Nepal is a hiker’s paradise. There are numerous walking routes leading past some of the world’s most impressive mountains. This can make it hard to know where to go if you’ve never visited the country before, so I’m going to tell you why I think the Annapurna Sanctuary should be one of the locations you consider travelling to.
What is the Annapurna Sanctuary?
The Annapurna Sanctuary is a natural amphitheatre that is ringed by mountains, with many of the peaks that tower over it standing more than 7,000 m high. It is a glacial basin and the only way in or out of the sanctuary is via a pass between the peaks of Machhapuchhare and Hiunchuli.
It is a sacred area for the local Gurung people, with both Hindus and Buddhists believing it to be home to a number of deities. It was not until 1956 that the first foreigners walked in the sanctuary.
What makes it so special?
Trekking in the Annapurna Sanctuary is a truly unique experience, as the scenery and wildlife is so varied and unusual. Due to the ring of high mountains, the sanctuary only gets seven hours of sunlight per day during the summer. There are also different climactic regions within the plateau as a result of the weather. For example, the slopes facing the south are dense with bamboo and rhododendron forests, while those looking to the north are much more barren and tend to be drier and colder.
Entering the sanctuary itself is one of the highlights of this trip, as you’ll follow the route of the Modi Khola River between two towering peaks – one of which is the distinctive fishtail mountain of Machhapuchhare – and emerge into this stunning natural amphitheatre.
You’ll then make your way towards the highest of these summits – Annapurna I at 8,091 m tall – where you’ll stop at the base camp. This is located at the foot of the lateral moraine of the Annapurna Glacier, providing excellent views of the large ice mass below.
What to expect on your trek
Most of the itineraries that visit the Annapurna Sanctuary will give you an opportunity to fully appreciate the stunning mountain scenery that Nepal is so famous for. One of the most spectacular views can be seen from the top of Poon Hill at sunrise.
This part of the walk can be challenging – especially as you’ll be doing the final stretch in the dark – but it’s more than worth it when you reach the top and watch the snow-covered peaks all around you glow a golden colour in the morning sun.
You’ll start your trek in Pokhara, from where you walk into the mountains towards Ghorepani. It is here that you’ll spend the night before ascending to the summit of Poon Hill. Following this climb, you then begin your descent towards the Modi Khola Valley, walking past dense forest and terraced farmlands as you go. To reach the entrance to the sanctuary, you need to follow the path of the valley. Usually, you’ll ascend to a ridge above it and hike along this, gradually getting higher as you get closer to the Machhapuchhare base camp and the pass that leads you into the sanctuary.
It is a relatively short day of trekking to get to the Annapurna base camp once you are on the plateau, so you’ll have lots of time to appreciate the amazing peaks that surround you. Once you leave Annapurna behind and exit the sanctuary, it is approximately three days of walking to get back to the road and return to Pokhara.
Photo: Andy Hares