Trekking in Annapurna Region
Beside the Everest region, the area around the Annapurna massif is perhaps the best known trekking destination in Nepal. Based on sheer numbers of trekking visitors it is certainly the most popular. As the title suggests, the centre piece of this part of Nepal is the range of mountains that includes Annapurna I, the first of the 8000 meter peaks to be climbed. Also included in this general area is another 8000 meter giant, Dhaulagiri , which is located west of Annapurna I. Between these two mountains runs the valley of the Kali-Gandaki River, the deepest gorge on earth. Combine this with lush, fertile farming land, stands of undistributed natural forest and a mixture of different ethnic inhabitants and you have a diverse range of experiences that makes this area one of the most satisfying trekking destinations in Nepal.
The fact that the main Himalayan range runs south of the border with Tibet means that that the northern parts of the area are in the rain shadow and are considerably drier than the southern slopes of the mountains. This leads to unusually diverse landscapes.
Permits and Fees
For most of the Annapurna trekking area, no trekking permits are required. The exception is upper Mustang where a fee of US$700 per person is levied for a ten-day visit. Additional restrictions relating to Mustang will be outlined later.
Most of the area discussed in the trek descriptions is within the area controlled by Annapurna Conservation Area Project. Entry to this area is controlled and an entry permit has to be purchased. The permit must be purchased before starting the trek and can be obtained in Kathmandu or Pokhara . The proceeds of these fees are largely used for the local community development within the project area.
Regardless of the trek chosen it is most likely that Pokhara will be either starting or ending point of your trek. Pokhara is located 200 km. west of Kathmandu and can be reached by road in five to six hour or by air in 30 minutes from the capital. For road travel there are a number of tourist buses available daily from Kathmandu and from Chitwan.
There is no shortage of tourist facilities to be found in and around Pokhara. The main center for tourists is at the side of the largest of the three lakes in the area, Phewa Tal. The suburbs of Lakeside and Damside both provide a wide range of accommodation and restaurants along with the usual variety of trekking and traveling agencies and suppliers of souvenirs and trekking equipment. For those trekking in the eastern side of the Annapurna massif the most likely starting point will be Besishahar, the district headquarters of Lamjung district. Buses from Kathmandu, Pokhara and the Terai arrive and depart here on a regular daily basis. The bus trip from Kathmandu to Besishahar takes around four to five hours but, at this time, there are no tourist bus services available.
Most treks starting or ending in Pokhara will require the use of buses or hired cars to reach the trailheads. Specific details appear in the trek descriptions.
Flora and Fauna
As can be imagined, the range of geographical and climatic regions has led to a diverse variety of flora and fauna within the Annapurna region. Both Pokhara and Besishahar are below 1000 meter elevation and their climate is quiet tropical. These parts of area are heavily cultivated and the landscape, therefore, largely consists of terraced paddy fields for most of the year. The area is also famous for its winter crops of oranges, which can be purchased fresh from the trees along the trails in the foothills. As you progress higher up into the hills the natural vegetation changes from the tropical species to more temperate stands of forest trees including oak, beech and rhododendron. These finally give way to coniferous forests of pine and, ultimately, juniper just below the tree line. In the rain shadow, to the north of the mountains, the landscape is quite barren being an extension south of the Tibetan plateau. Here there are only stunted bushes and shrubs except for close to the rivers where irrigated cropping is possible.
Native animals to be seen include many birds the most obvious being the pika, blue sheep and Himalayan Tahr.
Most of the trekking routes in the Annapurna region are well serviced by teahouses for most of their length. This is particularly true for most popular treks-the Jomsom trek, the Annapurna circuit and Annapurna base camp treks.
Trekkers should be aware, however that there is always the risk of being stranded by bad weather or injury/sickness between teahouses, particularly in the more remote parts of the trek itineraries. a good example is on the Annapurna circuit where there is one very long day when the high pass of Thorong La has to be crossed. There is little or no shelter available for most of this day and some trekkers have been caught unprepared by bad weather and altitude problems.
The treks in less developed areas, particularly the Dhaulagiri circuit and the trek east of Lamjung, definitely require trekkers to be self sufficient in food and shelter.
