In late January of 2018, I found myself in Besisahar with only my backpack and a great adventure in front of me. I had decided to trek the Annapurna Circuit and the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) on my own as I like the freedom that the option gives. From a technical perspective, the trek is not difficult, but beware of altitude sickness and be prepared to walk a lot while carrying all your gear (read about what to bring here). In addition, don’t walk over the Thorung Pass alone. Do it in the company of other trekkers. Other than that, if you are physically and mentally prepared for the challenge you’re in for an amazing time – lovely locals, friendly dogs, goats, yaks and cows and most of all, breath-taking views of the Annapurna mountain range and the Annapurna Conservation Area in general.
Annapurna Trek - 14-Day Itinerary
Here’s my 14-day itinerary for the trek. It’s flexible so feel free to adjust it according to your needs. Just make sure you know, what you are doing, in case you decide to shorten the number of days but not the distance travelled :)
Please also note, that doing the trek in late January is not the most popular time to do it, since it’s quite cold and you can get snowed in – you must wait for the snow to melt, before continuing your trek. It has however the advantage of peace and quiet. While there are many, many trekkers on route during the busy times, the path and the villages are free of tourists in late January. I don’t know about you, but I like that. I like it a lot.
Before you start
Annapurna Circuit Trek
You can either start from Kathmandu or Pokhara and take a bus to Besisahar, where the trekking can begin. I opted for the Pokhara option, since I preferred the city to Kathmandu, but from an optimization standpoint, it probably makes more sense to start from Kathmandu. Once you reach Besisahar you have three options to continue. You can start walking, you can take a local bus to Ngadi (which is what I did) or take a private Jeep which can take you to the village of your choice, but not further than Manang. Opting for the local bus will save you some walking time along a dusty road and not dig two deep into your pockets, so I think it’s a good compromise.
Both bus ride combined into about 7 hours of drive time so that allowed me to roughly walk 8km to a small village called Ghermu (1130m), where I would also stay the night. Turned out to be a good choice as not only was the food delicious, I also met Jordi and Oriol from Barcelona, who would become my trekking buddies for the rest of the trek.
After finishing our breakfast (which was fashionably late, as all breakfasts turned out to be) we started our day. The temperatures were low in the evening and during the night, but the day was sunny and warm, so I could only wear short sleeves. The path took us through a gorge along a crystal clear river and after walking for about 18km we ended up reaching a village called Dharapani (1900m), where we decided to spend the night.
Day three would take us to the village called Bhratang (2850m). It’s was a fairly long day in which we managed around 23km. The daylight would last between 07:00 (07am) and 18:00 (6pm) which was our window for covering distances and it turned out to be perfect for our plan. We would have breakfast between 6:30 and 7:00 and start walking right after. Usually we would finish at between 16:00 (4pm) and 17:00 (5pm) with a lunch brake at around 13:00 (1pm). I think our pace was slightly above average, although it was hard to compare since we did not really meet any other trekkers along the path.
After a good night’s sleep and delightful breakfast, we were ready for another long one. Our goal was to reach Manang, while taking the route of Upper Pisang, as it offers amazing views and the path takes you up to 3730m, which helps with acclimatization. Although the route via Lower Pisang is physically less demanding, I would encourage you to opt for the Upper Pisang. It’s just better but be prepared for a steep ascend to the village Ghyaru. Your efforts will be repaid by the amazing views from the top. We ended up succeeding and reaching Manang (3540m) just before nightfall and a decent sand storm.
This was a rest day intended for acclimatization. Even if you feel OK, it’s recommended to give your body some time to adjust to the altitude. We did some reading and washed our trekking clothes and did a short 3-4 hour side trek to the monastery just above Manang. Although we did quite some walking in the past days, we did not want to waste such a beautiful sunny day and the views were spectacular.
This was a relatively easy day. We walked the 10km to Letdar, which lives at 4200m above sea level. Apparently, it’s recommended to only ascend for 500m per day at that altitude, we felt OK and none of us experienced any problems whatsoever. Make sure you drink a lot of water and keep your body hydrated. The night was so windy that I had to use ear plugs in order to sleep. But the weather got better, when I woke up and we could continue without a problem.
After an early start, we made the 11km walk to High Camp (4850m) and arrived there at around 10:30 in the morning. The plan was to stay the night there, but since we arrived so early, and the weather conditions were near perfect, we decided to go for it and continued our way to the Thorung Pass. Although, the decision to continue was the correct one to take, it was all but easy. Thorung Pass is the highest point of the trek at the altitude of 5416m. It was a very unique experience and it might be more mentally than physically challenging, as there are a couple of times, where you think you’ve already made it, but it turns out, there is more ground to cover, before you reach the top. Every step was a struggle, but we managed to reach the top, have a short celebration and began with the descend to Muktinath (3800m), where the celebration continued in our hotel. We started the day at 4200m, ascended to 5416m and made our way back down to 3800m, across about 21km. Make sure you are fit enough to complete the task, before doing it. You can always sleep at High Camp and do this in two stages.
