• ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

    Sunrise hitting the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal
  • ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT

    Sunrise hitting the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

The Annapurna Circuit is one of Nepal’s big name treks. Encircling the gleaming bulk of the Annapurna Massif, it has attracted adventurers for many decades. Opened to foreign trekkers in 1977 – just twelve years after the country’s first commercial trek – the circuit has been voted the world’s best long-distance trek. In its original form it took around three weeks, covering a diverse range of landscapes from tropical valleys to the bitterly cold Thorong La. The changing environment and scenery was matched by the varied culture, from low lying Hindu villages to high altitude Tibetan settlements.

However, much has changed in the past forty years, and indeed, even more in the past ten. Development has quickened and roads have cut deep into the region, changing the face of this mountain landscape and altering the nature of the trek. But, there is much yet to see and experience on the Annapurna Circuit – the mountains are still there, as is the intriguing  cultural diversity, and the New Annapurna Trekking Trails (NATT) divert you off the road at every opportunity. It’s important to accept the trek for what it is today, adapt your itinerary to match, and plan accordingly. Through our own fault and outlook, that’s something we often failed to do. When we take on the AC again, there’s a lot we’ll do differently.

What follows is an account of our own experience, along with daily details on distances, times, elevation and accommodation. For a great way to get a sense of the landscape, every day has a short Relive* video (links in the daily info boxes). And to get a full appreciation of what the trek is like, be sure to watch our Annapurna Circuit Instagram Stories and our video below.

Fancy trekking the Annapurna Circuit yourself? Read our complete guide for everything you need to know.

*The Relive for Day 2 is a bit wild at one point where the GPS signal went crazy

WATCH THE VIDEO

TREKKING THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT

On the second part of our extended Nepal adventure, we joined the Annapurna Circuit at Dharapani. After a memorable twelve days trekking the Manaslu Circuit, we were excited to see what this next stage had to offer. We expected the Annapurna Circuit trek to be busier, but beyond that we had little more than vague notions and scraps of information from half remembered accounts. Unusually for us, we’d done precious little research. Needing a guide for both Manaslu and Upper Mustang (part three), we’d organised one for the entire duration of our trek, the expectation being that we’d be able to rely on his knowledge, experience and expertise. So, we went in blind, but with no shortage of anticipation for the days ahead.

A note on distances and times. Distances are approximate and often rounded to the nearest kilometre. Total time is the time it took from leaving in the morning to arriving at our destination and includes lunch and other stops. Walking time is the time we were moving but includes time taking photos and shooting video. For your reference, we tend to be on the slower side of average.

Read through our account day by day, or jump to a particular section by clicking on the links below

Our Annapurna Circuit Trek itinerary, with overnight, lunch and tea stops marked. You can also download our Maps.Me bookmarks for offline use here. Be sure to download the Maps.Me app first (iOS/Android).

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 1
~
DHARAPANI – CHAME

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 1

DHARAPANI – CHAME

DISTANCE

16 km

ELEVATION

1860 – 2670 m

TIME

6 hours 30 minutes (total)

5 hours (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Monalisa
Twin Room w/bathroom
500 NPR


Our first day on the Annapurna Circuit.

Entering the Annapurna Conservation Area the day before, we’d already seen a big change in our surroundings: the kind of forest, the villages, the width of the trails. We were interested to see how this trek would compare, not just to the Manaslu Circuit, but also to our previous experiences trekking to Annapurna Base Camp in 2010 and 2012.

Unfortunately, the sad fact, for trekkers at least, is that much of the journey between Dharapani and Chame is on dirt roads. There are some interesting sections where the route goes off-road, notably when the forested trail climbs tall stone steps to reach Timang, and on the trekking path through Thanchowk, but largely, it’s a day of road walking.

The morning sun warmed us as we left Dharapani, full of anticipation for the days ahead. At first the road walking wasn’t a bother, but by the time we’d passed through Bagarchap and Danque, we were ready for a proper trail. Leaving the switchback road we entered the forest and climbed to Timang, enjoying the atmosphere among the lush vegetation. At Timang we appreciated open mountain views among the busy guesthouses there, the place buzzing from the many trekkers stopping for drinks or an early lunch. On the outskirts of Thanchowk, we soon stopped for lunch ourselves, eating in the sunny garden of a roadside lodge – a fine double helping of Dal Bhat as usual.

Dal Bhat on a faded plastic floral table cover on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

A tasty Dal Bhat with veg, pickle and papad – ingredients we’d missed at higher altitude on the Manaslu Circuit Trek



Dal Bhat on a faded plastic floral table cover on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Dal Bhat with veg, pickle and papad – ingredients
missed at higher altitude on the Manaslu Circuit



Almost immediately after lunch the trail led us off-road again, this time through characterful Thanchowk, where traditional stone houses with slate roofs crowded the path and locals went about their daily tasks. From the village we kicked up dust heading down to the stream, crossed a short suspension bridge, and climbed steeply through the trees. Far too soon we were back on the road. Try as we might to stay positive, the featureless trail sapped our energy and killed our mood. Even the impressive cliffs rising on the other side of the icy blue Marsyangdi couldn’t save it for us. The road journey trundled on, punctuated by a brief stop in Koto to get permits checked. By the time we reached Chame, we were definitely ready to be done.

Trekkers sit for lunch in the garden of a teahouse, with cloud topped mountains in the background

The trekking trail leaves the road, skirts a few guesthouses, and leads towards the village of Thanchowk



Trekkers sit for lunch in the garden of a teahouse, with cloud topped mountains in the background

The trekking trail leaves the road and
leads towards the village of Thanchowk



Chame is a sizeable town as these things go, the administrative centre of the area. Aside from local homes and municipal buildings, there are lots of guesthouses, a fair few shops, and even a pharmacy of sorts. We got a decent room with an attached bathroom on the top floor of the Hotel Monalisa. Our door opened onto the rooftop giving us commanding views over town and a convenient place to hang our washing. Downstairs, the dining room was a throwback to an old hotel from a Miss Marple episode, or somewhere your granny would go for high tea. On a wander to the nearby shops we got extra Snickers at Kathmandu prices, picked up some diamox from the local pharmacy, and secured Kim some thick wool socks for bed.

A trekker looks at what is on offer in a store in the town of Chame on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Chame has chocolate bars at Kathmandu prices, as well as a wide range of gear if you find there’s something extra you need



A trekker looks at what is on offer in a store in the town of Chame on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Chame has chocolate bars at Kathmandu prices,
as well as a wide range of gear and miscellaneous
items if you find there’s something extra you need



As the day wore on it rained heavily, so we cozied up in the old dining room with copious cups of tea, set up various batteries to charge, chatted with fellow trekkers, and waited for dinner.

THE ESSENTIAL ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREKKING GUIDE

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 2
~
CHAME – DHUKUR POKHARI

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 2

CHAME – DHUKUR POKHARI

DISTANCE

12 km

ELEVATION

2670 – 3200 m

TIME

4 hours 30 minutes (total)

3 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Kamala Hotel
Twin Room (shared bathroom)
500 NPR


A day of roads, mountain scenery and changing plans.

Apart from a few forested sections, most of the journey is on gravel roads, although the mountain views continue to improve as the valley widens. Bhratang is a popular place for a mid morning stop, a high density apple farm with an accompanying fancy hotel/hostel and a cafe selling good coffee, sweet pastries, and of course, apples. The distance between Chame and Dhukur Pokhari is relatively short and can be covered in a morning. Most people stop in Dhukur Pokhari for lunch and move on to stay at Upper or Lower Pisang, but it’s also a good place to have a quiet evening and ensure a less crowded trail in the morning.

