““The mountains had bestowed on us their beauties, and we adored them with a child’s simplicity and revered them with a monk’s veneration of the divine. Annapurna,” ”
— Maurice Herzog, Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak
The Annapurna Circuit is a trek within the Annapurna mountain range of central Nepal. The total length of the route varies between 160–230 km (100-145 mi), depending on where motor transportation is used and where the trek is ended. The trek rises to an altitude of 5,416m on the Thorung La pass, touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna massif, crossing Thorung La (5416m/17769 ft), the highest pass on this trek. Practically all trekkers hike the route anticlockwise, as this way the daily altitude gain is slower, and crossing the high Thorong La pass is easier and safer. The mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna [7455m/24459 ft] and Tilicho Peak (7134m/23406 ft). Numerous peaks of 6000-8000m in elevation rise from the Annapurna range. The trek begins at Besisahar or Bhulbhule in the Marshyangdi river valley and concludes in the Kali Gandaki Gorge. Besisahar can be reached after a seven-hour drive from Kathmandu. The trail passes along paddy fields and into subtropical forests, several waterfalls and gigantic cliffs, and various villages. Annapurna Circuit has often been voted as the best long distance trek in the world, as it combined, in its old full form, a wide variety of climate zones from tropics at 600 m asl to the arctic at 5416 m asl at the Thorong La pass and cultural variety from Hindu villages at the low foothills to the Tibetan culture of Manang Valley and lower Mustang. Continuing construction of a road has shortened the trail and changed the villages. With construction of the road, mountain biking is becoming popular, with Mustang in particular is becoming one of the world's most popular mountain biking destination.
The Annapurna area was opened to foreign trekkers in 1977 after the disputes between CIA backed Khampa guerrillas operating from the area into Tibet, and the local populace and Nepal army were settled. The original trek started from the market town of Dhumre situated at the Kathmandu - Pokhara highway and ended in Pokhara, and took about 23 days to complete
Road construction started in early 1980s both from Dhumre to the north and from Pokhara to the west and then up the Kali Gandaki valley. The road has now reached Chamje on the Marsyangdi river valley and Muktinath on the Kali Gandaki side. Of the trek's original 23 days, only 5 walking days of the trek are now without a motor road. In places new trails and routes have been marked so that the road can be partly avoided.
The existence of the road has nevertheless changed the area, appearance, and atmosphere of the villages. The road facilitates transport, increasing the popularity of mountain biking in the area. Since 2011, companies in Muktinath and Jomsom rent out mountain bikes to tourists. As the road sees very little traffic, and one can ride downhill (dirt road and/or single track) from Muktinath to Tatopani and descend almost 3000 meters in 2–3 days.
New areas near Annapurna have been opened for trekkers in the past years, such as Upper Mustang, Naar-Pho Valley, Manaslu and Tsum Valley. Currently, trekking these areas is restricted and subject to extra permits, costs, and other limitations.
While much of the Himalayas cannot be trekked in the wet season, much of the Annapurna circuit actually sits within a rain shadow. This means that it is possible to trek most parts of the circuit all year-round, including the monsoon period. Trekking in the wet season is often encouraged as hikers avoid the crowds that plague the summer months. However, the days are often damp and many of the views are obscured by cloud..