Annapurna Circuit Trek
I recently completed the Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal, and I learned a lot along the way! Heres a quick run-down for those of you that are considering a trip like like this!
Nepal is a place I’ve always wanted to visit- not only because of my business connections there (see our About Us page) but also because of its mystical legacy. A country rich in culture and history that was just recently thrown open to the modern world (1950’s) and is still in the process of reckoning their ancient past with a whirlwind technological future. From the moment we landed in Kathmandu, I was swept up in the chaotic clashing of these two worlds.
Kathmandu itself is a wild place to be-half jungle, half city. Definitely hail a taxi or have a hotel arrange your pick-up before you make the life-threatening decision to try and drive yourself. There are rules of the road, but no one abides them. There are lanes, but they are more like gentle suggestions that most people ignore. Horns are used frequently, but not in anger, more like simple notifications of intent. Mixed in with the busses and taxis are a hundred-thousand mopeds and motorcycles, some regular bikes, a sprinkling of rickshaws and various animals- mostly goats and chickens. Cows are sacred in this mostly Hindu country, so if one lays in the middle of the road, it will stay there while all traffic swerves around it.
There are plenty of things to do and explore in Kathmandu, and for this I recommend picking up Lonely Planet’s guide to Nepal. Its a small volume that can be easily carried and has sound advice. You’ll learn that Thamel is the tourist district, but not any closer to Disneyland than the rest of Kathmandu, besides perhaps its many “western” coffee shops. There are excellent bookstores and trekking supply stores as well as souvenir shopping. You’ll find many aggressive salespeople in Nepal, and the deals get better as the day goes on. Bartering is widely practiced, except in the stores marked :”fixed price”.
You should absolutely visit a stupa (temple) in Kathmandu and both the Swayabunath and Bodnath stupas are excellent. Make sure you walk clockwise around stupas and other religious buildings, and always spin prayer wheels in a clockwise direction.
Nepali people are friendly and a majority of them speak a little english. If you are lost or need help, you should have no problem asking a stranger. If they don’t understand you, they may quickly fetch a nearby person who speaks better english. After exploring for two days, I decided it was time to get out of the bustle of the city and start our trek. There are some things to consider before you begin: do you want a guide? do you want a porter? do you have a clear understanding of the trek? I used another Lonely Planet guide to plan for the Annapurna Circuit- “Trekking the Nepal Himalaya”. It has day-by-day descriptions of the major treks including Everest Base Camp. I chose the Annapurna Circuit in spring because it is less crowded and still affords incredible mountain views. I chose not to use a guide, feeling confident in my trail abilities and also decided not to use a porter.
In general, there are some things that I learned which I’d like to address. First of all, the Lonely Planet guide is a good starting point, but due to the industriousness of the Nepali people and the time constraints of publishing such a guide, you will find it mildly inaccurate. There will be more and better accomodations in many of the towns, and far more western conveniences such as WiFi. The book also does not list distances in kilometers or miles, instead it lists in time, which can be a major annoyance. The time it takes you to hike somewhere depends on so many factors, such as the weight you’re carrying, the people you’re with, how many stupendous waterfalls you stop to take pictures of, how many coconut cookies you eat, wether the trail is going straight up or is flat-ish, etc. I found the times listed in the book to be inconsistent, and sometimes just plain wrong! So if you are hiking without a porter, add extra time into your schedule. We ended up adding a full two days to allow for recovery and to enjoy some of the more lovely side treks and towns.
You’ll find that along the trail, the Nepali are equally inconsistent about both distance and time. For instance, if you are hiking to a specific place and you ask them how far it is, mostly they will answer “just beyond!” which could mean anywhere from 1-3 hours. Another common answer is “200 meters” but this is usually closer to 400 meters. If you are getting tired and its late in the day, a hotel owner might tell you that the next town is an hour away, when in fact it is about 10 minutes. When they tell you the trail is flat, or downhill, that means that it goes uphill and downhill. In fact, its good to realize early on that there is no such thing as “flat” in the Himalaya. Be prepared for a lot of up and down.
