- Hike along the famous Annapurna Circuit
- Stop at local villages, temples, and monasteries
- Enjoy views of mountain peaks at 16,400 feet (5,000 m)
- Visit Tilicho, the world's highest-altitude lake
|Day 1||Arrive in Kathmandu, Transfer to Koto||Koto|
|Day 2||Trek from Koto to Meta||Meta|
|Day 3||Trek from Meta to Phu||Phu|
|Day 4||Explore Phu||Phu|
|Day 5||Trek From Phu to Nar Phedi||Nar Phedi|
|Day 6||Trek From Nar Phedi to Nar||Nar|
|Day 7||Trek From Nar to Ngawal via the Kang La Pass||Ngawal|
|Day 8||Trek From Ngawal to Khangsar||Khangsar Village|
|Day 9||Trek From Khangsar to Tilicho Base Camp||Tilicho Base Camp|
|Day 10||Visit Tilicho Lake & Return to Khangsar||Khangsar Village|
|Day 11||Transfer to Besisahar||Besisahar|
|Day 12||Transfer to Kathmandu & Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu, Transfer to Koto
Welcome to Nepal! This small country is the gateway to the eastern Himalaya mountains, and thus is a dream for hikers. Hopefully you've been keeping in shape, because over the next 12 days you'll be embarking on long-distance treks around the natural highlights of this country.
It begins with your arrival in the capital of Kathmandu. This metropolis of around 1.5 million is a great introduction to the nation's unique identity, which is a melting pot of Indian and west Asian influences. It's also a multi-religious state, as here you'll find practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Kirat Mundum, and Christianity.
From the airport, hop in an air-conditioned 4WD vehicle for the ride out of the capital to the mountain town of Besisahar, then continue on dirt tracks north to the smaller village of Koto, which sits at an elevation of 8,592 feet (2,619 m). Despite only being located about 108 miles (175 (km) from Kathmandu, this drive will take all day. Not to worry, as it's a scenic trip that runs along the famous Annapurna Circuit, the most popular hiking route in central Nepal. Once you arrive in Koto, you'll check into your lodge and enjoy dinner amid incredible views of the snowcapped Himalaya.
Day 2: Trek From Koto to Meta
And you're off! Head out early for your first full day of trekking, which will take you from Koto up to the traditional village of Meta, which sits at 11,679 feet (3,560 m). Shortly after embarking, you'll pass a signpost and then cross a river leading to the stunning Nar Phu Valley, which is less developed than many locales on the Annapurna Circuit, meaning fewer villages and more nature. During this section, it will feel like you're truly going off the beaten path.
The route continues through some beautiful woods and a narrow river canyon. Then hike under a wide waterfall past several small shelter caves and a pilgrims' dharmasala (rest house). At this point, the woods become thinner and the vistas wider. The last stretch into Meta takes leads up a steep hill atop which you'll be treated to amazing views of the snowy peaks looming overhead. Meta itself lies on a big open plain and consists of just a few lodges and tea houses, which are simple but clean and offer a good hearty meal. This is where you'll overnight.
Hiking time: 6-7 hours
Day 3: Trek From Meta to Phu
Leaving Meta in the morning, you'll continue up through the valley to the village of Phu, which sits at 13,385 feet (4,080 m). During this full-day hike, you'll pass the colorful chortens (Tibetan Buddhist shrine) that are common in the region. The trail then meanders up a ridge with a good view of the famous Nar Phedi Monastery, which you'll get to visit a couple of days later.
After another 1.5 hours hiking through scenic canyonlands and gorges, you'll reach a crooked monolith nicknamed the “Leaning Tower of Pisa," which guards the steep trail up to Phu. Here you'll get your first views of the village as well as the ruins of an old dzong (Buddhist fortress) and two forts, which sit on the ﬂatlands before the village. Just before crossing the bridge into Phu, you'll pass a row of colorful chortens; once in the village, you'll feel as though you've stepped back in time.
Upon arrival, you'll settle in a comfortable lodge, enjoy a warm drink, and give your legs a nice rest. Later, head out for a short walk up to the famous Tashi Lhakhang Gompa. Dating back hundreds of years, this is the most famous Buddhist monastery in the region. Inside, you can pay your respects to Lama Karma Sonam Rimpoche, a tulku (spiritual teacher), who accompanied the Dalai Lama here back in 1959.
Hiking time: 6-7 hours
Day 4: Exploring Phu
Take a break from long-distance trekking to rest up and acclimate to the relatively high altitude. Spend a leisurely day in Phu, where you can take gentle walks around town, explore the little alleyways, and otherwise enjoy the slow pace of life. You can also experience local Tibetan culture firsthand by chatting with villagers as they spin yak and sheep's wool and pound mustard seeds into paste for oil. Photographers will have a ball snapping pics of the surrounding mountain scenery.