We left Chame as the morning sun cast a beautiful light over the town’s rough cobbled streets, creating dreamlike silhouettes among the swirling smoke from chimneys and burning braziers. Shop fronts (small windows) selling the local fried bread and boiled eggs were already open.  Residents and trekkers alike walked the streets. Dogs appeared at regular intervals as we passed by, standing guard like sentinels outside their respective buildings.

We crossed the Marsyangdi on a metal footbridge overrun with prayer flags, and just like that, Chame’s spell was broken. The road started as soon as we crossed, and but for a few pleasant forest sections, we were on it for a couple of hours. A bit of a slog but the sight of some impressive waterfalls took the edge off.

A person crosses a metal footbridge draped with countless prayer flags on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Crossing the bridge outside of Chame, prayer flags catching the early morning light



A person crosses a metal footbridge draped with countless prayer flags on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Crossing the bridge outside of Chame,
prayer flags catching the morning light



Those first two hours took us to Bhratang. The new looking roadside coffee shop was doing a roaring trade, most people getting takeaway from the glass fronted A-frame building and sitting outside on benches in the huge courtyard. It seemed like everyone on the trail (a lot of people) had stopped for coffee, cakes and apples – imagine a busy day at a popular national park. Everything was top notch and no one left disappointed.

We continued up and round the winding gravelly road, under an overhanging rock that had clearly been blasted through.

Trekkers walking under a rocky overhang, blasted to make a trail on the Annapurna Circuit trek

Continuing up the road from the apple farm at Bhratang



Trekkers walking under a rocky overhang, blasted to make a trail on the Annapurna Circuit trek

Continuing up the road from Bhratang



Bored by the road but boosted by the coffee and sugar, we made up silly songs*. Mine was a deep toned dirge:

Pounding, pounding the road
Carrying, my heavy load
Walking, walking on gravel
My mind, starting to unravel

Pounding, pounding the road
Carrying, my heavy load
Walking, walking on gravel
My mind, starting to unravel

Kim’s rap was a bit more upbeat:

I was walkin’ down the road one afternoon
When suddenly there was an apple farm
And I was like, BOOM!
Applelicious, Applelicious

Was walkin’ down the road one afternoon
When suddenly there was an apple farm
And I was like, BOOM!
Applelicious, Applelicious

You get the picture. We did get some fantastic views of the Annapurnas looking behind, and climbed up a pleasantly sun dappled forest path on one of the NATT trails.

*Check out our Instagram Stories for the live renditions

Trekkers rest at a makeshift refreshment hut on the forest trail up towards Dhukur Pokhari on the Annapurna Circuit trek

Trekkers rest at a makeshift refreshment hut on the forest trail up towards Dhukur Pokhari



Trekkers rest at a makeshift refreshment hut on the forest trail up towards Dhukur Pokhari on the Annapurna Circuit trek

Trekkers rest at a makeshift refreshment hut
on the forest trail up towards Dhukur Pokhari



Back on the road and approaching Dhukur Pokhari, the towering rock face swept round before us in a huge concave turn. It was like the curve on a NASCAR racetrack or cycling velodrome, only made for giants.

The sun was shining as we reached the village and entered the large courtyard of ‘Disneyland’ – so named by Kim for its garishly bold, freshly painted colours. Everywhere was buzzing, guesthouses churning out food for the lunch crowd.

The plan had been to go to Lower Pisang, but the Dal Bhat was great and we had a good feeling about the place, so we talked it over, checked the room, and decided to stay.

A serving of classic Nepali dish dal bhat on a brass plate, sitting on a peach coloured wooden table

Couldn’t resist another Dal Bhat photo, especially with that brass plate and the perfect pinky/peach background



A serving of classic Nepali dish dal bhat on a brass plate, sitting on a peach coloured wooden table

Couldn’t resist another Dal Bhat photo, especially
with that brass plate and the perfect background



Stopping early gave us time to power through our Manaslu Circuit laundry build up, get a super hot gas shower, and still have time to rest and relax in the cozy dining room. I even had time for a haircut.

Laundry hanging outside the rooms of the garishly coloured Kamala Hotel in Dhukur Pokhari on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Laundry drying on the handy washing line at the Kamala Hotel. It was cold but thankfully a good breeze helped things along



Laundry hanging outside the rooms of the garishly coloured Kamala Hotel in Dhukur Pokhari on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Laundry drying on the washing line. The afternoon
turned cold but thankfully a good breeze helped out



As the day wound down we waved in a Canadian father and daughter who we’d met on the Manaslu Circuit, and soon after they waved in a Dutch family who they had met on the trail. The Dutch were three: parents who’d first trekked the Annapurna Circuit nearly thirty years before and their twenty-something son.

We spent a fine evening chatting away, but also managed to formulate new plans for the coming days. Our guide had been leading us to Lower Pisang, but the Dutch were planning on taking the high trail to Ngawal via Upper Pisang and Ghyaru, and the more we talked and pored over the maps, the more it seemed like this was the place to be.

Clouds swirl around a sweeping concave mountainside at Dhukur Pokhari on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Dark clouds forming among the sloping, curved mountainside as night draws in



Clouds swirl around a sweeping concave mountainside at Dhukur Pokhari on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Dark clouds forming among the sloping,
curved mountainside as night draws in



With our plan settled, we headed to bed with newfound enthusiasm and went to sleep in the best room yet, drifting off with the comforting smell of fresh pine lingering in the air.

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Trekkers look out while descending from the Larke Pass on the Manaslu Circuit Trek
A catamaran sails on the calm water at sunset off the south coast of Jeju Island
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ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 3
~
DHUKUR POKHARI – NGAWAL

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 3

DHUKUR POKHARI – NGAWAL

DISTANCE

13.5 km

ELEVATION

3200 – 3660 m

TIME

7 hours  (total)

4 hours 40 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Royal Nyeshyang
Twin Room (shared bathroom)
400 NPR


The day the Annapurna Circuit came alive for us.

The trekking route to Ngawal follows one of the NATT trails and should not be missed. The difference this makes to your experience cannot be overstated. If you go to Lower Pisang and on to Manang – the quicker way – it’s entirely road. But the route via Ngawal is almost entirely off-road, and the effort it takes to climb the steep path to Ghyaru is richly rewarded by some of the best views on the whole trek. What’s more, the villages have a particularly traditional feel, removed as they are from the valley floor and its accompanying development. Ngawal itself is an interesting settlement and an atmospheric place to wander, and the sunset/sunrise mountain views are truly spectacular. One of our favourite places to stay on the Annapurna Circuit Trek.

We left Dhukur Pokhari on an icy cold morning, took the road to Upper Pisang past a trio of cute puppies, and crossed the pale blue Marsyangdi once more. The welcome sun hit us soon after, lifting the deep chill and prompting a quick stop – layering off clothes and on sunscreen.

Climbing the hillside towards Upper Pisang, we passed through forests of tall pines, junipers and colourful bushes – thickets of pinky red wild rose bushes and yellowy orange sea buckthorn ones. Sometimes, clearing the forest, we’d get fantastic views up the valley, where scarred rock faces looked down on the snakelike Marsyangdi cutting a deep trough far below.

