My first experience in Nepal was filled with earthquakes and relief work, so it was not until my third trip to Nepal that I finally got a chance to go trekking Annapurna Conservation Area, something most people do their first trip. Was great to cross another thing off my travel bucket list (because we all know my lazy ass isn’t making it up to Everest Base Camp).
How To Get To Pokhara
All Annapurna adventures begin in Pokhara, arguably Nepal’s most beautiful city.
Nepal is known for its remote locations, challenging treks and impressive landscapes — although luxury accommodation options exist in Nepal, getting to/from them is often everything but luxurious….but that is half the fun! 😀
Kathmandu to Pokhara by bus is a cheap and scenic journey, albeit decidedly rough and bouncy. Although Nepal’s two largest cities are just 143km (89 miles) apart, the only road linking them is a 210km (130 mile) mountainous switchback “highway” whose beauty is rivaled only by its unpredictability. Advertised as a 6-hour journey, from my experience it is never less than 8-10 hours at best by bus thanks to congestion, landslides and/or road repair, and of course those damn obligatory slow-moving freight trucks difficult to pass on the windy roads.
Bus travel around Nepal, regardless of destination, often takes up to twice as long as Google Maps and ticket vendors suggest. A grueling 10-hour ride can easily turn into a hellish 20-hour nightmare. On the plus side, it is always an experience. And a must try for the adventurous and/or curious traveler. Riding on the roof is especially fun 😉
Driving a motorcycle from Kathmandu to Pokhara is the most fun way to make the journey — and this is coming from someone who has done them all, multiple times. On motorcycle road trips you whip past traffic and accidents in seconds, stop whenever/wherever you want to eat, take photos and rest for a few minutes anytime your butt gets sore. Win-win-win…win.
My Motorcycle Travel Trick:
1) Take your fluffiest towel and fold it up nicely then…
2) Stuff it inside the back of your pants but outside the underwear.
3) Now secure your new padded bum in place with a belt around your pants.
What Not To Do (trust me here)
1) DO NOT place a towel on the bike seat and then sit on it — unless you want to go sliding off on a sharp turn.
2) DO NOT drive a motorcycle without a working horn and fresh brakes. “Good horn, good brakes, good luck!” as the saying goes.
Flights to Pokhara from Kathmandu take less than 45 minutes and come with an amazing view of the Annapurna Mountain Range, including Machapuchare, aka Fishtail. (Stuck in the aisle seat of out little Buddha Air plane, I was unable to get a decent photo.) If you can spare a few extra bucks, this is the easiest way to go.
Twenty years ago Pokhara was a village, a bump in the road, but now as a result of modern tourism and increased numbers of trekkers pouring in to the region, Pokhara has turned into a thriving city that rivals Kathmandu in modern technology and soon smart phones may even be available for sale here.
What To Pack For Trekking Annapurna Sanctuary
Trekking in Nepal nowadays is not like it was 20 years ago. Most of the guesthouses have hot water available for showers (for an extra charge) and wifi available, although yes it is as slow as you guessed and not useful for much more than sending tweets. Items like water and toilet paper are not hard to find while trekking, but other supplies you should get before leaving Pokhara:
- A quality backpack Don’t do what Derek did and come directly from the beaches Sabah, East Malaysia with a wheeled suitcase and zero trekking gear. Even if you hire Sherpas to carry your gear (see below), you still need a small camera bag or backpack to carry your basics — camera, water, snacks, first aid kid, wallet, etc.
- Proper footwear This one is obvious. Again, I screwed up. My friend Charlene of I’m Cha-Cha and I snagged first row business class tickets on Himalaya Airlines mere hours before our departure out of Kuala Lumpur but without time to go home and pack, I was headed for the mountains in beach clothing.
