Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp Without A Guide
January 1, 1970
by Evelina Hadzhieva
AC and ABC: two of the best trekking trails in Nepal
Wondering whether to go to Nepal and do some trekking? Don’t wonder. You will meet amazing people, see beautiful scenery, enjoy delicious food and tea, and all of this can cost you less than 500 euros. I have done Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp starting on 8th of April. It took us 18 days, but we did allow ourselves few days of rest, so it could be done faster. We used transportation on the places where we had to walk on the road. I met one Brazilian girl online, Hermione, searching for trekking partner because I didn’t want to go alone. There are hundreds of people on the trek, especially on ABC, so you will for sure not be alone, even if you want to. I met the second person of our group on the 3rd day and the three of us stayed together until the end. You can find below the story and an itinerary of this incredible journey.
Day 1: Kathmandu – Syange
We used several vehicles that day in order to reach Syange and start from there. We decided not to walk from Besisahar, where the trek originally starts, because you have to walk on the road most of the time. We took the tourist bus to Pokhara because comparing to the local one it has AC. We paid a little bit less than the full price to Pokhara because we get off earlier in Dumre, I think it was 500Rs. The bus stopped twice, first for breakfast for around 20 minutes and then also for lunch for about 30 minutes. We arrived in Dumre half past 12 and were immediately crowded by taxi drivers who wanted to give us a ride to Besisahar. There was a bus also as an option, but we decided to go with a taxi because it was faster and we had limited time. It took us around 2 hours and 900Rs per person to go to Besisahar. We arrived in Besisahar around 3 pm. The bus station is at the end of the town and the taxi left us there. We hop on another jeep and took a long ride (around 3 hours) to the village and we paid around 800Rs more. There is a waterfall in Syange and close to it, we slept in a very nice lodge where the owner offered us room and food – whatever we want from the menu for only 1000Rs.
Tip: Bargain the price of the rooms. The food has fixed price everywhere on the trek.
Day 2: Syange – Dharapani (16km 7h)
We hiked nearly 7 hours under the sun and because we were still on a lower elevation it was very hot. There wasn’t so much traffic on the road, so we were mainly walking on it. It goes on the left side of a river. Few times we were seeing people walking on a trail on the other side, and I was a little bit angry that we didn’t notice where they crossed the river, so we could do the same. But in the afternoon I was actually happy we are on the road because we were in a shadow. That day I have discovered that fried macaroni with vegetables is a very delicious meal and added it to my list with things I want to eat. It’s worth mentioning that the portions are very big (around 500 grams) and I was even thinking of asking them to prepare smaller for me. But in a few days, I reconsidered making such request because my body needed more calories to survive all the things I was cruelly doing to it. Unfortunately, I continued to eat the same amount of food after the end of the trek in Pokhara, where I was basically doing no physical activities, if we don’t count foosball and holding my glass with beer. So, at some point, I had to do Face 2 my Face and explain that we are not trekking anymore, and we have to stop eating so much, if we want to be able to walk again someday.
Tip: If it is very hot try to be on the trail in the morning and go back to the road in the afternoon.
Day 3: Dharapani – Chame (16km 7h)
We were mainly walking on trails that day so it started looking as a hike. We met the other part of our Trio – one Russian guy which I will name BRB. We had a very good internal rule in our group influenced by genius Brazilian motto: you can lose a friend, but you can never lose a joke. We kept joking with each other and that made the walking and the resting, and everything more fun. Thank you, Universe, for giving me those two. When we arrived in Chame we slept in a place, where we were able to see Manaslu and Annapurna II, and I was so amazed by that fact that I forgot to make pictures.
