmandu to Jomsom / 373 km||NPR 1,600||Machhapokhari (close to New Bus Park at Gongabu) buses leave at 3:00 pm every day|
|Jomsom to Kathmandu / 373 km||NPR 1,600||Jomsom Bus Park. Buses leave at 12pm every day|
|Pokhara to Beni / 90 km||NPR 300|
|Beni to Pokhara / 90 km||NPR 300||Microbuses leave Beni Bus Stop every hour until 10:00 am|
|Beni to Jomsom / 80 km||NPR 700|
|Kathmandu to Pokhara / 203 km (6-7 hrs)||NPR 600||Buses leave from Kaldhara every day by 7 am.|
|Pokhara to Kathmandu / 203 km||NPR 600||Buses Leave from Pokhara Tourist Bus Park by 8 am.|
|Jomsom to Beni / 80 km||NPR 700|
|Jomsom-Ghasa-Tatopani||Misc||Local Buses are available.|
The Good:The Annapurna Circuit Trek is the most popular trekking route in Nepal. With the varieties of experiences, the trek will take you past one of the highest mountain passes and one of the deepest river valleys in the planet. This particular itinerary avoids the road as much as possible and also goes via the villages of Ghyaru and Ngawal, both of which offer some amazing mountain views. This route is also better for getting used to the altitude.
The Bad:Finding accommodation near the pass during peak season (October) can be difficult for independent trekkers. Also, since the altitude will stay above 4,000 meters for a good part of the trek, Acute Mountain Sickness can be a major issue, especially if you drive to Manang. Also, a good portion of the trek is now a road which might not be to everyone’s liking.
Number of Days: 17 -18 days
Best Time to Go: Anytime (See When to go to Annapurna Circuit)
Entry Point/Transport/Cost: Besisahar / Bus from Kathmandu/~USD 10; Besisahar to Chymache / Jeep / USD 15
Exit Point/Transport/Cost:Jomsom/Bus to Kathmandu/USD 16;
Beni/Bus to Pokhara + Kathmandu/~USD 3 + USD 7.
Accommodation/Cost:Lodges:Lodges:~USD 25-35 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner)
Permits/Restrictions:Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20)
Highest Altitude: Thorong La (5,416 m)
Route Outline: Kathmandu - Simalchaur -Bahundada - Chyamche- Dharapani - Chame- Upper Pisang - Manang (2 nights) - Yak Kharka -Thorong High Camp - Ranipauwa - Kagbeni -Marpha -Kobang- Ghasa - Tatopani -Beni- Pokhara
Route Variations:The high route is different from the Low Route in that a little beyond Dhikur Pokhari, the high route climbs to the mountainside to the right while the low route keeps following the road. Once past the Thorung Pass, it is possible to get to Kagbeni via Jhong which is a much pleasurable walk than walking on the busy road through Jharkot.
It is also possible to start the trek through a string of villages that have opened up homestays. For this, you will have to get off the road at Khudi and climb to the village of Dhagai and from there on to Siurung, Kalaghiring, Sildhunga, Chhapdanda, and Mipra. From Mipra, the trail gets back on the classic route at Syange. This trail has some amazing views and still has that old world charm around it. However, the trail can be a bit tricky at places. Hence a local who knows the trail or a guide is highly recommended.
The Good: Jomsom-Muktinath trek is one of the most popular short treks in Nepal. In addition to the cultural and religious significance of the Muktinath Temple, this trek is also an excellent introduction to surreal high altitude desert landscape of Mustang.
The Bad: Since a lot of people take a flight to Jomsom, this trek is at the mercy of the Himalayan weather. Hence plan flexibly. Alternatively, if you are taking the road to Jomsom, be ready for one hell of a bumpy ride.
Number of Days: 6-7 days
Best Time to Go: Anytime (See When to go to Annapurna Circuit)
Entry Point/Transport/Cost:Jomsom / Flight from Pokhara/~USD 118; Bus from Kathmandu / USD 16
Exit Point/Transport/Cost:Marpha/Bus to Kathmandu /~USD 16
Accommodation/Cost: Lodges:~USD 25-30 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner)
Permits/Restrictions: Annapurna Conservation Area Permit(~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20).
Highest Altitude: Muktinath (3,710 m)
Route Outline: Kathmandu - Pokhara - Jomsom - Kagbeni- Ranipauwa- Kagbeni- Marpha- Pokhara
Route Variations: From Pokhara, you can also take a jeep to Jomsom then start the trek. It is also possible to use the trekking trail to Muktinath from the Bonpo village of Lubra and exit via the quieter trail through Jhong.
