The Annapurna Circuit is a popular name for a trek within the Annapurna mountain range of central Nepal. The total length of the route varies between 160–230 km (100-145 mi), depending on where the motor transportation is used and where the trek is ended. The trek rises to an altitude of 5,400m on the Thorung La pass, touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna massif, crossing Thorung La (5416m), the highest pass on this trek. Practically all trekkers hike the route counter clockwise, as then the daily altitude gain is slower and crossing the high Thorong La pass is easier and safer.
The mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna [7455m] and Tilicho Peak (7134m). Numerous peaks of 6000-8000m in elevation rise from the Annapurna range.
The trek begins at Besisahar or Bhulbhule in the Marshyangdi river valley and concludes in the Kali Gandaki Gorge. Besisahar can be reached after a seven hour drive from Kathmandu. The trail passes along paddy fields and into subtropical forests, several waterfalls and gigantic cliffs, and various villages. Annapurna Circuit has often been voted as the best long distance trek in the world, as it combined, in its old full form, a wide variety of climate zones from tropics at 600 m asl to the arctic at 5416 m asl at the Thorong La pass and cultural variety from Hindu villages at the low foothills to the Tibetan culture of Manang Valley and lower Mustang. Continuing construction of a road has greatly shortened the trail and altered the feel of the villages, so the "best trek in the world" can not be said to hold true anymore. However, thanks to the road, mountain biking is becoming very popular, and Mustang in particular is becoming one of the world's most popular mountain biking destinations.
Standard trek duration
The trek usually takes about 15–20 days, leaving from Kathmandu with a stopover in Pokhara before returning to the capital. The trail is moderate to fairly challenging and makes numerous river crossings over steel and wooden suspension bridges. Tea houses and lodges along the circuit are available for meals and accommodations. Some groups may opt for tents but these are typically only for those destined for side trips away from lodges such as climbing a peak.
Day 1 - From Kathmandu, travel west to Besisahar[820m] via private vehicle or public bus, taking six to seven hours.
Day 2 - Trek to Khudi [790m]
Day 3 - Trek to Bahundanda [1310m]
Day 4 - Trek to Jagat [1290m]
Day 5 - Trek to Dharapani [1920m]
Day 6 - Trek to Chame [2630m]
Day 7 - Trek to Upper/Lower Pisang [3190m]
Day 8 - Trek to Manang [3520m]
Day 9 - Rest day in Manang [3520m]
Day 10 - Trek to Letdar [4250m]
Day 11 - Trek to Thorung Phedi [4500m]
Day 13 - Trek to Marpha [2665m]
Day 14 - Trek to Lete [2470m] (now often with car or mountainbike)
Day 15 - Trek to Tatopani [1160m] (now often with car or mountainbike, day 14)
Day 16 - Trek to Ghorepani [2775m]
Day 18 - Return to Kathmandu [1400m]
Depending on the speed of the trekkers, number and length of side trips and rest days taken, acclimatization, weather and where the trek is finished, hiking the Annapurna Circuit can take anything from 8 to 25 days. Many trekkers short on time choose to fly out from Jomsom Airport, which shortens the trek 6 days compared to the original AC.
It is also possible to continue from Ghorepani to Tadapani, Ghandruk, Landruk and then to Phedi, which follows the old Annapurna Circuit from the time when the road was not yet extended to Beni. This more faithful variation takes three days instead the shorter 1 day exit from Ghorepani to Pokhara outlined above. A popular addition to the AC is a visit to Annapurna Base Camp, ABC, (also called Annapurna Sanctuary). This trail turns to the north from Tadapani and rejoins the old AC at either Ghandruk or Landruk. A visit to the ABC adds about 5 days to the duration of the Annapurna Circuit, slightly less than the normal trek duration to ABC, as trekkers coming from the AC are already acclimatized and "trail hardened".
It is recommended that trekkers take the high trail from Pisang via Ghyaru and Ngawal to Manang, as the views are spectacular and those two villages are the best preserved samples of Tibetan style villages still in the original state along the route. Sleeping in either of these villages helps acclimatization, as they are located already higher than Manang. Another side trip gaining popularity is the visit to Tilicho Tal (lake). There are now lodges along the trail and near the lake at so called Tilicho Base Camp, so tents are not needed anymore. If one wishes to cross to Jomsom via the Tilicho route, at least one tent camp is required and snow conditions might prevent the crossing or make it dangerous.
History and future
The Annapurna area was opened to foreign trekkers in 1977 after the disputes between CIA backed Khampa guerrillas operating from the area into Tibet, and the local populace and Nepal army were settled. The original trek started form the market town of Dhumre situated at the Kathmandu - Pokhara highway and ended in Pokhara, and took about 23 days to complete. Road construction started in early eighties both from Dhumre to the north and from Pokhara to the west and then up the Kali Gandaki valley. The road has now reached Chamje on the Marsyangdi river valley and all the way to Muktinath on the Kali Gandaki side. This means that out of the original 23 days only 5 walking days of the trek is still without a motor road. It is apparent that there will be a road around the whole Annapurna Massif before 2017. In places new trails and routes have been marked so that the road can be partly avoided. The existence of the road has nevertheless totally changed the area and the appearance and the atmosphere of the villages. One positive note: the road facilitates transport, and makes mountainbiking possible for everyone. There's a company renting out mountainbikes in Muktinath and Jomsom, since 2011. As the road sees very little traffic, and one can ride downhill (dirt road and/or single track) from Muktinath to Tatopani and descend almost 3000 meters in 2–3 days, it has created one of the world's best downhill mountainbiking areas.
New areas near Annapurna have been opened for trekkers in the past years, like Upper Mustang, Naar-Pho Valley, Manaslu and Tsum Valley. These can partly replace the lost charm the roadless Annapurna had, but at the moment trekking these areas is restricted and subject to extra permits, costs and limitations.
In October, 2014, a sudden and unexpected blizzard killed about 40 people, half of whom were Nepalese. It was caused by the tail end of a dying cyclone which had ravaged the eastern coast of India; there were about 350 hikers caught in the blizzard.