Annapurna Circuit Trek

Pokhara | Nepal
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All You Need to Know About the Annapurna Circuit Trek

According to expert trekkers who have been to Nepal quite a few times, the Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of those life-altering experiences. The trek takes you across a circuitous trail around the Annapurna Massif, one of the world's colossal and significant mountain systems. The entire Annapurna Trek keeps you captivated throughout.

The 16-20 days that you spend on the trail will create enriching experiences that you can cherish all your life. From soaking in the visual splendor of mother nature to walking across varying climatic zones and terrains, the Annapurna Circuit Trek offers a flurry of upsides. You can even step into the quaint villages and enjoy the amicable Nepalese people's hospitality during your stay at the tea-houses.

But what drives these people from around the world to come back to this challenging trek? The thrill of embarking on a dangerous expedition could be one of the plausible reasons. Many amongst us get an adrenaline boost from doing things that involve some risk. For others, the spectacular scenery of the Annapurna Massif is enough!

The Annapurna Circuit Trek – a snapshot

The Annapurna Circuit Trek encircles the Massif and lets you enjoy the world's mightiest peaks from close quarters. This coveted trail stretches across central Nepal. The Annapurna Massif encloses Annapurna I to IV, Gangapurna, Macchapucchre, Tilicho Peak, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Paungda Danda, and Pisang Peak, amongst others. Apart from featuring the tenth highest peak globally- Annapurna I (8091 meters), the Massif is home to several other peaks ranging from 6000 to 8000 meters.

The highest point of this Annapurna Trek is the Thorung La Pass (5416 meters), located at the Tibetan plateau's edge. The distance varies depending on the route taken and whether you are embarking on the optional side treks. But generally, the trek length is 160 to 230 kilometers. Most of the trekkers hike anticlockwise as it offers a gradual altitude gain and enables them to cross the risky Thorung La Pass in a much safer and easier way. This extensive Circuit Trek concludes at the Kali Gandaki Gorge, considered the deepest gorge globally.

One of the most incredible upsides of the Annapurna Circuit Trek is that it can be done solo or in a group. While going solo has its unique advantages like solitude, not adhering to a fixed itinerary, and is relatively cheap. However, there are potential dangers. These include hazardous areas, risk of acute mountain sickness, the hassle of carrying all your luggage and gears alone, booking accommodation and organizing permits, and personalizing your itinerary.

In contrast, going as part of a group will relieve you of the burden of carrying luggage, organizing permits and booking accommodation in tea-houses all by yourself. The tour operator or the travel company will do all these on your behalf and will also engage responsible guides and porters who will keep you updated about the local stories and information while assisting you throughout the trail. But you have to adhere to a specific itinerary, and the Annapurna Circuit Trek cost becomes quite steep when you are a part of the group expedition.

Some of the unique offerings that the Annapurna Circuit Trek has for every hiker are discussed below.

  • You will get to ascend to the kingdom of clouds! You can put your mind and body to test while you reach an altitude of 5416 meters at the Thorung La Pass, the highest point of the trek.
  • The Annapurna Circuit Trek ensures that you witness a completely different side of the Himalayas. The Annapurna region is not as crowded as the Everest trails and is dominated by diverse vegetation patterns. Starting from terraced rice fields to rhododendron and oak forests, you pass through a trail that slowly loses the tree line and steps into an alpine terrain overshadowed by humongous cliffs, waterfalls, and rocks.
  • Life in the Nepalese mountain communities is entirely different from that in the plains. The Annapurna Circuit Trek enables you to come close to these aborigines and learn about their culture and traditions. You can also be a part of a global discourse at the tea-houses that host people from across the world.

How difficult is the Annapurna Circuit Trek?

According to expert hikers and seasoned campaigners who have frequented the Annapurna Circuit trails, the trek's difficulty level ranges from moderate to somewhat challenging. The evergreen three rules of mountaineering apply here as well - it is further, taller, and more demanding than it looks! The difficulty level can be attributed to the following points.

