It was an ordinary Thursday evening back in October when we booked our flights to Nepal. The three of us - my two sisters, Annapurna and Amira, and I - huddled on the sofa at Anna's house, poring over flight options, arguing about dates and then finally clicking that 'Confirm Flight' button resulting in giddy laughter and excitement. It felt like an awful long way away back then. I rarely book trips more than a month in advance, and this one was four months away. But, of course, that time flew by and now we're two weeks away from our trip to Nepal and reaching those final stages of manic preparation, fear, planning, and utter excitement.
I've never been to Nepal before, but I grew up listening to stories of the mountains, the landscapes and the sense of peace you can find there. My sister's name is Annapurna; indeed she was named after the mountain after my parents trekked to Basecamp as part of their round-the-world cycling trip before we were all born. They both fell in love with Nepal, my mum even claiming that one day she'd love to live in Pokhara; to live the slow life and find peace and calm at the foot of Nepal's Himalayas. This time, it is my turn to fall in love with the Himalayas - of course, I am being presumptuous here... What if I hate it? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that just seeing those mountains will stir up an overwhelming amount of emotion. To top it all off, I'm also going to be turning 25 in the mountains which is honestly a dream come true, I couldn't think of a better way to spend my birthday.
So on that note, before I start rambling away about how excited I am to see the mountains and get all gushy about spending time with my two wonderful sisters, instead let's get into the logistics. What are we doing? How are we preparing? Everything you might want to know before heading to Nepal. Of course, this is all based on what I know now, before the trip. I'll know a lot more by the end of it and will continue the Annapurna Series on what learned and what I would do differently. But for now, this is what I know for sure.
The Annapurna Circuit
There are a number of treks you can do in Nepal - Annapurna Basecamp and Everest Basecamp probably being the two most popular. On this trip, we decided to do the Annapurna Circuit which is found in the Annapurna Region of Nepal for a few main reasons.
Why Annapurna? The Annapurna Region is easily accessible, there are plenty of tea-houses and lodges in the hills, and the scenery offers views of both lowland villages and high mountain peaks. In short, it is a good place to start if you have never trekked in Nepal or elsewhere before. Also, on a more personal level, Annapurna is close to my family's heart as my sister is named after the mountain and my parents visited back in 1991 before we were all born.
Why the Annapurna Circuit? The next decision we had to make was which trek to do. There are three major treks in the region: Jomson, the Annapurna Sanctuary (also known as the Basecamp trek), and the Annapurna Circuit. There are also a number of shorter treks that can be started from Pokhara. You can find out about the three main treks mentioned above online or in a Lonely Planet guidebook; I'm just going to tell you why we chose the Annapurna Circuit. One of the main reasons is simply because my sister, Anna, has already done the Basecamp trek and wanted to do something different. Next, because the Annapurna Circuit trek is supposed to be slightly less busy and the views are the most varied of all the treks in the Annapurna Sanctuary. The trek is, arguably, a step up from Basecamp, being longer and passing over a higher altitude. We all agreed that we wanted that challenge, and so settled on the Annapurna Circuit. It is also worth mentioning that we are doing the trek without a guide or porter, due to the fact that we wish to do it more independently - however guides and porters are available to hire in Pokhara and are a good option if you are nervous about the trek.
Distance: approx. 120 miles/200km
Duration: 11-16 days
Max Elevation: Thorong La Pass, 5416m
Season: October to November, March to April
Start & Finish: Besi Sahar to Naya Pul or Beni
Summary: The Annapurna Circuit is a 130 mile trek that passes through five regions - Lamjung, Manang, Mustang and Myagdi - and reaches its highest point at Thorong La Pass, 5,416 metres (17,769 ft).
Before You Go
There are a few things you need to think about before heading to Nepal; getting the right gear, booking transport, booking initial accommodation and what jabs you need. You may also want to consider things like training for the trek, practising with a weighted backpack, using any new gear and speaking to someone who has done the trek is always helpful. Here's a list of what you need to prepare in a rough chronological order.
Research: Before getting overexcited and booking your flight, it's worth doing some research and finding out if this is the right trip for you; what time of year can you go? Can you get enough time off work? Can you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the challenge? The best time of year to do the trek is March to April or October to November. We're going for one month, which should give us time in Kathmandu and Pokhara beforehand, two weeks on the trek, then some time to explore neighbouring regions afterwards.
Book Your Flight to Kathmandu: We found reasonably-priced flights to Kathmandu through Sky Scanner four months in advance. Return flights should be around £500-£600 depending on airline and time of year.
