The Annapurna Circuit is the ultimate trek in terms of 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 milky way for dinner. Musk Deers, 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 difficult 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 varied 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 descent 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 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 a very old 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 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 true 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 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 male 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 white washed houses play a vital role in defining the character of this charming village. This village is so relaxing! You need to be there to really feel this beautiful village. 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! 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.
Would you get in an airliner if you knew that it has a broken cabin pressurization system? That’s just utterly stupid right? In spite of the obvious, every year Himalayan Rescue Association Manang aid post sees a steady stream of people who manage to pull off something similar. Their reward? Helicopter ride to a hospital in Kathmandu and chance to exchange love letters with an insurance company. Just like cruising at 10,000 meters requires cabin pressurization, walking to above 5,000 meters requires a spacesuit, or more realistically acclimatization, your body’s very own cabin pressurization system. We don't want that broken now, do we? So, unless you have the genes of the extinct Denisovans, which give Sherpas their unmatched capacity at high altitudes, you are better off taking it slow along with the use of preventive medication. We will get into the details, but for now let us give into some statistical fear mongering: 40-50% people get sick with altitude illness upon trekking to 4,000m in Nepal; about eight out of a hundred thousand people die of altitude related illnesses every year in Nepal and despite the availability of rescue services, the number is increasing.
As you go higher, you will cough that much more and at times the coughing can get so violent that it hurts like hell. Surprising as it might sound, there is no consensus on the cause or treatment of this problem. Bronchial irritation due to cold dry air perhaps has something to do with it. Breathing through the mouth is also thought to exacerbate the situation. The best way to avoid this cough is to breathe humidified air by using a mask of some sort. A buff is great for this purpose and a handkerchief will do just fine. Just make sure it isn’t too tight. Also, make sure to dress warmly and remember to protect your neck and head from the cold. Candies or cough drops will help.
The best answer to when to go is, whenever you are ready. Once the decision to go has been made all the universe will conspire in helping you, as Paulo Coelho would no doubt agree. And truth be said the Annapurna Region has something unique to offer just about every month. It all depends on what you are looking for. Now let's get into the details:
Summary: January/February in the Annapurna Circuit is good for trekkers who are willing to brave the cold for amazing mountain views and empty trails.
Popularity: January/February is not a very popular time among trekkers and only about 7% of the trekkers visit the Everest 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 a good time to see large wildlife like Himalayan Tahr, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Monal and Musk Deer. Since most large wildlife descend to lower valleys during this time and you have a near-perfect time to trek. Hence, there is a higher likelihood that your paths will be crossed by these wonders. Also, the mountain view is as good as it can be !!!
Cultural Attractions: Chances are that the Tibetan festivals like losar will fall sometime at the end of February.
Weather: While the nighttime temperature can be as low as -20 degrees C at 4,000 meters, it is pretty tolerable during the day. Skies are clear except for a few days during which snow is likely. While clear skies make amazing mountain views possible, please note that clear skies coupled with snow cover increase the amount of UV exposure.
Planning Tips: Consider great waterproof boots to slush through the snow and warm layers including a decent down coat for the variety in temperature. High passes should be possible, however be set up for profound snow at specific spots. Crampons can prove to be useful . Ensure you have a decent sun glass and sunscreen as UV presentation will be high. Flights are general, yet not all hotels are open. It bodes well to call them ahead of time. In any case, it will only here and there be that the majority of the cabins will be shut.
Summary:This season hold one of the most active birds and flora-fauna in the region. Also, the weather is calm and does promise one of the best spring of your life.
Popularity: March/April is the second most popular period for the Annapurna Circuit Trek with about 25% 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. And there are variety of them to see throughout the circuit. This is also the pre-breeding season for most birds and animals. Most migrant birds which come to the high alpine pastures to breed get to the Kali Gandaki corridor at about this time. 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.
Weather: The sky is generally clear in the morning and views open up. Afternoon might throw a summer shower which translates to snow at high altitudes. Although, due to the geography Upper Manang and Mustang does not get much of the rain. The weather in lower regions however are quite unpredicted where precipitation for days on end is not unheard. The average daytime temperature at lower altitude can reach upto 20 degrees celsius whilst night are usually just above freezing. If you are in higher altitude the temperature in day hangs on around 10 degree celsius during day.
