A pretty spontaneous decision to decide trekking in Nepal, when all you have in your suitcase are summer clothes. Figured some last minute shopping can be done in Kathmandu; one day was enough to buy some essentials, trekking shoes, a jacket, beanie, scarf, etc. It was the end of March, and the weather was not too cold in Kathmandu. The mountains, however, were still frozen at this time of year, especially the more elevated regions.
Destination was set on the ‘Annapurna Circuit’ trek. Met some trekkers in Thailand that have done it, and upon showing me some photos, I was sold. The highest elevation on the Annapurna Circuit is pretty close to the Mt. Everest base camp, yet the trail was more welcomed by trekkers with less experience.
Being a circuit, it was possible to do it clockwise or anti-clockwise, with the anti-clockwise version being the more popular one. For the anti-clockwise version, trekkers start from Besisahar, usually spending the night there to have an early start the next day. The clockwise version is unpopular and starts from Pokhara.
The scenery on the west side of the trek is far less interesting, making the golden belt of the trek the area east of ‘Thorong La Pass’, which is the longest mountain pass in the world. Most lower towns are connected with some sort of road (not really a road but serves the purpose), so you do not have to trek the full way if you’re low on time. The pass is located at 5,416 m (17,769 ft) elevation, which will be the highest point of the trek before starting a descent.
Nothing too exciting about this city to be quite honest. Highly polluted, no attractions worth seeing, the only use was the airport. You land there and maybe get some shopping done if you’re going trekking. Lots of shops selling trekking gear, you can get really cheap replicas for known brands.
The only thing I invested in was a pair of shoes, made sure I buy originals from the North Face outlet store. Everything else was pretty much counterfeit, and the prices are all negotiable.
On an important note, two separate documents need to be obtained while in Kathmandu or Pokhara if you plan to trek the Annapurna Circuit. TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems) and ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) each one costing 2,300 rupees (~$20). You will not be allowed on the trek without these documents, so really important to handle that ahead of time. Take passport photos with you. If you don’t, but you’re nice to the lady, she may take them for you by her camera. But be nice, regardless.
A paper map is also a good investment, as you will not have internet connection most of the time (even though all lodges advertise that they have internet, it doesn’t really work).
Getting to Besisahar is somewhat painful, as the bus ride from Kathmandu takes 8 to 9 hours, costing 360 Nepalese rupees (~$3). The town is not well serviced; for instance there were no currency exchange services, and the 3 ATMs visited were out of service. Brings up another important point, prepare everything from Kathmandu or Pokhara.
When you get to Besisahar, you need to stamp the TIMS and ACAP in the local trekker services office. Besisahar will be your last place to buy essentials from a somewhat proper supermarket before embarking on the journey. If you are able to buy them from Kathmandu, do that, as there will be more options. The essentials should include energy snacks, fruits, juices, wipes, toilet paper and so on.
You do not need to worry about food as you will constantly be passing through towns on the trek that provide meals. Most lodges charge a small price of 230 rupees(~$2) or so for the room, providing that you eat there. That’s how they make their living. Dinner varies from 690-1,150 rupees ($6-$10) a plate, getting pricier the higher you are. You will also find snacks to buy, but they will be marked up in price due to the difficulty of getting them there. That’s why, it’s smarter to buy these prior.
Similarly, for water, just have a couple of bottles on you, and refill them as you go. It may be a good idea to buy water sanitizing pills, so that you don’t have to worry about the source. However, the water was generally clean.
The Annapurna Circuit trek is well marked, so hiring a guide is not necessary. Paper maps can be bought from most book stores, clearly illustrating the trail map and the type of services offered at each town on the way, alongside altitude. From Besisahar, you can either start on foot, or take a jeep for the first part of the circuit. If you have time, it is highly recommended to start walking from Besisahar.
You get a feel of the village life in the Annapurna conservatory, and also observe amazing scenery and views. Nonetheless, you get acclimated to the altitude a lot better if you gradually ascend. I personally did not have much time, so started with a jeep (Indian manufactured) from Besisahar, going all the way to Lower Pisang at altitude 3,190 m (10,466 ft). Spent the night at a lodge there and the next morning started hiking 16 km (9.9 mi) to a bigger town called Manang at altitude 3,530 m (11,581 ft).
Manang will be the last big stop on the way until you get through ‘La Pass Thorong’, so last minute shopping can be done there. You can still purchase basic needs such as water, snacks, and food items along the way, just maybe a good idea to stock on pharmaceutical items or clothing items in Manang.
Spent one night in Manang before hiking the next day 11.4 km (7.1 mi) to a town called Ledar at 4,200 m (13,780 ft). Side note: Check the map above, you will find towns to lodge along the way; in other words, you don’t have to stay at the towns I’m mentioning specifically. A good way to do it is to listen to your body and stop whenever is needed for rest, food or sleep. I am just sharing the way I did it, but it can be done several different ways.
Anyway, spent the next day heading from Ledar to Phedi (5 km/3.1mi), the base camp for ‘Thorong La Pass’, at altitude 4,500 m (14,764 ft). This camp was one of my favorite places to stay. Good food, warm dining room with a good fireplace, music; a nice vibe overall.
The day after was ‘The Pass’ day, so to acclimatize a little bit with the altitude, left the bag in my room at base camp, and climbed up close enough to high camp, which is at 4,800 m (15,748 ft) elevation, spending about an hour up there before descending back to the base camp. This way, you prepare your body for what’s coming the next day. The pass day.
‘The Pass’ day was by far the most difficult day of the entire circuit, as the hike up to the pass involves dealing with lots of snow on somewhat dangerous uphill routes. In addition, the hike up itself not being the main issue, but the oxygen depletes exponentially as you get closer to the pass, and you start getting tired easier.
I had some mild symptoms of altitude sickness, which required lots of pauses to get the heart rate down. Ginger helped big time on this route; have ginger lemon honey tea whenever you can.
Regardless, once you get to the highest elevation, you are rewarded with breathtaking views. Stopping for a few times in the pass to replenish on nutrients while listening to music was imminent.
Nonetheless, this was by far the ‘highest’ point of the whole journey, not just elevation-wise. A sense of peace, serenity accompanied by a vibration of gratitude was present. Your way after is mostly descending. However, note that it will not be a walk in the park. Descending is hazardous, and the area up there is covered in snow all year long, so be careful.
The first town you reach from there on will be Muktinath, where you can spend the night. By then, you would have completed 15 km (9.32 mi) on that day, but very strenuous mileage. Here, you will be kind of back in civilization, phone will start working, you will find hot showers and so on. Yeah, I forgot to mention that hot showers are generally not an option along the way; if available won’t be as hot as you think, also costing extra!
Jomsom will be next, where you can find buses going to Pokhara. The trail gets in the way of the cars and the scenery changes significantly from here on, so I took a jeep to Jomsom and from there, took a bus to Pokhara. I did not spend much time in Pokhara due to a family emergency, so rushed back from Pokhara by plane to Kathmandu, then flew out of Nepal. However, from the one day I spent there, seemed like a hip-trendy place that I would like to spend several days in.
Nepal is all about trekking. The nature there is beautiful and the cities have little to offer. So, my opinion is consider trekking or checking out the trails when there. You won’t regret. I personally look forward to go back in the future and complete another trek. I believe elevation-wise, I was pretty close to the maximum I want to reach, no intentions to climb past 6,000 m (19,685 ft). But we’ll see, things can change!