Annapurna Circuit Trek Stage 3

Stage 3 – Muktinath to Birethanti

Distance – 53 Miles
Total Descent – 2720 Metres
Duration –  5 Days

This part of the trek felt a little different – the biggest challenge was behind us and lots of our fellow trekkers were either stopping and resting or finishing the trek and travelling onwards by alternative means (by jeep, plane, bus or mountain bike).  We started again the next day with the onward march down the Kali Gandaki Valley.  This section also marked a distinct change in the scenery, which was extremely barren, with the type of lunar landscapes that you would expect of the Tibetan plateau.  We were also faced with the new challenge of high winds and dust/sandstorms.  As we neared the end of the trek, it presented us with one last challenge, a full day ascent of 1600m up to Ghorepani and then an almost 2000m descent the following day back down again to Birethanti, before getting our taxi back to Pokhara.

Day 11 Muktinath to Jomsom

The morning trekking was calm and easy, passing through a couple of traditional Mustang villages, before reaching the highlight of the day – Kagbeni.  Kagbeni was fascinating, unlike anywhere we had seen before, it appeared medieval and there were new and unusual ancient religious symbols and figures dotted around the village. The afternoon stood in stark contrast, as we turned the corner down the valley, the dry river bed opened out and howling winds continued all the way until Jomsom, which made for a long and gruelling trek. Jomsom was not a particularly interesting town in itself, but was a very welcome sight as the sun went down.

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Trekking down from Muktinath was easy and pleasant (if you could ignore our sore knees from yesterdays descent!) Here we were approaching Jharkot.

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An example of stone carvings on mani walls along the way.

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Fascinating rock formations in this region. We heard that many religious Sadhu men come here to live and meditate in the caves within the mountains.

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More strange and interesting rock formations that have developed over many many years in the Mustang region.

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Descending into Kagbeni – the ‘gateway to Upper Mustang’

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No trip to Kagbeni is complete without a trip to Yac Donalds. Yakburgers all round!

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A very grand looking sheep hanging out in the entrance to the monastery.

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Intriguing adornments above doorways, usually involving animal skulls, carvings and branches, seemed almost Pagan.

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Larger than life sculptures would suddenly appear through doorways within the maze like streets.

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Or would appear around corners!

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The afternoons trek was gruelling with the high winds which are synonymous with this part of the valley. The trek felt epic, almost entirely along the Kali Gandaki valley river bed.

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In the face of these wind, dust and sand storms, we had to make sure we were well covered. Even with this protection the wind was fairly painful! Jomsom in the late afternoon was a welcome sight.

Day 12 Jomson to Ghasa

Again, today we experienced a day of two very different halves.  We spent the morning walking to the beautiful village of Marpha, where they are famous for apple growing. We enjoyed sampling some of their apple produce there; crumbles and cider! The afternoon unfortunately was characterised by more dust and high winds, so we decided to cheat a little and get a bus a few miles down the road to Ghasa, where we stayed the night.  We both commented that we were feeling so fed up at this point that had the bus gone all the way to Pokhara, we may have stayed on it, although after about 10 minutes of terrifying and nail biting driving – we were glad to be trekking again the next day.

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Onwards down the valley to Marpha. The winds thankfully lighter in the mornings!

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No trekkers at all on this part of the route, but lots of local life to keep us interested.

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After a few hours we reached Marpha, in need of some rest and re-fuelling.

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As Marpha is famous for its apples, and we had already sampled some of its wonderful apple Brandy last night in Jomsom, the order of the day was apple crumble pie and cider. The cider had aged to the point of becoming vinegar – this is the only occasion I have ever known Ryan not to finish a drink!

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Typical Marpha street life

Day 13 Ghasa to Tatopani

After a good night in a friendly guest house in Ghasa, we awoke with a new resolve to complete the trek. The walk to Tatopani was gently downhill and easy going, gone were the high winds and we were back to the green and tropical landscapes that we had seem at the beginning of the trek.  We arrived in the early afternoon ready to take full advantage of the hot springs from which the town takes its name (tato = hot, pani = water).

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Up early and feeling much more happy about some more trekking now we are away from the winds of the higher valley, we crossed the particularly long and high suspension bridge from Ghasa to the trekking trail on the other side of the gorge.