A panorama of the snow covered Annapurna Massif, a trekker hiking the Annapurna Circuit trail in the foreground

Climbing the trail higher, past Upper Pisang, the views just got better and better



Snow covered mountains of the Annapurnas, a trekker hiking the Annapurna Circuit trail in the foreground

Climbing the trail higher, past Upper Pisang,
the views just continued to get better and better



After winding our way through more forest we came to a long mani wall with elaborately carved stone slabs. Looking back, the views of the Annapurnas were outstanding, mountain peaks shining bright under the high sun.

A long Mani Wall stretching out with snow covered mountains of the Annapurna Circuit trek in the background

The perfect combination on the trekking trail: cultural treasures and stunning mountain scenes



A long Mani Wall stretching out with snow covered mountains of the Annapurna Circuit trek in the background

The perfect combination on the trekking trail:
cultural treasures and stunning mountain scenes



After a quick energy boosting snack, we tackled the steep ascent, kept company by our Dutch friends from the night before. The trail switched back and forth, the climb setting our hearts racing. After a brief rest at a little place serving drinks and snacks, we pushed on to Ghyaru, a small mountain village with an old style rustic feel. Here we found a place for lunch with an open courtyard, a table in the sun, and outstanding views of Annapurna II.

Two trekkers reaching Ghyaru (3700 m) at the end of a long climb from the valley below, with Annapurna II marking the skyline behind

Reaching Ghyaru (3700 m) at the end of a long climb from the valley below, with Annapurna II marking the skyline behind



Two trekkers reaching Ghyaru (3700 m) at the end of a long climb from the valley below, with Annapurna II marking the skyline behind

Reaching Ghyaru (3700 m) after a steep climb,
with Annapurna II marking the skyline behind



Due to an unusually long wait lunch took the best part of two hours, but after an outstanding Dal Bhat (this one included an omelette) we set out again, trekking along the undulating path to Ngawal. The high wind caused a bit of a chill but the sun was strong and the trail interesting, winding past dancing prayer flags with mountain views unfolding at every turn.

he village of Ngawal (3660 m) perched high above the Manang Valley

The village of Ngawal (3660 m) perched high above the Manang Valley



The Marsyangdi a distant silver sliver in the Manang Valley with snowy mountains rising behind

The Marsyangdi a distant silver sliver



The Marsyangdi a distant silver sliver in the Manang Valley with snowy mountains rising behind

The Marsyangdi a distant silver sliver


he village of Ngawal (3660 m) perched high above the Manang Valley

The village of Ngawal (3660 m), perched high
above the Manang Valley and road far below



Arriving in Ngawal, the first few guesthouses were full. It worked in our favour though. After meandering through narrow streets past wandering cows, we got one of the last rooms at the decent Hotel Royal Nyeshyang, and settled in to enjoy late afternoon views of Gangapurna and Annapurna III. With sunset approaching, dark clouds swirled among the glowing white tops of these magnificent mountain giants – the perfect end to our best day on the Annapurna Circuit so far.

  • Annapurna III and Gangapurna peaks enshrouded with clouds at sunset
  • Annapurna III and Gangapurna peaks enshrouded with clouds at sunset

One of the best views on the Annapurna Circuit



ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 4
~
NGAWAL – MANANG

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 4

NGAWAL – MANANG

DISTANCE

10 km

ELEVATION

3660 – 3540 m

TIME

4 hours (total)

3 hours (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Himalayan Singi
Twin Room w/bathroom
No charge (when staying
2 nights and eating all meals)


A further unplanned route with more stunning scenery.

There are a couple of options when trekking between Ngawal and Manang. The first is to follow the dirt track down to join the main road. The second is to follow the NATT trail. It climbs slightly after leaving Ngawal before crossing a plateau with old ruins, stupas, a large Bhuddist monastery, and more stunning views. Which would you choose? From the monastery the path drops down and crosses the river at an old village, Julu. From here the trail splits, winding down to join the road at Munchi, or up again before descending to Braka. As with all NATT trails they’re marked in red on Annapurna Circuit trekking maps, however, the trail over the hill to Braka isn’t immediately obvious on the ground. From Munchi or Braka it’s a short distance along the road to Manang.

Waking on a chill morning, we wrapped up warm and shuffled onto the veranda to be greeted by more incredible mountain scenes. It was the perfect start to the morning and we were glad once again that we’d taken this route.

Sunrise hitting the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal

The jagged twin peaks of Annapurna III (left) and Gangapurna (right) catching the early morning light



Sunrise hitting the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal

The jagged twin peaks of Annapurna III (left) and
Gangapurna (right) catching the early morning light



Due to the aforementioned lack of planning and at our guide’s suggestion, the plan was to head down the dirt track to join the Manang road. But by another happy accident, our guesthouse owner was standing outside as we left and directed us onto the NATT trail. So we turned off just after Ngawal and headed up once more. After a short climb we reached the plateau, pausing to admire the blinding white stupas at one end and the Tibetan style Buddhist monastery at the other. A few other trekkers had chosen this route, but mostly, we had it to ourselves. It was a beautifully calm and still morning with the Annapurnas to one side and Chulus to the other.

Crumbled chortens and more mountain views on the (NATT) trekking trail from Ngawal to Manang

Crumbled chortens and more mountain views on the (NATT) trekking trail from Ngawal to Manang



Crumbled chortens and more mountain views on the (NATT) trekking trail from Ngawal to Manang

Crumbled chortens and more mountain views
on the trekking trail from Ngawal to Manang



From the monastery, we watched our step carefully down the steep sandy hill of loose stones and sparsely populated short pines. Leveling off, we walked through twisted junipers and autumnal wild rose bushes, perfectly contrasted with the blue sky and white mountains. Crossing the small river by wooden bridge, we paused to admire the traditional village of low stone buildings and stupas. Ahead, the sandy rock formations reminded us of Turkey’s Cappadocia.

A trekker walking towards Cappadocia-esque rock formations on the way to Manang

Heading down to Manang past Cappadocia-esque rock formations



A trekker on a tree-lined trail on the Annapurna Circuit

Following the tree-lined trail



A trekker on a tree-lined trail on the Annapurna Circuit

Following the tree-lined trail


A trekker walking towards Cappadocia-esque rock formations on the way to Manang

Heading down to Manang past
Cappadocia-esque rock formations



Before long we joined the dirt road – the start of the day’s slog, a good 5 km or so of dull pounding. As we got closer to Manang, trucks and jeeps tore past us at speed, engulfing us in clouds of dirt and dust. We enjoyed a brief respite in Braka, stopping at the Yak Bakery for a tasty cinnamon roll. By midday we were in Manang, checking into the Hotel Himalayan Singi where we had our biggest room yet: a huge double bed, a single bed to dump all our gear, lots of light from two big windows, and an attached bathroom (unfortunately with plumbing issues).

