The Annapurna Circuit

by | Nov 17, 2016 | 0 comments

annapurna circuit header

The Annapurna Circuit Trek is the classic Nepal “teahouse” trekking route, weaving its way through a variety of landscapes, from hot and humid jungle with rice-terraced hillsides, to the treeless alpine environment surrounding the Thorung La Pass, all in the shadow of Himalayan giants, including the Annapurnas, Dhaulagiris, Nilgiri, and Gangapurna, among other massive snow-topped peaks.

This post is intended to both share our Annapurna Circuit journey with our family and friends, as well as provide basic information for anyone interested in completing the circuit themselves, as we found online information in this area to be lacking. If you’re looking for a condensed information version without the back stories check out our specific Annapurna Circuit FAQ.

Below you will find the day-by-day description of our 19-day trek through the region, including a 3 ½ day side-trip to Tilicho Tal (highly recommended). It’s certainly possible to complete the trek in fewer days, and there are many other villages where lodging can be found outside of those mentioned below. Just keep in mind that it’s important to pay attention to your altitude acclimatization rate on the front end of the trip (leading up to the pass).

For each day, we’ve included the elevation of the overnight villages, as well as other locations – such as Thorung La Pass and Tilicho Tal –  in parentheses behind the village/location name in both meters and feet (m/ft.). The listed elevations in the maps, guidebooks, etc. can vary slightly; for the sake of consistency, the elevations provided below all came from the “Round Annapurna Trekking Profile” pamphlet available at the Tourist Information Center in Kathmandu (where you can acquire your necessary trekking permits).

In addition to our day-by-day itinerary, at the end of this post we have included some basic logistical information, including: acquiring trekking permits, money estimates, a recommended packing list, and considerations for whether or not to use a guide and/or porter. We traveled independently, though there are both pros and cons for hiring a guide, porter, or both, and this decision will depend on the individual.

In our itinerary below, for each day we’ve included a basic description of the day’s trek, some peaks and other notable features you may see (depending on cloud cover!), and some notes on the particular lodge we stayed at in each village. Remember that the lodges are simple affairs. Our mention of particular lodges is not meant to be an advertisement. There are many good lodges in each location and you should certainly poke around to pick one that you are happy with (more information on this in the logistics section). We’ve also included any personal experiences/feelings, funny stories, or other details that we saw fit because we’re also writing to share our experience with family and friends, so if you’re reading only for the trek info and logistical stuff, you’ll just have to deal with it!

Without further ado, our day-by-day itinerary, accompanied by some pretty photos.

Day 1: Besi Sahar to Bhulbule

Approximate Trek Time: 2 – 3 hrs. hike / 1 – 1 ½ hr. bus
Distance: 7.5k / 4.7 miles
Overnight Elevation: 820m/2,690ft.

annapurna circuit marker

Unless you arrive at the start of the circuit a day early, day one begins with a bus ride to the beginning of the trek – Besi Sahar (820m/2,690ft) – likely from either Kathmandu or Pokhara. We began our adventure from Kathmandu, and what was intended to be a 6-hour, 1-bus journey leaving Kathmandu at 6:45am quickly turned into an 9-hour, 3-bus journey, beginning on a bus that didn’t roll out of the station until 7:30am. Like all local buses, it was tortuously slow, stopping nearly every minute for passengers. Pretty typical Nepal transportation.

Important: If you’re heading to Besi Sahar from Kathmandu, make absolutely sure you get a ticket on the 6:45am bus (from the Naya Bus Park, north of Thamel) for a better chance at arriving early enough to trek to Bhulbule (2-3hr hike). Bus station touts will try to steer tourists to their own ticket windows/buses at the station, so don’t hand over the money until you have the ticket you want. Your lodge owner or a travel agency can also help to arrange tickets. It’s possible that there is a tourist bus that makes the trip with very limited stops (probably the 6:45am bus we were supposed to be on). Many buses say “tourist” on them, but few actually are. Again, check with lodge owners or travel agencies to get the best ticket. Regardless, settle in for the ride because Nepal bus rides are very slow (but the scenery is amazing).

If you arrive in Besi Sahar early enough in the day, you can trek to Bhulbule, though due to an increasing number of roads linking many of the towns and villages along the trekking route, the majority of the trek to Bhulbule is along the road. There is supposedly an alternative trail along the east bank of the Marsyangdi Khola (marked with the red and white Annapurna Circuit trail markers), though this has reportedly also been impacted by road and hydro project construction.

Because we didn’t arrive to Besi Sahar until very late in the afternoon, in the rain, and weren’t sure we could make the trek before dark, and it being our first day, we went ahead and took yet another shuttle bus to Bhulbule. Both buses and jeeps are available along the main stretch in Bhulbule (and not hard to find). In hindsight, due to the rutty mountain roads, the bus was not a huge timesaver over walking. If you take a bus into Bhulbule, make sure to keep your TIMS card and ACAP permit handy (i.e., not in your bag strapped to the top of the bus), as the bus will stop at a tourist checkpoint to check and stamp these permits.

On our many-bus ride from Kathmandu, we passed through cities and towns, dwindling in size (along with the road conditions) as we neared Besi Sahar. All cradled amongst the hill and mountainsides, houses were perched high on the slopes, small stone staircases ascending from the roads to meet them. The ride along the deeply rutted dirt road from Besi Sahar to Bhulbule opened up into even more countryside, with crop-terraced hillsides and mountains in all directions, and the mighty Marsyangdi Khola (river) below.

From the bus (or trek), you’ll pass by the large hydro electric plant and through a long tunnel (trek path is outside the tunnel), before eventually arriving in Bhulbule (840m/2,756ft). In Bhulbule, there are lodges on both sides of the river. Hiking along the trekking route, you will cross from the west side of the river to the east.

Here, we opted for a guesthouse on the west side of the Marsyangdi, the Everest Guesthouse, just before the suspension bridge across the river. The rooms here were small, basic, and clean, and the shower (separate shower room) was solar-heated and piping hot (huge trail luxury). The food was fine, and this is the most we’ll probably say about food which is basically the same everywhere, save for a few outliers that had more exceptional food. Otherwise, we’ve mentioned basic menu/food information in the logistics section.

This was our first night on the trail, so everything was exciting! There was a small snake-like creature in the shower room that I never saw, but those after me did (terrifyingly exciting!) and a wrinkled old woman that perched herself along the stoop at the top of a flight of stairs … smoking… spitting… and watching us from arrival until departure (creepily exciting!). Only one other small group stayed at our lodge, a group of three from Israel and their two porters. We’d cross paths with this friendly group several times during the beginning of the circuit, and their main green-shirted porter would always treat us like family.

At the lower, warmer elevations, no blankets or sheets are provided on the beds other than the flat sheet, so we tucked into the travel sheets we brought along.

Day 2: Bhulbule to Ghermu

Approximate Trek Time: 4 – 5 hrs.
Distance: 13.5k / 8.4 miles
Overnight Elevation: 1130m/3707ft.

annapurna circuit day 2

Since we didn’t hike yesterday, today was our first official day on the trail! While we listened to raindrops clattering on the roof overnight, the foul weather was cleared out by morning and it was a bright sunny day.

Heading out of Bhulbule, most of the trek to Ngadi (~1 hr.) is along the road, though there were very few vehicles on it, so it was still a peaceful trek. We also got our first view of Himalayan peaks in the distance, including Manaslu and Ngadi Chuli. Toward the end of Ngadi, past a hydro plant, the route leaves the road for smaller trails, stone staircases, and rocky uphill sections skirting a bowl of rice-terraced hillsides. Everything was lush and green, small rivulets ran down the trails in some places, and the sounds of birds and insects filled the air.

We took a short snack break at the Manaslu Guesthouse in Lampata, its shaded picnic tables a nice respite, with a stunning view over the valley of rice fields we had just climbed beyond. Only another 15-20 minutes uphill we passed through Bahundanda, a high saddle overlooking the Marsyangdi valley to the south. Here, after stopping at a permit checkpoint, we continued northward, descending down steep rocky steps into another valley of terraced rice fields.

Crossing over small streams and through muddy trails, we climbed past the village of Lili Bahar, continuing on a wide rocky trail with a handrail along the exposed edge of the mountainside. With such a wide trail, it seemed an odd place for a handrail, with many far narrower exposed trail sections. We learned from other trekkers that, as the story goes, a guy trekking along that section of the trail several years back had slipped and fallen over the edge and, while he lived, it was several days before he was found. After the whole ordeal, he had financed a handrail to be installed along that section of trail. While definitely a thoughtful project, at this point I wouldn’t really trust the handrail – most of its bars appearing rotted and decrepit, and some missing altogether.

Further along the trail, the village of Kanigaon announced itself with a stone kani (entrance/exit gate/archway), which we would come to see many of along the circuit. Just another 10 minutes or so from this village, we entered Ghermu (1130m/3707ft.). Perched along the hillside with a thin dirt trail running the 10-minute length of the village, flanked by fence-lined fields, homes, and small lodges, Ghermu was one of my favorite villages along the entire circuit.

While we ate a small lunch at the Crystal Guesthouse near the beginning of the village, we eventually wandered to the far side of the village, staying at the Rainbow Guesthouse and Restaurant. The showers here did not have hot (or even somewhat warm) water, the spaces between some of the wood panels in the rooms were big enough for small creatures to crawl through, and I believe the roof was mostly tarp. BUT, what it lacked in structural integrity and amenities, it made up for in atmosphere, as the views of the waterfall across the valley were absolutely stunning. No picture could capture how big and close the waterfall felt. It was a beautiful setting that we could not pass up. We also met two of the funniest ‘mates along the trail (shout out to Brett and Nathan from Australia!)

Day 3: Ghermu to Tal

Approximate Trek Time: 5 – 6 ½ hrs.
Distance: 13.3k / 8.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 1700m/5577ft

annapurna circuit day 3

Only the second day on the trail and still getting used to trekking with my pack, with lots of climbs – some shorter and some longer, I found this to be one of my toughest days on the circuit as I slogged behind Shawn all day. Our map included descriptive labels such as “marijuana fields” and “long hot climb” along the trail toward Tal, so it was sure to be an exciting day.

