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    A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.

The Annapurna Circuit – The Best Trek In The World?

When the finest trekking holidays in the world are discussed, there are plenty of strong contenders. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the legendary Tour du Mont Blanc, and the trek to Everest Base Camp are amongst the most famous walks in the world, but veteran walkers often point to another, perhaps lesser known trek as their personal highlight – the Annapurna Circuit. This epic circumnavigation of the Annapurna Massif visits an astonishing range of highlights: high mountain passes festooned with prayer flags, dramatic deep gorges, remote Buddhist temples and picturesque Nepalese farming villages scattered along the route. It is often said to be the best trek in Nepal – perhaps even the best in the world.

The central highlight of the Annapurna Circuit is the Annapurna Massif itself. This stunning mountain range is composed of seven major peaks, and towering above them all is Annapurna I (8,091m), the tenth highest mountain in the world. One of the great pleasures of the Annapurna Circuit trek is viewing the range from every different angle; each day’s walking brings another new perspective on this stunning mountain range.

Other highlights include the fertile valley of Marshyangdi, the stunning Thorong La Pass (which, at 5,415m, is the high point of the trek and offers the finest views of the Annapurna mountains), the historic pilgrimage temple at Muktinath and the beautiful Nepalese village of Marpha. The diversity of the landscape is truly incredible, and the trek offers the chance to see almost every kind of terrain in Nepal.

Trekking the Annapurna Circuit
It is a long, tough trek – involving over 200 miles hard walking over mountainous terrain, it typically takes even seasoned walkers almost three weeks hard trekking to complete the Annapurna Circuit. But part of the appeal of the Circuit is its relative accessibility, as there is an outstanding infrastructure along the route. Nepalese tea houses are simple but comfortable and characterful places to stay and, due to the large number of lodges along the way, camping is unnecessary. Good food is on offer at the lodges, minimising the amount that needs to be carried.



However, many people will choose to hire a porter or go with a tour group to minimise the kit they have to carry; it is easier to enjoy the views when you aren’t weighed down with a heavy pack!

Trekking is best avoided during the summer monsoon season, where the heavy rain can make conditions difficult and unpleasant, and during the winter, when it can get extremely cold in the higher parts of the Circuit. March, April, October and November are the best months to go. You need to be in good shape and a keen walker, preferably with experience of trekking at high altitude, but no technical mountaineering skills are required to trek the Annapurna Circuit. Due to the long, gradual nature of the hike, altitude is rarely a problem, with plenty of time given to acclimatise along the way. Weather conditions can vary greatly and having good cold weather clothing and waterproofs is essential. Of course, as with any trekking holiday, a good quality and (more importantly) well broken pair of hiking boots is the most valuable thing to have with you!

Whether you travel independently or with a specialist tour operator, the Annapurna Circuit is one trek you aren’t likely to forget. Is it the best walk in the world? That will always be a matter of opinion, but one thing is for certain – there are few other trekking holidays in the world that can match the Annapurna Circuit for its diversity, excitement, and unspoilt Himalayan landscapes.

The Myth of Shangri-La

Nepal and Tibet are now hugely popular destinations for trekking holidays (with the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp trek reckoned as two of the best treks in the world) but it wasn’t always so.
The Himalaya, for a long time, remained the last blank on the map, an uncharted and unexplored land. Nepal, Tibet and the other Himalayan nations were closed to outsiders for centuries (most until well into the twentieth century), their lands and people a mystery. Myths clung to the mountains, and none more so than the myth of Shangri-La.

