Mount Annapurna, with an elevation of approximately 8091 m above sea level, ranks at the 10th position among the highest peaks in the world. Located in north-central Nepal, this mountain is part of the Annapurna Mountain Range, which is about 55 KM in length and is bordered by Pokhara Valley on the south; Kali Gangdaki Gorge on the west; and Marshyangdi River on the east and north sides. This massif along with its surrounding area comes under the UNESCO-listed Annapurna Conservation Area, which is spread over approximately 7629 sq km. This conservation area is home to many popular treks, including the Annapurna Base Camp Trek, which is also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek.
A trekking expedition to Mount Annapurna (Main), which was the first to be scaled among the 14 mountain peaks of the Himalayas with more than 8000 m elevation – popularly known as Eight-thousander – is quite a challenging affair. Similarly difficult and challenging trekking expedition is its base camp. The Annapurna Base Camp Trek begins from the lake city of Pokhara and continues through some beautiful villages, cascading waterfalls, lush rhododendron forests and terraced farmlands, offering several scenic vistas all along the way.
The first successful trekking expedition to the main Annapurna Mountain was made in 1950 by a French team, led by Maurice Herzog. In the year 1970, members of a British expedition team successfully climbed the south face of Annapurna. Eight years later, an expedition team from the United States achieved this feat and three years later, it was done by a Polish team. The first winter ascent of Annapurna was made by Polish trekkers, Artur Hajzer and Jerzy Kukuczka in 1987. The first successful solo attempt to scale this peak was made by Tomaz Humar, a Slovenian, in 2007. This feat was achieved again in 2013 by a Swiss climber, who took only about 28 hours to trek to the highest face of Annapurna and then return to the base camp.
There is not much history known about the base camp region of the Annapurna. However, what is known is that the locals, the Gurung people, held the area sacred. According to their beliefs, the area was a repository of treasures and gold that was left behind by the Nagas, who were the serpentine gods. They also believed that it was home to several Hindu and Buddhist deities, and that the peak of Machapuchare was home to Lord Shiva. Since the area was considered sacred, till recent times, it was forbidden to bring meat or eggs here. Also, women and untouchables were forbidden from entering this area.
Annapurna Sanctuary, which serves as the base camp for the main Annapurna Mountain, lies 40 km north of the city of Pokhara. It is an oval-shaped plateau at an elevation of more than 4000 m above sea level. It is completely surrounded by Annapurna range of high mountains, most of which are more than 7000 m. The only entrance to this area is a narrow pass that lies between the Machapuchare and Hiunchuli peaks. Owing to its location among high peaks, it receives only 7 hours of sunlight even during the summer months. Today, Annapurna Sanctuary is part of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. As a result of which, there is a restriction on the number of trekkers to this area as well as domestic animal grazing and gathering of wood.
The months from March to May (spring) and September to November (autumn) are the best periods to go on a trekking expedition to the Annapurna Base Camp. During these seasons, the weather remains warm and sunny, offering some exhilarating views of the Annapurna Mountain. This trekking expedition can be taken into consideration in winter months (December-February) as well, when it is less crowded. However, during this time, the temperature drops down drastically making the weather quite harsh for trekkers. During the summer and monsoon seasons, trekking expeditions are marred by rains; however, summer treks present an excellent opportunity for keen botanists.
How to reach
There are a number of trails leading up to the Annapurna Base Camp, but from Chomrong all unite. Typically, an Annapurna Base Camp Trek consists of 14 days, with the trekkers required to reach the national capital Kathmandu on the first day. On the following day, they are taken to the city of Pokhara, along the Trishuli River over the Prithvi Highway. The following morning, trekkers are transferred by road to Nayapul, where Burungdi River and Modi River join, and then transcend down from the Annapurna Base Camp. From Nayapul, the actual trek starts with one required to climb upstream for about 4 to 5 hours to reach the quaint village of Thikedunga.
The next morning, the trail leads to the village of Ulleri and then continues towards Ghorepani village, which lies at an elevation of approximately 2800 m above sea level. The following day, trekkers are scheduled to head to Poon Hill to enjoy a sunrise view of some of the popular Himalayan peaks like Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna Main. This is followed by a trek to the village of Tadapani. On the next day, the trail requires trekkers to come down into the valley basin of river Ghurjung, and from there, it is a steep climb to the Gurung-dominated village of Chomrong. This village offers some scintillating views of the Machupuchare Peak and Annapurna South. The next morning, the schedule is to climb down to the river Chomrong Khola and climb for 3 hours to reach Sinwa, from where trekkers enter a steep valley to march forward towards Annapurna Sanctuary. On entering the valley, the requirement is to trek down to Modi River and then head to Dovan. On the following morning, trekkers move towards a small village called Himalaya, and from there trek towards Deurali. The next day is the most important phase of the expedition, with the trail heading to the Machapuchare Base Camp, from where the trekkers move towards the Annapurna Base Camp. On reaching the camp, the view that trekkers get of the snow-clad peaks of the Annapurna Massif is something they are ever likely to forget.