After a steep descent to a rickety suspension bridge across the Marsyangdi River, we hiked through the village of Syange and up the long, hot steep switchbacks to Jagat. Past Jagat, you can stay along the road or follow the Annapurna Circuit trail markers that continue uphill along a trail section that bypasses a portion of the road, which is what we did. This section of the trail climbed up through rocks and trees, with small streams trickling down the trail in some areas and ramshackle log bridges over the larger streams that gushed from waterfalls. It wound its way through sun and shade around the mountainside before descending through a small village en route back to the road at Chamje. Well worth the road detour.

Descending past Chamje, we crossed a suspension bridge to the east side of the Marsyangdi, where a group of Nepalese farmers cut marijuana plants along the banks. While our Australian friends were offered hash here, it wasn’t until later in the afternoon as we neared Tal that an enterprising teenager would inquire about our interest in the ganga.

Along the east bank, the trail climbed up, up, up, just as the map had promised. Over rocky steps – or sometimes just rocks – and past countless small grayish-black lizards with blue-hued feet, all scurrying away from our footsteps. After what seemed like what MUST have been the most punishing climb of the day, we arrived in Sattale, where we decided to take a lunch break and scarf down some egg-fried noodles. Our friends from Israel also made their lunch stop here, so we commiserated about the climbs of the day together.

We plowed through our lunch before the other group had even decided what to order and hit the trail, anxious to get to Tal. With only an hour to go, we figured it couldn’t be that bad! Nearly this entire hour was a seemingly unending, punishing rocky gravel uphill. Finally, after finishing the “long hot climb”, as so aptly noted on the map, we looked down into the flat valley where Tal was situated along the east bank of a very calm section of the Marsyangdi. It was the greatest site! We hiked with a skip in our step down into the valley and along the flat wide trail into town.

Entering Tal (1700m/5577ft.), it was only the second guesthouse on the left before the friendly owner sucked us in to take a look. The Father and Son Guesthouse was painted bright pink and teal green and looked like a giant dollhouse. The affable owner had a bright smile and infectious laugh, offered us a room with a double bed and en suite bathroom with hot shower free of charge, and couldn’t wait to tell us the Wi-Fi password. Also boasting proper walls and ceilings, it was a pretty easy sell.

Tal is the first of the villages along the circuit to house a safe drinking water station. These stations, developed by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) with assistance from the government of New Zealand, provide refills of safe drinking water in attempts to decrease the number of plastic bottles sold along the trail each year. The stations are available in several of the villages beyond Tal, with costs ranging from 40-80 Rs per liter, far below the cost for bottled water.

Day 4: Tal to Chame

Approximate Trek Time: 6 – 7 hrs.
Distance: 21k / 13 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2710m/8891ft.

annapurna circuit day 4

Our hike from Tal to Chame was one of our longer days, made even longer by a very long lunch stop, though didn’t seem as hard as the previous day’s hike into Tal.

We got an early start from Tal, just after 7am, heading northward following the river along easy trails through the ravine, the river to our left and the mountainside to our right, covered in plants and mosses. Waterfalls threaded their way down the mountainsides everywhere you looked, and the views from the suspension bridge into Karte (as with the many other suspension bridges we crossed throughout the day) were stunning in all directions: beautiful mountains, the churning river below, lush greens, and a bright blue sky with puffy white clouds.

Beyond Karte’s well cobbled trail, further down the path we crossed back to the west bank of the river, hiking uphill into Dharapani, where we made a stop at a “German bakery” for our first taste of Tibetan bread along with REAL coffee (i.e., not instant). Here we met Jamie, an outdoor/kayaking/rafting guide from England, whom we would see on the trail and hike with a bit almost daily on our journey toward Thorung La Pass.

In Dharapani we also stopped at a permit checkpoint where informative wall posters proclaimed the “Golden Rule”. “It is ok to get Altitude Sickness. It is not okay to die from it”. Noting this useful tip, we continued on.

Toward the end of Dharapani, there is a split between trail and road, with a sign along the road directing travelers “to Manang”. Not seeing any trail markers, we continued along the forested road, only to look below us down the road and see several hikers trekking through the gorge, so we missed this short section of trail, which rejoined the road at Bagarchhap.

Passing through the entrance kani to Bagarchhap, we entered the Manang Valley to views of Annapurna peaks in the distance. From here, it was a rocky uphill climb into Danaque, followed by additional rock steps and a very muddy, but beautiful trail section through the forest, emerging along a wide rocky road into Timang.

In Timang, we stopped for what we hoped would be a quick lunch on the rooftop of a restaurant/lodge, though it ended up being another 1 ½ hours before we were back on the trail. From Timang the road undulated until eventually returning to trail and descending steeply through forest into a valley, only to cross the bridge and climb steeply back up the other side, eventually spitting us out near the village of Thanchowk.

Thanchowk is one of the most traditional Tibetan villages along the route, with flat-roofed well-packed stone houses. Firewood, corn, wheat, and other crops dried along the rooftops and tattered prayer flags flapped in the wind. From Thanchowk, the way was fairly easy going, with mostly road through Koto, where we registered at another permit station. From here we continued onto Chame, only another 25-30 minutes up the road.

Chame (2710m/8891ft.) was one of the bigger villages we passed through, with several lodging options. We looked through a few guesthouses in the center of town before passing over the river (twice) and settling on the New Tibet Hotel on the far end of town. In addition to having a piping hot shower, this guesthouse had the added benefit of being the closest to Chame’s hot spring.

The hot spring in Chame is small, set in a deep cement pool above of the river, and “hot” is somewhat of a stretch, though it’s still a nice visit. Mostly a luke-warm/cool pool, hot water seeps from inlets in the walls, and I continuously pushed it over me to warm my goose-bumped skin. Here we talked to a couple from Ireland while watching a constant stream of local Nepalese men, or likely a number of porters and guides, flock to the hot spring to wash up. Using two pipes that spouted water at one end of the small pool, they sudsed up in their shorts, washing themselves and shampooing and rinsing their hair. Essentially we were sitting in a giant bathtub.

After a short soak we ran back up to our guesthouse for piping hot showers. Our guesthouse was bigger than the others we’d stayed at thus far and was bustling with trekkers, making for a very cozy dining room. With cool evening temps, I believe this was the first stop we pulled out our sleeping bags. The last night in Tal had also been chilly, though our travel sheets and the provided blanket were sufficient.

Day 5: Chame to Upper Pisang

Approximate Trek Time: 3 ½ – 4 ½ hrs.
Distance: 14k / 8.7 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3310m/10,860ft.

annapurna circuit day 5

We woke early, the gentle rain that had started last evening still tinking against the tin roof. Luckily, it cleared before we’d finished breakfast and it was another beautiful day of hiking. Walking out of Chame, we spun the prayer wheels under the entrance/exit kani on the way out of town and head on down the road.

The road was “Nepal flat”, as the t-shirts proclaimed, “little bit up, little bit down”, constantly undulating. Eventually we took a turn-off onto a trail section – optional, since it would eventually meet up with the road again (and good thing, since the trail section was easy to miss). We were well rewarded though, as the trail traversed through beautiful pine-forested mountainside well above the road, our footsteps quiet against the pine-straw carpeted path. Across the valley, the rushing Marsyangdi far below us, waterfalls cascaded down the rockface, plunging into the ravine. We also met Isabel from Germany along this section, whom we would cross paths with almost daily all the way to Tatopani.

Eventually the trail rejoined the road, leading us into Bhratang, where apple orchards lined both sides of the road, hidden behind tall log fences. Bhratang was small, with simple stone houses, and the central Bhratang Tea House was packed with trekkers and locals alike, making a tea stop and enjoying the fresh apples for sale.

Continuing down the road past Bhratang, we were eventually rewarded with a view of the impressive Paungda Danda, a stunning, smooth sheer rockface that curves around the surrounding landscape like the side of a bowl, rising over 1500m (4921ft.) from the river. According to our guidebook, locals refer to the impressive rock slab as Swarga Dwar, meaning gateway to heaven, and believe that spirits of the deceased must ascend the wall on their journey to heaven. It was not hard to see why locals would place such significance on such a stunning and imposing feature of the landscape.

Continuing along the road, we eventually crossed back to the south bank of the Marsyangdi, after which a steep trail of rocky switchbacks flattened at a small and welcome snack stall, roughly placed in the middle of nowhere. We enjoyed hot coffee and snacks before heading down the trail through forests of blue pine, passing by large groups of rock cairns and prayer flag en route to Dhukur Pokhari.

At the far end of Dhukur Pokhari, the trail splits, and it’s a bit difficult to tell at first which route to take, though some guidebooks should mention this split and you can also consult maps.me. The trail to the left takes the low route/road, heading to Lower Pisang (from which you can still continue to Upper Pisang) and the trail to the right climbs directly to Upper Pisang (also offering better views). Since we were heading to Upper Pisang, we took the trail to the right.

Crossing a suspension bridge back to the northeast side of the river, the hard-packed trail lead around the mountainside and through wide expanses of grasses and pine trees. It was amazing to think of the landscapes we had traversed in just the first five days of travel – from sub-tropical climes with terraced rice fields climbing the hillsides and the occasional palm-fringed waterfall – to bamboo forests and ferns – tall grasses, wildflowers, and rhododendrons – and finally pines as we climbed higher into the mountains. This is a good point to mention that I am no botanist and my tree and plant identification skills leave A LOT to be desired, but even so, it was amazing to watch the landscape change before us.

I was relieved when we finally rounded a corner and saw Upper Pisang (3310m/10,860ft.). Simple, rough stone homes and buildings composed the whole of the village, with small walkways leading through the maze of structures. We walked clockwise around the chorten at the base of the village and continued up to the very highest of the lodges along the mountainside – the Mt. Kailash Lodge.

Exposed to the brutally cold wind that whipped through Upper Pisang, the lodge was nice, but chilly. It was clear that it was fairly new and construction was still ongoing as they finished up a rooftop seating area and hauled in newly constructed wooden benches that would go in the outdoor patio areas. We spent our afternoon here in the dining room with a warm pot of tea.

Day 6: Upper Pisang to Manang

Approximate Trekking Time: 5 ½ – 6 ½ hours
Distance: 15.5k / 9.6 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3540m/11,614ft.

annapurna circuit day 6

We woke up very early to a dog barking incessantly at the top of his lungs from a rooftop nearby… what this barking was directed at, it was impossible to tell. This went on for quite some time, and we finally crawled out of our sleeping bags at 6am. Waking up to dogs barking – at any hour of the night or wee morning hours – is not uncommon. Bring earplugs.

