The Annapurna Circuit Trek is found on just about every top 10 list of trekking routes in the world. For some adventurers, the full horseshoe route doesn’t fit their schedule so we have an alternate choice that also includes spending a little extra time in the lower Mustang region. This version of The Annapurna Circuit Trek ends in Jomsom, with a flight and one night stay in Pokhara. On this trek we spend a little more time around Muktinath, trekking to Kagbeni, and in between exploring some amazing Tibetan villages in Mustang. This is a wonderful alternative to those interested in an introduction to the landscape and culture of the restricted Upper Mustang region. This area was originally part of the Upper Mustang but is not restricted, therefore an expensive permit is not needed to visit here. This is a wonderful trip that introduces you to Nepal’s two biggest centers of culture and adventure, Kathmandu and Pokhara, the spectacular Annapurna Circuit with a classic crossing of the Thorung La Pass, and wonderful cultural experience of the Lower Mustang region, with it’s traditional Tibetan villages and the stunning Kali Gandaki Gorge.
DAY 1 – KATHMANDU: ARRIVAL DAY
We will meet you at Tribhuvan International Airport and transfer you to your hotel in Kathmandu/Thamel. You’ll have time to relax and perhaps take a walk around Thamel. We can also suggest some places for lunch or dinner depending on your arrival time.
DAY 2 – KATHMANDU TO BESISAHAR
Besisahar 820m/2700ft Driving (7 hours)
We start our journey and drive from Kathmandu to Besisahar, along the way we’ll pass by traditional villages, the mighty Marsyangdi River and the subtropical landscape and vegetation of the region. We overnight at the classic starting point of the Annapurna Circuit-Besisahar.
DAY 3 – BESISAHAR TO SYANGE, CHAMJ
Chamje 1385m/4540ft Trekking (4 hours)
Our first day of trekking is a short four-hour walk ending up in Chamj. We will pass through traditional villages with Hindu Shrines and lush subtropical vegetation admiring the spectacular rice terraces. We’ll stop for lunch in Syange, where we may enjoy some Nepali chow mein, soup, bread, or dal bhat with extra helpings of rice and lentils. There are lots of choices for food along the trail. Annapurna has some of the best lodges in Nepal.
DAY 4 – CHAMJE TO BAGARCHHAP
Bagarchap 2160m Trekking (5.5 hours)
We start the morning with a typical breakfast of either oatmeal with apples, hot off the pan Tibetan bread with honey and jam, or toast with eggs and hash browns, coffee or tea. The trail is rocky and we cross the Marsyangdi River via suspension bridge taking in the early morning rays of light and the breathtaking views. It’s here where we’ll reach the gate to Manang District descending down to the pretty little village of Tal. Depending on time we may have lunch here before moving on. Walking by its stone chorten entrance, a sign we are getting closer to the dry zone and the Tibetan/Buddhist culture, we pass through Dharapani, (1920m), before reaching our destination for the night, Bagarchhap. This village is made up of flat roofs typical of the Tibetan style houses we’ll see more of when we climb into the dry zone. We are now getting a sense of the diversity of culture that makes the Annapurna Circuit such a special trek.
DAY 5 – BAGARCHHAP TO CHAME
Chame 2710m/7090ft Trekking (6 hours)
We start the day with a hearty breakfast and make our way for some steep climbing through a forest of fir and pine once we get past the village of Danaque. We’ll meet some friendly villagers along the way. It’s perfectly fine to take pictures of people. Just make sure to have the guide ask if it’s OK first. After a gain of 500 meters we’ll reach Timang, where we’ll continue along until Chame, the administrative center of Manang District.
On approach to Chame we get a good look at the towering Annapurna II, 7937 meters. There are lots of lodges and facilities in Chame, so if you need to pick up some extra supplies like soap, personal items, or snacks this is a good village to do a little shopping.
Being the administrative capital they have fairly reliable 3G network services here so if you have a local sim card you can catch up with friends and family by email, Messenger, Line, or even Facetime. Post some pictures or video on Instagram and Facebook to update everyone on your amazing adventure.
We settle into our lodge for the evening with a filling dinner of momos, either veg. or yak meat, maybe a pizza, pasta, or some delicious fried noodles or potatoes. Add some of the green chilli sauce from the bottle on the table to spice up your meal. Tea or even just plain hot water is a great way to stay warm and finish off your meal. It’s important to stay hydrated as we climb to higher elevations.
DAY 6 – CHAME TO PISANG
Pisang 3250m/10660ft Trekking (4 hours)
We start the day with a hearty breakfast. Most of the lodges will have the same dishes on their menu but if you see something different make sure to try it. Tsampa is a Tibetan porridge made from roasted barley flour. If you see this on the menu, give it try. You’ll only ever find this dish in the Himalaya. It’s hearty, filling, and delicious with a little sugar or honey.
