Annapurna Circuit Trek without a Guide or Travel Agency

Few months back, I received my best friend’s wedding invitation and guess whaaaat? The venue was our beautiful neighboring Himalayan nation Nepal. Can’t say whether I was more excited about the wedding or getting a chance to explore Nepal. Among loads of things stacked up in my bucket list, there was Annapurna Trek that I added around 2 years back. I told myself ‘NOW or NEVER’ (sounds quite melodramatic ehh?). I am not a experienced hiker so I started the research whether doing Annapurna Circuit Trek without guide or travel agency is feasible or not? After few hours of googling and reading several blog posts I was convinced that I could do it all by myself. If you are one of those people who are on a tight budget just like me then I got you covered. So let’s get started.

If you are reading this article chances are you already have a high level overview of Annapurna Circuit Trek but still I will quickly share few important details.

Annapurna trek 1
Let’s click a picture because floor looks so amazing

What is Annapurna Circuit Trek (ACT)?

Annapurna Circuit trek as the name entails offers the outstanding view of Annapurna Ranges (I-IV) along with few other peaks such as Manaslu, Pisang, Gangapurna and many non famous peaks. However, the best part of the trek is it’s a circuit which means everyday is different in terms of altitude and landscapes. One comes across climatic and cultural variety throughout the trail. Trek offers a taste of local life from lower foothill Hindu villages to high altitude Tibetan region of Lower Mustang valley.

Ice Lake Trek
Jump High on Gopro’s burst mode

How is it different from Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)?

Initially, I had chosen to go to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) because it is relatively easy. However, I changed my mind later because you hike up/down the same trail which makes it slightly monotonous. But with the circuit everyday is different (Yesss!). Another difference is ABC requires fewer days as compared to ACT. Also, the good thing with ACT is lot of side trail treks that gives an option to customize itinerary as per the time in hand. You can easily be on the Circuit for 25 days and yet have not covered it all. And you know what the best part is? The highest altitude that you cross on ACT is 5416m. On the contrary, ABC is only 4200m. I really wanted to challenge myself this time and with lot of self doubts and truckloads of nervousness I chose to do ACT.

Nepali kids
Cuteness Overload

How many days are required to do the trek?

Annapurna circuit trek has highly customizable itinerary just like those drag and drop features in website. You can really design it as per your taste. There’s nothing like too less or too many days when it comes to ACT. You can do it anywhere between 9-25 days (yes! Highly customizable). I wanted to avoid the dusty road because that’s not fun right? So I started from Jagat instead of Besisahar and ended the trek in Muktinath just after passing the Thorong La. I also did one day side trail to Ice lake which helped with the acclimatizing to the altitude.

Ice Lake Trek
So Much Red and blue calls for a Selfie

What is best time to do the trek?

Trek can be done in most part of the year (yayy ) except the monsoon season that is June – September. Due to the rain, the area is highly prone to landslides. Hence trekking in rainy season during this time isn’t recommended.

Sunset in Lower Pisang Nepal
Couldn’t get enough of the sunset in Lower Pisang

How to find trek partners?

Lot of us end up getting a guide just because we are nervous about doing it solo. Travelling solo is okay but I won’t recommend trekking solo if you aren’t experienced hiker. Having zero experience of trekking, I never wanted to do it completely solo so I started to look for trek mates. After a looooot of research, I found awesome trek mates through various online forums. Trust me, if you are doing it solo this is the best piece of information.

Trek Partners ACT
My Trek Mates – Pankaj and Dounia
  • You can find trek mates through a Facebook group named “Annapurna circuit trek”. If you are planning for the trek I strongly recommend joining this group. It’s full of latest update and information about the trek and would help you plan well ahead. Not just that, if you are short on budget you can even buy used trekking gears.
  • I found another trek mate through website www.trekkingpartners.com. This is specifically for Nepal; however beware of travel agencies as they also post to get customers.
  • You can also try thorn tree (forum by lonely planet). They have specific forums on the platform for finding travel companions.
Thorong La Pass
On the way to Thorong La Pass

How to obtain Permits?

I remember being so paranoid about getting the permits on time. I had just one day to spare for the permits, buying required trekking gears and essentials. However, my worries were put to rest when the entire process to get the permits wrapped up under 15 minutes. It was way too smooooth. Anyway, you need two permits:

  1. Trekkers Information Management system (TIMS) – TIMS is a basic permit required for anyone who is to trek in Nepal. TIMS is to ensure safety of trekkers so that they know who is where at all times. Cost: 600 NPR for SAARC Nationals , 2000 NPR for other nationalities
  2. Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) – This permit is specific to trek in Annapurna Region. Cost: 1000 NPR for SAARC Nationals , 2000 NPR for other nationalities
Yak in Nepal
Ain’t I gorgeous hooman? Yaks grazing on our way.
Requirements: You need 2 photographs each for the permit and your passport. Keep some information handy such as rough outline of the itinerary, details of your travel insurance, etc. You need to fill all these in the TIMS form.