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 slush and rain.
Summary: You might see less of the mountains due to the haze that often appears over the mountains that can be seen at low altitudes. However,at high altitudes the view is vividly clear and the river streams are preparing to come back in life again after a long winter and it’s greenery everywhere.
Popularity: This time of year is one of the least popular time as only of 5-7% trekkers find it worthy in this season. Due to the unpredicted weather and humidity people usually avoid trekking in this season as you will not have much of the mountain view in the period of trekking.
Natural Attractions: Beside mountains, this season everything else is perhaps at its best. A profusion of wildflower arrie with the rain and generally there is a lot of activity. The biodiversity of Annapurna blooms in this season. And, the waterfalls of course are everywhere. Cultural Attractions:
Weather: This period sees a marked increase in precipitation. Though,mornings may start pretty clear and nice, it gets progressively cloudier and the day usually ends with some rain/snowfall.Day time temperatures can get towards 20 degrees celsius at lower latitudes and night temperatures are around 5 degrees (again, at higher altitudes you should expect freezing cold weather).
Planning Tips: Make sure to wear your sunglasses even if it is overcast especially at higher altitudes and when there is snow.And invest on good waterproof gears and breathables.
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 among trekkers and it only sees 5% of the trekkers that come to Annapurna circuit annually.
Natural Attractions: Even the alpine pastures are full of flowers by now and the entire Annapurna Region takes up a green veneer that is absolutely amazing. The upper mustang region also gets the rainwater that will hopefully sustain their biodiversity for the year. The whole region takes on a green patina.
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. There are numerous festivals during August, most notably the Yartung and Janai Purnima.
Weather: It’s hot, humid and it will keep on threatening to rain most of the time during the day. Specially in the lower region, it rains mostly and the valley empties its rich water resources in the rivers. The temperature in day might get above 20 degree celsius with notable humidity in the air. Nights are much cooler. One you are in the higher altitude, things will cool down.
Planning Tips:Your enemy are the leeches. Just carry some salt, alum, iodine or anti-leech oil if you don’t have the stomach for blood donation. Also, keep an eye open for river floods and landslides. 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 one the most popular periods with a whopping 41% of trekkers making their way to Annapurna Circuit 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: The happy season hold one of the major Hindu festival of the year in Nepal. The Dashain festival lasts longer than a week, followed my Tihar which is the festival of light. You will definitely feel the momentum in the lower region. And, since it is the holiday time upper region will celebrate the period in it’s own way
Weather: Month of October can also be rather unstable with post monsoon cyclones hitting in the mountain with only few days warning. This period is quite dry in the upper region.On the lower t the weather is warm with an average day temperature of 15 degrees celsius. .
Planning Tips:Get some extra layers but also carry breathebales for the day. A layer of waterproof may help you if the weather decides for rain.
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: November/December is a pretty popular period with about 21% of the trekkers making their way to the Annapurna Circuit during this period.
Natural Attractions: This is the driest month of the region. You may encounter few birds and animals on their way down south towards warmer climate. Most flora and fauna sleep beneath the dry dead leaves waiting for spring to come and wake them up.
Cultural Attractions: Well, it is complicated. The period don’t have much of major festival and most of the locals are running away from the cold anyway. However, everyday in the region celebrates its culture. Get some tea and share the stories with locals.
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.
Planning Tips: Pack in good sunscreen and sunglasses for the UV radiation. And, consult locals before traversing the pass as weather may change everything about Annapurna anytime.