People and Culture
The most prominent ethnic groups in the Annapurna region are the Gurung, the Thakali and the Manangba. The Gurungs are the most widely distributed being found from the hills of Gorkha district to as far west as Palpa. There heartland, however, is centered on the hills and valleys between the Marsyandi river and the kali Gandaki. The Thakali come from the upper kali Gandaki valley around Jomsom where their traditional farming has being supplemented by trade and, in particular, hotel and restaurant businesses. The Manangba are found in the upper reaches of the Marsyandi River and are in many ways similar to the Gurungs to whom they are possibly related. They are skilled traders and trace their roots back to Tibet. Religiously, the Manangba and the Gurungs of the upper hills is Buddhist with traces of their ancient, shamanistic faith still apparent. The communities live further south are predominantly Hindu.
All of the communities, particularly the Gurungs are famed for their cultural performances, which are easily seen while trekking in the region. Many villages along the trails will arrange performances for trekkers during the main seasons.
When to visit?
As with most of the trekking areas in Nepal, the best time to visit are during spring and autumn. Spring is the time for rhododendrons while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon in October and November. At these times the weather is generally mild and there is little rainfall. Unlike other parts of Nepal, the monsoon, from June to September, is the ideal time to visit pats of the region that falls in the rain shadow. In particular, upper mustang is the perfect destination during the rainy season. The winter months provide good trekking conditions throughout the foothills but some of the higher passes will be closed due to snow.
If you have not traveled from Kathmandu with your staffs then you will be able to make all of the necessary arrangements in Pokhara through one of the many trekking agencies that have offices in lakeside. This is generally only place where such arrangements can be reliably made although porters will often be found at centers such as Besishahar at the start of the Annapurna circuit.
The classic trek in the Annapurna region is the Annapurna circuit. The complete circuit has only been possible since mid 1980's when the Manang area was officially opened up to non-Nepali visitors. For and all-round experience of the scenery and culture of Nepal this trek has a lot to offer. Starting in the lush Marsyandi valley, that separates the Annapurna range from that of Manaslu, the scenery is composed of lush cultivated fields with dense forests on either side. In the winter season, orange tree are laden with fruits and fragrant frangipani blossoms cast their scent along the trails. As you travel higher the valley becomes more rugged until the villages and forests finally give way to the arid hills of Manang. The Thorong La pass, at 5416 meters, marks the highpoint of the treks after which the trail joins the kali Gandaki river that flows through the deepest gorge on earth.
This is a challenging trek that is not without some risks. The crossing of Thorong La can be dangerous at times, especially during unexpected snowfall so potential trekkers must make sure that they are well prepared and equipped for all eventualities. The trek can be completed in a minimum of fifteen days, starting in Kathmandu and finishing in Pokhara. If a few extra days are allowed for it is then possible to enjoy several of the possible side trips and add immeasurably to the experience. And entry permit for the Annapurna conservation area project (ACAP) is needed for this trek.
Most trekkers start the trek by taking the bus from Kathmandu to Besishahar. These days the journey accomplished in around five or six hours which allows a few hours trekking on the first day. The trail from Besishahar follows the partly constructed road as far as the small market town of Kuldi. This road can be avoided by crossing the river below Besishahar and trekking along the east bank of the river rejoining the main trail at Bhul Bhule.
The first few days of the trek follow the Marshyangdi through scattered farming communities by a mixer predominantly composed of Gurungs but with a sizeable numbers of Brahmin communities. The crop range from rice and wheat at the lower elevations to corn, millet and barley as the altitude increases. Above the valley floor the hills are cloaked in forest with the occasional clearing indicating human settlements. Higher still, the snowy peak of the Annapurna and the Manaslu ranges dominate the skyline. A feature of this section of the trek is the number of high waterfalls that cascade down into the main river. The valley rises slowly slow altitude sickness is rarely a problem at this stage.
After a four days on the trail the river, which has been flowing from the north changes its course and flows from the west. At this point the landscape changes with steep rocky gorges on its side and large stands of pine making up the forest cover. By the time the district headquarters of Chame has been passed the hills are becoming more and more barren and the people predominantly Manangba. Look for a number of ancient temples, some of which represent the pre-Buddhist, Bon religion.
The tree line is reached a few hours before arriving at mustang where a compulsory rest day should be taken for acclimatization to the increasing altitude. There are a number of possible side trips from Manang that can be taken on the acclimatization day. Perhaps the most spectacular is to the west, across the river and up to the Gangapurna glacier with its deep blue lake formed by the melting glacial ice. The Himalayan rescue association clinic is located in Manang village and holds afternoon awareness lectures for trekkers warning of the dangers of AMS. These lectures are well worth attending.