  • The Annapurna Trek trail is long, and depending on the route you take, its duration ranges between 16 to 20 days. Even for the fittest hikers who have been on the Annapurna Circuit Trek several times, it takes more than 14 days. Thus, it becomes physically and mentally exhausting for you.
  • One of the main reasons for the moderate to relatively high difficulty is the gain and drop in elevation. Though the anticlockwise circuitous route allows for a much gradual climb, there will be certain days when you have to hike for extensive periods and experience drastic rise and fall in elevation.
  • The trail is quite treacherous. Especially during the post-monsoon hiking season, the high-altitudes get laden with ice, creating a precarious course. The rock surfaces become slippery and quite challenging to manoeuvre.
  • Unpredictable weather conditions atop the Nepalese Himalayas might make the trek more challenging than it already is!

You need to replenish your senses with the breathtaking spectacles and natural beauties around, or else it is easy to lose motivation.

Best time to visit the Annapurna Circuit?

As it is customary for most Nepalese Himalayan Treks, the Annapurna Circuit Trek should also be undertaken during the pre-Monsoon/Spring-Summer and the post-monsoon/Autumn seasons. The pre-Monsoon season stretches from the end of February to early June, whereas late-September to the beginning of December constitutes the post-Monsoon season. The Annapurna Circuit Trek best time befalls these seasons.

Nearly perfect weather conditions characterize these two very distinct trekking seasons. The skies are mostly clear, but you never know when it turns cloudy, especially if you embark on the expedition during the pre-Monsoon season. Apart from that, the weather conditions are hot and balmy in the lower regions, whereas the high-altitudes are cool and rejuvenating with light snow. The level of snow increases in the post-monsoon trekking period.

For some daredevil souls, the Annapurna Circuit Trek itinerary spans the frigid months of December and January. Though the conditions are extreme, and there is a chance of encountering severe blizzards that drape the Thorung La Pass with massive quantities of snow, the natural beauty is breathtaking. But you should refrain from venturing close to the Monsoons as the heavy Monsoonal-Summer downpour creates a slippery trail and gives rise to dangerous conditions across the trail.

Gear guide and checklist for the trek to Annapurna Circuit

Though it is essential to pack for every eventuality, you should also try to minimize your luggage. Even if you are part of a group expedition, carrying massive luggage quantities means your porter will be subjected to more strain. Thus, you should ditch the unnecessary stuff and carry only the bare essentials.

Bare essentials that you need to carry for the trek:

You should carry both light and comfortable clothing for the daytime hikes and warm and heavy clothes for the frigid nights and when you cross the altitude of 3000 meters. Moreover, rains are pretty common so you should carry waterproof clothes and footwear. You should take a few pairs of hiking pants, shorts, a pair of waterproof pants, a couple of light shirts, thermal tops and bottoms, a fleece or wool jacket, one goose-down jacket, and a few pairs of socks and underwear.

A beanie and a buff should be carried consistently, apart from thick gloves or mittens. Carry sunglasses to escape the glare of the daytime sun and hiking poles to tread comfortably on the trail. Good-quality and robust waterproof hiking boots of superior make are one of the essential things that you require for your trek. Apart from this, you should take a spare pair of shoes for your time at the tea-house.

A well-stocked medical kit should be a must in your checklist:

A well-stocked medical kit will keep you prepared against unexpected events and medical emergencies during your trek. Carrying band-aids and blister plasters will prevent blisters from causing irritation while you trek. Apart from these, Immodium to avert diarrhea, antihistamine tablets for protection against allergies, antibacterial creams for cuts and scratches, anti-nausea tablets for motion sickness, anti-inflammatory gel for injuries or other flare-ups, ibuprofen for pain relief are mandatory.

Water safety is also a massive issue in Nepal, and once you hike up to great heights, fresh drinking water becomes quite rare. So apart from a medical kit, you should carry provisions like water purification tablets that will enable you to drink fresh, palatable water.

Toiletries and hygiene products should be at the top of your checklist:

Taking utmost care of your health and hygiene is imperative for a successful Annapurna Trek. Carrying toiletries and essential hygiene products like toothpaste and toothbrush, towel, shampoo, biodegradable soap, hand sanitizers, lip balm, face and body moisturizers, sunscreen, nail clippers are a must. Women ought to carry sanitary napkins, tampons, or menstrual cups. Besides, always keep wet wipes and extra rolls of toilet paper handy since maintaining hygiene in the Nepalese Himalayas should be your initiative.