The Good: The Annapurna Seven Passes Trek is Annapurna Circuit on steroids. You will walk past seven high passes: Kuchumro Pass (4,900 m), Yarcha Pass (4,834 m), Meta Pass (4,635 m), Phu Pass (5,043 m), Naar Pass (5,390 m), Kangla Pass (5,300 m) and of course the Thorung La Pass (5,416 m). And while you are pass-hopping, you will bypass the crowds and dirt roads of the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Oh, you will also walk through yarsagumba fields, villages lost in time and amazingly beautiful forests.
The Bad: As you can tell, this trek is not for everyone. Especially not those who need a hot shower every other day. For guess what for a good part of the trek, you will have to camp. Also, be very well prepared equipment and safety skills-wise as if the weather takes a turn for the worse, things can get pretty nasty pretty fast in the high passes.
Number of Days: 20 days
Best Time to Go: April-November. Winters are not advisable because of the possibility of snow.
Entry Point/Transport/Cost:Tal / Bus to Besisahar & Jeep to Tal / USD 6 + USD 20
Exit Point/Transport/Cost:Jomsom / Flight to Pokhara/~USD 118; Bus to Kathmandu / USD 16
Accommodation/Cost:Lodges:~USD 25-30 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner)
Permits/Restrictions: Annapurna Conservation Area Permit(~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20).
Difficulty: Very Difficult
Highest Altitude: Thorung La Pass (5,416 m)
Route Outline: Kathmandu - Besisahar - Tal - Nache - Tachai - Tilche - Shongle - Kuchumro Pass - Meta Pass - Meta - Chyakhu - Phu - Phu Pass - Loang - Naar Pass - Naar - Kangla Pass - Nawal - Manang - Ledar - Thorung High Camp - Muktinath - Kagbeni - Jomsom - Pokhara - Kathmandu.
There is no straight answer to this question. The whole trekking industry has so many layers of middlemen, such varied service level, and so much cost cutting that giving a straight answer to a simple question is really difficult. Hence, we will simplify the whole thing and break down the price into individual services.
|Travel Insurance||USD 20|
|Nepali Visa(30 days)||USD 40|
|Taxi from Airport to Thamel||USD 10|
|Hotel in Kathmandu||Varies (USD 15+)|
|Sleeping Bag for Hire||USD 3 per day|
|Down Jacket for Hire||USD 2 per day|
|Permits (ACAP Permit: ~USD 22, TIMS: ~USD 20||USD 42|
|Bus to Besisahar||USD 6|
|Lodges (includes breakfast and dinner)||USD 15 for Normal Room; USD 20 for Room with Attached Bathroom|
|Lunch Cost||USD 5|
|Porter (Carries up to 25 kg and good for two people. The price includes meals for the porter.)||USD 17 per day|
|Insurance for the Porters||USD 15-30|
|Guide Daily Wages(really depends upon the proficiency of the guide. The price will not include the meal, transport or insurance cost of the Guide.)||USD 25-80 per day|
|Buses for Guide||USD 6 for Besisahar|
|Accommodation/Meals for the Guide (while a lot of guides simply ‘ask’ the lodge owners for free food and free rooms, this is not a practice that should be encouraged.||USD 10 per day|
|Insurance for Guide||USD 100|
Hence, for a 17 day trek to Annapurna Circuit Trek, the trek cost will come out to be:
|Title||Cost to a single trekker (Calculation)|
|Permits||USD 42 (USD 22 + USD 20)|
|Bus||USD 20 (USD 10 +USD 10)|
|Cost of Accomodation (with Lunch and Dinner)||USD 255 (USD 15 x 17 days (USD 20 x 17 days for room with attached bathroom) )|
|Cost of Lunch||USD 85 (USD 5 x 17 days)|
|Porter||USD 145(USD 8.5 per trekker x 17 days (1 porter = 2 trekkers))|
|Porter Insurance (1 porter= 2 trekkers)||USD 15 (USD 15 per trekker)|
|Tips for Porter||USD 16.5 (15% of wages is the norm= 15% of 110 )|
|Sub Total:||USD 578.5|
|Guide Cost||USD 102 (assuming a group size of 5 and USD 510 = ~USD 30 x 17 days for the entire group )|
|Guide’s Food/Transport/Insurance||USD 109 (assuming group size of 5 and USD 545 = USD 25 x 17 (Food/Lodge)+ USD 100 (insurance) ) + 20 USD (Transportation)|
|Tips for Guides||USD 16.5 (assuming group size of 5 and 15% of wages is the norm= 15% of 390= USD 82.5)|
|Misc Trek Cost|
|Hot Water||USD 60 (USD 1-2 per liter x 3 liters per day x 13 days)|
|Hot Shower||USD 15-25 (USD 3-5 per shower x 5 showers)|
|Beer, Coke, Candy Bars|
Please note that the above doesn’t include any non-trek expenses such as a hotel in Kathmandu, airport transfers, meals in Kathmandu or farewell dinners. It also does not cover extra trek costs such as hot water, hot shower, beer, wifi, battery charging, and escort services. Obviously, the more things that are included, the more expensive the trek; the better the service, the more expensive the trek.
