Earth : Asia : South Asia : Nepal : Himalayas (Nepal) : Annapurna
The Annapurna region is an area in western Nepal where some of the most popular treks are located. The region is generally taken to include areas around the Annapurna Range (Annapurna Himal), the Dhaulagiri Range and the Kaligandaki River valley. Peaks in the Annapurnas include 8,091m Annapurna I, Nilgiri (7,061 m) and Machhapuchchhre (6,993 m). Dhaulagiri I (8,167 m) is just to the west of the Annapurnas, Most of these peaks are visible throughout the region on clear days.
The Annapurna Conservation Area is also located in the region.
Among the popular treks in the region are the Annapurna Circuit trek which circles the Annapurna Range, the Kaligandaki River Valley trek which brings you up the world's deepest valley and the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp. There are many more trails for shorter treks. The region includes the Trans-Himalayan areas north of the main Himalayan Ranges, where the land is arid and the culture more Tibetan than Hindu.
The Annapurna region, as travellers know it, is not an administrative region. The area is located in two zones - Gandaki and Dhaulagiri. The districts in the Annapurna region are Baglung, Kaski, Lamjung, Manang, Mustang and Myagdi.
Mustang is located in the western part of Nepal and is officially the name of the district having a Tibet like region. This mustang is divided into two parts Upper Mustang and Lower Mustang. Upper Mustang is largely occupied by Manangi people and goes up to the ancient capital of Lo Manthang. Whereas Lower Mustang covers the part of lower valley along the Kali Gandaki river. Mustang is the only district in Nepal with its own King. The citizens of Mustang call themselves Lobas. "Mustang" is a Tibetan lost valley and stands as a hidden treasure of Nepal. A vast breadth of rock; wilderness of huge proportions, Mustang opened only for selected organized groups since 1992. Mustang offers a truly outstanding opportunity to travel around an area rich in ancient tradition and mythology. An almost treeless, barren landscape with a countryside similar to Tibetan plateau. In lower Mustang the hills tend to be great, red fluted cliffs, while upper Mustang offers an endless expanse of yellow and gray rolling hills, eroded by the wind, which is prevalent in this area. The trek takes you to the walled town of Lo-Manthang, a visually extraordinary place, home of the present Mustang's King and full of beautiful temples and Gompa.
Annapurna is a subrange of the Himalaya. Annapurna I reaches 8,091 m (26,538 ft), making it the 10th-highest summit in the world, one of fourteen over 8000 meters in the Himalaya and Karakoram ranges. It extends east from a huge gorge cut through the Himalaya by the Kaligandaki River to the Marsyangi River. The Dhaulagiri Range rises west of the Kaligandaki. 8,167 meter Dhaulagiri I is only 34km (21 mi) from Annapurna I, making the valley between over 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) deep.
Annapurna is a Sanskrit name, literally "full of grain" which can also be translated as "Goddess of the Harvests". She is an avatar (alternative form) of the goddes Durga.
A permit is required to enter the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) which encompasses most of the region. Permits are issued in Pokhara and Kathmandu. You will need to show the permit at police stations in several towns along the trail.
Most buses into the area arrive from Pokhara and drop off at Birethanti. If you can, try to ride on the roof of the bus. Even in the rain it's better than being inside and the views are great. Just be careful to duck each time a power line crosses the road - they hang fairly low. And hang on, as the driver may slam the brakes on for a duck crossing the road.
The only other option for entering the area is by plane to Jomsom. There are several daily flights to/from Pokhara but they are very dependent on weather. The airport is extremely primitive with no paved runway or electricity.
There are no paved roads, only foot trails, through the area. Carry a good map or guidebook for guidance as it can be difficult at times for foreigners to distinguish the trekking main trail from any number of local trails.
While the Everest range has higher mountains, the Annapurnas are far more accessible. The range rises a short distance north of Pokhara. Within a few days walk trekkers can be surrounded by nearby high peaks. While the Himalayas and Nepal's northern border generally coincide east of Kathmandu, in western Nepal the mountains come farther south, giving trekkers opportunities to travel from low-lying forests into the mountains and on to the Tibetan plateau without leaving Nepal.
Dal-bhat-tarkari (lentils over boiled rice with curried veggies) may be an acquired taste, but it is ubiquitous, safe, nutritious and cheap. Western-style dishes can range from pretty darn good down to definitely ersatz, depending on the ingredients and the cook having some idea how things are actually supposed to come out. Imagine feeding your Aunt Tillie's interpretation of Chow Mein to someone from China. That might be a test of someone's forbearance too.
Tea (with milk and sugar), Indian biscuits and noodles are available in most teahouses for quick snacks along the way. For something a little more indigenous try asking for "kha-ja" which is something near popcorn, although local varieties of maize don't always "pop". Nevertheless it's cheap, filling and pretty tasty.
If you can find local spirits in the high valleys it's more likely to be "daru", distilled from grains and definitely less rough than normal raksi made from fruit. Chang (beer made from millet) is not to be passed up if you can get it made with boiling hot water. Otherwise you are taking a big chance.
The Jomosom trek is substantially protected from mountain sickness and hypothermia by not going over 10,000' (3,000 m), and with comfortable lodging along the way. Treks into Annapurna Sanctuary and across high passes between the upper valley of the Kaligandaki and Manang are more exposed to these risks. Trekkers should take precautions for themselves and all support staff. Specific concerns include physical fitness and altitude aclimatization. Immunizations and vaccinations that should be considered include tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, meningococcal meningitis, polio, hepatitis A and Japanese encephalitis, and also for anti-malaria. While trekking, constant intake of potable water is essential to avoid Advanced Mountain Sickness (AMS). At altitude where water does not boil easily, add iodine tincture (5 to 8 drops per litre) in advance (20 minutes at least). Carry diarrhea medicine and beware of Giardia lamlia (a parasite common in glacial water of Nepal that infects trekkers).
Flights to Jomosom are not completely risk free. The Kaligandaki valley is subject to gusty winds and there has been at least one serious crash at the Jomosom airstrip.
There have been reports of robberies and fraud by locals against tourists in Manang. Manangis have a reputation as sharp businessmen and may not be averse to a quick profit by unethical means. Ask for them to look at your room as you leave to verify that there has been no damages done to it, several people have complained about the hotels tracking them down and claiming they have damaged the room and demanding unreasonably high fees as a punishment.
The Kaligandaki is effectively a caravan route with a significant transient element in addition to local population. The sort of precautions one might take at a truck stop would not be out of order.
The various treks are about as out there as most people care to get. Circuit treks around the Dhaulagiri Range take things to a higher level but are only for the highly experienced, thoroughly conditioned and well acclimated.
Trekking west through Beni, up the Myagdi, across an easy pass and into the Dhorpatan area is less committing. From Dhorpatan it is possible to continue around the western extension of the Dhaulagiris into Dolpa, but that is extremely remote country where help might not be forthcoming in an emergency. Continuing west from Dhorpatan to Jumla is less committing and there are air connections from Jumla to Nepal's larger towns.
From the upper Kaligandaki valley it is possible to trek up to base camps used to climb Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri I. This may involve altitudes over 17,000' (5,000 m) with significant risks of hypothermia and altitude sickness.