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Amazing Annapurna Trek
Kathmandu - High Route to Ngawal - Manang - Tilicho Lake - Thorung La - Lower Mustang - Muktinath - Kagbeni - Tatopani
From the steamy Hindu middle hills of central Nepal to Buddhist high-country dwellers on the border of Tibet, from terraced fields and fruit trees to vistas dominated by 8000 meter peaks, from lush, riverside hot springs to arid, mountainous Mustangi landscapes, from sacred Hindu temple complexes and thatched huts to whitewashed Thakali villages and ancient Manangi Buddhist monasteries, from water buffaloes to yaks, the Annapurna circuit trek in the heart of the Nepal Himalaya is a cultural trek par excellence, without a doubt one of the best treks in Nepal.
This is a classic tea-house trek run in our special Project Himalaya way; instead of camping out in the cold, we enjoy the dining-room stoves and famed hospitality of the local people of the Annapurna region, our gear is carried by porters, and we have local guides to explain the various cultures, mountains and sights to us along the way. But don't be fooled into thinking that there are no challenges along the way! We cross one of the highest trekking passes in the Nepal Himalayas, cover many kilometers of both hills and high altitude trekking, and spend three weeks deep in the Himalaya. This trek is one of Nepal's classic treks for good reasons.
Accompanied by views of the Annapurna range, Manaslu, Machapuchare, Tilicho and the Chulu Peaks and Dhaulagiri (to name just a few), we trek up the Marshyangdi river, first passing by Chettri and Gurung villages, followed by a few Tibetan settlements, to the Buddhist region of Manang, where riding on horseback is the normal means of transport, and the villages are interlocked terraces perched below old, Buddhist gompas. Manang is a destination in itself, with ice-lakes, cliff-side monasteries and old villages to explore, not to mention the spectacular sunrise and sunset views. To the west, in the interior of the Annapurna Circuit, is Tilicho Lake. surrounded by snow-peaks. We spend an extra couple of days hiking out to get a view of the lake ...
Following a careful acclimatization program, we head northwest over the 5400 meter Thorung La (pass) and descend steeply down to the sacred Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage destination, Muktinath, and on to lower Mustang; Kagbeni, the entrance to Upper Mustang, Jomsom, the administrative center and airport, scenic Marpha with its whitewashed, colorful houses and old monastery and caves and into the Thakali village of Tukuche, with yet another old Buddhist gompa and cobbled streets. Further south, the scenery becomes more thickly wooded as we follow the famed Kali Gandiki river gorge downstream, and different mountain views emerge, dominated by Dhaulagiri and Tukuche Peak.
We emerge back into the 'jungle', grain fields and fruit trees of lower the lower Thakali region, and stop for a day's rest at the famed and beautiful Tatopani hot springs. Further ups and downs through ancient, open forests bring us to Ghorepani, where we are treated at sunrise to 360 degree mountain panoramas. Back down through the golden, terraced Gurung villages of Gandruk, dominated by Machapuchare, the 'Fish Tailed' mountain, we finally continue on to the end of the circuit at Naya Pul and drive to Pokhara, where we spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing before heading out for a celebratory dinner and a few beers ....
Finishing back in Kathmandu, it's been a true journey through diverse regions and landscapes of one of he most spectacular regions in the Himalayas!
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you should be met at the airport and escorted to the guest house. A representative from the Kathmandu Guest House will met you there if you have sent your arrival details. Kim will book the rooms for you, just let her know.
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1350m
You’ll be met at the airport by Kim and/or a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Project Himalaya or a Kathmandu guest house sign. They will have your name and be looking for you. If, for some reason, you have any problems at the airport, either contact us or take a taxi (we will reimburse you) to the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel, every taxi driver knows it.
If anyone wants to upgrade to a Garden Facing room with a TV, the extra charge is $10 per night. Please let us know in advance so we can book some of the best rooms. See www.ktmgh.com to look at the accommodation.
If Kim wasn't able to come to the airport, she will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we collect your passports, check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and get to know each other over a beer at New Orleans cafe ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu 1350m
Today we explore the Kathmandu valley with Kim.
Options (we usually have time
to do three of these):
We'll get together for dinner and drinks in the evening, and talk over the upcoming trek ...
Day 3 - Kathmandu 1350m
An extra day for sightseeing, relaxing in the garden of the Kathmandu Guest House and a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this. Kim will check gear during the day. Later, we'll head out for dinner wood-oven pizza and a beer at the Roadhouse Cafe.
