The major reason Oli and I travelled to Nepal was to hike the famous Annapurna Circuit. A 200+ km journey through the Annapurna region of the Nepali Himalayas and one of the worlds most beautiful hikes. As I mentioned last week, the lure of these mountains went above and beyond expectations. Why? Well one of the best things about this incredible trek is the towns you visit along the way.
People love the AC because it is both remote and well trodden all at the same time. There is no denying the raw beauty of the mountains and the long distances you must travel to see them, yet you will never walk more than 3 hours without seeing some kind of settlement. There are secluded parts of Nepal but this isn’t one of them. Not only that, but almost every town you visit will go beyond expectations. They may serve the most delicious apple pie you’ve ever eaten or they may have a fully functioning hot shower; there are surprises and comforts around every corner. Many may wish for the great unknown but I have to say, for our first big hike, the towns on the AC brought us so much happiness with their little home comforts.
I remember reading a similar post while in Korea and we would not be doing the AC justice if we didn’t talk about our favourite places where we rested our weary heads.
So, in honour of this, we bring you the best towns on the Annapurna Circuit. In no particular order of course.
For one, Muktinath is a place for celebration. You’ve just passed the circuit’s highest point at 5416m! Thorung La is tough, a gruelling high altitude, 1000m climb and a 10km, 1000m descent in one day. If that isn’t something to celebrate with over priced beer, I don’t know what is. It’s also a place for celebration for the hundreds of Hindus who make the pilgrimage there by to visit the Muktinath temple. This incredible complex is a bizarre mix of religions, people and an eternally burning flame to top it off. When I remember our visit their I think of water and fire and colour and life… An absolute must visit.
When we finally spotted Muktinath towards the afternoon we were shocked. It looked huge, an ugly eyesore in the landscape after the tiny, pretty towns we were used to. But its size means the standard of the hotels and food is some of the best on the circuit and we luxuriated in hot showers and Gnocci from the Bob Marley hotel (seriously) after such a long day. And up close, it’s a lot more charming. We spend two whole days there.
The apple capital of this famous ‘apple pie trek’, Marpha is a stunning little town that really does have the best of the best. We were stuck here for a day when the bad weather hit, unknowing of the horrible events unfurling back up the trail.
In Dhalaugiri Lodge we ate fresh apple crumble and drank hot cider all day, playing endless games of Ultimate Werewolf (look it up and thank me later) with new hound friends. It was one of those randomly perfect travel days. When the sun shone the next day and we wondered through the white washed, cobbled stone streets, we felt like staying another week.
Home to the famous Yakdonald’s hotel and restaurant, we were intrigued by this Mustang border town before we even arrived. The burger meal lived up to expectations and the quaint town, with it’s ancient dusty alleys, exceeded them. Make sure you also hit up the Applebys café if you are missing good coffee as the pricey coffees are worth the price and it also has gorgeous views into the fringes of the closed off Mustang region.
This town is one of the most beautiful to wander around and is full of old buildings, a historical monastery and adorable baby cows.
Upper Pisang was our first taste of the old-world, stone towns dotted around the circuit. Many of the settlements have been created simply because of the trek and for trekkers, single streets of lodges and supply shops selling much needed chocolate. However, other towns have evolved to accommodate us, having been around for hundreds of years and having a lure all of their own. Upper Pisang is one of them.
It sits above Lower Pisang, clinging to the steep curve of a hill and consisting of narrow, shaded alleys, intricately carved and decaying wooden windows and prayer flags fluttering in the wind and thrust into the blue sky.
We stayed in the Himalayan Hotel right below the pretty monastery and watched our first snow-peak sunrises snuggled in our sleeping bags.
Chame and Tatopani
Not quite as old and charming as Upper Pisang and Marpha with its phone shops and banks (neither of which are useful for foreigners I should add), but pretty all the same. Chame is a draw for one big reason; the hotspring. It is pretty small and often crowded but if you stay in one of the lodges close by, across the river, an early morning dip, staring out over the ice blue Kaligandeki river is a welcome break from the hike.
Tatopani’s hotsprings on the otherhand are large enough for a decent sized party and the beer and free popcorn only add to the atmosphere! A much needed respite from the downhill slog getting to the town.
Ngawal is often bypassed due to its close proximity to the gorgeous towns of Upper Pisang and Ghyaru, but it was one of our favourite stops. The town itself is incredibly pretty and the views, of both mountains and rolling hills complete with yaks, are wonderful. We even managed to get a warm shower at the Himalayan Hotel!
There are also a few day walks from Nwagal, although we did not take them ourselves.
Every town on the Annapurna Circuit had something special, even if this was only a 4inch mattress over a 2inch mattress, so this list is not conclusive. However, I do hope that after reading this you may be able to choose which places to spend more than just a night. In fact, taking the trip slowly, spending a couple of days resting here and there, is one of the best pieces of advice we could give. You both experience more of the local culture and acclimatise for the route ahead.
You can also help yourself acclimatise by taking side trips at altitude and this is what we will be talking about later this week!
How much do the towns you visit affect your overall experience? Do these places sound as wonderful as they felt to us? And, most importantly, do you want to visit the Annapurna region yet??