Annapurna trekking – an amazing adventure!
Himalaya trekking expeditions are becoming more and more popular among the walkers who long for extra challenging routes. Nowadays Nepal is not only associated with high-altitude mountaineering, but also the best treks like the famous Annapurna Circuit. It is known to be one of the most extraordinary places in the world, where the spiritual and visual experiences meet together. The surrounding of the highest peaks on Earth, the atmosphere of tranquility, magnificent Nepal’s heritage – these are a few samples of what awaits you there. The route has been attracted people with its beauty and wilderness for decades. Thanks to the popularity of the circuit participants of the expedition are provided with various facilities. Are you interested? Do you want to know how to prepare for the expedition? Read our article to learn all the essential information about it.
Annapurna region – the pearl of the Himalayas
Before you pack your backpack, let us tell you some interesting things about this beautiful area. The Annapurna region is located in north-central Nepal and its expanse covers a 55-kolometers long massif as well as the valleys, rivers and foothills. It includes thirty peaks higher than 6,000 meters over which towers the Annapurna I (8,091 meters) – the tenth highest summit in the world and tenth out of fourteen eight-thousanders. The mountain was reached for the first time by Maurice Herzog in 1950, making it the first successful climb on the peak over 8,000 meters in history. The region is enclosed by the Marshyangdi River on the east, the Kali Gondaki Gorge on the west and the Pokhara Valley on the south, whereas the north of the Annapurna area is defined by the Nepal-Tibetan border. According to Hindu mythology the mountain is a residence of Annapurna, goddess of nourishment who provides her people food and water. The depiction of the female deity as a mother feeding a child symbolizes the numbers of streams that flow down the massif and supply lower situated rural areas with water. It is worth mentioning that the region is protected by The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) enabling to set the whole network of sustainable tourists trails up while aiming to preserve the cultural heritage.
Why should you choose Annapurna?
Regarding the difficulty of different forms of mountain activities trekking is situated between hiking and climbing. It is a combination of hours-long walking on diverse terrain with the equipment and camping. Those trips may take many days or even weeks, depending on the trails. Over the last few decades risky trips of the free-spirited adventurers turned into properly organized expeditions available for everyone who seeks an unorthodox way to see beautiful landscapes and meet other cultures. If you are interested in experiencing the thrill of the unknown, you can’t miss the trek to Annapurna region.
The ethnic and environmental diversity, variety of ecosystems which include tropical jungles, bamboo forests, deserts and snow-covered slopes makes the trek an unforgettable experience. Thanks to the magnificent scenery and also well-organized expeditions region is very popular among the trekking enthusiasts. Here are some other reasons to choose this beautiful place for your next journey.
- Tourists friendly climate. You would be surprised knowing that for the first days on the Annapurna trek awaits you mild weather with temperatures around 15 to 20°C. But you must also be aware that the area is so diverse it has a range of different climate zones from tropical to semi-arid, and thus the weather may change drastically (above 4,000 meters the sub-zero temperatures are not a rarity). The best months for trekking in Nepal are September to November when the sky is clear and the ground is dry after the monsoon season. Be prepared for vast climatic changes, but you don’t have to be afraid of the snow or deluges in this time of year.
- High level of safety – in comparison to other regions of the Himalayas, especially when it comes to a medical emergency. Nepal is known to be very safe. The accidents like the one from October 2014 when over 40 people died in a blizzard, are rare and may happen in mountains anywhere in the world. The risk has always been present among the mountaineers and trekkers. Even the most experienced guide might be a victim of the sudden weather change or treacherous rocks. The Annapurna Circuit trek is very well protected having all the necessary amenities. Moreover, the authorities of Nepal are endeavoring to increase the safety of the tourists by developing a weather warning system.
- Selection of treks. Annapurna offers many scenic routes that may sound similar, but they vary in length, elevation, high points, visited places and other features. Undoubtedly the most popular trek is The Annapurna Circuit which encircles the massif anticlockwise, giving the better opportunity to gradually gaining the altitude to reach the highest point, Thorung La Pass (5,416 meters). Depending on the start and finish point the trek usually takes 15-20 days. If you want to experience the atmosphere of the climbing expeditions, you can choose The Annapurna Base Camp Trek which leads to the main camp for all the mountaineers who want to ascent the peak. The route is considered easier than The Circuit mainly because of the lower elevation. This trail gives you an impressive view of the surrounding peaks. The other alternate route in the region is The Annapurna Sanctuary. It is one of the shortest trips lasting around 10-13 days and its goal is to reach the picturesque glacial basin situated 4,000 meters above sea level. The valley stands out with unique flora and fauna that is protected by the ACAP. For Gurung people the place of the sanctuary is sacred. Remember to respect the traditions of the locals.
