Central Nepal is dominated by Annapurna Himal and the town of Pokhara. There are three major trekking routes in this region: to Jomsom, to the Annapurna Sanctuary and a circuit of the entire Annapurna massif. Pokhara is also a good starting place for a number of shorter treks, three of which are described in this chapter. The ancient kingdom of Lo (Mustang) is also geographically a part of the Annapurna region, but because treks to Mustang are subject to special restrictions, it appears in the Restricted Areas chapter.
About two-thirds of the 100,000 trekkers who visited Nepal in 2000 trekked in the Annapurna region. The area is easily accessible, hotels in the hills are plentiful and treks here offer good scenery of both high mountains and lowland villages.
Because there is no formidable barrier directly to the south to obstruct the spring and monsoon rain clouds, the region near Pokhara is subject to abnormally high rainfall almost double that of Kathmandu. This accounts for the large glaciers at relatively low elevations inside the Annapurna Sanctuary. Always be prepared for rain when you trek in central Nepal.
There are telephones in most villages in the Annapurna region except in the upper Manang valley where there are only two telephones (one in Chame and another in Manang village). There is also a satellite phone in Thorung Phedi. All ACAP checkposts have emergency radios.
There is a hospital at Jomsom and emergency evacuation is possible from Jomsom and Manang airports. The Himalayan Rescue Dog Squad operates the Riverside Hospital & Disaster Relief Unit at Shyauli Bazaar, between Pokhara and Besi Sahar. It’s the largest mountain-rescue organisation in Nepal.
There is a 1:100,000 Schneider topographic map entitled Annapurna that is similar to the Schneider maps of Everest and Langtang. It was produced in 1993 and shows the Pokhara to Baglung road accurately. ACAP has produced a contour map entitled Annapurna Conservation Area with trekking advice on the back. These maps are available in bookshops in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Cartoconsult (Austria) 1.250,000 colour map titled Annapurna Satellite Image Trekking Map that shows the major trek routes. The National Geographic Annapurna map is at a scale of 1:135,000 and has 100m contours. The Nepal Survey maps are cumbersome as they cover the lower half of the region at 1:25,000 and the sanctuary and Manang at 1:50,000.
There are many locally produced maps available in Nepal. Most are titled Around Annapurna, but the same map is often packaged with a different cover and name. The best of the lot is the 1:150,000 Mandala map, although the 1:250,000 Nepa Trekking Around Annapurna and Shangri-La Around Annapurna maps are also good. The US army maps that cover the region are NH 44-16 Pokhara and NH 45-13 Jongkha Dzong, but these are so out of date as to be useless. The Leomann Map 1:200,000 series sheet four covers the Annapurna region and shows ridge lines instead of contours.
Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog, is a mountaineering classic (more than 10 million copies sold) that describes the first conquest of an 8000m peak. It provides a good description of the Annapurna region, including Manang, and a visit to the Rana court of Kathmandu in 1950.
Chris Bonington’s Annapurna South Face describes the beginning of a new standard of mountaineering in Nepal and provides an excellent description of the problems involved with organising an expedition. It’s good background reading for a trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary.
The Moated Mountain, by Showell Styles, is a very readable book about an expedition to Baudha Peak. Styles records poignant cultural observations as he makes the trek to the mountain. Annapurna Circuit, by Andrew Stevenson, is a description of the author’s experiences on a trek around Annapurna.
Eco-Trekking in the Southern Annapurna Himal, by Hum Bahadur Gurung & Barry Arthur, is a guide to environmentally sensitive trekking in the Annapurna region. It is sold in Kathmandu bookshops and at the Kathmandu Environmental Education Program office in Thamel. A Popular Guide to the Birds & Mammals of the Annapurna Conservation Area, by Carol Inskipp, is an excellent field guide to the natural history of the region.
The ACAP permit office at the lakeside has a limited amount of information. ACAP’s Trekkers Information & Environmental Centre has more information, but it’s in an out-of-the-way location in Hario Kharka on the way to the Fuibari hotel. In addition to providing information the centre sells iodine, solar battery chargers and other products that can help you to protect the environment while trekking. There is also a ‘trekkers’ meeting board’ and a battery drop-off centre. In Kathmandu you may find brochures at the AC AP national parks office next to the counter where you pay the conservation fee.