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We felt a bit sad to be leaving the amazing Mustang region behind us, but excited about the final leg of the trek.

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Many lizards along this stretch. Ryan did not stop long enough to photograph the snake we saw as well!

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We were now back to the tropical climate, with lush vegetation and crashing waterfalls.

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Mountain views still all around us (in this case – Machapuchare)

hot springs

Finally we reached Tatopani and couldn’t wait to get to the hot springs to ease our trekking aches and pains. So much so that we forgot to take any pictures, so here is one courtesy of google images! Another thing that I was too hyped up to photograph was the spider in our bathroom – the biggest I have ever seen (much bigger and meatier than my hand – urgh!) This meant that I was almost as excited to leave Tatopani as I had been to get there!

Day 14 Tatopani to Ghorepani

We knew today was going to be hard, but we were starting to get excited about finishing the trek and relaxing and indulging in Pokhara.  After a pretty relentless day of climbing we finally reached Ghorepani.  We were surprised at this late stage in our trek to find many more trekkers, packing out the guesthouses in Ghorepani, including those with young families, enjoying this relatively short trek up to the Poon Hill viewpoint from Pokhara.

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To say that I was not looking forward to today was a huge understatement. We were two days from finishing the trek and I found myself with the second most steep and relentless climb we had done so far. Brilliant.

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Familiar tea houses and mountain views along the way.

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One with a particularly nice view where we stopped for some popcorn and masala tea and where a chicken proceeded to try and eat Ryan’s bag.

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This part of the trek was where the Annapurna Circuit trek and the Annapurna Basecamp trek (which Ryan had done previously) overlapped. It was onwards to Ghorepani for us.

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Finally we reached Ghorepani!

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Or at least we thought we did, but after a lot more steps and dodging mule trains, we actually made it to a guesthouse for a good nights sleep before waking early to trek up to the Poon Hill viewpoint the next day.

Day 15 Ghorepani to Birethani (and onwards to Pokhara)

We woke at around 4am again to ascend for another hour up to Poon Hill to enjoy the famous panoramic viewpoint of the mountains at sunrise.  Being that this was our last day, we saw this as a great way to say farewell to the mountain views.  After this we just had the small job of descending 2000m before getting in our taxi to Pokhara – both of us underestimated how hard this would be and we practically crawled into Birethanti in the late afternoon.  We arrived in Pokara in time to view an amazing mountain sunset from our luxurious hotel room – we had made it!!

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Having started the trek in the dark, under an amazing canopy of stars, we approached Poon Hill.

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The anticipation built as the sun rose. Those who could face the extra few steps up were rewarded with a panoramic view from the tower.

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The crowds awaiting sunrise

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Both tired and cold we admired the view (me with my headlamp mark still on my head!)

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The ever changing views as the sun came up didn’t disappoint. We were left drinking in the views and reflecting about the whole trek and the final day of descent that we had ahead of us. Tonight we would be in Pokhara!

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Machapuchare (fishtail peak)

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Annapurna 1 and Annapurna South

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Dhaulagiri

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The Dhaulagiri range with a few prayer flags (of course!)

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A 360 degree photograph from the top of the tower.

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Poon Hill done! Now back to Ghorepani for breakfast, to pick up our bags and then on to Pokhara. We will be there before we know it – surely? (wrong)

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The first part of the descent was beautiful, down through rhododendron forests, past waterfalls and stopping regularly for mule trains.

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Then came the crazy descent, down what seemed like a never ending staircase (descending about 500m into tropical climes again), suffering from a bit of heatstroke (sob) and finally ending up at Tirkedhunga (which we renamed ‘Tired and Hungry’). Exhausted, we trudged on for the final (less step – but long) part of the trek. Finally we reached Birethanti and went to the Annapurna conversation area checkpost to leave the trek and finally find a taxi!

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Finally Pokhara! Lovely weather and a panoramic view from our hotel room – hurrah!

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A final farewell from the himalaya that evening – a stunning sunset view of the mountains from our balcony.

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3 thoughts on “Annapurna Circuit Trek Stage 3

  1. Pingback: Reflections: Top 10 Special Places | WHERE ARE RYAN AND ANNA?

  2. Pingback: Reflections: Most Memorable Journeys | WHERE ARE RYAN AND ANNA?

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