Annapurna, attracts the largest number of trekkers in Nepal. Here you will find everything the Himalayas have to offer, accessible along a selection of well-maintained trails that snake in and around the 55-kilometre Annapurna massif, separated from the gargantuan Dhaulagiri (8167m) by the Kaligandaki, the deepest gorge in the world.
Most trekkers will have heard of the legendary Annapurna Circuit. But if the lung-busting slog over the 5416m Thorung pass doesn’t suit you, there are many other trails that offer superlative panoramas and the cultural traditions of a whole spectrum of ethnicities. And though roads are bringing change to the region, new trails are being blazed for the faithful. Up north at the border with China, the mystique of the walled city of Lo Manthang remains intact. Even in Nepal’s most trekked places, a trail less travelled is never far away.
Annapurna I (8091m) was the first eight-thousander to be summitted, in 1950, when Maurice Herzog and his team turned away from the daunting prospect of the Great White One, Dhaulagiri (8167m). Ever since, tourists have flocked to the lake city of Pokhara to admire the iconic vistas of Machapucchare (6993m) and the peak-studded Annapurna range. The region was designated a Conservation Area in 1992, paving the way for a pioneering model of sustainable tourism.
The verdant valleys around Pokhara receive high rainfall and snow, which make for relatively low-lying, visually stunning glaciers. This monsoonal lushness is in sharp contrast to the rainshadow created by the Annapurna massif to its north, resulting in the high-altitude desert and the eroded badlands of Mustang. It is as if all this immensity is meant to protect the mystical ‘Kingdom of Lo’, or Mustang, one of the last exemplars of living Tibetan culture.
To the east lies the Marsyangdi River and to the west lies the world’s deepest gorge, carved out by the wild waters of the Kaligandaki. The biodiversity of the region – entire hillsides swiped with pink and red rhododendron forests bursting with birdsong – is matched by its incredible cultural diversity. Cultural trails will take you right into the homes of Gurungs in the lowlands, and you can enjoy the hospitality of Thakalis around Jomsom, Manangis in the east and Loba and Tibetans in the arid north.
Annapurna has been enormously popular with trekkers over the years and the new roads have actually opened up previously inaccessible areas. Creative guides are taking the curious back in time to the mediaeval villages of Nar and Phu, over the high trail of Kang La with its breathtaking views, and up to Tilicho Lake at 5000m.