Nepal is a country that presents many amazing destinations, cultural facets and natural beauty to its visitors. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural nation where diversity persists in all aspects, from natural topography and biodiversity to people and their ethnicity and tradition.
That is why Nepal has become one of the most famous trekking destinations in the world. Among the many trekking sites that Nepal presents, the Annapurna region is the most famous. There are many different options for trekking in the region itself as well.
From famous treks like the Annapurna Base Camp to more obscure off-the-beaten-path treks like Khopra Ridge Trekking, the Annapurna region is one of the most appealing trekking sites in the country. And among the many trekking options of the region, the Annapurna Circuit Trek is a classic.
A famed trekking journey that includes circumambulating through the region, the Annapurna Circuit Trek is bedecked with crossing a prominent mountain pass- the Thorong La Mountain Pass, as well as a visit to the revered holy temple of Muktinath.
The Marsayangdi and Kali Gandaki River Valleys
Connected through the Thorong La Pass, the Marsayangdi and the Kali Gandaki River Valleys take up northern-central Nepal. They are blessed with amazing topographical features, which is why the valleys are considered the best natural hallmarks of the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
Blessed with diverse climatic variations and unique biological biospheres scattered throughout the landscapes, the Marshyangdi and the Kali Gandaki River Valleys present trekkers with a myriad of alpine and sub-tropical woodlands to trek through.
Furthermore, the valleys are drained by the Marshyangdi, Koshi and the Gandaki Rivers. The great Himalayan Rivers further on have various tributaries draining the valley crevasses that then feed into the forests and wetlands home to many species of animals. Similarly, the deepest canyon in the world, the Kali Gandaki Gorge, also marks a prominent presence during the trekking journey.
Culturally and Naturally beautiful Manang Village
The village of Manang is another beautiful highlight of the Annapurna Circuit Trek. It is often referred to as the jewel of the Annapurna Circuit. Manang is often where trekkers stay overnight for a day or two for acclimatization during the journey.
Situated in a broad Marshyangdi River Valley, with the river running east of the village, Manang is snugly located north of the Annapurna and Chulu Mountain Ranges. West of Manang lays the Thorong La Mountain Pass.
Manang also harbors a unique cultural setting. The village and its surrounding settlements are occupied by ethnic Tamang, Gurung, Thakali and Manangba people, who have a unique dialect, customs, and traditions. The umbrella term for the endogamous ethnic group of Manang is called the Nyesyang.
During acclimatization, trekkers often explore Manang hidden caves that are located between the mountains that, for hundreds of years, have attracted Buddhist yogis. Manang also has many old Gompas and the caves of the village are also believed to be the site where the great poet and ascetic Milarepa meditated.
Ice Lake – A beautiful day trip from Manang Village
One of Nepal’s highest frozen lakes, the Kicho Tal (4620 m / 15,157 ft), also called the Ice Lake, is a beautiful turquoise Himalayan Lake situated in the foothills of the mountain. It is a gorgeous day tip option for trekkers who stay at Manang for acclimatization during the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
A faint zig-zagging trail extends from Manang to the village northeast where it aims for the small, white, unadorned Stupa on top of the ridge. The path to the lake then ascends above the tree-line, presenting breath-taking views of the Annapurna Range to the south. The Kicho Tal lies to the north, located under the towering Chulu East Peak.
Tilicho Lake – the highest lake in the world
Situated 55 kilometers away from Pokhara, the Tilicho Lake, along with being the highest located lake in the world, is also considered one of the largest water bodies in the country. Surrounded by many mountains, like the Khangsar Himal, the Muktinath peak and the Tilicho Himal, Lake Tilicho presents a turquoise tincture that contrasts quite magnificently against the high-rising peaks.
The lake is a famous side-hike among trekkers doing the Annapurna Circuit. A source of collection of the glacial melt of the entire northern slope of the Annapurna and the Thorong Peak, the Tilicho Lake seems to almost shimmer against the ivory glare of the mountains it is surrounded by. Tilicho is also believed to be the holy lake mentioned in the Hindu epic- Ramayana.
