Almost everybody will have heard of the Annapurna Circuit - the legendary 3 week circuit of the enormous snow-capped massif of the Annapurna Himal.
It came to the fore in the 70s as an adventurous extention of the hippy trail. Then the airport at Pokhara was just a farmer's field, and Pokhara lakeside was just that, a side of a lake with no hotels!
As much has changed on the Annapurna Circuit Trek as has changed in Pokaha itself. From just a handful of trekkers here and there staying in small tea-houses, numbers have ballooned to hundreds per day in peak-season.
Robin Boustead, the architect of the Great Himalaya Trail makes his views clear, "For the last five years I have received many emails from people asking me where would I recommend to go trekking. I have not sent a single person to either the Everest or the Annapurna Region because I don’t feel that they are authentic trekking experiences."
He repeats the adage "You come for the mountains, but return for the people," and states, "If you are trekking along trails [with] 1000s of other westerners and ... in teahouses that are run by frantic overworked people, who cannot spend any time with you – how authentic is that?"
There has been much mentioned about the road building eating up the trails, and around half of the circuit is rough track or work in progress. While it initially seems like a shame, it's simply progress. Roads are the biggest factor in alleviating poverty, getting access to health care and cheaper goods and services.
So what to do!? Three things spring to mind.
- Firstly is to trek out of peak-season (March / April / October). When you have the trails, views and lodges to yourself, then you can spend more time appreciating the place and the experience. And you can spend more time getting to know the local-locals which is a big part of that experience.
- Second is to get a little bit off the beaten track, and it is not hard in Nepal. Do a little research and check-out the side routes. Find out about the amazing, hidden villages of Naar and Phu, the side trips up to Buddhist Gompas from Manang, or the ancient villages in Lower Mustang (Tirigoan, Lubrak and Phalyak) which can be reached easily from the main route with little effort.
- Or, thirdly, you can go somewhere else and the timing is perfect to do just that. Just an hour or two to the East is the Manaslu Circuit Trek. For years this had to be done carrying tents and food, and consequently visitor numbers were tiny compared to the tea-house-able neighbour.
Just last year two more lodges were completed which filled the voids where previously only camping sites stood. You might not find the familiar Lavazza coffee, apple pie, hot showers and movie-nights, but you will find the fabled authentic Nepali trekking experience of decades past, along with similar stunning mountain views, raging rivers and Buddhist culture.
Many will not be able to do without comforts, but for the few adventurers wishing to spend two weeks in the real mountain culture of Nepal, perhaps this is the trek to do now before it too changes for ever.
Travel tip shared by Richard Ball