Day 4 - Drive to Besi Sahar. Trek Ngadi 930m
We take a private bus for the five-hour drive to the end of the road, either at Besi Sahar or a bit farther depending on the road conditions, where we have a quick lunch and hit the trail. We have about three hours of hot but pleasant walking; we are trekking in the typical Nepali middle hills now, and the scenery is gentle, muted. After crossing a suspension bridge at Bhulbhule, the trail passes a cascading waterfall, and as we traverse the rice terraces, the views of Manaslu are magnificent. Following a gentle incline we come to the village of Ngadi with its picturesque shops, cobbled streets and teahouses where we spend the night at a lovely lodge at the start of the village, and are treated to our first, soft Annapurna sunset over well deserved cold beers.
Day 5 - Trek to Jagat
From here we climb, steep and hot, to Bahundanda. Bahundanda literally means "hill of the Brahmins" and it is the most northerly Brahmin settlement in the Marsyangdi Valley, situated high up on a ridge. A steep trail descends from Bahundanda through green rice terraces before crossing a stream at the bottom of a small waterfall. It then climbs again and traverses the hillside high above the river before reaching the village of Hani Gaon. Ahead, the Marsyangdi valley forms a steep V-shape, and we follow the winding mountain path down through Syange and along the river for some distance. The trail then climbs steeply and the path is cut into the sheer cliff-face some 200-300m above the riverbed. Eventually we descend to the atmospheric village of Jagat, situated on a shelf which juts into the precipitous Marsyangdi valley, where we spend the night at a Tibetan-run lodge.
Day 6 - Trek to Bagarchhap 1430m
We awake to a morning climb, head steeply up through a forest to a wonderful teahouse just before Chamje and marked by a magnificent waterfall on the opposite bank. Chamje is an atmospheric village of traditional-style teahouses, often packed with saddled local horses. After descending to the river and crossing a suspension bridge, we begin a steep climb to some small teahouses at Sattale. After chai, we continue on an undulating path above the river, climb the switch-backing path to the top of the hill, and are treated to the sight of Tal below us on a wide plain by the river. Though it is enclosed by cliffs, the level area is reassuring after the slightly harrowing mountain paths on which we have just traveled. Beyond Tal and the checkpost, the valley narrows and the path becomes high and winding, and in several areas is actually hewn from the rock. Beyond the small village of Karte, there is a bit more exposed trail walking before the path drops again to the river. We cross a suspension bridge, and climb the short distance to the stone kani marking the entrance to Dharapani and another checkpost. As we cut through a narrow field from the village, the Dudh Khola ('milky river'), which originates from the south face of Manaslu, enters on the opposite bank. The Marsyangdi then veers to the left, and as Annapurna II (the 16th highest mountain on the planet) becomes visible ahead, we arrive at Bagarchhap, a Tibetan village with prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.
Day 7 - Trek to Chame
Continuing to climb through forests of pine and oak, we pass through Danagyu before coming to a thundering waterfall, where we turn left and head up the high trail to Koto. After an hour of lovely, open forests, we reach a clearing at the top of the trail and a charming Tibetan teahouse where we will stop for a break. Pausing for breath, we can look back for views of Manaslu. An hour away is the wonderful Gurung village of Timang, where the villagers might be harvesting their crops of buckwheat or stuffing local sausages. Heading back down to the village of Koto Qupar, our base for the trek up to Nar Phu, we can look straight up at nearby Annapurna II - a stunning sight convincing us that we are deep in the Himalayan mountains! Many of the villagers are the from Nar Phu valley; this is the gateway to their region. Less than an hour brings us to Chame, the local administrative center of Manang, and a large village packed with small shops and tea-houses, an army post and a large school. We bed down here for the evening.
Day 8 - Trek to Pisang
It's a beautiful walk from Chame to Pisang, through woods with some small ascents, and wonderful views of the peaks soaring above us. It's just a five hour day, so we'll have the afternoon in Pisang to explore the village, with it's Tibetan mani stones and gompa, perhaps taking a walk up to Upper Pisang for amazing views of Annapurna II and Annapurna III.