A close up of the hand painted sign for the Happy Yak Bakery in Braka

The Yak Bakery in Braka, serving cinnamon rolls and other choice delights (recommended by the ‘Lovely Planet’)



A close up of the hand painted sign for the Happy Yak Bakery in Braka

The Yak Bakery in Braka, serving
up cinnamon rolls and other delights
(recommended by the ‘Lovely Planet’)



A Dal Bhat lunch was followed by a trip to the Hotel Nilgiri for decent coffee and excellent apple crumble, before heading next door to the Medical Centre for an extremely informative and enlightening talk on altitude sickness, or AMS (acute mountain sickness).*

As dusk approached, we paid a much anticipated visit to the Manang Projector Hall – a quaint, low stone building with hard seats covered in worn pelts. The young guys running the place popped in a DVD and showed it on a pull down screen. We (particularly Kim) love visiting cinemas around the world, especially those with their own unique character. Manang has four or five of these projector halls to choose from, each showing mostly mountain related films or documentaries. We settled in to watch the screening of Seven Years In Tibet,  thoroughly enjoying the experience, and not really minding the numb bums that came with it. After that, all that was left of the day was a late dinner and a bit of chat back in the hotel dining room.

*This presentation by the volunteer doctors of the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) cleared up a lot of misunderstandings and debunked a lot of myths and misinformation we’d heard over the preceding weeks. Many trekking guides had been giving out wildly contradictory advice. As we found out, much if not most of it was plain wrong. The best advice we can give is do your own research, seek advice from a medical professional, and when you’re in Manang, don’t miss this presentation from the HRA – it’s on daily at 3 pm.

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ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 5
~
MANANG REST DAY

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 5

MANANG REST DAY

ELEVATION

3540 m

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Himalayan Singi
Twin Room w/bathroom
No charge (when staying
2 nights and eating all meals)


A proper rest day.

Manang feels like a proper town. A good sized settlement with a sizable local population, it’s more than just a hub for trekkers. Saying that, there is no shortage of hotels, guesthouses and lodges (whatever name they happen to go by) and there’s plenty in Manang to cater for the trekking population, be it general stores, coffee shops or projector halls. And although some people regard it as too ‘touristy’, we didn’t find it so. To us it had a community feel and the charm of an end of the road frontier town. Regardless of perception, Manang remains the main place where people spend two nights on the Annapurna Circuit, to rest and acclimatise before heading up and over the Thorong La.

View down the valley from the edge of Manang as the sun rises

View down the valley from the edge of Manang as the sun rises



View down the valley from the edge of Manang as the sun rises

View down the valley from Manang at sunrise



It’s common practice when acclimatising to hike high and return to sleep lower, getting the body used to the increased altitude. One of the most popular day hikes from Manang is to the Ice Lake (4600 m), a return trip of about 4-6 hours. It was something we wanted to do, but again our lack of planning worked against us. Had we researched beforehand as we usually do, we would have planned the extra days needed for both the Ice Lake and a three day side trip to Tilicho Lake (4920 m). In the end we just decided to have a full day’s rest after 16 days of trekking, and having traversed the Larke Pass (5106 m) a week before and remained at altitude since, we were already well acclimatised.

An early walk to the edge of town was worth the effort, the surrounding landscape suffused with an amazing light. There were a few signs of life – the odd local up and about, jeep drivers getting ready – but mostly, all was peaceful and still.

Smoke rising from the Buddhist monastery outside of Manang

The day begins early for monks; smoke rises from the Buddhist monastery outside of Manang



Smoke rising from the Buddhist monastery outside of Manang

The day begins early for monks; smoke rises
from the Buddhist monastery outside Manang



After breakfast we did the laundry early, drying it in the hot sun before the wind got too strong and blew it away (come midday, Manang is a very windy place.) Next up we visited the Sanna Bakery to sample more coffee and baked goods. The coffee was an improvement on Hotel Nilgiri’s but the baking couldn’t match up. We wandered the town’s many small stores, stocking up on a few essentials, and generally took an admiration tour of all the sights Manang has to offer.

A local taking the time to spin each and every prayer wheel on a long prayer wall in Manang

One of many locals taking the time to spin each and every prayer wheel on the way by



A local taking the time to spin each and every prayer wheel on a long prayer wall in Manang

One of many locals taking the time to spin
each and every prayer wheel on the way by



That afternoon we visited our friends in the Tilicho Hotel, three Canadians we’d spent time with on the Manaslu Circuit. Catching up in the very nice and comfortable ‘sunroom’, we sampled the freshly ground coffee, plus even more apple crumble and cinnamon rolls (all were good). Back at our hotel in time for yet more food (probably unneeded), we settled in to order dinner, drink tea and stay warm. Soaking up the convivial atmosphere, we enjoyed good company and looked forward to the challenges of the next few days.

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 6
~
MANANG – YAK KHARKA

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 6

MANANG – YAK KHARKA

DISTANCE

10 km

ELEVATION

3540 – 4050 m

TIME

4 hours (total)

3 hours 15 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Gangapurna Hotel
Twin Room (shared bathroom)
No room charge


Into the mountains.

The trek from Manang to Yak Kharka isn’t a long one and there are great views to appreciate along the way. It’s a 500 m climb which is the recommended limit for ascending to sleep at altitude. However, if you’re already well acclimatised then carrying on to Ledar (4240 m) is another option. This would mean there’s less altitude to gain the following day if climbing to sleep at Thorong High Camp (4880 m) rather than Thorong Phedi (4550 m). There are also a few scattered lodges in Upper Yak Kharka (4140 m). We liked the village atmosphere of Yak Kharka and enjoyed our time at the Gangapurna Hotel.

We left Manang on a sunny morning, stopping at the Tilicho Bakery for one last cinnamon roll. Climbing out of town, we took an even pace up the steep road, past stupas, mani walls and locals selling various trinkets.

A glacier blue river snaking through the valley below the trail from Manang to Yak Kharka on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

The valley spread out impressively below us as we climbed the trail from Manang



A glacier blue river snaking through the valley below the trail from Manang to Yak Kharka on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

The valley spread out impressively below
us as we climbed the trail from Manang



Within the hour we turned right, up the Jharsang Khola valley towards Thorong La, putting our backs to the Annapurnas and leaving the Marsyangdi behind. The land, although dry and dusty as we approached 4000 m, was sprinkled with the familiar reds, yellows and oranges of wild rose and seabuckthorn. Interspersed liberally between them all, the ubiquitous stunted juniper trees. Winding our way up the valley, we could see the pointy Thorong Peak, perfectly white and shining in the morning sun. The pass lay tucked in behind – our next major goal and the highest point of our trek.

Trekkers turning north through a stone gate on the Annapurna Circuit trail, heading up into the mountains

Turning north and heading up into the mountains



Trekkers on the dry trail towards Yak Kharka, surrounded by sparse vegetation

Sparse vegetation on the dry trail



Trekkers turning north through a stone gate on the Annapurna Circuit trail, heading up into the mountains

Turning north and heading up into the mountains


Trekkers on the dry trail towards Yak Kharka, surrounded by sparse vegetation

Sparse vegetation on the dry trail



Carrying on through the tea houses of Ghunsang, the wind picked up and skies clouded over. The landscape became more dry, more stark, the vegetation more sparse. Soon, the day’s short trek was over.

We arrived in the small village of Yak Kharka (literally, the place for yaks) before 11:30, sitting to order lunch soon after. The small front dining room of our guesthouse was painted in happy yellows, reds and greens – a good place to hang out. Our dal bhat took some time to arrive while other dishes arrived looking quite appealing, many yak based: yak burger, yak chilli, yak sizzler. It wasn’t the best dal bhat when it arrived – Kim suffered a bout of food jealousy and obsessed about what to eat for dinner for the rest of the day.

I took a short hike up the valley after lunch, climbing to the lodges at Upper Yak Kharka. The scenery was atmospheric with mist shrouded views of Gangapurna, but it was bitterly cold and my hands froze trying to take photos.