From Manang, the trial passes through high alpine pastures until the small cluster of teahouses at Thorong Phedi id reached. An early morning start from here will allow you to reach Thorong La by mid morning and then start the long descent across the scree slopes to Muktinath before the afternoon cloud sweeps in. the whole section have no permanent settlements and shelter is hard to find. For safety, trekkers should never travel alone this section.
Muktinath, a famed pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Hindus, is the first major settlement reached after the crossing of Thorong La. Be sure to visit the temples here and especially look for the eternal flame, fuelled by natural gas, which can be found in the small Buddhist temple below the main shrine.
From Muktinath the views of the west are now of the Dhaulagiri range while to the north can be seen the arid hills of upper mustang. The trial Leeds down through villages inhabited by people of Tibetan stock until it reaches the banks of the kali Gandaki River, the home of Thakali people. A further four days trekking down through this, the deepest valley on earth, brings you to the road head at Beni from where buses to Pokhara can be found. Settlements of particular interest below Muktinath are Jomsom with its airport, a possible exit point to Pokhara, Marpha with its fascinating medieval architecture designed to ward off the fierce winds that blow daily up the gorge and Tatopani with its hot springs.
There are a number of possible side trip that can be combined with the Annapurna circuit. Either from the Manang side or from below Jomsom it is possible to trek up to the high-altitude lake at Tilicho. You must allow at least four days for this trek and be fully self-sufficient. Also on the eastern side of the kali Gandaki there is a trial that leads to the original north Annapurna base camp that was used by the French expedition that first scaled the peak. On the western side of the valley treks to Hidden valley via Dhampus pass and to the Dhaulagiri icefall are also possible option. All of these site trips are suitable only for fit and experienced parties who are fully self-sufficient.
Annapurna Sanctuary (Annapurna base Camp)
the other classic trek in the Annapurna region is to the so called Annapurna sanctuary, the site of the base camp used by expeditions attempting the massive south face of Annapurna I. a short trek, it can be completed in as little as eight days from Pokhara. The trek to Annapurna base camp combines some of the most spectacular mountain scenery with a fascinating insight into the life of middle hill Nepalis. The best time to visit the sanctuary is during the main trekking season of spring and autumn but since the route is not a circuit, the trial, and the teahouses, can become crowded at these times. Winter trek are possible but at any time trekkers must beware of snowfall and avalanches that can block the narrow entrance to the sanctuary.
This trek is usually started and ended in Pokhara but it can also be made a part of the Annapurna circuit or the Jomsom trek by trekking from Tatopani through Ghorepani and Tadapani and joining the main sanctuary trial at Chomrong. For maximum enjoyment, allow twelve or fourteen days for the trek, which allows time for exploration inside the sanctuary and also the chance to extend the route on to Ghorepani and Poon hill. Trekkers traveling this route must obtain an ACAP entry permit either from Kathmandu or Pokhara before commencing the trek.
To start the trek at Pokhara there are a number of choices of route. Perhaps the best is to take a taxi or bus to Naudanda Phedi where the trial up to Dhampus will be found. The route passes through a number of Gurung settlements including Dhampus, Pothana and Landrung. At Landrung the choice is to cross to Ghandrung, a descent and subsequent climb involving several hundred meters of elevation change, or to continue on up the Modi khola through Naya Pul. Both trials join at Chomrong at the foot of the gorge leading to the sanctuary. An additional attraction on the Naya Pul trial is a very welcome hot spring half way to Chomrong.
From Chomrong there is only one trial, which follows the ever-narrowing most khola to finally enter the sanctuary. Due to the altitude gain, two nights must be spent between Chomrong and the sanctuary in order to avoid the risk of AMS. There are a number of settlements in the valley, providing ample accommodation. However, during winter it is wide to check at Chomrong in case the teahouse up the valley has closed for the off season.
The trial up the Modi khola passes through dense stands of rhododendron and bamboo for the first day. By the time the large rock overhang, known as Hinku cave, is reached the vegetation has thinned and the gorge narrowed to be only a few hundred meters wide. Steep, snow-clad ridges falling from Himchuli on the left and Machhapuchhre on the right from the entrance to the sanctuary. as you pass through the "gateâ€ and enter the sanctuary you will find yourself in a huge amphitheater enclosed by a solid wall of snow capped peaks which include Annapurna I, II, III and IV plus the fish tailed spire of the Machhapuchhre. Teahouses are available at Machhapuchhre base camp, just inside the sanctuary, or at Annapurna base camp, a further two hours beyond.