Carry the trekking permits and other essential travel documents:

The TIMS card and ACAP permit are the two most essential permits that you need for the Annapurna Circuit Trek. As of 2019, the combined cost of both is roughly 50 USD. If you are traveling with a tour operator or a travel agency as part of the Annapurna Circuit Trek package, they will take care of these permits. In contrast, you have to organize the same from the Nepal Tourism Office based out of Kathmandu if you wish to trek solo.

Apart from these essential permits, you should keep other travel documents handy. These include your visa, passport, a few copies of your passport-sized photographs, voucher, travel insurance, air tickets, map and guide book, a considerable amount of Nepalese currency, etc.

Other necessary gears that you need to include within your checklist:

Sometimes, the beds you get at the tea-houses are hard as rocks and not warm enough. In addition to that, the tea-houses may lack insulation at times due to their rudimentary construction. So, expecting a fireplace to warm yourselves in your room could be a misjudgement. Carry a sleeping bag with a hood and an insulated mat to keep yourself warm and sleep comfortably.

Charging your electronic devices is a costly affair as you trek higher up the Annapurna Circuit trails. Therefore, carry extra batteries, charger, power bank, headlamps, plug adaptors, and memory cards apart from your mobile phones and cameras.

Apart from trekking poles and suitable water bottles, you can also carry binoculars, earplugs, and eye masks for your convenience.

Annapurna Circuit Trek itinerary

The Annapurna Circuit Trek spans for 15/16 and could even extend up to 18-20 days. Then again, some veteran trekkers might complete the entire trek within 14 days. Anyway, the itinerary below is the usual one that spans 18 days. Let's take a look.