There are numerous entry and exit points throughout the Annapurna Circuit. If you want, you can even trek only a few selected part of the entire Annapurna Circuit. The most popular one being, flying to Jomsom airport and doing the trek up to Muktinath and back. Some even trek the Mustang and Manang separately without crossing the Thorung-La. Nowadays there are very few trekkers who do the full Annapurna Circuit i.e. start from Besisahar and finish at Tatopani. What is more common nowadays is to start the trek from Chyamche. Trekkers take a jeep upto Chyamche from Besisahar and start their trek from there onwards. In Fact, if you so desire you can drive all the way up to Manang nowadays. After crossing the Thorung-La many people stop their trek at Jomsom and then fly to Pokhara. A selected few drop down to Ghasa and catch a ride to Beni or direct to Pokhara. Another option trekkers take is to take a ride from Jomsom or Ghasa upto Tatopani, take a dip in the hot spring and catch another bus to Beni or Pokhara. There are scheduled flights available to Jomsom but there is no direct flight from Kathmandu to Jomsom. First, you need to fly to Pokhara, then you will get flights to Jomsom. The various airlines that have scheduled flights from Pokhara to Jomsom are: Goma Air, Simrik airlines, Tara Air, Yeti airlines. There is an airport in Humde, Manang as well but there aren’t many scheduled flights to Manang. The one airlines that has flights to Manang is Goma Air. Here are some tentative fares for various routes (tentative because the prices are never fixed; syndicate system exists and the fares fluctuate time and again):
Getting to Besisahar is not much of a challenge. You can get regular local and tourist buses leaving from Kathmandu and Pokhara everyday for Besisahar. The fare is Nrs 1000 from Kathmandu. And if you are taking the bus from Pokhara to Besisahar it will cost you around 500 from Pokhara.
Getting to Chyamche is an alternative for many trekkers who are due low in time. You can get a regular passenger jeep to Chyamche in Nrs. 1000 from Besisahar.
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 gliding through one of the deepest river valleys in the planet.
The Bad:Finding accommodation near the pass during peak season (October) can be difficult for independent trekkers. AMS also can be an issue. And, Nepal is going through the development transformation phase so seeing newly built dust roads may hurt your feelings a bit if you are seeking a pure nature walk.
Number of Days: 17 -18 days Best Time to Go: Anytime (See When to go to Annapurna Circuit) Entry Point/Transport/Cost: Beshisahar / Bus from Kathmandu/~USD 10 Exit Point/Transport/Cost: Beni/Bus to Kathmandu/~USD 10 Accommodation/Cost: Lodges:Lodges:~USD 30-40 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner) Permits/Restrictions: Annapurna Permit (~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20). Difficulty: Medium Highest Altitude: Thorang 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 differentiates when you reach Dhikur Pokhari. After Dhikur Pokhari the trail separates into two. The one on your left is the Low Route and the one on the right is the high route. Also, it is possible to use the trekking trail directly to Kagbeni from Putak which is less dusty than the motor road that connects Khingar and Kagbeni.
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 gliding through one of the deepest river valleys in the planet.
The Bad:inding accommodation near the pass during peak season (October) can be difficult for independent trekkers. AMS also can be an issue. And, Nepal is going through the development transformation phase so seeing newly built dust roads may hurt your feelings a bit if you are seeking a pure nature walk.
Number of Days: 17 -18 days Best Time to Go: Anytime (See When to go to Annapurna Circuit) Entry Point/Transport/Cost: Beshisahar / Bus from Kathmandu/~USD 10 Exit Point/Transport/Cost: Beni/Bus to Kathmandu/~USD 10 Accommodation/Cost: Lodges:Lodges:~USD 30-40 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner) Permits/Restrictions: Annapurna Permit (~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20). Difficulty: Medium Highest Altitude: Thorang La (5,416 m) Route Outline: Kathmandu - Simalchaur -Bahundada - Chyamche- Dharapani - Chame- Lower Pisang - Manang (2 nights) - Yak Kharka -Thorong High Camp - Ranipauwa - Kagbeni -Marpha -Kobang- Ghasa - Tatopani -Beni - Pokhara Route Variations:After Dhikur Pokhari the trail separates into two trails. The one on the right is the high route. Taking the high route will lead you to the beautiful villages of Gyaru, Ngawal an Julu eventually dropping you off in Mugje to the main trail.
The Good: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. Your host will provide you with an experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Not only the people and the villages but also the trail itself is really pleasing. The Bad:Finding accommodation near the pass during peak season (October) can be difficult for independent trekkers. AMS also can be an issue. And, Nepal is going through the development transformation phase so seeing newly built dust roads may hurt your feelings a bit if you are seeking a pure nature walk.
