Today was the first actual day of hiking on the Annapurna Circuit and we woke up to beautiful blue skies and snow capped mountains after a crazy ride from Kathmandu! We had about 25 km between Chame and our acclimatization day in Manang . It would take us 2 days to climb over 1000m and reach the highest altitude I’d ever hiked to which filled me with a mixture of excitement and dread. The crazy thing is this was still just the first section of the Annapurna Circuit and in a few days I’d be sitting pretty at 5416m on the Thorong La Pass!
Altitude sickness can start affecting anyone once you reach 3000m and should be taken VERY seriously. Read more about altitude sickness here.
Are you planning on trekking in Nepal? I recommend getting Travel Insurance! World Nomads will have your back in case of emergency.
Trekking the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is a popular hike and you will always see other trekkers. We started the day with a few British friends we played cards with last night and set out for Pisang. Hiking around the Himalayas isn’t always accessible. If you want something closer to home then the European Alps have many trails and the Tour du Mont Blanc Refuges are just like the small villages on the Annapurna Circuit. We left Chame as white-capped mountains were calling and a sun-filled view of Manasalu was traded for Marsyangdi, a glacial blue river.
Annapurna Circuit Day 3: Chame to Pisang
Did you know that the Annapurna Circuit is one of the best treks of Asia?
Trekking was easy at first but I quickly found myself breathing heavily so indulged in frequent breaks. We passed an apple farm and a few tea houses before the trail cut into the side of the mountain. Our British friends took a slower pace opting to nurse a recovering case of giardia and not risk altitude sickness. Back to just Ben, myself, our guide and porter we still passed many different groups of trekkers from all over the world with the path steadily climbing higher.
Annapurna’s trail wove through a forest providing a pleasant stretch of shade when Ben reminded me to check behind us. Snowcapped peaks peered through the leaves and a clearing just ahead gave us a real treat. Our view of half a dozen unnamed peeks was simply glorious. Growing up far from mountains on the east coast of the USA it was hard for me to fathom that these mountains were too small to have a name. Then suddenly the clouds parted and Lamjung Himal came into view! At nearly 7000m Thakur mentioned that this was an important peak but just a taste of what would come next.
Following the trail a little farther it finally leveled off revealing a lush valley between the Annapurna Range on our left and another central Himalayan range to the north. The river reappeared tempting us to take a dip in its cool waters but we trekked onward past scattered farms and a few roaming cows and horses. The livestock sported adorable fluffy fur coats to help brave the elements at this altitude.
The Annapurna Circuit trail is a lot of Nepali Flat – a little up, a little down
We paused for a delicious dal bhat lunch soaking in the sunshine and landscapes around us. I propped up my camera on a tripod while we waited for our meal and absentmindedly left it alone. My lightweight travel tripod was no match for the Himalayan winds and a minute later it blew down! Fortunately it only suffered a crack on the display but it was enough for me to learn my lesson.
After lunch we had a nice stroll through the valley stopping repeatedly for photos. We even saw a rescue helicopter heading out into the mountains scattering a few of the thick furred horses. Apart from the roaming livestock this region was devoid of wildlife but Thakur promised that we’d have a better chance to see some later on in the trek.
Passing another farm and more white peaks our first day of hiking wore on. My breathing had eased out and a mild headache had long dissipated when Thakur stopped us. Behind those clouds was Annapurna II, the first namesake mountain for this amazing trek! With just a kilometer of trail left today I lingered long enough to see those clouds half part showing a taste of tomorrow morning’s view.
As the trail got closer to Pisang we saw more farms and cottages signaling our impending arrival. After checking in and taking a load off we realized it was still early in the afternoon. Growing restless I decided to take my camera back to that Annapurna viewpoint but was easily distracted by locals and gladly snapped a few portraits of the kids and families.
One of my favorite things when traveling to remote 3rd world villages to show the locals their own photos. Ben brought up a good point that I should travel with a Polaroid but until then I’ll have to stick with showing them their photo on my now cracked screen. I’ll never know if I do but one day I hope to be the first person to show someone a photo of themselves.
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Walking around Pisang was like traveling back into time. Stone and wood were crafted into cottages in a town absent of technology with flag poles and an organic aqueduct. Electricity came from somewhere to power a few lights and intermittent wifi but wood fires were the main source of heat. Townsfolk chopped wood in the streets and were digging a trench by hand, presumably for a new sewer or aqueduct. Furs lie on the ground and were draped over villagers carrying heavy loads strapped to their foreheads!
Its amazing how difficult a life it must be out here yet the people always have a smile on their face. Most of these mountain folk live a simple yet joyful life, something that the developed world could stand to learn from this primitive place. Eventually we retired to our rooms and relaxed by the fire; a few games of cards, some hot tea and a hearty meal were all that stood between us and a good night’s sleep.
