The Annapurna Circuit is one of the most impressive hiking trails through Nepal’s lofty mountains. Parallel to the hiking trail, slightly above in places, a gravel road lies in the shadow of the world’s highest peaks. The route winds around the Annapurnaberg massif in the Nepalese Himalayas. At 8,091 metres (26,545 feet), the Annapurna I is the highest mountain en route and the ninth tallest mountain in the world. At a dizzying 5,416 metres (17,769 feet) above sea level, the Thorung La Pass is an absolute highlight too.
The route takes you through a wide variety of incredibly beautiful landscapes. The first leg stretches through subtropical lowlands with rice terraces and jungles. Next, the dusty dirt road leads along deep cliffs where a river swirls hundreds of metres below, cutting the valley in half. Slightly higher up, green alpine meadows and pine forests backdrop your ride. Finally, you admire the spectacular Himalayan landscape with impressive rock formations, snow-covered peaks, and brightly coloured prayer flags. Hot springs, glaciers, birds of prey, yaks, Buddhist temples and Tibetan culture – this is the Annapurna Circuit.
Although the route itself is anything but easy, it is one of the easier mountain Tours to plan in terms of logistics. Along the route, there are many mountain villages where you'll find a comfy bed and a hot meal. Don't expect luxurious hotels; the rooms of the tea houses are very simple. The ice-cold wind sometimes blows right through your room. The higher you get, the lower the comfort level. Hot water, electricity or clean blankets are scarce from 3,000 metres (9,842 feet). The tea houses offer an amazingly extensive menu. The meal is, of course, dal bhat, a dish consisting of rice, lentils and curry. The food is nourishing and helpings are unlimited – important for a hungry cyclist!
Because the route is a round trip around the Annapurna Mountains, you can choose to ride the Annapurna Circuit clockwise or anticlockwise. I chose to ride anticlockwise as this allows you to climb the Thorung La Pass more gradually. With an altitude of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet), you might suffer from altitude sickness but climbing slowly reduces this risk. If you cycle the route the other way around, you'll get a few more stretches of 'flowy single trails' under your wheels on the descents.
The hiking trail officially starts in Besisahar and ends in Jomsom. You can reach these towns by bus, which will even carry your bike on the roof. Of course, you can also choose to cycle the entire Tour from Pokhara. You apply for the required permits for the region in Pokhara and Kathmandu. Enjoy this epic ride on the roof of the world!
Start your first day of the Annapurna Circuit Trek with a hearty breakfast. Feel free to take an extra generous portion of samosas, sel rotis, curries and other Nepalese specialties. You will need these extra calories.The first kilometers were on the main road to Kathmandu and through the outskirts of Pokhara. Traffic in Nepal is chaotic. Lanes are not marked, traffic signs and lights do not exist, just like traffic rules. And then there are those horny bus drivers.Fortunately, the route bends quickly away from the raging traffic. Via winding roads you pedal yourself up to a viewpoint over Begnas Lake. With a bit of luck you will have a beautiful panoramic view of the lakes here. I was a little less lucky, a thick layer of fog threw a spanner in the works. There is really no reason to complain, because the green and unspoiled environment is just as beautiful. And what about that silence. No more honking.Not much later, the environment changes drastically. The asphalt road suddenly ends and gave way to the most challenging gravel roads. At times the road looks like a roller coaster with steep climbs and sharp hairpin bends. The dusty surface does not make things any easier. Every now and then you pass road works where workmen are busy with big loud generators and excavators. Here and there you even have to lift the bicycle over construction pits. The road workers almost fall over in surprise when they hear where you are on your way with your packed bike: the Thorung La pass.The first ride is through the tropical foothills of the Himalayas. The typical rice terraces and plantations with banana palms provide the decor. In Sundar Bazar you will find a hotel and restaurant to recover from day 1 of the adventure of a lifetime.
