Annapurna Circuit Trek
Annapurna Circuit Trek
Length: 8–21 days
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Starting Elevation: 760 meters (2,493 feet) at Besisahar up to 2,670 meters (8,759 feet) at Chame, depending on your starting point
Peak Elevation: 5,416 meters (17,769 feet) at Thorong La Pass
Guiding: Recommended but not required
When to Go: Fall peak trekking season is from October to early December; spring trekking season is in March and April
Access: Pokhara, a 30-minute flight from Kathmandu or full day by ground transportation
Paperwork: The Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP) and TIMS card can be purchased from the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu or Pohkara or through a registered guide; each requires two passport photos
The Annapurna Circuit was once a three-week journey through the pristine valleys and villages of the Annapurna range, but the construction of two roads encroaching up both sides has shrunken the route significantly. When the final road to Manang is complete, the date of which is unknown and consistently delayed, the roadless section of the Annapurna Circuit may be reduced to as few as five days. What does this all mean?
First, the Annapurna Circuit isn’t lost yet. Depending on how far up the roads you decide to start and finishing walking, the abbreviated version can now be completed 10–17 days. On the Besisahar side (east) the road up the Marsyangdi Valley reaches greater Chamje (it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise culmination of the road because it deteriorates past Syanje and passability depends on the weather conditions, landslides, construction, etc.). On the west side of the Circuit the road extends up the Kali Gandaki Valley to Jomsom and jeeps and flights are available from there. There still remains at least 10–12 days and 145 km of roadless trekking from Chamje to Jomsom. The grand loop from Besishar to Pokhara takes approximately 17–21 days.
Trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit now must decide where to begin. Most start on the Besisahar side and traditionalists walk from Besisahar to Chamje (2 days) along the dirt road. This stretch is beautiful—it meanders up the Marsyangdi River valley with the big mountains lurking behind—but trekkers compete with a stream of jeeps and busses. On the other side, the road starts around Jomsom and the walk from Jomsom to Pokhara takes 4–6 days. Most people add days to the Besisahar side of the Circuit because it’s more scenic and the road is less intrusive.
A great way to increase the number of roadless hiking days is the side trip to Tilicho Lake, one of the world's highest lakes at 4,919 meters (16,138 feet). From Manang it’s one day to Tilicho Base Camp and a few more hours to the lake itself. A rough, challenging trail cuts directly from Tilicho Lake to Jomsom but requires at least one night of self-sufficient camping (and it reaches an altitude above 5,000 meters). A guide is highly recommended in this area: the trails are rough and there is a small military base near the pass to Jomosom that must be avoided.
When assessing the Annapurna Circuit as it stands today, It's important to remember that development along the Annapurna Circuit occurred long before the roads were built. The influx of trekkers over the last thirty years led to significant infrastructure, teahouses, and small communities supported by trekking. Other treks in Nepal offer more of a wilderness experience, but the teahouses on the Annapurna Circuit are a luxury that facilitate weeks of trekking while carrying only a fraction of the supplies.
For trekkers, it’s likely that if you would have enjoyed the Circuit ten years ago, you will enjoy it today. The 145-km roadless stretch from Chamje to Jomsom is still one of the most magnificent alpine trails in the world and the mountains themselves remain untouched. If this is the trek you choose, bask in the majesty of the Annapurna Range and don’t allow anything to detract from your experience.