Nepal

Why the Annapurna Circuit Trek is Still a Classic

The Annapurna Circuit is the second-most popular trekking route in Nepal, after the Everest Base Camp trek, and for many good reasons.

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The mountains are enormous and spectacular—OK, you won’t see Everest on this trek, but you will see other giants like Annapurna I (8091 m.) and Dhaulagiri (8167 m.). The landscape is also extremely varied—you pass from the green, cultivated and forested hills not far from Pokhara to the dry, barren moonscape in the rainshadow of the Himalaya. The cultures you encounter are also rich and varied, from Hindu hill tribes like the Pun and Magar people, to the Tibetan Buddhist Gurung and Bhotia people. And, because this is a popular trekking area, the infrastructure is well developed. Teahouse accommodation ranges from basic to quite luxurious, the variety of food means mealtimes won’t become a bore, and you’re never too far away from communications, should you need them.

(To read a first-hand account from Beyond The Clouds’ director on what it’s like to trek the Annapurna Circuit, check out our previous blog post: Annapurna Circuit Trek).

The full circuit is 230 kilometers long, encircling the Annapurna Massif, depending on where you start and end the trek. But it’s not so common for trekkers—especially these days—to trek the whole way. The Annapurna Circuit used to take much longer than it does now, due to the construction of roads in the area, especially the road connecting Pokhara with Jomsom (in Lower Mustang). A trek that would commonly take around three weeks can now be done in a little over a week, should you wish, with many options in the middle. Many trekkers want to avoid walking along the road, as it’s dusty and not particularly pleasant. It’s now common for trekkers to end their trek at Muktinath or Kagbeni, after they’ve crossed the Thorung La, and then fly or get a Jeep back to Pokhara.

While many travellers have lamented the construction of roads through the Himalaya, it’s not all bad news. As well as giving locals better access to facilities they were previously cut off from—think, medical care, education, the distribution of food and other supplies—the roads have also opened up the area and made it more accessible to trekkers. Places that might have once required a serious time commitment can now be visited on a shorter trip to Nepal. You don’t necessarily need to save up three years’ worth of annual leave, or quit your job, to have an adventure in the Annapurnas.

If you’re seeking a more ‘traditional’ Annapurna Circuit experience but want to avoid the roads, a network of alternative trails have been, and continue to be, developed that bypass the roads. These are called NATT—New Annapurna Trekking Trails—and are marked in many places. Guidebooks and maps specifically focusing on the NATT trails have been developed, and good local guides are aware of these alternative trails.

While the Annapurna Circuit trek is a popular classic, another great thing about the Annapurna region is the variety of shorter trips, and side trips, that are possible. They’re all easily accessible from Pokhara. You can check out Lower Mustang without doing the whole circuit, or add a trip to spectacular Tilicho Lake onto your standard itinerary. You can do a short trek to Poon Hill—on which you can see some of the best views in the region without the time and effort commitment—or a slightly longer, slightly more strenuous trek to Annapurna Base Camp.  

In essence, it’s the adaptability of the Annapurna Circuit to individual trekkers’ preferences, needs, and time frame that means it continues to be a popular classic, despite the changes to the region in recent years.

The best time to trek in the Annapurnas is Nepal’s autumn (October-November), or spring (March-May), so it’s not too late to plan a trip in 2019! Email us at info@beyondtheclouds.org.nz to find out more.

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