Spend at least one full day inside the sanctuary. Side trips across the south Annapurna glacier, north from Annapurna base camp allow for an even better appreciation of this unique place.
Return by the same route to Chomrong where you can choose to retrace your outward steps or deviate through either Ghandrung or Ghorepani.
There are a number of options for short treks in the foothills to the north of Pokhara. Most of these variations will visit Ghandrung and Ghorepani. The former is a large, traditional Gurung village while Ghorepani is the settlement below the famed vantage point of Poon hill, one of the best spots from which to view the central Nepal Himalaya range.
The various itineraries are all relatively easy and none reach high enough elevations for AMS to be an issue. Generally between five and six trekking days are sufficient for any of the itinerary option. All enter the ACAP area so an entry permit is required. The permit should be obtained either in Kathmandu or Pokhara prior to starting the trek. Teahouses are plentiful through the foothills but there are a couple of alternative routes that will require the trekker to be self-sufficient if these trails are chosen.
The most commonly trekked of the foothill itineraries starts and ends at Naya Pul on the Baglung highway(not to be confused with the Naya Pul on the Modi Khola beyond Landrung).traveling by bus or taxi, the journey to Naya Pul takes around one to two hours. Cross the Modi khola at Naya Pul and trek through Birethanti to Syauli Bazaar following the river through cultivated fields and small villages. At Syauli Bazaar the trial climbs steeply to the large Gurung village of Ghandrung (pronounced Ghandruk by the locals). Here there is wide selection of teahouses and community operates craft and cultural displays. An extra day spent at Ghandrung experiencing the traditional Gurung way of life is well worthwhile.
From Ghandrung the main trial passes through Tadapani to the pass at Ghorepani. Above the hill is Phoon hill, a climb of around three hundred meters. The reward for making the climb at dawn or dusk is one of the best mountain panoramas in Nepal. The view takes in Dhaulagiri, the Annapurnas and, in the distance, the Manaslu range.
From Ghorepani there are three choices. The most commonly taken route drops down the villages of Ulleri and Turkedhunga to Birethanti, the original starting point of the trek. There is a steep trial and can be quite crowded during the peak seasons. It passes through sense stands of oak and rhododendron until Ulleri is reached after which the landscape is mostly cultivated fields.
Another option is to continue on from Ghorepani and descend to the kali Gandaki at Tatopani (see Annapurna circuit trek description). After a night at Tatopani the river can be followed down to Beni from where buses to Pokhara are available.
The third possibility is to trek along the ridge that starts at Phoon hill. There is little in the way of permanent settlement until the high point of the ridge at Bhuka is reached. Just below the hill is Gurung village of Langdi while a couple of hours further down the ridge are Tangle, another Gurung settlement. From here it is only a short distance back to the main trial at Birethanti and Naya Pul. This ridge walk is quite isolated and no teahouse accommodation is available making self-sufficiency essential. It has the advantage of being well off the normal tourist route and allows for an insight into local culture that is harder to find on the main trial.
Jomsom and Muktinath
The Jomsom trek is probably the single most popular trek in Nepal. The diverse landscapes and cultures to be found along the trek route give a marvelous insight into the way of life of rural Nepalese people. The main feature of trek is the walk through the George craved by the kali Gandaki River, which carries water from the Tibetan plateau to eventually join the Ganges in India.
Normally trekkers continue on above Jomsom to Muktinath, the famous pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Hindus. To Hindus, Muktinath is sacred as the place of salvation. They believe that to wash in the waters here guarantees salvation after death. The Hindu god, Brahma, is thought to have lit the eternal flames that still burn at Muktinath. To the Buddhists it is a place that the great sage guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated at, and to all, it is the source of fossilized ammonites, known locally as shaligrams, which are found all along the upper reaches of kali Gandaki. The people of this part of Nepal are a mixture of Gurung and Magar in the lower stretches of the kali Gandaki, Thakali people around Jomsom and people with obvious Tibetan roots, the Lopa, around Muktinath and up into mustang. Their customs and dress are all quite distinct and this trek gives a chance to see those differences. The religions seen range from Hinduism in the lower parts to the Tibetan style Buddhism as you travel further north. Should you be in Muktinath In early September you will be able to see one of Nepalâ€™s unique festivals, the annual horse races known as Yartung. This is a week of some serious horse racing, Tibetan style, and some equally serious merrymaking.
