Annapurna Circuit Trekking in Nepal
Annapurna Circuit Trekking in Nepal: The Annapurna Circuit is a trek within the mountain ranges of central Nepal. The total length of the route varies between 160–230 km (100-145 mi), depending on where motor transportation is used and where the trek is ended. This trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. The path reaches its highest point at Thorung La pass (5416m/17769 ft), touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Practically all trekkers hike the route anticlockwise, as this way the daily altitude gain is slower, and crossing the high Thorong La pass is easier and safer.
In addition to the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Annapurna Seven Passes Trek or Annapurna Seven Hills trek is also popular in the region. However, this is less traversed and is off the beaten path trek in the region.
The mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna, Tilicho Peak, Pisang Peak, and Paungda Danda. Numerous other peaks of 6000-8000m in elevation rise from the Annapurna range.
The trek begins at Besisahar or Bhulbhule in the Marshyangdi river valley and concludes in the Kali Gandaki Gorge. Besisahar can be reached after a seven-hour drive from Kathmandu. The trail passes along paddy fields and into subtropical forests, several waterfalls and gigantic cliffs, and various villages.
Annapurna Circuit has often been voted as the best long-distance trek in the world, as it combined, in its old full form, a wide variety of climate zones from tropics at 600 m asl to the arctic at 5416 m asl at the Thorong La pass and cultural variety from Hindu villages at the low foothills to the Tibetan culture of Manang Valley and lower Mustang. Continuing construction of a road has shortened the trail and changed the villages. The Beisahar-Manag road has been built which passes through the trekking trail most of the time. With the construction of the road, mountain biking is becoming popular, with Mustang, in particular, becoming one of the world’s most popular mountain biking destinations.
Standard trek duration of Annapurna Circuit:
The Annapurna Base Circuit trek usually takes about 15–20 days, leaving from Kathmandu with a stopover in Pokhara before returning to the capital. The trail is moderate to fairly challenging and makes numerous river crossings over steel and wooden suspension bridges. Tea houses and lodges along the circuit are available for meals and accommodations. Some groups may opt for tents but these are typically only used for side trips away from lodges such as climbing a peak.
Paungda Danda and Marsyangdi river valley near Pisang
Day 01 – From Kathmandu, travel west to Besisahar [820m/2690 ft] via private vehicle or public bus, taking six to seven hours.
Day 02 – Trek to Khudi [790m/2592 ft]
Day 03 – Trek to Bahundanda [1310m/4298 ft]
Day 04 – Trek to Jagat [1290m/4232 ft]
Day 05 – Trek to Dharapani [1920m/6299 ft]
Day 06 – Trek to Chame [2630m/8629 ft]
Day 07 – Trek to Upper/Lower Pisang [3190m/10466 ft]
Day 08 – Trek to Manang [3520m/11549 ft]
Day 09 – Rest day in Manang [3520m/11549 ft]
Day 10 – Trek to Letdar [4250m/13944 ft]
Day 11 – Trek to Thorung Phedi [4500m/14764 ft]
Day 12 – Trek to Muktinath [3800m/12467 ft], crossing the Thorung La en route
Day 13 – Trek to Marpha [2665m/8743 ft]
Day 14 – Trek to Lete [2470m/8104 ft] (now often with car or mountainbike)
Day 15 – Trek to Tatopani [1160m/3806 ft] (now often with car or mountainbike, day 14)
Day 16 – Trek to Ghorepani [2775m/9104 ft]
Day 17 – Trek to Birethanti [1050m/3445 ft] and travel to Pokhara
Day 18 – Return to Kathmandu [1400m/4593 ft]
Depending on the speed of the trekkers, number and length of side trips, and rest days taken, acclimatization, weather, and where the trek is finished, hiking the Annapurna Circuit can take anything from 8 to 25 days. Many trekkers short on time choose to fly out from Jomsom Airport, which shortens the trek by 6 days compared to the original AC.
