Annapurna and Mustang
Without a doubt, this central Nepal region is the most popular destination in the entire Himalaya, and for good reason! Boasting the most diverse bio-diversity, cultures and history, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Annapurna, Naar & Phu
For over 40 years the Annapurna Region has been one of Nepal’s premier trekking destinations and the famous Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary trails still attract many trekkers from around the world. New roads are encouraging the development of new trekking routes that provide fresh perspectives on what is an amazingly beautiful region. The road network is also helping the region re-invent itself through spiritual tourism and mountain-biking trips as well as more Hindu pilgrims to Muktinath than ever before.
Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara, is the ideal starting place for exploring the Annapurna region. For many, the early morning viewpoint of Sarangkot provides the first rush of a Himalayan panorama and whets the appetite for more. The Annapurna Himal, to the north of Pokhara, has over 20 major peaks, including Annapurna I (8091m) and the stunning Machhapuchhare, also known as Fish Tail Peak (6997m). To the north of the massive bulk of the Annapurnas is a valley system that leads to Tibet through the villages of Naar and Phu as well as the Mustang region. The airport and road hub of Jomsom is also a major trail junction for routes to the Mustang, Dhaulagiri and Dolpo regions, so you can design treks of almost any length and difficulty, unlike anywhere else in the Himalaya.
The opening of new areas and increase in the range of facilities throughout the Annapurnas means there is a wide range of trekking-style options. From the comfort and convenience of the teahouses on the main Annapurna Circuit trail (often combined with Naar and Phu), to camping treks with limited teahouse support, or remote wilderness experiences, there are some truly amazing treks on offer for every type of trekker. For those wanting to indulge in authentic cultures there are Tibetan villages in Naar and Phu, and the famous Manangba, Thakali and Gurung communities of the Circuit trail. Or, for some serious mountain close-ups, consider visiting Tilicho Tal (Tilicho Lake), or Dhaulagiri and Hidden Valley. For those with limited time, the Annapurna Sanctuary offers a wonderful mountain ‘fix’, and for the novice trekker, the famous sunrise panorama sites of Khopra Ridge (Khopra Danda) and Poon Hill are still a must-see.
Access to the Annapurna Circuit and Mustang Regions has been significantly improved by the construction of two roads, one to Manang from Besisahar (a 6-7hrs drive) and the other to Muktinath and Lo Manthang from Beni (Beni to Jomsom is a 7-8hrs drive, then Jomsom to Lo Manthang is another 8hrs).
The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) is the largest protected biodiversity area in Nepal. Local community groups are pushing hard for improved services and support from Kathmandu, and have invested heavily in tourism facilities. The more tourists are attracted to the area, the more value local communities will feel their natural environment has to offer, and therefore, the more likely they will help to preserve their region. So use local facilities and services where you can and try to encourage sustainable practices at all times.
As of August 2019, you will require the ACAP entry fee of NRs 3000 per person (foreigners), NRs 1000 (SAARC nationals) and NRs 100 (Nepali nationals). Plus trekkers to the Manang District Areas of Naar, Phu, and northern area of Tilche Village and Thochhe will need the following permits:
- From September to November US$90 per week per person.
- From December to August US$75 per week per person.
The most photographed mountain view in Nepal is from Sarankot
‘Mustang is one of the few places in the Himalayan region that has been able to retain its traditional Tibetan culture unmolested… authentic Tibetan culture now survives only in exile and a few places like Mustang, which have had long historical and cultural ties with Tibet.’ The 14th Dalai Lama
Closed to foreigners until 1992, the ‘Forbidden’ Kingdom of Mustang is where today collides with medieval Asia; where a vibrant culture, dating back over a thousand years is coming to terms with the twenty-first century. Fortunately, the communities and their traditions are resilient, as are their mud- walled towns and monasteries covered in original frescos, for now. A recently built road from Tibet runs through the heart of Mustang to Jomsom and on to Pokhara; it offers unprecedented change to this unique and ageless place. Jeeps and motorcycles have replaced decorated horses, and art experts are assessing the potential dangers of traffic vibrations to fragile artworks. Mustang may not last forever, see it while you can.
Lying to the northwest of the Annapurnas and extending onto the Tibetan Plateau, Upper Mustang is a large mountain-fringed basin home to the headwaters of the Kali Gandaki. The main trail (now mostly road) runs north-south from Lo Manthang to Jomsom with some interesting side trips en route. There are loop-trails through the north of Mustang and some excellent trekking via Luri, Tangye and Tetang that can connect to Muktinath or Kagbeni. There are also a couple of high altitude routes that are well worth considering, including the western trails via Teri La and Damodhar Himal (Saribung La), and to the east, from Ghemi to Upper Dolpo that is open October to November. Access to Mustang is via Jomsom airport, or the road up from Beni (7-8hrs drive). The main permit-entry check point is in Kagbeni. The new road follows the old ‘main trail’ route from Jomsom all the way to Lo Manthang and up to the border with Tibet. So you might find yourself jeep-hopping for some of the more dusty sections, or taking the side trip-trails to avoid the road.
A note of caution about the Upper Dolpo to Ghemi route: the locals in Ghemi restrict access to this trail as they believe that the mountain spirits will be offended and prevent rain from falling on their fields if anyone disturbs the pass from December to September. They have been known to violently defend this belief.
Mustang is part of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), which is the largest protected biodiversity area in Nepal. Referred to as a Trans-Himalayan Ecosystem (the lower, lush valleys of the mid-hills are linked with the arid Tibetan plateau), this is a culturally and environmentally sensitive and fragile region, which demands the utmost respect and care. In October 2008, King Jigme Palbar Bista’s (b. 1930) reign over Mustang ended by Nepali Government order, which effectively terminated the monarchic tradition established in AD1350.
As at August 2019, the trekking permit fees for the Mustang District (beyond Kagbeni) for the first 10 days per person US$500 and US$50 per person per day thereafter. Plus you require the ACAP entry fee of NRs 3000 per person (foreigners), NRs 1000 (SAARC nationals) and NRs 100 (Nepali nationals).
Tsarang is the old capital of Mustang
Good to Know
Annapurna is a general trekking area, whereas Mustang requires an expensive restricted area permit
Nepali, some people speak some English
Nepal Rupee (1US$ = NRs110)
Annapurna I (8,091m), Annapurna II (7,937m), Annapurna III (7,555m), Annapurna IV (7,525m), Annapurna South (7,219m), Gangapurna (7,455m)
GHT Treks in Kanchenjunga and Makalu
There are some excellent main trail treks as well as some amazing exploratory routes to discover!