Tip: make pictures and make your friends jealous
Day 4: Chame – Upper Pisang – Ghyaru (19km 8h)
That was the first day where we climbed above 3000m. After that point, you should consider the High Altitude Sickness. Please, do not neglect that topic. I have seen a lot of people feeling sick and one girl had to be rescued after the Pass. We decided to follow the advice of Andrées de Ruiter and Prem Rai in their book ”Trekking the Annapurna Circuit including new NATT-trails”. They said that you can sleep no more than 700m higher than the previous night, and you should spend three nights at about 3000 before you continue above 4000. We slept in Ghyaru at 3730m. Before we get there we were walking a little bit on the road. It was followed by a steep hike to Upper Pisang, where we enjoyed local tournament with a bow, visited the temple above the village and relaxed having the best view of Annapurna II from the dining room. We left late in the afternoon and climbed a lot to reach Ghyaru. I had very interesting night. I was hearing my heart beating the whole time. The short periods when I was asleep were followed by waking up gasping for air. It turns out to be common breathe regulation according to the book and I stopped panicking. That was the only problem related to the elevation that I had during the whole trip. The other team members were also fine and I think we did a good job following some rules.
Tip: Read about High Altitude Sickness and take it seriously
Day 5: Gyaru – Ngawal – Bhraka – Manang (15km 7h)
That day we had to descend to around 3300 and then climb back to 3540 where Manang is located. I remember that the scenery was amazing and also it was still hot. We decided to spend two nights in Manang and have one more night of acclimatization. There are a lot of things to see and do in Manang, so you don’t need to worry what you will do a whole day. Besides, two days in one place give you the great opportunity to wash some clothes.
Tip: Manang is the last place with Internet before the Pass (April 2017)
Day 6: Rest day in Manang
We decided to be lazy that day and choose one of the closest options for a walk – the Stupa View. It turns out to be a very good choice because we saw huge eagles very close to us. One of them decided to fly 1,5m above me and Hermione and made our day. Anyway, the Universe decided to be generous and guided us to Gangapurna Lake – incredibly beautiful place. It is a pity that many people do not visit it, as it is only 15 minutes’ walk from Manang. The lake experience helped me to fulfill my desire to go to Tilicho Lake, where no one wanted to come with me. Later on the trek, I met people who said that Tilicho Lake was frozen, so I didn’t miss anything by not going. Still, I promised myself if go in the area again I will go to see it and fortunately will meet snow leopard on the way. It was very nice chill day and our clothes were dry in the end of it.
Tip: Most of the lakes are frozen and covered with snow in April. Check the conditions with the locals before going.
Day 7: Manang(3540) to Letdar(4200) (10km 5h)
Here I have to say that Hermione, being Brazilian, haven’t seen snowfall for nearly 10 years. So, she was occasionally saying that she wants to see it. And it wasn’t long (7 days) when Hermione’s wish came true, luckily during the night. I remember that it was a magical night with snow falling and cozy dining room with wood stove. People were gathered and talking and laughing around it. While other were playing chess, like me and BRB. And I did manage to win the game twice, even though I haven’t played for nearly the same time Hermione haven’t been seeing snowfall. I went to bed very proud of myself. That night we put more clothes on us to sleep in them than we usually used to go outside.
Tip: You should try to walk slower to allow your body more time to adapt.
Day 8: Letdar(4200) to High Camp (4850) (6km 4h)
That was a very beautiful day. The snow from the last night still hasn’t melted in the early morning and was covering the land. We walked to Thorong Phedi, where we stopped and had a big break for lunch before continuing to High Camp. We arrived there in the afternoon. I used their satellite phone to call my family and tell them I am okay. It costs 500Rs per minute but I haven’t called since Manang, so it was a good price to keep them calm. I also managed to amaze the employee how fast I can speak by finishing my call in 42 seconds. He was obviously disappointed by me as well for not spending at least a few minutes on the phone. I and BRB climbed the nearby hill, where you get pretty awesome view and it is recommended to be done as additional acclimatization activity.
Tip: Most of the places in Annapurna Area don’t have mobile coverage, so don’t count on your phone if there is no Wi-Fi.
