Panorama of the Week: Trekking the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

What has been your best travel experience?

Often asked, but impossible to answer.

However, if we were locked away and forced to choose just one experience in order to get out, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal just might be it. This uber-trek (we took 17 days, some opt for several-day segments and others take a month or more) combines some of the best of what travel has to offer: rich culture, diverse people, stunning landscape, lurking adventure, breathtaking exertion and profound circumstances to clear the mind.

The first ten or so days of the traditional Annpurna Circuit take you up the eastern side of the range along paths that once served as ancient Tibetan trekking routes. There are no roads. All the supplies that come up through the mountains — from food to building materials — must be carried on the backs of men or mules. Most nights are spent in simple guest houses called tea houses; every village seems to have at least one or two families who have converted or expanded their home to take in trekkers for the night.

Around the morning of the eleventh day, we began our final ascent in the wee hours from Thorong Phedi high camp to Thorong La Pass at 5416 metres (17769 ft). Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the excitement of summit morning from the floating anxiety of feeling like you might be coming down with altitude sickness. We never fell ill, nor did most of the anxious trekkers whom we managed to gather with along the way.

And on the morning we made our way to the top, the clouds — and our heads — began to clear.

360-Degree Panorama: Crossing Thorong La Pass along the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

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Comments

  1. says

    We only did the 5 day Poon Hill trek in the Annapurnas but it was the most beautiful place we have ever trekked and it’s definitely a travel highlight. I like the fact that you don’t have to camp either as there are little guesthouses along the way.

  2. says

    I trekked Annapurna in April 2010 and the landscape was so different than the one you saw. Thorung La was covered in snow (making it absolutely frigid!) when I was there! How cool to see it in another season!

  3. says

    @Kim: What’s really wonderful about this trek is that it’s not just endless beautiful mountain vistas, but that you hike through and stay in villages gives you a connection to the people as well. Enjoy!

    @Casey: We saw parts of the hills getting cleared for the road during our trek in May 2008. These trails have been around for centuries as they are old Tibetan trading trails, so they won’t go anywhere. But, follow your instincts and try to go soon before the road gets built. While I know that a road will make some things easier for villages on that side, I also kind know that the feel on the other side of the trek that already had a road had a different feel to it. Part of it is just being without the noise and speed of motorized vehicles for 10 days – really lovely.

    @Erin: We heard that the trek to Poon Hill is also gorgeous. I really enjoyed that you stay in small guest houses in villages along the way so you have some interaction with the people who live there. This provides a human element to the trekking experience in addition to the stunning mountain vistas.

    @Anil: We were really fortunate with how the clouds cleared for us just as we got up to the top. It’s insanely beautiful up there.

    @Connie: It is incredible how a route or experience can be so different based on the seasons (both for nature and number of tourists around). We did our trek in mid-late May so it was really at the end of the season. For us, it worked out great because we had mostly good weather (a few day of rain after the pass), but there was no one on the trails. Would have been really nice to have seen Thorung La with all the snow, though.

  4. says

    @Jennifer: Your comment came in just as I was responding to the others. We went in mid-late May, which is really at the very end of the trekking season. We had good weather and were able to get great views of the peaks, but the weather can be more volatile at that time of year. The benefit though was that there were no crowds on the trails – enough people to make the evenings social, but not so many that you kept running into people everywhere. High season with the best weather is in November, I think. It’s easy (and much cheaper) to arrange everything – porters, gear, permits, etc. – within a day or two when you get on the ground in Pokhara.

    Going in the low season meant that the price of staying at the Tea Houses was almost nothing – $0-$2/night for a double room with the agreement that we’d eat there since that’s where the families make most of the money. Accommodation is simple, but it does the trick and provides a human touch to the trek. Plus, you don’t have to carry camping gear or food.

    Although the trek sounds daunting, the great thing about it is that you can go at your own pace because there are villages with accommodation almost ever few hours. If you’re tired, just stop for the day. We hired a porter to carry one backpack for the two of us (up to 20 kilos), which made it easier for us. The porter stays with you as long as you need him (about $8/day in 2008).

    Hope this information helps!

  5. says

    We did the Annapurna Circuit last year and it was one of our best experiences, too! I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Like Audrey said, you can go at your own pace. On our trek, there was a couple from Sweden in their 70′s, and they made along just fine.

  6. says

    Oh wow. I’m feeling all nostalgic now – I did the Annapurna trail back in the mid-90s, when I was *gulp* precisely half the age I am now. It truly was the experience of a lifetime. Being caught in a squall at the highest point of our trek and having to evacuate the campsite in the dark was particularly memorable, I must say! Even better, though, was the fact that the people in the village that we came to, cold, wet and exhausted in the middle of the night, put us all up for the night with no questions asked. Our sherpas then went back up the mountain at first light and collected every last scrap of our belongings – right down to individual playing cards – before bringing them back down the mountain to dry out on the roofs of the village houses. Amazing.

  7. says

    I absolutely love it when you do these panorama posts. The viewer really gets a first hand view of what it feels like to be there. We did the Everest Trek, but I would love to go back and do the Annapurna. I can’t get enough of the Himalayas.

  8. says

    @Bryan: The ability to go at your own pace and stay in villages along the way really does make this trek accessible to many more people. Really love hearing stories of older people taking on treks like this. We’ve been on trails before where people almost twice my age are kicking my butt!

    @Katja: Although I’m sure evacuating the campsite was less than fun, the story of being welcomed by the village and the help of your sherpas makes for a great memory of the kindness of people along that route.

    By the way, I still think of the mid-90s as a few years ago as opposed to over a decade ago. Where did the time go?!

    @Dave & Deb: And now we’ve got the Everest Base Camp trek on our brains! This area of the world is really so beautiful. Would love to return.

  9. says

    @Steve: Glad we could help :) It is a really fabulous trek.

    @Rebecca: It is hard to beat the landscape and views in Nepal in the Himalayas. Such a beautiful part of this world.

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