ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT – The Journey
Before I get on to my experience let’s get into, What is the Annapurna Circuit?
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
“The Circuit is a trek of about 160-230 km within the mountain ranges of central Nepal. This trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. The path reaches its highest point at Thorung La pass (5416m/17769 ft), touching the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Practically all trekkers hike the route anticlockwise, as this way the daily altitude gain is slower, and crossing the high Thorong La pass is easier and safer.
The mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Macchapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna, Tilicho Peak, Pisang Peak and Paungda Danda. Numerous other peaks of 6000-8000m in elevation rise from the Annapurna range”
“You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you.” – John Muir
So true, the experience was truly within but of course laid with vivid spectacular sceneries on the go!
My heart raced as I ran up the long flight of stairs at a neighbourhood temple. It was a week since I had started to run along the stairs to get a cardio workout in place along with practising Hatha Yoga for the past 4 months. Another three weeks were left for my friend and I to meet the mighty Himalayas! This time we were gearing up for the beautiful Annapurna Circuit Trail.
I had butterflies in my tummy for over a week as my mind raced through the thought ‘Will I be able to reach up to 18000 feet?’ Well, I would soon figure out.
Bangalore-Delhi-Gorakhpur-Sunauli-IndoNepalBorder-Pokhara – All in 36 hours!
Bangalore to Pokhara was quite an adventurous ride. Bangalore to Delhi by flight and then we had to book a night bus to Gorakhpur as the train we had booked was in fact non-existent since a month even though we had received our confirmation for the seats! Well, the Indian Railways sure gives one an experience to remember always!
The bus journey was eventful; firstly it arrived late, secondly the two of us were cramped on the upper berth of the bus; thirdly the bus driver kept on honking throughout the night as if he had to play a song. I woke up uneasily to some noise and then the driver called out, ‘Gorakhpur!’
My friend and I hurriedly got out of the bus and collected our luggage. We luckily, found a share-auto which took us to the bus-stand. There we sat in the bus to Sunauli.
We quickly managed to freshen ourselves in a nearby lodge and later sat in the bus. The bus ride was pleasant as the bus veered by the farm lands and headed towards the mountains. After about five hours we reached the India-Nepal border.
We got down from the bus and crossed the border in a cycle-rickshaw. This was quite a lovely slow ride.
We ate a quick Nepali staple lunch and jumped on a bus to Pokhara. The bus was rickety and we were caught in a jam up the mountain roads for about an hour.
After about nine hours in the bus we reached Pokhara.
As we reached our stay at the ‘Mountain View’ – a warm couple invited us and showed us to our rooms. We went out to eat at the opposite small shack. The owner cum cook got us hot rotis and palak paneer. It was something to die for. We smacked our lips and licked our fingers until the entire curry was nowhere to be seen.
Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal and it is the gateway to Annapurna Circuit and one can see the Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna ranges from the city.
We woke up to a beautiful day and went out in search of the ACAP office. Once we finished our registration and got our trekker card, we headed up for the Phewa lake.
As we soothed our tired legs and soul, the sky invited us to be a spectator while it painted colorful parachutes along the clouds.
We later did some shopping and booked the bus to Bhulbhule for the morrow.
Day 1: Pokhara-Besisahar-Bhulbhule-Ngadi (3000 feet)
A six hour drive from Pokhara to Bhulbhule was amazing and beautiful. Bhulbule is a small town along the Marshyangdi river.
The drive took us from narrow roads to dusty mountain roads to long roads through the tropical forests. Well one could catch a glimpse of the snow clad mountains throughout the way.
We started our trek along the road from Bhulbhule and reached Ngadi, a quaint quiet place in the midst of the valley by the Marshyangdi River. We got talking to these children at whose home-stay we stayed for the night. A brilliant 8-year old kept us engaged and entertained us throughout the evening. He took us to the river as well and played with us. They were quite an endearing family and we had a simple sumptuous food for the night.
Day 2: Ngadi-Bahudanda-Ghermu-Jagat-Chamche (4500 feet)
We got up quite early at around 5 am and headed to the trail. It was a gorgeous start to the day with trekking up the beautiful lush mountains followed by Chai and breakfast at Bahudanda. The view of the mountains and the river was mesmerizing.🗻
The trail to Ghermu was downhill and we had a nice hike. But the trek to the next village Jagat was quite an ordeal with the sun beating down us. The trail was really difficult. My legs were giving away and my mind was too occupied and stressed out with the sun beating down. We kind of pushed ourselves to Jagat and were in for a sumptuous Dal bhat. None of us spoke for the next 20 mins as we enjoyed our meal in silence and rested our aching body on the wooden chairs. As our minds contemplated on taking a ride, we beat it and trudged our aching selves ahead to the next place Chamche where we decided to stay for the night as we were thoroughly exhausted. Chamche happened to be right opposite a beautiful falls and it started to rain as we freshened ourselves and sat down to drink some tea. After a quick dinner we crashed.