For now, all we recommend is that no matter who you book with make sure to:
The way of arranging treks for Everest or Annapurna Circuit is basically the same.
It depends upon the route variations and side trips you choose. For a regular Annapurna Circuit trek, if you are starting from Besisahar, you will need at least 17 days. For other treks in the Annapurna Circuit here is a quick breakdown:
Annapurna Circuit - High Route: 13-17 days
Jomsom-Muktinath Trek: 5-7 days
Annapurna Seven Passes Trek: 20-21 days
Most reasonably fit individuals ought to have the capacity to do the Annapurna Circuit Trek. In any case, do read the page of the Health and Safety Section, particularly the piece on AMS and Pre-existing Conditions. Regardless of your fitness level, it is a smart thought to do some cardio.
Also, squats will come in handy, as a lot of restrooms in Nepal are of the squatting pan type. ;)
The gear requirements for the Annapurna Circuit Trek aren’t that different from the gear required for treks in other parts of Nepal. An actionable checklist can be found under Trekking in Nepal- A Checklist portion.
No matter what route you travel, you will require two permits at the least:
ACAP Permit- NPR 2,000 + 13% VAT
TIMS- NPR 2,000
If you are planning to go to the restricted area of Nar-Phu Valley ypu will require:
restricted Are Permit for Nar-Phu Valley= USD 90 per person per week (Sept-November); USD 75 per person per week (December-August).
This permit can be obtained either at:
DNPWC Counter- Tourist Service Center
Bhrikuti Mandap, Kathmandu.
At the ACAP Checkpoint at Besisahar during the trek itself.
TIMS Permit costs NPR 2,000 for all non-Nepalis. The permit is levied by the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal. One can purchase this permit from Tourist Service Center, Bhrikutimandap, or Trekking Agencies’ Association Nepal (TAAN).
This permit can be obtained at:
Office Department of Immigration
Address: Kalikasthan, Dillibazar, Kathmandu.
Phone: +977-01-4429659, 4429660
Fax: +977-01-4433935, 4433934
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
The Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of the most popular trekking routes. As such you will not have to worry about accommodation. There are lodges at least every other hour or two along the main route. However, during the peak season in March-Apr and Oct-Nov, it might be difficult to find accommodation especially if you are trekking independently or in a small group. Worse comes to worse you might have to make do with the dining hall, but be assured you are guaranteed a place to tuck in for the night.
Compared to Everest, there is a scarcity of luxury lodges. Actually, the general standard of lodges is a bit lower on this side of Nepal. Feel free to check out the rooms if you are in doubt and please do leave reviews in the app to help fellow trekkers and also to increase the general standard of lodges.
You will be surprised to find menus with Enchiladas and Spaghetti Bolognese. While the actual food will make Mexicans and Italians facepalm in despair, the menu does go to show that food will not be a problem in Annapurna Circuit at all.
Despite the variety, one of the most popular food item during a trek is eat-all-you-can Dal Bhat, the national dish of Nepal. Rice for carbs, lentils for proteins, curry for minerals and pickles for taste; Dal Bhaat is a pretty balanced diet for a mountain lifestyle.
As for safe drinking water, you can read the section on Water Safety under Health and Safety while Trekking in Nepal Section.
Charging your camera and phones is also not a problem along this route. However, there will be a fee which goes up with the altitude. This is because while lower down electricity is provided by hydro-electricity, higher up, they are all solar powered. However, make sure to carry socket adapters for Type C (round pins) and spare batteries for your cameras. Solar chargers and Power Banks help a lot.
There aren’t very many ways to stay connected during the Annapurna Circuit Trek. And none of them will work the way you are used to at your home country. That said, wifi is available in some lodges till Manang on the Marshyangdi valley side. They cost about Rs.100 per hour lower down to Rs. 500 per hour higher up. On the Kali Gandaki valley side, there is wifi available in most lodges.