— Derek Freal (@the_HoliDaze) May 23, 2017
Foolishly thinking a pair of gel-cushioned rubber walking shoes would be appropriate for trekking Annapurna Conservation Area (in my defense the gel cushions felt like walking on clouds) by the last couple days of our trek the rubber backs were cutting into my heels, resulting in blisters and bleeding. Using my best MacGyver skills, I stuffed my shoe with toilet paper and bandages to ease the pain. Of course much thanks to my friend and fellow trekker on this adventure, Michelle of Cheeky Passports for having bandages and supplies in her first aid kit. Which brings me to my next item…
- First Aid Kit Shit happens. Trails are tricky. People are clumsy. Cuts and blisters and insect bites occur. Tea houses and guest houses are hours apart — you don’t even want to know how far away medical help is. So come prepared was a basic trekkers’ first aid kit. Overly cautious people also bring iodine tablets to purify water, but this is unnecessary. Bottled and/or purified water readily available at all guest houses (price increases as your altitude increases) plus once you get high enough the springs are free of contamination and safe enough to drink from. Full disclosure, this is coming from the guy who drank well water throughout rural India and never suffered any problems — however others with far weaker stomachs have agreed with me.
- Camera Equipment Don’t be that person who flies halfway around the world only to forget his camera battery charger in Pokhara because trust me, you won’t find one up in the mountains.
- Walking Stick(s) Not everyone uses these, but those who do all swear by them — although they still can’t agree over whether one or two is better. I personally prefer to have both my hands free to operate a camera and/or catch myself if I fall, but if you don’t like taking pictures and you don’t have a habit of falling…..well then you may be the walking stick type 😉
- Power Banks & Solar Charger Every guest house has electrical outlets for rent, but power is intermittent, plugs are limited, and generally not that quick to charge because everybody is plugged in. Power banks are essential for keeping your phone powered. Photography and video enthusiasts with multiple devices/batteries will need a quality solar charger, especially if planning on continuing up into Annapurna Sanctuary and ABC. The Goal Zero Venture 30 is my personal pick.)
— imchacha (@thecharlene22) May 26, 2017
- Snacks & Consumables There’s plenty of tea houses in Annapurna Sanctuary but if you like granola bars, trail mix, or any other foreign foods, Pokhara is your last place to grab them. The food and menus are the same at every tea shop and guest house in every village in the Annapurna Conservation Area.
- Beer / Alcohol There is nothing more refreshing after a long day of mountain trekking than a nice cold beer. Unfortunately glass bottles are heavy and alcohol increases in price the higher you get up the mountain, so if you plan on drinking during your trek, it is best to embark prepared. Bring a couple bottles of beer with you, or better yet a bottle of whiskey. If the weight is too much for you, just toss the bottle in the Sherpa’s bag. DO NOT buy a case of beer bottles and expect the Sherpa to carry it without offering him some.
Be A Prepared Trekker
The always positive Mark of Travel Begins At 40 was with us on our journey and is a great example of what to do, wear and bring when trekking Annapurna Conservation Area:
Forgetting any last-minute supplies?
Nepalese people from around the country come to Pokhara to find work but foreigners come here to trek. Any last minute items you need to prepare for trekking the Annapurna Circuit can be found at one of the many shops around town. This also includes electronics like camera gear, SD cards, adapters, GoPros (and accessories), even solar chargers — Pokhara is your last opportunity to get them.
How To Get To Nayapul
Nayapul is your gateway to the Annapurna Conservation Area. It is also where the road ends. Small groups would probably find it most affordable to take a public bus from Pokhara to Nayapul (less than 200 rupees / $2 USD per person) but larger groups and more discerning trekkers will want to hire a driver from in town. It is around 2000 rupees ($20 USD) per vehicle for a ride to Nayapul, however rides back to Pokhara after your trek can be negotiated for cheaper, as there will be extra drivers around “town” eager to make some money. (I use the word “town” loosely.)
We opted for a private jeep.
While much of our group slept on the 40km drive from Pokhara to Nayapul, the view was too beautiful for me to close my eyes. The road switchbacks up along the mountain edge until you reach Nayapul, which is essentially your last access point to the human world. From here on you’ll have to rely on your legs. Or in our case, our Sherpas.
With our Sherpas already a good hour ahead of us, our ragtag group of questionably-prepared travel bloggers, writers and photographers hit the road — I mean, the mountain — running. However despite high hopes for this adventure, only one of our group decided to start the trek with an ice cold Gorkha beer to give me strength like the Gorkha….can you guess who?
— Derek Freal (@the_HoliDaze) May 25, 2017
Love how you are holding a beer before trekking a mountain in Nepal. Good lad.