Creeping outside in the early morning chill, we were rewarded with clear cloudless skies and amazing views of Annapurna II, IV, and III. We snapped photos on the newly completed rooftop, breakfasted, and “hit the road”, hiking the small pathways through the village and spinning the long row of prayer wheels on the way out of the village.

Heading out of Upper Pisang, we hiked along a gentle single-track trail along the north side of the valley, its easy undulating grades a good warmup for what was to come. There were amazing views of the Annapurna peaks at every turn, small villages resting in the shadows of the valley below.

Along the way we passed a number of structures, sometimes at every bend of the trail – chortens, small stupas with prayer flags radiating out in every direct, prayer wheels, and mani walls with stone tablets engraved with the “Om Mani Padme Hum” and other Tibetan scripture.

After weaving gently along the mountainside, we crossed over a bridge and began our ascent of a long series of steep switchbacks toward the village of Ghyaru. At times, I tried out some of the shortcuts between switchbacks, but these were too exhausting to really be timesavers, so I went back to the normal switchbacks, eventually meeting Shawn at a small snack stand (surprisingly labeled “hotel/restaurant”) that was not far from the end of the switchbacks. Here we enjoyed sweet fresh apples on the rooftop of the restaurant overlooking the amazing Himalayan views that had tempered the pain of the climb.

Back on the trail, at the top of the switchbacks we made a short detour to a small stupa that overlooked the route we had just climbed before continuing on through Ghyaru, each of its stone houses with a set of vertical prayer flags extending from the roof. An impressive wall of prayer wheels and a very old looking kani marked the end of the village, where I was briefly separated from Shawn as a large herd of goats came stomping around a corner and down the path, followed by their herder, “tsk..tsk..tsk”’ing them down the trail and up into the slopes.

We continued our hike along the ridge trail that hugged the mountainside, the path eventually becoming strewn in brittle broken rock shards and the brush along the trail dry and brown, clearly a region where the monsoon rains did not reach. Passing through Ngawal along the undulating dirt road, the landscape became more desolate, barren dirt ground replacing the grasses and weeds that had earlier carpeted the forest floor. The air became arid and dry.

After a checkpoint, we briefly rejoined a section of trail through the forest leading lower to the valley floor and closer to the river before eventually rejoining the road to Mungji, where we stopped at a small bakery for chocolate rolls before continuing on toward Manang.

Over the next mile or so (1-2km), the trail and road marched by wheat fields to the village of Bragha, which was spread out from the valley floor to homes, stupas, and other structures built up into the hillsides. While supposedly one of the more charming villages of the Annapurnas, we unfortunately did not take time to explore, excited to get to Manang, though have read that it’s worth poking around.

Just another 20-25 minutes down the road was Manang. Making our way (along the left) past chortens, mani walls with engraved stones, small stupas, a large stupa, wall of prayer wheels, and more chortens, we finally walked through a “Welcome to Manang” archway.

In Manang (3540m/11,614ft.) we got a room at the Yeti Hotel (mostly interested in their restaurant menu). We “splurged” (600 NRs.) on a room with an en suite bathroom. This initially was making the entire room smell like… bathroom… but after a bit of airing out this issue was solved.

In case you arrive at this point thinking to yourself, man I wish I brought a warmer jacket, Manang is the place to get that jacket. Several shops along the main street sell warm jackets, gloves, and hats, and as an added bonus, many shops have candy bars that are back to prices closer to what you might find in Kathmandu (code: stock up on Snickers here).

Also, if you’re in the mood for a movie, at least one restaurant/hotel shows a movie each afternoon at 5pm. While most of these are mountain themed (Into Thin Air, Everest, etc.), I also noticed that Blood Diamonds was on the list of potential films, which seemed strange.

Each day during trekking season, the Himalayan Rescue Association offers free daily lectures about altitude sickness, as well as the signs of HACE and HAPE. These short and organized lectures are certainly worth a listen as you head higher into the mountains, and take place in a small building behind the Hotel Nilgiri Bakery and Restaurant at 3pm each day. The foreign-staffed HRA also runs a small medical clinic and are available for consult. We found the talk well worth it and for a 100 NRs. donation, we had our oxygen level read before leaving. (Despite supposedly having a higher oxygen level in my blood, Shawn is kicking my butt when it comes to trekking speed!)

Manang is also a place where there are more food options on the menu, with yak meat options suddenly popping up everywhere. For dinner, Shawn indulged in a yak burger and fries while I tried the yak steak with mushroom rice and roasted potatoes. Happy tummies before heading off to sleep.

Day 7: Manang to Khangshar

Approximate Trekking Time: 1 ½ – 2 hrs.
Distance: 5.6k / 3.5 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3745m/12,287ft.

annapurna circuit day 7

It is recommended that you take an extra day (2 nights) in Manang to aid the altitude acclimatization process before heading toward the pass. However, many forego the second night, making a side trip out to Tilicho Tal, which serves the same function.

Depending on what books you read, Tilicho Tal is sometimes labeled as the highest (non-navigable) lake in the world… however, a Google search will reveal that there are a lot of categories for highest lakes in the world. I would worry less about this distinction and include the side-trip in your itinerary simply because it is absolutely stunning.

The trip to Tilicho Tal (and back to the main trail) takes from 2-4 days depending on how quickly you want/need to hike to include it in your itinerary. Since we had no set schedule for our trek, it didn’t much matter, so we decided to take a very easy first day, hiking only from Manang to Khangshar (1 ½-2 hours) so we could have a bit of a rest day.

A short day, we took our time leaving Manang, enjoying chocolate rolls and coffee for breakfast before heading out, and stopping at the safe drinking water station and checkpoint on the way out of the village.

Heading out of Manang, you eventually come to a split in the trail, wherein you can head northward toward Yak Kharka and Letdar, or westward toward Khangshar and Tilicho Tal. As a side/alternative trail, the Tilicho Tal route is marked with blue and white trail markers.

Taking the route toward Tilicho Tal and Khangshar, we trekked along the north bank of the river below, following trail and road, and eventually crossing a suspension bridge over the Jarsang Khola, just above its confluence with the Marsyangdi River. Just over the bridge, the trail climbed steeply along a mountain ridge. From the top of the steep ridge, the trail continued to climb more gently through the arid landscape of scrub grasses, bushes, and pines. The slopes along the opposite (south) bank of the river were covered in pine and deciduous trees, the latter variety having leaves of fall – burnt oranges and yellows.

Approaching Khangshar (3745m/12,287ft.), we went from trail to road to trail again, passing through an iron gate with the words “TO KHANGSHAR”. Following the trail, we passed people working in the wheat fields, pulling the wheat by hand and stacking it into bundles to carry into town where it would dry on the rooftops. The entrance kani atop a steep stone stairway was painted with spectacular intricate Buddhist scenes and mandalas. Beyond the archway, the village was eerily quiet, prayer flags lightly flapping in the wind, many of its inhabitants in the fields. Children ran and played in an open dirt space with a mostly deflated balloon. I helped a small boy zip up his jacket when he approached, struggling with the zipper.

Eventually, we were able to find a lodge owner and get a room at the Maya Hotel and Restaurant, where we relaxed in the courtyard and dining room all day and took nice hot gas showers. In the afternoon, a young boy, maybe 4 years old, entered the courtyard and, after finishing the small chocolate bar he had been given, turned his attention to us. I flipped through the few pictures in our guidebook with him, pointing out “mountain” for each one, which he perfectly repeated, eventually flipping through the pictures himself and saying “mountain” unprompted.  Later he was entertained by plucking a small stringed instrument that another trekker produced for entertainment.

Days on the trail develop a very simple schedule: wake, pack, eat breakfast, trek to destination, lunch (usually wait until we arrive at destination), shower, relax the remainder of the day with a warm pot of tea – reading, writing, playing cards, etc., eat dinner, and go to bed, usually sometime between 6:30-8pm. We often get anywhere from 9-12 hours of sleep, rising and retiring with the sun. It’s a simple but contenting schedule.

Day 8: Khangshar to Tilicho Tal Base Camp

Approximate Trekking Time: 3 – 4 hrs.
Distance: 8.9k / 5.5 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4140m/13,583ft.

annapurna circuit day 8

We woke again to the pitter patter of rain on the rocks outside of our room… not the sound we wanted to hear on a day with exposed trail sections that are not recommended in the rain. We lingered over breakfast, waiting as the rain eventually fizzled out before deciding to pack up our bags and head for the Tilicho Tal Base Camp, the closest lodging to the hike up to Tilicho Lake.

Climbing the trail through Khangshar, we followed signs for Tilicho Tal along the trail, which became more arid and barren the further we progressed, dry gravel and rock with scrubby juniper and alpine grasses, eventually climbing through Shree Kharka about an hour past Khangshar. The single-track trail continued climbing upward before descending to a suspension bridge, only to climb back up short steep switchbacks on the other side.

From the top of the switchbacks, the trail continued around the mountainside, eventually becoming very narrow, traversing along steep rocky scree slopes. Due to the unstable rocky slopes, this section of the trail is a potential risk for landslides and rock fall. Additionally, with narrow exposed trails, it is not recommended to travel over this portion of the trail through rain or snow. One of the guidebooks we read recommended that only “experienced hikers” make the trip out to Tilicho Tal due to this section of trail. While caution should certainly be exercised, overall we did not feel this section was as perilous as it was made out to be in the guidebooks and hope that hikers weren’t skipping the trip out to Tilicho Tal if they’d read this. Also, this section of the trail was really quite unique, with interesting rock formations jutting out of the slopes. Mostly flat to slightly downhill grades made for easy hiking along the slope as well.

This section turned a bit rockier as we rounded the mountainside and Tilicho Tal Base Camp (4140m/13,583ft.) came into view, sitting alongside a small stream at the foot of a rocky moraine. In the past, only one lodge was located here, but there are now three lodges operating. We stayed at the first one we came to, the New Tilicho Base Camp Hotel.

The hike from Khangshar had taken less than 3 ½ hours and we were at the lodge in time for lunch. Tilicho Tal Base Camp is one area where you will find that things are priced separately from the room price (showers, charging, Wi-Fi – all extra charges, see the logistics section). The lodges here also have electricity only in the dining room area, with no electricity in the rooms, so it’s important to make sure you have a headlamp along for nighttime (particularly late night trips to the bathroom). Once it’s dark, it’s dark. While I believe you could pay to charge something, it’s a good idea to make sure your camera or other devices are charged prior to arriving. Despite the remote location, the shower here (gas) was among the best along the circuit.

