The apple pie trek: Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
The Annapurna Circuit is still considered as one of the best treks in the world. The scenery is outstanding: this trek takes you through breathtaking sceneries of rivers, flora and fauna circling the Annapurna massif. The trek goes usually counter-clockwise from Khudi to Pokhara and reaches its highest point at the pass Thorung La (5416m). Three eight-thousander can be seen on this trek: Manaslu (8156 m), Annapurna 1 (8091 m) and Dhaulagiri (8167 m). The trek goes through Buddhist villages and Hindu holy sites, most notably the village of Muktinath, a holy site for both Buddhists and Hindus.
The best time for the trek is in October and November, right after the raining season. Beginning of October there is still a chance of rainy days, but from middle of October to end of November you have always blue sky and almost no rain. In December/January it can be very cold and the pass Thorung La can be blocked because of snow. We had rain the first 4 days of the trek (beginning of October) and the path was blocked on the third day because of a landslide. We lost almost one day which we tried to catch up the fourth day, and we reached a small simple teahouse very late in darkness and heavy rain. As a 'welcome present' we got a bucket of hot water for a shower, a place at the huge tiled stove to dry the clothes, a simple but tasty Nepalese dinner and a place to sleep. Luckily the next day all the rain was gone and since then we had beautiful weather every day.
The whole trek is 17 to 21 days long, with an average walking time from teahouse to teahouse of about 6 hours per day. For the first 10 days of the almost undeveloped trek you don't see any cars, you don't have WiFi and sometimes you have to look for a new path because a landslide blocks your way. On the other hand, the cicuit is not wellknown for extreme solitude. More than 40,000 trekkers visit the Annapurna Cicuit every year, most of them in October/November. But although sometimes it seems like rush-hour traffic in the wilderness, you get used to it. And the higher you get the chances for hiking alone for hours without any other trekkers in sight are very good. You sleep in simple teahouses, which are run by local villagers and stocked with good kitchens, cold beer and, well, apple pie! For some reason you even can find a couple of 'real original German bakeries' along the trek. There might be a risk of dying of altitude sickness, but certainly not of starvation. The Snicker bars, the pie and the bakeries gave the Annapurna Cicuit the informal name "The apple pie trek". But of course you also get everywhere the traditional Nepalese ‘Dal Bhat’ - a simple but tasteful vegetarian meal of rice and lentil soup.
The higher you get, the slower the trekking moves on, and the part between Manang (3519m) and the pass Thorung La (5416m) is a real challenge and an unforgettable adventure. On the 10th or 11th day of the trek (depends on the acclimatization time and your fitness) you finally approach Thorung La, the highest point of the circuit, and suddenly there is nothing else but mountains, mountains, mountains. The pass is still regularly used by local traders. We got up very early (3:30!), and started the climbing at 4:00 in the morning after a quick breakfast. We had to climb almost 1000 m from Thoring Phedi (4450 m) to the pass Thorung La (5416 m). The weather conditions were perfect, and the scenery was breathtaking. But don't get me wrong: it is not a piece of cake at all. Although maybe perfectly acclimatized, with tons of garlic soup the previous days (garlic is good to avoid altitude sickness) and a lot of water every day, climbing up 1000m early in the morning up to 5416m is another story. We reached the pass at about 7:30 and I have to admit I was too exhausted to celebrate. After taking the obligatory photo shoots with the prayer flags and the pass maker sign I was more than happy to leave the pass heading down almost 1700m to Muktinah (3760m).
Every single day of the Annapurna Circuit is quite an adventure: You are crossing swaying suspension bridges over thunderous gorges surrounded by the eight-thousander peaks; you are passing deep green terraced rice fields along the trek. The narrow stone villages are filled with playing children and in the Buddhist monasteries you can listen to the low hum of the meditating monks celebrating a ceremony mingling with the sound of the dung chen. The dung chen is a long trumpet or horn and the most widely used instrument in Tibetan Buddhist culture. It is often played in pairs or multiples, and the sound is compared to the singing of elephants. And above the altitude of 4000m you only see mountains, rocks, mountains again, glaciers and snow. When the Annapurna summits, the Gangapurna or the Dhaulagiri come into view it's like a big magic.
But on the other hand it is quite a shame: it is expected that by end of 2012 the road to Manang will have been finished. And what that means you can already experience on the final third part of the Annapurna Circuit, which is also known as the Jomsom trek. Jomsom is a village located at 2800 m in the Annapurna region and it is the capital of the Mustang district of the Dhawalagiri (Dhaulagiri) zone of Nepal. The village has a small airport and you can reach the village by bus or 4x4 cars. The trek from Jomsom to Pokhara follows partly the dusty dirty big roads, you see all the busses and jeeps with lazy trekkers who opt for the car coming along the road and you hear the little airplanes of the scenic flights in the sky. It is quite a difference compared to the idyllic undeveloped eastern part of the Annapurna Circuit from Khudi to Thorung La and Muktinah! Some people say that the new road to Manang is finally placing the last nail in the coffin of what was once the greatest trek on earth. And a matter of fact, what was once an at least 21 days challenging trek will probably shrink to a maximum of 4 days undeveloped hike in the future.