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Our Day by Day Account of The Annapurna Circuit
Trekking in Nepal is the most talked about activity between backpackers, tourists and travellers. It’s usually the reason why people visit Nepal. The Annapurna Circuit, the ‘big daddy’ of the treks, is not inaccessible to novice trekkers! Allowing pretty much everyone to bask in the spectacular views of the Annapurna region. The difficulty increases as the altitude increases, but this is all worth it because the views get better and better too! This post shares our day-by-day account of the Annapurna Circuit, a testing but an amazing journey!
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Also read: Annapurna Circuit Trek: Know Before You Go
Overview of Our Route
At its maximum, the trek can last up to 230 km over 23 days. However, the most spectacular high alpine settings, and the infamous Thorung La Pass, come in the first 11 days. Many people (including us) chose to finish the circuit just after this point.
We took the local bus from Besisahar to its endpoint in Ngadi and started trekking from there. It allowed us to properly acclimatise and also witness the nature change as we gradually climbed higher! This is by far the best bit about trekking!
Other options are to trek from Pokhara or Besisahar or take a Jeep all the way to Menang at 3500m. We don’t advise the jeep option. It’s long way on Nepal’s EXTRAORDINARILY BUMPY mountain roads! It costs an arm and a leg in cash, and you miss out a huge chunk of beautiful scenery, guesthouses and acclimatisation.
We needed 2 acclimatisation days in Menang before crossing the pass. After the pass, we spent a night in Muktinath finally taking the bus back to Pokhara. You can trek back to Pokhara; we decided against this as our goal was just to get over the pass.
Day 1: Pokhara to Bahundanda
We left our hostel in Pokhara early and walked the 40 minutes (a taxi would have been 9 minutes) to catch the 6:30am bus to Besisahar (350NPR pp). The bus eventually arrived (an hour late), and it was half-full with the conspicuous trekkers; all had bought tickets in advance through travel agents and boarded at the ‘tourist bus station’!
Boarding later meant we had missed the pick of the best seats and were rammed in with the jovial locals. After 6 hours we reached Besisahar. We registered ourselves at the TIMS checkpoint across the road and sat down for lunch – noodle soup.
People were paying up to 10,000 rupees per jeep for a ride up the valley. We paid 150 rupees each to go as far as another local bus would take us, Ngadi. Crammed at the back with our baggage, the bus driver kindly got out of the cab and took our permits from the rear window to be stamped at the ACAP checkpoint.
After the bus reached its end, we set off for a short 4km walk up to the village of Bahundanda, through some picturesque paddy fields and small villages. We shopped around for somewhere to stay we ended up at ‘Hotel Superb View’, 100 rupees plus dinner and breakfast. It had the ‘luxury’ of warm showers and faster Wi-Fi than the hostel we stayed in Pokhara!
Day 2: Bahundanda to Tal
We had breakfast and left the guesthouse at 8:30 for a long day on the circuit. We passed through some villages and managed to buy an English adaptor (we left ours behind). So don’t worry too much if you forget things, the circuit is pretty well stocked!
On other side of the valley, we joined the jeep track and took the ‘short cuts’ of steep steps. Don’t bother with advertised hot springs at Jagat – two empty baths and a small trickle of spring water. However, Jagat is a good break point for lunch!
We were swayed to take the trekking route after lunch; up into the jungle for 30 minutes, which spat us back onto the road where we actually had some views. Unfortunately, we missed the turn to the trekking trail in the next village. It would’ve taken us to the east side of the river. However, we ended up on the dusty jeep track so keep your eyes peeled for the turn!
Eventually, we dropped down into Tal. As a group of 6, we headed to find a place to stay as the sun was setting around 5pm. We got our rooms for free if we bought dinner and breakfast. Wifi was unfortunately down and the showers were cold. We advise trying the showers before you agree to stay somewhere, or ask the people already there.
After a long day trekking and almost 1500 metres of ascent, Daal Bhat and a bottle of strong beer was very welcome!
Day 3: Tal to Timang
Day 3 called for a more relaxing start after day 2’s long slog. We Set off through Tal around 10am along the first proper Himalayan trail of the trip. Due to lateness, the sun had already peeped round the mountains; ‘be bold, start cold’ because once you’re in the sun it is HOT!
Out of Tal, the trail follows the riverbank and then begins to climb up the hillside. After about 5km of looking down into the raging torrent below, you reach the hamlet of Karte. This is a good place to stop for coffee before pressing on to Dharapani, a further 2km away. Have your TIMS and ACAP permits handy – you need them in Dharapani.
There’s a side trek from Dharapani to the hamlet of Odar. However, we decided to go on the road to the next village of Bagarchhap, which was almost completely destroyed in the most recent earthquakes. We recommend the teal & orange tea house (one of the first) for your lunch break in Bagarchhap. Relax in their garden area with the owners hilarious children!