Day 9: Tilicho Tal Base Camp to Tilicho Tal & Return

Approximate Trekking Time: 4 – 5 hrs.
Distance: 17k / 10.6 miles (return)
Overnight Elevation: 4140m/13,583ft.

annapurna circuit day 9

Since all we planned to do for the day was make the trip up to Tilicho Tal and back (~4 hours), we decided we could “sleep in” a bit. But things rarely go according to plan and since we had a room on the lower level, instead we woke early listening to the travelers upstairs move furniture and run laps around their room. If you saw the size of the rooms, you would laugh because you could set all of your things within reach of your bed. Anyway, we were up early.

In the dining room, the porters were still hiding under thick blankets at the far end of the room near the wood fire stove. Over breakfast, it began to rain. UGH. We decided to wait a bit to see if it would clear, and lucky enough for us, it stopped around 8:30am. It’s not that we didn’t bring rain jackets or weren’t willing to hike in the rain, but when you’re hiking with limited clothing, it’s nice to keep it dry when possible.

The hike to Tilicho Tal is mostly a long uphill slog. With the Base Camp sitting around 13,600ft. (4140m) and the lake viewpoint at just over 16,400ft. (5005m), it’s nearly a 3,000ft. climb to the lake, which took roughly 2 ½ hours. The journey upward begins with switchbacks to climb out of the valley where the Base Camp lodges sit. From the top of the switchbacks, it’s a long steady uphill climb along the mountainside, now very dry and well above the tree line. We passed slopes of scrub brush and grass and others that were barren and rocky, landslide prone with no vegetation.

Winding our way around the mountainside we eventually reached another set of switchbacks, steeply snaking their way up the mountain. At the crest of the switchbacks the trail eventually widened and flattened. Lined by tall rock slabs, we followed the trail as it passed by a very sad, small, dark pond (that better not be Tilicho Tal!) en route to the gem we had made the long climb for, and it did not disappoint.

Climbing over a small cairn and prayer-flag strewn slope, the brilliant turquoise waters of Tilicho Tal came into view. Stunning, the waters appeared absolutely still, like they had been painted onto the landscape. A closer look revealed that there were actually tiny ripples lapping across the surface. We sat in awe, transfixed by the beauty of the lake, flanked on the western side by snowy peaks and icefall, an area marked on the map as “icefall”, and bordered on the eastern side by dry dull-brown dirt slopes, for which the map marked “danger of falling rocks”.

While enjoying the view, we heard the telltale crackle of an avalanche. It’s common to hear sounds of avalanches or rockfall high above on snowy peaks as you are hiking, though it’s typically very difficult to see where the sound is actually coming from. While we initially looked up to the slopes, it was actually a large chunk of the ice next to the lake that had cleaved off and broken into the water. The action made a much smaller ripple than would have been expected for such a large piece of ice.

After enjoying the view for awhile and taking some pictures, we made our way back down the trail to the Base Camp Hotel, where we planned to spend another night before continuing back to the main Annapurna Circuit trail.

Day 10: Tilicho Tal Base Camp to Letdar

Approximate Trekking Time: 5 ½ – 6 ½ hours
Distance: 17.7k / 11 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4200m/13,780ft.

annapurna circuit day 10

I woke up a lot last night, headlamp lights shining through our windows from trekkers en route to the squatter – the altitude sending them to the bathroom more often than they would like during the cold dark night – squatting next to the water bucket, trying not to touch a thing, lose their balance, or pee on their shoes or pant legs – or maybe that’s just me.

While our original plan had been that we would head back to Manang from the Tilicho Tal Base Camp, and then on to Letdar the next day, we heard several travelers mentioning that they were going to take another alternate trail that led directly toward Yak Kharka, a short cut option to avoid returning all the way to Manang. The alternate trail diverged from the trail that returned to Manang via Khangshar just beyond Shree Kharka, making its way around the mountain and through a valley to rejoin the Annapurna Circuit trail farther north of Manang.

We set out around 7am, retracing the route to Tilicho Tal through the rocky scree slopes. We quickly determined that this route had a lot more downhill (which was now UPHILL) than we remembered from the way out. We climbed through the landslide prone area, past the rock formations and up the stairs worn into the hard-packed sand, eventually making it to the switchbacks down to the suspension bridge and beyond to Shree Kharka.

Not far past Shree Kharka, we continued along the well-marked alternative trail toward Yak Kharka. It was nice to hike along a new section of trail rather than return via the same route we had come, and the trail was very nice, to boot. The first section of the trail was fairly level trekking through pines, brush, and wildflowers, eventually climbing through Old Khangshar, which had been mostly abandoned for the new settlement at the base of the hillside.

Beyond Old Khangshar, the trail continued to follow the mountainside, eventually climbing to a viewpoint along a spur at the south/east edge of the slope, marked by a rock cairn and prayer flags, before descending northward down the other side of the mountain through a partially shaded trail of steep switchbacks. This downhill section of the trail was beautiful, canopied with groves of birch and other trees with fiery yellow, orange, and red leaves. Sun filtered through the tree branches, splashing across the trail of burnt orange leaves that had already fallen from their branches and now crunched under our shoes.

Eventually, all of this downhill lead to a suspension bridge across the Jarsang/Thorung Khola, across from which enterprising individuals had set up a small restaurant and snack stall, obviously knowing that I was ready for a Snickers and willing to pay whatever it cost. I bought my most expensive Snickers along the circuit here: 170 NRs. I cringe when I think that I could have bought a good chunk of yak cheese for that same price, but didn’t think about it at the time. I ate my expensive Snickers and we trekked on.

From the restaurant, the trail climbed back upward and out of the valley, eventually climbing through rocky boulders to a flattened grass meadow of short bushes and rocks, across from which we climbed a short steep trail to rejoin the main circuit trail from Manang.

The main trail was busy with far more trekkers and porters than we had seen along the trails en route to Manang. Now that high season was upon us, more and more people had joined the trail. And, with roads as far as Manang, people are able to skip earlier sections of the circuit and join the trail further up the route.

From the point we joined the main trail, the walk into Yak Kharka was fairly easy, and if we’d have known better, we should have stopped here for the night rather than continuing on to Letdar. The hike thus far had already been quite tiring and Yak Kharka has a better overall ambiance as well as better facilities as far as the number of lodges, shower availability, and Wi-Fi access.

However, not knowing better, our goal for the day was Letdar, just another hour past Yak Kharka. This last hour was slow and crushing for me. The climb from Yak Kharka to Letdar was mostly gradual, though somehow seemed very difficult. Much of the hike was through a large open boulder-strewn meadow. Looking at the surrounding slopes, it was easy to see where the rocks had come from and I could pick out the next hundred boulders, hanging precipitously from the slopes, that would find their way to the pasture in due time. I was exhausted during this last hour, though did buy a VERY tasty apple at a hut along this section that was considerably mood lifting.

Picking our way past the rocks, the ground finally leveled and Letdar (4200m/13,780ft.) came into a view, a simple set of lodges just beyond a small suspension bridge. We found a room at the very first lodge, where the rooms were connected though designed to look like individual little cottages, situated around two edges of a large empty rectangular courtyard. Each room had its own bathroom with small squatter toilet. Nothing fancy, but this was very convenient for late night bathroom trips.

This was the only place we stayed that we didn’t manage to write down/remember the name of the lodge, but it was the first lodge upon the entrance to Letdar, just below the Snowland Lodge. No showers were available here, though you could purchase a bucket of hot water (while we never did this, we later heard from another trekker that they rather enjoyed their bathing experience with the steaming hot bucket of water). I believe Wi-Fi was available for a cost.

Letdar is fairly grim, as the village/lodging settings go, and as mentioned before, if we did it over again we’d opt to stop earlier in Yak Kharka and continue to Thorung Pedi from there.

Day 11: Letdar to Thorung Phedi

Approximate Trekking Time: 1 ½ – 2 hrs.
Distance: 4.8k / 3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4540m/14,895ft.

annapurna circuit day 11

A short day! We woke and packed just after 6am, ready to leave Letdar! Heading out of Letdar, we passed a group of yak grazing in the pastures. Yak Kharka actually means “yak pasture” and I’d expected to see more when passing through yesterday. Their hair was shorter than I’d remembered the shaggy beasts from movies, though it’s possible they had been recently sheered, or more likely – that they were a mixed yak-cow/bull breed.

While the morning air was chilly, we were soon removing warm layers as we climbed up and around a mountain ridge trail in and out of the sun. Hiking high above the east bank of the Kone Khola, the trail made gentle ascents and descents with steady flat sections, before eventually descending to a suspension bridge crossing to the west side of the valley.

For a bit, we were still surrounded by lush green bushes and grasses – even just above 14,000ft. (4,267m). Hiking at this elevation in Colorado, we would have been above everything. Here, at the heart of Nepal’s most well known and traversed trekking circuit, mountains still towered high above us in all directions, reaching another 1-5-10,000+ ft. (300-3000+ m) toward the heavens. We were hiking among giants, though at 14,000ft., seemingly still closer to the valley floor than the snow-capped peaks in the sky.

Continuing onwards and upwards, we eventually lost the vegetation and the landscape turned rocky, dusty, and dry. The trail became a thin ridge of shattered shale and other rocks, traversing a steep landslide-prone slope.

Soon enough, Thorung Phedi (4540m/14,895ft.) came into view and we made our way past a group of horses, wandering ownerless down the trail, to the small establishment that made up “base camp”, a simple mountainside abode of 2-3 lodges. Phedi, which translates to “foot of the hill” is a common Nepalese name for settlements at the foot of long climbs.

Arriving at around 9:30am, many trekkers coming through at this hour are continuing on for another hour to Thorung High Camp Hotel, a single lodge another hour, and 1000ft. (305m), up the trail. Some opt to continue on to “High Camp” because it makes their trek up and over the Thorung La (la = pass) the next day shorter. Still others, such as ourselves, opt to stay at Thorung Pedi for a lower sleeping altitude, less worried about the extra hour of trekking time to the pass. Often trekkers that stay in Yak Kharka go to Thorung Pedi and those that stay in Letdar go to High Camp. However, even though we stayed in Letdar, we weren’t interested in sleeping at nearly 16,000ft. (4877m), so opted to stop in Thorung Pedi.

