Nepal's Annapurna Circuit is one of the great walks of the world. The basic trek covers almost 190 miles, typically requires 18 days, and goes to the highest point in the world that can be reached simply by walking and with no special mountaineering gear. The route carries trekkers around the Annapurna mountains, a region bristling with peaks above 20,000 feet, including the 26,000-foot-plus mountains of Annapurna and Dhauligiri. The trek is made on porter paths, with almost all of it in places that can be reached only by walking. The Annapurna Circuit is a "tea-house trek," as it does not require camping equipment. There are modest lodges, called tea houses, in every village along the way to provide accommodations.
The trek typically begins with a morning bus ride from Pokhara, Nepal, the nearest major town, to the trail head. This first leg starts in sub-tropical valleys with steep slopes and terraced rice paddies. The terrain eventually turns more alpine as the trail climbs upward. As the trail grows more alpine, the presence of Buddhism becomes stronger, with temples, monasteries, prayer flags and wheels, and chedi becoming ever more common. Trekkers will walk more than 50 miles over about six days, to arrive at the small town of Manang, directly below towering, snow-capped mountains like Annapurna II, III and Gangapurna. Manang's altitude is 11,800 feet, so an acclimatization stop of at least one day is strongly recommended. However, that does not mean that trekkers should rest. An acclimatization day hike to higher altitude is also recommended, and the area has many good, scenic opportunities for day hikes.
Annapurna Conservation Area Project
King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation
P.O. Box 3712,
Jawalakhel, Lalitpur, Nepal
Over Thorong La
Thorong La is the pass over the mountains, and at 17,769 feet it is the highest place in the world a person can go without climbing. Further acclimatization is necessary to avoid any altitude sickness when going over the top, so trekkers should spend three days covering the 18 1/2-mile trudge over the pass. The air is so thin that even at a slow pace walking will seem strenuous. Setting out from Manang, trekkers should stop for the night at Yak Kharka, and then push on to Thorung Phedi just below the pass the next day. This is goat and yak country, full of scrub brush and rocks, and little else. Trekkers will get up before dawn to arrive at the pass early, because the weather begins to turn bad up there once the mid-morning sun has vaporized the substantial cloud cover from the surface ice and snow. The pass sits right next to Thorong Peak and glacier, and has an excellent view of mighty Dhauligiri in the distance. The route down to the pilgrimage town of Muktinath is a knee-jarring descent of 5,000 feet in one go, so expect to rest and spend the night in Muktinath, despite having several hours of daylight remaining.
From Muktinath, the trail is mostly downhill. The terrain is now in the shadow of the Annapurnas, and is quite arid and more like the Tibetan plateau. Down the trail from Muktinath is Kagbeni, which sits at the mouth of the Mustang Valley, an old trade route to Tibet. The route offers good views of Thorong Peak, the Nilgiris, Annapurna itself, and on a clear day Dhauligiri. The towns of Kagbeni and Marpha are home to some outstanding apple orchards, so be sure to enjoy both the apples and the apple pie. As the trail rolls down, it reverses itself from Tibetan terrain to alpine, and then returns to the sub-tropics. At the trail end of Gorephani, buses that go back to Pokhara are available.