Mobile internet coverage is very patchy at best and is only limited to the lower parts. After you cross Manang, you won’t get mobile network until and unless you reach Muktinath, let alone get mobile internet.
Just as you exit the airport building, there are two telecom company stalls just outside. Upon presenting your passport and a photo, you should have no problem in getting a SIM card. The state-run Nepal Telecom is definitely better than the NCell (a private company owned by Axiata) in most of the places in the Annapurna Circuit. In the Kali Gandaki valley side both NTC and NCell have a good network but if you want fast internet in your mobile don’t get your hopes too high. In the Marshyangdi valley side, NTC fares much better. However, if your mobile device can take in CDMA cards, we suggest you get a CDMA card from NTC as in the upper stretches of the circuit, NTC has better service. Please note that after Manang/ Ghusang you won’t get network signal for either of the two service providers until you cross the Thorung-La and drop down to Muktinath. Thorung Phedi and High camp do have landlines. If you happen to have a satellite phone even better!
Orogenic subductions within the beddings lead to an upthrusting of the gneiss butte. Concurrently, the spreading of the flow cleavage and dike swarms deeper in the rift produces more thrust making the bed rock.
Okay, that made absolutely no sense. But now that we have your attention let’s get down to business. Geology can be stimulating.
As the story goes, all the land we stand on are, but icebergs floating in an ocean of molten rock and move at the whim of its currents. One such current brought the Indian and Eurasian plates in a collision course. As these continents collided the Indian plate slipped under the Eurasian plate, thus lifting it and giving birth to what is now the highest mountain range on earth. This process which started about the time the last dinosaurs walked the planet continues to the present day with Annapurna Circuit still rising. You can see the stresses that these forces cause on rocks in the trail section between Jomsom and Kagbeni as shown in the picture above. It is also interesting to note that the Kali Gandaki river that you will see when you cross over to Mustang is actually older than the Himalayas itself. For how else would it be able to originate north of the Himalayas and then break through the mountains and join the Ganges in India? It is also a tribute to the sheer erosive power of water that this river was able to find a way out between two eight-thousanders, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna.
It is also interesting to note that these mountain while lofty are still growing taller and the river valleys and gorges are getting deeper. The growing mountains are perhaps also the reason why the settlement that seems 15 minutes away takes an hour to reach!!
As the Himalayas continue their journey to the sky, they have the power not only to impress a traveler’s soul but also to dictate the climate of a subcontinent. The annual burst of the monsoon that hits the Indian subcontinent would have been nowhere near as dramatic if not for the Himalayas. As moisture-laden wind from the Bay of Bengal rushes towards the north in its journey to Tibet, it is forced to hike up the Himalayas, sweating out almost all of its moisture content along the southern slopes leaving Tibet high and dry.
If you come here during the spring (Mar-May), you will see how the day starts nice and bright and gets progressively windier and cloudier, frequently leading to afternoon showers. This to and fro goes on for around a month until the monsoon bursts in its full glory around mid-June. The road leading into Manang and out of Jomsom is simply crazy after the rains start and even flights out of Jomsom become somewhat unpredictable. However, the one exception to this is the trans-Himalayan region of Mustang and to some extent Manang. These regions are shielded from the monsoon by the towering Himalayas, and very little rain makes it that far. The result is that both of these regions are very arid and dry.
While air transport and trekking come to a grinding halt on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, a new cycle of life is starting. Wildflowers have been peeking their head out since spring in eager anticipation of the monsoon and are now out in droves. It is a shame however that there are few around to admire this spectacle of color and fragrance. As the land rejuvenates, the Himalayan Tahr is busy tending to it’s newborn, and the Himalayan Monal is busy displaying to prospective mates. They make the best of this period of plenty which ends in September along with the rains. You could still fly out of Jomsom or drive during the monsoon, but plan in a very flexible way, or alternatively, you could start trekking from Besishahar and walk all the way to Beni. But that will be like a lot more days. Leeches will also be a concern and while they do not pose a health hazard can nevertheless be a nuisance. However, once past Bagarchaap and till about Tukuche, even the rain isn’t much of a problem. However, do not count on the mountain views at all. Also if you make it to Mustang in August, it will probably be at its prettiest with a green patina that is simply rare in this cold desert.
Come September, the blanket of cloud clears up. It is now time for the mountains to wake up from their slumbers. Against the backdrop of clear blue skies, they are now at their best. The temperature is also amazing until November which makes for the peak trekking season.
By December, winter is in full swing. However, for the well-prepared, winter is no barrier with the added advantage of fewer people and more wildlife. Be prepared for occasional heavy snow during this time though as western Nepal gets its fair share of westerly precipitation.
