avoid the road - take the NATT's (it's worth it!)
My trek of the Annapurnas circuit could not have gone any better. The guys that I met up with from this site helped to make it much more enjoyable and it felt so good to share our adventure, there was also a great camararderie with other trekkers that we met along the way.
I can’t emphasize enough the difference it made to our trek to follow the NATT’s on nice trails and stay away from jeeps and motorbikes on that dirt road. The trails are well marked, with red and white markings (or blue and white for side-trips).
If you have time, I’d recommend doing some side-trips away from the main route of the circuit itself. The ice-lake can be done as a day hike from Braka, near Manang. The magnificent Tilicho Lake would only require 2 extra days to your itinerary. On the Kali Gandiki side, the Dhaulagiri icefall side-trip is a strenuous day hike from Larjung (but by that time you should be feeling fit and acclimatized) and is worth it for the magnificent views of the Annapurnas and Nilgiris.
Enjoy a touch of luxury in the hot springs of Tatopani, but don’t get to comfortable because it’s a long way up to Ghorepani. Don’t miss Poon Hill – if you have time, try to get up there for sunset for the alpenglow colours; get an early start to be up there for sunrise.
Be prepared to have sore feet after the long descent to Birenthani, if you can group together with a few others, try to negotiate a taxi fare from there to Pokhara (me and 2 more guys paid 500 rupees each to Pokhara)
here is a revised list of my itinerary:
day 1, bus from Besisahar to Ngadi, walk to Bahundanda. Where I was met by my trekking partner, Pierre-Michel, from Montreal, Canada
day 2, walk to Sattale via Ghermu, Syange (followed the road through Jagat), took the NATT trail up through the forest to Rainbow Waterfall view lodge), Chamje (which might have been a better choice to spend the night). But anyway, we had to put up with no shower and a wash in cold water (the compensation was a most delicious Dal Bhat)
day 3, Sattale to Danaque via Tal and Dharapani, taking the NATT between Thoche and Qunche (which was scenic but difficult, due to the path being overgrown and blighted with over-hanging tree branches, I’m still picking bits out of the socks I wore that day). Nice views of Manaslu from the roof-top terrace of the lodge in Danaque.
day 4, Danaque to Chame, via the NATT through the forest to Timang (a lovely walk) and the villages of Thanchowk and Koto. I had a good time in Chame, friendly people in the lodge that we stayed in, nice drop of Apple Wine, too.
day 5, Chame to Gyharu, taking the NATT between Talekhu and Bhratang (a welcome respite from the road, with views of Annapurna 2), up through the forest to Dhukur Pokhari for lunch, then following the NATT to Upper Pisang and the steep walk up to Gyharu. Me and Pierre enjoyed the ‘bucket fire’ and a glass or 3 of Chyang.
day 6, Gyharu to Braka, the high-level route via Ngawal and Julu. One of the finest stages on the circuit – excellent views throughout and very peaceful, scarcely saw any other walkers all day long. In Braka we welcomed Tomas (the King of Dal Bhat), from Czech Republic to our team.
day 7, side-trip to the Ice Lake from Braka. A scenically rewarding acclimatization walk, from the lake I made my way up on to the ridge to the right overlooking the lake for a stupendous 360′ panorama, not difficult and only took 30 minutes to reach the viewpoint.
day 8, Braka to Shree Kharka. Day 1 of the side-trip to Tilicho Lake, quite a short day, paused in Manang to look around and buy a few things (essential supplies were required). Stayed overnight in the Blue Sheep Lodge (the last one before the path to Tilicho base camp), with superb views of Manaslu at sunset. We left some gear at the lodge, to collect on the way back.
day 9, Shree Kharka to Tilicho Lake (overnight in Tilicho base camp lodge). Started early, crossed the ‘danger area’ where there has been some landslides. Bagged a room in base camp lodge, dropped the pack and went ‘light’ with a day-pack to the lake and back down to base camp lodge.
