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Classic Trek: The Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit gets underway near Pokhara, located in western Nepal, and has a completely different feel than trekking in the Khumbu Valley, the country's other major backpacking hub. For one thing, it tends to not be as crowded, and it can provide a more authentic cultural experience.
Those planning to make the trek should expect to devote between 18 and 20 days to the journey. Over the course of that time, you'll cover approximately 185 miles, and go as high as 17,770 feet in the Thorung La pass. The Circuit wanders completely around the Annapurna Massif, which is made up of a series of massive Himalayan peaks, of which, the central summit known as Annapurna I reaches 26,545 feet in height. It is the 10th highest mountain in the world, and considered one of the most challenging to scale. Trekkers will also journey in the shadow of Dhaulagiri, the 7th tallest mountain on Earth, which falls just to the west.
One of the unique elements to trekking in Nepal is that it allows travelers to stay in comfortable tea houses at the end of each day. These traditional inns are found in villages, located every few hours along the trail, and offer up warm, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive places to stay throughout the length of the trek. It also means that food and drink are plentiful, which allows for the backpacker to carry less gear and go at their own pace. The easy access to these Himalayan hostels means that you can spend all morning on the trail, and if you feel like taking it easy, stop early in the afternoon for a rest, or push on to the next village, not too far down the line.
As if the luxury of the tea houses wasn't enough, the trail also has a number of Buddhist temples and other impressive displays of the traditional architecture of the region en route. Couple these attractions with the stunning beauty of the mountains, and travelers get a unique experience unlike nearly any other trek in the world.
The character of the Annapurna Circuit is changing however, and some fear that it will soon lose its charm. As I mentioned, a new road has been built in the area, and now increased traffic has turned a once remote, and tranquil hike into a dusty, noisy experience for trekkers. Many who have hiked the Circuit say that if you really want to experience it in its truest form, this is the year to go, as once the road is completed sometime in 2010, it'll never be the same again.
The lasting impact of that road has yet to be seen, and for now the Annapurna Circuit remains one of the great clssic treks. It is easy to find a guide service to show you the route, either before you go to Nepal or after you arrive, but one of the other great elements of the Annapurna Circuit is that it can easily be done without a guide, making it one of the most accessible of the world's classic treks.