Following the Modi river through from forested valleys to the frozen heart of the Annapurna Himal, the Annapurna Sanctuary trek is one of the best treks in Nepal. Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world and this is a close as you’ll get without wings or ropes.
The trek as described here will take 10 days which is a comfortable pace for people with good fitness. You will also need to spend a day in Pokhara before the trek to collect permits and last-minute shopping.
Note that the names Annapurna Base Camp and Annapurna Sanctuary are interchangeable. In this article we’ll use Annapurna Sanctuary – It just sounds more romantic 🙂
You need two permits for the trek. A TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management Service) and an ACAP permit (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit). Each costs 20 US dollars but you have to pay in rupees. You also need 4 passport photos altogether. These permits will be checked during the trek and if you don’t have them you will have to pay double.
In Pokhara you get the permits at the permit office in Damside.
In Kathmandu you can get both permits at the tourist service centre, a 15 to 20 minute walk from Thamel.
Getting to the trek
Assuming you are starting in Pokhara you can either get a taxi or a bus to Nayapul. At the time of writing (April 2017) a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul was between 1000 and 2000 NPR. depending on your haggling skills. It’s easy to find a taxi in Pokhara, in fact, they will probably find you! Regular buses run from the Baglung bus station. The bus should cost less than 200 NPR.
Route & Itinerary
Nayapul (1070m) to Tikhe Dhunga (1540m)
Leave your transport at the scruffy roadside town of Nayapul. From here you can follow the stream of trekkers on the main street to the large village of Birethani. Stop before the bridge to show your TIMS card, then cross the bridge to show your ACAP permit.
Walking through Birethani will take you to a smaller road alongside the Bhurungdi river. There might be the occasional jeep but this should be a pleasant walk next to the river. The road climbs gradually, then steeply, up to the villages of Hille, and then Tikhe Dungha, where there is a good selection of lodges.
You could carry on up (and up and up) to Ulleri but this isn’t necessary. If you want to be at Poon Hill for sunrise you will be spending the next night in Ghorepani no matter how far you get on the first day.
Tikhe Dhunga to Ghorepani (2860m)
Today starts with steps, lots of steps. The endless stone stair case from Tike Dhunga to Ulleri is supposed to have 3000 of them. It doesn’t, but it does go on for a long time and it’s better to tackle them on a cool morning than a hot afternoon. Once you get there Ulleri is a pleasant spot for a drink or a snack. Soon after Ulleri is a viewpoint across to Machhupuchhre. The trail isn’t as steep now but continue to climb. Nangathanti is a good place to get lunch. From there it takes about an hour to get to Ghorepani, and another ten minutes to get to Upper Ghorepani where there is a wide choice of lodges. There’s a TIMS card checkpoint at Upper Ghorepani. There are also a few shops and it’s a good place to stock up on supplies.
Poon Hill (3193m)
The big reason for coming to Ghorepani is to climb Poon Hill for great views of the Annapurna Massif and Dhaulagiri (the seventh highest mountain in the world). Most people get up early to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Ask your lodge owner what time you need to wake up and order breakfast for when you get back. You can leave your bags at the lodge to make the climb easier. The climb itself takes about an hour, and at 3210 meters you will feel the altitude. There is a small charge to climb the hill so bring some money. The views at sunrise are spectacular and are justifiably popular; the top of the hill gets very busy.
If you don’t fancy waking up early, or just want a rest, there are similar views early on the way to Tadapani.
Ghorepani to Tadapani (2630m)
In Ghorepani there are signs pointing the way east to Tadapani but be careful not to get confused with the signs for Tatopani on the Annapurna Circuit trek. The trail starts with a hard climb through forests to a grassy hill with great views of the high mountains. After this the trail follows the ridge then descends through the woods to emerge at Deorali where there are a couple of lodges. From here descend steeply alongside a river to Banthanti. There will be regular lodges if you want to break but eventually the trail will descend sharply to a bridge, the climb just as sharply up to Tadapani where there is a choice of accommodation.
Tadapani to Chommrong (2170m)
From Tadapani follow the signs to Chommrong. The trail passes through forests and then pastures as it descends into a narrow valley passing through a couple of lodges. The descent finishes at a suspension bridge over the Khumnu river and then climbs quickly up the other side. After this hard ascent the trail levels out and passes the Shangrila Tea Garden guest house, an ideal place to get tea or coffee. From here steady climbing along a beautiful hill-side trail will bring you around the hill and into Chommrong. There’s plenty of accommodation here but we highly recommend Chommrong Cottage – it has some of the best food on the trek and has even appeared in Time Magazine. Try the chocolate cake!
