The Fascinating Towns of the Himalayas
Although the terrain is at times harsh and unforgiving, trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is not exactly “roughing it”. Towns are scattered throughout this area, and it only takes a few hours of walking to pass from one town to the next. The towns themselves are as varied as the terrain, but most are home to friendly, English speaking locals with rooms to stay the night.
Hotels in the Himalayas are called Teahouses. They’re small, fairly dirty (bring your own sleeping bag), and extremely inexpensive. Accommodation ranges from between 200-400 Nepalese Rupees ($2-$4 usd), with the expectation that you will also eat your meals at the teahouse’s kitchen.
Finishing the Annapurna Circuit in three weeks time requires hiking all day nearly every day; therefore most teahouse stays are necessarily very short. You’ll arrive in a town before sunset, find a teahouse you like, and pass out until the next sunrise after finishing dinner. Nights are short and sleep comes easy when you’re hiking for 8 hours each day.
Towns of the Himalayas
Most of the towns are tiny, with populations of just a few hundred people. It’s a wonder so many people speak English so well, but I suppose that has a lot to do with the tourist industry which brings needed cash into circulation. I’d like to think I kept an open mind, but in keeping with my usual travel style, I predictably preferred the less visited towns to the more commonly popular ones. The biggest towns of Chame and Manang felt particularly flat to me, while the smaller towns of Tal, Jagat, and Marpha stood out as places I’d love to revisit one day.
The following are some of my favorite pictures from the towns of the Himalayas.
Khudi is one of the first towns you’ll see as you begin the Annapurna Circuit. People who start off by taking the jeep will miss this town as they ride the unpaved road toward Bhulbhule. We stopped only to replenish our water bottles, and I snapped this picture as another rain shower moved through.
Bhulbhule is another of the initial towns along the circuit. Most tourists who take the jeep will miss it, but if you walk from the start point you’ll have a more sensical opportunity to stay there because you’ll arrive later on in the day. This turned out to be one of my favorite towns. The setting is gorgeous – the rushing river nearby soothes and aids sleep, while some of the taller peaks are visible in the distance, providing stunning sunrise views.
Jagat was another beautiful little town with friendly people and delicious food. We stayed at the southern end, while most teahouses are located on the north side.
Tal feels like the “wild west” of Nepal: dusty roads, mountainous terrain, and the first sense of moving higher as you gain altitude along the circuit.
Danaqyu is tiny; its few buildings are scattered over at least a half mile. This teahouse was in the middle of nowhere it seemed, but the views and sense of relaxation were fantastic.
Upper Pisang takes some work to get to. The route splits just prior to this town, and trekkers need to decide whether to take the high route or the low route. I strongly recommend the high route – views are spectacular, while the low route is nothing but a road without much to see. Here’s the view of Annapurna II with Upper Pisang visible in the lower left.
Muktinath is the first time I felt I could really, truly relax. You’ll get there just after crossing Thorong La Pass, the highest point along the circuit. The town itself feels vibrant and alive, and it’s surrounded by very interesting temples which are well worth visiting. In hindsight we should have stayed two nights in Muktinath to explore more. Instead we rushed on to Kagbeni.
Kagbeni also takes some effort to get to, as it’s not on the main Annapurna Circuit trail. While most guidebooks treat this town as a must see, I strongly disagree. This was the worst town we stayed in during our entire time on the circuit. The only possible draw is that the town is very much like an Indian city: busy, chaotic, and dirty. If that’s what you’re after, by all means stay here. But deep in the Himalayas, I had hoped for a more laid back and relaxed vibe. Kagbeni in no way provides this, and generally speaking the people here were the least friendly we met during our month in Nepal.
I loved Marpha, the apple capitol of Nepal. Apple pies, apple cider, apple brandy can all be found here, fresh from the local orchards. It seemed that many of the shop owners were Tibetan refugees, be sure to engage them to hear their amazing stories.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just the towns that stood out in my mind. While my eyes were typically glued to the scenery, the towns of the Annapurna Circuit also warrant spending some time to appreciate and explore.