While the above scenario is more or less accurate, there have been some trends that seem here to stay. The most notable of these is increased precipitation in the period before and after the monsoon. While only time will tell if the trend is here to stay, it is better to assume so and plan accordingly. Climate change impacts everyone everywhere.
The Himalaya is directly responsible for the bursting of the monsoon, and the monsoon is responsible for lending the Himalayas its dramatic architecture. If it weren’t for the monsoon, the Himalayas would be a rather shapeless rounded mass.
The annual dump of snow, ice, and water that arrives with the monsoon sculpts the Himalayas to sharply chiseled peaks and deep river valleys. The erosion starts near the mountain peaks where ice abrades the mountainside into armchair shaped cirques, creating sharp ridges and pyramidal peaks. However as western Nepal generally sees less rainfall than eastern Nepal, the mountains here show less relief. Perhaps the most mountain-like of the mountain that you will see here is Dhaulagiri. Other than that most mountains along the Annapurna Circuit are part of one long range with slight projections for peaks.
Not all ice flow is so slow though, and you will definitely hear or perhaps even see an avalanche during your trek. Don’t lose your sleep over it, as the entire trail passes through safe areas.
Thus accumulated ice, snow, and rock debris sometimes creates impressive and dangerous forms such as the Dhaulagiri Icefall. While you might not be able to see the ice fall in the icefall, they do happen, often with disastrous consequences. Lower down, the frozen mass somewhat stabilizes to form the glacier proper which continues the erosive work though less dramatically.
However, the efficiency with which a glacier churns and grinds a mountain can be seen in the trail section between Larjung and Kokhethanti. The two streams that you will cross here come directly from the Dhaulagiri Ice Fall and the amount of silt these streams deposit shows how efficiently ice churns rocks.
Streams and rivers not only continue the eroding work of the glaciers but also speeds it up. Steep-walled V-shaped valleys and the generally claustrophobic landscape are testaments to the rapid erosion that the rivers are capable of. As such, the lower stretches of the trek is dominated by this closed in landscape until you reach Dhikur Pokhari where the land suddenly opens up. Also on the other side, the landform is generally open until about Tukuche after which the hills close in so to speak to create the vertical walls.
This interplay of land and water is perhaps the most critical force not only in creating the phantasmagorical shapes you will see but also in creating a substrate for all life forms here for without the glaciers and rivers there would be no soil, and without soil, there would be no life forms.
Mountains along the Annapurna Circuit are served in many flavors. There are of course the high peaks, and then there are the tough, the easy-going, the photogenic and the sacred.
As a show of respect to the mountain gods, let us start with the sacred peaks. While not technically a peak, but rather a ridge of Pisang Peak, it is nevertheless held sacred and is forbidden to climb. Dhaulagiri and Manaslu are also holy mountains even though the locals now have no problem with climbers on these peaks.
Of the high peaks, we have three eight-thousanders along the Annapurna Circuit. The highest peak in the region is Dhaulagiri which at 8,167 meters (26,795 ft) comes in seventh in the global order of things. Dhaulagiri is closely followed by Manaslu (8163 m/26,781 ft) and Annapurna I (8091 m/26,545 ft) which comes in at eighth and tenth in the global rankings. Special mentions go to the almost eight-thousanders of the regions: Himalchuli (7,893 m), Annapurna II (7,937 m) and Annapurna III (7,555 m).
Toughness and beauty, however, are both very subjective notions, beauty because it is in the eyes of the beer holder and toughness because it depends on the route taken, climbing style (and no we am not talking tiptoeing and tap dancing here), season and supplemental oxygen use. Hell, even the trip to Thorung La could be graded tough if you did it in shorts and without shoes. In spite of such subjectivity, we will take the risk and go ahead with the list. We all have a soft corner for top-something lists after all, no matter how meaningless they might be.
However, building a list of beautiful mountains along the Annapurna Circuit is a bit tough because the usual notion of a beautiful mountain is one with good prominence and sharply chiseled outline. Since there is a little precipitation along the Annapurna Circuit, most mountains here are rather shapeless projections. However, Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri look pretty beautiful. Also, Himalchuli could be considered attractive if you look at it from the Manaslu side. There you go, that’s an idea for your next trek right there.
