How to avoid walking along the road on Annapurna Circuit trek

The road on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

I remember the first time that I hiked the Annapurna Circuit trek around the Annapurna massif in Nepal was way back in March 2005. Even at this time there was significant road construction and we had to walk along the road for several sections of the trekking route. Since then the road has been extended from the traditional starting point of Annapurna Circuit at the town of Besisahar all the way to Manang village. On the other side of the Thorung La the road goes all the way up from Beni to Muktinath village. 

Having said this in most places the road does not have a hard top so it is more like a jeep track as only rugged vehicles such as jeeps and buses can handle this drive. As a result in practice there is not much traffic driving on these roads however it can be dusty and rather unpleasant for trekkers when a vehicle passes by. Also the road is frequently blocked due to landslides or rock falls especially during the monsoon season of June to September.

Nepal trekking has changed significantly over the years however as long as you know to expect you will still have the incredible views of the Himalayas when trekking around the Annapurnas. For more information on this mountain range in the Himalayas please read
Annapurna massif on Wikipedia.
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Recent and future road building in Nepal

Following changes to the constitution of Nepal there is now a decentralised federal government. The Districts have more autonomy to make decisions and there has been an extensive road building program to connect all of the 75 District Headquarters onto the road network. 

The construction of roads in a mountainous country like Nepal brings economic and societal benefits. Having better access helps the local population get to hospital when sick and to send their children to better schools further away from the village. It also means that people can travel more easily for jobs and also bring in food and supplies at a lower cost. The bottom line is that trekking in Nepal has to find a way to co-exist with an expanding road network as there will be many more roads constructed in the future.

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Development of Natural Annapurna Trekking Trails (NATT) on Annapurna Circuit

Since I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in 2005 for a number of years most trekkers avoided this trek as they did not want to walk along a jeep track. However this started to change from 2010 with the development of alternative trekking trails away from the road called Natural Annapurna Trekking Trails (NATT). It is encouraging to see a situation like this that can keep both the locals and trekkers happy!

NATT were mapped from existing trails that have been used by many generations of Nepalese villagers. The NATTs have been waymarked by painting colours on rocks in order to make it easier to follow the trails. All of this has been done by Nepalese trekking guide, Prem Rai, and keen trekker, Andrees de Ruiter. They went on to publish a guidebook called Trekking the Annapurna Circuit by Himalayan Map House. Since then there has been a renaissance of Annapurna Circuit and Half Annapurna Circuit as trekkers have come back to explore this classic circuit trek. 

The Mountain Company has been involved in promoting the NATT around the Annapurna Circuit. In Autumn 2015, after the Nepal earthquake, we organised a reconnaissance trek for outdoor journalist, Terry Adby, where he completed the Annapurna Circuit using NATTs. Terry wrote a number of articles about his experience on Annapurna Circuit trek including "The Return of the Annapurnas" in online magazine Outdoor Enthusiast starting on Page 46 and BMC The New Way: Trekking Nepal’s Annapurnas.
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Other roads affecting trekking trails in Annapurna region

Like in most regions of Nepal there has also been an extensive road building program in the Annapurnas. There is now a road from Nayapul up to Ghandruk village however there is an alternative hiking trail that avoids the road for most of the way. I walked this way in December 2018 when inspecting the Ker & Downey lodges that we use for our Annapurna Luxury Lodge trek. We had a thoroughly enjoyable day trekking and the road did not impact our experience as we followed a trail connecting villages located high above the road.

The key factor in enjoying a trek in regions with roads is to have experienced trekking guides that know the area well and who clearly understand the fact that groups prefer to walk on the traditional village trails (whereas the local villagers will walk along the road as this is the fastest way of getting from A to B). 

At The Mountain Company we spent a lot of time reviewing our trek itineraries after each season and making changes when required due to construction of a new road. For some itineraries we drive along the new road and start the trek further up the valley. For example in the past the roadhead for Annapurna Circuit was at the town of Besishar however now we drive a further three hours up the valley to the village of Jagat. For other itineraries we spend time researching with maps and speak to our Nepalese guides to find out the best alternative trails to follow in order to avoid walking along the road.

Positive feedback received from our Annapurna trekking groups

I think that it is still well worth doing Annapurna Circuit trek or Half Annapurna Circuit trek as it is possible to avoid the road in most places due to NATT. Both of these hikes are good options if you are looking for a lodge based trek in Nepal and they compare favourably with Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp with Poon Hill (also known as Annapurna Sanctuary). The feedback from our Annapurna groups has been very positive and you can read our AITO Traveller Reviews for Half Annapurna Circuit. I have copied the review below:

"My wife and I booked a 3 week holiday including a 2 week trek with The Mountain Company. We flew into Kathmandu and had a fantastic time in the mountains throughout. Our experiences in Nepal were amazing and the country is truly beautiful, along with the wonderful people."

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Increased interest for Nepal trekking on Half Annapurna Circuit

Over the last 5 years our bookings for our Nepal treks in the Annapurna region have increased significantly and these days one of the most popular treks has been Half Annapurna Circuit. This shortened version is popular as finishes at Jomsom after having crossed the Thorung La for the flight via Pokhara back to Kathmandu. Our Half Annapurna Circuit itinerary is 17 days from arrival/ departure in Nepal and is a good option as you cross a high mountain pass with spectacular views in under three weeks including travel time from home.

Our recommendations

I believe that trekking in Nepal will always be an incredible experience in spite of the ever increasing road network spreading deep into the hills. Operators like us need to be on the ball and constantly review itineraries to make improvements and to brief the trekking guides on the best trails. A number of years ago I had a discussion about the road versus trekking issue in a teahouse lodge with a Swiss trekking group. One of the party reminded us that road construction in Switzerland did not destroy their mountain tourism in fact it did the opposite! By having a road network allowed better access into the mountains for walking and mountaineering plus for many other activities too such as ski-ing, paragliding, rafting and camping etc. In fact this has already happened in Annapurna region where mountain biking and religious pilgrimmages are on the rise. 

For more information about our Half Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Circuit treks and what to expect when hiking these trails please get in touch with us.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter
The Mountain Company