Arriving before 10am did mean a very long day of sitting around though. So we did our usual, hanging out in the dining room all day reading, writing, talking to other travelers, and warming ourselves with a large pot of black tea – hydrating and peeing the day away. Shawn even won a couple of chess matches against a Venezuelan trekker and his guide.

For lunch, I opted for the daal bhaat for the first time along the entire trek, hoping the “daal bhaat power 24 hour” t-shirts sold in Kathmandu had some truth to them and the rice and lentils would power me over the pass the next day. I think mostly I just ended up with indigestion and had to take some gas-ex to unknot my stomach. :/  So much for that.

Day 12: Thorung Pedi to Ranipauwa via Thorung Pass

Approximate Trekking Time: 6 – 7 hrs.
Distance: 14.2k / 8.8 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3710m/12,172ft.

annapurna circuit day 12

We woke very early the next morning to the noise and headlamps of trekkers organizing themselves in the rain, preparing to start their ascents to the pass at 4:30 and 5:00am, which seemed ludicrous. Half of their ascent would be in the dark. While most guides push this early agenda, we opted for a more reasonable start time of first light and were staring up the trail around 6am.

While the rain had cleared, a thick dense fog still covered the valley… a first for our trip and not exactly the visibility we were desiring for the pass, where we hoped for amazing Himalayan views. The best we could do was hope it would burn off. As we set off, some groups still lingered in the dining room, deciding whether or not to head to the pass or wait until the next day, chancing for better weather and clearer skies.

Heading up the trail, the first section from Thorung Phedi to the High Camp Hotel was the toughest, the trail winding its way steeply up rocky switchbacks. While the rain was over, the fog that shrouded the slopes drizzled a light misty spray. About 45 minutes into our climb, the rocks surrounding the trail became dusted in a light snow – tiny tiny specks of which now fell from the sky.

Reaching the high camp, we ran into none other than our friends from Australia, just getting ready to start their trek up as well. The last place we had seen them was Tal – only our third day of the trek – which, coincidentally, was also the last time anyone had enjoyed a beer, something all of the guys were looking forward to at the end of the day.

Moving forward from high camp, the steepest part of the ascent was over, and what was left was a long, slow grind to the top/pass. The trail from here had plenty of gradual uphill, which I plodded through like a slow giant mammoth. There were also a few flatter bits, which were welcome, and not far from the high camp there was a steel bridge, beautifully dusted in snow (though also a bit slick with it). These were the highlights I remember: pretty bridge, long slow slog. There was also a small tea stall along the way above high camp where horses could be rented and we saw at least a few travelers saddling up to be lead over the pass.

While we had really hoped the sun would come out and burn off the fog by the time we reached the pass, the longer we hiked, the more evident it became that this wasn’t going to happen. And so… we continued hiking through the thin white veil. We eventually reached a set of prayer flags that supposedly cued you in that the pass was only about 15 minutes away.

What seemed closer to twice that amount of time later – over gradual ups and downs and curves – the pass came into view! A Thorung La Pass (5416m/17,769ft.) sign welcomed us to the pass, “Congratulation For The Success!”. While the air was still thick with fog, blocking any Himalayan views, it didn’t deteriorate the beauty of the scene and the energy of the moment – even a bit magical. With all the trekking we had done over the past 11 days – through a myriad of landscapes and temperatures – building up to this moment – here we were at the pass! In dense fog, snow covering the ground, the mass of prayer flags surrounding the Thorung La Pass sign encrusted in ice, frost, and snow – the whole scene was amazing. And it was cold.

Other than the Thorung La Pass sign with its mass of prayer flags, the Thorung La Pass is well known for the one other structure that makes it unique: the tea shop that sits atop the pass, a small stone building with stone benches along the front for porters and trekkers to set their loads/packs before entering to escape the cold. Which was exactly what we did. We added our packs to those in front of the building, lined with colorful trekking packs.

Ducking inside, a long table with two long benches against the walls comprised the majority of the space, and a small kitchen area for tea and a few other items for sale took up the remaining space. We squeezed in along the benches, excited to see others we had met along the circuit, including both Jamie and Isabel. The walls were covered in flags from countries around the world and a large blanket was pushed up against the wall at the far end of the table, no doubt where the teashop owner slept all season.

We ordered large cups of steaming black tea, enjoying them with our “summit Snickers” and cheers‘ing with everyone at the table. Everyone was happy despite the dreary fog of the day and nothing could bring down the spirits in the teahouse (other than maybe the realization that we’d have to leave the warm hut for the long hike down the other side of the pass!)

Eventually, warmed by the tea and ready to head on, we left the tea house. After hanging a string of prayer flags with the others near the sign and snapping a few more pictures in the cold, we started down.

Not far down the other side of the pass, the landscape quickly became dry and sparse – gravel and rock, with huge boulders plunked into the middle of it all. The mountains rising above us looked like those you might see in the deserts of Arizona or Utah. The trail continued descending into the fog and we made our way from one tall black rod to the next (rods set for navigation in low visibility). Eventually the dry landscape gave way to a very muddy, rocky downhill section – a maze of trails and switchbacks winding their way to Chabarbu, a small conglomeration of restaurant/lodges.

Beyond Chabarbu, the ground leveled off and it was a nice stroll through over rocky but flat trail, widening as we neared Muktinath, where we passed by the Buddhist and Hindu temples and shrines on the hilltop en route to the central town area of Ranipauwa.

In Ranipauwa (3710m/12,172ft.), we found a room at the Hotel Bob Marley, which we had sought out not only because of the Nepalese love for Bob Marley but also because we had heard it had good food. After taking hot showers, we tucked into huge yak burgers and fries that did not disappoint, and Shawn downed his first beer since Tal, a partially frozen Gorkha. Our Australian friends had arrived by that point and we all took stock of each other’s meals, deciding what our next feast would be.

Unfortunately for us, in our exhaustion, we took long naps that lasted through the dinner hour. Disappointed to have missed a dinner meal opportunity, I ended up ordering a delicious pizza for breakfast the next morning despite a laugh from the staff. Shawn’s chocolate pancake was literally covered in a thick layer of chocolate.

Day 13: Ranipauwa to Kagbeni

Approximate Trekking Time: 2- 3 hrs.
Distance: 9.3k / 5.8 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2800m/9,186ft.

annapurna circuit day 13

After our pizza and pancake breakfasts, we packed up and were on our way to Kagbeni. In hindsight, we should have made the hike back up to the Muktinath temple/shrine complex. An important pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists, we read that the religious site was certainly worth a visit, so make time to explore a bit before heading out of the area.

The day brought crystal clear skies and Nilgiri North was visible from our guesthouse balcony and for a bit on our walk along the road through Ranipauwa. Along the road, vendors had set up their stands – each selling identical wares – prayers beads, bracelets, necklaces, singing bowls, hats, gloves, yak-hair scarves, and other small trinkets. It was as if they had each purchased the same “Nepal Roadside Souvenir Stand Sale Kit” (all made in China). I kid, but it may be true… who knows.

We continued past the vendors and down the road (sadly back in the land of roads, and horns…) toward Jharkot. Here we took a side “Pilgrim Trail” through the village, passing by the kani and gompa (monastery) as it wound its way through small alleys and by homes with traditional flat roofs, where chopped wood and hay dried in the sun.

After our stroll through Jharkot, we rejoined the road. Due to new road construction, much of the route to Kagbeni is along the road. There is a long way to Kagbeni (via Purang and Jhong), which is supposedly very picturesque and beautiful, but about twice as long (~6-7hrs) as the shorter route, which involves a combination of road and trail. To access the longer route, head back up the road/trail to you came in on yesterday, back toward the Muktinah temple. Along the trail there is a sign toward Kagbeni, where this trail starts. Because we did not take this route we can’t verify it, so make sure to consult locals and maps to make sure of the route to Kagbeni from here.

For the shorter route, mostly via the road, if you didn’t stay on the main road through Jharkot, rejoin it here. The landscape on this side of the pass is starkly different from the south side of the pass, with similar scenery to deserts of the American southwest. The climate is dry with only scrubby short vegetation and many of the surrounding hills and mountains look like nothing more than giant piles of sand. It was a different kind of beauty.

We hiked along the dry dusty road through Khingar, which at one time had supposedly been lush with meadows and fruit trees; however, road construction has hidden much of this beauty. Reportedly, beyond Khingar, there should eventually be a trail that cuts down through the Jhong Valley; however, we never found an entrance to this trail. It may be worth inquiring with locals in Khingar regarding the trail route to Kagbeni.

In our haste to find a trail, we did for a short time join the wrong trail, thankfully righting ourselves before it veered toward Jomsom and away from Kagbeni. Entering Kagbeni (2800m/9,186ft.) via the road, we eventually were able to join up with the Annapurna Circuit trail markers at the south end of town.

While some travelers bypass Kagbeni, heading straight for Jomsom (where many end their circuit adventure), Kagbeni is one of the more atmospheric villages on the circuit, and definitely worth a stop. An oasis of lush green fields in the middle of an otherwise dry landscape, Kagbeni is the the unofficial entrance to the Mustang region, north of which special permits are needed for travel. Guesthouses and shops are tucked among narrow stone-paved alleys with close- packed homes, ancient stupas, a hillside gompa, and… the main attraction… a carved pre-Buddhist grandfather “meme” protector figure, complete with erect wooden phallus, including clay balls and yak hair pubes to complete the look. Worth searching out.

Among the stone alleyways is “Yac Donalds”, a stone guesthouse and restaurant, complete with red and yellow window and door trim, with interior décor to suit. While we originally stopped by merely to check out and take photos of the kitschy McDonalds imitation, upon further inspection, it had a bright dining room and bedrooms and with claims of hot showers (verified by another traveler, and later ourselves) and Wi-Fi, we decided to stay there as well. They also had a very good menu and Shawn took advantage of the opportunity to get a Yac Donalds burger meal deal (okay, it wasn’t called that, but it was a full burger meal with fries, and certainly a deal).