You can get the permits from National tourism Office of Nepal in Kathmandu (15-20 minutes walk from Thamel market) or in Pokhara (15 mins walk from centre of lakeside) from 9am – 4pm daily.

SIM Card and Data Pack

There are two service providers – NCell and Nepal Telecom. And I did, not one but two mistakes here.

  1. I got NCell sim (I got it for free at the wedding). NCell rarely worked throughout the trail where as Nepal Telecom worked almost everywhere. So don’t be like me, get a Nepal Telecom SIM instead of NCell. Price for both SIM cards are similar.
    Cost: New NCell Sim – 199 NPR and has 100 NPR talktime.
  2. I got internet pack that I never got a chance to use. Cost: 1100 NPR for 10 GB
Tip: Don’t get any data pack if it’s only for the trek. Even if there’s a network during the trail, internet rarely works. Also, you get wifi almost everywhere you stay.

Chame Village Nepal
Flipping through pages of some dream in Chame Village

Trekking Gear and other essentials

After the permit comes the packing. Since it was my first multiday trek I was really nervous about not missing any essential item. There was also a struggle of keeping my backpack light because at the end the weight is going to come up on my weak shoulders (At this point I cursed myself for not working out enough). This was something I researched most about and has come up with a list that you could follow and modify according to yourself.

  • Backpack (haha quite an obvious one) – Mine was of 50l capacity and I found it to be more than enough.
  • Hiking Shoes – Even though some people do the trail in their running shoes but they are experienced hikers. If you are like me who find it hard to even walk properly (I exaggerated a bit there lol) then I highly recommend getting decent hiking shoes. Get one with proper ankle support and protection for toes.
  • Walking Sticks: They are super important for steep descents and takes lot of pressure off your body. During the last day I walked like a cripple with my walking sticks (Hey you! Don’t visualize)
  • Hiking Pants: I packed one pair of hiking pants and one Hiking shorts (Both my husband’s, saving money bit too much).
  • T-Shirts: I packed three of them.
  • Fleece Jacket: This helps when the weather is moderately cold however I could have easily done without one. My multi-purpose windcheater bought from men’s section in decathlon had an inner thermal lining that served the same purpose.
  • Inner Thermal Wear: Must for the day when you climb to Thorong La (5416 m).
  • Down Jacket: One good quality down jacket is a must for higher altitudes.
  • Sleeping Bag: I never felt the need to use any sleeping bag. However, if you are hygiene freak then you can carry one. Also, if you are trekking during the winter season then this would come handy.
  • One small pack (20l) preferably that folds in a pouch – This would come handy for side trails.
  • Sunglasses
  • Cap
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Head Lamp (This is required for the day you hike to Thorong La)
  • Scarf – To save your neck and face from freezing winds above 4000 m
  • Crampons: I bought them but didn’t need them. There wasn’t much snow when I trekked (month of April), however people who did few days before me needed the crampons.
  • Sunscreen
  • Purification Tablets : Trust me one pack of 50 purification tablets for 150 NPR is going to save you so much money and save the environment as well. You can refill your water bottles everywhere for free and use one tablet at a time to make it fit for drinking.
  • Energy Bars and dry fruits
  • Diamox (Tablets to fasten the altitude acclimatization)
  • First Aid items
Tip: If you think there is something that you absolutely won’t need, please don’t keep that in your backpack. You are going to thank yourself for this later. Trust me, at that altitude every gram feels like kgs.
Ice lake trek
Beautiful Ice Lake in the half frozen state

Figuring out the Itinerary

As mentioned earlier, the itinerary for Annapurna Circuit Trek can be customized as per your taste. It can range anywhere from 9 days where you just do the circuit by skipping few villages at the start and end or 25 days where you do lot of amazing side trails. To give you an idea I will share the itinerary that I followed along with few side trails and exciting alternatives that you can add to yours.

You should definitely take help from “Trekking the Annapurna Circuit including New NATT Trails which avoid the road by Andrees de Ruiter and Prem Rai” to come up with yours; it’s a very detailed resource about the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Infact, while on the circuit one of the best things you could do before going to sleep is to read about next day’s trail. This will give you an idea of what to expect the next day and also how you can make the most out of it. Book details about lot of trails that you can take to avoid the dusty road till Manang.

