The 'New Annapurna Trekking Trail' (NATT) has given new life to one of the world's great mountain hikes
The Annapurna Circuit is one of the true classic, long distance walks in the Himalayas. Since it first opened to the outside world in the late 1970’s, thousands of trekkers and pilgrims have traveled the 136.5 miles of pure Nepalese beauty.
As with all things, the Annapurna region of Nepal has not been exempt from the forces of change and progress. What may be a benefit to the local community isn’t necessarily a positive from a trekker’s point of view. Dirt roads now exist on either side of an area that was once accessible only by walking age-old footpaths.
For the locals, building the roads means quicker connections between neighboring villages trading perishable goods and access to schools and medical facilities becomes easier. However, many of the villages along the Annapurna Circuit route depend heavily on trekking tourism. Many local families operate lodges, shops and restaurants. The problem…hiking on a dirt road really isn’t all that appealing.
We first started seeing the true impacts of the new roads on an October 2006 trek and by May 2011, the tourism numbers on the Annapurna Circuit started a steady decline. Around this same time, however, word was already coming out of Nepal that new trails were being constructed along the Circuit to bypass the roads.
Now in 2016, the New Annapurna Trekking Trail (NATT) has given renewed life to one of the world’s great mountain walks. While not avoiding the road 100%, the NATT offers a breathtaking twist to the ever-changing picturesque landscape of the Annapurna region. And, for a purest like me, our 22 day trip starts at Besisahar and completes a loop over the Thorong La Pass (17,765 feet) to Ghorepani and Poon Hill. For those limited on time, we can offer variations to the full circuit and save some days by driving parts of the route.
So, is the Annapurna Circuit still worth doing? The short answer is – Absolutely!
While there is no going back to the past, the great work completed by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), Andrees de Ruiter and Nepali trekking guide Prem Rai have resulted in the creation of the New Annapurna Trekking Trail and cutting the time spent hiking on the dirt roads immensely. The Annapurna Circuit is a pilgrimage, a mountain walker’s right of passage if you will. A combination of the NATT trails and reasonable expectations go a long way to enjoying the staggering natural beauty of the Annapurna region.