The Annapurna Region in north western Nepal has been touted as having the world’s best trekking routes. From the lake city of Pokhara, popular treks lead to Jomsom, Annapurna Base Camp, Mustang, Manang and around the Annapurna mountain. Short treks to Sikles and Ghandruk are just as popular. The Annapurna region is an area of contrasts comprising the wettest, driest and windiest places in Nepal.
The Annapurna Circuit:
It is by far the most popular and requires a minimum of about three weeks to go around the Annapurna massif. What makes this trek so special is that you can look up to something new in scenery everyday. The Annapurna Conservation Area begins at 790 m and reaches a high of 8,091 m, the summit of Mount Annapurna I, the world’s 10th tallest peak. The area encompasses forested middle mountain, high Himalaya and trans-Himalayan desert plateau similar to the landscape in Tibet as you move north. The lower elevations are dotted by Gurung, Magar, Thakali and Brahmin villages while Tibetan cultural influence becomes apparent as you go north.
The trek goes counter-clockwise from Besi Sahar, off the Pokhara-Kathmandu Highway, to Naya Pool, and reaches its high point at Thorong La, a pass at 5,416 m. On the way, you pass through stunning mountain scenery – Manaslu, Langtang Himal, Annapurna II and IV, Annapurna III, and, Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri. In between these two 8,000 m peaks lies the dramatic Kali Gandaki gorge – the deepest in the world.
Mustang offers an experience of trans-Himalayan landscape and exotic Himalayan cultural experience. Muktinath (3,749 m) is a popular destination for pilgrims and trekkers to the region. It is a site holy for both Buddhists and Hindus before. There is now a motorable road from Muktinath to Beni, from where you can catch a bus to Pokhara. Also, you can catch a bus from Besi Sahar to Sanghe at the start of the trek.
Lo-Manthang in Upper Mustang is an extremely exotic destination too. The last king of Mustang still has his home at this ancient capital township. Many tourists visit Lo-Manthang during Teeji festival that is usually scheduled in the month of May.
Being in the rain shadow area, Upper Mustang can be visited even during the rainy season. Upper Mustang falls in protected areas and one need special permit to visit the region.
The trek in the eastern part follows the Marsyangdi River upstream till Manang, which is a string of seven villages that form the upper arc of the Annapurna Circuit Trekking Trail. The area is composed of stark, rocky terrain, very similar to the Tibetan plateau, and is dotted with turquoise lakes, including Lake Tilicho (4919 m), the world’s highest lake.
This being a high-altitude region, temperatures are lower. Winters are usually extreme with snowfall in the higher altitude regions, while summers are cool and temperate during days, but can get cold and chilly at night and during rains. March-May, September-November. Unlike other parts of Nepal, even the monsoon months are ideal to visit upper Mustang that falls in the rain shadow area. Most trekking routes in the Annapurna Region are well serviced by teahouses.
Pokhara, the resort city 200 km west of Kathmandu, is the departure point to treks in the Annapurna region in the western Himalaya. There is an airport in Jomsom if you are going to Mustang, and an airport at Chame for access to Manang. Resorts, hotels, lodges and tea houses are all available along the trekking trail. Camping sites and options are also available.
Park Entry Permit and TIMS Card must be obtained from the Tourist Service Center Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu, to enter the Annapurna region. To trek to Upper Mustang, one has to also take the Trekking Permit from the Department of Immigration, Kalikasthan, Kathmandu, as it is listed as Restricted Area.