The Annapurna Circuit Trek has often been voted as “#1 best trek” in the world. The Trek route has been open to foreign trekkers since 1977. However, road construction is threatening its reputation and its future as a “classic trek”. For the first few years when the road construction started in 2005, the tourist flow in Annapurna was still decent. But during the period from 2008- 2013, with the construction having taken place over 5 years, the classical trail was damaged entirely without the foresight of opening an alternative route for trekkers.
In recent years the number of tourists has increased again on the circuit trail as they found an alternative path that avoids the road. Statistically speaking during the year 2016, the Annapurna Circuit Trek received 22,108 foreign trekkers through Lamjung’sBeshishar route. Every year there is approximately a 40% increase compared to the 2015 figure. That means the trekkers enjoyed the Annapurna Circuit trek even though they frequently had to share the trail with the road. The road access in the Annapurna Region is helpful to transport basic necessities to the local population and tourist lodges and subsequently makes trekking in that area even cheaper. The road also helps avoid the less scenic parts and bring you straight up to the best part of the trail.
This write-up is all about selecting the best parts of the Annapurna Circuit Trek leaving behind the motor vehicle trail and explore the hidden gems of the Annapurnas.
This is my first article about the Annapurna Circuit after many years. I usually write about Manaslu, Upper Mustang, and Kanchenjunga trekking and therefore, I intend to highlight something new about Annapurna Circuit Trek Itinerary by including the Nar Phu Valley Trek, which avoids the motorable road and lets you explore unspoiled mountain valleys that feature a mix of raw Himalayan nature and ancient Buddhist culture. Let me take you through this incredible trek via this video. Please spare a few minutes to watch this video. You will then know exactly how beautiful this trek is. Here is the perfect video from this trail. you may want to watch this video right here, before embarking on this trail.
Highlights of the Annapurna Circuit Trek
- The Annapurna Circuit with the Nar Phu Valley. A hidden gem in the Himalayan wilderness.
- One of the most scenic trails in the world
- No motor road for 95% of the hiking trail
- Explore unspoiled mountain valleys that feature a mix of raw Himalayan nature and ancient Buddhist culture
- A perfect destination for a monsoon trek in Nepal
- Visit Tilicho Lake the highest for its size in the world at 4,919m
- Cross two high passes – Kang La Pass (5,240m) and Thorong La pass (5,416m)
- Visit ancient Braga Gompa monastery and Muktinath Hindu temple
Nar Phu and Annapurna Circuit Trek Itinerary
Day 1 Drive from Kathmandu via Besisahar to Koto 2,600m, approx. 8 hours
Day 2 Trek to Meta 3,560m; approx. 7 hours
Day 3 Trek to Phu 4,080m; approx. 7 hours
Day 4 Acclimatization day in Phu – side trip to Himlung Base Camp (4,800m)
Day 5 Trek to Nar Phedi, overnight stays in a monastery 3,490m; approx. 6 hours.
Day 6 Trek to Nar Village 4,110m; approx. 3 hours
Day 7 Trek via Kang La Pass (5,240m) to Ngawal 3,650m; approx. 8 hours
Day 8 Ngawal to Manang Via BharataGomba, overnight in Manang
Day 9 Rest day in Manang. Visit Manang village and
hike to Gangapurna Glacier Lake 3,500m; approx 7-8 hours
Day 10 Manang to Tilicho Base Camp 4,700m; approx 8-9 hours
Day 11 Tilicho Base Camp to Tilicho Lake, return to Yak Kharka 4,900m 7-8 hours
Day 12 Yak Kharka to High Camp 4,800m approx 5-6 hours
Day 13 High Camp to Thorong La pass (5,416m) and Muktinath 3,800m approx. 8-9 hours
Day 14 Muktinath to Jomsom Beni Pokhara via Jeep
Can I do this trek independently?
The short answer is NO! Under the Nepal Government tourism policies, the Nar Phu Valley is listed in a restricted area. That means it is mandatory to obtain trekking permits through a local agency and go with a guide from that agency. However, these rules don’t apply to the Annapurna Circuit Route. If you want to avoid Nar Phu’s then you can do it independently (Nar Phu trek takes the detour from Koto, a small village along the Annapurna Circuit Trek and rejoins the same trek from Ngawal village).
Should I be afraid of altitude sickness?
The itinerary above brings you to Koto (2,600m) from Kathmandu (1,300m) on the first day which is a lower altitude gain in one day compared to Lukla (2,860m) (on the Everest Base Camp Trek) from Kathmandu by flight. During my tenure as a trekking guide in the Himalayas, I never saw people becoming sick from the altitude at Namche Bazaar (3,440m). Namche Bazaar is reached on day 2 of the EBC trek. Along the Nar Phu trail, you will gain this much altitude in a span of 5 days.
This simple fact makes the Nar Phu and Annapurna Circuit Trek much safer (altitude sickness wise) and better acclimatized compared to the EBC trek in the Khumbu Region. However, altitude sickness takes other factors into consideration. And we have no way of knowing who will be affected. However, if you are a decent hiker and keep well hydrated, then even with no prior experience at high altitude, this trek itinerary should be fine for you.
Remoteness and telecommunications
There are many communication booths are available in case of emergency. Inhabited by Tibet origin Nepali people, Nar Phu valley is remote in Nepal. Telecommunications (a local phone) works partially while each village has a VHF phone for emergency contact. A local guide would be able to contact important numbers for any emergency situation.
Food and accommodation
Basic food, tea houses, and local homestays are available along the way. The day after the Kang La pass you will sleep in a monastery. You don’t need to bring a tent or any special gear. However, a sleeping bag and a sleeping mat are recommended as the Nar Phu Valley is very remote and blankets or sleeping mats in tea houses are very basic.
Total expenses and trekking cost
If you make a deal with a local agency based in Kathmandu, the tentative price for this trek would be USD 55 – 65 per person per day in a small group which includes a licensed guide, a porter, basic food and accommodation, permit and local jeep/ local bus to and from Kathmandu. Depending on the group size and the agency you choose the cost may vary slightly. However, the same package with an international agency or commission-based agency may go up to USD 100-150 per day per person.
September – November, and March-May are the best seasons in Nepal for trekking. The temperature is mildly warm in the lowland and moderate in the high altitude.
Interestingly this trek lies in the rain shadow part of the Himalayas and is one of the best monsoon treks in Nepal. Between June to August, this trek can be done without any problem.
Indeed, the Annapurna Circuit Trek combined with Nar Phu Valley might be an excellent alternative trail if you follow the above itinerary. The motorable roads in between help you skip the less scenic parts and bring you straight to the best part of the trail. It will indeed be an exhausting experience to and from Kathmandu. As the road condition is not so smooth but when you reach your destination it is worth all the effort. Our clients who have experienced this trail have nothing but positive feedback. For those who have also been to Everest Base Camp aka EBC or Annapurna Base Camp aka ABC, the majority feel the Annapurna Circuit in combination with Nar Phu is much better.
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