The Annapurna Circuit
Was very probably once the best long-distance trek in the world.
With a wide variety of climate zones from tropics at 600m (c2000 ft) to the arctic with some passes well over 4000m (13,000+ft), and cultural variety - from Hindu villages at the low foothills to the Tibetan culture of Manang Valley and lower Mustang.
However, it has changed considerably in the past 30 years…Three years ago I completed the full Annapurna circuit and although it was a fabulous experience I couldn’t help feeling that I had arrived too late - I should have done the route 10 years before the start of the development of the jeep tracks.
This year I went back to Nepal to see if we could put together a trek that focused on all the outstanding natural beauty that remains within the Annapurna region. I talked to local guides and with their help embarked upon the lesser-known trails that are being developed, to counteract the impact of the road development.
I had a truly great experience – very different to the high-mountain experience you enjoy day-after-day on the Walkers Haute Route and the opposite of the solitude I experienced whilst walking the Traverse of the Gran Paradiso: a heart-warming experience that I am so pleased I can now share.
The Annapurna circuit of old doesn’t exist anymore. But with the help of the locals in opening up their community trails, and the acceptance that you need to take the occasional jeep ride, with careful planning this area remains one of the top 10 hikes we’d recommend in the world. Why?
1) Hiking the Annapurna gets better every day
With the help of personal & local knowledge, we have put together what we consider to be the absolute best of the Annapurna. With every step, let alone every day, the vista changes and the Annapurna trail reveals something new and diverse. It literally is the definition of awe-inspiring.
We start the trail in Nayapul, 26 kilometres from Pokhara. A humid, monkey and banana tree start with a bang! Trekking through your tropical first day, you’ll probably be asking yourself why you brought all these warm clothes. (You’ll realise why when you get above 3,000 metres.)
Then you begin to climb through terraced rice fields carved out of lush deep green foliage. There are canyons so narrow and deep that direct sunshine only penetrates at noon and then pines trees so tall and dense, it reminds you of the Alps.
And all this is before the mountains! Finally, slowly, the high Himalaya emerge, firstly with tantalising peeks, then we break from the trail & head for the beautiful Kopra Danda (3,640m / 11942 ft) and the Khayer Lake (4,660m / 15,288 ft), which is the highest point of the trek. From there all around you are mountains and you are alone in a tumultuous “sea” of mountain peaks.
2) The Annapurna Circuit has great food
OK, traditional Nepalese dal bhat—a simple meal of rice and lentil soup—can't compete with the wild mushroom tartiflette, fondue, and coq au vin that's served in mountain huts on the Tour Du Mont Blanc. Or the fresh gnocchi followed by an espresso enjoyed whilst taking in the Dolomites on the Alta Via I…But, you don’t need to fear for your taste buds; the food in the Annapurna region is really good and pretty varied.
Expect a lot of carbs and seasonal veggies, soups, momos and of course, Dal Bhat. Eating dal bhat is like ingesting part of Nepal…As your mind wanders while trudging through the snow on a high mountain pass, you’ll dream of sitting down to this, or a veggie curry, or frozen yoghurt with a technicolour mess of toppings. Hikers who crave the more familiar can also find macaroni, dumplings, and even pizza in Annapurna.
3) The Annapurna Circuit is a multi-cultural trek
Hiking around Annapurna is like becoming a member of an exclusive worldwide travel club. Over 40,000 people come to trek the Annapurna trail each year. And whilst that makes it a place to avoid if you are looking for solitude, (come to the Vanoise National Park with us instead!) it also means you share the beauty of the trail with like-minded people from all over the world. From Israel to India. Europe to Australia, everyone is here and learning from each other.
By the end of the trail, sharing moments like watching the sunrise on your last day on the trail, will feel magical. Standing in awe of the beauty with others from “the club” will feel totally appropriate as they are fellow pilgrims to the majesty of the Annapurna and new friends to boot.
4) The Annapurna Circuit is a Living Trail
Hiking the Annapurna is not simply following a route through the mountains. Unlike most treks, the Annapurna circuit follows an ancient trade route - that still functions as a trade route. It's used to transport everything from salt to piglets, and the villages function much as they have for a millennium.
Continuing construction of a road has shortened the trail and changed the villages, with the Annapurna trail bouncing back with new routes to discover. Indeed, as we have said, we have devised a new trail with the help of the locals, which avoids the road and wouldn’t have been possible some years ago.
5) The Annapurna Hiking Trail has Soul
You will find again and again that just one smile from the locals has an utterly disarming effect. This area has people from different faiths, with different customs all working in harmony.
One good example of this is Muktinath or "Lord's Salvation," is a town sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. Pilgrims from distant villages in Nepal and India gather in a temple complex where water shoots from 108 springs and a natural gas flame burns on top of the water in one of the temples. Indeed, Hindus believe that Muktinath is the only place on earth where the five elements (earth, wind, fire, water, and sky) exist in their distinct forms. Hundreds of worshippers’ gather to bathe in these fountains, ringing bells and anointing each other's foreheads.
Our Annapurna trek is truly a wondrous adventure. The trail covers everything from tropical to alpine climatic zones. Some days you’ll be hiking in shorts and t-shirts, consuming another litre of water on yet another water break. Other days you might be wearing all of your clothes as the brutally cold wind freezes that water.
Some days will be physically tough. The elevation gain and falls are no mean feat. And there are some lengthy walking days out on the trail too.
Sound daunting? Well, maybe it is.
But trust us, when you’re standing in awe of the peaks around you, bonding with the group over a fresh mug of steaming chocolate - playing with the locals or reaching the dizzy heights at the Khayer Lake , all the challenges we will have faced together become worth it.