Day 9 - Trek to Ngawal - the High Route
Today's trail is one of the most scenic along the Annapurna route; we start the morning with a steep ascent to Upper Pisang, and another longer and steeper one to Gyaru, an old village just off the main Annapurna trail, an atmospheric Manangi village. Another two or three hours brings us to Ngawal; it's not a long day, but a spectacular one, during which we really feel that we are heading up into the mountains. Ngawal is a wonderful, old village of cobbled streets, prayer wheels, decorative water-spouts and beautiful architecture, obviously a hub of religious activity in previous times. We check into a tea-housed and enjoy the afternoon.
Day 10 - Trek to Manang 3510m
We start the day with a two hour walk through open forest to Braga, an old Tibetan-style village of about 150 partially deserted houses. We have time to explore the old village of Braga, with its large, old gompa perched colorfully above the stacked houses. The gompa has an elaborate collection of thangkas and statues, and it is worth finding the key-keeper to open the assembly hall and ‘lha khangs’ for us. Braga also has an impressive collection of traditional architectural details, so keep your eyes open for beautifully carved wooden windows and doors. The prayer wheels and chorten at the foot of Braga are particularly brightly painted.
After lunch at the New Yak Hotel bakery (one of Kim’s favorite’s) it’s just a 20-minute walk past a series of unique and colorful chortens to Manang, at 3500m, a village of 500 or so flat-roofed houses, the headquarters for the region, and an interesting village packed with trekkers, bakeries and lodges. Manang is dominated by high peaks - Annapurna III and Gangapurna tower over it, and a dramatic icefall sits just across the river. There is an old gompa on the edge of town, many local teahouses, and some atmospheric, winding streets in the village leading out toward the Thorung La. Finally, guest houses, showers, cold beers! There is a 3 o'clock lecture on altitude by the Himalayan Rescue Association for anyone interested.
Day 11 - Manang
Today is our acclimatization day, with lots of options; a long day-hike to the Ice Lake, a visit to the 'Hundred Ruppee Lama' at the cave gompa above Manang, a two-hour hike to Milarepa's cave across the river from Braga, the HRA talk, or a tour of Manang's many bakeries. A hike up 300 meters or so for acclimatization is recommended, but nothing too strenuous is required. The guest house is wonderful, a sunny and warm place to gaze at the peaks in the afternoon.
Day 12 - Trek to Tilicho Base Camp
Today's trek is about six hours; from Manang, we cross to the east side of the Marsyangdi River and then head into the 'interior' of the Annapurna circuit to Tilicho Base Camp. In the morning, we will take the three hour walk out to Tilicho Lake itself.
Day 13 - Trek to Tilicho Lake, return to Village
We start early for the three hour walk out to the spectacular Tilicho Lake; it can be cold and windy, so dress warmly. We'll return to 'BC' for lunch, and then return as far as the village we passed en route for the night.
Day 14 - Trek Letdar 4300m
It's not a long day today, but we gain some altitude, so should take it slowly. En route, we will undoubtedly be passed along the trail by galloping Manangi horses, saddled with wonderful (and expensive) Tibetan wool saddle blankets, and their jubilant Manangi riders, bells jingling as they gallop by. We climb past Tengi and Gunsang to Yak Kharka, and then another 45 minutes arrive in Letdar, where we stay at an alpine-style guest house with views to match. Rest up!
Day 15 - Trek to Thorung Phedi High Camp 4700m
An easy two or three hour walk up to the Thorung La Base Camp Hotel at Thorung Phedi, and after an early lunch, another hour or so to hike up to the lodge at High Camp, where we will stay the night, getting to bed early for our early morning start the next day; pass day! If anyone is having problems with altitude, we have the option of staying at Thorung Phedi Base Camp, where we had lunch, a nice spot to spend the afternoon with its glass windows.
Day 16 - Trek to Muktinath 3800m
Up early for the three or four hour walk to the top of the Thorung La at 5400m, where we are treated with spectacular views over Mustang and the surrounding peaks. The descent is almost as demanding as the ascent to the top of the pass, so a cup of chai and a snack at the local tea house at Chabarbu, at the bottom of the descent, is a required stop. And on to lower Mustang, which we have actually reached just after the pass, and the serene temple complex of Muktinath.
Muktinath is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus situated in a tranquil grove of trees, and contains a wall of 108 waterspouts in the shape of cows heads spouting sacred water, the Jwala Mai temple with a perpetual spouting flame and the pagoda-styled Vishnu Mandir, all of which make up the auspicious combination of earth, fire and water. We stay just five minutes down the trail from Muktinath at Ranipauwa.