Number of Days: 17 -18 days Best Time to Go: Anytime (See When to go to Annapurna Circuit) Entry Point/Transport/Cost: Beshisahar / Bus from Kathmandu/~USD 10 Exit Point/Transport/Cost: Beni/Bus to Kathmandu/~USD 10 Accommodation/Cost: Lodges:Lodges:~USD 30-40 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner) Permits/Restrictions: Annapurna Permit (~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20). Difficulty: Medium Highest Altitude: Thorang La (5,416 m) Route Outline: Kathmandu - Siurung -Syange - Tal- Dharapani - Chame- Lower Pisang - Bharka (2 Days) - Yak Kharka -Thorong High Camp - Ranipauwa - Kagbeni -Marpha -Kobang- Ghasa - Tatopani -Beni-Pokhara Route Variations:From Besisahar you can also take a jeep to Khudi and start the climb. It is also possible to use the trekking trail directly to Kagbeni from Putak which is less dusty than the motor road that connects Khingar and Kagbeni.
The Good: Jomsom- Muktinath trek is a short trek with an extensive cultural and natural experience. In the trip you will experience the pleasant Thakali and Gurung culture with local and make memories with the landscape of trans himalayan region. The Bad: Flight to Jomsom are as unpredictable as any other mountain flights in Nepal. The weather dictates the skies and you might have to change the plan. AMS also can be an issue. And, Nepal is going through the development transformation phase so seeing newly built dust roads may hurt your feelings a bit if you are seeking a pure nature walk.
Number of Days: 6-7days Best Time to Go: Anytime (See When to go to Annapurna Circuit) Entry Point/Transport/Cost:Jomsom / Flight from Pokhara/~USD 118 Exit Point/Transport/Cost: Marpha/Bus to Pokhara/~USD 10 Accommodation/Cost: Lodges:~USD 15-20 per person per day (Bed-Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner) Permits/Restrictions: Annapurna Permit(~USD 22), TIMS Permit (~USD 20). Difficulty: Medium Highest Altitude:Chhyongur(3,700 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 Lubra and exit via Jhong.
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 cost into individual services.
|Trvel 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 10|
|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 10 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 340 (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 663.5|
|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 include 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:
- Look at the fine print of what is included in the tour and what is not.
- Try to get first-hand recommendations from people you can trust about the local operators or guides you will be working with.
- Make sure to ask enough questions about the number of people in the group, choice of lodges, porter/guide insurance and a whole bunch of other stuff before committing your money.
- Be very skeptical of really cheap or really short versions of treks.
- Carry enough money and then some.
Also, make sure to read the Booking Options in the How to Prepare for your Everest Base Camp Trek Section.
Summary: If you are really pressed for time, want your trek to run in the most flawless way, and have the money to spend, it is highly recommended to book through one of the global travel agents.
- Everything will be taken care of for you. You will not have to worry about anything at all.
- They almost always work with the best trek operator locally which means very professional handling and great service.
- The variety of the food that these guys provide is a stuff of legend. Pizza? Sushi? Pasta? Apple Pie? You got it!!
- They are really expensive!! The 17 day Annapurna trek mentioned above can cost as much as USD 2500 with one of these companies. Add to that the fact that very little of what you spend goes to the service providers like lodge owners and guides. Also since most of the food is carried all the way from Kathmandu, you do not contribute to the local farming economy either.
- There is little scope for trip customization or changes.
- These are generally group treks and chances are you will not know your partners before the trek.
- The scope of experience is kind of limited as everyone will be so ‘professional’ and will always err on the safe side.
Summary: This option gives you a lot of choices, but just like any other scenario with a lot of choices, there will be good choices and bad ones. If you ask tough questions and do your homework, this method could not just save you a tonne of money, but can actually lead to a very enjoyable trek.
Pros You will have a tonne of choice and the benefit of reviews.
- Since these online aggregators have a lot of local trek operators, the chances of you getting a price better than global travel agents are much higher.
- It is easy to compare various listings, communicate with the operators and then select the one you are most comfortable with.
- Since trek aggregators list treks either from global travel agents or local trek operators, all of their pros also apply.
- Scrutinize the reviews. Not all aggregators have verified reviews. If most of the treks have a solid 5 star, that is most definitely a red flag.
- Most are fixed-departure group treks and you will not know how many people will be there in your group. If that is a concern make sure to communicate your concerns beforehand.
- Look at the inclusion detail and the itinerary carefully. If it is especially cheap or short, be very careful.
