Twenty days spent among some of the world’s tallest peaks; 113 miles trekked in rice terraces, alpine forests and desert terrain; 17,769 feet of altitude reached on a snow-covered mountain pass; 45 cups of lemon tea consumed in village teahouses; the Annapurna Circuit led us through it all.

The Annapurna Circuit is the ultimate hike for intermediate trekkers as the trail circles the entire Annapurna Himalayan Range in Nepal. Endless views of 7,000-8,000 meter mountains inspired us daily as we trekked through remote villages and visited ancient monasteries along the way while enjoying the constantly changing scenery.

Annapurna Circuit

Starting off in Besi Sahar, rice terrace-covered hills, palm trees and cascading waterfalls greeted us at every bend in the valley. Red rhododendrons and other colorful blooms flanked the trails while gigantic, yellow-spotted spiders hung from their cobwebs in bushes. This didn’t make any sense…Wasn’t it suppose to be cold and snowy in the Himalayan mountains? This jungle climate was a surprise, but we figured it wouldn’t be long until we hit colder environments in the following days.

Annapurna Circuit

Our first night was spent in Bhulbhule where locals were celebrating Deepavali, the Hindu holiday, with young Nepali women and men dancing in the street outside our teahouse. We spent the evening watching the dancing then eating our first teahouse dinner of steamed momos and dal bhat, a Nepali specialty. We retired to our tiny room with thin wooden panels separating us from our fellow Australian trekking buddies, Troy and Paula. When we woke up the next morning we all caught our first glimpse of towering Himalayan mountains much further up the valley. These distant snowcapped peaks were just a small taste of what was to come.

Three days after this first mountain sighting we finally came up-close to our first 8,000+ meter peak, Manaslu, the eighth tallest mountain in the world. It was such a tall mountain (26,781 feet) that the sun’s first and last rays would light up the summit long before and after the landscape surrounding was dark. It was a wonderful first impression and we weren’t sure if the upcoming views along the trail could match the majestic beauty of Manaslu.

After departing the village of Chame, the scenery transformed significantly as we climbed through high alpine forests of pine and fir trees–a stark difference from the terraced hills and jungle earlier on. It became colder as we ascended higher and soon our shorts were replaced by pants and our sun hats swapped for wooly hats. It was starting to feel more like what we imagined the Himalayas to be–isolated and cold.

Annapurna Circuit

We were soon rewarded with more up-close views of one mountain after the other–Annapurna II, Annapurna IV, Annapurna III and Ganggapurna–all towering above the trail. Some guesthouses we stayed in had dining rooms with large windows, allowing us to continue admiring the landscape from the warmth of the indoors.

These mountain views captivated us as we arrived in Manang, one of the largest villages on the circuit. As the elevation rose to 11,000 feet, most trekkers like us spent an extra day in Manang to acclimatize before pushing any higher. Thankfully the village was well prepared to provide extra entertainment with good restaurants, souvenir shopping and three mini movie theaters showing films like “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Into the Void.” However, during our stay we were treated to the spectacle of locals racing their horses up and down the main dirt street for show. While we were told it was a “horse race,” it looked like the men were just enjoying a joyride back and forth through the town.

Annapurna Circuit

After our day of acclimatization we were ready to continue on to the most anticipated part of the trek–Thorung La Pass, a snow-covered mountain pass at 17,769 feet. This would be the highest point both Mark and I had ever been in our lives. Although it is just a pass here in the Himalaya, its height stands taller than any mountain in the continental United States.

On the morning of our big ascent we found ourselves trudging up steep trails covered in deep snow that had blown in with a blizzard a few weeks prior. With the rolling moraines, rocky ridges and surrounding peaks covered in snow, it looked like we were walking over a surreal moonscape. We were like astronauts taking one slow step after another and breathing heavily as the air thinned at high altitude.