Shangri-La in the West
In 1933, James Hilton published Lost Horizon, perhaps inspired by a combination of Buddhist myth and the Everest trekking expeditions of the time. Set in the aftermath of a plane crash in the Himalaya, the British and American survivors find themselves at the hidden Buddhist monastery of Shangri-La, a utopian “heaven on earth” where the inhabitants enjoy a prolonged life of near immortality.
Just like any other myth, the popularity of the myth Shangri-La was inevitably affected by the state of the world at any time. With a world economy wracked by the great depression, and the great powers sliding towards fascism, communism, and eventual world war, the idea of an escape in the mountains held an understandable appeal.
In a strange twist of fate, the myth found an unusually receptive audience with the Nazis. Fascinated by the occult and the concept of the master race, the regime was understandably drawn to the idea of a perfect place where eternal life was possible. In 1938 they tried to find it – a Nazi expedition went trekking around Everest and the Himalaya in search of the mythical place.
Shangri-La in the East
Lost Horizon was the book that sparked western imagination, but the idea of a paradise hidden in the Himalaya originated centuries before James Hilton set his typewriter in motion, or any westerner went trekking to Everest and the Himalaya. Known as Shambala, the Buddhist myths of the Himalaya speak of a hidden kingdom of the enlightened, governed according to the highest precepts of Buddhism.
Like every Buddhist myth, Shambala has both an “outer” interpretation (that it refers to an actual hidden kingdom) and an “inner” one (that it refers to a state of being or a place of spiritual contentment.)
The Final Word?
Today, Tibet and Nepal have both been thoroughly explored. The world’s highest mountain has been conquered a thousand times over, and Everest Base Camp treks are massively popular amongst more adventurous travellers. The idea of an actual kingdom of Shangri-La hidden away in the mountains may only be entertained by the most wild conspiracy theorists, but the myth lingers on. With almost no part of the earth left unexplored, except for the deepest parts of the ocean, there will always be a part of us that craves the mystery that Shangri-La offers.
The Dali Lama, when asked about Buddhism’s most popular myth, had this to say:
“Nowadays, no one knows where Shambala is. Although it is said to exist, people cannot see it, or communicate with it in an ordinary way. Some people say it is located in another world, others that it is an ideal land, a place of the imagination. Some say it was a real place, which cannot now be found. Some believe there are openings into that world which may be accessed from this one. Whatever the truth of that, the search for Shambala traditionally begins as an outer journey that becomes a journey of inner exploration and discovery.”

Introducing The Animals Of The Annapurna Circuit

Most people haven’t heard of pikas, but these small critters are commonly spotted on the Annapurna Circuit. A pika is similar in appearance to a chinchilla, albeit slightly smaller. They are native to the colder climates of Asia, Eastern Europe and North America and are sometimes called rock rabbits or coneys. Pikas are most active during the winter season as they don’t hibernate; instead they rely on collected hay for warm bedding and food.
Blue Sheep
Yes, you really can spot blue sheep on an Annapurna circuit trek, although slate grey would probably be a more apt description. These sheep are also known by their Nepalese name, bharal, and can often be spotted clambering over rocky crevices on the Annapurna Circuit. Both male and female bharal have horns, although the males curve sideways in the manner of a Victorian moustache, whilst the females grow upwards and straight. They are hard to spot as they tend to camouflage well against the slate grey of the mountain drop and tend to freeze once they feel they are in danger of being approached.
Snow Leopard
The stunning snow leopard is one of the most elusive creatures in Nepal with only between 300 and 500 left. The northern region of the Annapurnas is their main hunting ground, where pika and bharal are plentiful. The snow leopard hunts during dawn and dusk and spotting one of these beautiful creatures is an incredibly rare privilege whilst on an Annapurna circuit trek. Snow leopards are able to kill up to three times their size and when they’ve made their kill they will stay with their prey for several days protecting it from scavengers and eating it very slowly.
Red Panda
The red panda is native to Nepal and can often be spotted whilst walking the Annapurna circuit, as they make their homes on the slopes of the southern Himalayans. The red panda is very heat sensitive and can not tolerate temperatures of over 25C. As a result, red pandas sleep during noontime when the sun is at its hottest, with their bushy tales sheltering their faces.
Himalayan Tahr
The Himalayan tahr is another animal that you perhaps haven’t heard anything about. This black, long-haired, goat like creature is native to the Himalayan Mountains and most active during the early morning and late afternoon. They can often be seen resting on a rocky outcrop during the day and will bolt for the hills once approached. However, when you learn that tahr hunting is a native sport among many of the tribes on the Annapurna circuit, its no wonder that they may shy away from human company.

Yeti

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman is said to frequent the Annapurna circuit and many locals are convinced that they’ve caught a glimpse of him. The animal has been described as ape-like, with shaggy brown hair, sharp teeth and no tail. Stories have been told of the yeti killing yaks and attacking locals, so whether you believe them or not, you better watch out as who knows what may lurk on the slopes of the Annapurna circuit.