The Annapurna Himalayan Peaks
The Annapurna Circuit Trek presents unforgettable views of the Annapurna Himalayas. The massif itself includes one peak over 8,000 meters, 13 peaks over 7,000 meters, and 16 more peaks over 6,000 meters. 55 kilometers long, the Annapurna massif is bound by the Kali Gandaki Gorge on the west and the Marshyangdi River on the north and east.
The Annapurna I Main is the 10th highest mountain peak in the world, with an altitude of 8,091 meters. The Annapurna Circuit also includes the Annapurna Conservation Area that surrounds and protects the Annapurna massif.
Throughout the journey, views of Annapurna peaks, like Fang, the Khangsar Kang, the Tarke Kang, the Tilicho Peak, the Nilgiri Himal, the Machhapuchhre Peak, the Hiunchuli Peak, Mount Gangapurna, as well as the Annapurna range (the Annapurna I, II, III, IV and the Annapurna South), make appearances in a spectacular fashion.
Thorong La Pass – highest trekking pass in the world
One of the famous mountains passes with an elevation of 5,416 meters, the Thorong La Mountain Pass lies north of the Annapurna Himal. It is located on the Annapurna Circuit Trail which connects the village of Manang in the east with the temple of Muktinath.
The Thorong La is also the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit. Used by the local people for trade, the top of the mountain pass presents panoramic views of both the Marshyangdi and Kali Gandaki River valleys, as well as the Himalayan tapestry of the Annapurna decorating the horizons.
A sacred place that is holy to both the Hindu and the Buddhist people of Nepal, the Muktinath Temple is a famous destination along the Annapurna Circuit. It is located at the foot of the Thorong La Pass and is the first site trekkers see when they descend the slope.
For the Hindu people, Muktinath is a place of liberation and is considered a highly venerated site of religious significance. It is one of the most ancient temples of Nepal dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is one of the 51 Shakti Pitha Goddess Sites in the world.
For Tibetan Buddhists, Muktinath is considered an important place for Dakinis- Buddhist Goddesses known as Sky Dancers. The temple is one of the 24 holy Tantric places. A semi-circular wall is constructed behind the temple as well, sprouting 108 stone faucets with heads carved into the shape of bulls. The ice-cold water of the Kali Gandaki River flows through these faucets, and pilgrims often bathe beneath each sprout as doing so is believed to cleanse oneself of sins.
The village of Jomsom gets its name from Dzong Sampa, which means New Fort in the Manang language. Located at an altitude of 2,700 meters, Jomsom extends over both banks of the Kali Gandaki River. It is a famous overnight-stay destination along the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
Jomsom is known for Shaligrams- petrified rock fossils that are believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Peaks of Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri form the backdrop against the Jomsom skyline, and the village is mainly occupied by the ethnic Thakali people. The village also has an airport where regular flights take place.
Another popular village of the Annapurna region, the village of Marpha is one of the most appealing destinations of the Annapurna Circuit Trek. The name of the village comes from a combination of two words- mar which means Hard Working and Pha which means People. Going by its nomenclature, Marpha is a village of hardworking people.
It is also famously referred to as the apple capital of the nation. Local Marpha brandy, apple pies and apple jams produced in the village are considered the most exotic and delicious delicacies throughout Nepal.
Pokhara – the City of Lake and Caves
Pokhara is one of the most famous cities of Nepal. It is often the ending point of most of the trekking journeys of the Annapurna region, including the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Mardi Himal Trek, Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek and many other treks. Also referred to as the Tourism Capital of Nepal and the country’s adventure hub, the city is blessed with various lakes, caves, extreme sports and museums that pull in crowds from all over Nepal.
Moreover, Pokhara is also situated beside the Phewa Lake and is thus referred to as Lake-side City. Notable attractions include the Tal Barahi Temple, Bindyabasini Temple, the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave/Temple, Devi's fall and the World Peace Pagoda among many others.
The Annapurna Circuit Trek offers many more highlights. It is one of the most dramatic and beautiful trekking experiences in Nepal. The journey presents a great way to get into Nepal's diverse beauty and its many layers of authentic culture, history, religion, and natural features.