Trekking the Amazing Annapurna Circuit

So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks here in Nepal having just spent the most amazing time trekking the Annapurna Circuit.

The Annapurna Circuit is a horseshoe shaped trail of around 210km with the trek rising to 5416m at its highest point at Thorong La. It has been a popular trek since the late 70s and generally takes about 14-21 days to complete. Nowadays the trek can be made as long or short due to the road development through some of the villages. There are conflicting opinions between locals and trekkers as to whether the continued road development is spoiling the beautiful trekking trail, however, there are plenty of alternative trails to avoid much of the road and enjoy the amazing and spectacular scenery Annapurna has to offer.

The trek takes you through several villages with teahouses so there is no need to bring any camping equipment. Before the road development, it was common for the locals to trek to other villages to visit family or for different festivals and they would stop at teahouses overnight for shelter and food. Typically, you will only pay for the food and drink and not the accommodation. The price of the food is inflated for this reason, but still cheap. For three meals a day, the odd Fanta and coffee/masala tea it was difficult to spend over £12 a day. I didn’t buy bottled water at all as I had my own bottle with a filter, this is also better for the environment and buying bottled water isn’t encouraged.

So how did I end up in Nepal?

When planning my travels for the next 12 months Nepal was not a place that was on my radar. That was until I met a lady in Goa who had recently visited to volunteer and do some trekking.

She told me about her experiences and it definitely gave me food for thought. Over about two weeks after that conversation I toyed with the idea of going, but I wasn’t really sure if trekking was for me as I’d never done anything like that before. I was finally convinced to book my flight when I’d read a great article about 20 or so places one should visit and guess what was on that list…..the Annapurna Circuit. I saw it as a sign from the Universe and booked my flight straight away.

So the flight was booked, now what? How do I prepare for this trip, what will I need, do I need a guide….shit what have I got myself into? I was very nervous about my preparations, but through a combination of asking the lady I’d met and emailing the lady whose article I’d read, I felt I had prepared as much as I could. Now it was time to get fucking excited!

As I’d been travelling through Asia for the last four months I only had summer clothes and no equipment for the trek. No problem as this can all be purchased or rented in Nepal either in Kathmandu (KTM) or Pokhara. I opted to buy my equipment in Pokhara as I heard it was cheaper and I didn’t want to carry stuff on the bus from KTM to Pokhara, this turned out to be a good choice given the space in bus 😉

After much research I’d read that it was not mandatory to have a guide for this trek as the trail is quite obvious and there are always locals who you can ask for directions. I didn’t have the budget for a guide so obviously I opted not to hire one. I was confident that I would meet other trekkers on the way so I was not too worried by this. As well as guides, one can also hire porters who will lug your stuff up the mountain for you. Although considered a well paid job for porters I personally could not walk and watch someone carry my stuff when I am more than capable. The one porter that sticks in my mind was one who was carrying about 60kgs for a couple. What the actual fuck! There is absolutely no need to be carrying that much stuff on a trek like this, let alone not having the decency to carry that shit yourself…insane!

You can read about the equipment and other items that I took with me here, as well as some other useful information for preparing for the trek.

Planning the Trek

Initially my plan was to get to Thorong La within two weeks which would also allow for a side trip to Tilicho Lake (accessed from Manang). This lake is the highest in the world and offers some of the most spectacular and magical scenery you can ever hope to see. After Thorong La I was going to take a jeep to Tatopani to check out the hot springs, then head to Ghorepani to hike Poon Hill.

Tilicho Lake – you can see why I wanted to see this!

 

The Himalayas gave a harsh lesson in…don’t fucking bother to plan because I will fuck that shit up for you. So here’s how the trek actually went…

Day One – Besisahar to Ngadi (820m – 890m):

From Pokhara I got a bus at 6.30am to take me to Besisahar which is the first village of the trek at around 820m. As expected I ran into several tourists all doing the same thing and easily found a trekking buddy for the next couple of weeks.

As I’d booked a “tourist” bus I was assuming I’d be travelling on a coach (much like the nice ones in Malaysia I grew accustomed too)….ha, no not the case! It was a regular, local bus where the bags are tied together on the roof, no way was that happening so I took my bag on the bus and kept it near my feet which wasn’t too bad.

After all the seats were taken the locals still kept coming onto the bus and made seats for themselves in the aisle…how cozy lol! The journey itself was like a rollercoaster, bump after bump for the next 4 hours with one stop. On several ocassions the lady sitting in the aisle fell asleep and would headbutt me in the side, then suddenly jolting and waking up. Another lady used my thigh as an arm rest, it was warm so no complaints.

After arriving in Besisahar around 11am I registered at the first check point. Initially I was going to take a bus to the village of Ngadi as I’d read the trail is not very pleasant due to the jeeps. An Australian guy who was on the bus had said there was an alternative trail which avoided the road most of the way, so that was good enough for me.

After about a 13km walk we arrived in Ngadi around 3pm and stayed the evening at the Sky High Guest House.

