“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 Annapurna 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