Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit was “once the greatest trek on earth,” said Ethan Todras-Whitehill in The New York Times. The 150-mile hike through the Himalayas “marries natural grandeur, cultural immersion, and relative luxury in a union found nowhere else.” But, even in these remote regions of Central Nepal, development has begun to threaten. So before this legendary trek is ruined, I wanted to create a “snapshot in time,” to have the chance to wake up surrounded by the “heart-stopping,” 5-mile-high peaks of the Annapurnas and to fall asleep in the comfort of a village teahouse.
The Annapurna Circuit is a “tale of two river valleys”: the steep, lush, Marsyangdi and the wide, arid Kali Gandaki. By 2012, roads will have been built on both routes, bringing trucks and buses into the region. Until then, the epic 20-day journey still takes climbers along terraced rice paddies; across creaky footbridges that sway over “thunderous gorges”; down rocky paths crowded with goats, donkeys, and water buffalo; and through villages “filled with shrieking children, chatty shopkeepers, and the low hum of chanting monks.” I began my expedition in the town of Bhulbhule and walked 13 miles before “huge masses of schist, granite, and sandstone” started to rise around me. “Daubed with green moss and brown lichen and dripping with cascades of black fungus,” the mountainside looked as if it were a Jackson Pollock canvas.
After a full week of hiking, I caught my first glimpse of the Annapurnas. The peaks are numbered by height, and Annapurna I stands at 26,545 feet, making it the 10th-highest summit in the world. Though the terrain beneath my feet was still easy, I kept tripping because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the 24,786-foot Annapurna III. The icy peak dominated the horizon “as surely as a sunset does, but with millenniums-old glaciers ringing its crest like a necklace of diamonds.” Breathing hard in the thin air, I was still only a third of the way through the circuit and had “already reached euphoria.”
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