Now grading the toughness of mountain is a minefield in its own right, literally booby-trapped with romanticism, nostalgia, smugness, hubris, and money. But we trekkers needn’t concern ourselves with the details here. Dhaulagiri was the last eight-thousander to be climbed and that perhaps says something about the toughness of this mountain and Annapurna is the eight-thousander with the highest summit-fatality ratio and also the least number of summits. Its south face especially is considered one of the toughest walls in the whole world. This will also be a right place to mention Thulagi Chuli (7,059 m) which is an unclimbed peak. Also, Ngadi Chuli (7,871 m) has only been climbed once with numerous unsuccessful attempts.
Also for those trekkers who are feeling a bit more adventurous than just Thorung La, here is a list of trekking peaks which are considered easier to climb than others. However, please be advised that all of them will require extra permits from the NMA, full mountaineering gear and some climbing skills. Of these peaks, especially popular are Dhampus Peak (6,012 m), Thorung Peak (6,201 m), Pisang Peak (6,091 m), Chulu East (6,429 m), Tilicho Peak (7,134 m), Khatung Kang (6,484 m) and Yakawa Kang (6,482 m).
While your trek from regions of life to the lifeless grandeur of rock and ice is fascinating, the reverse journey undertaken by nature is equally impressive. The interplay of lifeless land and water creates a substrate on which life can flourish. The first link is provided by plants. And by nourishing not only higher life forms but also the land and water it stands on, plants create stability which is crucial for an ecosystem.
And during the Annapurna Circuit, you will see almost all kinds of ecosystems. You start your trek in the subtropical Besishahar and pass through forests of Chilaune (which literally means itchy in Nepali, Schima wallichii) and Chestnut (Castanopsis indica). Both of them have quite showy flowers, the former blooming in spring while the latter blooming in early fall. In the lower stretches, you will also see the lanky trees of Silk Cotton (Bombax ceiba) with its showy fleshy red flowers of spring. Along unstable slopes especially next to streams in the lower section you will see the Himalayan Alder (Alnus nepalensis). These trees dominate the landscape past Bahundanda up till about Chymache.
From there on the vegetation starts to change to more temperate kinds with Horse Chestnut with its pretty white flowers (Aesculus indica) and Maple (Acer sps.) making an entry with the mighty Oaks (Quercus sps.) dominating the central landscape till about Timang.
From Timang onwards, the vegetation then turns coniferous with Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana) dominating the landscape with West Himalayan Spruce (Picea smithiana) showing up pretty dominantly around Chame. As you leave Bhratang, Fir (Abies spectabilis) which has been showing up for quite a while now, becomes quite prominent with Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis) with showing up soon after. Around Humde, Black Juniper (Juniperus indica) starts to make an appearance which signals the start of Alpine scrubs and the end of the tree line.
Once you cross over to the other side, trees start to appear again, and Muktinath and its surrounding villages are primarily dominated with strands of Himalayan Poplar (Populus ciliata). As you get to the riverbed of the Kali Gandaki River in Mustang, you will be passing through Caragana vegetation with the higher slopes having Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana) and Black Juniper (Juniperus indica). And so it continues till Larjung. After that, it is primarily Blue Pine inter spread with broadleaved trees till about Ghasa. From there on it is back to temperate and subtropical broadleaved forests like Schima-Castanopsis and Oak.
In the stage that plants create, animals from the humble bee to the regal Snow Leopard flourish. And during your Annapurna Circuit you will find that in certain places like Nawal, Gyaru, Manang or Bhraka, the wildlife is amazingly tame. This is because the people of this region have not persecuted wildlife for a long period of time. On the lower slopes, however, it is an entirely different story.
Along the trail, you might see inquisitive Pikas, fanged Musk Deer, and nonchalant Blue Sheep. If you are lucky, you might even spot a Snow Leopard. The iridescent Himalayan Monal and Cheer Pheasant add color to the landscape while Chukar partridge will be everywhere. Also, remember to look up during breathers as the enormous Himalayan Griffons are a regular sight. You will have to be a bit luckier to spot a Lammergeier or a Golden Eagle.
Also if you are in the area around the right time in fall, chances are you will see the annual migration of the Demoiselle Crane which is fantastic, to say the least. While the cranes steal the show, many other raptors use the Kali Gandaki corridor for migration.
While the list appears pretty impressive don’t get your hopes too high especially if you are part of a large group and/or are trekking during the peak season. More people, less wildlife. It is as simple as that. However, starting an hour earlier than the usual 8:00 am the start time of most people and keeping some distance from the group will make a lot of difference.
It isn’t too hard to understand that life clings precariously to the mountainsides. A couple of years of overgrazing in this fragile ecosystem and one bout of rainfall will wash off the topsoil. And it will take hundreds of years for grass to get a foothold again.