Most of the route for the Jomsom trek has been described as part of the Annapurna circuit and Annapurna foothills treks. The normal standing point is Naya Pul on the Pokhara to Baglung road and fro there, via Ghorepani and Tatopani, into the gorge of kali Gandaki.
Between Tatopani and Lete khola the scenery changes dramatically. Pine forests crowd in on the trial and the villages take on a quite different appearance. The layout of the villages and the design of the houses are both quite unique to this area. They are designed to protect their inhabitants from the strong winds that blow up the valley everyday from late morning onwards. These winds are caused by differences in atmospheric pressure between the Tibetan plateau and the lower reaches of the valley. The best example of this unique architecture is to be found at the village of Marpha which is a two hour walk below Jomsom. The stone flagged streets with an efficient underground drainage system and the flat roofed houses all with a central courtyard make an attractive spot to spend an extra rest day. Sample the apple products from the prolific orchards that have been set up in the valley.
Jomsom is best known for its airport that offers a quick entry or exit to the valley with regular daily flights from Pokhara. Remember that the winds that blow up the valley normally mean that no flights can arrive or depart from Jomsom after 11 am. Jomsom can also be considered as a place to use as a base for exploring the upper part of the kali Gandaki. There are numerous accommodation options including a new high-class resort complex.
An alternative to Jomsom as a final base for the trek is the village of Kagbeni; a further two hours up the valley. Kagbeni is much less commercialized than Jomsom and certainly much quieter. This is as far as trekkers are allowed to go towards upper Mustang without having a special trek permit and an accompanying environmental officer. For details see the upper mustang treks description. From Kagbeni to Muktinath takes three to four and trekkers can choose to do this as a day trip or to stay at one of the many teahouses available at Muktinath.
The Gurung village of Sikles has been established by the ACA project as a model trekking village and is an internal part of their eco-route. It is located to the north east of Pokhara, at about 2000 meters elevation, in the shadow of Annapurna II and Lamjung Himal. It is a large village, possibly the second largest Gurung village in Nepal, and is a well-preserved example of traditional Gurung culture. While here, the trekker can easily spend several days experiencing local life-style, handicraft production and sight-seeing. Of particular interest are the local cloth weaving and the ancient water driven flourmills.
Above the village is Rishing Danda, from where a marvelous panoramic view of the peaks of Annapurna II and Lamjung can be seen. This place is also famous as a point from which to see avalanches thundering down off the mountain sides.
Folk songs and dances are an important part of Gurung life and cultural performances are common occurrences in Sikles. Of particular interest here is the Ghantu dance, traditionally performed by three young girls.
Accommodation in Sikles can be either in teahouses or, by prior arrangement with ACAP Pokhara office, in village homes.
To get to Sikles it is best to do the round trip, starting in Pokhara and taking a taxi to Kabhre Danda. From here it takes two days t trek to Sikles via Chansu. To return, follow the eco-route through the Ghalekhaeka and Diprang and back into Pokhara in a further three days easy trekking.
The area to the east of the Marshyandi River, between Lamjung and Gorkha districts, has a great deal of potential for remote area treks. This part of the country has not developed any of the conventional tourist infrastructures so groups will need to be fully self-sufficient and have competent guides familiar with the local trials. No special permits are required.
The best destinations are the lakes of Mimi Pokhari and Dudh Pokhari, which are located on the southwestern slopes of Baudha Himal and Himal Chuli, both a part of the Manaslu massif. These two lakes are pilgrimage sites for local Gurung people during the summer months. The best starting point for treks to both of these lakes is either Phalensangu or Besishahar.
Beyond Dudh Pokhari is a high pass, Rupina Bhanjyang, which takes the trekker in to the valley of the Budhi Gandaki. Alternatively, from Dudh Pokhari a trail can be followed into the Deurandi khola valley and on to Gorkha.
To the west of the Marshyandi River there are other possibilities for self-sufficient trekkers. There is much more habitation on the side of the river but little or no tourist facilities. Treks from Besishahar through the villages of Ghalegaon, Bhujung, and on towards Sikles are possible but, again, guides with local knowledge are essential. An ACAP entry permit is required to trek past Ghalegaon. A number of village home stay programmes are being developed in the area, which will afford visitors a unique insight into rural life.