It is also possible to continue from Ghorepani to Tadapani, Ghandruk, Landruk, and then to Phedi, which follows the old Annapurna Circuit from the time when the road was not yet extended to Beni. This more faithful variation takes three days instead of the shorter one-day exit from Ghorepani to Pokhara outlined above. A popular addition to the AC is a visit to Annapurna Base Camp, ABC (also called Annapurna Sanctuary). This trail turns to the north from Tadapani and rejoins the old AC at either Ghandruk or Landruk. A visit to the ABC adds about 5 days to the duration of the Annapurna Circuit, slightly less than the normal trek duration to ABC, as trekkers coming from the AC are already acclimatized and “trail hardened”.
It is recommended that trekkers take the high trail from Pisang via Ghyaru and Ngawal to Manang, as the views are spectacular and the two villages along the route are some of the best-preserved samples of Tibetan style villages still in their original state. Sleeping in either of these villages assists with acclimatization, as they are located already higher than Manang. Another side trip gaining popularity is the visit to Tilicho Tal, a lake. There are now lodges along the trail and near the lake at the so-called Tilicho Base Camp, so tents are no longer required. If one wishes to cross to Jomsom via the Tilicho route, outdoor camping (and thus a tent) is required. At certain times of the year, snow conditions can make the crossing dangerous or prevent it altogether.
In October 2014, Seth Wolpin achieved the fastest known time in 72 hours and 4 minutes. He started in Besisahar and finished in Naya Pull, following all New Annapurna Trekking Trails.
It is reported that time has been recently surpassed by Greek athlete and philanthropist Lefteris Paraskevas, who, in May 2017 completed the classic route of the Circuit, from Besisahar to Nayapulin, in 68 hours and 22 minutes.
Annapurna circuit weather:
While much of the Himalayas cannot trek in the wet season, much of the Annapurna circuit actually sits within a rain shadow. This means that it is possible to trek most parts of the circuit all year-round, including the monsoon period.
Trekking in the wet season is often encouraged as hikers avoid the crowds that plague the summer months. However, the days are often damp and many of the views are obscured by cloud.
October – November
This is the most popular hiking season in Nepal. Due to the recent monsoons, everything along the circuit is refreshed, clean, and vibrant. Views are usually clear and the night sky is extremely visible. Though the weather is generally warm, nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. This is the busiest period on the circuit and tea houses book up very quickly.
December – March
This is the coldest period on the circuit. Depending on the altitude, day time temperatures will be cold and nighttime temperatures drop well below freezing. The trade-off is that the trails are much less busy. Thorung La Pass, which stands at over 5,400 meters, is often blocked with snow and may be closed for days on end. Unless the snow blocks most trails, tea houses still remain open during this period. Clouds prevail more frequently, but clear days are still common. Towards March the rhododendrons start flowering, which brings hillsides alive with flaming colors. Unfortunately, this period is also when avalanches are most common. Completing the circuit might be possible during December but from January onward it becomes quite challenging and should be avoided unless advised by the locals.
April – May
Because of the warming weather, April to May is the second most popular trekking season on the Annapurna Circuit. Most of the snow has dissipated, leaving crystal clear skies. There is often a strange haze that can be seen from the lower altitudes during May. However, this soon passes and cannot be seen from higher up the trail. As the monsoon period builds towards the end of May, the days become hotter and more humid which makes trekking at lower altitude quite uncomfortable.
June – September
This is the monsoon period. Although there are stories of torrential downpours, mudslides, and hordes of leeches, this is rarely the case on the Annapurna Circuit, particularly the northern section. Whilst the south section of the Annapurna Circuit near Pokhara does get a lot of rain, the northern parts often receive less than 10% of the precipitation due to the location within a rain shadow. The upside of trekking in the monsoon period is that many of the flora species flowers during this period, making the trek exceptionally beautiful. This is also the time when the Tilicho Lake side trek is relatively easier.
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