day 10, Tilicho base camp to Churi Ledar (via Shree Kharka and the ‘seasonal trail’ to Upper Khangsar). Quite a long day, this one. Once again, starting early to cross the landslide area. Collecting our belongings from the lodge in Shree Kharka, then following the trail to the deserted village of Upper Khangsar and up to a superb viewpoint overlooking the Manang valley, down to a lunch-stop in Karte, rejoining the main circuit trail past Yak Kharka to Ledar.
day 11, Churi Ledar to Thorung high-camp. A short day this one, but with a sharp ascent from Phedi to high-camp. Plenty of leisure time in the afternoon, I twice walked up to the ridge above the lodge, which superb views of the surrounding peaks and the Grande Barriere.
day 12, Thorung high-camp to Muktinath, via the small matter of crossing the Thorung La 😉
Spending the night before the pass at high-camp gives you a healthy ‘leg up’ on the those who spent the night at Phedi, but incredibly, people were still setting off just after 4am to tackle the mere 500 metres of ascent to the pass. Not for us, not-withstanding being disturbed by the pre-dawn risers, we rose at 6:15 for breakfast in an empty dining hall (the early starters were probably crossing the pass as we were drinking our morning coffee). We started walking at 7:15, and within 10 minutes had the sun on our backs and were removing layers of clothing. Feeling fit and well acclimatized, it took us only 1 and a half hour to reach the pass, where we had a little celebration. Spent about an hour on the pass, wandering around and taking it all in, then began the long descent to Muktinath. We were sat on a sunny terrace at Bob Marley’s just after 1pm, sipping a well deserved beer.
day 13, Muktinath to Kagbeni, via the northern villages on the border of Upper Mustang. The day after the pass, which for many means a road-walk (or even a jeep-ride) to Jomsom. We took the scenic route, through a couple of sleepy villages, with fine views back to the Thorung La and forwards towards Dhaulagiri and the Nilgiri Himal. Had a Yak Burger at YacDonalds, but I recommend the rooms and food at Green view lodge, where I sampled a bottle of the local cider that was much improved by adding a dash of the local apple Brandy (which was also a bit ropey when drank neat, but a combination of both seemed to do the trick). This was the night of the supermoon, which looked huge in the dark mountain sky and illuminated the Nilgiri mountains.
day 14, Kagbeni to Jomsom, via Eklebhatti and the Windy Pass. Once again, it was me and my intrepid team exploring one of these wonderful side-trails of the Annapurna circuit, stopping along the way at Phalyak for a delicious Dhal Bhat in a welcoming lodge. The windy pass did it’s best to live up to it’s reputation, but it was nothing more than what seasoned British hill-walkers would regard as a stiff breeze. The worst part was the descent on loose rocks and scree, but even that wasn’t exactly as dicey as The Great Stone Chute. So we arrive in old Jomsom and get a room in a lodge (I still wonder if it was the same one where Jimi Hendrix stayed, once upon a time in the Annapurnas…) I had a few refreshing bottles of Iceberg beer (7%), dinner was chili chicken and fries, all 4 of them!!
day 15, Jomsom to Marpha (following the NATT via Dhumba lake), a scenic alternative to the dusty road (which would have been hell in the prevailing wind). A nice bowl of noodle soup by lake. Crossed to Marpha on a wooden bridge. I liked Marpha, narrow streets with tempting shopping opportunities, and a splendidly situated monastery. I finished the evening off with little bottle of Gold Mug.
day 16, Marpha to Larjung (following the NATT on the east side of the Kali Gandiki).
A splendid day’s walking, particularly the stretch from Chokopani, up into the forest and back down to the river, which we crossed on a small wooden bridge. On the opposite side of river, we found ourselves accidentally heading up a side-trail towards Naurikot. It was at this point that Pierre came up with a great idea, to enquire at an house about the possibility of them preparing a Dal Bhat for us, whilst we left our bags there and headed up to the village of Naurikot for a look around and returning in 1 hour for lunch in an authentic Nepali house. The deliciously spicy Dal Bhat was the best I had tasted on the trip. With full stomachs, we did not have far to go to reach Larjung.
day 17, side-trip to the Dhaulagiri Icefall.