The trail continues through thick forest. We cross the Marsyangdi Valley at over 3000 meters. We also see the commanding Paungda Danda rock face. Locals believe your spirit must climb Paungda Danda before you can reach the Kingdom of Heaven. We arrive at the village of Lower Pisang greeted by its mani wall at the entrance. Your guide will remind you but always stay to the left of these Buddhist shrines as it’s proper in the culture to move around shrines, temples, and stupas in a clockwise direction. It’s amazing and spectacular scenery, drier, colder, but breathtaking. After dinner we can stay warm by the stove with some hot tea or water, chatting with our group or meeting other trekkers before having a good night sleep.
DAY 7 – PISANG TO MANANG
Manang 3540m/11600ft Trekking (4 hours)
We are now in the drier region of the Upper Manang District. The surroundings and culture are very Tibetan-like. Mani walls, stone chortens, and stupas are seen everywhere including right on the trail to Manang. We pass through villages that are built with high stone walls that help to shelter us from the winds. We see yak herds and the wonderful village of Bragha, with its Buddhist Monastery that sits perched on the hill that overlooks the trail to Manang. It’s just a short walk now to our destination, Manang, where we’ll spend two days, resting and acclimating before moving on. Manang has plenty of lodges and shops where we can pick up extra supplies. There are lots of trekkers you’ll meet that come from around the world to walk the famous Annapurna Circuit. We’ll have a great night resting, having a hearty meal of momos, fried potatoes, or a yak steak, and chatting with our group around a warm stove.
DAY 8 – MANANG: ACCLIMATIZATION DAY
Manang 3540m/11600ft Rest Day
This is an acclimatization day so after breakfast we’ll head out for a nice hike, gaining some altitude before descending back down to Manang. Let’s have some breakfast first of toast and eggs, some hot oatmeal or a Tibetan pancake with some coffee and tea before heading out. An acclimatization hike may include walking up to get a good view of the Gangapurna Glacier above the lake which takes about an hour. Amazing photo opportunities here so don’t forget your camera! There are more strenuous hikes but it will be up to our guide and the group as to where we will go.
They’ll be a little time to wander around the village later in the day where you may be held up with a traffic jam of goats passing through. We’ll meet up for dinner at our guesthouse or lodge before retiring for the night. 3G service is not always reliable here but most lodges offer wifi for a fee if you want to catch up with emails or post a photo or two.
DAY 9 – MANANG TO YAK KHARKA
Yak Kharka 4050m/13290ft Trekking (3 hours)
Rested and acclimated in Manang, we are now ready to push on to the higher elevations. Our biggest day is just around the corner when we’ll hike up the Thorung La Pass at 5416 meters. Today we leave Manang after breakfast for a short hike to Yak Kharka. Along the way we get some of the best views of the Annapurna massif. It’s a short hike because we still need more time to safely acclimate our bodies, reaching 4050 meters at Yak Kharka. The vegetation is sparse and we have now left the Marsyangdi Valley for the Jarsang Khola Valley. It’s here where locals forage for yartsa gunbu, a mummified caterpillar fungus that’s considered the viagra of the Himalaya, fetching prices up to $50,000 a pound!
DAY 10 – YAK KHARKA TO THORONG PHEDI
Thorung Phedi 4450m/14600ft Trekking (3.5 hours)
It’s important to stay fuelled and hydrated especially at these high altitudes so have a hearty breakfast before we leave Yak Kharka for Thorung Phedi, our last stop before summiting the Thorung La Pass. We’ll cross a wooden bridge at 4310 meters over the Jarsang River before arriving at the first base camp of the Thorung La Pass, Thorung Phedi. You’ll notice the extreme cold, once the sun drops. We’ll have dinner and probably turn in shortly after finishing our meal as we will wake up well before sunrise for our ascent of the Thorung La Pass.
DAY 11 – THORONG PHEDI TO MUKTINATH VIA THORUNG LA PASS
Muktinath 3800m/12460ft via Thorung Pass 5416m/17800ft Trekking (6.5 hours)
The Annapurna Circuit is known for being a moderate trek but this day will be the toughest as we rise early, 3-3:30am for our hike up to the highest point on the trail, The Thorung La Pass at 5416 meters. It’s important to leave the pass before the mid-morning as the winds become quite strong making it more dangerous to trek. After a quick nourishing breakfast, we’ll prepare to start our climb. Our first stop for a short break will be at the Thorung High Camp, about an hour into the trek. We will reach the highest point at the pass after 2-3 hours more of hiking, taking some time to enjoy the amazing views of the Annapurnas and the Kali Gandaki Valley on the other side of the pass and celebrate and savour our triumph.