Not surprisingly there are many pressing environmental concerns along the Annapurna Circuit, both local and global.
The most pressing ones seem to be the one that is easily avoidable, that of garbage. Both solid and liquid waste management is so unmanaged along the Annapurna Circuit that the backyard of almost all lodges is filled with bottled water, noodle packets and what else and what not.
Another pressing environmental problem is the loss of snow cover in the high mountains which had led to a shortage of fresh water for the villages. We have even heard of disputes arising from control of water resources among different villages, something that would have been unthinkable thirty years ago.
Another environmental which is more local in nature is the construction of the hydroelectric projects in the region. The amount of water that these run off the river projects divert is sometimes as high as ninety percent which could cause severe harm to the ecosystem.
Again with the construction of the road, all the evils that come with it is unavoidable. While this is the natural way of progress, the road will bring more noise and more smoke into the otherwise pristine environment along the Annapurna Circuit. So pressing is this concern that a large number of trekkers have decided to avoid the Annapurna Circuit simply because of the road.
Another pressing issue in the region is the problem of poaching and overharvesting of medicinal plants. Many wildlife including the Musk Deer is persecuted for its valuable musk. Snow Leopards, on the other hand, are persecuted in revenge killings for the livestock depredation that these guys cause and also in lure of the price its fur fetches. Yarsagumba (Cordyceps sinensis) is one of the iconic medicinal plants that is harvested in the region and boy you should see the number of people who come here every year in summer to collect this miracle plant. While it isn’t entirely clear how the scale of this harvesting impacts the future of this plant, it isn’t hard to guess that it will have a sizeable negative impact on the availability of these plants in the future. But given that these guys sell for as high as USD 75,000 per kilo in the international market, it is hard if not impossible to curtail the collection.
As they say, “When in Rome, do the Romans,” here are a few Dos and Don’ts for the Annapurna Circuit Region.
The places along the Annapurna Circuit have a very long history especially those along the Kali Gandaki river on the Mustang side. From Himalayan cave mummies that have been dated as far back 2000 BCE to petroglyph sites dated to least at 1000 BCE, the history of human settlement along the Kali Gandaki goes back a long period. The reason for this is that the Kali Gandaki valley is one of the most accessible passes that break the Himalayas connecting Central Asia and Tibet with India. While there is no direct or circumstantial evidence, the Manang valley was, on the other hand, populated more recently. However, for now, let’s stick to the recorded history of the region for now.
For a good portion of history, the leading powerhouse in the region has been centered at Lo Manthang. Another political entity that existed was called Serib which includes the current Muktinath Valley area (Baragaon to be more precise) and also Thini and Marpha. Under the rise of Tibet’s great emperor Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century, both Lo and Serib came under the direct rule of Tibet. However, given the distance, the hold didn’t last long, and by the ninth century, the Tibetan kingdom itself started to disintegrate. By the tenth century, both Lo and Serib were tributary states to the Shang Shung kingdom centered around the holy Kailash mountain. The situation again changed around twelfth century with the rise of three powers around Lo and Serib, that of Jumla, Ladakh, and Gungthang. Till about the eighteenth century, control over both Lo and Serib changed hands among Gungthang, Ladakh, and Jumla. However, one notable change that happened during this time was that people of Tibetan descent started to become influential in the Muktinath valley and the forts at Jhong and Jharkot were built under these new lords from the north. And from these seats of power, they controlled the transit point of Kagbeni through which all trade had to pass.
Throughout all this time, the Manang region (called Nyeshang) was squarely under the control of the lords of the Muktinath valley. The Nyeshang region has also seen migrations from three directions, from the Muktinath valley to the west, Nar valley to the north and Manaslu (Nubri) valley to the east. Hence the Ghales of Manang is a bit of a mixed lot but with definite Tibetan ancestry.
As for the Lower Mustang region of the Thakalis, these guys have mostly lived in the shadows of Lo and Serib for the most part of history. However, after the rise of the House of Ranas in Kathmandu and the ensuing Tibet-Nepal war, these small time traders from Tukuche got the monopoly over the entire salt trade through the Kali Gandaki valley. And from the latter half of the nineteenth century, these guys rose to both economic and political power, a state of affairs that continues to this day. Also, the main transit point shifted south from Kagbeni to Tukuche and Dana.
Another interesting aspect of the history of the region is that after the events of 1951 and 1959 in Tibet, warriors who fled from Tibet ran a decade-long insurgency from Mustang with the help of Uncle Sam. However, that support came to an abrupt end after the United States took a policy of rapprochement with China.