- Impressive accommodation conditions. Due to the growing popularity of the trekking and climbing expeditions, Nepal had to create the right conditions for the tourists. The Annapurna treks are scattered with charming guesthouses and teahouses with spacious rooms and all necessary amenities (even hot showers and wi-fi). These places are perfect for socializing with other voyagers especially around the fireplace in the common area. It is also an opportunity to financially support the local communities that make a living from such objects. Besides the traditional cheap lodges, you will find more and more fancy ones equipped in western style.
- Visual and spiritual experience. If you already love mountains, prepare for the memorable feeling that will literally take your breath away. The landscape crowned with the snow peaks of massif leaves an everlasting impression. Throughout the expedition travelers can enjoy meeting the cultural heterogeneity of Nepal by interacting with the local people from Mustang, Lamjung, Manang regions during their daily activities. Feel the history of the old Buddhist stupas and Hindu shrines.
- Tasty local food. If you think you won’t get a chance to try the local cuisine during the trekking, you are wrong. The guesthouses and teahouses offer a variety of delicious food from yak burgers to momos, nutritious soups and traditional Dal bhat. Be prepared for the high-carb meals which are the very basis of nutrition in high mountains. Do you miss doughnuts? You can find some of them in one of the bakeries!
- Relatively affordable prices. Himalayas adventure is not a picnic in the meadow. You must be well equipped for many circumstances including appropriate layers of clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc. But the biggest part of the budget with lodgings, permits and food is covered by the fee you pay to the organizer. The whole cost of the Annapurna Circuit trek starts from USD 1,200 – it varies between the groups and companies.
How hard is Annapurna?
While the Annapurna is considered one of the hardest mountains to climb, a difficulty level of the Circuit is moderate. The target group of the expedition is both experienced trekkers and beginners, but the latter should be physically fit for the long and strenuous walks, and also ready for other issues. One of them is an altitude sickness (AMS), which is quite common in high mountains. It occurs when your body can’t cope with abrupt changes in elevation as the oxygen level decline. The first symptoms of the AMS including headache, dizziness, vomiting usually appear above 2,500 meters. Remember that the highest point of the classic Annapurna Circuit Trek is at 5,416 meters (Thorung La Pas) while the Annapurna Sanctuary is situated more than 4,000 meters over the sea level. As you can see the risk of altitude sickness during the expedition is quite high. To prevent this problematic issue the group gains the elevation gradually by around 300 meters per day. The anticlockwise direction of the trek is not without significance for proper acclimatization which lasts almost two weeks than two days as in “regular” direction.
When it comes to a distance of the trek, Annapurna Circuit is also on the moderate level with the distance that ranges from 160 to 230 kilometers. The duration depends on the starting and finishing points and it usually takes 14-20 days to complete the trail. You can choose longer or shorter packages which vary in distance covered each day. The beginners should try the first option with more rest breaks and more time for acclimatization and in consequence, less difficulty. Even if you have no previous experience with such trips, expect 5-7 hours walk per day in uneven terrain with lots of stairways, rocks and steep ground. At least one or two months before the expedition you should improve your stamina by doing some cardio training and long-distance walking. You can read more about preparing for the trek in the next section.
According to the opinions of many trekkers Annapurna Circuit is challenging though not an overly difficult trek. The hardness of the route is determined by many factors, such as duration, weather, altitude sickness, the physical condition of the travelers. To those who are used to hiking in the lower mountains, this trek will be a great adventure. There can always be some minor inconveniences like overcrowded teahouses, blisters and poor weather, but the everyday challenges only make the expedition more exciting and memorable. If you are not convinced about the classic Circuit, you can always choose the alternate routes – Annapurna Base Camp or Annapurna Sanctuary which are relatively easier ones as the elevation is about 1500 meters lower.
How to prepare for the first trekking?