Day Two – Ngadi to Chamche (890m – 1385m):

After a good breakfast we started trekking just after 7am and walked some 17km through beautiful scenery to the village of Chamche. There were some very steep parts of the trail and with the sun blazing it made for a sweaty mess. On top of that one of my shoe laces decided it would break. What the hell, it was only day two!! Luckily, a nice man at one of the small shops had some laces which I bought for 100NPR. It was a long trek that day arriving in Chamche around 3pm.

Day Three – Chamche to Timang (1354m – 2400m):

Initially we were going to stop in Danaqyu, the village before Timang, but after meeting three other trekkers who were going to Timang we decided we would push the limit and stop there too. I’m not going to lie it was a hard day for me, around 20.5km with some very steep steps and walk through the forest for the last few kilometres. I actually wanted to cry my legs were burning so much. Luckily, the village was so beautiful and surrounded with amazing snow-capped mountains. We also had a super-cute wooden cabin with an ensuite WESTERN toilet woohoo, all was forgotten lol!

Day Four – Timang to Dhukur Pokhari (2400m – 3240m):

This was another long day of some 20km and an ascent from 2400m to 3240m. The trail took us through a lovely forest which smelt of beautiful pine and led us to the road. It was here that a man had a small stall, of course in the middle of the forest, where else? I bought a lovely pair of earrings for about 190NPR…bargain, but who is going to believe me when I tell them where I bought them? 😉

In Dhukur Pokhari, we stayed at the Kamala Hotel and the evening greeted us with some snowflakes, uh oh!!!

Day Five – Dhukur Pokhani to Braga (3240m – 3450m):

So, we woke up to a crisp, snowy morning which was beautiful but also meant the trekking plan had to be altered. The initial plan was to hike up to Upper Pisang and to stay in Ghyaru which promised some awesome views of Annapurna. I’d also read that Ghyaru (or Ngawal) was an ideal place to begin to acclimatise being at 3670m which is actually higher than Manang (3540m) which is the common place for trekkers to spend their rest day and acclimatise.

As the snow had covered the trail to Upper Pisang it wasn’t deemed safe to attempt this so we stuck to Lower Pisang and made our way to Braga.

Braga is a village just before Manang (around 20-25 minute walk) and we chose to stay there due to the amount of snow we’d heard had fallen in Manang. Braga is also much quieter and has access to some nice side trails which help with acclimatisation.

The snow made an appearance again and was getting heavier, visibility was not good and it was hard to believe that outside the guesthouse was a view of the mountains. According to one trekker we had missed all of the beauty of the valley due to the snow and it was a shame to have missed that.

Day Six – Eight – Braga:

After waking up on day six the snow had almost doubled so there was no chance of any walking. It was a perfect opportunity to stay by the log burner and enjoy some reading. The guesthouse, Happy Yak, had one of the friendliest owners (he is called Karma) I’d met on the trail. He was also knowledgeable about the trail and was realistic about our chances of making Thorong La.

During those few days we saw trekkers making their way back from Manang after being told that the Pass was closed and they weren’t sure when it would re-open. Although, obviously disappointing I made the decision that I would not attempt to ascend any further and would accept that this was the way things are. This was my first time trekking and I believe in having respect for nature and the mountain, I also value my own life. It had only been a few years ago that 40+ people had died in a snowstorm at a time when it was unusual to have seen snow like that. Karma had told us that it was also unusual to see snow like this for this time of year…that’s a good enough sign for me to accept defeat!

On the seventh and eigth day the snow fall had eased off and it was a case of waiting for a clear day to begin trekking back down the mountain. We took these days to walk to Manang to see some of the views as it started to clear. What was revealed was absolutely stunning and it was hard to believe how the beautiful mountains had been hidden a couple of days ago.

An Unexpected Visitor:

So one evening I was just getting off to sleep when my trekking buddy woke me up saying there was an emergency. It was around 10pm and a man had turned up in the village having had to descend due to severe altitude sickness. There were no other rooms and our room had a spare bed.

He had come from Manang, and I believe he’d also made it to Yak Karka which is the village after Manang at around 4060m. The man was very sick and terrified he was going to die. According to the hotel owner from Manang who had brought him to the village he was that scared he wanted to be airlifted by helicopter. One problem with that idea…the guy didn’t have travel insurance and helicopters are expensive. There was no point telling him how stupid this was because 1) he was very sick and terrified and 2) I think he already realised that.

He stayed in our room and had plenty of water and an oxygen tank near the bed. Thankfully the next morning he regained some colour in his face and no longer felt in danger. He realised how stupid he’d been to ascend too quickly, hadn’t done much, if any, research for this trek and most of all not having travel insurance.

Never, ever attempt this trek without having adequate travel insurance as shit like this can happen to anybody.

Day Nine – Braga to Humde (3450m – 3330m):

We took an easy trek down to Humde and took the opportunity to take in the amazing, snowy scenery with alot of photos being taken that day. I have never seen so much snow in my life, it was like a magical Christmasy morning!

Day Ten – Humde to Upper Pisang (3330m – 3310m):

The snow was slowly melting and this made the trail abit more clear. Having missed the scenery offered at Upper Pisang we decided to stay there for the evening. We stayed at the Annapurna Hotel which was one of the higher hotels. This made for some spectacular views and awesome photos. I was also pleased to have a decent WiFi connection so I could have a long chat with my Mum and update her about the last few days. We had planned to stay another night to enjoy the scenery, but the temperature dropped dramatically. Although the scenery was stunning, the cold was starting to get to me by this point and I longed for more mild weather….and a shower!