Snowy mountains looming over blue roofed trekking lodges as seen from Yak Kharka on the Annapurna Circuit

There were fantastic views back down the valley but it was too cold to stay outside for long



Snowy mountains looming over blue roofed trekking lodges as seen from Yak Kharka on the Annapurna Circuit

There were some fantastic views back down the
valley but it was too cold to stay outside for long



Giving up, I retreated to the relative warmth of the dining room as a light flurry of snow drifted down. We spent the rest of the day snacking, drinking tea, chatting with others, and doing our best to stay warm.

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 7
~
YAK KHARKA – THORONG HIGH CAMP

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 7

YAK KHARKA – THORONG HIGH CAMP

DISTANCE

9 km

ELEVATION

4050 – 4880 m

TIME

6 hours (total)

4 hours (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Thorong High Camp Hotel
Twin Room (shared outside toilet)
400 NPR


The highest sleep before the pass.

This day’s reward is more mountain views and an ever increasing feeling of remoteness. The trail climbs initially then becomes more gradual beyond Ledar where the valley is narrower and more steep sided. The trail descends to cross the Jharsang Khola in two places, the first on a new suspension bridge, the second on an older bridge right at the valley floor. After passing a small tea house the path crosses a landslide area to reach Thorong Phedi (4550 m) where many people stay the night. If continuing to Thorong High Camp (4880 m), it’s a further 300 m climb on a steep and narrow switchback trail.

It was bitterly cold as we climbed the hill from Yak Kharka. We aimed for the sliver of sun ahead, stepping carefully on the icy path. Once we hit the sun, that familiar warmth spread through us and the layers started to peel off.

Soon we passed through Ledar, admiring the attractive guesthouses and pausing to watch the antics of a local cat. The views all around were great, particularly back to Gangapurna and over to Chulu West. We set a relaxed pace, the trail sloping gently upwards high above the Jharsang Khola. The landscape was becoming ever more barren, with only scattered low shrubs surviving among the dirt and stones.

Two trekkers taking a break and looking down the valley towards snowy mountain peaks on the Annapurna Circuit trek

Looking back down the valley towards the village of Ledar



Two trekkers taking a break and looking down the valley towards snowy mountain peaks on the Annapurna Circuit trek

Looking back down the valley towards Ledar



After some confusion about which path to take, we took the left fork and descended to cross the new suspension bridge. The river was several metres below, not particularly full, and bordered on each side by a gently sloping stony bank. Reaching the other side, we looked down to see a huge vulture feasting on a dead horse. Soon the eagles moved in, ten or more, fighting over the scraps and hopping around far less gracefully than they fly.

Having descended to the river, we now had to climb again, watching our footing on the shifting stones of the dusty track. We rested with the crowds outside the little Deurali Teahouse before crossing the landslide area to reach Thorong Phedi.

A trekker taking a break on a rocky wall, looking out at the view from Deurali Teahouse

Resting with a view at Deurali Teahouse



A trekker climbing up from the river, the trail and snowy mountains stretched out far into the distance behind him

Climbing up from the river



A trekker taking a break on a rocky wall, looking out at the view from Deurali Teahouse

Resting with a view at Deurali Teahouse


A trekker climbing up from the river, the trail and snowy mountains stretched out far into the distance behind him

Climbing up from the river crossing



We stopped for an early lunch at the Windhorse Restaurant (essentially the dining room of the Thorong Base Camp Lodge) a place that seemed totally not in keeping with its surroundings – attractive decor and amazingly chilled out with good music playing. The surroundings, atmosphere and food had us questioning whether to stay or push on to High Camp. In the end we decided to keep going. Kim had a slight headache but mostly felt okay, and we knew that the next section was very steep and not one we fancied tackling first thing in the morning while it was still dark. Back on the trail, we made our way slowly up the steep slope, looking up every so often to enjoy the impressive panoramic mountain views.

A trekker climbing the rocky slope from Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp

Climbing the rocky slope from Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp



A trekker climbing the rocky slope from Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp

Climbing the steep, rocky slope from
Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp



When we reached the top the sun was still shining, but it didn’t last long, dipping behind the western peaks and leaving a bone deep chill in its place. I made sure to fill our water bladders and bottles from an ice cold barrel before it froze over. We had hot drinks and snacks in the sunroom, headed outside to capture the curious Tibetan Snowcocks and shoot some video, then hurried back inside, just managing to get seats in the increasingly busy fire warmed dining room.

The last bit of sun for the day hits the snowy peak of a mountain in the Annapurnas

Getting the last mountain view of the day before cramming into the dining room to stay warm



The last bit of sun for the day hits the snowy peak of a mountain in the Annapurnas

Getting the last mountain view of the day before
cramming into the dining room to stay warm



By seven we were done with dinner, heading back to our basic room to get warm in both sleeping bags and blankets, our alarms set for a very early 3 o’clock rise the next morning.

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ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 8
~
THORONG HIGH CAMP – MUKTINATH

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 8

THORONG HIGH CAMP – MUKTINATH

DISTANCE

14 km

ELEVATION

4880 – 5416 – 3700 m

TIME

8 hours  (total)

5 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel The Paths Of Dream
Twin Room w/bathroom
900 NPR


The big day: crossing Thorong La.

This is the day that everyone is building up to, crossing the Thorong Pass at 5416 m, the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit trek. A long and mostly gradual climb from High Camp, if taken slowly, it’s not too difficult – the trail is wide and easy to follow.* The pass itself is wide and open, a gentle rise featuring a ramshackle teahouse and the Thorong La sign festooned with prayer flags. From here the descent is gradual for a while, then becomes steep, the trail switching back down the mountain to arrive at Chamber Bhu (4200 m). Many people stop for lunch here (we did) although it’s only another hour down to Muktinath on a pretty easy path.

*If there’s snow and ice under foot, things can be a bit more tricky. Such weather isn’t common in the peak trekking seasons but it is possible (more so in Spring than Autumn). If it seems that the conditions require it, light crampons are easy to pick up in Manang.

To leave early or not?

It’s normal for most guides and trekking groups to leave either Thorong Phedi or High Camp at least an hour before dawn. In fact it seems to have become accepted practice on this and other treks in Nepal (we also experienced this crossing the Manaslu Circuit’s Larke La). The thinking is that because the weather is generally better in the morning, it’s sensible to reach the pass and begin your descent as early as possible. It also gives you plenty of time in case of complications.

Dry rocky mountains with patches of thick snow at dawn, as seen while ascending to Thorong La

Leaving before daybreak means you’ll get to the pass earlier but you have to wait for the views



Dry rocky mountains with patches of thick snow at dawn, as seen while ascending to Thorong La

Leaving before daybreak means you get to the
pass earlier but you have to wait for the views



However, it’s not ideal. With temperatures usually well below freezing this approach is also not without danger, and trudging along with your head torch on, you miss half the views. In our opinion, if you have an accurate forecast showing fair weather and are feeling fit and well acclimatised, then leaving at daybreak should allow enough time to cross the pass safely and perhaps even enjoy it all the more.

We woke to our alarm at three, forced ourselves from the warmth of our sleeping bags, and were fully packed and waiting for breakfast by four. It was a freezing cold -11℃.  In the outdoor squat toilets the ice coated uneven stone floors were positively dangerous. A thick frozen layer covered the bucket of water for flushing – I managed to break it but when Kim went in later, she was greeted by someone else’s steaming pile of shit.