If you're feeling restless and have the energy, embark on a hike through a gorgeous glacial valley to the Himlung Himal base camp, whose peak tops out at 23,379 feet (7,125 m). Needless to say, there are great photography opportunities here too. On the trail up, for example, you'll see great herds of blue sheep skillfully clambering up the steep cliffs of the surrounding hills. Once in camp, you might meet up with an expedition party and enjoy a cup of tea with them. The entire trip to the camp (out and back) takes about four to ﬁve hours.
Walking time: Optional (4-5 hours)
Day 5: Trek From Phu to Nar Phedi
Today's trek is a little easier (around five hours), and will take you from Phu down to the Nar Phedi Monastery at 11,450 feet (3,490 m). The hike begins with a descent back toward Meta, and just before the village you'll take a right at the monastery. Make sure you have your camera handy, as during the walk, you'll cross a bridge over a river gorge that offers stunning views.
Nar Phedi is not a village, but merely the site of the single monastery—and you'll get to stay overnight here. The rooms here are neat and clean and the nuns who reside here will offer a warm welcome. Join them in the kitchen for a chat to learn all about daily life in this remote valley, then watch as they prepare a home-cooked dinner right over the ﬁreplace. At 5 pm there is usually a puja (Tibetan blessing) which you are welcome to join. Feel free to leave a contribution in the small donation box, which helps to maintain this beautiful Tibetan-Buddhist monastery.
Hiking time: 4-5 hours
Day 6: Trek From Nar Phedi to Nar
Today is a fairly easy day. It starts with a climb out of Nar Phedi along a winding path up a hill towards Nar (13,615 ft/ 4,150 m). You'll pass brightly painted, bamboo-topped chortens on your way into this ancient village. You'll arrive around lunchtime and will find it to be a charming and authentic town little-visited by hikers. Having said that, Nar is bit more lively than Phu, and you'll likely find the small village plaza teeming with chatting women as they weave wool fabrics using traditional backstrap looms. There are some teahouses on the outskirts of Nar, where you'll stay overnight and enjoy dinner.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 7: Trek From Nar to Ngawal via the Kang La Pass
Today's rigorous hike begins at sunrise. You'll follow a route toward the highest point on the trek at Kang La Pass (17,454 ft/ 5,320 m), which leads back onto the popular Annapurna Circuit. The mountain pass itself is not difficult, but it can be a little grueling when combined with the high altitude. However, when you reach the top of the pass you'll be treated to amazing views out to Annapurna II, Gangapurna, and Tilicho Peak. The trail down the pass is fairly steep at the start, but you should have a bit of fun doing some scree running.
After a break for lunch on a plateau overlooking the peak, continue on to Ngawal (11,975 ft/ 3,650 m). Located on the upper Pisang route of the Annapurna Circuit, this village is quite different from the previous ones you've visited. The lodges here are big, the dinner menus more extensive, and you can rejoice in the availability of WiFi.
Day 8: Trek From Ngawal to Khangsar
In the morning, descend into the village of Hongde. Shortly thereafter, the path levels off and you'll see the northeastern face of majestic Annapurna III rising above you. As you traverse the wide plains of the Sabje Khola Valley, you'll also glimpse Annapurna IV (24,688 ft/ 7,525 m). Just beyond this point, you'll cross the Marsyangdi River via a wooden bridge to the tiny village of Mungji, which is flanked by cultivated fields. To the right, below a craggy mountain, is the village of Bryaga with its splendid monastery. You'll have time to visit and take a walk around town.
Later, continue hiking past large chortens and walls of mani (stone inscribed with Buddhist mantras) as you enjoy views of the soaring peaks of Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Annapurna IV, Gangapurna, and, to the rear, Tilicho Peak (23,405 ft/ 7,134 m). After a short, steep climb you'll reach Manang. Home to a few thousand residents, it's a surprisingly large village for this remote mountain region.
After lunch at Manang, continue on a trail through the western gates along a path down to the Khangsar River. After crossing the bridge at the river, you'll ascend a hill to the Tibetan village of Khangsar, which sits at 12,139 feet (3,700 m) and is known as the "last village of Nepal" due to its northerly location.
Day 9: Trek From Khangsar to Tilicho Base CampAfter breakfast, leave Khangsar on a large path that leads past a gompa (monastery) up to a high ridge. There you'll reach a crossroads and continue on the newer trail up to a high crest before descending on switchbacks carved out of scree slopes. Eventually, you'll reach a side valley and, crossing the little stream at the bottom, arrive at the Tilicho Lake base camp at 13,779 feet (4,200 m). You'll overnight here in the building that comprises the camp.
Hiking time: 5 hours
Day 10: Visit Tilicho Lake & Return to KhangsarGet an early start as you have a long and incredible day of hiking ahead. It's about 3-4 hours to the Tilicho Lake, a stunning body of bright turquoise water that holds the record for being the highest lake in the world at 16,128 feet (4,919 m). The route will take you up through high alpine landscapes of bare rock and snow, making it all the more incredible when the land gives way to this glassy body of water. Once at the lake, you'll have some time to relax and snap photos before making the return hike to Khangsar.
Hiking time: 7-8 hours