- Since you will have to deposit the entire cost upfront, you cannot expect to land in Kathmandu check out the trek operator and then decide. If in case you do not like the guide or the trek operator, you can do very little about it. It is better to ask the relevant questions and do the research before you commit.
- Since trek aggregators list treks either from global travel agents or local trek operators, all of their cons also apply.
Summary: If you put in the time and effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, or you have a solid recommendation from a person you know very well, going through a local trek operator is the way to go. It will save you a tonne of money!!
- Since most global travel agents outsource to local trek operators, going with one might give you the same experience at half the price!!
- Good trek operators will give you the flexibility to make the final payments after you get to Kathmandu. That way after visiting their office and talking to the guides, you will still have some leverage over the choice of guides among other things.
- It is really hard to tell the wheat from the chaff when it comes to local trekking operators. Hence, unless you invest some time and effort you might end up with a crappy trek operator. And let us be very clear, the crappy ones are really crappy and are not above stunts like making money through emergency evacuations. The two best ways to select a local trek operator is to depend on first-hand recommendations and ask tough questions.
- Since most treks under local trek operators are fixed departure group treks, all the cons associated with global travel companies also apply to a trek run by a local trek operator.
Summary: If enough effort is made to find a good guide, this is hands down the best way to go in terms of safety, cost and experience.
- This gives you the ultimate freedom when it comes to pace, itinerary and even experience.
- This removes all the middlemen and gives you the best bang for the buck without compromising for safety or experience.
- If you agree upon beforehand, you might even get to choose your own lodges.
- Just like local trek operators, telling the wheat from the chaff when it comes to trekking guides is a very difficult process. Do some research on your own and ask them some tough and tricky questions. Or better get a first-hand reference from someone you can trust. References from online forums and ‘bloggers’ do not count!!
- In case of an emergency, not all guides will have the safety training to ensure your safety. This is as true for independent guides as guides you book through a trekking company. Make sure you ask them if they have had any training and ask to see certificates if they say so. Also, ask them how they would handle certain situations and see how they respond.
Summary: While it is a popular and a cost-effective option, understand that when the shit hits the fan you are on your own with a porter/guide.
- The porter/guide will well show you the route and will obviously carry your pack too.
- Since a lot of porter/guides are local men (yes they are mostly men) they might give you some insight into the place.
- They will have very limited communicating skills and might even be lacking in terms of what exactly is expected of them. Make sure to go through expectations before the trek in very clear terms. One of the most common problems with porter/guides is that just like porters, rather than sticking to the group all the time, they sometimes disappear ahead.
- In case you get injured or need to arrange for a rescue, these guys will not be of much help, as they have limited expertise and connections.
Summary: This is the best option for seasoned travelers who know the terrain, route and emergency procedures. However, it can turn into a nightmare if you are dealing with the porters directly. Tread very carefully. Pros
- This is perhaps the cheapest option. However, it only brings the benefit of having someone carry the stuff for you. Do not expect anything else.
- Porter insurance is a tricky business in Nepal, and it is very difficult for an independent trekker to get one without the names and other detail of the porter. Also, the terms are far from adequate. Also, if you hire one and he gets sick it will be your responsibility as an employer to take care of these guys.
- In case you have a porter with sticky fingers, it will cause a lot of unnecessary hassles.
- It is not unheard for porters to feign injury to extract money or carry less. For someone coming into this situation for the first time, it might be a very difficult judgment call to differentiate between real and feigned injury.
- It is also not a good idea to pay these guys too much in advance as porters have been known to take off without any warning.
- Make sure to lay out the terms and conditions to the porters before the trek preferably through a local contact. Make sure you check if they have adequate clothing and shoes for the journey. Do not accommodate extra demands later during a trek, unless they seem clearly reasonable.
Summary: This will give you the ultimate in flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and peace of mind. That is if you have the necessary skills or bravado to deal with the terrain, route, and emergency procedures yourself. You can read about the good, bad and the ugly side of independent trekking in a blog here.
- You are in charge. Completely and Utterly. Period. This is the cheapest option.
- Since you do not really have to depend on anyone, this is perhaps the one that will give you the most peace of mind.
- You will talk more with people outside of your group and hence will learn a lot more!