Such an adventure like the Annapurna trekking in Nepal requires right the preparation. In this part of the article we will provide you essential information about the steps you need to take prior to your first Himalaya expedition as well as the things that should be considered. Let’s take a closer look at the packing and preparing your body for this challenge. It was vital to take some time to make yourself ready to fully enjoy the expedition of your lifetime. Those days spent on the trek, in mountain villages among cordial and hospitable people will leave beautiful memories for the long years to come. Who does not dream of a trip to the Himalayas? As appealing as it sounds you must be aware that not your all-inclusive holiday in Spain with the same warm and sunny weather every day. Take into consideration that you have to educate yourself in the field of the high mountains trekking, before you even book a flight, especially if you are a novice.
For those who already trekked the Nepali trails and want to learn some new things and for the newbies here are some useful tips about the preparation.
- Physical fitness – although the Annapurna trekking is deemed a moderate trail when it comes to the hardness, still it is the Himalayas! Staying fit in such an expedition is a matter of great importance. Remember that daily distance covered during the trek is approximately 4-8 hours. Always plan your trip ahead, so that you have enough time for building your stamina. It is easier for active people who do jogging, swimming or other endurance training, especially in the mountains. For them it will be just another physical challenge. If your previous experience with trekking is scant, the expedition can be strenuous. For a month or two before departure try to improve your condition by doing cardio exercises and long-distance walking (downhill and uphill). The key issue which is often overlooked by the beginners is training with a backpack. Feel the difference between a stroll with nothing on your back and a trek with a 5 kg load.
- Backpacking – packing for holidays on the beach seems complicated? Get ready for the Himalayas. If you choose Annapurna for your trekking expedition you should be prepared for a variety of climate zones and high amplitude of temperatures. Be reasonable and carefully select your equipment so forget about an extra pair of cute jeans or the hair curler. Your chosen clothes should have some thermal property and be easily adapted to your body temperature. It is crucial especially in high mountains. Comfortable garments will guarantee the full enjoyment of the journey. Your backpack should weigh 5+kg.
Here is a list of essentials for Annapurna Circuit, Base Camp or other treks: sleeping bag, good waterproof hiking boots, at least 2 or 3 pairs of hiking socks, goose jacket, waterproof jacket, trekking pants, fleece jumpers, thermal tops, breathable underwear, beanie, neckband, sunhat, sunglasses, gloves, first aid kit, water bottle with filters.
- Team – while some of the trekkers prefer lone trips, it is recommended to set off on a trip around in a group, especially if you are the beginner. Traveling with professional guides and some friends has many benefits. It is a very convenient and safe option, as the accommodation, food, and permits are already organized by the agency. However, pick wisely your partners. Bear in mind that your best friend or fiancé is not necessarily the best choice if your physical conditions are different. Consider the size of your team – the more people are in a group, the slower the expedition moves. This is why the optimum is 2-4 members with whom you will spend several days and nights.
- When to go? – as was already mentioned earlier in this article, there are only a few months during a year that are best for trekking in Nepal. You can choose a spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November) expedition. The weather in the foothills, like Kathmandu, is quite warm then and it wavers between 25 to 30°C or more. Although the higher you climb the colder it gets. Mind you that at nights the temperatures fall below zero. During these months you don’t have to worry that the peaks, such as Thorong La Pas, will be snowed under. The rest of the year is not suitable for trekking, especially throughout the monsoon season in Nepali summer. Despite the good meteorological conditions there can always occur some anomalies and sudden weather changes typical for mountain climates. Be sensible – listen to the guides and locals, regularly check the forecasts.
- Acclimatization – to the high elevations your body needs to adapt to the new conditions where the oxygen in the air is on an insufficient level. Altitude sickness is not something that occurs only among beginners, as even the most experienced mountaineers suffer from it. This step of preparation cannot be done in your home but on the actual expedition. In order to acclimate to a higher altitude, you need to stay hydrated while trekking, eat enough snacks with proteins and the most important, gradually increase the elevation. Move at your own pace and avoid gaining height more than 300 meters per day. The Annapurna Circuit Trek was designed so the altitude changes were as gentle as possible.