An early start, the sun is still struggling to break through the thick layer of fog. The legs still feel strong, with more than 1,000 vertical meters on them, but still more than 7,000 meters to go. As soon as the sun rises a little higher, a glorious moment occurs. For the first time you will see the snowy peaks of the mighty Himalayas. At the same time, this sight also inspires fear. The peaks that still seem so high and far away, also form the mountain peaks that the route runs around and even across.During the first part of the ride you will be rewarded with a few kilometers of asphalt road. The road to Besisahar is quite busy. Besisahar is the official starting point of the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Most hikers take the bus here. Besisahar is the last major place where you can stock up on provisions for a reasonable price. Energy bars, peanut butter and dried fruit: almost everything can be found here. The prices of products along the trail increase in proportion to the height. Not surprising, as some villages can only be supplied by yaks and donkeys.The part between Besisahar and Syange consists of a mix of rough gravel, loose boulders and loose sand. From start to finish the road only goes up. At times there seems to be no end to the climbs. With an average speed of only 5.5 kilometers per hour, you sometimes literally crawl up. The views of the foothills of the Himalayas and the deep valleys with an azure swirling river make up for all the blood, sweat and tears. The advantage of going slow is that you have more time to look around you. I slept in the village of Syange, but if you want to drive a little longer or shorter that is certainly possible. Finding accommodation along the trail is very easy.
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On the third day, the mountains around get higher and higher. The climbs will be even steeper than on previous days. Directly from the departure from the tea house in Syange is a climb that is so incredibly steep that cycling is impossible. Later in the day there will be more parts where you may have to push the bike a bit.The climb to Jagat is so difficult that even the motorized Nepalese have a hard time getting to the top. Then I'd rather push a bicycle. A little further on you hardly believe your own eyes: asphalt. The Chinese have built enormous hydropower plants in various places to generate electricity. Just before and just after such a center there are short lines of asphalt. The construction of the road must have been a monster job. The winding road clings to rock faces along cliffs with depths of several hundred meters.A welcome break on the route is the hot spring near Tatopani. A perfect opportunity to give the tired muscles some attention. Also very suitable for rinsing all dust away from you. On the next part of the route you will find one imposing waterfall after another.When you arrive at the tea house in Dharapani, it is time for stretching exercises. Not only your body has a hard time, the same goes for the material. A quick check of the bikes, lubricating the chain and some minor maintenance is certainly not unwise.
On the fourth day, another spectacular change of landscape takes place. The tropical vegetation and dusty canyons are gradually giving way to mountain pastures and traditional mountain villages. The first memories of Buddhism soon become visible. Prayer wheels and brightly colored prayer flags decorate the villages on the trail. The local population is busy preparing for the upcoming winter season: chopping wood, transporting livestock to lower-lying land and preparing food.Just before Chame you pass an improvised medical checkpoint. Here you can have the oxygen level in your red blood cells tested by Nepalese soldiers. The 3,000 meter mark is already in sight. From this height you really start to notice the effect of the lower oxygen percentage. Breathing becomes a bit more difficult, but if you take the time you should be fine.The stage is relatively short, in terms of time. You really don't cover a lot of distance per day in the Nepalese high mountains. The first part of the route is the most difficult. About half way along the route is a series of serious slopes. The gradient during the last part flattens out somewhat.As it is a slightly shorter day, you will have time to explore Chame. This beautiful old town has a few shops and even a real coffee bar with fresh bean coffee from the region. From the suspension bridge on the north side of the village you have a view of Manaslu: the seventh highest mountain in the world (8,156 meters).
The fifth day of the Annapurna adventure is relatively easy, or rather; less heavy than the previous ones. This ride takes you over the flat plateau around Pisang and Manang, one of the larger villages on the route. Just before Manang, the Nepalese even managed to find a flat piece of land where a runway has been constructed.However, my day started with a delay. Sam - one of the fellow cyclists in the group - was bitten by a dog. If you do need to be bitten by a dog, Chame is probably the best choice. It was just the only village on this mountain side with a doctor's post for the necessary tetanus shot. Prepare for a trip like this, learn about vaccinations, and be prepared for the risks of the high mountains.The route starts with some considerable climbing. A grueling series of hairpin bends ensures that a warm-up of the stiff leg and back muscles is not possible. After about ten kilometers you will pass the 3,000 meter border. In some places on the route the hiking trail and dirt road run on the same pieces. You regularly come across hikers who are overwhelmed by cyclists at this height.In the vicinity of Pisang, the gradients are leveling off. Here are even some beautiful "flowy single trails". Especially if you make an extra loop to Upper Pisang - the official route remains in Lower Pisang. The last part of the trail where the incline does not exceed five percent, almost feels like flat. Hundreds of yaks graze with large cow bells around their necks on the vast meadows just before Manang. The entrance gate is not only the beginning of the village center, it also marks the end of the dirt road. From here only single trails. But first time for a rest, fresh coffee and croissants. Manang is bursting with French-style coffee shops.