After lunch, we quickly made it to the next village of Danagyu. We decided to plow on to Timang which at our pace should have taken less than an hour. Almost 2 hours later, a blind trek through the forest, and a venture over a very sketchy bridge we arrived cold and miserable just in time for sunset in Timang. If you have a circuit book bear in mind Danagyu to Timang takes a lot longer than the guide suggests!
We were feeling a bit fed up, until we turned to see our first proper snow-covered Himalayan peaks soaked in the evening sun. A very welcome hot shower, and dinner we were feeling golden again. Just don’t try the local ‘wine’ – a cross between moonshine and paint stripper!
Day 4: Timang to Upper Pisang
We set off for the 23km goal of Upper Pisang. After an hour or so, you reach Thanchok where permits are required, so have them handy. More importantly though, buy a samosa from the little girl selling them just after the checkpoint; best samosa I’ve ever had (and we’d been in India for 2 months before Nepal).
After another 5km we reached the town of Chame. Stop for a few photos on the prayer flag laden bridges here! Then press on towards the famed bakery of Bratang. We decided to take the side trail to Bratang, which was much more pleasant and didn’t alter our schedule.
Bratang is some 6.5km from Chame, but the freshly baked cinnamon rolls and apple pie will get you through. The posh (but empty) hotel that owns the bakery serves great lunch and fresh Himalayan apple juice!
After lunch, we pushed on towards dinner (yes, a trek from meal to meal). We were quickly graced by a very sobering view, a jeep in the river about 40m below. Thankfully the famous ‘Slab’ came into view shortly after; the locals believe their relative’s souls ascend to heaven up the walls of this astonishing piece of rock.
Despite the views, it was time to get our heads down and plod on. It’s steep uphill through the forest for a good forty-five sweaty minutes. We took the 3km shallow walk to Upper Pisang which takes you right under Annapurna II. It also takes a few kilometres off the next days walk.
We stayed high in the village with working wifi, warm shower, wood burning stove and daal bhat (surprise?). The room, again, was free with dinner and breakfast.
Day 5: Upper Pisang to Ngawal
This was the hardest day so far, and the most similar to that of the day going over the pass. A very pretty walk from Pisang along the high route brought us up to the foot of a very daunting climb to the hamlet of Ghyaru. We stopped at the bottom for a rest and some rehydration. Some other groups were preparing in other ways by sampling the ‘special agriculture’ of the Himalayas.
We began climbing and both started to feel the altitude on our lungs as we plodded higher. Eventually we reached the Bob Marley restaurant which notified us we weren’t far from a cup of tea in Ghyaru. An hour and a half plod, and a gain of 400m over 400m length, we reached the village and sat down for a cuppa and apple pie. A few photos with the Chorten as the viewpoint of the surrounding peaks and we were on our way to Ngwala.
The trail climbs up to 3800m, it passes a very photogenic viewpoint laden with prayer flags. The trail then drops closer to the river bed as more of the Annapurnas come into view.
We sat down in the first place we saw for lunch – noodle soup and a coke. After lunch Sam went into the village looking for a place to stay. Put off by a place with straw stuffed yaks heads outside, I found a place opposite the large prayer wheel. Again, a free bed, hot shower and wifi if we bought dinner and breakfast.
Day 6: Ngawal to Menang
Today didn’t require an early start. So much so that the staff at the teahouse thought we’d already left when we arrived for breakfast! Today’s hike held no real surprises. We headed off around 10am and took and short 3 hr hike on relatively flat track all the way to Menang and arrived for lunch.
We arrived and met the group we had been with on the climb the day before. Treated ourselves to a western lunch of a cheese sandwich and tomato soup and basked in the hot midday sun.
There’s a cinema in Menang, more like watching a movie in class at school but it’s an experience! Dinner in Menang is also a lot more diverse than else where (more variety than dal bhat)!
Day 7: Menang to Ice Lake
We had a fairly relaxed morning after we’d been woken up by a hungry cow outside our room in the night.
We slowly packed our bag for the big climb up to the ice lake for acclimatization. It was a fairly uneventful, slow and never-ending climb up to 4600m over a couple of hours. We started to feel the altitude a bit but only in the form of breathlessness – nothing major. We stopped for noodle soup and lemon ginger tea in the cafe close to the lake on the way up.
Sam ran down from the lake and waited for the team at the bottom. There’s a bar across the road we eyed up – should’ve got more money out!
Day 8: Menang to Yak Kharka
We left Menang around 9am and headed off into the higher altitude. The trail swung off right into an adjacent valley. Thank god it didn’t follow the rather sinister looking trail we had seen from our rooftop in Menang!
The landscape now istruly Himalayan. As the road finished in Menang the only sound that broke the silence was bells attached to cattle. A stop for tea broke up the short morning walk. We arrived in Yak Kharaka around midday and stopped at the first guesthouse. Where we stopped turned out to be the cheapest and had a great dinner menu.