- A 15 kilograms backpack will feel like 60 at 4,000 meters altitude. If you realize that you can carry that load as you go higher, you will find porters who might do this for you. But they will cost a LOT more.
- In case of an emergency, you are on your own.
- Since you are responsible for everything, you need to spend a good amount of time doing research and taking care of the logistical parts like permits.
- Finding lodges during peak season is really difficult for independent trekkers as the lodges prefer organized groups from trekking companies/guides they have worked with before.
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 :17 days Annapurna Circuit- Lower Route:17 days Annapurna Circuit - Homestay Route: 17 days
Most sensibly fit individuals ought to have the capacity to do the Annapurna Circuit Trek. In any case, do read the page of Health and Safety Section, particularly the piece on AMS and Pre-existing Conditions. Regardless of your wellness level, it is a smart thought to do some cardio preparing. On the off chance that achievable real climbing before the primary trek won't just break your shoes., however will likewise encourage your lungs and heart. 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
This permit can be obtained either at: DNPWC Counter- Tourist Service Center Bhrikuti Mandap, Kathmandu. Tel: 977-1-4256909 Fax: 977-1-4256910 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://welcomenepal.com/ OR
At the National Park Entry Gate 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).
The Annapurna Circuit Trek is the most popular trekking route in Nepal. As such you will not have to worry about accommodation along the trail. There are lodges at least every hour along the main route. Also in the lower sections, there is a wide variety of lodges from the ones that cost upwards of USD 200 per night to ones that barely cost USD 20. However, during the peak season in March-April and Oct-Nov, it might be difficult to find accommodation near Thorong Pass 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 for a bedroom.
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 (circular pins) and spare batteries for your cameras. Solar chargers and Power Banks help a lot.
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 I 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 earth 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 clear and gets progressively windier and cloudier, leading frequently 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 rather 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 much of 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 alternately you could start trekking from Besishahar itself 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 true, 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 mountain side 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 is one long range with slight projections for mountains.
Not all ice flow are 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 amazing and dangerous forms such as the Dhaulagiri Icefall. While you might not be able to actually see 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 land is generally open till about Tukuche whereupon the hills close in so to speak to create the vertical walls.
This interplay of land and water is perhaps the single most important 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 simply 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 beautiful 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. It’s south face especially is considered one of the toughest walls in the whole world. This will also be a good 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 other peaks. 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 main 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 a completely 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 huge 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 main 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 a number of 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 are so unmanaged along the Annapurna Circuit that the backyard of almost all lodges is filled with bottles 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 harvest 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.
- Nepalese mules and yaks find it disrespectful if you stand streamside rather than mountainside when they pass. Always keep to the mountainside when passing the loaded beasts.
- Nepalese porters carry a rather heavy load and bent double, their vision is usually limited to the ground beneath their feet. Be patient if you find yourself at the slow pace of one. Overtake them only when there is ample space.
- Keep Mani walls and chortens to your right when you pass them. And it goes without saying, they shouldn’t be climbed or defaced, and under no circumstances should you remove the tablets.
- Household fires are sacred, your cigarette butt isn’t. Don’t mix them. The wrinkled faces of the old and the chubby faces of the young might not always appreciate photographic intrusions. Please ask before taking pictures.
- Be grateful that unlike other parts of the world you are allowed into the most sacred places of worship here. Don’t extend the privilege by taking pictures indiscriminately inside gompas. Always ask first.
- Under no circumstances must you give money to begging children. Candies and chocolates are okay as long as you buy them dental insurance.
- There are dustbins all along the trail. Use them. Batteries and sanitary pads must be packed out.
- Use the restrooms that are provided. Do not defecate near a water source. Bury or better burn used toilet papers.
- Avoid mineral water. The lifespan of a plastic bottle is longer than the age of the mountains that you see.
- Do not bargain in lodges. Prices are very reasonable.
- Toplessness and nudity are acceptable only within the sheets.
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 recorded history of the region for now.
For a good portion of history, the main 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 later 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 single most important reason for the progress, prosperity and also conflict in the region. The lord of Lo Manthang and Kagbeni controlled the trade for a long 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, obviously 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 last parts of 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 important 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 amazing 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 to 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 are 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 important 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 major difference 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 and happens in different 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.