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Your Guide to... the Annapurna Circuit

The Annapurna Circuit has always been renowned as one of the world’s best classic treks and is on any Himalayan advocates ‘must do’ list. Why, you ask?...

...this route starts in the tropical lowlands and ascends into the mighty Himalaya as you cross the Thorong La Pass at 5,416m. As the elevation changes so too does the scenery, hence the Annapurna Circuit is famed for offering unusually diverse scenery and culture, plus because it’s circular - every day is different!

Ascend from steamy forests through the middle hills of Nepal, where terraces and picturesque farms adorn the hillsides. Smell the fresh scent of pine forests which surround the mediaeval villages of Gyaru, Ngawal, Braga and Manang. Witness majestic mountain panoramas as you climb into the mighty Himalaya. Take in the views of Annapurnas and Gangapurna as they tower above when you cross the often snow-covered Thorong La Pass. Afterwards, descend into the Kali Gandaki Gorge, the deepest gorge on Earth and then descend again to find yourself amidst apple farms and villages. Climb up Poon Hill for a final sunrise vista across the Himalaya to complete the circuit.

Valerie Parkinson, our Himalayan expert, first trekked the Annapurna Circuit with an Exodus group back in 1987, when the whole circuit was much longer, and the groups had to camp as there were no facilities available. Today, the walk is much shorter and lodges offering hot showers, Wi-Fi and fresh coffee. The downside to this progress, is that the rough road that has been built in various places along the route, which means the trekking trails have changed. We are often asked, if the so-called road has spoiled the trek... 

...so as we approach ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ year, we asked Valerie to revisit the trek to see the impact of the road for herself. “What hasn’t changed are the mountains, the stunning views, and the challenge of a complete circular trek crossing the mighty Thorong La Pass at 5,416m.” Valerie reported. Valerie found that the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) has developed new trails as well as having cleared and re-opened some of the old trails to avoid the road. These NATT (new Annapurna trekking trails) routes take you to small villages that have been untouched by tourism. 

Exodus has always tried to use alternative trails to avoid the road as much as possible but off the back of Valerie’s recent recce in December 2019, we have further tweaked our itinerary to use the newly opened trails... 

From 2020, Exodus Annapurna Circuit groups will now start the trek at Ngaddi and trek away from the main trail to visit a couple of villages, that have remained unchanged for generations. From Tal, we take the old trail which has recently been re-opened. Afterwards, from Dharapani we visit the small village of Odar and now spend time in Ngawal village for superb mountain views, before following a wonderful high trail to Manang. The trails from Manang are still the same and we have plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular close-up views of the Annapurnas and Gangapura. 

The crossing of the Thorong La remains a challenge and as we descend to Muktinath and Kagbeni we can admire views overlooking Mustang and Dhaulagiri. From Kagbeni to the outskirts of Jomsom there is no option but to trek along the jeep road, but we then divert away from it to the opposite side of the valley almost all the way to Tatopani, only crossing back over for overnight stays. Passing Dumba Lake and Titi Tal, we enjoy beautiful panoramas across to Dhaulagiri and take an old trail through the wonderful forests to Ghasa. From Tatopani, the trail crosses the jeep track a few times but mostly we use the old trail to climb up to Ghorepani, our base for our ascent of Poon Hill for classic sunrise views of the Himalaya.

 

On our new Annapurna Circuit in 2020 you can…

  • Visit smaller off the beaten track villages
  • Walk some of the original, older trails which had been overgrown and are now walkable again
  • Spend more time acclimatising around Ngawal and Manang for stunning close-up views of the Annapurnas
  • Get a lift to the next village if you are tired or having an off day

Things to keep in mind…

  • There are some steep climbs to remote villages – but climbs are always rewarded by views
  • There are jeeps tracks along some sections which cannot be avoided but after a day of climbing a nice wide trail is sometimes a godsend

If you are short on time, why not try the Mini Annapurna Circuit, a shorter version which flies out of Jomsom after crossing the Thorong La.

If you have completed the Annapurna Circuit and enjoyed the journey of a circular trek, Exodus now offer the Manaslu Lodge Circuit, a lesser-known circular Himalayan trek.

 

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