— Andy McElwaine (@andymcelwaine) May 28, 2017
Nepal Trekking Travel Tip: *Do* Get Sherpas
While much of the Annapurna Conservation Area offers mild to moderate trekking, there are definitely some steep spots and hard stretches at the lower altitudes and even more once you get into Annapurna Sanctuary. Ground that is wet from rain/river runoff and covered in buffalo poo only makes this trickier. Unless you are semi-experienced and traveling very lightly, I recommend hiring sherpas to accompany your group. Our tour package from Royal Mountain Travel included five sherpas, however we still tipped each one the recommended 500 rupees a day ($5 USD) for their great work.
Where is the Birethanti TIMS checkpost?
From Nayapul it is a 15-minute walk along the Modi River to the “New Bridge”, entrance to the Annapurna Conservation Area. Register at the TIMS checkpost before crossing the bridge — after the bridge is another checkpoint and you’ll need to have all your paperwork in order. Do not lose your card as there are checkpoints scattered throughout the ACA. (Although there was much talk of updating the TIMS system after the Nepal earthquakes in 2015, nothing appears to have changed yet.)
Which Route To Choose?
The beauty of trekking around the Annapurna Conservation Area is that there are small villages scattered throughout the mountains here and a variety of shorter treks you can do without having to attempt Annapurna Sanctuary or Annapurna Base Camp. Not only does this allow great flexibility to “create your own route” but it also prevents you from getting too lost, because within a couple hours of hiking you are guaranteed to pass through another small village or stumble upon a couple of tea houses.
Our group of professional bloggers only had 4-5 days free for trekking, so unfortunately going all the way to Annapurna Base Camp was out of the question. Instead we headed for Ghorepani and Poon Hill. From there we went to Tadapani and then on to Ghandruk. At that point rather than continuing to on Chnomrong and ABC we trekked to Kimche and from there caught a jeep back to Birethanti.
You Cannot Fight Mother Nature, So Don’t Even Try
One thing you learn very quickly when traveling is that you cannot fight Mother Nature. Don’t even try it. She always wins. And unfortunately for us, she decided to make our Annapurna trek as rainy as possible from the first day.
Nepalese Raincoats The tea shops and guest shops will happily cut one side of a plastic trash bag to make you a Nepalese jacket for the modest fee of only $1 each. That may sound expensive, but if you encounter more than just a few minutes of rain, this will be the best dollar you spend in Annapurna. 😉
If the rain gets really bad it can take the fun out of trekking, so don’t be afraid to take a day off and lounge around your guesthouse. Beds only cost a few dollars a night and food/electricity/wifi costs are minimal, you might as well stay another day. Crack and beer, put down your phone and soak up the surroundings.
Warning Haggling around Nepal is normal but inside the Annapurna Conservation Area all prices are set by ACAP and there is no haggling allowed. After the second or third tea house you’ll quickly realize that all the menus on the mountains are also the same — this is why. ACAP regulates everything.
Souvenir Shopping While Trekking
The souvenirs for sale in Kathmandu and Pokhara are exactly the same as the ones for sale up in the mountains around Annapurna EXCEPT for one important difference — here all the profits will go to a family that can really use them, instead of to some middleman in Pokhara.
I purchased all my clothing and other souvenirs up in the mountains at Ghorepani and Ghandruk where the money will go to good use. I also bought a lot of postcards and mailed them out to friends, fans and followers via Twitter. Thankfully there are plenty of post offices on the mountain trails 😉
Oh The Sights You’ll See!
Trekking in Nepal is first and foremost about the scenery….unless you are climbing Everest, then its about the challenge, obviously. But for most of us the scenery is enough. Remember to soak up as much of the view as possible, even if the weather is cloudy or less than ideal.
More photos from our Annapurna journey:
How To Get Back To Civilization
Getting down the mountain is decidedly much easier than getting up. And much faster, as one might expect. However the views are no less beautiful so be sure to soak up every minute of it. After all, when is the next time you’re going to be trekking in Nepal? Plan ahead and make the most of your trip — Bookmundi has 400 separate Nepal tour packages covering not just the Annapurna Circuit but every corner of Nepal. Earthquake repairs are still ongoing — come here, spend a few dollars, and rest easy knowing that you’re helping Nepal, one of the friendliest and most beautiful countries on earth.