An early start was required for this one, and we were away for 7am. it was a bit of a road-walk to reach the start of the trail, which was steep from the beginning, but we made good progress and at 10am I stopped for a boiled egg and piece of Tibetan bread. Walking further up, it still seemed to be a long way to get close to the glacier itself, but after taking a little rest we decided to press on, since we still had plenty of time left in the day, and eventually we reached a point on the moraine wall where we could watch as rocks crashed down off the glacier into the abyss below us. The views from up here were astounding, and did not diminish on the descent, culminating on a fire-like display of Alpenglow on the Nilgiris.
day 18, Larjung to Jhipra Deurali (NATT via Kokethanti, Titi Lake and Kunjo village)
Feeling the effects of yesterday’s exertions, it took me a little while to get into my stride, I found the track up towards the lake hard going. From there it got easier, and after a good Dal Bhat in the Sangam restaurant, Kunjo, I felt revitalized. We had to descend to the river and pass through Chhayo, and pick up the trail to Jhipra Deurali, where we found accommodation in an obscure lodge that was run by friendly people, and we had a nice pot of milk tea.
day 19, Jhipra Deurali to Tatopani.
Just aswell we spent the previous night in Jhipra, the next available lodging would have another 3 hours walking along the trail, part of which were quite difficult walking, with handrails above very steep drops. Things got easier having passed the bridges that cross to Ghasa on the opposite side of the river, and we stopped for lunch in Kopchepani but still had some walking to do to get to Tatopani, and twice the trail was blocked by herds of goats. Eventually we reached Tatopani, where we could soak in the luxurious hot springs, swigging cold beer.
day 20, Tatopani to Ghorepani. (plus a sunset jaunt to Poon Hill)
A long day of ascent, some of it quite steep in the hot sun. Stopped for lunch in Chitre, made it to Ghorepani by 3pm. Found a lodge, had a refreshing beer and then followed the advice of a fellow trekker I’d spoken to that morning, who advised that if I made it to Ghorepani early enough, that I should visit Poon Hill for the sunset. So, with the wise words of Gorast ringing in my ears, off I went, up the hill, with a can of Nepal Ice in my pocket for a sunset beer! Have to say, I was rewarded with the most magnificent views of the Annapurnas, Dhaulagiris, and Nilgiris set ablaze by the setting sun.
day 21, Ghorepani to Birethanti. (plus a sunrise jaunt to Poon Hill)
I was out of the door of the lodge at 5:30 and on top of the hill by 6. Bought myself a warming cup of tea and waited for the sun to rise. There were many more people up there that morning than there was the previous evening, and even though it was a great experience to see the sun rising from a mountain view-point (something not usually possible in the Himalayas), I have to say, I preferred the views at sunset.
Back at the lodge I met the guys for a fried-rice breakfast, before we set off on our separate ways, they were heading towards the Annapurna base-camp, whereas I was heading down on the long descent (and was long, and hard on the feet) to Birethanti. From there, I was lucky to share a taxi with 2 other guys and we only paid 500 rupees each to Pokhara, where I found my hotel, took a lovely hot shower then went out for a steak dinner and a few beers.
To sum things up, the circuit of the Annapurnas has been the most enjoyable trek I’ve ever done – the way things turned out…the route (we improved on the itinerary I’d spent so much time planning), the weather (which was the best I’ve ever had in 3 visits to the Himalayas, no low cloud, or afternoon mist), and the people – special thanks to Pierre-Michel Jauvin and Tomas Bartulec for joining me on what was an epic adventure. I hope you guys enjoyed it every bit as much as I did 🙂
- Backpack, Down Jacket, Headlamp, Hiking Boots, Hiking Poles, Sleeping Bag, Sunglasses
other items I found essential were a wide-brim sunhat, sunscreen, gloves, earplugs, water purification tablets.
you can save a lot of money if you refrain from drinking beer. I like a drink and was paying around 500 rupees for a (large, 650ml) bottle, that's almost 5$ per bottle