- Clear head – do not underestimate the mental preparation which in mountains is crucial. The very thought that you are surrounded by the highest peaks in the world can be overwhelming. Depending on your attitude and state of mind, if you are used to different kinds of activities, you need to get ready for the inconveniences and harsh conditions of the trip, such as minimal amenities at teahouses, high altitudes, strenuous walks, toilet conditions, etc. And despite its beauty, the Annapurna trek is long and tiring. Keep your head clear and stay positive, because once you finish the tour you will experience the feeling of the greatest satisfaction and contentment.
The massif of Annapurna has been attracted mountaineers and trekkers with its impressive splendor for decades. With thirty peaks above 6,000 meters and the highest one of 8,091 meters, it is a perfect scenery for a voyage. There are many trails that some of them circle the mountain and others lead to the base camp or the picturesque valleys making the Annapurna the queen of the trekking routes.
The treks vary from each other in distance, difficulty, high points and it depends on you which one you choose. Here we present a sample itinerary of trekking to Annapurna Sanctuary, which as one of the shortest trails there.
- Day 1. Arrival at Pokhara.
The first day begins with a landing at Kathmandu airport and arrival at Pokhara, 200 km away. On the way by tourist bus, members of the expedition have the opportunity to admire views of snow-covered peaks of Ganesh Himal and Manaslu mountains as well as some beautiful rivers. In Pokhara they stay overnight at the hotel.
- Day 2. Bus drive from Pokhara to Phedi and starting the trek.
The day starts early with the short drive to Phedi, in the foothills, where the tourists start their trek with 3 hours long walk to Dhampus (1650 m). The first part of the trail is quite steep, but there is plenty of time for a warm-up.
- Day 3. Trek from Dhampus to Landrung.
After breakfast tourists start trekking to Landrung. The trail leads up through the villages of Potana and Deurali and then down to Landrung. It takes about 6 hours.
- Day 4. Trek from Landrung to Chomrong.
After leaving the Landrung village the trek leads the expedition downhill, across the Modikhola suspension bridge. Then the tourists have to climb 1,5-2 hours to Chomrong (2100 m), where they stay overnight. The village is called the Gate of Annapurna Sanctuary. The whole trek takes 6 hours.
- Day 5. Trek from Chomrong to Himalaya Hotel.
The beautiful trail through the bamboo forests within 5 hours of trekking takes the group up to the Himalaya Hotel (2920 m).
- Day 6. Trek from Himalaya Hotel to Machapuchare base camp.
The valley widens there, and the terrain is evener. Tourists can see the great view of the gate to the sanctuary. After passing avalanche tracks the trail turns left and leads up to the Machapuchare base camp (3820 m) where the people can enjoy magnificent landscapes of the Annapurna I, Mount Hiunchuli, Gangapurna, and Machhapuchhre. The trek takes 7 hours.
- Day 7. Arrival at Annapurna Sanctuary and trek to Dobham.
The seventh day the tourists reach the highest point of the expedition – Annapurna Sanctuary (4095 m). Then it takes 7 hours to descent to Dobham.
- Day 8. Trek from Dobham to Chomrong.
It takes 6 hours to reach Chomrong once again.
- Day 9. Trek from Chomrong to Tadapani.
This is one of the many ways to end the trek. Within 6 hours the group gets to the Tadapani.
- Day 10. Trek from Tadapani to Ghorepani.
This day the expedition ascent of the hills for 6 hours.
- Day 11. Arrival at Ulleri.
Through stone steps everyone reaches Ulleri village.
- Day 12. Trek from Ulleri to Nayapul and drive to Pokhara.
The last trek is easy and short (4 hours) walk down through fields and villages. The bus takes the group from there to Pokhara where they stay overnight at the hotel.
- Day 13. Back to Kathmandu.
The trip ends with the return to Kathmandu by tourist bus, where a plane is waiting for the travelers to return home.
Annapurna and more
Some time ago a lonely “walk” around the Himalayas was unthinkable. Today tourism has developed to such an extent that even inexperienced people can get to this kind of expeditions. New trails are constantly being created, offering new challenges for seasoned mountain lovers and amateurs. If the Annapurna trekking is not enough for you, you can check some other routes and trips, like the strenuous trek around Manaslu and the Great Himalayan Trail. The boldest adventurers prefer the wild trek through high mountains where villages and tourists are scant. Not everyone knows that the Nepali trails are great for whole families! On such trips you can combine easy trip with sightseeing and visit some beautiful national parks.