It’s possible to end the trek at Muktinath and take a bus all the way to Pokhara, but we had quite some trekking planned for the next days. First, we decided to take a detour through Chongar and Kagbeni to Jomsom and not follow the main road. If you have time and are willing to extend your walk, I recommend this option (even though I got annoying blisters on my feet, that would bug me for the rest of the trip). The views and the village of Kagbeni are amazing. I don’t know, how many km we walked but we arrived to Jomsom (2720m) at around 17:00 (5pm). We purchased bus tickets to Tatopani and found a place to sleep. Some people walk all the way to Tatopani, but I would not recommed it, as the path is mostly next to or on a dusty road, which is also used buses and jeeps.
After 6 hours of bumpy and dusty bus ride, we arrived to Tatopani (1200m), just happy it was over. There were some parts, where we had to meet other buses going in the other direction on a narrow road over a cliff and well, it was not the funny, I can tell you that much. At this point you are basically done with the Annapurna Circuit and are starting what’s called the Annapurna Base Camp or the ABC trek.
After lunch, we decided to take a short walk to the small village of Ghara (1700m), where we would spend the night. The village is noticeably poorer than what we were used to and that was reflected in the accommodation. But I have to say, that the experience was incredibly positive, and I would recommend it to everyone.
Trekking Annapurna Base Camp
To be able to see the sunrise from Poon Hill, we had a what felt like an easy day of trekking to Ghorepani (2870m), although looking back we did climb from 1700m to 2870m, but I guess you just get used to it up to that point. Walking into Ghorepani was the first time that we encountered more tourists since we started our trek. We spent the afternoon on the roof of hotel, reading a book and resting our eyes on the beautiful landscape.
The sunrise was supposed to be at around 06:50 in the morning and since it takes around 45 min to reach the top of Poon Hill, we started at around 06:00, for what would turn out to be a very long day. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy, so the sunrise left a bit to be desired, we were still happy with the experience. The hill top was quite crowded and definitely a different feeling in comparison to the experience at the Annapurna Circuit. After the sunrise, we returned to the hotel, had breakfast and continued our way. At this point, Oriol had to leave the group and go straight to Pokhara, as he had a plane to catch, while myself and Jordi continued our way to Sinuwa (2340m) via Tadapani. In retrospect, this was probably the most difficult day of walking. The connecting route goes up and down and up and down with the added bonus of what seemed to be endless steps. Needless to say, my feet and knees were very happy, when we arrived at Sinuwa, just before it became a dark outside.
Feeling fresh from a good night’s rest, we decided to go for it and walked around 15km up the valley and reached the ABC which lies at the altitude of 4130m. I was by no account an easy day, but just going up as opposed to going up and down like the day before, made it seem easier. Please don’t do this if you are not properly acclimatized, as it might be dangerous. We reached the top at around 16:30 (4:40pm) in hopes of better wetter in the morning as we could not see any mountain around us, due to cloudy conditions. The accommodation is very simple, and the common area did not have any heating, so it was very, very cold. We decided that the best course of action was to just go to sleep. I really like sleeping, so I did not object.
We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and the weather cleared up, so we could enjoy the spectacular views of the mountains around the ABC. After breakfast, we began our descend on the same path as we went up, to the village Chhomrong (2340m) or the village of a thousand stairs, as I like to call it. It was another fairly long day of walking and I was slowly looking forward to ending the trek as all the goals were achieved. Anyway, we made it safely to the village, were we would have our celebratory last dinner on the trek. If your legs can manage it, a good idea might be to continue to the village Jhinu, where you can also treat yourself to some hot springs as a way to celebrate the end of the trek.
Ah, the final day. All that was left was a 4 hour walk to the village of Siwai, where I took the bus to Pokhara, while Jordi decided that he still does not have enough and walked all the way to Pohara, which took him another 3 days. For me, I was really looking forward to a relaxing shower and some spare days in Pokhara, which I used for my adrenaline fix, by going paragliding and bungee jumping (upcoming blog post).
In terms of costs, I used between 15 and 17 USD per day, which covered 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), a random cup of ginger tea and accomodation. The prices during the busy season tend to increase, so I have read that you should have a budget of around 25 USD per day. The bus from Pokhara to Besisahar was 400 NPR (ca. 4 USD), from Besisahar to Ngadi 300 NPR (ca. 3 USD), from Jomsom to Tatopani 800 NPR (ca. 8 USD) and the bus from Siwai to Pokhara was 350 NPR (ca. 3.5 USD). I don’t know if the prices increase in the busy season.
If you have the time, I would recommend doing both the Circuit and the ABS trek in combination like I did, but if I would have to choose one, I would give a slight edge to the Circuit. Maybe it has to do with the fact, that we really did not meet any other tourists and that was exactly what I was looking for – just me, the sun and the mountains.
I hope this info will help you and please let me know, in case I missed something, or you have a question that you would like me to answer. Happy trekking!
Are you planning to trek one of the Annapurna's trails? Or have you already done that? Let us know in the comments below!