Okay! So here goes the day-wise itinerary that I followed:

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Besishahar (820m) via bus then Beishahar to Jagat (1300m) via shared jeep (Taking a jeep from Besishahar to Jagat reduces trek time by 2 days)

Day 2 – Jagat to Tal (1600 m)

Day 3 – Tal to Danaqyu (2300 m)

Day 4 – Danaqyu to Chame (2670 m)

Day 5 – Chame to Lower Pisang (3250 m)

Day 6 – Lower Pisang to Bhraka (3400 m)

Day 7 – Side trail to Ice lake (4600 m) and back to Bhraka

Day 8 – Bhraka to Yak Kharka (4000 m )

Day 9 – Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi Base Camp (4400 m )

Day 10 – Base Camp to Thorong La Pass (5416 m) to Muktinath (3800 m)

Few side trails or alternatives that you can add to your trek are as follows:

Bhraka in Nepal
Beautiful Village of Bhraka. Can you spot my Friend Dounia?
  • There is a beautiful side trek to Tilicho lake (4900 m) from Manang. This would add three more days to your itinerary. However, do check the weather condition beforehand. We didn’t do this trail because we hiked to ice lake a day before. One plus of doing Tilicho lake or ice lake is that you don’t have to take a rest day in Manang to acclimatize.
  • You can add Manang in your itinerary between Bhraka and Yak Kharka. It is one of the biggest villages on the trail. In case you forget to bring any essential, you can get it here at slightly higher price. You can also find laundry services and decent cafes here. This helps if you have gotten bored of same food menu almost everywhere.
  • If you want to make trek even more exciting then instead of directly going to Bhraka, you can go through Ghyaru (3700 m). This trail is quite challenging but the views make up for the effort.
  • If you are convinced that you are properly acclimatized to the altitude then you can push for the Thorong Phedi high camp (4800 m) on the second last day. This eases up your next day’s hike to Thorong La by 4 hours. But, make sure that you have booked your stay in the high camp in advance as there is only single place to stay. In our case it was fully booked so we stayed back in base camp instead.
Ice lake trek
On the way to Ice lake trek
Note: We didn’t take any rest day because we already hiked to Ice Lake (4600 m) that helped us acclimatize. However, one should make sure they are very well acclimatized before ascending to Thorong La.

What should be the budget?

Overall, it cost me 25k NPR (15k INR or $215) to do the trek. This excludes trekking equipments and to/fro transport from India.

Food/Stay and other necessities – 15000 NPR
Porter for my partial luggage – 6000 NPR
Local Transport – 3600 NPR
Bhraka Nepal
Views like this make the tiring hike so worth it

Okay so let’s discuss one of the most important sections of the article – Budget. It would be easier if I divide it into basic sections as follows:

Food

The food menu stays the same throughout the trail except few Tibetan dishes that gets added once you approach high altitude Tibetan villages. But, that’s not the case with the prices. Prices increase with increasing altitude. Refillable dal bhat (Lentil soup, rice and vegetables) are priced at 300 NPR in Besishahar and 800 NPR in Thorang Phedi base camp.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner per day can cost you anywhere between 1200 NPR (<3000 m altitude) to 2000 NPR (>3000 m altitude).

Dal Bhat in Annapurna
Dal Bhat, 24 hr Power
Stay

If you eat where you stay then at most places the room is free. I paid for the stay only at Thorong Phedi Base camp and Muktinath.

Note: Hot shower, Wifi and phone charging are chargeable at most places above 4000 m. At base camp I paid 200 NPR each for Wifi and phone charging.

I spent approximately 16000 NPR (~150 $)   in 10 days for food, stay and other necessities. However, I treated myself with extra cakes, lot of teas etc at the end of trek since I was way below my budget and also gotten little tired.

Bhraka in Nepal
Beautiful homestay in munji Bhraka with Annapurna 3 in the backdrop
Transport

Kathmandu to Besishahar micro bus – 600 NPR

Besishahar to Jagat shared Jeep – 1500 NPR

Muktinath to Pokhara bus – 1500 NPR

Porter Services

If you don’t have much experience of hiking then I would recommend hiring a porter. My french trek mate Dounia hired a porter at 1500 NPR/day. I shared the porter with her for my small 4-5 Kgs pack and paid the porter 600 NPR/day. However it’s a good practice to tip the porter at the end.

Sunset in Bhraka
Last rays of sun seeped in from the clouds and made everything look so magical

Also Read : How I Backpacked Solo For Three Months Across NorthEast India


So now I have covered everything I can possibly think of that one should know for doing the trek all by themselves. However, if you still have any queries then do share in comments and I would be more than happy to answer. Ohh wait, do you hear that voice inside your head saying “Damn! What an informative article” If yes, then share the article with others and I wouldn’t mind few words of praise either.

Ahh! now nostalgia has taken over me and I am going to look through all the pictures and awesome videos from Annapurna Circuit Trek once again. And you! What are you waiting for? Go book your tickets now. Happy trekking you guys!

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