At your hotel, prices will be cheap if you promise to eat dinner and breakfast there. This is an easy promise to make because all hotels have a similar- if not exactly the same- menu. You’ll quickly learn the dishes that agree with your stomach and be able to order those everywhere along the trail. You’ll see some western specialties, which you should only try if you really trust the cook. We had a decent “pizza” and Yak Burgers that didn’t do too much damage. The typical Nepali food, Dal Bhat, is always available and you’ll get free refills if you are not sharing a plate. I found Dal Bhat to be incompatible with my stomach, so mostly I ate curries and Swiss Rosti ( a potato and vegetable pie, sometimes comes with yak cheese!). Thupka is an excellent noodle soup that can help if you are feeling sick. The hotel staff will keep track of what you eat and drink, then you’ll settle your bill in the morning before you leave.
The bathrooms in the hotels can vary widely, so its not out of the question to ask to see the toilet before making your decision on where to stay the night. You can also bargain down a price this way, or pay extra for a room with its own private toilet. Toilets run the gamut from western style, clean and flushing with a sink nearby to a squatty-potty hole with a bucket of water and diarrhea sprinkled around like confetti. The worst toilets we saw were at Thorung La High Camp, an hour beyond the Throng Phedi Lodge which had decent toilets. Also take into account the number of toilets per person in a lodge. Near Manang, the lodges get much busier and you may find yourself waiting an eternity to use the single western toilet. Often its worth it to pay an extra 100-200 Rupees ($1-2) for your own bathroom. None of the bathrooms will have toilet paper, some will have spray nozzles that are used as a sort of bidet. You can buy single rolls of toilet paper along the trail. Baby wipes are good too! Don’t throw anything in the toilet, all paper and wipes go into a waste basket. I found it handy to have a few ziplock bags for my waste paper in case there wasn’t a bin. Hand Sanitizer is like gold.
Water is not safe in Nepal. No matter what they tell you. Filter all of it, including what you use to brush your teeth. I used a Sawyer filter straw, which was great. Try for one-step filtering, especially at high altitude so you are not tempted to let yourself get dehydrated. This can be deadly at 17,000 feet above sea level. Also, plan on being sick for a few days. If its not the water, then something else will get you- ice, fresh veggies or fruit-something. Bring some anti-diarrheals and stock up on an antibiotic in Kathmandu, where you can buy almost any drug for really cheap.
If you are not going with a porter, you may be concerned about what to pack. I definitely packed too much clothing for this trip. Really, you just need one solid set of layers: One pair shorts, one t-shirt, one long underwear, one thermal, one fleece, one lightweight puffy, one pair long, windproof pants and one raincoat. Also a ball cap and beanie! My buff was great to have, and a handkerchief can make a big difference. You’ll be able to wash your clothes at most hotels. Bring a bar of Dr. Bronners soap. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a few pairs of socks as well. Flip-flops or light shoes (I had Sanuks) are necessary for once you get comfy at the hotel. Some hotels have flimsy blankets and many people brought lightweight sleeping bags. I slept in all of my clothes at least three nights. In Manang, we ended up buying yak tracks and trekking poles, which we definitely needed on the pass since there was plenty of slick snow. You’ll find that both Chame and Manag have everything you need in case you forgot something, so its best to pack light and bring a little extra cash. Some stores in the bigger towns even take credit cards.
Its good to start stocking up on trail snacks at your hotels or at the teashops as you go. You’ll find that meals typically take and hour or more to prepare, so lunch stops are not always viable. We enjoyed stopping for tea and snacking on Snickers and Coconut cookies, which are sold practically everywhere. You’ll also be able to find soda and crackers. I brought a few Clif Bars from the states, which were great, since granola bars aren’t really a thing in Nepal. Some electrolyte replacement tablets can make a big difference on a long-distance hike like this.
There is a lot more to tell, but you’ll have to go out there and discover it for yourself! The beauty of a hike like this is getting to learn the culture and ways of the trail, all while experiencing some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet. Also, Nepal is really really cheap!! For about $1,000 per person, you can easily trek for 14-20 days and be pretty comfortable. If you start to run out of money near the end, many Nepali are willing to trade for things like clothing and trekking gear. You won’t need that fleece once you’re back down at low altitude! For two people, we spent about $20-50 per day including all food and lodging. The expensive days were when we splurged on something like a latte, or bought gear or souvenirs. We also didn’t do much bartering, since we had budgeted for a lot more.
If you have any questions at all, feel free to comment below! Or you can message me on our Facebook Page. Happy Trekking!!