Day 17 - Trek to Kagbeni 2800m
This morning we trek along a wonderful trail through more Mustangi villages, where we will feast on delicious apples and see the traditional back-loom weaving techniques being practiced by the local women. Half an hour down the trail, Jharkot is an old Mustangi village with a medieval feel to it, a Shakya gompa which is a traditional medicine center and incredibly photogenic whitewashed houses and streets. Further along the trail at Khingar, we might visit the local school. The scenery is truly wonderful - soft light, patchworks of fields, peaks overhead, villagers out plowing the fields, horses tethered next to the houses, and apple trees providing texture to the landscape. After a steep descent, we reach the windy Kali Gandaki (called the Thak Khola by the locals) river valley where it intersects the Jhong Khola, and the last village in lower Mustang, the atmospheric oasis of Kagbeni. The mud-packed houses, prayer wheels, narrow, stone streets, covered alleyways, chortens and old brick-hued gompa dominating the village and guarding the river intersections are reminiscent of old Mustang, and those who wanted to venture further can wander across the river to the Mustangi villages officially "off limits" but easily accessible.
Day 18 - Trek to Marpha 2680m
We have a nice morning's walk down the Kali Gandaki riverbed, looking for saligrams along the way, to Jomsom, the administrative center for the region. The Kali Gandaki valley gets incredibly windy in the early afternoon, so important to arrive before noon; we'll have lunch in Jomsom, and there is a bank if anyone needs to change money. Then another few hours to Marpha along the same riverbed. Marpha is a white-washed village of cobbled streets, small shops, horses and donkeys, a recently rebuilt gompa and caves above the village, and a wonderful place to stop for the evening.
Day 19 - Marpha
And because it's so beautiful (and the shopping is so good), we have a free day to explore this Mustang village ... don't miss the famous apple products; apple brandy, apple juice, fresh apples and dried apples!
Day 20 - Trek to Chisopani
Back on the trail, and a longer day again today, but a great walk.
Day 21 - Trek to Tatopani
Another long day, but well worth the effort to get to Tatopani, where the double hot springs are situated scenically next to the riverbed, well-deserved massages are offered by the hot springs, the bakeries are heaven, oranges and lemons fall from the fruit trees and the monkeys play across the river.
Day 22 - Tatopani
It's hot spring day! For those wanting some more vigorous activity, let us know and we'll arrange a village walk for you ... others will have to fight with Kim for a spot in the hot spring, and a slot for a massage!
Day 23 - Trek to Ghorepani
Get ready for some more hills! Today's walk is a hot one, and quite strenuous as we branch off after an hour of walking from Tatopani from the trail heading to Beni, and take the Ghorepani trail, starting straight up hill.
Day 24- Trek to Tadapani
Those who want can hike up Poon Hill for a 360 degree Himalayan panorama; after breakfast, we have a half day's walk to Tadapani, where we'll be treated to spectacular views of Machapuchare. Watch for monkeys on the way up!
Day 25 - Trek to Gandruk
We descend through an old, open forest - and it's important to trek in a group today, as this region used to be know for 'dacoits' - to the village of Gandruk, a Gurung village still existing in its traditional state. Again, perfect views; as well, there is a Gurung museum, worth a visit, and several small restaurants serving traditional Gurung fare such as fermented, sour spinach soup. Yum!
Day 26 - Trek to Naya Pul, drive to Pokhara
A golden, scenic last day of trekking through the terraced rice fields below Gandruk on the way to Kimche. We can look back on the way up to Annapurna Base Camp, far above. About four hours should be enough for us to make it to Naya Pul (new bridge), where we check out of the Annapurna Sanctuary Area, cross the bridge, and catch our ride back to Pokhara, just an hour or so down the road. We spend the night in a nice guest house with hot showers, and eat out at the Moondance Cafe, where the beers are really cold, the food delicious and the atmosphere great ...
Day 27 - Drive to Kathmandu
It's a scenic drive back to Kathmandu, and time to stop for photos, lunch and snacks en route. Finally, a shower! We book into our rooms at the Kathmandu Guest House, and wash off the grime of weeks of trekking. Out for a last dinner together to celebrate the trek. Did we really just return from the mountains and valleys of the famed Annapurna Circuit?
Day 28 - Depart
We take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you've had a fantastic trek around the Annapurnas. See you again in the Himalaya soon!