Traditionally the economic engine of the entire region has been trading, as the Kali Gandaki valley has been an integral part of the extended Silk Route. That was the most critical reason for the progress, prosperity and also conflict in the region. The lord of Lo Manthang and Kagbeni controlled the trade for an extended period of time and benefitted hugely from it. The importance of this trade thoroughfare is also evident from the sheer number of caves that are present along the Kali Gandaki shore, and a brief look at the history of this region shows that the region has changed hands so often, apparently because of its strategic location. The trade which had been declining since the last decades of the nineteenth century came to a grinding halt following the events of Tibet. During the tail end of all this trade, it was the Thakalis from Tukuche that controlled all the trade and made quite a fortune during this period. It is because of this fact that it is easier to find a Thakali in Tokyo than Tukuche right now!
There is also another interesting part of trading in the region, the blank cheque given to the people of Manang by the government in Kathmandu. Basically, the Manangbas were allowed to trade good without any customs duty whatsoever for a long period of time. This led to a meteoric rise in the economic prospects of the Manangba. They were always enterprising, and with the new privilege, they expanded their trading orbit as far away as Singapore and Japan.
And last but not the least, tourism also brings in much-needed cash to the people of this region. So there spend liberally.
However, this region isn’t all trade. Animal husbandry is an integral part of life in these regions and more recently so is horticulture. The sheer number and size of apple orchards in both Manang and Mustang is simply incredible and brings in a healthy income to this region. Along with apple, apricot and walnut are also grown.
While the majority of people in this region are Buddhists, there are various inside stories beyond this blanket generalization. As you walk up from Besishahar, most people you see are Hindus, and as you walk into Gurung country, they are sort of like a mixed bag with following both Hindu, Buddhist and even animistic traditions. As you go higher up and reach Tal, the population is primarily Buddhist of the Kagyu sect. This is the state of affairs all the way to Manang. Past the Thorung La into Mustang, the colors of Kagyu is replaced with the Sakyapa and Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. For people who do not know there isn’t much difference between the three and those who do know don’t see much difference either, so let us not get into the intricacies of the various kinds of Buddhism.
Suffice it to say now that the Nyingmapa is one of the oldest sects of Buddhism and is sometimes referred to as the unreformed school. These guys get to marry and still be a monk. Prominent Nyingmapa places are Marpha, Tukuche, Muktinath and famous places of worship are Marme Lhakhang, Dolamebar, Kutsapterenga and Maki Lhakhang. The Nyingmapa folks also attribute none other than Guru Rimpoche as having started this sect.
The Kagyu sect which is prevalent mostly in the Manang side was created by the poet-saint Milarepa, and it said to have one of the most elaborate rituals of all Buddhist sects. Almost all of the monasteries and villages on the Manang side are of this sect.
Also, the influence of Lo Manthang has made a lot of villages turn Sakyapa in the past. This is the religion that flourished under the tutelage of the Khans of Mongolia and has spread as far south from Shigatse as the Jhong and Jharkot monasteries.
The one sect that is notably absent from the trek is the yellow hat Gelugpa sect of the Dalai Lama. All three of the religions mentioned are red hats.
While Buddhism is important, there are also remnants of the pre-Buddhistic religion Bon in the region. While in its current form it is very similar to Buddhism, there are some significant differences in lineage, identity, and some rituals. There are Bonpo gompas in Lubra, Thini, and Naurikot and Lubra is in some way the headquarters of Bon on the whole region.
The most colorful festival of the region is Yartung which is celebrated in Muktinath with much pomp and fare. The Manang edition which happens during a different date is also raising some eyebrows recently. Also interesting and lively are archery contests which are called Mitha and Toranla that happen in various villages in the region.
Another colorful festival is the Dhekep festival with masked dances in Marpha and the twelve-year festivals of Lha Phewa of Kobang and Pomo Ama of Thini. Check out the placecards below for the dates if you are in the mood to see any of these festivals.
Because Annapurna Circuit covers such a vast area and interesting sites, it was inevitable that many people would be attracted to this treasure. Many have come here for research works and contributed a great deal to understanding the people, the history, the land itself like Tony Hagen, David Snellgrove, Giuseppe Tucci, etc. The circuit has also hosted many great mountaineers who have had people drop their jaws like Ueli Steck, Tomaz Humar. It has provided refuge to Khampa warriors during their tough times fighting against the Chinese invasion. Moreover, the Circuit is home to many people who have contributed a great deal to the riches of Nepali literature and various other studies like Bhupi Sherchan, Madhav Prasad Ghimire, etc.