Day 9: Crossing Thorong La Pass (High Camp to Muktinath)
The big day starts very early in the morning because it gets very windy around noon. We had breakfast at 5 am with Hermione and left around 6. BRB decided to start later but he managed to catch up with us. Despite the fact it wasn’t so cold, our hands were freezing due to the strong wind. It was then that I realized my Brazilian friend does not have so much experience walking in cold and snow conditions. We had to unfreeze her hands twice and she was really suffering from the pain. But after we arrived 3 hours later at the Pass, we forgot the troubles and started joking that Brazilians shouldn’t even be climbing 5416m heights. None of us had any problems with the altitude. I believe this was because we did our homework and given enough time to our bodies to acclimatize. I was able to breathe normally, run, jump, and climb even more. We started going down to Muktinath around noon and that was a long way down, around 5 hours. It is amazing how the view and the climate can change so quickly. On the other side of the Pass, there was desert-like scenery. The 8167m giant Dhaulagiri became visible entering the village of Muktinath. We were back to civilization with a lot of vehicles, lodges, and people.
Tip: Keep your sunglasses on, when walking on the snow. Eyes burn is a real thing!
Day 10: Muktinath to Kagbeni
We spent around two hours exploring temples of Muktinath. At 11 we decided it is time to go to Kagbeni. There are two options to go there – trek path and the road itself (walking or with a bus). I read that the trekking could take up to 5 hours and walk on the road is only 3. The trekking part is offering a very nice view of Thorong La pass, Muktinath, some smaller villages, Dhaulagiri and it’s beautiful. The road is dusty. So, I and Hermione naturally chose the trek and BRB being lazier than we went on the road. There weren’t so many people on the trek so I guess there were other people making the same mistake like him. It was very hot and again windy, so we drank a lot of water. We were expecting, before Kagbeni, to reach another village, but we didn’t. We ran out of water. There were villages in the beginning but after the first one hour, there is nothing! So take a lot of water with you. Otherwise, you will reach Kagbeni very fast like we did in 3 hours and 40 minutes. Luckily, we found a few nice guys at the end who shared some water with us, right before I fade out. We entered the town sweating and almost running to the first place which hypothetically has water. We decided that surviving the trek was very heroic and we deserved to be treated with two huge cakes. The happiness had returned to our lives, and we went looking for our Russian friend. He was very disappointed by walking on the road. However, when we told him about the difficulties we had he was laughing at us and the happiness was restored in his life as well.
Tip: take at least 2 liters of water if you plan to trek to Kagbeni
Day 11,12: Kagbeni – Marpha
Kagbeni is a beautiful town with very nice lodges. You can visit the village of Tiri which is close by. Tiri is located in Mustang area and you are only allowed to visit it as an exception, so do it because to enter Mustang area you need a permit which costs 500$, no kidding. I didn’t believe it cost so much so we made a bet with BRB and after checking he won. The good thing is that he never used the prize – one day of using the other one’s services. Before checking the information on Internet, I was making evil plans of using him as a porter for a whole day. After I found out he was right, I never spoke for that again. We decided to go to Marpha the same day and caught a bus around 4 which took us to Jomson. There we transfer to another bus and went to the beautiful Marpha. We spent two nights there. The town is similar to Kagbeni but there is more vegetation. In fact, the area produces a lot of apples so try the apple cake, apple juice, apple everything you find. There is a Buddhist temple in the village that you can visit. The monks were very kind and invited us for a ceremony next day which was magical.
Tip: have day off either in Marpha or Kagbeni and feel like a real tourist.
Day 13: Marpha – Ghorepani
We decided to take a bus to Tatopani (600 Rs, around 5 hours) and start the trek to Annapurna Base Camp from there. We arrived in the afternoon after a long bumpy ride with a local bus. Unfortunately, we found out there is another bus which will save us one day of walking on the road and it will take us very close to the place where we wanted to go – Ghorepani. So we took the ride and it was very fun… in the beginning. The next two hours I was feeling a little bit sick of the jumping inside of the bus and even started to worry a bit if my organs will be at the same position. We arrived in Chitre and gave the driver, who looked like 16 years old to me, 500Rs. For the skills, he showed in driving, I would give him even more without bargaining. We then started walking to Ghorepani and arrived after 1 hour when. It was already dark. I was more tired that day, from the busses experience, that any other day of the trek. If I can choose whether to walk one day instead of going on the bus from Tatopani I would definitely choose hiking.