“Measuring Everest”: Q & a

How tall is Mt. Everest exactly?
8,844.43m [± 0.21m], according to the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. This is based upon the highest point of rock and ignores the snow and ice upon it, if they are included we arrive at the widely accepted figure of 8,848m.
Are they the only group to have measured the mountain?
No. The peaks of the Himalaya range have been officially measured by British, Indian, American and International expeditions, the earliest having been commissioned around 200 years ago.
What techniques do they employ?
A variety. These have ranged from the use of theodolites to anchoring GPS devices upon the summit, to satellite measurement.
Do all the results agree?
No, although the variations are so small that they will not affect its position as the world’s highest peak. It is even suggested that the summit may be increasing in height due to the movements of the tectonic plates constantly shifting deep beneath Everest base camp.
Who first measured the height of Everest?
Between 1847 and 1856, during their occupation of India, the British measured the Himalayan peaks as part of the wider-ranging Great Trigonometric Survey. At first believing Kangchenjunga to be the tallest mountain, Andrew Waugh and his team eventually discovered that Everest (or peak XV as they called it) was over 250m higher. They declared it to be 29,002ft tall, despite their measurements showing an even 29,000ft, in order to avoid the accusation that they’d simply rounded the figure up or down.
Peak XV?
Where possible Waugh’s expedition used local names for the peaks they measured (e.g. Kangchenjunga and Dhaulagiri) but, as many were unnamed and Nepal and Tibet were closed to visitors at the time, they often had to simply apply numeric titles.
So Everest was unnamed?
No. In fact the mountain already had many names. It was variously known as Chomolungma (Tibet), Sagarmatha (Nepal), ShèngmÔ F ng (China), Deodungha (Darjeeling) and a host of other local names. Refusing to favour one name over another, Waugh argued that naming it after his predecessor as Surveyor General of India, George Everest, was the wisest solution.
He must have been flattered.
Actually, no. Everest opposed the naming of Peak XV after himself, reasoning that his surname could neither be written in Hindi nor pronounced by a native of India. His objections were, however, futile and in 1865 the mountain was officially named Everest by the Royal Geographic Society.

Is Everest without doubt the highest peak on Earth?
Logically speaking, yes. It is the highest point above sea-level. However, Chimborazo in Ecuador actually reaches over 2,000m further from the centre of the Earth than the summit of Everest due to the fact that the planet bulges at the equator; but it’s peak is still only 6,267m above sea-level. Mauna Kea in Hawaii likewise reaches over 10,000m from its base in the mid-ocean floor, despite being only 4,205m above sea-level. Attempting an Everest Base Camp Trek is therefore far easier than attempting the same feat for Mauna Kea.



Everest Base Camp: Brian Blessed’s Home From Home


Blessed’s Everest Trek Emulates MalloryHe made his first run at the mountain in 1991, as part of a film called Galahad of Everest, which was a tribute to his childhood hero, George Leigh Mallory. On this occasion, Blessed reached Camp IV which, at an altitude of 8000 metres, is 2650 metres up from Everest base camp. This is the last major camp where climbers make their final preparations for the summit. It is also where exhausted climbers rest on their way down from a summit attempt. Blessed’s achievement at reaching this point was made more poignant by the fact he was dressed in same type of clothing as Mallory wore in 1924, for the sake of the film’s authenticity, and he climbed without bottled oxygen.
Blessed’s Second Everest Trek Breaks Records
Far from being put off, Blessed returned for another Everest trek in 1993. This was the first successful commercial ascent of Everest run by the expedition company Himalayan Kingdoms, now called Mountain Kingdoms Ltd. This time, Blessed came better prepared, too. On this occasion he was forced to turn back at an altitude of 8,595 metres, but by reaching this height at the age of 56 years, he had climbed higher than any other man of his age. It remains Blessed’s proudest moment despite his record being broken in 2003 by a climber called Yuichiro Miura, who was seventy years old when he made it to the summit.

The Dalai Lama Blesses Brian’s Everest Trek
A determined man, Blessed tried a third ascent in 1996. This time he was sent back by the expedition leader when the weather worsened. He reached about 7,680 metres, but then was advised he had gone far enough. Blessed was pragmatic: "You have to obey the rules of the mountain," he said. While he waited for his team at Everest base camp, they were able to reach the top, and tie a scarf from the Dalai Lama to the summit pole on behalf of Brian. Brian had become friends with the Dalai Lama after meeting him on his several visits to Nepal. They even exchanged phone numbers.

Clearly his Himalaya adventures have had a profound effect on the actor. In one interview, Blessed described the impact that the scenery can have: "My favourite walk is from the Lukla airstrip just outside Kathmandu to Everest base camp." This Everest trek would mean ascending more than 2500 metres on foot. The classic route takes you through pretty Sherpa villages and dramatic high mountain scenery. "You walk through jungles and valleys and, suddenly, the giant mountains appear through the clouds." But his passion for the region and the mountain are summed up better by his succinct words: "Adventure is life. Everest is life."

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