The Unofficial Short Guide to the Annapurna Circuit

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April 26th 2007
Published: August 7th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

This blog by Lucas and Jacqui:

Before we get into the details of what was easily the best experience of our world tour so far, we want to do a quick guide to trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. It was exactly what we were looking for in other people's blogs on this site when planning our trip, but could not quite find. A little insight can make the trip that much easier (and it is very easy to begin with) and more enjoyable, and we hope it inspires all readers to get here as soon as possible. We'll start with our top tips and suggestions, and then you can scroll down if you want to see our trekking 'stats' in terms of route, time, villages, mountains, elevation, etc.

Top tip #1:
Go now! They are building roads up both valleys of the Circuit, literally chipping the cliff by hand, and the encroachment of cars and trucks will ruin the unspoiled natural beauty of trekking in one of the most beautiful parts of the Himalayas. Sad to say, but the Annapurna Circuit will not be the same for future generations, let alone in 3-5 years time.

If you only have time to do one part of the circuit (8-10 day trek), consider the Marsyandi River Valley Trek (Bhulebhule to Manang/Letdar) and not the Jomson Trek (Birethanti to Muktinath). The Marsyandi River valley is more beautiful, the villages more isolated, the water more aqua, the trail less traveled, and the mountain views equally if not more magnificent. The only downside is you have to take a long (8-9 hrs) bus ride from Pokhara or Kathmandu to get to the start, but it is well worth it. You can fly to/from Manang just like you can Jomsom.

If you have more time, consider adding the Annapurna Base Camp trek via Ghandruk to the end of your circuit trek - we wish we had the time and can’t wait to go back and do it.

Top tip #2
Don't book your trip outside of Nepal - it is so easy to simply get off the plane and plan everything in Kathmandu in 2 days time, for far less than what you'd pay through a western agency that uses a local Nepal company anyway. Buy the Trailblazer guide titled "Trekking in the Annapurna Region". It is an excellent (and the only Annapurna dedicated) guidebook with pre-trip info, very detailed maps and mostly spot-on suggestions on teahouses and food. Don’t buy the Lonely Planet trekking guide. We would advise against a tour group with tents and cooks, because there are plenty of small teahouses in the villages along the circuit with decent rooms ($1-$2 per night) and home-cooked meals ($1-$2) every night, and you get much more local culture this way too. We hired a guide and porter, but it would be just as easy (and safe) to do the whole circuit on your own.

Top tip #3:
Consider trekking in April/early May, which is far less busy that October/November. We did our trek from April 26 to May 14, and the trails were relatively quiet and we never had a problem finding a bed in a teahouse. The only supposed drawback is the weather, but we always had crystal clear views from first light until 10 or 11AM, which is when you do most of your hiking anyway. The rest of the day is still sunny, but you may have some clouds over the highest peaks. For the record, we had no clouds at all the first 9 days of the trek. And don't believe any guidebook that tells you it is dusty and hazy this time of year - it is simply not true.

Top tip #4:
Buy all of your gear in Kathmandu. From hiking pants to backpacks to sleeping bags to fleeces to water bottles to iodine to walking sticks, Kathmandu has everything you will ever need at a fraction of Western prices, with good quality if you shop wisely, and many things to rent as well. The only thing you shouldn’t buy is hiking shoes, which they do have, but you need them well worn in before attempting 20 days of trekking. Next time we go to Kathmandu I will arrive with the clothes on my back and a toothbrush and nothing else.

Top tip #5:
Do the Dhaulagiri Ice Fall day trip from Larjung - one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. It is 10 hours round trip with sections of the path straight up death-defying cliffs, and there are some killer wild yaks (seriously), so it is not for the faint of heart, but you will be rewarded with views that make you feel you are on top of the world. We did it in terrible weather and it was still the highlight of the trip and the main reason we will come back to do the circuit again (to hike Dhaulagiri in good weather). We are not mountain climbers, but now I know how they must feel when reaching a summit.

Also, definitely take the high route when you reach Pisang. Upper Pisang and Ghyaru offer stunning, sometimes vertigo-inducing, mountain views across the valley. Don’t let your lazy guide talk you out of this tough but far better route.

Other tips:

Try to avoid some of the route described in Lonely Planet - the teahouses tend to be busier and you miss out on some great villages that deserve your business.

Hire a guide and porter, but manage your expectations. A porter is a great, very cheap luxury and a good way to inject some much-needed money into the Nepali economy. A guide is not really necessary for the Circuit and I’d say only about 50% of the trekkers had guides, but they are great for cultural/ecological/geological insight and the minor tips here and there that add up to a better overall experience.

Eat Dal Bhat (rice, lentil soup and veggie curry) every day, and carry all your trash out. If you eat most other western dishes, there is an associated tin can, plastic bag or other piece of consumer packaging that has been tossed outside or buried in the soil and won’t leave the Himalayas for thousands of years. Dal bhat comes straight from the garden, and becomes surprisingly addictive after awhile, and it is great trekking fuel. Beer and soda is ok (although expensive) as the bottles are packed out on donkeys to get recycling money.

Respect the warning signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) - it has nothing to do with your fitness level. We saw many people turn back from the pass.

Look for our future circuit blogs for the best of food and lodging along the trail.

From our previous blog on Kathmandu:

The first thing you should do is go see the talk and slides by Chris Beale, a UK photographer and 20+ year Nepal expat, at the Kathmandu Guest House. Well worth the entry fee, and he is chock full of good recommendations and updates on the Maoist/political climate.

