Travel: Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
*Tips, route & basic packing list for trekking the circuit can be found here
*Annapurna photo series can be found here
The Annapurna Circuit. Sixteen days trekking through the Himalayas without a guide. A place I had never imagined to necessarily find myself, and yet now one of the absolute highlights of the trip. Time to think and to breathe that incredible mountain air, or be left gasping for breath at times. To wander through rural villages, not another Westerner in sight, to find the strenuous repetitive nature of trekking meditative, to reach and surpass one's expected limits - our longest day reaching 25km, through painful galeforce wind the likes of which would hold a 'weather warning' at home, and still resulting in laughter.
The initial bus journey where boulders are moved for the wheels to be carefully guided over and we fly out of our seats. A myriad of local characters. First glimpses of lush green, wildflowers, and not another person in sight, cheeks hurting from grinning, the jovial to and fro as guesthouse owners are bargained with. Rice paddies and local dress, bags and baskets balanced on heads by a strap round the temples. Sweet family teams who serve us cherished meals, the young boy who yells, "DAL BHATTTT!" Living off peanut products at every meal, dal bhat, hard boiled eggs and chapati. Blisters taking over entire toes, the exhaustion setting in, challenging our mental and physical states. Sunsets and the full moon, first light on the snow-capped peaks at Ghyaru with not another soul stirring something... This last one a gift from me to you - take the Upper Pisang trail rather than the Lower. Stay at Ghyaru at 3670m, the Yak Ru guesthouse with its warm old lady owner who doesnt speak english, try and get a front facing room... (and get up for that first light!)
Whole villages passing us with their goat herds and yaks - the nomadic nature of migration based on seasons. Dogs that would follow us for days, waiting outside doors to guesthouses overnight until we joined them again. The gathering of people as we neared the pass, the most we'd seen in one place. The chatter of how early we'd rise to attempt the 900m incline and 1700m decline in one day, over 16km. Light snow falling come night, being covered in it, looking up to a myriad of stars, wet eyelashes, stumbling to the outdoor drop toilet in the darkness. The acute awareness of my own body as we reached the top, not due to exertion but due to the shortness of breathe due to oxygen levels being 50% lower than what we were used. Feeling like I'd never be able to catch a full breathe again! The top - being the only group there - celebrating not so much the destination, but the journey, together, to make it there. Bonding over pains and wandering thoughts...and hopeless giggles. Learning people's capacity for being a team player, for positivity, for open-mindedness. The level of gratitude when we make it to our dwelling that night after the knee-breaking decline to Muktinath. The amount of delicious food consumed, hot showers delved into, beds embracing tired bodies.
Some quick tips ~ From here, go to Marpha. Incredible apple cider, apple pie, apple juice, apple brandy...it's renowned for its orchards. A different village aesthetic to any we visited, really worth a stop. Winding pathways through cobbled streets and white washed walls, no cars or road! Stay here rather than in Jomson (which is typically recommended?!) The latter we found to be a Westernised tourist spot at odds with the rest of our trail and asking prices upwards of 1000NRP (we paid 0-100 for a room everywhere else). Beware the wind between Muktinath and Jomson, get your face and eyes covered. It was like nothing I've experienced and is apparently typical of that area. A painfully bumpy ride over the rivers which had us in fits of laughter having flagged down a tractor with an empty trailer attached. We all piled in. Don't miss out on the much more beautiful parts between Marpha and Tatopani by getting the bus to Tatopani from Jomsom (again, typically recommended) We got on a bus at Kubang and got off again shortly after - best decision we made along with the Marpha one.
A kind solo traveller we walked with for an hour, who bought us ice creams, and disappeared. Those kinds of transient friendships that light up your day but are made entirely for that short time on the trail. Tatopani to Ghorepani in one day having foresaken the bus and determination to catch up and surprise a friend rising. We did it. The look on her face making the sweating, steep journey she had warned us not to do in one day worth it. Reunited! The trudge of people up Poon Hill at 4.30am grasping hope that we would be granted that view. We were - the panorama of snow capped peaks with the sun rising behind them a prime spectacle of the entire trek. Sitting sipping on spicy chai just in awe of the magnitude of mountains in every direction. So worth doing it as the final addition to the circuit. Powering out our final day and, as the torrential rain hit so that our ending was perfectly timed, bundling into a taxi which sped us back to Pokhara for cheap... the daunting prospect of sudden civilisation lessened slightly by days wandering barefoot round cafes, eating fruit bowls, watching films, around the sleepy parts of this lakeside town.
Our final total was: 167KM in 16 days (including one rest day, one acclimitisation day in Manang, another rest day as people were sick), passing Thorong La Pass at 5420M in the sky!
You can find the full details of our route, tips for the trail, and a basic packing list on a separate post here. You can contact me via email on the Contact Page too if you have any questions or want more highlights, hidden gems, or tips.