In the dimly lit dining room breakfast arrived a little late: omelettes, chapatis and a pot of tea. Kim’s stomach was bothering her but it didn’t amount to much. Some pills from one of our Canadian friends seemed to do the trick.

We set off at five and before long were cold beyond belief, literally chilled to the bone. Unlike the still conditions on the Larke La a week before, the wind was already stirring, dropping the real feel down by several degrees. Fingers and toes were numb and aching. Kim’s hands were too cold to grasp her poles, even through thick GORE-TEX gloves. I tried to take photos and video as the light drew near but fumbled with unfeeling fingers, struggling to press buttons and turn dials. When the sun finally arrived, cresting the eastern mountains, we turned our faces in supplication, like primitives. For the next hour though, it was weak and had limited power.

Trekkers on the Thorong La trail at daybreak

It was bitterly cold as we shuffled our way up the trail before sunrise



Trekkers on the Thorong La trail at daybreak

It was bitterly cold as we shuffled
our way up the trail before sunrise



The climb was pretty straightforward, a dry sandy path, sometimes steep, sometimes gentle. Mountains loomed all around as the landscape revealed itself in the growing daylight. Pausing regularly to breathe and look back toward the low sun, the rocky landscape glittered like a field of rough diamonds, sparkling in the morning’s bright light.

Dry rocky mountains, and a backdrop of snow co

Taking a rest and turning round to face the welcome sun



Dry rocky mountains, and a backdrop of snow covered peaks at sunrise on the approach to Thorong La

Turning round to face the welcome sun



It didn’t take long to get to the pass, around two and a half hours. The path became ever more gentle until we reached it unexpectedly, almost too easily. With the wind picking up further we dove inside the welcome tea shack, getting extra large cups of sugary tea and wolfing down our stash of chapatis and boiled eggs.

A trekker with a bright red coat hiking the gravel trail towards Thorong La on the Annapurna Circuit

Thorong La, the highest point of the trek at 5416 m, is just around the corner



A trekker with a bright red coat hiking the gravel trail towards Thorong La on the Annapurna Circuit

Thorong La, the highest point of the
trek at 5416 m, is just around the corner



Outside we joined the queue for the obligatory Thorong La sign photos, then without further ado, started our descent. In all honesty, we felt the pass itself was a bit of a let down, the scenery a bit too unremarkable – we couldn’t help but compare it unfavourably with the magnificent Larke Pass.

Two trekkers posing at the Thorong La sign surrounded by colourful prayer flags

A rare picture of the two of us, in front of the Thorong La sign



Two trekkers posing at the Thorong La sign surrounded by colourful prayer flags

A rare picture of the two of us,
in front of the Thorong La sign



Heading down the wind dropped almost immediately, and views over Mustang started to unfold. It looked like a different world, the land altogether more dry and dusty – we both immediately thought of Tajikistan. The path sloped gently and as we continued on, colour returned to the landscape, replacing the browns and greys of the pass. The surrounding slopes took on almond and pumpkin seed hues as grass, moss and low bushes appeared. A steeper, more slippery section of loose dirt and stones took us to Chamber Bhu where we gratefully stopped to ease aching muscles and eat lunch in a sunny courtyard.

Trekkers descending on a gently sloping trail after Thorong La on the Annapurna Circuit

The trail sloping gently at first after the pass



Trekkers descending a steep rocky trail towards Muktinath on the Annapurna Circuit

Steeper down to Chamber Bhu



Trekkers descending on a gently sloping trail after Thorong La on the Annapurna Circuit

The trail sloping gently at first after the pass


Trekkers descending a steep rocky trail towards Muktinath on the Annapurna Circuit

Steeper down to Chamber Bhu



Back on the trail after lunch, we were in Muktinath* within the hour, feeling a disconnect as we moved from mountain landscape to bustling settlement. At the main gate, sadhus sat cross legged with faces painted and bowls in hand. Into the town, dusty streets were busy with pilgrims visiting the famous Muktinath Temple, many being led along on horseback or catching a ride on peace shattering motorbikes. It felt like stepping into a different world, and not in a good way.

wo trekkers looking at a hand painted metal sign with a map of Muktinath

The information board welcoming weary trekkers to Muktinath



Two trekkers looking at a hand painted metal sign with a map of Muktinath

Welcoming weary trekkers to Muktinath



After checking into our hotel, we got cleaned up and went for a wander, stopping in at the Freedom Reggae Cafe – a nice little place attached to the Hotel Bob Marley (a place we later found out comes highly recommended). The cafe served good coffee and a pretty tasty hummus platter. Beyond that the town didn’t hold much appeal so we made our way back, avoiding the horses and motorbikes while skirting past roadside stalls and half finished concrete hotels.

Settling in to the sunny dining room, we whiled the rest of the day away as more and more trekkers continued to appear. For us, scribbling our notes and backing up photos, the pass already seemed like a distant memory. So, sipping on beer (Del) and sea buckthorn juice (Kim), we turned our minds to the days ahead.

*Muktinath is actually the name of the Hindu temple. The town is called Ranipauwa, but is generally referred to as Muktinath.

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 9
~
MUKTINATH – KAGBENI

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 9

MUKTINATH – KAGBENI

DISTANCE

12 km

ELEVATION

3700 – 2810 m

TIME

4 hours  (total)

3 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Shangri-La
Twin Room w/bathroom
600 NPR


A taste of Mustang culture on the alternative trekking trail.

From Muktinath there are various options for onward travel, either by continuing to hike or taking transport in the form of jeep or bus. These days many people choose to end their trek here, or bypass the next stretch as far as say Tatopani, before joining the trail again.

For those continuing to hike, there are three options: taking the road past Kagbeni to Jomsom, taking the Lubra Pass (NATT trail) and dropping down before Jomsom, or crossing the Jhong Khola and following the route (NATT trail) through traditional Mustang villages to Kagbeni.

We were heading to Kagbeni – the gateway to Upper Mustang – where we were due to have a rest day before going north into the restricted region. Our guide had been intending to take us down the road, telling us it was quick and that we would just get it out of the way. But while sitting in our hotel the day before, our Canadian friends happened to walk by and see us through the window. They popped in to say hello and in conversation, told us that their guide was taking them across the river and through Jhong. Once again we were saved from our lack of planning by the useful information provided by others.

With a short day ahead and a long one behind, we started later than usual: breakfast at seven thirty, departure at nine. We left as the sun hit the front door – perfect timing – winding our way past horseback pilgrims, bells tinkling pleasantly in our ears. Back through the East Gate, we veered left across the stream with views of the town and valley beyond. Behind us and far above, we could make out the trail descending from Thorong La; strange to think we’d crossed it just the day before. Climbing a dusty track we soon passed through Chongur, a village of striped walls, intricate prayer wheels, and countless colourful flags snapping in the stiff breeze.

A white, yellow, grey , and red striped wall of a Mustang home in Chongur

The distinctive striped walls that are common in Mustang villages



A white, yellow, grey , and red striped wall of a Mustang home in Chongur

The distinctive striped walls that
are common in Mustang villages



Descending a series of steep switchbacks, we crossed the Jhong Khola on a newish looking suspension bridge before turning west down the valley. It was a really picturesque walk. The villages were markedly different to what we’d seen and all around, leaves were falling or ready to fall, the sunlight filtered through patchworked shades of golden yellows and subtle browns. In Jhong, we bought fresh apples from a smiling lady and noted the odd guesthouse as we passed. Above us, the remains of an ancient fortress cast a shadow over the winding lanes.