The Chommrong Shopping Centre, at the bottom of the village, is your last chance to pick up cheap supplies before heading into the heart of the sanctuary. It’s better to visit the next morning to avoid having to climb back up a lot of steps to your accommodation.
Chommrong to Dovan (2600m)
From Chommrong you can see the trail dropping down to the river and then climbing back up to Sinuwa. Head down the stone staircase to the permit checkpoint, then down past a couple of shops to a big suspension bridge. Climb back up to the village of Sinuwa, then along a paved trail with neat steps to Bamboo. From Bamboo it takes about an hour to reach Dovan where there are three lodges. If you are lucky it’s possible to see black-faced langur monkeys on this section of trail.
Dovan to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3700m)
From Dovan the rocky trail climbs up to three lodges at Himalyan Hotel, past Hinku Cave, then to more lodges at Deorali. The mountains are close now and the views are incredible. Past Deorali the trail splits. The left trail heads through a dangerous avalanche zone and is best avoided. The right trail crosses and then follows the river through sparse woodland. Eventually the trails merge and start to climb steeply crossing several avalanche shoots. Right before the trail reaches the main MBC a stone staircase heads right to a lodge with great views back into the valley. The main trail reaches the three lodges at MBC proper.
In this itinerary we spend a night at MBC, then start early in the morning to reach Annapurna Base Camp at first light. Ask your lodge owner what time you need to start in the morning. Again you can leave your bags here and pick them up again on the way back down.
Annapurna Base Camp (4130m)
The walk from MBC to ABC can take up to two hours. If there is fresh snow the trail can be hard to find. At first it follows the stream on the left and then makes a short steep climb. You can see the lodges at ABC for much of the walk but it takes a surprisingly long time to get there.
Once you arrive stop for photos at the sign, which is covered in prayer flags, then climb the lateral moraine behind the lodges for amazing views and more photo opportunities. There are chortens for mountaineers who have died on the massif, notably Anatoli Boukreev who was involved in the 1996 Everest disaster.
When you are ready head back down to MBC for a well deserved breakfast.
Machhapuchhare Base Camp to Himalayan Hotel (2920m)
Head back into the valley – it’s all downhill for the rest of today :). Look out for the bridge over the river which will take you around the avalanche zone. Himalayan Hotel is a good start, but you might get as far as Dovan or Bamboo.
Himalayan Hotel to Chommrong (2170m)
Retrace your steps through the valley and back to ‘civilisation’ at Chommrong. Although today is generally downhill there are a couple of serious climbs. First up is a long stone staircase straight after Bamboo. Then once you reach Sinuwa you can look up and across the valley to Chommrong. This is your goal for the day but to get there you have to drop down to the river then climb back up to the town. Stop at the permit office halfway up the climb.
Chommrong to Landruk (1565m)
From the top of Chommrong head to Jinudanda. After a flat start make a steep descent passing people huffing and puffing uphill at the start of their trek. There are hot springs at Jinudanda which is just what you need after 9 days of trekking. To get to them follow a side trail down to the river, there is a small charge to access the trail but it’s well worth making the effort. If you do visit the hot springs then it makes sense to stop at Jinudanda for lunch – there’s a good choice of lodges here.
Follow the river to New Bridge, and cross the river and head to Landruk – a large Gurung village with a good choice of accomodation.
If you don’t fancy the climb up to Landruk there are a couple of comfortable lodges at Beehives. Stay on the west of the river at New Bridge if you want to do this.
This is the last night in a tea house and your last chance to try some of the distinctive items on the menu; if you haven’t had a snickers roll yet now is the time.
Landruk to Nayapul (1070m)
Today is your last day on the trail and it’s relatively easy. From Landruk drop back to the river at Beehives then follow a trail above the river to Siwai. As you reach Siwai the trail turns into a road and you can actually get a taxi or bus all the way from here back to Pokhara. If you want to finish the trek on foot follow the road down the Modi Khola valley all the way to Birethanti. At Birethanti get your permits checked for the last time and grab lunch if you feel like it. After that all that’s left is the short walk up to the road at Nayapul.
When you reach the road you can get a taxi or bus back to Pokhara. The taxi drivers will try to charge around 2000 rupees but you should be able to haggle them down towards 1000. You might also be able to find other trekkers here to share the cost.