There are about a thousand guest houses and trekking agencies in Kathmandu. If you want to take the guesswork out of it, stay at the Kathmandu Guest House or Pilgrim's Guest House, and trek with guides from Himalayan Glacier (ask for Nabar) or Wayfarers. Definitely don't trek with anyone who approaches you on the street.

Shona's trekking shop is great for cheap, good quality, fixed price trekking gear. It is run by an British guy and his Tibetan wife, who are very helpful.

Definitely go see the sights and make sure to spend at least 3 (preferably 5) days in Kathmandu to sightsee and plan your trek. Swayambunath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple, Bagmati River (Arya) Ghats, and Bodhnath Stupa are all amazing. Unfortunately we didn't even have time to visit the Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan, but we heard they are all also worth seeing.

Our trekking stats:

Days: 20

Kilometers: 250+

Trekking Time (not including breaks, meals, etc.): 66 hrs 30 mins (3-6 hours per day)

Elevation High: 17,769 feet or 5,416 meters (Thorung La Pass)

Elevation Low: 3,449 feet or 1,050 meters

Food and Lodging Expenses per day: $27.14 for two people (6 meals + snacks + 1 double room)

1 Guide / 1 Porter Expenses per day: $25 + tip ($15 and $10, respectively)

Route: Bus from Kathmandu to Bhulebhule, trek from BHULEBHULE to JAGAT to BAGARCHAP to CHAME to UPPER PISANG to BRAGA to MANANG to YAK KHARKA to THORUNG PEDI to MUKTINATH to MARPHA to UPPER MARPHA (day trip) to LARJUNG to DHAULAGIRI ICE FALL (day trip) to RUPSE CHHAHARA to SIKHA to GHOREPANI to GHANDRUK to POKHARA (via bus from Nayapul)

Other villages definitely worth staying in: Chanje, Tal, Ghyaru, Khangsar, Jharkot, Kagbeni, Dana

Detox status: no meat, no alcohol, no Advil, no Pringles for 20 days! We’ve never felt better in our lives…

Some of the mountains we saw:

Dhaulagiri 26,795ft / 8,167m (7th highest peak in the world)

Manaslu 26,781ft / 8163m (8th highest peak in the world)

Annapurna I 26,502ft / 8,078m (10th highest peak in the world)

Annapurna II 26,041ft / 7,937m (15th highest peak in the world)

Himal Chuli 25,896ft / 7893m

Annapurna III 24,767ft / 7,556m

Annapurna IV 24,666ft / 7,525m

Ngadi Chuli 24,652ft / 7514m

Gangapurna 24,457ft / 7,455m

Tilicho Peak 23,406ft / 7,134m

Nilgiri 23,406ft / 7,134m

Lamjung Himal 22,740ft / 6,938m

Annapurna South 23,684ft / 7,219m

Machhapuchhre (Fishtail) 22,943ft / 6993m

Hiunchuli 21,132ft / 6,441m

For the record, we reached 17,769 feet (5,416m) at the Thorung La Pass, about as high as you can get on this planet without major mountaineering equipment. That compares to the following world summits:

Highest US peak, Mt. Mckinley, Alaska: 20,320 ft

Highest Peak in Italian Alps, Mount Blanc: 15,781 ft

Highest peak in Swiss Alps, Monte Rosa: 15,203 ft

Highest peak in California, Mt. Whitney: 14,491 ft

Highest peak in Colorado, Mt. Elbert: 14,134 ft

Highest peak in Vietnam (where we went trekking in Sapa): Fan Si Pan: 10,308 ft

Highest Australia peak, Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia: 7,310 ft

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


19th June 2007

Inspiring! I'm addicted to the Dal Bhat! I'm on my way! Thank you for planning my next trip for me. Cannot wait to see you two when you get back!
21st June 2007

loving your unofficial guide...
I absolutely agree with your tips and find them wonderful for anyone who is planning to visit. Your pictures are beautiful and you have made me want to go back too... Only thing I would add, Don't miss Bhaktapur in kathmandu balley, it is amazing. Enjoy your time back home...
21st June 2007

I won't be hiking the Annapurna circuit for awhile, but have started my research and just wanted to say thanks for putting this guide together! The helpful tips are much appreciated and I can't wait to get out there!
7th May 2008

international trekking companies
Lucas, not all overseas trekking companies use local "service providers" we have our own Nepal (Pvt Ltd/TAAN registered company) created out of 15 years of trekking in Nepal our focus is career employment for our guides / porters (paid salary all year) training program especially for young women - creates a different care with the tour leaders, extra comfort - researched teahouses with specific rooms renovated and reserved- stored mattress's, quilts - cotton sheets - own pillows (all new) (sleeping backs also - new), food stores @ major teahouses for a variety above teahouse dal bhat - plus we give back via charity programs and committ to carry out our rubbish (team get bonus based on this + happy custommers) / to often little is paid and the local trekking company provides limited budget to the guide whom is forced to save a few dollars a day and chase for the tip (which we also dont allow) wont give the site but there are some of us building tourism in Nepal for more than back Pack holidays with value and care for the rebuilding of the country
15th September 2008

Great Post
Just wanted to thank you both for a great post. Hard to find good user accounts of the voyage, yours was very helpful and informative. Thanks!
19th March 2009

Annapurna Great !
Great blog !! ... Pity I didnt see this before I left. Actually just got back from Annapurna Circuit and was truly magnificent. And because its was off peak there were hardly any other trekkers which was brilliant. I know what you saying about the road, because we actually had to walk on it for the first few days. It was great when it stopped and then we actually onto trails. We actually joked along the way that oneday the road will go right around and there'll be a chairlift going over the pass !!... I think they said the road would be at Menang in 20 years ... Anyway, great blog...!!

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