If you like trekking through mountain scenery, then the Annapurna Circuit is an absolute gem. It's a well-known and relatively safe walk, and although it's very popular with foreign walkers, this doesn't detract one little bit from the incredible scenery. It's one of the world's great treks, no doubt about it.
I tackled the Annapurna Circuit late in my walking career, and I assumed that it would be a piece of cake. In the event it took me a lot longer than I anticipated. My leisurely route covered the 200km trek in 15 walking days, with an additional day on the bus and five very welcome rest days; this works out at less than 13.5km per walking day, which is pretty slow compared to a lot of walks I've done.
However the Annapurna Circuit was my first walk at altitude, and however fit you are, it makes life incredibly tough. The lack of oxygen at these heights means you get out of breath after just a few steps, and the moment you break through 3000m above sea level, the potentially serious threat of Acute Mountain Sickness hangs over everyone. Even though the vast majority of people get through the trek with little more than a mild headache, it can really spoil the experience for some; people have died from AMS on the Annapurna Circuit, just because they ignored the signs of AMS, so it really shouldn't be taken lightly.
But the statistics show that the Annapurna Circuit is a popular trek, and it's no wonder when you consider what it has to offer. Once you leave the bus at Besisahar you won't come across motor transport until the very end, and the cool mountain air is so fresh you can almost taste the goodness. Sure, the impact of thousands of trekkers isn't trivial and there are problems with litter, but given the numbers the whole thing is managed pretty well. Indeed, before I walked this trek I was told its nickname was the Coca-Cola Circuit, because of the infiltration of Western luxuries along with the crowds of Western tourists; but while it's true that you can buy Coke all the way along the trail, it takes a lot more than a drinks manufacturer to ruin the Himalayas. Whatever happens to the Annapurna Trek, those mountain views will always be timeless.
I'm full of admiration for people who've managed to do the whole Annapurna Circuit; it's no mean feat. But whatever the challenges, it's worth it, because the mountain views are second to none, the Nepalese are delightful people, and the atmosphere is unique. If you have the time and the inclination, this really is a special walk.
I took my time walking the Annapurna Circuit, and I was really glad I did. There are people who rush round it like there's no tomorrow, but not only does this increase the risk of getting Acute Mountain Sickness, it also misses the point. Mountain life in this part of the world is all about quiet contemplation and careful footwork, and while you might be able to shoehorn a jog round Annapurna into a hasty two-week holiday, I recommend three weeks as a much healthier and more relaxed proposition. If you really want to squeeze an Annapurna trek into a shorter period, then the shorter but beautiful Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is a good option, as is the Jomsom Trek (this being the section of the Circuit that lies to the west of the Thorung Phedi pass, from Pokhara to Muktinath).
Here's the route and itinerary I took. It's worth noting that I had a rest day in Bagarchap on day 5 because I caught a nasty giardia infection, and I took two days off in Manang and an extra overnight stay in Ledar because I found the effects of the altitude quite strenuous and I didn't want to risk of getting AMS. If you're a confident walker and don't have the luxury of too much time in which to savour the Himalayas, you could dump four of those rest days, but you must have at least one rest day in Manang, to acclimatise to the altitude. If you don't then you're seriously increasing the chance of getting AMS, which can be fatal. People have died by rushing up to the pass at Thorung Phedi; it's really not worth the risk.
|1||Pokhara to Besisahar||Bus|
|2||Besisahar to Bahundanda||18|
|3||Bahundanda to Chyanje||12|
|4||Chyanje to Bagarchap||15|
|5||Rest day in Bagarchap||-|
|6||Bagarchap to Pisang||16|
|7||Pisang to Manang||12|
|8||Rest day in Manang||-|
|9||Rest day in Manang||-|
|10||Manang to Yak Kharka||9|
|11||Yak Kharka to Ledar||3|
|12||Ledar to Thorung Phedi||5|
|13||Thorung Phedi to Muktinath||13|
|14||Rest day in Muktinath||-|
|15||Muktinath to Kagbeni||10|
|16||Kagbeni to Marpha||16|
|17||Rest day in Marpha||-|
|18||Marpha to Kalopani||19|
|19||Kalopani to Tatopani||24|
|20||Tatopani to Ghorepani||15|
|21||Ghorepani to Pokhara||16|
I should point out that measuring distances on the Annapurna Circuit is pretty difficult; there's precious little information available on the ground, and there's no handy leaflet or map you can pick up in Nepal (or at least there wasn't when I did it). However, there is one good source of information which contains pretty much everything you need to know, and I heartily recommend it; it's called The Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary and it's published by YetiZone. The website is brilliant too, and contains a detailed day-by-day route description as well as information on recommended maps, places to stay and so on. If you're considering walking in Annapurna, make sure you check it out.