Trekking

Annapurna Circuit Trek

Stats

  • Duration 10 to 17 days
  • Maximum elevation 5416m
  • Best season October to November
  • Start Dharapani or Chame
  • Finish Jomsom or Naya Pul
  • Permits TIMS card, ACAP permit
  • Summary The sense of journey, the challenging crossing of a high pass, and the possibility of excellent day trips to monasteries and mountain lakes make this a Himalayan classic, despite some road traffic.

Additional Information

The circuit is usually walked counterclockwise because the climb to the Thorung La (5416m) from the western side is too strenuous and has too much elevation gain to consider in one day. The Thorung La is often closed due to snow from mid-December to March, and bad weather can move in at any time. Now that roads reach Manang it is tempting to start from there straight away but it is essential to take your time between Manang and the pass in order to acclimatise properly.

There was only minor damage to this route from the 2015 earthquake; of far more consequence to trekkers is the spread of roads. The bumpy dirt road road on the Marsyangdi side has now reached as far as Manang, while on the Kali Gandaki side, a seasonal road runs all the way to Jomsom and Muktinath.

The start point of the trek has changed repeatedly over recent years. The lower section of the old trail from Besi Sahar to Ngadi is worth avoiding due to road and dam construction. Most people take a bus to Besi Sahar and then change to a 4WD to either Dharapani or Chame.

It's also possible to start walking at the stone village of Jagat or Tal. Where exactly you start the trek depends on the state of the road and transport options. It's possible to avoid the road in sections (look for the red-and-white trail markers) but you will still notice its presence. If you start walking in Chame, your trek will be one day less than our route.

If you did not get your Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit in Kathmandu or Pokhara, you can purchase one (Rs 2000) in Besi Sahar at the ACAP entry fee office. If you get all the way to the Dharapani ACAP checkpoint without a permit you will have to pay Rs 4000 for one.

The Trek

Day One: Dharapani to Chame

Many people start their trek at Dharapani (1960m), which is marked by a stone entrance chörten (Tibetan Buddhist stupa) typical of the Tibetan-influenced villages from here northward. That said, much of today's walk will be on or near the new dirt road, so it is also possible to start walking further on in Chame.

In upper (northern) Dharapani is an ACAP checkpoint where you will need to register. Just beyond here at Thoche is the confluence with the Dudh Khola and Manaslu Circuit trail.

A landslide roared through the centre of Bagarchhap (2160m) in late 1995 and managed to wipe out much of it, including two lodges. There are more lodges at nearby Danaque.

The trail climbs steeply from Danaque, gaining 500m to Timang and then continues through a forest, past the traditional village of Thanchowk to Koto (2640m), at the junction of the Nar-Phu Valley.

Nearby Chame (2710m) is the headquarters of the Manang district and it has lodges, internet cafes, trek-gear shops, a health post and a bank. At the entrance to the village you pass a large mani wall adorned with prayer wheels. There are fine views of Annapurna II (7937m) as you approach Chame.

Day Two: Chame to Upper Pisang

The trail from Chame runs through forest in a steep and narrow valley and recrosses to the south bank of the Marsyangdi Khola at 3080m. Views include the first sight of the soaring Paungda Danda rock face, an awesome testament to the power of glacial erosion.

The trail/road continues to climb to the popular lunch spot at Dhukur Pokhari. After the village follow the red-and-white markers to leave the road and cross to the northern bank of the river. This trail leads up to Upper Pisang (3310m), where you’ll get amazing views and decent accommodation.

Day Three: Upper Pisang to Manang

The walk is now through the drier upper part of Manang district, cut off from the full effect of the monsoon by the Annapurna Range. The people of the upper part of the Manang district herd yaks and raise crops for part of the year, but they also continue to enjoy special trading rights gained way back in 1784. Today they use these rights to buy goods in Bangkok and Hong Kong to resell in Nepal.

From Upper Pisang there are two trails, north and south of the Marsyangdi Khola, which meet up again at Mungji. The southern route via the road and airstrip at Hongde (3420m) involves dropping to Lower Pisang. It also involves much less climbing than the northern route, but the mountain views on the upper trail via Ghyaru and Ngawal (3660m) are infinitely better and this walk will aid your acclimatisation. Both Ghyaru and Ngawal have good lodges and offer overnight alternatives.