Day Eleven – Upper Pisang to Koto (3310m – 2640m):

Walking back down the mountain the scenery started to change. What a contrast going from snow-covered scenery for miles to beautiful green trees and the gorgeous smell of pine.

Day Twelve – Koto to Tal (2640m – 1700m):

Having taken it quite easy for the last few days it was time to push the trekking limits again with a long trek to Tal (some 16km). I really felt it in my legs today and having trekked alone this day I was ready to stop at Karte (the village before Tal) but I knew that would mean more walking the next day. Out of nowhere came this super-sweet dog who ended up following me for the next 1 1/2 hour to Tal. I was grateful to have him there as it helped me with the last few kilometres as well as having some company.

After finally reaching Tal I was eternally grateful to jump under the shower and finally wash. It had been at least ten days since I last showered due to the cold weather (the showers are in concrete outhouses and I’m just not that brave to stand the cold!).

That evening it rained for hours and the lady at the guesthouse said it had rained in the area for the last three days, but she was optimistic that the daytime should be ok. At this point I didn’t know if I could handle the rain after experiencing the snow. I was desperate to finish at Besisahar without taking a jeep. I had been denied Thorong La due to the snow, the least I wanted was to finish where I had started.

Day Thirteen – Tal to Ngadi (1700m – 890m):

I was determined not to cave and get a jeep so I started walking around 7.30am. The morning was clear but just after reaching Chamche (about 9.15am) I could feel abit of rain. I decided to push it and at least get to Jagat ( 9km from Tal) for something to eat, I arrived there just after 10am when it started to rain.

I waited there for about 45 minutes before heading towards Ghermu (about 3kms away) and to see how the weather was then. I’m not sure what happened but I missed one of the suspension bridges to take me over the river to continue the trail. I’d walked for some time on the jeep trail before I realised I didn’t recognise the trail from before. It was only after checking the GPS that I realised I’d missed one of the suspension bridges. The next bridge was before Ngadi, but there were no real villages before then. I wanted to head to Ngadi anyway, it just meant I would have to wait a few more hours before eating.

It seemed to take forever to reach the bridge, but the scenery in front of me was lush and green so it kept me motivated. And, what choice did I have but to keep going? A few jeeps passed me and although my feet were getting very sore I was determined not to give up.

On the way I came across a family who were selling some juice which I was grateful for, even better was being told that the bridge was only 30 minutes away. I could have cried when I eventually saw the bridge. The clouds had got darker and I was worried about the rain. It had been raining, but not too bad and I was wearing a waterproof jacket.

I made it across the bridge and could see the village. At 3pm I arrived at the guesthouse I’d stayed in before and the owners were very surprised to see me (obviously expecting me to have gone over the Pass). I was shown to my room and within 5 minutes the heavens opened and a huge thunderstorm proceeded and lasted for about five hours…wow was I lucky not to get caught in that!

Day Fourteen – Ngadi to Besisahar (890m – 820m):

The last day of trekking! I left at a more reasonable time of 8am following the jeep road all the way to Besisahar. For some reason, even though it was a short trek, this seemed to be the most challenging. Jeeps and busses were now more frequent and very tempting. No, I have to make it no matter how sore my feet are.

At 11.20am I made it to the trekking permit office where the lady who I’d trekked with for twelve days was waiting for me. We had planned to stay in Besisahar one night and catch the bus back to Pokhara the next morning. She told me there was a bus at 12pm which I was pleased about. Besisahar, to me, was not very welcoming and it was a contrast to the sweet, little villages I’d stayed in the last two weeks. I ordered some food from the nearby hotel and waited for the bus. The owner had said the bus will stop outside. So it arrived, we grabbed our stuff only to see the bus drive right past.

We were livid! Our chance to get back to Pokhara that evening was gone. The owner soon helped us out and got a jeep to take us and catch the bus. After being thrown about in the jeep due to the state of the road the driver got us to the bus and we were soon on our way along the pothole infested road back to Pokhara!

Reflections:

Even though the trek didn’t go to plan and I missed out on the Pass and also a side trek to Tilicho Lake, this trek has been the highlight of my five months of travel. The Annapurna Circuit has offered some of the most breathtaking and stunning scenery I’ve ever seen in my life.

I was unsure if I would enjoy trekking over multiple days and it was definitely an experience that took me out of my comfort zone. Being in the Himalayas ended up being an emotional and insightful experience for me on a personal level. It gave me a hell of a lot of time to be with myself with zero distractions and I quickly realised that nature is very powerful. Being in nature gave me some surprising opportunities to clear my mind and it offered me a space to think about some unpleasant experiences I’d suffered and allowed me the chance to heal some wounds from the past.

I would encourage anyone who has a love for nature and trekking to seriously consider trekking the Annapurna Circuit. This has been an amazing experience and one I will remember for the rest of my life!

Namaste 🙂

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