Article by Sammy Pryse
I want to recommend the most amazing holiday destination to you all, the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas, Nepal. Better than a beach, guaranteed to be better than anything you have ever experienced, if you can allow the rooftop of the world to rock your mind and feed your soul. It has pine forests, succulent tropical rainforests, dry arid deserts and rich green rolling hills all in one area. The majestic Annapurna mountain range is a collection of five mountains within the Himalayas stand majestically waiting for trekkers all year round and are one of the most famous trekking ranges due to their enormous size and accessibility, suitable for all types of trekkers, due to the roads that the Nepali government has built along the way.
If you want to go hardcore and take a twelve-to-sixteen-day trip around the entire range you can, but if you prefer a more leisurely walk with less intensity you can take a jeep or bus to several stops and walk from there. The government has opened a road along the Annapurna range which allows you to travel to certain areas with vehicles. This gives all types of trekkers the opportunity to trek these mountains.
Recommended places to see:
The Australian Camp to Poon Hill
This trek can take between one and three days depending where you begin and how long it takes you to walk each area. Poon Hill is one of the most sought-after spots due to the views. You can see the famous peaks of the Annapurna mountain range during the peak season (October to April). However, during the monsoon season (June to August) you may be lucky to see the range if the visibility is clear. This trek is not terribly intense and can be managed for those of you who are not so hardcore and would prefer to take it easy along the way.
Upper Pisang is 2300 meters above sea level on the Northern side and was my favourite place on the whole Annapurna circuit due to the magnificent mauve-coloured sunsets, the views of the mountain ranges and the beautiful Buddhist Nepali people. Here the Nepali people are dressed traditionally in black with colorful scarves on their bodies, their faces worn with the heat of the sun and the harsh mountain life, but filled with genuine love and smiles. In their hands they held the wooden Buddhist prayer beads speaking out the “‘Om Mani Pedi Om” mantra. A new Buddhist monastery sat perched on top of one of the highest hills in this beautiful mountain town. The monastery will give you a taste of Lhasa with the heartwarming welcoming sounds of Tibetan horns and drums. This town is a must see. There are an array of beautiful pine wooden guests houses that provide snuggly beds and delicious, organically grown food. You can literally taste the love.
Manang is 3500 metres above sea level and lays on the Northern side of the Annapurna range. This mountainous town is simply stunning, with a 360-degree view of this extraordinary mountain range. The trek to Manang is quite easy, with some flat landscapes, idyllic country gardens, stones, flowers, valleys and pine trees. Here you can take the opportunity to laze about your days on rooftops, staring out at the remarkable views or, if you are lucky, taking in the culture of the traditional mountain pony races that occur in the valley at the bottom of the town, approximately a ten minute walk away from the town centre. Manang is the last place on the northern part of the mountains where vehicles can pass. This means trekking or pony riding is one of the only possible ways to reach the Thorong la Pass through Manang. It is also the last place you can stock up on cheap goods, with a large convenience store that sells most everything you need, including cheap food and chocolate. Probably the cheapest store on the entire trek! This town had a Wild West vibe, while being relaxing and beautiful with its cobblestone paths and houses.
Thorong La Pass
This is a must do if you wish to push yourself to do the hardcore trek. You need to be fit and be prepared for the altitude sickness. I experienced dizzy spells and headaches from Manang to Thorong La Pass despite taking medication. Going from 3500 meters to 5700 meters in two days is not recommended. However, the hike up the mountain is a test of your mettle, and reaching the summit is definitely one of the highlights of the Annapurna circuit. Reaching the pass from Thorong Pedi took six hours. The climb was steep and difficult, particularly so with the altitude issues arising. However, you can definitely celebrate a human achievement upon reaching the summit of the Annapurna Mountain range and climbing through the world’s highest mountain pass.
Kagbeni is famous for its dry canyons and huge river ways. It’s 86 kilometres south of Tibet. Reaching Kagbeni from Tibet in a car is a possibility, if coming through China, though I believe you need special permits. The beauty of Kagbeni lay in the landscape. It is complete with arid enclosed river canyons, dirty dusty valleys and magnificent browns in the landscape. The river bed was filled with gushing water and beautiful stones, rocks, boulders and fossilized mollusks. The valley had a strong harsh wind, and the riverbed a fierce river. However, the dusty beauty of this desert region really vivified my senses and was such a juxtaposition to the Northern side of the Annapurna range. It was stunning.
Tatopani has the most beautiful views of narrowly woven paths along green jagged mountain edges and the most famous hot springs on the circuit. Tatopani will offer you something deliciously relaxing and calm. It’s approximately 2600 metres above sea level and is beside a rumbling, tumbling, ferociously happy river. Here you can enjoy the delights of apple pies while taking in the breathtaking views of the mountains of Annapurna I, II, III, IV and Dhaulagiri while hearing the gushing of the river as it flows through the town.
Getting to Nepal from Xi’an
Tibetan Air has flights from Xi’an direct to Kathmandu for approximately 1500 RMB one-way. The flight takes four and a half hours and includes meals and you can take 23 kilograms of luggage.
From Kathmandu you will need to take a bus to Pokhara or Besisahar to begin trekking up the Annapurna range. These buses can be ordered through your guest houses in Kathmandu, for approximately 1000 Nepalese Rupees.