Traditional Mustang homes surrounded by trees of Autumnal yellow, the Thorong La rising behind in the distance

The village of Puthak clinging to the hillside among autumn leaves, while far above, Thorong La is still seen through the haze



Traditional Mustang homes surrounded by trees of Autumnal yellow, the Thorong La rising behind in the distance

The village of Puthak clinging to the hillside
among autumn leaves, while far above,
Thorong La is still seen through the haze



Leaving the villages behind, the dry Mustang landscape opened up before us; in the distance, the shining peaks of Tukuche and Dhaulagiri. Several goatherds shared the track, trotting daintily by as if in high heels, making us laugh as only goats can. We followed a dirt road, but thanked our good fortune to be on this side of the river – in the distance we could see dust spitting up from jeeps on the road to Jomsom. By contrast, we met a total of three vehicles that entire morning, two of them motorbikes.

As we neared Kagbeni, the colours changed again. The dry, treeless landscape was painted in muted reds, sandy oranges, and pistachio – the pale green coming from short blades of tough grass and scattered hardy shrubs. The reason for the lack of other vegetation soon became all too apparent. Wind. Come late morning on most days, it picks up and can be quite ferocious. Tough shrubs can survive, but little else can – I very nearly got KO’d by a strong gust catching my bag.

Snowy peaks reflected in a pool of water

Kim spotted this little pool from the trail, and the mountain reflections were too good to pass up



Snowy peaks reflected in a pool of water

Kim spotted this little pool from the trail, and
the mountain reflections were too good to pass up



While I struggled with the wind, Kim was busily hunting for fossils. An ancient seabed, this rocky land is littered with the fossilised remains of now extinct sea creatures. Called Shaligrams in the Hindu faith, they are believed to be a representation of Lord Vishnu. In fact, their presence is needed in order to establish a Vishnu temple, hence the existence of Muktinath Temple, one of holiest pilgrimage sites for both Hindus and Buddhists alike.

Reaching the Kali Gandaki Valley, we marvelled at the river below – a dark, slate grey channel twisting across the barren flood plain, offshoots splitting and rejoining like shredded muscle fibres. Inadvertently choosing the toughest of three routes (easiest is the road), we scrambled down a crumbled path, narrow between two cliff faces, effectively a wind tunnel. It was a little hairy, especially with heavy bags, but within five minutes we were down, on the road, and approaching Kagbeni.

Multiple strands of the Kali Gandaki river snaking down the dramatic gorge

The view over the Kali Gandaki Gorge made us glad once again that we’d taken this route



Multiple strands of the Kali Gandaki river snaking down the dramatic gorge

The view over the Kali Gandaki Gorge made
us glad again that we’d taken this route



We knew it was our kind of place the moment we arrived. A maze of tight lanes led us past high-sided buildings, bizarre statues, and mani walls; it felt like we’d stepped back in time and were negotiating the secret pathways of a medieval town. Emerging from these backstreets, numerous guesthouses clustered around the river, overlooked by the imposing monastery.

An enclosed courtyard with prayer flags in the middle and mudbrick houses on all sides in the medieval village of Kagbeni

A traditional courtyard among the mudbrick houses of Kagbeni



An enclosed courtyard with prayer flags in the middle and mudbrick houses on all sides in the medieval village of Kagbeni

A traditional courtyard among
the mudbrick houses of Kagbeni



After a few failed attempts on the accommodation front, we got a room at the Hotel Shangri-La: a decent place with an impressive central dining room, traditional features, and a sunny second floor terrace perfect for drying clothes. After lunch, some rest, and a spot of washing, we headed out to see what more Kagbeni had to offer.

That evening, as we sat having dinner, our quiet guesthouse transformed suddenly into a dancehall. A beaming group of young locals appeared through the door, bearing candles and blasting music from their phones. Marking the final day of the Dashain Festival, they danced around the room in happy celebration, before moving on as abruptly as they’d arrived, monetary gifts in hand from the owners. An unexpected, interesting and enjoyable experience of wonderful Nepali culture.

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ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: DAY 10
~
KAGBENI REST DAY

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

DAY 10

KAGBENI REST DAY

ELEVATION

1860 – 2670 m

ACCOMMODATION

Paradise Trekker’s Home
Twin Room w/bathroom
600 NPR


A rest day in Kagbeni.

Kagbeni is often overlooked by those on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, with many bypassing it on their way from Muktinath to Jomsom. In our minds, that is a mistake. Kagbeni is a place like no other on the AC. It offers a chance to experience authentic Sakya Buddhist culture at the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa (monastery), plus get a sense of what life must have been like when this town was a thriving hub in the salt trade with Tibet. It’s also a good place to hang out, with a variety of places to sample coffee, cake, and beer. Finally, as the gateway to Upper Mustang, it offers a glimpse into the restricted area for those not venturing north.

If you arrive at lunchtime, there’s plenty of time to explore the town before heading on the next day. But, it’s easy to spend an extra day, especially if you make the side trip to Tiri. On the western bank of the Kali Gandaki, this village was once in the restricted area, but nowadays, no permit is required. About a half hour walk from Kagbeni, it offers an insight into the local culture as well as views into Upper Mustang.

For us, we had a day until our Upper Mustang permits began, giving us lots of time to relax, wander, and appreciate.

It started with a rude awakening. The previous evening, a large group of Nepalis had arrived at the Hotel Shangri-La, a couple of multi-generational families on a pilgrimage to Muktinath. Some of them were in the rooms next to us, and from 4:00 am, they were up and getting ready, shouting at each other in an ever increasing, fast paced torrent of verbosity. One person, literally outside our door, smacked his or her shoe on the tiled floor approximately fifty times, with considerable force. By 6:30 they were gone and I was dressed with camera in hand, ready for an early morning walk. Kim, with a heavy cold coming on, stayed in bed and tried to sleep.

The streets of Kagbeni were a pleasure as day broke: locals starting their day, solitary cows ambling the crooked streets, smoke swirling from blackened kettles, even a peculiar ram watching from its top-of-the-steps vantage point.

Two blackened kettles steaming on a mudbrick stove in the streets of Kagbeni

Blackened kettles steaming away and making the streets of Kagbeni even more atmospheric



Two blackened kettles steaming on a mudbrick stove in the streets of Kagbeni

Blackened kettles steaming away and making
the streets of Kagbeni even more atmospheric



In the monastery grounds, the rising sun slowly illuminated the ochre red Gompa, while monks chanted softly in the main prayer hall. An atmosphere of calm peacefulness filled the early morning air.

A small wooden window set in the red mudbrick wall of the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa in Kagbeni

The rich colours and textures of the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa



A small wooden window set in the red mudbrick wall of the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa in Kagbeni

The rich tones, colours and textures of the
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa



Back at the guesthouse, we found out over breakfast that we had to vacate our room. A group of sixty Nepalis were arriving later that day and they could no longer accommodate us. So, we quickly threw everything back in our bags and moved to the guesthouse next door.

Once settled, we headed out and embarked on an eating and drinking tour of the town: tasty but expensive pumpkin soup at The Green Kitchen; Happy Meals (and good wifi) at Yak Donalds; coffee, baked goods, and beer at Applebees on the edge of town. In between it all we just wandered, admiring the mud brick houses, marvelling at the ghost eaters (animist male and female statues), visiting the monastery again, and getting stared at by the crazy-eyed ram. It was a good day.