  • Day 1: On the first day, you arrive at Kathmandu- Nepal's scenic capital, blended with rich cultural and religious traditions. You can either take a rest in your hotel or go sightseeing in and around Kathmandu.
  • Day 2: This is the day on which you will officially set forth for the Annapurna Circuit Trek. The 5.5-hour morning drive takes you to Besisahar (760 m), from where you begin your trek towards Ngadi. You go downstream from Besisahar Bazaar, pass the subtropical forests and paddy fields at Sera, cross the suspension bridge at Khudi Khola, and arrive at Bhulbhule. Ngadi is the start of the Marshyangdi River, which passes through some of the most famous Nepalese trails. Resume on the trail, pass the Marshyangdi by crossing a suspension bridge, and reach Bahundanda. Situated at roughly 1430 meters above sea level, tea-houses at this place will provide you accommodation for the night.
  • Day 3: You start from Bahundanda (1430 m) and encounter a steep climb across dazzling cascades and deeply wooded canyons to arrive at Chamje (1410 m). The trek duration is roughly 6 hours.
  • Day 4: On this day, you continue from Chamje (1410 m) and trek across the Manang district to reach Dharapani (2100 m). The 7-hour long trek takes you through wooded canyons dotted with superbly stunning waterfalls. Alternatively, you can take the route to Bagarchhap (2160 m) from Chamje. The trek duration is also the same.
  • Day 5: Whether you start from Dharapani (2100 m) or Bagarchhap (2160 m), your next trek destination will be Chame (2710 m). The trek follows a steep climb to Timang from the end of the Marshyangdi Gorge. Chame is the district headquarter of Manang and the next-largest settlement after Besisahar.
  • Day 6: It is one of the best days in your trekking itinerary, as you will come across breathtaking spectacles of the Paungda Danda, a subsidiary peak to the Pisang peak. The western face of the Paungda Danda rises abruptly up to 1500 meters from the shores of the Marshyangdi river. On this day, you need to trek for approximately 5 hours from Chame (2710 m) to reach Pisang (3300 m).
  • Day 7: You start from upper Pisang (3300 m) and Ghyaru and embark on the trail towards Manang (3450 m). This 5-hour long journey will take you through a series of spectacular natural views.
  • Day 8: This day should be reserved for acclimatization. Stay at one of the tea-houses in the lower altitudes of the Manang village after spending an entire day on high climbing. Grab excellent views of the Annapurna II and III, Gangapurna, and Chulu East from your location and go for short evening walks.
  • Day 9: You can either take the uphill trail from Manang (3450 m) to the alpine regions of Yak Kharka (4018 m) and stay there for high-altitude acclimatization. Alternatively, you can reach Letdar (4250 m) after you start from Manang.
  • Day 10: From Letdar (4250 m) or Yak Kharka (4018 m), you start the trek to Thorong Phedi (4450 m). Take it easy. Walk at a leisurely pace to get familiar with the high-altitude while appreciating the fantastic views all around. Once at Thorong Phedi, you will get plenty of time for acclimatization.
  • Day 11: This is the high-point of your entire itinerary. Start very early and follow a steep trail for 4 to 6 hours to arrive at the Thorung La Pass (5416 m)- the Annapurna Circuit Trek's highest point. At this point, you can appreciate the range of stunning views all around. There are many prayer flags, traditional stupa, and stone cairns built by travelers at the Thorung La Pass. Next, you have to follow a steeply descending trail to reach Chabarbu (4290 m). From Chabarbu, the course takes you across meadows, and deep ravines and finally allows you to touch down at Muktinath (3800 m)- a sacred pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. You have to trek for approximately 8 to 9 hours throughout the day.
  • Day 12: Here, you have got two options. You can either take a detour to the nearest village of Purang, which has an ancient feel to it. It also links Nepal to the Tibetan region. You can continue uphill and reach another village with distinct medieval feels named Jhong (3450 m). Both Purang and Jhong give out the lovely feel of the Upper Mustang valley's barren yet colorful landscape. From here, you can follow the Jhing Khola river's course for some time until you arrive at Kagbeni (2804 m), an ancient village in the Mustang district of Nepal. From Kagbeni, you can take a public bus back to Jomsom (2743 m).
  • Day 13: From Jomsom (2743 m), you can follow the trail and trek to Marpha (2650 m), a picturesque village nestled in the Kali Gandaki valley of the Lower Mustang region.
  • Day 14: Trek for 6 hours from Marpha (2650 m) to reach Ghasa (2000 m), a transitional village in the Mustang district.
  • Day 15: From Ghasa (2000 m), continue for 4 to 5 hours to reach the village of Tatopani (1190 m) in the Sindhupalchok district of central Nepal. You can relax in the Tatopani hot springs and rejuvenate your senses.
  • Day 16: From Tatopani (1190 m), take a bus or a car to reach Pokhara (822 m) via Tiplyang and Beni. Remember, there is no direct transportation linking Tatopani and Pokhara. Amongst the ones available (bus, car, flight), a bus ride is the cheapest option. However, the standard duration of the bus ride is 8 to 9 hours.
  • Day 17: Stay for a day at Pokhara. Enjoy the companionship of the friendly Nepalese tribes, browse through shops selling Tibetan antiques and souvenirs and sip on some cold brew while gazing across the pass you have just conquered!
  • Day 18: Leave Pokhara for your hometown using the most suitable means of transportation.

Getting fit for the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Mental training:

You need to be physically and mentally fit to complete the Annapurna Circuit Trek successfully. While most of us focus on physical fitness, we tend to neglect the psychological side. Some days it could be tough to hike further. There might be an unprecedented danger that springs on the way. Or you could get affected by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Keeping a steely resolve and looking for the prize that lies ahead could do the trick for you.

Physical training:

You need to be physically fit, but that does not mean that the Annapurna Trek demands a marathon fitness level for you to be a part of it. Though most trekking itinerary comprises 5-6 hours of trekking with plenty of rest and lunch break, you might need to rise early and set forth for 8-9 hours of trekking on certain days. On other days, you might have to cover 20 kilometers across Nepalese flatlands.

Thus, you should build your general endurance and do cardiovascular exercises for a couple of months before beginning the trek. Include cardiovascular workouts like swimming, running, cycling, and consecutive days of long walks, preferably through undulating terrain, into your weekly training schedule. You can also try carrying a backpack and increase its weight while you embark on these long hikes.

Another critical thing to keep in mind is that you have to get used to your feet being inside boots for days. This could yield spectacular results.