The trail continues from Mungji (3500m) past the picturesque village and gompa of Bragha (3470m) to nearby Manang (3540m), where there are numerous lodges, shops, a museum and an HRA post (it’s worth attending the free daily lecture on altitude sickness). Bragha also has good lodges plus some excellent side trips, and is a quieter place to base yourself than Manang village.

Days Four & Five: Acclimatisation Days in Manang

It’s important to spend at least one day acclimatising in Manang before pushing on to Thorung La (5416m). We'd actually recommend two as there are many fine day walks and magnificent viewpoints around Manang.

The view of Gangapurna Glacier is terrific, either from the viewpoint above the lake or from the Praken Gompa, an hour’s walk above Manang. More strenuous day hikes include to Milarepa’s cave on the south side of the valley and the Ice Lake, high above the valley floor on the north side at 4600m.

Manang is a major trading centre and you can buy batteries, sunscreen, chocolate and just about anything else a trekker could break, lose or crave.

Day Six: Manang to Yak Kharkha or Letdar

From Manang it’s an ascent of nearly 2000m to Thorung La, spread over three days. The trail (no road!) climbs steadily through Tengi and Gunsang, leaving the Marsyangdi Valley and continuing along the Jarsang Khola Valley. The vegetation becomes shorter and sparser as you reach lodges in Yak Kharkha (4020m) and then Letdar (4230m). A night in Yak Kharkha or Letdar is important for acclimatisation, despite being only three or four hours from Manang.

Day Seven: Letdar to Thorung Phedi

Cross the river at 4310m and then climb up through desolate scenery and avalanche zones to Thorung Phedi (4540m). There are two lodges here – at the height of the season as many as 200 trekkers a day may cross over Thorung La and beds can be in short supply. Some trekkers find themselves suffering from AMS at Phedi. If you are one of these, you must retreat downhill; even the descent to Letdar can make a difference. Be sure to boil or treat water here; the sanitation in Letdar and Thorung Phedi is poor. There is a phone in Thorung Phedi that you can use in an emergency.

There is another lodge, Thorung High View Camp, an hour above Thorung Phedi at 4850m, but it is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to spend a night at this altitude.

Day Eight: Thorung Phedi to Muktinath

Phedi means ‘foot of the hill’ and that’s exactly where it is, at the foot of the 5416m Thorung La. The trail climbs steeply but is well used and easy to follow. The altitude will have you gasping and snow can cause problems; when the pass is covered in fresh snow it is often impossible to cross – don't try it. Wait until it stops snowing and a mule team has been through cutting a trail.

It takes about four to six hours to reach the pass, marked by chörtens and prayer flags, and en route you’ll pass a couple of teahouses, plus one on the pass itself. The effort is worthwhile as the view from the top – from the Annapurnas, along the Great Barrier to the barren Kali Gandaki Valley – is magnificent. From the pass you have a knee-busting and sometimes slippery 1600m descent to Muktinath (3800m).

Some people start out for the pass at 3am but this is not only unnecessary but also potentially dangerous due to the risk of frostbite and accidents in the darkness. A better starting time is 5am to 6am.

Muktinath, a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists, has accommodation 10 minutes away at Ranipauwa, where there is also an ACAP checkpoint.

Day Nine: Muktinath to Kagbeni

From Ranipauwa, the road descends through a desert-like trans-Himalayan landscape to the dramatic village of Jharkot (3500m), with its large chörten, gompa and atmospheric animist totems. The trail continues to Khingar (3400m) and then follows the road down steeply to the medieval-looking village of Kagbeni (2840m).

If you have half a day to spare, it’s worth making the short detour across the valley to the traditional villages of Chhyongkhar, Jhong and Purang, all culturally part of Mustang but visitable without the need for extra permits.

There's an interesting alternative route (trail-marked in blue-and-white stripes) to Jomsom that bypasses the road and goes via the village of Lubra. Check first in Ranipauwa as the route is not passable when river levels are high.

Day 10: Kagbeni to Jomsom

The Tibetan-influenced settlement of Kagbeni has a number of good lodges and is as close as you can get to Lo Manthang, the capital of the legendary kingdom of Mustang further to the north; Mustang permits cost US$500 for 10 days.

From Kagbeni it is a dusty but mostly flat stroll along the road or riverbed to Jomsom (2760m). Jomsom is the major centre in the region and it has facilities such as a hospital, an ACAP visitor centre and a police checkpost (where you must register and get your ACAP permit stamped). Jomsom has regular morning flights to Pokhara (US$124) and a direct bus to Pokhara, with other transport running to Ghasa, Beni and beyond, so this is where some travellers end their trek.