This day was truly terrifying and it was on our minds whether we would make it along the rest of the trail. Well we had to see for ourselves in the days to come!
Day 3: Chamche-Tal-Dharapani-Danaque (7200 feet)
An early start to Day 3 had us walking across a lot of bridges and mountain paths carved along the walls of the mountain.
Post which we reached Manang district and entered Tal, a lovely hamlet by the river. This place is very scenic; the lush green valleys, the shimmering Marshyangdi river and of course the stalwarts-Mountains held a very gripping hold of the scenery.
The path led us up and down the mountain ranges and we were greeted by a lot of lovely falls. We had our lunch at Dharapani, a small village and headed to Danaque for the night. At 7000 odd feet, the weather was cold and it rained from late evening to late into the night. Highlight of this day was this beauty of a place, Tal and the vivid sceneries on the trail. We also happened to see a Tomato Tree!
Day 4: Danaque-Timang-Manaslu-Kyoto-Chame (8891 feet)
We woke up to a chilly morning and geared up for the trek. As travellers, we took to the road early.
After a nervy crossing along the stream across the road, we were faced by a steep ascent into the cold woods.
After an arduous climb in the narrow slushy mountain paths, we came to a small village called Timang from where the Manaslu peaks came into view. I was in for a treat and I donned the cap of a shutterbug. A breakfast by the view set us on the trail with some zestful energy.
The trail led us on through dusty roads, narrow paths along small villages and after quite a descent we came to a place called Kyoto. One can view the gorgeous Annapurna II from here.
I could just get a partial view of the peak on my camera and I was hoping to come across her soon.
And we reached Chame for the night. It started raining there on but we had a nice warm sleep.
Day 5: Chame-Barathang-Dukha Pokhari-Lower Pisang (10662 feet)
The clouds cleared up to a bright sunny day. We had a lovely hike up the mountain paths. Our next pit-stop was Barathang, a small place with lots of apple orchards and a beautiful tea house. Excitement took us over and we enjoyed our delicious breakfast by the mountains, orchards and it was a clear day.
Later we trudged on and reached Dukha pokhari where we relished a couple of cookies given by a monk the previous day at the monastery at Kyoto.
The next stop lower Pisang awaited us. A long hike in the dusty mountain roads and beautiful vistas led us to Lower Pisang.
After we relaxed and had lunch, we hiked up to Upper Pisang, a dwelling a little above which offered views of the lovely Annapurna II and a monastery welcomed us. We retired for the night at Lower Pisang.
Day 6: Lower Pisang-Humde-Manang (11614 feet)
A gorgeous day as we saw the gorgeous Annapurnas IV, II and III and also the shining Gangapurna glacier and Tilicho peak. Prior to getting to the peaks we started our day from Lower Pisang. Morning was pretty cold and cloudy. We braved the winds as we hiked up the dusty trails and after a short ascent we walked through pine tree forests and the vistas opened up to brown rocky mountains.
Humde was our next pit-stop and it has its own small airport, fancy one eh.
We hit upon the road, Annapurna and Tilicho peaks were right along the way…😍
About a couple of hours later we reached Brakha where we relished cinnamon roll at the oldest bakery.
We took to the road along the glorious mountains and reached Manang, 11000 odd feet. It was pretty cold and windy but sunny. 😐
Manang is a pit-stop for many trekkers to acclimatize for a day or two before heading to Thorung La Pass or Tilicho Peak. One can also visit a couple of gompas which are close by and also the Gangapurna Glacier.
We attended the High Altitude training on AMS organized by ACAP. There were a lot of trekkers from around the world.
Day 7: Manang
Today being our rest day we woke up late. We decided to visit Prakhen gompa at about 12500 odd feet and get acclimatized.
The hike was along narrow mountain paths and was a bit slippery owing to loose gravel.
But it was a good hike and we reached a beautiful view point from where we got a panoramic view of Annapurna IV, II and III.
The view also gave us the complete mountain-scape of Gangapurna glacier and Tilicho peak.
Given a chance, I could just spend the day looking at these gorgeous mountains albeit the weather. Further on we hiked and reached the Gompa.
An old lady monk aka Lama was in the small cave, she blessed us and gifted us a lucky charm for the road ahead, well precisely the Thorung – La; the Pass ahead. It was quite heart touching and she also offered us hot tea which was a breather. After capturing the vistas we headed down to Manang.