Tip: Don’t judge drivers by their age
Day 14: Ghorepani – Poon Hill – Tadapani
We woke up at 4:30 and start trekking to the famous viewpoint Poon Hill. You have to catch the sunrise on the top, otherwise, it gets very misty and you cannot see the magnificent view. It turns out that we couldn’t see it as well because of clouds. We were able to see some of the peaks but not all of them. Some people are usually spending few days in Ghorepani and climbing every day to Poon Hill to see it without clouds. We didn’t have time to wait and we had to pretend we are satisfied and left. We only reached Tadapani that day and spent the night there.
Tip: Allow yourself few days extra for Poon Hill
Day 15: Tadapani – Bamboo
“Stairs” was the most used word, while walking to ABC. Almost the whole trek was built of stairs. Even if you see on the map two villages with a similar altitude, don’t fall for that! It’s a trap! There is probably a river between them so you will have to go way down and then climbing again disappointed by the topography. We walked the whole way to Bamboo that day and enjoyed a hot shower and delicious food. There is a nice German bakery in Chhomrong where we bought tasty muffins and ate almost all until we reached our destination. I saved one for Hermione.
Tip: The forest before Bamboo is full with monkeys, so keep your eyes open and your camera ready.
Day 16: Bamboo – MBC
It was 23 of April – Hermione’s birthday. I and BRB woke her up with the muffin and imaginary candle. We also had a card with Rhododendron, birthday wishes and a small present. We started walking and I decided that it will be really nice if the people coming from ABC know that my friend has a birthday and congratulate her. Good idea… poor implementation. I walked a little bit faster and when I had around 10 minutes difference I started telling the people that there is a girl coming after me in a blue jacket with name Hermione which has a birthday. I was very happy imagining how she will react and how special she will feel. What it really happened is that no one congratulated her. Also, I lost them for the whole day and I was walking alone the way to MBC. Bamboo to MBC can be done very fast and one could be there around noon. I arrived at 5 because I decided to wait for the rain to stop for about 3 hours. This was the only day when it rained. It is also possible to go straight to ABC 4310m, but this is not recommended for people who haven’t been to the Circuit before that, due to a risk of acclimatization problems.
Tip: don’t split with your group even if your intensions are good.
Day 17: MBC – ABC – Chhomrong
The next morning I left at 4.30 because I wanted to catch the sunrise on ABC. It was dark and I was a little bit afraid to walk alone in the dark, but soon I found other headlamps moving on the trek. When I went to the camp more and more people were gathering and the sun started to show. The view was magical. If I have to rate the Annapurna Circuit and the ABC trek, I will choose the AC for the people and the food and the general experience, but ABC trek gives you closer look to the Annapurna Range so I will choose it for the views. I had a tea in one of the lodges and put my picture using honey instead of glue on the wall like thousands of happy people did before me. Bring a picture with you if you want to join the other faces. My friends arrived and we walked the whole way down to Chhomrong. We all were very exhausted and even BRB didn’t want to search for a better place to sleep and he used to complain a lot about the rooms. We took the first one we got for free, and we had a record for the worst room on the whole trek. Our last night on the trek we spent all four of us together – Me, Hermione, BRB and the Huge Cockroach.
Tip: “free” is not always “the best”
Day 18: Chhomrong – Pokhara
It was very hot. We went to Kimche, where we caught the bus to Pokhara. It took us the whole morning to get there and then 3-4 hours to Pokhara. When we arrived in the city, we took a cab to the lakeside and enjoyed few days of rest there. It is a very nice place full of bars and there are plenty of things to do. So, if you still wonder whether to do the Circle and ABC, don’t. Just do it.
More details about costs and tips how to prepare for the trek, can be found on my blog.