Annapurna Circuit - Thorung La Pass

After four hours of painful, slow climbing we were exhilarated to finally see the prayer flags at the top of Thorung La Pass. With smiles on our faces we pumped our fists and celebrated with fellow trekkers as we made the final steps to the top. There we added our own string of prayer flags to the mass of color already covering the stone cairn. Then it was time for a victory photograph before the cold pushed us on down the other side.

Annapurna CircuitWith the hardest part of the trek over we looked forward to what the rest of the circuit would bring. After crossing the pass the land changed into the dusty desert valley of Lower Mustang. While the giant mountains were now much further away, Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh highest mountain, still dominated the skyline. At 26,794 feet, Dhaulagiri’s pyramid-pointed top cut into the setting sun’s rays, casting a line of shadows that reached far to the north west, a good sign that the spectacular views would continue on this side of the pass.

Annapurna CircuitThe first village we stayed in on the west side of Thorung La was Muktinath, a holy town Hindu pilgrims come to from as far as India to bathe in its holy waters. Some pilgrims came by motorbike or jeep while orange-clad sadhus, holy men from India, would walk the entire way to this remote village with little more than a staff and blanket.

The west side of the circuit is right on the border of Tibet making Muktinath and other surrounding villages home to many Tibetan refugees. It was interesting to see the co-existence of the Nepali, Tibetan, and Indian ethnicities, as well as the Hindu and Buddhist religions in one small village.

The nearby village of Kagbeni marked the start of Upper Mustang, a valley that led north to the Tibetan border. Unfortunately, it is a restricted permit area so we could only walk so far before stopping to dream of what laid beyond in the “forbidden land.”

Annapurna CircuitFrom Kagbeni we moved south and passed through Jomsom where we visited the Thak Khola Lodge to find Jimi Hendrix’s graffiti on a wall from his stay there in 1967. Even rock stars love these mountains! Many tourists ended their circuit trek in Jomsom as it was easy to catch a bus or flight to the city of Pokhara from there. But with so much more variety to see along the way, Mark and I decided to keep going on foot.

Annapurna CircuitThe next village of Marpha was quaint and clean with white flagstone pathways running between tightly packed houses. Marpha was a souvenir shopping paradise with one shop after another selling Tibetan jewelry, prayer beads, and other trinkets. We couldn’t help but visit every single one as we were beckoned in by friendly shop owners. Also, we were lured by the hope of finding Tibetan treasures hidden amongst their tables full of souvenirs.

Marsyangdi, Nepal, travel, travel photography, Canon 5D Mark III, photography, Annapurna Circuit, trekking in Nepal, Pokhara, Annapurna Sanctuary, Annapurna I, Himalaya, Himalayan Mountains, Tibet, Prayer Flags, people of Nepal, Mustang, Manaslu, 8,000 meter mountains, Manang, Muktinath, Dhaulagiri,Further south on the trail Dhaulagiri reappeared as it towered above the small village of Larjung. From here we had an amazing view of the mountain’s large icefall and once again admired the prominent sun rays shooting out from the peak at sunset. We’d come a long way since first seeing Dhaulagiri in Muktinath and it was rewarding to now be sitting right beneath it. Other large peaks also surrounded us such as Nilgiri and Tukuche and these additional mountain views made it well worth our time to complete the circuit.

On day 20 we officially ended our trek in Tatopani where we soaked our sore bodies in hot springs and ate the best food of the entire trek at the Dhaulagiri Lodge. At this lower elevation we were finally back in warm weather and comfortably sat outside in our shorts while admiring the village’s fruit trees and other colorful flora.

Marsyangdi, Nepal, travel, travel photography, Canon 5D Mark III, photography, Annapurna Circuit, trekking in Nepal, Pokhara, Annapurna Sanctuary, Annapurna I, Himalaya, Himalayan Mountains, Tibet, Prayer Flags, people of Nepal, Mustang, Manaslu, 8,000 meter mountains, Manang, Muktinath, Dhaulagiri,Our first time trekking in the Himalayan mountains was such a wonderful experience that we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay away for too long. When we returned to the city of Pokhara it only took two weeks until the mountains were calling us back…this time for the trip to Annapurna Base Camp.

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