The Annapurna Circuit has long been one of the classic Himalayan treks. At 300km in length, taking in altitudes up to 5500m, it’s no stroll in the park, but neither is there any technical difficulty involved. It’s easily accessible, easy to navigate, and there are lodges to stay in all the way round, so the logistical hurdles are minimal … which leaves you free to focus your attention on the stunning views of the Annapurna range, the myriad varieties of dal bhat, and yet another caravan of mules:-)
Here are some pics from our recent trip around the circuit, to whet the appetite of anyone with a few weeks’ holiday coming up and to provide some pure escapism for everyone else. If they take your fancy, read on to the bottom of the page for a few tips on the logistics.
The Annapurna Circuit in Pictures
The Circuit follows two river valleys with a mountain pass half way along the route that crosses from one to the other. Here is the Marsyangdi valley, which drains the peaks above via numerous waterfalls, including the one at Tal. For the record, the water’s on the chilly side:-)
The peaks that tower over most of the route may look bleak, but there’s no shortage of colour around. Tibetan prayer flags adorn each village and even the donkeys can rival your brightly coloured Gore-Tex for vividness.
As you climb higher up the valley, you get impressive views of the ‘lesser’ summits of Annapurna – Annapurna 2, 3 and 4 – and of Gangapurna. But where is the main summit? It may be hard to believe, but you can pretty much trek the full 300km around Annapurna without ever quite seeing the 8000m peak. Talk about an elusive mountain.
From a starting altitude of 800m, you arrive at the Thorong La pass after about a week’s walking. It sits at a height of 5416m, although our altimeter watch was feeling a little below par at the time.
Once you’ve crossed the Thorong La, a long descent begins, initially in quite an arid valley. Oases of green surround the villages, and so too do Tibetan prayer wheels, which most people spin as they pass. The trouble is, there’s occasionally a prayer wheel missing and one day we spotted an interesting substitute:-)
The Annapurna Circuit is changing fast and there’s now a ‘road’ all the way up the Kali Gandaki valley. Work on a road for the Marsyangdi valley is also taking place, so the Circuit could be a very different place in a few years’ time. But for now, the infrastructure isn’t quite all there. This road bridge certainly made our knees knock.
In the Kali Gandaki valley, a different set of mountains come into view, including the Nilgiris, below. At the same time, there were some interesting views closer to hand, as even the mules were dressing up to celebrate Divali:-)
The trek ends with a climb back up to 3000m, where sunrise at Poon Hill is a daily event for trekkers. It’s the largest number of people I’ve ever seen getting out of bed for sunrise, never mind climbing a hill too. I would say ‘the views are well worth it’ but the pictures speak for themselves.
Trekking the Annapurna Circuit
Season: October to December and March to May.
Length of time: Around 16 days, depending on how fast you walk. Allow extra time if you want to visit Annapurna Base Camp.
The paperwork: Allow a day in Kathmandu to buy your trekking permit and permit for the Annapurna Conservation Area. They are checked regularly around the route and the fine for not having your documents with you is 4000 rupees (about £30).
Getting there: With flight prices as they are at the moment, getting to Kathmandu is the hard part. Once you’re there, you need a day to travel to the start of the route at Besi Sahar. The local buses are a colourful and hair-raising experience:-)
There’s no need to take camping gear on the Circuit as there are villages with accommodation and food every hour or two along the route. They’re unheated though, so you’ll need a warm sleeping bag for the higher altitude sections, and preferably a down jacket for the evenings as well.
Other than that, you can take pretty much the same gear that you’d use for walking in the UK in summer (at low altitudes) and in winter (higher up). There’s no need for ice axes, crampons or climbing gear.
Already trekked the Annapurna Circuit?
You can share your anecdotes in the forum or recommend another trek in the Nepali Himalayas.