We have finished our Annapurna trek! We began trekking in the village of Syange and ended about 18 days later in the village of Tatopani. Now we are relaxing in the lovely lake town of Pokhara where we can enjoy the beautiful Himalayas from a distance. To make posting about the trek more manageable, I’m going to divide the trip into three posts: intro and up to Manang, Manang to Thorung La, and after the pass to the end.
The Annapurna Circuit is a trekking route around the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas. The highest point of the trail is Thorung La (La means Pass) at 17,769 ft/5416m! This is one of the most popular treks in the world. You can get up close to the Himalayas without needing much equipment or summiting a peak. Most folks, like us, follow the trail counter clock-wise. The official start is in the town of Besisahar and ends in Nayapul. With today’s roads its now possible to start and end at various points along the trail. Before getting to Nepal I saw much chatter online about how the development of roads has impacted the quality of this trek. I have to say this did not detract from our enjoyment of the trek at all.
Another reason the Annapurna Circuit is so popular is the trail goes through dozens of villages and a wide variety of landscapes. We started and ended in humid, forested country, hiked through more alpine terrains and got a taste of the desert-like Mustang region. Instead of camping, we stayed in guesthouses and ate our meals at guesthouses or restaurants along the way. Its also popular to take a mid morning tea break! The accommodations run from fairly nice to basic (and usually more basic the higher the elevation), but we had mostly great experiences.
Day 0: Transportation Day. This was a loooong day in transit. After a six hour bus ride from Kathmandu we were dropped off in the town of Besisahar. Its possible to start the trek here. Some folks walk 2 hours to the town of Bhulbhule (or take a quick jeep ride). Since we’d been held up in Kathmandu an extra two days we decided to hop in a jeep and get a ride a bit further up the trail. The jeep ride cost about $10 and included 3 other travelers in the cab as well as a crew of Nepalis riding in the truck bed. About 2 hours later we got off in the town of Syange to spend the night.
Day 1: Syange to Tal. This was a rough day for me by the end. We hiked through the villages of Jagat and Chamje. In Chamje we stopped for a pumpkin curry lunch. Just after Chamje we crossed our first suspension bridge and then had a long climb up to the village of Tal. Tal is a very nice town along the river with a beautiful waterfall. After the long climb I got pretty sick from dehydration and exhaustion. I think it was just the shock of a long day and luckily I felt fine by the next day. While we were in Tal we saw some kind of political demonstration. Not sure if it was a protest or celebration but many of the townsfolk were walking up and down the streets with the banner of their political party and chanting.
Day 2: Tal to Danaque. This was a really pleasant day. The walking was, thankfully, much less steep. Just before lunch we got caught in a downpour and stopped in the town of Dharapani. Here we had Veg and Potato Momo (dumplings), which has become one of our favorite dishes in Nepal. Along the way to Danaque we also had our first sighting of Annapurna II (just the tippy top of the peak behind another mountain range) outside the small village of Bagarchhap. In Danaque we found a very cute little guest house to stay in. For dinner we had fried rice and fried noodles, which was delicious, and a happy break from dal bhat.
Day 3: Danaque to Chame. For breakfast today we had Tibetan bread. Tibetan bread is so good! It has a similar taste to funnel cake or an elephant ear (minus the powdered sugar). The first part of our walk today was shady and lovely. The path, after some steep stone steps, meandered through a wooded area. From there we passed through three other towns on the way to Chame: Timang, Thanchowk and Koto. Timang was a really beautiful little town. It has a lot of pasture land and horses. The buildings were quaint and looked well taken care of. We didn’t stop here but its somewhere I definitely would recommend for a tea break, lunch or even a night. Chame is a much bigger town (I think its the district HQ) and we stayed here for the night. At dinner, we tried a spicy local pickle. I think it might have been okra.
Day 4: Chame to Upper Pisang. This is the day the landscape really starts to change and the mountain views get good. We also started seeing more trekkers on the trail. This is also where we first saw the Paunga Danda rock face (or “Gateway to Heaven”). We were able to make it all the way to Upper Pisang before taking lunch so we would have more time to chill out here and explore. I think Pisang was one of my favorite villages. We stayed in the upper section because the views of Annapurna II are better. A lot of the guide books recommend staying in Lower Pisang because the accommodations are nicer, but I feel this is outdated advice. While there are sort of sketchy looking guest houses everywhere, there was a bunch of new construction in the upper section. From the road we saw this beautiful wooden, cabin-looking place and really wanted to stay there. It seemed a lot of people had the same idea because eventually most of the folks we’d seen that day on the trail also ended up there and the place was full. (This was rare since its the off season and there are less trekkers than in Oct/Nov or Feb/March. At times we’ve been the only guests at our lodging).
Day 5: Pisang to Ngawal. We decided to take the upper route out of Pisang. (There is a lower route that goes along the road and through a valley. It isn’t as steep but also doesn’t have as good views.) We had to go up super steep switch backs along this hillside to get up to the town of Ghyaru. About 3/4 of the way up we stopped at a tea house for a masala tea break. Both Ghyaru and the next village Ngawal are medieval-era and have traditional mud houses. After that super steer climb up to Ghyaru, most of the road to Ngawal was flat and offered infinitely amazing views of Annapurna II and III and the Gateway to Heaven. By far one of our most beautiful days. In Ngawal we stayed at the “Peaceful Hotel.” Ryan ordered spring rolls, which were delicious, but looked and tasted more like giant empanadas.
Day 6: Ngawal to Manang. This was a fairly short day since most people go straight from Pisang to Manang. Manang is a bigger village and the place where most people take an extra day to rest and help acclimate to the altitude. Before we got to Manang we passed through the villages of Munji and Bracka/Braga (which are very close together). In Munji we ran into two women we’d met on the trail and stopped for lunch. Here we had our first taste of seabuckthorn juice. This delicious local juice is bright orange and made from the berries of the seabuckthorn, which is a high altitude shrub. Its supposed to be high in. Vitamin c and really good for you. Braga is also home to one of the oldest monasteries in the region. The other great thing about Manang is there are three different “cinemas” in town. We went to one of the projector halls to see Seven Years in Tibet.
Day 7: Rest day in Manang. On our second day in Manang we went on a short day hike up to help acclimatize and get a closer look at the Gangapurna glacier. This was a nice and relaxing day. Got to sleep in, eat a late breakfast, and play a bunch of cards.
Up next: Week two: Manang to the Thorung Pass (with Tilicho Lake side trip)!