What Do I Need to Bring?
Equipment for June – August trekking
· You will need a sturdy strong backpack. I ordered mine on Taobao. Make sure the pack has a cushion protecting your shoulders and I would recommend a capacity of at least 70 litres.
What you need:
· A thick down sleeping bag this can be rented from either Kathmandu or Pokhara for as little as 150 rupees a day (I only used it on the top of the pass for a total of three days, but it is a must have)
· A thick down jacket. This can be rented from Kathmandu or Pokhara for as little as 150 rupees a day (if you are doing Thorong La Pass you will be grateful for this jacket)
· Waterproof pants and jacket you can rent these or purchase them for approximately 1500 rupees per item
· Hiking boots should be two sizes too big because your feet will swell. I bought the cheapest ones possible from a store in Besisahar, they were Goldstar brand and cost 2500 rupees
· Two lightweight trekking t-shirt you can buy these in Kathmandu for 1500 rupees each
· Two lightweight trekking shorts you can buy these in Kathmandu for 1500 rupees each
· Five pairs of thick trekking sock, which can also be purchased in Kathmandu
· Stocking sockets to protect your feet from leeches. These are worn under your regular socks to provide an extra layer of cushioning and make it difficult for leeches to get their nasty little suckers into your feet
· A drink bottle so that you can fill up on water along the trek
You are recommended to purchase all of these things in Kathmandu
· Sanitary pads these can be used for all kinds of things but in particularly for wounds on your feet during the trek
· A bottle of dettol to soak your feet after each day. It really made the biggest difference to my feet which were red, blistered and cut up from trekking.
· Band-aids for all kinds of cuts and wounds
· Diamox – Altitude sickness tablets I took these as I began getting dizzy at 2300 meters above sea level. I took them at night and found they made me have a deep sleep.
· Panadol or Tylenol to help block out the pain of the altitude sickness
· Diarrhea tablets. I didn’t experience any stomach issues, but there is the possibility of falling ill and a preventative measure is a must-have.
· Water purification tablets will come in handy for those of you willing to fill your bottles up at the local wells
Other Important Things
· A battery pack phone charger (most of the guest houses have power outages each day so this comes in handy to charge your phone and camera and any other small electronic devices)
· Duct tape (this can be used for all kinds of things on your trek)
· Nepalese SIM card (if you lose your phone or if the power is out you will need one of these)
· Night light/torch (If you plan on doing the Thorong La Pass you will be walking in the dark on steep mountain cliffs)
· Map of the Annapurna circuit (this can be purchased in a bookstore in Kathmandu or Pokhara)
Trekking for days on end is a very personal experience. It is important to go with someone you trust. You should discuss and agree on your budgets and the number of hours, days and types of trek you would like to pursue. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it by reading your own map you can hire a guide to accompany you. However, the circuit is definitely easy enough to trek without a guide or porter. The Nepali people are very friendly and helpful when you get stuck and need to know where to go and there are signs along most of the trail.
You will need to purchase two separate permits. One is the TIMS Permit (Trekkers Information Management System booklet). This is your passport to trek. The other is the ACAP (Annapurna Sanctuary Permit). This piece of paper seemed to be the most important one, providing vital information to the police along the way. In most of the towns there is a police office where you need to go to check in your details. The two permits in total cost 5000 Nepali rupees. You can ask your guest house in Kathmandu, Pokhara or Besisahar where you can purchase these permits. The office hours are from 8am until 4pm. You will need four passport photos for all of these permits.
The Nepalese visa is obtainable in the Nepalese airport. It must be paid in US dollars and costs US$25 for 30 days. You simply fill out a form and scan your passport in the airport.
Nepali Rupees can easily be exchanged with RMB at a money changer in Kathmandu or Pokhara. The rate is 1600 Nepali Rupees for 100 RMB (July 2019). Changing Chinese money anywhere on the Annapurna circuit is impossible. There are ATM machines located along some of the larger towns where money can be withdrawn with your Chinese bank card, but only the Himalayan Bank and Bank Nabil allow you to access China Unionpay. I would advise you to prepare approximately 5000 rupees per day for accommodation costs and food. If you are taking a guide and porter you will need more. The ATM machines will take a fee of 500 rupees for each withdrawal transaction that you do. It is advisable to have some US dollars on hand for emergency purposes. This currency is easily exchangeable along the mountain range.
Trekking takes a lot out of you so expect to eat up big. Some of the mountain towns offer an array of meals such as Mexican burritos and lasagna, covered in yak cheese. However, the majority of family guest houses mostly provide the traditional Nepalese food of Dahl Baht (a curry lentil set plate with rice and flat chapati bread) and Momos (Nepali steamed dumplings). Much of the food is vegetarian and almost everywhere it is grown locally and has the most impressive organic flavour and you can literally taste the love and patience that went into making it. The food was definitely a highlight for me. On some days the people would spend up to one and a half hours cooking the food, but it was this commitment and your hungry belly that made it taste even more sumptuous.
Embrace your adventurous nature and feed the soul of your inner-child. A trip to this part of the world will awaken your senses and improve your physique. A must-go destination!
Sammy Pryse is a teacher at XLIS and world traveler.