We often hear the saying: “If it does not challenge you, it will not change you.” Well, it is true. Taking on the Annapurna Circuit is probably one of the biggest challenges I have ever encountered and indeed, I came back totally renewed with a fresh perspective on life.
Touted as the holy grail of trekking since its early days, this classic 230km teahouse trek is one of the longest and most famous treks in the world. Do not let the distance scare you though, it really does get easier (and better) as each day passes. Get through day 1 & 2 and I assure you, you will survive the rest of it.
The official start point of the trek is located at Besisahar. It is important to get all your permits verified at this point to have a smooth trek ahead. To save some time and energy, I hopped onto a jeep that took me all the way to Chamje and rested for the day.
First day on foot was definitely the toughest as my body was not accustomed to the long hours of seemingly endless walking and I cannot even express how much I wanted to give up within the first 2 hours.
Having a good trekking partner comes in handy at this point where all sorts of encouragement (sometimes in the form of insults) are thrown at you and I told myself: I HAVE to finish this no matter what. It was as much of a mental battle as it was a physical battle for me.
The following days proved surprisingly easier as I persevered on. The trail was also rather empty due to it being monsoon season (June), which is not the most popular time to trek.
However that gave us plenty of $1/night or sometimes, free, accommodations throughout the trek in exchange for the promise of ordering food at the teahouse. Another benefit to this is also the bountiful fields of green to look at when we get tired of facing the mountains. Occasionally we would bump into the porters carrying rather heavy loads, delivering goods from village to village. Needless to say, I have nothing but mad respect for these hardy men and women.
Mingling with the locals, learning their local card games, exchanging travel stories with fellow trekkers were part of the fun to pass time after a day’s worth of trekking. I learnt the art of making dumplings, sipped on locally-brewed vodka, witnessed the butchering of a live chicken (beware, the chicken you were playing with could be your next day’s meal), woke up to unrivaled sunrises, showered in record-time (hot water is precious), petted baby goats, strolled alongside yaks, tasted the delicious Manang stew and forged unforgettable friendships with trekkers from all walks of life.
The climax of this trek is the Thorong-La Pass situated 5416m high where air is at its thinnest. After making the 600m steep ascend up to this point from the previous day, I was really gasping for breath. I dropped my bag and took in a big gulp of the limited air around me and looked around. My eyes took in the majestic views of the Gangapurna and the Annapurna mountain range surrounding me, the snow-capped mountains provided a scenery so beautiful that the sounds of my heavy-breathing were tuned out, and my eyes slowly wandered over every crevice and peak of the looming mountains. The thrill and exhilaration of making it to the top faded; all I wanted to do was to savor the moment of stillness where I realized how small I am compared to the vastness of Mother Earth. It really was a very humbling moment.
If you are looking for a moderate-level hike and have about 2 weeks’ worth of time, this Circuit would be perfect.
You will also pick up the skill of swiftly manoeuvring your way around donkey poo. This is not an expensive trek; I averaged about $25 a day. You could probably spend lesser if you do not have an addiction to their native seabuckthorn juice like I do. If anything, this hike will take you on an adventure that will open up your eyes to the rich and enchanting village culture of the Himalayas, awaken your soul and make you feel more alive than you have ever been. You will be forced to go back to basics and when you are done; you will never take food, water, friendship and air for granted again.