See the full circuit around the Annapurna Mountains and cross the highest altitude pass in the World - the Thorung La
Day 1: KTM - Besi Sahar - Starting the day from Kathmandu you will take a 10 hour bus journey to Besi Sahar. The start of your trek will be a long walk through the Besi Sahar bazaar. The trail will then drop to a stream via a rough rock staircase and then up onto the roadbed to Bhalam Khola. It is a long up and down walk over rice paddy fields and subtropical forests passing a Danish educational project to Khudi (790m). This is the first Gurung village on the trek. You will also be entering the Annapurna Conservation Area. After Gurung village the road winds northwards up the Marsyangdi valley. Manasulu II (7879m) and Himalchuli can be seen on the horizon. At Bhulbule (830m) the trail crosses the Marsyangdi river on a long suspension bridge. You will need to register at the ACAP check-post before moving on, past a majestic waterfall 60m high surrounded by pandanus trees. The trail wanders through small settlements, rice terraces with views still of Manaslu and Ngadi Chuli. The mountain views disappear as you approach Ngadi. This village has several hotels, shops, porter hotels and a camp site. As you journey along you will be interested to see the extensive public works programme in the hills. The bridges you cross throughout this trek are in unbelievably remote locations requiring great expenditure and many hours to build with porters carrying large steel cables and towers for several days to reach each location. The trail now rises gently upwards through scrub forests for a short way then climbs to some bhattis and cold drink stalls across from the rice terraces of Lampata. There is then a steep climb to Bahundanda (1310m), a pretty village in the saddle of a long ridge with a few shops and a number of hotels. Day 2: Bahundanda – Chamje Surrounded by rice terraces you descend steeply on the slippery trail. You may see flocks of parakeets in the rice fields. The trail on this day crosses a stream at the base of a waterfall then traverses high above the river to the pleasant village of Kanigaon (1180m). Ghermu Phant is reached after a short walk then drops to cross the Marsyangdi river over a long suspension bridge at Syange (1190m). Beyond Syange the valley narrows to a steep canyon. The main stone street of Syange is lined with shops, guest houses and an hotel. You will trek on to Shree Chaur and past this settlement the trail climbs quite high on an exposed trail carved into nearly vertical cliffs. Rhododendron and pine trees grow on the the cliffs. From here onwards the villages are small and infrequent due to the terrain. You will start a short descent as you approach Jagat (1250m). The local people in this area are of Tibetan descent. Jagat was once the site for a tax collecting post for the Tibetan salt trade. It has a medieval feel with the shops and hotels built closely together. From here the trail descends further along the river bank then a there is a long climb through forests to a waterfall until it reaches Chamje (1430m). Day 3: Chamje – Bagarchhap Follow the trail after crossing the Marsyangdi, along the river bank over rocks and exposed wire cages (gabions). These are used extensively throughout Nepal to stabilize river banks and road cuttings. You will be climbing through stands of bamboo and rhododendron to an exposed trail traversing high above the river bank then a short descent to Tal Besi and a steep climb beside the Marsyangdi. Cresting a ridge the valley opens into a large plateau. Tal (16754m) is set at the foot of a large waterfall. Here there are many shops and lodges and another ACAP check post. You are in the region called Gyasumdo, important for herding and agriculture with corn, barley, buckwheat, potatoes and wheat being grown, due to its warm weather and good rainfall enabling two crops a year. The people of this area used to hunt musk deer and this was an important source of income and trade. The trail then enters the Manang district over a broad, flat valley that was once a lake taking you over a number of suspension bridges to reach Dharapani (1920m). The Tibetan influence now becomes stronger as you pass through villages and on to Bagarchhap in the east-west Manang valley. This is an area of blue pine, spruce, hemlock, maple and oak. You may see a bird rather like a Jay – this is the Nutcracker which eats the seeds from the blue pine cones. Bagarchhap (2160m) has typical Tibetan architecture. The