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Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal

10 Days. Maximum altitude 4,130m.

'The Sanctuary' - the name must surely first have been used by an exploring poet! It describes the untouched beauty of the natural mountain amphitheatre cradled among the giant peaks of the Annapurna range. This Sanctuary trek offers one of the premium trekking experiences available and the simple joy of walking in a world still untouched by modern ways into the beauty and splendour of the high Himalayas.

The trek starts in Pokhara and gradually ascends the Annapurna foothills. The trail then leads us past the colourful Gurung villages of Landruk and Chomrrong, crossing terraced fields and rising to dense forest of pine and rhododendron. More altitude is then gained by following the narrowing gorge of the Modi Khola, before emerging through the 'gates' of The Sanctuary.

Day 1: Drive Pokhara-Nayapul and trek to Ulleri.

Overnight altitude 1,960m. Trek for 5 hrs.

Early morning (08h00) rendezvous at our Pokhara Base Camp. After breakfast, drive to Nayapul. Meet the trailhead and proceed down the hill from the road and follow a river to Birethanti (1,025m). We will walk gently uphill for a couple of hours to Hille (1,475m). The many streams, waterfalls, tropical vegetation, and green fields give this area a lush feeling. We pass a suspension bridge in Tikedhunga and walk uphill for about 40 mins to our overnight stop at Ulleri (1,960m).

Day 2: To Ghorepani.

Overnight altitude 2,750m. Trek for 5 hrs.

Initially our hike is uneven; following a path that finds its way up and down hills, then a staircase leads upwards, passing many homes and tea-houses as it climbs. Part way up, we get our first view of Annapurna South. Higher up, we enter a wooded area filled with trees often in bloom and large bamboo plants. Beyond Banthanti (2,300m) the vegetation thickens and trees are hung with moss. Then, onwards and up a narrow valley with more stairs to climb until we emerge from the jungle at Nangathanti (2,520m). From here on, another hour's climb takes us to Ghorepani.

Day 3: To Tadapani.

Overnight altitude 2,590m. Trek for 6 hrs.

Rising early, a pre-dawn hike (45 mins) has us on Poon Hill in time for sunrise over Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna Range. Returning to our tea-house for breakfast, we then rejoin the trail that wends its way north along the ridge line with magnificent views of the Annapurnas stretching out from east to west. Following a forested ridge for a while, with views to both sides, we then descend steeply down a muddy slope to a small settlement before entering a heavily forested gorge. Eventually, the gorge widens and the trail enters an open area. Descend again before our final upward climb, through dense forest, to Tadapani.

Day 4: To Chomrong.

Overnight altitude 2,170m. Trek for 6 hrs.

The trail continues down a steep hill, again through the jungle, to Chomrong. Emerging out and into terraced fields on the side of a deep valley we continue, keeping to the contours of the terraces. Climbing steeply up the opposite side of the valley, we soon enter the larger Modi Khola valley which leads up to the Annapurna Sanctuary. A short distance further on up the Modi Khola valley, we arrive at Chhomrong.

Day 5: To Himalayan.

Overnight altitude 2,920m. Trek for 7 hrs.

The next day the trail descends to cross the Chommro Khola, then climbs around into the Modi Khola valley and up on to the main ridge high above the river. Stands of rhododendron, oak and hemlock line the gorge, and the area is a delight for bird lovers. After another two hours of walking, mostly up steep hills, we reach the village of Sinuwa (2,340m), the last town before Bamboo. We follow the valley climbing steadily uphill to Doban (2,505m). Approximately two hours later we reach our overnight destination, Himalayan.

Day 6: To Machhapuchare Base Camp.

Overnight altitude 3,700m. Trek for 4 hrs.

A shorter day's climb, slowly gaining altitude; the trail starts to become icier. We pass through a 'sacred' forest and encounter a big mossy cascade and a small temple. Soon, climbing onto an open area above the forest, we reach Deurali (3,170m) and, further above, Hinko (3,100m), and finally reach the narrow entrance-way into the Annapurna Sanctuary. Machhapuchare is clearly visible just above across the valley. Avalanches are a frequent phenomena on this section so extreme caution is needed.

Day 7: To Annapurna Base Camp.

Overnight altitude 4,130m. Trek for 3 hrs.

The climb to the Annapurna Base Camp is best done early in the morning before clouds blow in and obscure the view and, more importantly, the risk of avalanches are at their lowest level. The Base Camp lies at the foot of the Annapurna Glacier's lateral moraine, and from the top of the moraine we can see the grey, rock-strewn bulk of this glacier far below. The rumble of rock and ice slides coming off Annapurna South frequently breaks the silence of the Sanctuary.

Day 8: To Bamboo.

Overnight altitude 2,335m. Trek for 7 hrs.

Heading back downhill along the trail to Doban, we retrace our route as far as Bamboo.

Day 9: To Ghandruk.

Overnight altitude 1,940m. Trek for 7 hrs.

Two long ascents followed by two long descents bring us to Chomrrong, from where the trail climbs to a spur ridge overlooking Jhinu Danda (1,780m). From here we have one last close-up glimpse of Machhapuchare, Hiunchuli, and Annapurna South. Entering Kimrong Khola valley the trail evens out for a while and the walking is easy. We arrive at the junction with the route from Ghorepani and just beyond the village of Kimrong (1,780m), the trail suddenly drops in short, steep switchbacks, then through open rock-strewn fields to the 'Gurung' village of Ghandruk (1,940m), a village which has grown large and prosperous thanks to the pensions of retired Gurkha soldiers.

Day 10: To Nayapul and then to Pokhara.

From Ghandruk, the trail descends gradually at first on a wide flagstone-paved trail. Keeping to the contour of the ridge we descend slowly, passing through Kimche (1,670m). The landscape suddenly becomes more lush and eventually the trail becomes steeper as we descend towards the valley floor. The trail finally reaches the river from where the way is once again quite level, but the going is rather difficult because of the river rock. After another 30 minutes or so, we reach Birethanti (1,109m), from where it's just a 30-45 minute walk down the river to Nayapul. Glancing back, Machhapuchare is still there, looming larger than life. We rejoin our road transport for the return to our Pokhara Base Camp and a final celebratory dinner. End of Expedition.

All trek timings are approximate and will vary according to the group and the season.