It’s also worth offering a word of warning here. I would not suggest ordering any local dishes unless you know exactly what you are getting into and are willing to eat whatever comes on the plate. I made a critical error here, ordering a local dish that mentioned yak and potato curry, which sounded delicious, and had some brief mention of buckwheat in the description. What arrived on my plate was huge blob of buckwheat, the consistency somewhere between a very thick oatmeal and paste, and a very small bowl of the yak and potato curry. Not a consistency that I could stomach, Shawn took one for the team and ate almost all of it, making the buckwheat slightly more palatable by spreading the curry over the top of it. Meanwhile, I ate his delicious clay-pot fired rice and yak meal (the same meal I’d eaten for lunch, which he was keen to try for dinner). Clearing our dishes, the cook came out, excited to ask whether we liked the local dish. Shawn obliged, telling him he thought it was very good. He then promptly ordered a beer as a reward to himself for finishing it. I promised I would never order a local dish again without knowing exactly what it was.

Day 14: Kagbeni to Marpha

Approximate Trekking Time: 3 ½ – 4 ½ hrs.
Distance:15.9k / 9.9 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2670m/8760ft.

annapurna circuit day 14

Like the route from Ranipauwa to Kagbeni, most of the trek to Jomsom is also along the road. There are some alternate routes to Jomsom, however not all can be joined from Kagbeni. For example the alternate route via Lubra/Lupra needs to be joined en route from Ranipauwa. In and around Jomsom there are several alternative trails you can choose en route to Syang or beyond to Marpha.

Following the small alleys southward through Kagbeni, the route to Jomsom eventually joined the low road along the mostly dried wide flat river bed of the Kali Gandaki before diverging onto a short section of dusty gravel trail that eventually rejoined the road.

Not far beyond Eklai Bhatti, we witnessed an amazing sight as an entire flock of around 50 goats was herded over a suspension bridge. We, as well as several other trekkers and bikers, stopped to watch the spectacle as the herder yelled from the back, urging the timid goats forward. Along the circuit I had sometimes wondered if there were weight limits on the suspension bridge, and how many trekkers should be on them at once; watching the herd of goats on the bridge largely dispelled all further thought on this subject. The bridges were obviously constructed to hold some weight.

We continued winding our way along the road, some of which went through the river bed, until reaching Jomsom. Here we first passed through Old Jomsom. Just before a footbridge, an Annapurna Circuit trail marker directs travelers to continue south along the south/east bank of the river. We chose to continue over the footbridge and through (new) Jomsom to another alternative trail through Syang.

Many people opt to end their Annapurna Circuit trek in Jomsom, and bus, jeep, or fly back to Pokhara or Kathmandu from here, having heard that the back/western half of the circuit is no longer worth the hike due to increasing road construction. While there are several road sections on the western portion of the circuit, there are also many alternative trails and we found the western half of the circuit to be well worth the journey. There are many interesting and beautiful side trails and, with fewer travelers, we would often hike all day without seeing other trekkers but still have company in the lodges in the evenings – including other circuit trekkers as well as some heading northward for adventures in Mustang or other regions.

Toward the southern end of Jomsom, we followed a sign for the alternative trail toward Marpha. This route began by climbing high above Jomsom to a small yellow temple before continuing southwestward toward Syang. The dusty trail was lined by rocks leading us northward for a bit before descending into the Syang river valley via a series of steep switchbacks.

The wide riverbed was rocky, the black earth cracked like hardened lava in some areas and sooty like fine ash in others. The river itself was no more than a few feet wide and we hopped across the water on rocks en route to the western side of the riverbed, where we climbed back up out of the valley and into the village of Syang.

Syang was eerily quiet – deserted even. Upon entering, I saw one man carrying a load of wheat on his back disappear into a building, and not far down the road a small boy greeted us with a friendly “Namaste”. Other than these two, and a solitary cow chewing on a scrap of cardboard, we neither saw or heard another living soul in the village. The roads were quiet, the houses and buildings shut, and a wicker basket used for hauling loads on ones back rolled empty in the breeze of the small valley, like a tumble weed through a ghost town of the wild west. It’s possible that the upper portion of the village here is no longer used in favor of the lower portion along the road and river valley below. Or it’s possible that everyone saw us coming and simply hid in their homes until we had passed through.

At the south end of the village, we continued along a trail that followed the road from above. The dusty trail followed along the mountainside, some sections strewn with brittle crushed shale and other rock, and others sandy. Eventually the trail descended into the Pongkyu Khola river valley, rejoining the road. Here we crossed a small wooden bridge and veered right off the road toward Marpha (2670m/8760ft.).

One of the best qualities about Marpha is that the road runs outside of the town and not through it. Built up into the mountainside with small alleyways, the town is peaceful and quiet. Walking in from the road, you see the tiers of housing climbing the mountainside, chopped wood, hay, and grains drying atop each rooftop, where white prayer flags flapped in the breeze.

In the center of town, climbing into the sky, is the Samtenling Gompa, posted atop a long staircase of prayer wheels. Inside the complex, a small boy jumped with all his might to reach every last light switch to illuminate the main temple for us, the walls of which were painted brightly with scenes of the Buddha, Boddhitsavas, and other symbolic imagery.

Though we ate lunch at the Dhaulagiri Lodge, after annoyances with a number of things here, including the large number of flies in the common areas, we decided to stay at another lodge. We stayed at the Hotel Tanpopo, where we had an amazing en suite hot shower and bright clean room. This hotel also had a very nice glassed in patio in the back, overlooking the trees, flowers, and fields that fill the space between Marpha and the road.

Day 15: Marpha to Larjung

Approximate Trekking Time: 3 – 3 ½ hrs.
Distance: 11.7k / 7.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2550m/8366ft.

annapurna circuit day 15

Heading south out of Marpha through the southern entrance/exit kani, we rejoined the muddy road, wet with last night’s rain, eventually detouring onto an alternative trail that would take us through the villages of Chhairo and Chimang.

The path through Chhairo, a Tibetan refugee settlement, was one of inlaid stones with water flowing in ditches along (and sometimes under) the path. The trail skirted the small settlement, passing by the Chhairo Gompa (under reconstruction) and down a path flanked on both sides by corn fields and apple orchards. This path eventually came to a T, where we took the high route (left) toward Chimang. The low route heads directly toward Tukeche.

The trail to Chimang was a beautiful path through pines and past an open grass meadow in the shadow of a large flat rockface. Beyond the meadow, the trail ascended switchbacks of rocky steps, eventually leveling along the top of the slope where it became a narrow path of large stone slabs that a ditch of water flowed beneath. Once again, the trail meandered past fields of corn, apple trees, and cabbages, finally reaching a chorten at the entrance of the village.

Here we climbed up wooden ladders into the village (the main gate closed due to some construction behind it). Like many of the villages we’d passed through, the stone homes were painted white, with dark red doorways and window trim. Several villages washed their clothes in the water that ran below the stone slabs, and a small girl ran to the doorway when she spotted us, “NAMASTE!” she called. In less than five minutes walk, we had come to the end of the village.

From here, we descended the other side of the slope down a wide trail/road through pines that eventually deposited us along the banks of a rushing river. Two logs had been laid across the river at an uphill incline. Shawn made walking across them look easy, though when I had my go, I ended up crawling across them –not so suave.

Across the river, we walked down the rocky river bank until it again became trail, eventually leading us to a suspension bridge over the Kali Gandaki. Crossing over, we walked along the road for 30 minutes to Tukeche, a large welcome gate greeting us at the north end of town. Here, we stopped into a “Dutch bakery” for a chocolate croissants and coffee before continuing through town past stone-fenced fields, homes, and a memorial stupa, and along the road to Larjung.

The road to Larjung followed the river in the valley below, pines covering the mountains above. Walking first through the village of Kobang, here the road wide and muddy, we eventually turned off the road on a stone paved trail lined by stone fences and fields leading into Larjung.

Larjung (2550m/8366ft.) was very quiet, most of its buildings or shops silent or closed. At the south end of Larjung, we found a room at the Larjung Lodge. While several others we’d met earlier on the circuit had stopped at the lodge for lunch, the afternoon and evening hours were quiet with only ourselves and one other older gentleman staying the night. The rooms were small and simple with very short doorways like small hobbit doors. Being short and not accustomed to having to duck for doorways, I knocked my head on the door to the room more than once.

Here, Shawn ordered the BIG pot of black tea, since it was so cheap (250 NRs.), and we worked our way through it all afternoon… into evening… with dinner… and post-dinner burned popcorn… and I still don’t think the pot was empty when we went to bed.

Day 16: Larjung to Ghasa

Approximate Trekking Time: 4 ½ – 5 ½ hrs.
Distance: 15.9k / 9.9 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2010m/6595ft.

annapurna circuit day 16

Ahhh, the sounds of morning in Nepal… twittering birds, barking dogs, throat clearing, spitting, and loogie hawking. Leaving Larjung, we followed the road, curving through pine forest around the wide river valleys of the Kali Gandaki and a side tributary. Depending on the season, there are supposedly sometimes temporary bridges set up, creating shortcuts through the floodplain, though we never found any bridges or suitable places to skip across on rocks, so we stuck to the road.

The road followed the Kali Gandaki, its small streams fanning out in all directions across the wide riverbed, until finally crossing the river over a suspension bridge to the east bank where a wide trail lead past grazing cows and through the village of Kokhethanti.

Beyond Kokhethanti, we followed signs for Titi Lake up a jeep trail and steep switchbacks shortcutting the trail. After 45 minutes, the wide jeep trail continued to the lively village of Titigaon – bustling with activity. Villagers washed clothes, hauled harvest bundles, laid grains and hay to dry on rooftops, and children ran through the village, some playing in small dark pond toward the end of the village – the position of which seemed poised to contain a lot of livestock feces. But, one small boy seemed very happy to be rowing a giant log into the mud brown waters.

Just past the village, we eventually came to Titi Lake. If we’d been expecting anything like Tilicho Lake, we’d have been sorely disappointed. The lake was actually much more of a swamp and sat far below the trail, a giant marsh of tall grasses, scum, and mostly brown water. An important habitat, no doubt, but not the type of lake you might have imagined taking a refreshing mid-morning swim in. Nevertheless, the trek to the lake was worth it, and the views of Nilgiri and Annapurna ahead, and Dhaulagiri behind, were spectacular.

Following the wide trail along the large lake and beyond, we eventually came to a ridge with three chortens. Along the ridge, we shortcut through a rocky path before eventually emerging onto a tree-lined tractor road that we followed down to the valley and through the village of Konjo. Further down the path, the village of Chhayo was also very active with midmorning activities: laundry, bathing, and fieldwork. Livestock herded itself through the villages among roaming chickens and children.