Make sure to take lots of pictures with the friends you’ve made and your guide and porter so you can share later online. The descent down to Mukitinath and Ranipauwa will be slow and arduous. If there’s fresh snow on the ground it will be slippery at times.
There won’t be any lodges or guesthouses until we near Muktinath, the Hindu/Buddhist temple and shrine complex that draws pilgrims from all over South Asia. We’ll stay in the village of Ranipauwa, next to Muktinath.
We will pay a visit to the Hindu/Buddhist Temple complex of Muktinath. Visiting its shrines, including the 108 fountains that flow sacred water and it’s natural eternal flames. According to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, this is the only place on earth where you can find all five elements from which all material things in the universe are made, fire, water, earth, sky and air.
DAY 12 – MUKTINATH TO KAGBENI
Kagbeni 2844m/9,330ft Trekking (4-5hours)
We will start early with a big breakfast of Tibetan bread or pancakes, toast and eggs with hashbrowns, or some hot oatmeal with apples then make our way through one of the most spectacular areas of this version of The Annapurna Circuit.
From Ranipauwa we will start our walk through the portion of The Mustang Region which at one time was part of the Upper Mustang restricted region. This route is often overlooked as it isn’t traditionally walked as part of the classic Annapurna Circuit but it’s worth every bit of effort the diversion takes. The bonus is we’ll get a taste of wonderful Tibetan culture and landscape of The Upper Mustang without paying the steep entry permit.
We will take the trail that runs between Ranipauwa/Muktinath to Kagbeni walking through and exploring the beautiful little Tibetan villages of Jhong, Chhyongkhar, and Purang. We walk across the plain where herd animals graze, looking back at the Thorung La Pass and reliving our accomplishment. Ahead of us Daulagiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world and the amazing Kali Gandaki Gorge.
We’ll eventually descend down to the fascinating village of Kagbeni, which still holds onto it’s ancient Bon beliefs and “ghost-eaters” that guard the inner village. Once we arrive it’s time to settle into our guesthouse, then head out to explore the village. This is a very interesting town that passionately believes in practising organic farming. They also have their own mill driven by water power for grinding barley and other grains. Make sure to try any dishes on the menu that you might not have seen on the trek.
DAY 13 – KAGBENI TO JOMSOM
We’ll get up early and head down to the monastery to listen to the morning chants from the monks. Shortly after we’ll have a nice breakfast at the lodge enjoying some local specialities like Tsampa porridge made from freshly ground barley or some fresh bread or eggs and hash browns. After coffee and tea, we will want to get started on the trail so we can avoid some of the strong winds that shoot of the valley by late morning/early afternoon. We should arrive in Jomsom either late morning or noon in time for lunch which we’ll have at our guesthouse. The afternoon is free to explore the little town that’s another crossroads for the Upper Mustang and Annapurna regions. It’s also nice to watch the sunset over spectacular Nilgiri, 7061 meters. Dinner tonight could be an Indian curry, pasta with tomato and tuna sauce, dal bhat, or momos. Most guesthouses will also have the local famous apple brandy of Marpha to help you stay warm by the stove or if you want you can try some Nepali “moonshine”-raksi!
DAY 14 – JOMSOM TO POKHARA
Flight 20 minutes
We’ll get an early start with breakfast so we can catch one of the first flights of the day to Pokhara. We’ll be picked up at the airport in Pokhara and taken to our guesthouse. You’ll have the morning free to explore, take a walk along Phewa Lake and find a lunch spot. There are lots of choices for restaurants in Lakeside where we’ll be staying. Italian, international, Indian, Korean, and Japanese! In the afternoon our guide will take us on a hike up to the famous Peace Pagoda overlooking Nepal’s biggest lake and if the skies are clear, we’ll have an amazing view of the Annapurnas and Machapuchare or “Fishtail” mountain. At night you’re free to check out Lakeside for drinks, dinner of your choice and perhaps some shopping in the many stores that line the streets.
DAY 15- POKHARA TO KATHMANDU
Pokhara 1000m/3280ft Flight (22m )
We have breakfast at our guesthouse then drive to the airport for our short flight to Kathmandu. We will be met at the airport by our driver who will take us back to the hotel in Thamel. You have the rest of the day free to yourself to explore, do some last minute shopping, and have a nice lunch somewhere around Thamel, perhaps the lovely Garden of Dreams. We have our big farewell dinner on this night with a cultural show and a chance to reminisce about our amazing adventure.
DAY 16 – KATHMANDU: DEPARTURE DAY
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