Annapurna Circuit Day 4: The Road to Manang
The next morning we woke early and hiked to Upper Pisang for a sunrise glimpse at Annapurna II! At 3000m high the air was already thinning in Upper Pisang and I was short of breath from the 20 minute walk to the monastery. Royal blue skies were a perfect backdrop for this whitepeak and we stayed around for a few moments enjoying the view before heading down for breakfast.
Annapurna II stands at almost 8000m and is the first pinnacle we saw on this grueling 15 day trek along the Annapurna circuit. We hung around admiring the view and only left when our stomachs growled sending us back to Tilicho Hotel for breakfast.
The former tea houses have all renamed themselves to be guest houses, hotels and homestays and offer inexpensive beds as long as you agree to buy dinner and breakfast from them. The prices are quite reasonable even in the remote areas but go up a little the higher you get.
After breakfast we set off for Manang with roughly 15km of mostly even terrain ahead of us. Even though it was flat and should have taken us 4 or 5 hours we enjoyed regular breaks to enjoy the scenery and snap photos so it took about 7 housr. At this point the trail was really a dirt road but we only saw 2 jeeps all day.
Marsyangdi still flowed with crystal clear water leading the way through the valley between the Annapurna and Pisang mountains. We passed a few small towns with farmland in between. Hairy horses and cute, fluffy cows roamed freely. Another group of trekkers said they saw a jackal and a few yak today but sadly they escaped our gaze.
I found these high altitude fauna and flora fascinating. A few times throughout the day I paused for flowering plants and panoramic photos of this wonderful landscape. The mountains periodically went behind the clouds but even their foothills were awe inspiring.
We opted to hike through Humde rather than eat a 10:30 lunch but an hour later Thakur’s hopeful restaurant turned out to be a closed shed. It was a pleasant stroll nonetheless with a relatively flat trail but we were getting quite hungry! I set aside my hunger for a moment when we found a duck pond and took out my tripod to snap a photo and some video. At over 9000 feet this was the highest lake I’d ever seen. Okay, so in truth it was merely a duck pond but it got me even more excited to see Tilichio Lake, the world’s highest lake!
I eventually gave in to the hunger and our small group carried on. A few km down the road we crossed a bridge bringing us to a tiny village. Furry cow and horses grazed idly in the fields as we passed 2 more boarded up restaurants. With only 7 buildings in the whole village I started to worry we’d have to push on but then we spotted a handful of backpacks lying on the side of the road. Hurrying over we were happy to discover some other hikers enjoying the only fresh food for miles around!
After a hearty dal bhat meal we set off along a curvy stretch of the path that took my breath away twice over. I found the mild incline making me breath heavy as a mild headache brewed. It felt as though I’d just run a marathon after walking up a tiny hill and continuing along the flat terrain. Chugging some water I mentioned my condition to Thakur who nodded and said to let him know if it got worse but that we were almost there.
We moved slower than usual on the last hour or of the trail but one step at a time we moved onward. I felt myself moving slowly and could feel every breath but the headache subsided and we soon passed laborers breaking rocks with hammers while others carried massive loads on their heads. The idea of carrying 40kg with a strap on my head made my headache even worse. I stopped for another drink and realized that my pains were nothing compared to what they are enduring here in Manang. Maybe the whole time it was in my head because after that realization the pain behind my eyes soon subsided and we enjoyed a relaxing evening with some card games in Manang!
You can trek the Annapurna Circuit just like I did. Fill out the contact form on the right side of the page and I can help you plan the itinerary. You’ll inevitably stay in Kathmandu on your way to Nepal and I highly recommend checking out the following places based on you budget.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
Budget hotels in Kathmandu
Wanderthirst Hostel ($4.50) – Beautiful new budget hostel for travelers. Great rooftop view, relaxing atmosphere, good food and good people. Healthy breakfast!
Fireflies Hostel ($4.50/night) – Wanderthirst’s sister hostel down the street. Same amazing vibe but a bit more of a party. Check out their roof and treehouse!
Dreamland Eco Hostel ($4.00/night) – A quiet community space just out of Kathmandu right in the heart of an isolated area. They have a pool!
Hotels in Kathmandu
Kathmandu Eco Hotel ($16) – Great location in the heart of Thamel. Nice rooftop and good food but Wifi wasn’t great in the room.
Kathmandu Grand Hotel ($20) – Free Airport transfer, good location. Great for solo travelers.
Best Hotels in Kathmandu
Dom Himalaya ($26+/night) – We stayed here for 2 nights and it was the best place I stayed in Nepal. Big comfy bed, great internet, delicious buffet breakfast and good water pressure with hot water in the bathroom.
Baber Mahal Villas – ($92/night) – By far the best hotel in Kathmandu! If you have an expansive budget than this is the place for you!
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