Diki gompa here contains many Tibetan Buddhist paintings and statues. From here the trail travels up the Manang valley and the high Himalayan peaks can be seen to the south with occasional glimpses of Lamjung Himal (6986m) and Annapurna II (7937m). To the east you will have a dramatic view of the peaks of Manaslu Himal. Day 4: Bagarchhap – Chame The Manang valley is virgin pine and fir forest. The trail takes you up through these forests to Dhanakyu (2290m). Views of Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II and Annapurna IV are seen throughout this day’s trek. Apples and peaches are to be seen everywhere around here during the autumn season. After trekking through these forests passing a spectacular waterfall, traversing a rock ledge and climbing over a ridge by a steep rocky trail you will descend to the tiny settlement of Temang Besi. From here the route crosses areas of landslides and climbs uphill through more forests to Lattemarang (2360m) then rises to forested ridges, crosses a wide stream then descends to Thanchok. Another ridge will bring you to Kotho (2590m) sitting in a meadow surrounded by pine and spruce trees. There is a police check-post which controls access to the Nar-Phu valley to the north. Now you will find it is an easy walk to Chame (2630m) taking just half an hour. This is the administrative headquarters for the Manang district. There is a telephone office, a school, many shops, a post office, a health post, bank and a number of hotels. Day 5: Chame to Pisang The trail leads west out of Chame along a mostly level walk in forests until you reach a huge apple orchard enclosed within a stone wall at Bhraatang (2840m). On the northern side of the river the trail has been blasted out of the side of the cliff. Continuing through deep forests the valley is steep and narrow and you will have your first view of the dramatic Paungda Danda rock face rising 1500m from the river. You will see Annapurna II to the south and Pisang Peak to the north-east with Ngadi Chuli and Himalllchuli back down the valley. There is a crossing by suspension bridge to the south bank of the Marsyangdi, a long climb over a ridge then a descent where the trail levels out and heads into the upper part of the Manang valley towards Pisang (3190m). Here there a few houses clustered together and wooden canals for water to drive the two mills in this village. A little further is the main part of Pisang across the river and 100m uphill. Day 6: Pisang – Manang You have now reached the Nyesyang region, the upper part of the Manang district which has six major villages. The Annapurna range has a significant effect on the region with a small amount of rainfall during the monsoon. Crops are grown – wheat, beans, potatoes, barley and buckwheat just once a year. Horses are important for transport or as pack animals. Yaks, goats and cows are also kept. You will be surprised to see trendy dressed locals in Western clothes as they herd yaks and plough the fields! This is due to the influence from the West which makes them shrewd business people and you will not find bargains here! Pisang and the next villages of Bryaga and Manang hold archery contests in the spring, a colourful spectacle with dancing and drums. The locals enjoy drinking at this time and can get rather excitable! The trail out of the village requires a long climb over a ridge extending across the valley. At the top (3380m) you will have a wonderful view of Manang valley with Tilicho Peak at its head. If you are in luck you may be able to buy a tea or souvenir from a man who sets up shop at this point. There is a short descent from here to the forested valley floor where the trail continues to Manang airstrip at Hongde (3325m). You will pass a long mani wall with an amazing amount of brass prayer wheels, then a gompa with one large prayer wheel. This small airport has scheduled flights to Pokhara and sometimes direct flights to Khatmandu. The Manang people usually fill the flights on their way to and from trading excursions. Beyond the airstrip, after half an hour or trekking, is the huge Sabje Khola valley and spectacular views of Annapurna III and IV. Nearby is a mountaineering school built in 1979 through a grant from the Yugoslav Mountaineering Federation. The Nepali’s operate this now and offer a six weeks course for climbers from Nepal and nearby countries. The route will cross to the north bank of the Marsyangdi then climb up past fields of barley to Bryaga (3475m). The houses hide behind a large