Manang is a suitable place for a well-deserved rest day. It is also a good base for an acclimatization hike to 4,000 meters or higher. Rising above this point and then descending again prepares your body to proceed safely. The start of the trail runs through the narrow streets of the old part of Manang. Many Buddhist influences can be found here, such as prayer flags, stupas and monasteries. Many of the traditional stone houses are inhabited by Tibetan Buddhists.After navigating your way through the cobblestone alleys, the day begins with a series of stairs. There is no other option than to lug the bike on your back, like an accomplished sherpa. Speaking of Sherpas. By the way, do not be surprised if you see a Nepalese walking upstairs with a complete bed or refrigerator on flip flops, bearing the weight with a band on the forehead.In just under three hours you can complete the approximately ten kilometer stage. The second part of the route is easier to do and you can even cycle at a number of points. I have consciously chosen to stop in Yak Kharka already. To avoid altitude sickness, it is recommended not to climb more than 500 meters per day above 2,500 meters. This way, your body can get used to the lower oxygen content at high altitudes. Yak Kharka is at 4,022 meters!Incidentally, it is not a punishment to take it a bit easier. The surroundings are breathtaking. After a long hike-a-bike you sometimes even literally run out of breath. Trees and shrubs are slowly giving way to impressive rock formations. The panoramic view of snow-capped peaks is phenomenal. In Yak Kharka you will find some tea houses. The central areas of the accommodations feature a fireplace. Make sure you claim your place in the front row in time! It gets cold here when the sun is down. Very cold.
Day seven again promises to be a somewhat shorter day, at least in terms of distance. To climb no more than 500 meters, I could only cover 7.3 kilometers. From Thorung Phedi, tonight's place to sleep, it is also wise to make an acclimatization hike to an altitude of 5,000 meters. You can make good use of this to walk up the bikes, which will make the next day, the day over the pass, a bit more bearable.Most of the more than seven kilometers must be covered on foot. The altitude - and the lack of oxygen - has a serious impact on breathing. Although some stretches can in theory be cycled, continuously stopping and dismounting to gasp for breath simply takes too much force. So walk.At some points your bike slides in all directions over the thick ice shelves on the trail. The landslide zones along the way make some passages quite risky. Check beforehand that there are no mountain goats or yaks above you and walk briskly without stopping. Some impressive highlights on this part of the route are the huge suspension bridges that span gigantic ravines. You should not be afraid of heights, because at some bridges you can peer hundreds of meters into the depth.After arriving at the tea house in Thorung Phedi, quickly unload the bike and push the bike up at least 500 meters. Don't leave anything on the bike, and lock them together properly. Our bikes were unfortunately robbed, so you have been warned. With a little luck and good timing, you will be back at the tea house before dark. It is highly advisable to request extra blankets. At night, the mercury drops to minus 25 degrees Celsius at this altitude.
Day eight is D-Day. Today the crossing of the famous Thorung La pass is on the program. Because the weather at the top can be quite haunted with heavy gusts of wind and heavy snowfall, you will leave early in the morning. The chance is more stable again in the morning is a bit higher.The first part of the trail is by far the most difficult. The snow made walking quite difficult. Hikers who had previously passed the trail had carved a trail in the snow layer. However, the trail was as wide as a pair of hiking boots. As a result, there was no room for the bicycle and it had to be pushed through the deep snow.The dizzying gradients and great heights provide an extra challenge. The trail is so steep that you can push your bike forward just one step, squeeze the brakes, catch your breath, and repeat the same process. The advantage of the bicycle in this situation is that you can use it as a support while resting, as a kind of walker.The ritual of pushing, braking, walking, gasping for breath is repeated until the moment when the waving prayer flags appear in the distance. The moment when you reach the pass is almost impossible to describe. A cocktail of emotions rushes through your body, but a sense of pride and joy dominates. The view from the top of the Annapurna ridge through the brightly colored prayer flags is wonderful. A photo at the sign indicating the height should of course not be forgotten: 5,416 meters above sea level.The trail descends on the other side of the pass. Down hard. In approximately ten kilometers you descend no less than 1,800 meters. The trail and dirt road (!) Are so steep and covered with giant boulders that walking is inevitable. Even the best downhill mountain biker has a technical root here.Upon arrival in Muktinath, the first city on the other side of the pass, you imagine yourself in a completely different world. Here you will find (relatively) luxury hotels, souvenir shops and trendy coffee bars. And with a bit of luck even a hot shower!