Above Ghalegaon a remote trial leads through uninhabited country to the high pass of Namun La. This pass leads down to the Marshyandi khola near Bagarchap on the Annapurna circuit route. Trekkers attempting this route must ensure that they and their staff are well prepared for this crossing which is often snow bound.
A circuit of Dhaulagiri massif is possible for well-equipped and fully self-sufficient parties. The minimum time that should be allowed for this itinerary is eighteen days Pokhara to Pokhara but a few extra days to allow for side trips or bad weather are advisable. The route crosses two high which are in remote country far from any assistance. Particular care must be taken with regards to proper acclimatization and staff equipment. Since much of the first half of the trek travels on rarely trekked trails, the services of an experienced local guide are highly recommended. No special permits are required for the Dhaulagiri circuit but for the last part, down the kali Gandaki, an ACAP entry permit is needed.
The trek is best started at Beni, the district headquarters of Myagdi district. Myagdi is one of the most easterly of the districts where the Magar people can be found. This group of hill dwellers are similar in many ways to their Gurung neighbors but are thought to have settled in Nepal some time earlier. Like their Gurung cousins, the Magar have a tradition of service in the Gurkha regiments. Regular bus services operate from Pokhara as far as Baglung and from there, are less frequent services to Beni.
The Dhaulagiri trail follows the Myagdi khola, the river that drains the southern side of the Dhaulagiri massif. Passing through the settlements of Darbang and Muri, the country is still quite heavily populated with scattered villages and farming land. Beyond Muri, the Myagdi khola swings north and the landscape becomes much more rugged and sparsely populated. The tree line is reached just below the sit of the, so called, Italian base camp, located at the snout of the Chhonbaraan Glacier, is an ideal place to spend an acclimatization day exploring the hills around about.
The next two days are spent on the glacier, the second night being at Dhaulagiri base camp, a rugged spot with some spectacular views of the western face of Dhaulagiri.
From here the trial crosses French pass which at 5360 meters is the highest point of the trek. Descending French pass you enter the lonely but fascinating area known as Hidden valley. This place is one of the few true wilderness areas accessible to trekkers in Nepal. The valley stretches away to the north eventually narrowing to a rugged gorge that connects to Upper Dolpa. There are reports of many endangered species residing in this area including the elusive snow leopard. If all the members and the staff of the group are fit then a rest and exploration day spent in hidden valley is well worth while.
From Hidden valley the trial now crosses Dhampus pass (sometimes known as Thapa pass). While not as high as French pass, it is roughly 100 meters lower, Dhampus pass has a reputation for bad weather which can make the crossing and subsequent descent something of a problem. Trekkers must be aware of the health of their group members and staff, especially on the section between French pass and Dhampus pass. Any person suffering from the symptoms of AMS must never be taken on over French pass but rather, taken back down the Myagdi khola to a lower altitude. Having a group member suffer from AMS between the passes poses a serious problem as the only way to get the patient assistance is to ascend which would make the problem worse.
Having crossed Dhampus pass the trial descends into the valley of the kali Gandaki meeting the main trial at either Marpha or Tukuche. On the way down to the valley there are some spectacular views across to the Annapurnas and up into the arid steppes of Mustang.
The rest of the trek is described in the Annapurna circuit description.
To trek into upper mustang is a rare privilege. Here you will experience the way of life of the true mountain people, for years, cut off from the rest of Nepal. In many ways, a trek into upper mustang is similar to trekking into Tibet, which geographically it is a part of. The district of Mustang was, until 1950, a separate kingdom within the boundaries of Nepal. The last king, the raja of mustang, still has his home at the ancient capital, Lo Manthang.
Access to upper Mustang has only been possible for non-Nepalese trekkers for around ten years and, even today, access is still heavily regulated and restricted. To enter upper Mustang, that is to travel further north than Kagbeni, trekkers need a special trekking permit and mist be accompanied by a government appointed environmental officer. The expenses of the environmental officer have to borne by the group. Trekker must have arranged their trek through a government recognized trekking agency in order to be issued permits. The cost of the trekking permit is US$700 per person for ten-day trek in the restricted area.
