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Nepal: Annapurna Circuit

Himalayan billboard advertising
The Himalayan equivalent of billboard advertising along the eastern Circuit

Nepal freaked me out instantly, in much the same way the cool, silent night air does as you leave the rock concert, ears still ringing. Compared to the hustle and bustle of India, Nepal feels like a quiet backwater; the fact that I had to put my watch forward by exactly fifteen minutes at the border only emphasises the difference between India and the mountain kingdom to the north.

Himalayan billboard advertising
The equivalent on the western side
Marijuana plants
Marijuana grows naturally along a surprisingly large portion of the Circuit

Annapurna Statistics

Mark sitting on a rock
Relaxing along the way - there's absolutely no point in rushing

The Annapurna Circuit is a loop that's normally walked anti-clockwise; it circles round the east-west Annapurna mountain range, starting and ending at Pokhara to the south of the range. These mountains are huge; the tallest, Annapurna I, reaches 8091m (26545 ft), a height approaching that of Everest's 8848m (29028 ft). The track doesn't quite reach such dizzying heights, but the 202km (125 mile) walk has a fairly hefty high point at its northern tip: the Thorung La pass is 5416m (17769 ft) above sea level, just under two-thirds of Everest's altitude. The highest I'd ever been before tackling the Annapurna track was 3726m (12224 ft) on Lombok's Gunung Rinjani, but the Thorung La pass is nearly half as high again, and it feels like it.

A sign about litter
Litter is a serious problem all the way round the Annapurna Circuit

Annapurna Trekking and AMS

Nepalese prayer wheels
Nepalese prayer wheels, which you spin round to send a prayer up to heaven

'A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all' reads a poster in the tea shop a few days into the trail, and the total nonsense of the message seems quite in keeping with the contradictions you can see along the trail. Slashing a route through the deepest mountain valleys, the Annapurna Circuit passes through villages that used to be almost invisible, but which now sport signs in English, shops selling western luxuries, hotels with hot showers and even international telephone booths for those people who can't resist intruding on the outside world. The Annapurna Circuit isn't known as the Apple Pie Trail and the Coca-Cola Circuit for nothing.

Nepalese prayer wheels
When they wear out, just replace them with prayers to the Great God Nestlé
Chidren in Braga examining a camera
Children in Braga examining a camera
A snowman in the Himalayas
If you can't be bothered to build a real snowman, just bring your own along