Day 8: Manang-Bhraga-Yak Kharka (13287 feet)
Our next pit-stop was to Yak Kharka, a village high up in the mountains. We started from Manang up the dusty trails and then it led us to beautiful rocky mountains with a colorful red flora. 😍
After about 3-4 hours, we did reach Yak Kharka. The temperature was pretty cold below 10 deg Celsius for sure… We binged on garlic soup and the ever famous Dal bhat
A pretty short day but we gained in on the altitude.
Day 9: Yak Kharka-Ledar-Thorung Pedi (15000 feet)
Well Thorung Pedi, our base camp for the Thorung La pass was our target for the day.
We were pretty excited that we would shortly be attempting the pass the very next day.
The hike was good but tiring as the altitude was gaining in on closer to 14400 feet.
Well there were some steep climbs on the way. There was a landslide area too and we carefully tread upon and made sure that we move not a pebble.
The stay at the base camp was fabulous; great music, spectacular ambience, food, desserts. We took into a lot of eating and celebrated as we had made it to the base camp. After some rest we looked into the road ahead and it was going to be a pretty steep climb the next day .Well we went to bed early as the next day would be a long and an epic one for sure.
Day 10 The D-day! Thorung Pedi-High Camp-Thorung La(17769 feet) – Muktinath(12467 feet)
Well, the D-day. We woke up at 2:30 am for a quick start to a long hiking day. We started up the next stop High Camp.
It was a hard steep climb and the temperature was below zero deg😒 All I could see was the beautiful star-studded sky way above me and the trail lit by my head torch. The mountains looked like shadows towering on either side of us.
We braved ahead and made it to the High camp and took a break, grabbed a few dry fruits and we were on the trail again.
We slowly climbed the next steep trail and as I looked about, the snow clad mountains showed themselves in the twilight and they looked like steady stalwarts with a white cap 😍
Our next leg of the hike was very very arduous, we found it very difficult to keep ourselves at a momentum because of the altitude, we were roughly gaining 4000 odd feet in a span of 3 hours.
But something in us made us go on and on.
Though our energy sapped, we held on and took one step at a time. Finally, I could see the prayer flags in the distance and my heart jumped with joy. My spirits rose and tread on for the last mile to the Pass.
And there I was standing amongst a group of people rejoicing the feat along with my friend. 😊
I could feel a sense of pride in me for making it through and I love myself for that, for I was a bit skeptical all the way through but here I was at the Pass, standing strong and blissfully happy 🙌
We roughly trekked about 115 kms in 10 days! That’s quite a feat we achieved!
Well we made it down to Ranipauwa village, close to Muktinath later that morning and had a pretty comfortable sleep in the famous Bob Marley hotel.
Muktinath is a sacred place for the Hindus as well as the Buddhists. The place was utterly beautiful adorned with yellow flowering trees and the gushing of the Gandaki river in the form of 108 springs which has a significance in the Hindu philosophy.
The next morning, from Muktinath we headed to Jomson by Jeep which we luckily caught and also met some amazing fellow travelers. The ride was beautiful with the brown mountains gazing at you and the Kali Gandaki river flowing across in shimmering blue. Dhaulagiri and other mountain ranges can be seen from Muktinath.
Later that night, we reached Pokhara and had our usual Rotis and Palak Paneer as the rain gave us company.
We did have a small celebration and we marked it as a successful trek across the Beautiful Annapurnas.
Onward we went to Kathmandu and then to Varanasi- A fabulous experience explained in this blog. Click here – Varanasi
Highlights / Tips for the Annapurna Circuit Trail
- Prepare yourself physically 4-6 months in advance
- Pack only what is necessary and please carry a book along to read as you would have ample time to do that
- Though I haven’t done the Annapurna Base camp trek, I have heard from fellow trekkers from around the world say that the Annapurna Circuit is beautiful and much worthier a trek than the Annapurna Base camp trek
- Please get the trekker permit and register yourself with the itinerary at the ACAP office in Pokhara
- Don’t bother about accommodation if you are traveling in October season as once you reach the village, ample number of homestays are available, you only need to pay for the food you eat, accommodation is free!
- Best part of this trek is that it is a Tea-house trail as the trail is marked with tea houses or home-stays all along the trail.
- Vivid changing sceneries guarantee you a solid memorable adventurous trek
- The journey within is all that matters on this beautiful a trail.
There was a time which was overwhelming
There was a time which was blissful
There was a time when everything was silent
That was the time when time stood still!