The fire is lit at about 6/7pm to save firewood, but you’ll wish it was lit earlier!! It was COLD, too cold to have a shower even, or get undressed! We slept fully clothed in down jackets under sleeping bags and blankets. Daal Bhat for dinner started the carb-loading for the long day that loomed the day after next.
Day 9: Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi
The beautiful trail followed the valley high along the right before dropping down to the river bed. The terrain changed from grassland to rocky moraine and paths on scree slopes. We Continued along the steep path etched into the hillside, where a sign warned us of loose rock ahead. A sudden gust of wind dislodged rock higher up and sent it careering down the mountainside. I turned quickly to warn Jordan but as I turned she was struck by a fist-sized rock. Luckily she had her hat on which softened the blow but was still pretty shaken. We quickly sped away from danger, keeping an eye on the rocks above.
TIP: crouch and turn your back uphill if anything comes close – your packs will take the blow!
Rocks bigger than a torso were flying down, big enough to knock you into the river below; but makes for a great story now!
Many mountain bikers passed us during the day, taking part in a time trial race. We reached Thorung Pedhi and sat down for lunch, joining 100 or so bikers who’d finished the Yak Attack race.
After lunch we attempted to climb slightly higher to a guesthouse just above Pedhi. Jordan suddenly became extremely light headed, dizzy and had severely tingling lips, feet and hands. We retreated back down and Ralph went to sort a room. I went looking for a medic, a bit scared she was suffering severe AMS or even an edema. An aussie bloke reassured us it was from the Diamox tablets she took in the morning! Little did we know, Ralph hadn’t taken them before and had probably given her a double dose…ooops! We powered through up to the guesthouse where we sat and played cards and chatted with fellow trekkers. We sat around the fire and had a pizza for dinner. Bed very early ready for the early start at 4am – prepare yourself for a restless night at this altitude!
Day 10: Thorung Phedi, Pass to Mukintath
We woke up properly at 4:30am and went to stuff some breakfast in us before setting off into the night. Following the trail of head torches up to high camp, Jordan experienced hot aches for the first time. The weather was not in our favour today – white-out and light snowfall shrouded the view all day – TYPICAL! The weather made the trekking harder and wasn’t helped by the endless false summits. At least everyone was in the same boat and encouragement from everyone was much appreciated. This was the first day Sam felt the altitude while trekking.
After a gruelling 5.5 hour plod we reached the pass at 10:30am, greeted by a teahouse perched at the top. We crammed into the tiny shed packed with trekkers all sharing a proud sense of accomplishment. After the obligatory Thorung La photoshoot, we skipped down the other side of the valley, which Jordan described as FREEDOM!!! You’ll warm up quickly on the plummet to the valley below!
We Reached Charabu around midday in time for a noodle soup lunch, before the short plod to Mukintath
Bob Marley’s is mentioned in guides and came recommended by people in Pokhara. Fortunately we got the last triple room! Cards are accepted, but they don’t like taking them (tax). After a warm-ish shower, we treated ourselves to carbonara and some well-deserved beers! A game of pool with a tree branch cue around the roaring fire made for the perfect ending!
Day 11: Muktinath to Pokhara
Our friend Ralph went for an early cigarette and luckily asked what time the bus was. Earlier than expected, we left without breakfast and tried to pay by card (which was advertised as an option) but the machine “was broken”. They eventually “got the machine working” after we said we only had 2500 NPR between us – they’d rather pay the tax than make a loss! We got the last tickets for the bus back to Pokhara and hence were perched in the cab with the driver. It was a long uncomfortable drive down the valley! Book your busses at the guesthouse the night before! We stopped some hours later for lunch – Daal Bhat again.
Multiple people left the bus in Tatopani to stay and bathe in the hot springs so we took our chance to nab a proper seat – this was a mistake. The back of the bus was far bumpier than the cab – we were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Our only solace was when we were forced to stop as a landslide had blocked the road, a very common issue in Nepal and one of the main reasons they don’t bother tarmacking mountain roads.
Eventually we arrived in Pokhara 12 hours later, more exhausted from the bus ride than any other day of the trek. We Collected our bags from our old hostel, and checked into our new one. Chinese & beers for dinner, kind of glad the whole thing was over.
This was one of the toughest challenges both physically and mentally for the pair of us! This was way out of Jordan’s comfort zone making the pass even more of a triumph. We look back on the experience with semi-rose tinted glasses because it was HARD. But now we’ve done it, we’re so proud of ourselves and it really is a lifetime achievement.
You’ll never see views like this anywhere else; you’ll meet great people along the way, the guesthouse owners are incredible and really welcome you into their family AND the sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished is amazing.
It’s a once in a life time trek, if you’re in Nepal it’s something you can’t miss out on. It’s tough, but AMAZING! Click here for everything you need to know before you go.