Trekking in Nepal - the Annapurna Circuit
Trekking in Nepal is a fantastic experience. My sister and I travelled the Annapurna Circuit Trek. This is the best trek to choose because it has the most beautiful scenery, the trek is circular so you don’t reverse yourself once reaching your destination (making you see the same scenery on the way back) and it is a positive experience to reach higher elevations (as distinct from the Annapurna Base Camp trek). On this trek, you climb into the Himalayan mountains upwards in elevation until you reach the Thorong La Pass. The pass is at an altitude of 17,500 feet. At that elevation it is difficult to breathe. It was like walking on the moon; there was almost no vegetation, the very atmosphere seemed different. It was barren and low on oxygen levels. Our breath slowed down, and we walked at a snails pace because the oxygen levels are so low and exerting oneself requires more air. It was an exhilarating experience and a memorable one.
● The Thorong La Pass: At the top of the Pass there is a little shack where you can buy tea. They have little other things to buy for a snack. I bought a snickers candy bar and tea. I realized soon after that, that someone literally has to climb the mountain to bring that snickers bar so that I, the chocolate lover, would pay a higher price for it. You might also imagine how cold it was. SUPER COLD. At the sleeping place beneath top of the pass where we slept before waking at 4 am to climb up to the pass, we wore every single piece of clothing that we carried with us, including our jackets, two pairs of socks, even my shoes I kept on me with a blanket that didn’t do enough to keep the cold away. But, hey, that’s part of the experience….
● Time: We climbed slowly. We weren’t experienced hikers or trekkers or mountain climbers. So we walked slower than the group of Dutch women with climbing sticks who sped through the circuit super fast and strong. We walked between 4 and 6 hours a day; both up towards the pass and down the circuit towards Jomsom. The trek, in its fullest, usually takes 21 days. If you’re fast, it can be done in less. We did it in 16 because we were tired and wanted to end our trek sooner because of that. So, we caught a bus from Tatopani to Pokhara and then the following day returned to Kathmandu.
● Guide: We started our journey in Kathmandu. There we hired a guide for the trek. The guide was not very helpful and was overly quiet. I am not 100% sure but it seemed that the trail one walks is straightforward and so you could do it without a guide. However, it is safer and clearer to have a guide who knows the people and the path. Just imagine had we walked in the wrong direction for a day; one wants to avoid that sort of thing. So I suggest that you do get a guide if you are even a little bit worried about finding the path, walking it, and how to get back to Pokhara/Kathmandu.
● Porters: My sister and I wanted to climb the mountain range carrying our own packs. But three days into trekking made us understand that we weren’t strong enough; it was much harder to carry our packs ourselves than we expected. So our guide found a porter in the village nearby. This fellow was quite remarkable. He strapped a rope to our backpack,s (yes both of them, big REI backpacks), and put the rope around his forehead. So not only did he carry BOTH our backs on his back, he did it by balancing his head and arched back. He also had only a loose shirt on and flip flops as “shoes”. We had hi tech gortech hiking boots on and it was hard for us to climb the circuit. He did it in good spirits and without the supports of the shoulder straps on the backpacks or with proper socks and shoes for climbing. He carried our packs for 14 days. We paid him 3,000 Nepali Rupees (about $34 USD).
● Choosing to trek: If you’re considering traveling to Nepal I encourage you to try a trek. If you want to trek, the Annapurna Circuit is the best if you have the time. It’s the best because the scenery changes from day to day as you climb in elevation, there were beautiful waterfalls along the path, the nature is breathtaking and the people who you encounter will greet you, as they climb or descend the path, with a friendly “Namaste!” In contrast, the Everest Base Camp trek is not scenic and is up and down, up and down, up and down, rather than a straight shot up to a Pass and then down. The Annapurna trek does not require you to reverse directions once you get to the top; instead it is a circular trek – so scenery changes on the way down as well. Some of the most beautiful scenery was at the upper part, near the pass. It was there that I could look downward and see clouds beneath us. We brought Polaroid film and saved it for the top of the pass. Our pictures are amazing!
● What to buy along the trek: One recommendation is that you buy a Map of the circuit. We bought a map two days into our trek at some small place run by local villagers. The map might be a souvenir, or helpful to understand where you’ve gone and where you will be headed. My sister bought some yak fur blankets which my Dad loves. The blankets are soft, lightweight, and very warm. That was on the way down from the top of the pass.
● Nepal’s poverty: To put it in perspective, your trekking through these mountain ranges and past villages is good for Nepal. But the poverty is not as clear as you might think. I had an experience where a little boy came up to me, all smiles. He asked me where I was from and I told him “America”. He then gave me a hug and said “my sponsors are from America!” I guffawed at this child who I then associated with the kids they show on TV ads asking you to donate money to alleviate poverty and get kids to go to school. This moment made me realize that I was traveling in a very remote and poor part of the world. The poverty on the trek wasn’t clear to me and this boy’s comment opened my eyes to that fact. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world.
The Annapurna Circuit trek is truly a beautiful trek. There are many villages along the way and places to stay of a very basic nature. There is usually food at these villages and most of it is not that good. Our guide would boil water for us and keep it in bottles to cool it. Don’t worry about accommodation or food. I do recommend bringing snacks like cookies/biscuits since those come in handy. I sincerely recommend this trek to anyone interested in trekking in general or in visiting Nepal.