Walking through Chhayo, we initially turned left at a T, heading in the direction of a sloppy sign reading “Tatopani”. We hiked southward along this trail for awhile, a beautiful section of trail shaded in trees along a wide floodplain, before determining that we needed to backtrack to cross over the Kali Gandaki before continuing south. Making our way back through Chhayo, we continued northward to a bridge crossing over the Kali Gandaki.

Crossing over the river, we headed south, hiking along the road for the remaining trek to Ghasa, though it is possible to avoid much of the road along a trail through the forest above the west side of the road, shown/mentioned in maps/guidebooks. The road was muddy and rocky, surrounded by pines, grasses, and wildflowers along its slopes, and while the occasional bus, jeep, motor scooter, or mountain bike passed us by, it was mostly quiet.

Ghasa (2010m/6595ft.) is a rather large village, with several lodging options stretching from north to south. We opted to stay at the Eagles Nest Guesthouse, south of the village, where we had a nice en suite room with hot shower. The pleasant courtyard was also nice while the sun was shining.

Day 17: Ghasa to Tatopani

Approximate Trekking Time: 4 – 5 hrs.
Distance: 15.8k / 9.8 miles
Overnight Elevation: 1200m/3937ft.

annapurna circuit day 17

Today was an easy hike- both the hike itself as well as the route. Just south of the Eagle’s Nest Guesthouse, we crossed a suspension bridge over the Kali Gandaki to an alternate trail that followed the east bank of the river nearly all the way to Tatopani, sometimes following right along the river, others high above it, but always we could hear the rush of the river.

After walking through barren and desert-like landscapes after the pass, then eventually through pine forests, we had now made it back to denser vegetation, with many species of trees, plants, tall grasses, and flowers hugging the trails, and with them a symphony of insects – cicadas, crickets, and others – in some areas so loud that they nearly drown out the rushing rapids of the river.

The first 2 ½ hours or so along the trail took us up and down rough stone stops – some more step-like and others more just piles of stones to pick our way up and down. The route took us through a number of small villages, most simple and without the typical signs of tourism – no lodges or shops – only people going about daily life, herding cows, having their haircut, or sitting on their stoop watching the day go by.

The trail passed a number of waterfalls threading their way down the mountainsides both on our own side of the valley, where we stepped gingerly across stones through the streams and pools, and along the far side of the valley. One home had left a small gap in the row of tall flowers planted along a fence along the ridge, leaving a perfect viewpoint to a beautiful waterfall on the opposite side of the valley.

The last couple hours of the trek flattened out more, a stroll along the river with only gentle climbs and descents, before crossing a bridge to the road on the other side of the valley about a mile (1-2km) before Tatopani. While I think it was possible to take the trail a bit further south toward Tatopani, it was actually quite nice to cross to the other side of the valley, as now we could see the scenery along the trail we had just been walking – long streaming waterfalls, terraced fields, scattered homes along the mountainsides, and a snowcapped peak behind us to the north.

Approaching Tatopani (1200m/3937ft.), the path through the village diverged from the road, which continued along the river, the village set on the hillside above. Here, we found a room at the Dhaulagiri Lodge where, in addition to an extensive menu, had a great courtyard and was situated directly above the hot springs the village was named for. The shower here, on the other hand, was definitely not hot or even lukewarm, but a very frigid ice cold. When we asked about hot showers upon arrival, the owner said “we have hottest hot springs. Why you need hot shower?” Fair enough.

Tatopani literally means “hot water” (tato = hot, pani = water) and the town was named so for its hot springs. Situated just below our guesthouse, we soon made a visit to soak our weary legs. While there are two pools, they are alternated so that only one is in use at any given time. Unlike the hot spring in Chame, the large shallow pool here was PIPING hot, so much so that you could only soak for a bit before climbing out to sit along the edge. We wiled away an hour or more talking to other trekkers as we alternated from soaking in the water and sitting along the edge of the pool. This was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon before tomorrow’s killer climb to Ghorepani!

Day 18: Tatopani to Ghorepani

Approximate Trekking Time: 5 – 6 hrs.
Distance:15.3k / 9.5 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2870m/9416ft.

annapurna circuit day 18

Ghorepani means “horse water”, named so because travelers would stop along this pass to water their horses before continuing along their journey. I pity the horses that had to make this climb.

Today’s trek was a long and arduous one, 17km and roughly 1700m (5577ft.) ascent, more than any other day on the circuit. Not too far down the road from Tatopani, we crossed a suspension bridge over the Kali Gandaki and then another over the Ghar Khola. The rest of the day can be summarized by, we went UP, UP, UP… a climb of relentless stone staircases, steep uphill trail, and crumbled rock pathways.

The first section of uphill included rock staircases that crisscrossed uphill road switchbacks, eventually leaving the road to to climb a long staircase to a rocky prominence called Durbin Danda. From this spur, you could view the entire valley you were about to climb through – the lush green mountainsides, the terraced fields, and the small villages and homes perched along the mountainsides, dotting the valley.

The trail continued on – uphill trails, seemingly endless staircases, and punishing rocky ascents, punctuated by very short bits of flat or downhill, but nearly always climbing. The day was warm and we were back to jungle humidity. Everything was lush and green, the hillsides covered in trees draped in vines, palm fronds, fruit trees, plants, grasses, flowers, and mosses.

Passing through Ghara, we continued upwards through Shikkha and Chitre. From Chitre, it’s approximately an hour to Ghorepani. This last hour is completely and utterly demoralizing as you make your way up seemingly unending steep rocky pathways. No longer semblances of organized stone steps, the trail is covered in crushed rocks and eroded ditches, rising through forests of magnolia and rhododendron (beautiful if you can look past your exhaustion). Slowly plodding to the top, your heart sinks each time you round a curve, only to see more and more rocky uphill.

Finally, we could see a manmade structure uphill. Ascending toward it, the bright yellow archway read “Welcome to Ghorepani”!!! Yay! We made it! BUT NOT QUITE. Beyond the archway and a couple of teaser buildings, a sign delivered the final sucker punch, informing us that Ghorepani was situated another 15+ minutes uphill. UGH.

We climbed the final staircases into Ghorepani (2870m/9416ft.), exhausted, and found a room at the Snow View Lodge, where we immediately collapsed onto our beds. While other travelers here said the showers in their rooms were nice and hot, ours were luke-cold, so we apparently drew the short end of the stick. Otherwise, the guesthouse was nice and in a good location to head up Poon Hill the next day.

In the afternoon, we rewarded ourselves with the first “Snickers Roll” that we had tried on the trip. Basically, a Snickers bar that is wrapped in dough and deep fried. These are also made with Mars bars and had been available at nearly every lodge along the trail. NOW was the time to try one out. It was delicious with gooey Snickers on the inside. Probably best that we hadn’t tried them until nearly our last day on the trail!

Day 19: Ghorepani to Naya Pul

Approximate Trekking Time: 5 ½ – 6 ½ hrs.
Distance: 20.6k / 12.8 miles (inc Poon Hill)
Overnight Elevation: NA (continue on to Pokhara)

annapurna circuit day 19

Our last day on the Circuit began with a very early morning hike up Poon Hill to watch the sunrise over the massive Himalayan giants, a trip that made the long climb to Ghorepani worth every step. Leaving our guesthouse around 5am, we joined the throngs of trekkers that were making their way up Poon Hill. If you don’t know where you’re going, just follow the headlamps!

After the first 10 minutes or so, which climb past some of the higher up lodges, we reached a ticket booth, where we paid 50 NRs/person for entrance. Beyond this we continued upward in a long, slow cue of trekkers walking the stairway to the top, finding opportunities to zig and zag around slower hikers where possible. The trip the top takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on your speed (or the number of people you get stuck behind).

After 30-40 minutes of climbing, we reached the top. The sun’s first light already casting a dull glow over the mountains and hilltops to the east, the haze of the cloud layer we stood above softening the light. To the north, the peaks of the massive Annapurnas and other Himalayan wonders were in clear view. After weeks of skirting the Himal ranges, sometimes getting amazing views and sometimes little more than glimpses of snow covered peaks through swaths of cloud cover or fog, here they were, all of the peaks lined up before us at the top of Poon Hill.

The top of Poon Hill holds a tall lookout tower, small tea-shack, and the best view of the Himalayas on the entire Annapurna Circuit. A labeled panoramic picture below the lookout tower shows the mountains that you can see from Poon Hill. From left to right (looking northwards), these include: Gurja Peak, Dhaulagiris IV, V, III, II, Dhaulagiri, Tukche Peak, Dhampus Peak, Nilgiri, Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Gangapurna, and Machhapuchhre.

The most massive peaks on the horizon are Annapurna I and Annapurna South. While Annapurna I (8091m/26,545ft.) is the highest of those listed above, from our vantage point on Poon Hill, Annapurna South (7219m/23,684ft.) towered above them all. Each peak on the horizon has its stories – summit attempts, conquests, death – successes and sorrows. And a good slew of these tales can be picked up in the bookshops in Pokhara and Kathmandu.

After getting our fill of the stupendous views, we made our way back down the trail to our guesthouse, packed, breakfasted, and hit the trail for our final trek into Naya Pul. If the trek uphill to Ghorepani was demoralizing, the corresponding descent into Naya Pul on the other side of the pass was equally so.

The first bit of the trail was pretty, descending through the hillsides past waterfalls and over streams on hard-packed dirt and rocky shaded trails. However, eventually the route became seemingly endless stone steps – some shaped into steps better than others. Some a more haphazard arrangement of stones, allowing the trekker to pick and choose their own way down the path. Short and tall stones; wide and narrow; straight, angled, curved. There were so many choices to break your ankle. While Shawn bounded down the path, I gingerly selected each step, each of us attempting to save our legs/knees in our own way.

The steps continued on-and-on through small villages and groupings of restaurants, lodges, and snack stalls – through beating sun and rarely shade – over bridge, river, and waterfall. All and all, there is claimed to be over 3300 steps from around Ulleri to just past Tikhedhungga, where we took a break to drain sugary sodas and our water bottles.

Not far past Tikhedhungga, the steps ended and the trail became paved with stone, surrounded by terraced fields. This beautiful path eventually gave way, dumping us onto a jeep road, an enterprising restaurant and jeep at the ready for weary travelers: “jeep to Pokhara?”