The ninth stage between Muktinath and Jomsom contains pieces of asphalt. Finally no bouncing and bouncing, but diving hairpin bends at high speed. With the victory of the pass still fresh in the memory, it feels like you can actually fly. Muktinath is a fairly busy place among tourists, mostly local tourists or from neighboring India. The Vishnu temple you find here is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. The asphalt ends quickly, only the access road from the small airport to the village is asphalted.Ride number nine was an eventful day for myself and my travel companions. During the long descents over the piece of asphalt my brakes gave out. Fortunately, the problem could be solved with a temporary solution, but not much later the next problem arose: a fall. A passing bus picked up a rock with one of the wheels and hurled it against my wheel. A dive over the wheel is what followed. Fortunately, without further damage.The intention was to stop in Jomsom for the lunch break. But almost everyone in the group had one or more tasks to complete before we could move on at all. A visit to the hospital for the final tetanus shot and a desperate search for a way to fix a broken rear derailleur. Unfortunately the derailleur could not be repaired, so a Swiss traveling companion was forced to take the bus to Pokhara.However, the route is very beautiful. The mountain side on this side of the pass cannot be compared with the other side. The colors and nature are different. Jomsom is a great place to stay for a night. You will find plenty of hotels and restaurants here.
On day ten you can finally make a good number of kilometers again. The route follows the dirt road that runs parallel to the river. The first part you will find yourself between the honking buses, but after a while a suspension bridge will take you to the other side of the river, away from traffic.Here you follow the same route as the walking route for a while. You do not come across many hikers. Most of them stop in Jomsom and fly back to Pokhara or Kathmandu from there. The route takes you past picturesque mountain villages where time seems to stand still. Women are busy washing clothes in the river and children wave to you from all directions.At Kalopani you reconnect to the main road, although there is hardly a road. Loose boulders and a thick layer of dusty sand require full concentration during the long descents where your hands cramp from the constant additional braking. At higher points you can see the road below you like a string of spaghetti running through the valley.Traffic jams on this part of the route are quite common. Not thanks to enormous crowds, but thanks to mud avalanches and landslides. With excavators and bulldozers, huge rock masses are thrown into the abyss so that the road is accessible again.In Tatopani you will find hot springs. Tatopani literally means warm water in Nepalese. While we were eating a plate of chow mein (local noodle dish) in one of the restaurants, I could hardly believe my eyes. Cyclists! A group of three on their way to the Thorung La pass, but in the opposite direction.
Ride eleven from Tatopani to Nayapul felt a bit like coming back to civilization. Along the way there are again plenty of shops and restaurants selling masala tea and samosas.The environment again looks a bit like at the beginning of the route: tropical warm, dusty and even with the necessary climbing. The road surface mainly slopes down. Pieces of road that are completely buried by collapsed rock walls are no exception here. Road works are often a great time for a short break. As a cyclist you have the advantage that you can often slip past the activities.The views are very beautiful. Suspension bridges have been made in many places to connect school-going children. The suspension bridges often lead over swirling and fast-flowing rivers. With the more than 8,000 meter high giants of the Himalayas in your back, the route at Baglung makes a bend towards the east. This is the part where again some altitude meters have to be made while the long line of cars sometimes have to wait for hours.Not only the body has had a hard time with cold, wind, dust and sweat. The equipment and bicycles have also been put to the test. Creaking chains, loose bolts and almost completely worn out brake pads are physical proof of this mega performance. You can sleep in Nayapul. Here you will find some simple hotels.
The last leg of the Annapurna Circuit Trek takes you back to Pokhara, which is also the starting point. This completes the circle around the Annapurna Mountains. But before you arrive in the country's second city and get a well-deserved rest, one last climb awaits you.The route is mostly on asphalt. But because of the many potholes, potholes and cracks in the road surface, it is sometimes more reminiscent of the dirt road to the Thorung La pass. More than 700 meters have to be climbed. The views along the route are beautiful. The Phewa Lake - on which Pokhara is located - is visible from the wide area.You descend quickly to 1,000 meters via a number of sharp bends. The closer you get to Pokhara, the busier it gets. The last stretch takes you straight through the suburbs and outskirts. This is where the internal battle with bus drivers honking starts again. Fortunately, the final destination is not far anymore.In the center of Pokhara you can feast on the necessary calories. There is even a famous fast food chain where mainly chicken is eaten. A welcome change after the many servings of Dal Bhat. What an unforgettable adventure this was! Bikepacking on the roof of the world.