A large ram with curly horns and a bell around its neck, standing on stone steps in the streets of Kagbeni

That crazy-eyed sheep



Face detail of a male 'Ghost Eater' statue in Kagbeni

The male ‘ghost eater’ statue lurking on a street corner



Face detail of a male 'Ghost Eater' statue in Kagbeni

The male ‘ghost eater’ statue on a street corner


A large ram with curly horns and a bell around its neck, standing on stone steps in the streets of Kagbeni

That crazy-eyed sheep



As evening approached we returned to our guesthouse for dinner, food that we didn’t really need. Kim was feeling worse, more and more choked, but we hoped that a good sleep would help sort her out before the next stage of our trek – the restricted area of Upper Mustang.

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: (DAY 11)
~
KAGBENI – MARPHA

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

(DAY 11)

KAGBENI – MARPHA

DISTANCE

15 km

ELEVATION

2810 – 2670 m

TIME

4 hours 30 minutes (total)

3 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Tanpopo
Twin Room w/bathroom
600 NPR


Back on the Annapurna Circuit and down to Marpha, home of the apple.

Okay, in case things seem a little confused and just to be absolutely clear, here’s a quick recap. We had just spent the previous eleven days in Upper Mustang and were now rejoining the Annapurna Circuit. While it was Day 11 on the AC, it was in actual fact Day 34 of our entire trek. We had started with the Manaslu Circuit, joined the Annapurna Circuit at Dharapani, trekked in Upper Mustang, and were now back on the Annapurna Circuit for a final two days.

We’d heard good things about Marpha, so it had always been our plan to trek down there, stay the night, then head back up to Jomsom for a flight to Pokhara. Between Jomsom and Marpha there’s a NATT trail on the eastern side of the river that takes you through some villages and up past Dhumba Lake. While it sounded like a nice route, we decided against it for three reasons, sticking to the quicker road instead. One, we wanted to spend time in Marpha itself. Two, there was some confusion about where to cross back over the river. And three, after more than 30 days trekking, we were just too tired.

We left Kagbeni around half past seven. The weather was warm, and for me, it was the first time in shorts since reaching Manang. Apart from a couple of very short stretches, it was wide dirt road all the way to Jomsom – 9 km of easy if uninteresting walking. Being early, there were thankfully few jeeps to avoid and little dust to eat. Blasted out of a steep west-facing hillside, the road was well shaded, keeping us pleasantly cool.

The wide Kali Gandaki river, with snowy mountains rising behind

Still in the shade, but Jomsom was shining further down the valley



The wide Kali Gandaki river, with snowy mountains rising behind

Still in the shade, but Jomsom was
shining further down the valley



The heat hit us at Jomsom. We passed quickly through the main town, nothing much holding our interest. We tried a few guesthouses near the airport, eventually getting something booked for the following day (our most expensive room of the trek at 1200 NPR).

Now mid-morning, we carried on to Marpha as the wind picked up. Most of the journey was on or next to the road. Walking into a strong headwind, we ate dust every time a vehicle roared by. After such a short day, we were disproportionately relieved to arrive at our destination.

Our spirits did lift as we entered the town, pleased to be walking among the picturesque white-painted stone houses. After checking a few places, we got a decent room at the Hotel Tanpopo (the Japanese word for dandelion). After lunch in the bright sunroom, we wandered the narrow flagstone paved streets and admired the well-maintained traditional architecture.

A street scene from Marpha, complete with motorbikes and whitewashed houses

The wonderfully relaxed streets of Marpha were a pleasure to wander



A street scene from Marpha, complete with motorbikes and whitewashed houses

The wonderfully relaxed streets of Marpha



We stopped in one place for coffee and apple crumble, then later, paid a visit to a recommended hole-in-the-wall momo place. The friendly owner served up buffalo momos, and for me, as a twice a day dal bhat aficionado, it was the first meat I’d had in 35 days.

At dusk, we walked up the steep, narrow staircase to the monastery and were glad we did so. The building itself was interesting enough, but mostly we appreciated the vantage point – interesting backyard scenes among the houses – and enjoyed the dramatic mountain skyline as the sun said its goodbyes for another day.

Looking down over the rooftops and inner courtyards of homes in Marpha

Looking down over the rooftops of Marpha from the monastery



Looking down over the rooftops and inner courtyards of homes in Marpha

Looking down over the rooftops of Marpha



ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK: (DAY 12)
~
MARPHA – JOMSOM

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

(DAY 12)

MARPHA – JOMSOM

DISTANCE

5.5 km

ELEVATION

2670 – 2750 m

TIME

1 hour 10 minutes (total)

ACCOMMODATION

Lo Manthang Guesthouse
Double Room w/bathroom
1200 NPR


A short journey back to Jomsom.

For those not continuing the trek to Tatopani, Ghorepani, etc., the flight option between Jomsom and Pokhara is a fairly common one. It’s certainly much quicker than a jeep/bus ride. However, flights only ever operate in the morning and are subject to weather conditions. All scheduled flights stop around 11:00 am as it gets too windy and there are often cancellations (usually fully refunded). In order to take a flight, you need to have your ticket booked in advance, and you really need to be staying in or close to Jomsom the night before.

This was not really a day on the Annapurna Circuit trek in our minds, merely a necessary retracing of the steps. Thankfully there was not much wind and the road was quiet. We were settled in our guesthouse just after ten with the whole day ahead of us. It’s possible we could have made a flight that day if we’d left earlier, but it would have been stressful to hike, rearrange the bags and get on the plane in time.

We were in Jomsom right in the middle of Diwali, so the cool coffee shop we’d had our eye on was closed. We did find another, but most of the day was spent hanging out in the bright and sunny second floor dining room of our guesthouse. It gave us time to reflect on the past month, and while not the worst way to spend the day, in truth we were already looking forward to the buzz of Pokhara.

The following day our flight left as planned (well, a little late).

A small propeller plane being loaded with bags on the runway at Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

The small plane that plys the route between Jomsom and Pokhara, being loaded up outside the ‘passenger terminal’



A small propeller plane being loaded with bags on the runway at Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

The small plane that plys the route
between Jomsom and Pokhara, being
loaded up outside the ‘terminal’



The wind was relatively strong but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Within half an hour the 67 km journey was over, and we’d quickly descended from 2750 – 1400 m. Stepping off the plane in Pokhara, the balmy air settled over us like a warm blanket. We couldn’t wait to get to our hotel, shower, get shorts on, and settle into several days of well earned indulgence.

THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

Well, that was our journey around the Annapurna Circuit. And at the end, it also saw the completion of our five week long trek through three different regions of the Nepal Himalaya: Manaslu, Annapurna, and Upper Mustang. It was quite the journey. As we made clear throughout, there are certain aspects which make the Annapurna Circuit Trek less appealing than it used to be, but on the other hand, it is still a fantastic experience waiting to be had. We made mistakes on our journey, but we’ve learned from them, and there’s every chance we’ll be back one day to do it all again.

Considering tackling the Annapurna Circuit trek yourself? Don’t forget to check out our complete guide for everything you need to know to plan your trek properly.

So what do you think, would you like to trek the Annapurna Circuit? Maybe you’ve hiked it before? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Annapurna Circuit Trek Itinerary: A Day By Day Account
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