No matter where you trek in the Annapurna region you come under the jurisdiction ot ACAP and are subject to a Rs 2000 conservation fee. You should buy the permit in advance at either the national parks/ACAP entry-fee office in the basement of the San chayakosh building in Kathmandu or at the ACAP counter in the Amrit Guest House opposite Standard Chartered Bank Nepal on the lakeside in Pokhara. The Kathmandu office is open 9am to 4pm, except Saturday and holidays, and the Pokhara office is open 9am to 4.30pm. Both offices close an hour earlier in winter. You need one photo and an application form promising to abide by various regulations and prepare your own do-it-yourself permit. Don’t neglect this chore if you show up without a permit at an ACAP entrance station (including Jomsom airport) you will be charged certain amount as entry fee.
Pokhara (see Gateway opposite) is the main centre of the Annapurna region. You will travel to Pokhara before all treks, except the Around Annapurna trek, which begins in Besi Sahar to Pokhara’s east. From Pokhara you can radiate to trailheads at Naya Pul, Beni and Phedi.
If short on time, or in the event of emergency, there are a couple of flight options within the Annapurna region.Jomsom (2760m) is in the upper Kali Gandaki valley and served by frequent flights from Pokhara. We recommend against flying to Jomsom and trekking to Muktinath because of the chance of altitude sickness. You’ll acclimatise better if you walk up the spectacular Kali Gandaki valley to Jomsom, trek up to Muktinath, then fly back to Pokhara.
There are no scheduled flights from Kathmandu to Jomsom because the wind in Jomsom makes flying impossible after 10am or 11am. Kathmandu is often fogbound until 10am during the winter, causing flight departures to be delayed until it is too late to land in Jomsom.
All Jomsom flights operate from Pokhara in the early morning, making it necessary to spend a night in Pokhara. The morning check in at Pokhara airport is particularly hectic, with five or more airlines operating up to four flights each day. Cosmic Air operates the most flights to Jomsom, while Yeti, Gorkha, Flight Care, RNAC and Shangri La have daily services.
The Jomsom runway is sealed and flights operate year-round, though weather can disrupt service for days at a time. Flights usually operate full; if you arrive without a reservation you may have to wait a day or more. If several flights have been cancelled, Jomsom can become as crowded and chaotic as Lukla.
If you do get stuck while trying to fly out from Jomsom, it’s possible to walk along the Kali Gandaki to Beni in three long days and catch a bus or taxi to Pokhara. The Manang airport is in the village of Hongde (3420m) near the upper end of the Marsyangdi valley. There is a severe risk of altitude sickness if you fly to Manang and attempt to cross Thorung La. You should view Manang only as an emergency airport it is not a sensible starting point for an Annapurna trek.
There are a few scheduled flights each week from Hongde to Pokhara, and occasional charter flights operate direct to Kathmandu. There is no telephone in Hongde and it’s difficult to find out when flights are expected. Most seats are booked by rich Manangis en route to and from trading excursions, so there is little chance of obtaining a seat except in an emergency. The flight from Pokhara to Manang costs certain cost.
No matter where you trek in the Annapurna region, you’ll pass through Pokhara, the largest town in central Nepal. Plan to spend a few days here exploring the sights and enjoying the largest collection of restaurants and hotels in the country.
Pokhara is known for its lake, Phewa Tai, and the inexpensive hotels and restaurants along the lakeside. A spectacular panorama of the central Himalaya, the Annapumas, Machhapuchhare and Manaslu, dominates the skyline. At a lower elevation, Pokhara is warmer than Kathmandu.
Pokhara is a 30-minute flight from Kathmandu. Most domestic airlines operate a Pokhara-based network serving Jomsom and Manang with early-morning flights. All domestic airlines serve Pokhara with daily flights.
Sit on the right-hand side of the plane for a spectacular view of the Himalayan peaks, including Ganesh Himal, Himalchuli, the Annapumas and Manaslu.
The special tourist buses that operate between Kathmandu and Pokhara are more expensive – but more comfortable, faster and safer than the rattletrap public buses. This saves an early-morning taxi ride to the bus terminal, and endless delays as the driver looks for passengers along the Ring Road while the bus winds its way out of the valley.
Greenline Tours operates air-conditioned buses from Kathmandu to Pokhara and Chitwan from a terminal near the intersection of Kantipath and the road to Thamel.
There are numerous agents at the lakeside that can arrange a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu.The main Pokhara bus station, just north of the airport at the start of the Prithvi Rajmarg, the road to Kathmandu, is a muddy rumpus of noisy buses. Greenline’s Pokhara terminal is at the lakeside, in front of Fish Tail Lodge.