rock outcrop and sit one on top of another, with an open veranda to each house formed by the neighbour’s rooftop. At the nearby gompa sitting on a high up crag there are statues and Tibetan religious paintings said to be 400-500 years old. Weird cliffs of yellow rock shaped into dramatic pillars by erosion dominate the countryside alongside the trail. The walk is only a short way to the Manang plateau (3500m). Day 7: Manang – Acclimatization Day The setting of the village is very dramatic with Annapurna and Gangapurna only 8 kms way. A huge ice-fall rumbles and crashes down the sides of the peaks. The houses are flat-roofed and separated by narrow alleyways. It appears to be more westernized here with hot showers and videos for entertainment. Mountain bikes are used by the local youths. The shops supply many items for trekkers so you can stock up on things you need. An aid post run by the Himalayan Rescue Association operates here. There are free daily lectures on altitude sickness. It snows from late November to March. You will need to acclimatize here before continuing on the trek to the higher elevations. There are many excursions you could take from easy to more strenuous and from the village if you climb the ridge to the north there are excellent views of Annapurna II and Tarke Kang (7193m). If you descend from the village you will reach a glacial lake at the foot of the huge ice-fall. There is a walk to see the Bhojo gompa, a red edifice perched on the ridge between Bryaga and Manang. Day 8: Manang – Letdar On this day you will be ascending almost 2000m to Thorung La. If you are starting to suffer from altitude sickness you will need to descend back to Manang to recover. The trail crosses a stream and then climbs to Tengi (120m above Manang) continuing to climb out of the Marsyangdi valley. There are a few goths on the way. Vegetation is scrub juniper and alpine grasses. You will head for Gunsang, a small flat roofed village and here there is an irrigation and hydroelectric centre. Further on, the trail goes through sparse forests of juniper, rose and barberry to Yak Kharka. There are a few meadows for grazing horses and yaks. An hour further is Letdar (4250m). Day 9: Letdar – Thorung Phedi Leaving Letdar you will climb along the east bank of the Jarsang Khola, then descend and cross the stream continuing on a narrow trail across a high, unstable scree slope before descending again to Thorung Phedi. Thorung Phedi sits on a rocky meadow with vertical cliffs rising above (4420m). Blue sheep and even possibly snow leopards can appear in this valley. The birds are choughs and circling overhead are lammergeyers and Himalayan griffons. Day 10: Thorung Phedi – Muktinah It is a steep trail out of Thorung Phedi, up moraines and rocky ridges down to the pass. It is a well defined trail due to many years of use by the local sheep and yak herders. The pass can be snowbound in late December and in January or if there is an unseasonable storm at other times. At such times you may have to retreat to Dumre. If all is well and you can move on, the trail climbs upwards as you traverse in and out of many canyons, taking about 4-6 hours. When you reach Thorung La (5416m) there are wonderful high Himalayan views. You will see the ‘Great Barrier’ named by Herzog, separating the drier Tibet-like region of Manang from the rest of Nepal. Also visible will be the Annapurnas, Gangpurna and Yak Gawa. The latter is a heavier glaciated peak. Below is the Kali Gandaki valley with the rock peak of Thorungtse (6484m) beyond. You will find it rough on the knees due to the steep descent of more than 1600m in 4 hours. There will be excellent views of Dhaulagiri in the distance. At last the moraines change to grassy slopes and it is a pleasant stretch from here down to Muktinath along the upper part of the Jhong Khola valley, crossing meadows and dropping into a deep ravine of the Jhong Khola valley. You then climb out of the ravine into Muktinah (3800m). Day 11-16: Muktinath – Pokhara This will take you along the Jomsom trail first to Kagbeni. The winds in the Kali Gandaki can drive sand and dust into your face so a scarf and sunglasses are needed for protection as you trek down the valley. At Tatopani there is a choice of routes – either follow the trail up to Ghorapani and back down to Birethanti, or take a more level route that follows the Kali Gandaki river to Baglung, on the outskirts of Pokhara. There is a possible side trip to Ghandruk, Landruk or the Annapurna Sanctuary.