We continued down the road, a hot and painfully rocky path to the end. Other than a few small trail sections that skirted the road, the remainder of our trip to Naya Pul was along the road, though it was a pretty stroll among farmland, river, and mountains.

Eventually, we reached Birethanti, a nice village that had the last ACAP checkpost on the circuit (or first, if you’re trekking clockwise). We got the last stamps on our permits, crossed the steel bridge over the Madi Khola, and continued up the road to Naya Pul.

Naya Pul is mostly a bazaar, with a long street of shops. Walking to the far end of town, you will find taxis lined up atop the hill. We negotiated a ride to Pokhara for 1800 NRs, unwilling to face a bus ride on such a long day. Buses to Pokhara are also available from Naya Pul.

Pokhara is a great place to relax post-trek, and we stayed for three days before making our return to Kathmandu. Guesthouse owners or travel agencies can help to arrange buses or flights back to Kathmandu or other destinations. Many travelers also continue further southward to Chitwan National Park or Lumbini.

LOGISTICS

Trail Permits
Trekking the Annapurna Circuit requires a Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) card and an Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit. These can both be acquired at the Tourist Information Center (see map below). Costs for these permits were 2000 NRs. each at the time of writing

nepal tourism board map

Money
Estimate around $25 per day per person. At the lower elevations you can spend far less on most days, but at the higher elevations, as things get more expensive (see below), you will come in closer to this estimate. During the time of travel, the exchange rate was approximately $1=105 Rs, but check for current rates.

BE SURE to bring ALL the money you will need with you. There are no ATMs along the circuit until Jomsom, so get your cash in Kathmandu or Pokhara before heading to the circuit. This will be a HUGE stack of bills you’re carrying so be smart about concealing your money and don’t pull out a wallet with the whole bank. Keep a small money wallet with what you need for the day handy and keep the rest put away safely.

Prices will vary by local, season, and elevation. While we listed prices for a few things throughout, note that they may very well change.

Prices generally get higher with elevation and seclusion. Beyond Manang (beyond road access), prices will rise because all goods must be brought in via horse/donkey/yak or porters. This will also hold true for side excursions that do not have road access (such as Tilicho Tal).

If you are inclined to want to buy a lot of snacks and beer along the trip, you may want to budget a bit more to give yourself more wiggle room, as these snacks will also increase in price with elevation. To keep snack prices down, it’s not a bad idea to bring a bulk of granola bars or candy bars along from Kathmandu or Pokhara, where the prices are much cheaper.

At the time of writing, most lodges along the Annapurna Circuit charged a “flat fee” for staying that included any use of charging, Wi-Fi, showers, etc., with the exception of a few lodges at the higher elevations or more remote locations such as Letdar, Thorung Base Camp and High Camp, and Tilicho Tal. These lodges had separate charges for showers, charging devices, and Wi-Fi. It’s possible that the entire circuit could move to this system of separate charges in the future, so research and check locally before setting off, as this may affect the amount of money you carry.

You will pay for everything at once when you check out of the lodge before leaving in the morning. Be sure to check over your receipt and make sure no extras crept onto the ticket (maybe accidently from another room). We generally did not have much of an issue with this other than a pot of tea here or there that we never received, but it’s always good to check through your bill.

Lodging & Food
When it comes to selecting a lodge, feel free to look around. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking to see a room or even feel that the shower water is hot if this is important to you. Some rooms will have charging outlets and some won’t. Almost everywhere will claim they have Wi-Fi, but be sure to ask that it works. Sometimes you will be told a place has Wi-Fi, only to settle in and find out that “it’s not working right now”. So, if you really want Wi-Fi at a particular stop, be sure to ask if it works. Even when Wi-Fi does work, it is most often painfully slow. Remember you are on a trek in one of the poorest nations in the world, take everything in stride, and just enjoy your surroundings!

You can generally tell a lot about the lodge from the exterior. We typically began our lodge selection by looking for a lodge that seemed structurally sound (or as best an option possible). If the entire building is made of tin, it’s probably a good sign that there isn’t a hot shower (not always true). Again, it’s completely acceptable to look around before agreeing to stay somewhere.

Upstairs rooms are best if there are multiple levels, as in downstairs rooms you will hear all the footsteps of those above you. Walls between the rooms are also typically pretty thin (often just a sheet of plywood), so earplugs are handy if you don’t want to hear every conversation, cough, and snore of your neighbors (or roommate 😉 ).

Insofar as showers go, most are heated by either solar or gas units. There may have been some heated by electricity, but I cannot remember any. Some of the solar units work really well and some don’t seem to work at all (you can often tell by the quality of the solar panel if you can see it). Of course, the solar unit performance will also depend on the amount of cloud cover. For the solar units, the best time of the day to take a shower is generally 2-3pm-ish. A good gas shower will typically ensure that you have a nice hot shower, though is more resource heavy (if concerned with eco-friendly travel).

Many lodges will actually provide your room for free as long as you eat dinner and breakfast at their lodge, as food is where they make the most money. It’s also more likely to get your room for free when you are among the first trekkers to arrive, as lodge owners scramble to get travelers in their lodges early to attract additional travelers later. If not free, rooms will range anywhere from 100-400 Rs. (possibly more at some locations in Manang), though are almost always negotiable.

While in the past lodge food may have been limited to mostly daal bhaat, all of the menus along the circuit now are pretty extensive, with rice, pasta, potato, curry, momo, soup, and other options, as well as many bread, egg, porridge, and muesli options for breakfast. The menus are pretty much identical along the trail, with a few places offering up some local options or additional meat options (while some chicken was available on nearly every menu, yak options start showing up around Manang and on the far side of the pass).

Daal bhaat is a traditional Nepalese dish of lentils (daal, usually in a soup form) and rice (bhaat), which typically also includes a side of some cooked mixed vegetables. If you are very hungry, it is often the best bang for your buck as it comes with refills of at least the rice and the lentils, and sometime the side greens/vegetables. While the same two basic ingredients are used in the dish, since everyone makes the lentil soup differently and the side veggie dish varies, no two daal bhaat dishes are the same. Same same but different! Try it everywhere! There is also often a non-veg daal bhaat option, where the side dish will include some meat.

Try the Yak cheese! This is available once you start getting to yak territory… Manang, Yak Kharka, Letdar, and all locations on the other side of the pass. Goes great with bread or crackers

Water
Bottled water can be purchased at all lodges, restaurants, and shops.

To avoid plastic waste, bring a reusable bottle to fill at the safe water drinking stations (available in many of the villages from Tal and beyond), or fill with non-potable water and treat with iodine tablets, Steripen, or other water purification method.

Weather
You can technically make this trek nearly year-round, however, during the winter months many of the lodges will be closed, so you’d want to check the accommodation situation in advance if you are interested in trekking in the off-season. The best trekking months in the region are October, November, May and April (reportedly in that order).

Our trek began on September 25 (2016) and ended on October 13. While we took a chance starting before the generally estimated “end” of monsoon season (October 1), we had amazing weather for the entire trek. While we heard rain on our rooftops several nights, and it sometimes lasted into the early morning, we never had to trek in the rain. Nearly all of our days were crisp, clear, and beautiful.

The length of the monsoon season will vary every year and it can sometimes last weeks into October. Because most need to plan their trips well in advance, there is little you can do but plan to bring a raincoat.

Temperatures vary from sweltering hot and humid during the day at the lower elevations to quite cold at the higher elevations. I’m not going to put numbers on these, but we have recommended layers to bring along in the packing section.

Typically clouds move in by early afternoon so your best views for the day are in the morning.

Navigation
The Annapurna Circuit trail is marked by red and white trail markers, while alternative trails are marked by blue and white trail markers.

For maps, unless you bring one that you picked up back home., the best option to pick up in Kathmandu or Pokhara is the NEPA Maps series “Around Annapurna / Marsyangdi, Thorung Pass, Kali Gandaki” (NA504). The trekking map 500 series 1:100,000 scale will include the entire circuit. These maps can be found throughout Thamel at book and paper stores.

In addition to bringing a map and a good guidebook (some people carried more than one guidebook for more comprehensive information), it’s a good idea to download an offline maps program, such as maps.me, which also showed most major trails and can help to check directions.

Guides & Porters
The choice to hire a guide and/or porter is completely individual. If you are an avid hiker, can read a map and guidebook, follow/find trail signs and markers, and have a general sense of direction and some common sense, you do not need a guide to complete the Annapurna Circuit. The route is mostly well marked and fairly straightforward and you are never very far from the next village. All of this said, there are pros and cons to hiring guides and porters.

PROs for hiring a guide: takes the “thinking” out of the travel, learn more about the landscapes and villages you are traveling through (hopefully, if you have a good guide), receive personal service and support, support the local economy, communities, and individuals.

CONS for hiring a guide: you will typically be set to a schedule, guides usually decide the lodging selections….

We noticed that guides are typically very clingy around their groups even once they have arrived at their destinations. From their perspective, they are hired to serve you and want to be nearby for anything that you might need. From a more western, independent perspective, it can sometimes be perceived as overbearing. On the whole, other than a few sour stories, we found that most groups and individuals enjoyed the company of their guides, even in the evening hours, and they were often taken in as one of the family, playing cards and hanging out with their clients. There is less of an expectation for porters to hang out like this, though we did notice that some provided more service (beyond merely carrying bags) to their groups than others.

A decision to hire porters is fairly straightforward… do you want to carry your own pack or not? See our packing list for what you need, throw it in a bag, and determine if you want to carry that around for 3 weeks or not. We did notice that some porters played the role of guide as well, directing their clients to specific lodges. While this might be fine, depending on your preferences, be clear upfront with your expectations about making these decisions and who is controlling these decisions

As with anything, if you decide to hire a guide, porter, or both, make sure to do your research. Because we did not choose to hire either, we cannot provide any specific tips for this aspect of the travel. There are countless travel agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara through which these services can be hired. Make sure to ask a lot of questions and meet the guide and porter beforehand if at all possible.

Packing List

Depending on what route you take, the Annapurna Circuit is about 160 miles long. Keep that number in mind when deciding what to pack!  Your pack will definitely feel heavier as the days go on and the elevation increases. Keep it light and nimble!

Here is Shawn’s exact Annapurna Circuit packing list as an example.

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