Upper Mustang, being in the Himalayan rain shadow, is one of the few parts of the country that are suitable for trekking during the summer monsoon period. Even at this time, the upper kali Gandaki valley is still quiet dry with only occasional rainfall. The Mustang trek is not particularly difficult, the highest point reached is only 3800 meters, but the conditions at times can be arduous. Cold in winter and windy and dusty all year. Winter treks are best avoided due to southern parts of the country and even India.
There are few accommodation facilities available above Kagbeni so groups must be fully self-sufficient, especially in fuel. While porters are available in Jomsom it is preferable, in Mustang, to use mules to carry the loads. These pack animals are available locally and are more economical, and certainly more environmentally friendly, than human porters.
The Mustang trek requires a minimum of nine days starting and ending in Kagbeni. This allows the trek to be completed within the ten-day permit period. The route basically follows the kali Gandaki valley but, on occasions, climbs high above the valley walls. The settlements are scattered with little sign of cultivation between villages. In Mustang, little will grow without irrigation, which makes the settlements reminiscent of oases.
Lo Manthang, the old capital, is reached in four days and at least one extra day should be spent here for local sight-seeing. Ponies are available for hire for this purpose.
The return trip can either follow the upward route or, for an alternative, the eastern bank of the kali Gandaki may be followed.
Short Treks out of Pokhara
There are a number of relatively easy short treks that can be undertaken around Pokhara. The area south of Phewa Tal is particularly suitable, with treks of two to five days being possible. This area, however, has fewer accommodation facilities so self-sufficiency is generally required. These trekking routes pass through some very attractive rural communities and with the low altitude reached, make suitable winter treks. It can get uncomfortably hot during the summer months, however.
Possibly the most attractive destination is Panchase, a 250 meter high hill to the west of Pokhara. This hill gives a Himalayan Panorama that rivals that found that at Poon hill. The easiest access to Panchase is from the village of Badauri, which can be reached on foot or vehicle from Naudanda on the Baglung highway. From Badauri it is a pleasant three to four hour walk through the forest to Panchase Deurali where some basic lodging is available. The hilltops are a further hour or so from here.
The Panchase trek can be extended in several ways. From Panchase hill it is possible to trek through the large Gurung village of Arthor and continues on to Karkinetta. Here some very basic accommodation may be found. The choice then is to trek to Kusma, on the Baglung highway in one day from where a bus can be taken back to Pokhara. Alternatively, there are buses and jeeps available at Karkinetta that connect directly with Pokhara.
Another possibility is to trek from Panchase back to Pokhara via the ridge that runs through the villages of Bhumdi and Pumdi. By taking this route you are able to complete the trek at the peace Stupa above Phewa Tal and then descend to the lake and reach lake side by boat. This route gives excellent views of the Himalaya with Phewa Tal in the foreground. No tea houses are available until the peace Stupa is reached.
To the north of Pokhara there is the, so called, trek. This for-day trek follows the ridges above Pokhara's second largest lake, Begnas Tal. No teahouses are available so groups need to be self-sufficient.
Views of the Annapurnas and back to Pokhara are worthwhile from the ridge top as a number of interesting Gurung villages is visited on the way. This is a particularly good route during the colder winter months.
Trekking in the Langtang area
One of the most accessible areas for trekking is the north of Kathmandu valley. While the area cannot boast any of the Himalayan giants, the scenery here is every bit as spectacular as most of the better known destinations. It is also far less visited by tourists making a trek here somewhat more of an adventure. Just above Kathmandu is the area known as Helambu, which is ideal for short duration treks and is especially suited to winter season trips. Here there is a series of north-south running valleys that provide a variety of possible trekking routes. At the head of these valleys is a ridge that separates Helambu from the east-west running Langtang valley. Here the high alpine scenery, with mountains visible from their base to their peak, and the sparsely inhabited nature of the country makes this an ideal destination for trekkers who are on a tight time schedule.
To the west of Langtang is a virtual wilderness area centered on the Ganesh Himal range, a collection of 6-7000 meter peaks that see very little tourist activity.
Permits and fees
The northern parts of the area largely fall within the boundaries of Langtang national park. Entry permits should be obtained in Kathmandu before starting to trek. Helambu, to the south, and Ganesh Himal, to the west, are the exceptions although to reach Ganesh Himal from Kathmandu an entry permit is required as the motor road is partly within the park. No trekking permits are required in this area. If accessing Helambu from Kathmandu a permit to pass through the Shivapuri watershed area, recently declared a national park ticket counter in Kathmandu.
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