Get YourJabs: Visit your GP 6-8 weeks in advance to check what jabs you will need for your trip. You will have to pay for your jabs as these don't come under NHS funding. Find out what jabs you need here.
Pack Your Backpack: Around 1-2 months before you go, you're going to want to start getting your gear together. If you're wearing a new pair of walking boots, you'll need to break them in as much as you can and any other new gear should also be tried and tested before the trip. It's worth packing your bag and walking a little to check it is comfortable. If you are spending time in Kathmandu, Pokhara or anywhere else before/after the trip, it is possible to leave gear you don't want to hike with in your hotel in Pokhara. For example, any more casual clothes and footwear, laptop, books, etc. A detailed packing list will be coming to the blog soon.
Do Some Training: You don't need to train specifically for the trek, if you're a fit and active person anyway. Of course, training will make hiking easier and I'd recommend doing some hikes in the months prior and also practise carrying a backpack so you get used to having weight on your back. The good thing about this hike is that, due to having to acclimatise, you start by doing short distances before building up to the longest day on Thorong La pass, by which point you will hopefully be used to trekking all day with a backpack. I haven't done any specific training for the Annapurna Circuit, but I hike fairly regularly and am active every week doing yoga, climbing and cycling. I'm prepared for the fact that I will find the trek hard, despite all of that, but that the rewards will be exceptional. Note: my thoughts on this may well change after doing the trek... Don't take my word for it and if you wish to train in the months before, do!
Book Your Hotel in Kathmandu: It isn't necessary but may be helpful to have accommodation booked in Kathmandu before you arrive. We arrive into Kathmandu at around 7am and plan on spending one day and one night in the city before heading to Pokhara.
Organise Your Transport to Pokhara: From Kathmandu, there are a few options for getting to Pokhara. You can fly for around $100 which takes two hours, or there are two bus options which are much cheaper but take 6-7 hours. If you get travel sick, you might want to fly - the views are also supposed to be exceptional! But if you're travelling on a budget (like us), the bus is your best option. The more expensive bus is Greenline and costs around $25, with a lunch-stop on the way. You can book the bus online in advance here. The cheaper bus costs $7, is less comfortable and doesn't include a lunch stop.
Book Your Hotel in Pokhara: When you get to Pokhara, you'll need a few days to get your last bits of gear, acclimatise, eat a lot of food, get your permits and organise transportation to the start of the trek. It's worth booking somewhere in advance, so there's one less thing to worry about when you're there! From what I've heard, there are loads of accommodation options, great food spots and places to buy and rent gear all over Pokhara. I'll know more about it when I return, so will update this post then!
I'm sat at my desk writing this just about two weeks before we fly. Does it sounds like I'm composed? I'm really not. The list of things I still need to buy and things to do seems endlessly long. We are yet to book buses, accommodation, I still need to buy walking trousers and poles, get my backpack fitted, put together a first aid kit and find a head-torch - amongst many other things. I realised that I forgot a very important thing on my to-do list which I'm now having to sort out. What doesn't help is that I'm busy every single day until I go, so I don't even have one day to pack and compose myself. I guess that this is what they call "the fear". I'm scared of the cold, of avalanches, and altitude sickness. I'm worried we don't have enough time to do the trek before my younger sister, Amira, flies home a week before we do. I'm thinking about teahouses being full and having to hike further to find shelter. I'm worried about trekking over Thorong La pass and praying the weather will be kind to us. So many things are on my mind that part of my excitement has been clouded over today. The thing is, I'm a worrier, while both my sisters are much more relaxed. I think you need a worrier in the group - to keep things real, to keep everyone grounded, to remind you that there are risks - but sometimes I just wish it wasn't me...
Having said all that, I know that it will all come together; I know that I'll get all my gear eventually, I'll pack my bag, and I'll squeal with utter excitement as I'm boarding the plane, and probably cry when I see the mountains. I know that I'm fit enough to do the trek, and brave enough to deal with any obstacles that come our way. I have complete and utter faith in both my sisters who are coming with me and I believe, wholeheartedly, that as long as nothing goes wrong, we're going to have the most amazing time together. I can't wait to see the views, to swing my backpack over my shoulders again and be surrounded by mountains. I'm excited for chai everyday and mountains every morning. I have a strong feeling that I'm going to fall in love with Nepal, despite all the worries, obstacles and struggles that we'll probably encounter over the month that we're there. After all, what's an adventure without a small freak-out beforehand?! Adventures and travel isn't supposed to be easy. It's a challenge, but the rewards are indescribable.
More updates on the Annapurna Series soon, including a full packing past within the next week.
Let me know if you have any thoughts, questions or words of encouragement in the comments below!