If you have the time, it’s worth continuing south to the traditional whitewashed stone village of Marpha (2680m), which has a gompa and several smaller shrines. The town boasts some of the best accommodation to be found along the trail, which makes it a good alternative to staying in Jomsom.

If walking, try to be on the trail early in the morning in the Kali Gandaki Valley, as strong winds tend to pick up after 11am.

Days 11 to 17: Jomsom to Naya Pul

The Annapurna Circuit south of Jomsom follows the new road south through the Kali Gandaki Valley to Naya Pul. This section of the trek has become less popular since the road was constructed but it’s still a rewarding walk if you take the detours on the east bank that avoid the road as much as possible. Furthermore, the trail leaves the road altogether at Tatopani to cross the ridge at Ghorepani and descend to Naya Pul. ACAP's progress in building trails and bridges on the east bank to enable trekkers to avoid the road is very successful. Figure on three days to Tatopani or four to five days to Ghorepani. There are excellent lodges at Marpha, Tukuche, Larjung, Lete, Kalopani, Ghasa and Tatopani.

South of Jomsom it’s worth detouring down the east bank via Dhumba Lake to Katsapterenga Gompa, before returning to the road at Syang and continuing to Marpha.

Just south of Marpha another detour heads down the eastern bank from the Tibetan settlement around Chhairo Gompa to Chimang, which offers superb views of Dhaulagiri, the world’s sixth largest mountain.

Back on the west bank, Tukuche at 2580m is one of the valley’s most important Thakali villages and once was a depot and customs spot for salt traders from Tibet. Several grand houses and gompas hark back to a more prosperous past.

The road continues to Khobang and Larjung (2560m), past good views of Dhaulagiri (8167m) and Nilgiri North (7061m). Larjung is the base for a tough full-day excursion up to the Dhaulagiri Icefall.

Another excursion branches off the road at Kokhethati, leading to Titi Lake (2670m) for views of the eastern flank of Dhaulagiri and then down to the villages of Konjo and Taglung, with their spectacular views of Nilgiri peak. The trails eventually rejoin the road just south of Lete (2480m).

The road continues south to Ghasa (2000m), the last Thakali village in the valley, and then a foot trail branches down the east side of the narrowing gorge, rejoining the road after a couple of hours at the waterfall of Rupse Chhahara (1560m). The road continues down to Dana and Tatopani at 1190m, noted for its hot springs.

From Tatopani you branch off the road and head up the steep side valley from Ghar Khola, gaining an epic 1600m to Ghorepani in the Annapurna foothills. This is one of the hardest days on the circuit but it's possible to break the day in Shikha or Chitre en route. A side trail near Chitre branches left for the Khopra Ridge trek.

An hour’s climb from the ridge at upper Ghorepani (also known as Deorali) will take you to Poon Hill (3210m), one of the best (but most popular!) Himalayan viewpoints in the lower hills.

From Ghorepani you can descend the long, stone staircases to Nangathanti (2460m), Banthanti (2250m) and Ulleri, which is a large Magar village at 1960m, before continuing steeply to Tikhedhunga, Birethanti (1000m) and the nearby roadhead at Naya Pul.

A two-day trail also runs from Ghorepani to Ghandruk, where you can join up with the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek.

Naya Pul to Pokhara

Catch a bus or from Naya Pul (Rs 240, two hours), or a taxi from Birenthanti (Rs 2500) to Pokhara.

Dams, Roads & Automobiles

Road construction is having an effect on the Annapurna Circuit but it is certainly not the disaster made out by some. You are still guaranteed to cross raging torrents on giddying suspension bridges, meet friendly locals, lose your breath on ridiculously steep trails and be gobsmacked by the mountain views.

The first half of the circuit on the Manang side is less affected by traffic than the Kali Gandaki Valley on the west side, but the construction activity (including roads) associated with hydro projects is certainly making a visual impact. While some trekkers now end their trek in Jomsom by driving or flying back to Pokhara, they are missing out on some excellent trekking.

As you trek, look for the network of alternative trails marked with red-and-white trail markers that take you off the road and into the countryside. Furthermore, the trails marked with blue-and-white markers take you on some fabulous detours and side trips. The scenery on the new trails is equally if not more spectacular than the old route, and the lodges are excellent. The nature of the trail has changed; however, in reality this trek was never a 'wilderness' experience, and it can still be walked the entire way and augmented with numerous day hikes from overnight bases.