The Annapurna – Tilicho Tal (Lake) Circuit Trek offers an exciting addition to the standard circuit trek and assists with acclimatization for the high Thorung La route to the Kali Gandaki Valley. However, the Tilicho trail traverses many hours of exposed scree slopes and should not be tackled by anyone who is in any way acrophobic and afraid of ‘heights.’ The trail explores the exotic Himalayan biodiversity and alpine ecosystem along with the possibility of encountering wildlife such as Himalayan Thar, Blue Sheep, Snow Leopards, Blood Pheasants and much more.
After a day exploring Kathmandu, drive west through forest and farmland to Tal for the start of the Annapurna Tilicho Lake trek. The trail and recently built dirt roads follow an anti-clockwise route behind the 50km Annapurna Himal. Lowland Hindu communities gradually give way to Tibetan groups and the architecture changes as the trail rises. The high peaks to the south capture rainfall leaving a rain shadow behind the range which gets gradually drier as you trek westwards. Notable landmarks along the trail include: the Upper Pisang to Braga route which offers fascinating architecture and spectacular views of Annapurna II and IV.
The road-head and largest village of Manang, has perfect views of Gangapurna and Annapurna III. The town also panders to ‘tourist tastes.’ From Manang the Tilicho Tal trail follows the westward Marsyangdi Valley to its source at the lake (the Thorung La trail turns NW). The trail climbs into the heart of the Annapurna – Nilgiri – Muktinath Himal with closer views of these ice giants. An easy first day is followed by two days that traverse eroded scree slopes, the second fairly steeply: and while not difficult they require great caution. The reward is the beautiful turquoise of the lake (if not iced over late in the year). Tilicho Lake (4919m) is one of the highest freshwater lakes in Nepal whose alpine basin is filled by glacial melt off the northern slopes of Annapurna.
Return to Khangsar and a shortcut across to Yak Kharka on the high pass trail. Cross the Thorung La to reach the highest point of the trek and enjoy the astounding view from the summit; including that of the Annapurna Massif, Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna, Pisang Peak, Tilicho Peak and Tukuche. Beyond the pass (5 416m/17 770ft) is Muktinath, sacred to Hindus and Buddhists, in the impressive Kali Gandaki Valley.
Jeep down to Tatopani: then return to glorious forested trails that lead to Poon Hill for frontal views of the range. An early morning climb to the grassy ridge at Poon Hill offers a breathtaking panorama of Annapurna, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri and Machhapuchhre, shimmering in the first rays of the sun. Trek down further through Tadapani to the Gurung village of Ghandruk, a modern settlement home to the Ghandruk Cultural Museum (visit if time permits to learn about Gurung culture and history).
Descend to Pokhara, Nepal’s lakeside playground city. The next day, catch a short flight back to the capital to bring the Annapurna Tilicho Lake Trek to a closure.
The best times of the year to perform the Annapurna Tilicho Lake Trek are during spring (March to May) and autumn (September to mid-December) seasons. During these periods, the weather remains stable and the mountain views are good leading to the best experience. In monsoon, the weather can be unpredictable and the rain can make the trails slippery and perilous. During winter, the temperatures can drop harshly low and the pass can get blocked off in case of excessive snowfall.
This 22 Days Annapurna Tilicho Lake Trek is a strenuous trek that takes you up to altitudes of 5416m (Thorong La Pass). You will be trekking over steep hills and rocky terrain for most of the trek. While previous trekking experience is not required, it will certainly make the trek easier. However, good physical fitness and stamina is a necessity. Remember to set aside ample time for acclimatization and stay hydrated.
After completing passport, immigration and visa requirements, we will meet you outside the terminal building (look for your name board) and transfer you to your hotel: afternoon free. Evening: a welcome dinner, introduction to your guide and a briefing on the trek with a check on necessities. Overnight at hotel.
Take a day tour to five of the Kathmandu Valley’s cultural world heritage sites: Swayambhunath, known as the monkey temple; the city’s historical Durbar Square with ancient temples, unique art, architecture, and the chance to see the Kumari (living goddess); Patan’s Durbar Square; the Hindu temple Pashupatinath and the world’s largest stupa, Bouddhanath,
A car and driver will take you to each site-entrance and wait for you. (Entry tickets and lunch are not included.)
The westward journey to Dumre (400m, 4½hrs) winds over the forested Middle Hills that separate the High Himalaya from the Nepal and Indian lowlands. The road links Hindu villages and terraced farming communities, crossing several important rivers that flow from the ice fields to the north. At Dumre we turn north into the Marsyangdi Nadi Valley. A secondary road leads to the commercial centre of Besi Sahar (760m, 2hrs). A minor road then heads into the hills (2-3hrs), passing construction work on a major hydro electric scheme before climbing Syange (1 080m).
The road then enters a canyon and rises to a ridge: and Jagat (1 330m, a former salt-route toll depot to Tibet). Continue, through Chamje (1 410m) to a ‘bus stop’ opposite a suspension bridge to the east bank and a short walk to Tal. This attractive village is set in a flat valley behind which is an impressive waterfall (and palm trees). The river flows placidly between gabions. Overnight in Tal.
We now follow the Marsyangdi Nadi for six days, to its source, the Tilicho Tal on the North Annapurna Glacier. The trail passes barley, wheat and potato fields and then begins a long steady climb through pine forests before crossing to the road on the west bank near Khotro (1 860m). Walk up the road to Dharapani (1 960m): a bustling Tibetan village in the Manang valley, at the confluence with the Dudh Khola. (A trail up the Dudh Khola leads to Manaslu.)
As the trail moves further NW behind the Annapurna ranges, the landscape becomes drier due to the rain shadow caused by the peaks. Winds also increase from ~10:00 – 16:00 as air is drawn up from the south by rising hot air off the high Tibetan plateau. This frequently hampers the Tilicho Trek and Thorung La route and, invariably the Gandaki Valley. High valleys can then get extremely cold. Trekking early minimises the discomfort.
The valley swings westwards and the trail climbs steep forested ridges, over some landslides, as it ascends the southern slopes of the valley. Good views of the Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II (7 937m), and Annapurna IV gradually rise to the south. They come into full view at the landmark mani wall before Chame: the Manang District headquarters. Overnight in Chame.
A steep trail on the north bank, through a dense fir and pine forest, passes the gigantic curved, ice-carved rock face above Bhratang (2 950m). It rises 1 500m above the river: and takes an hour to pass. Later, walk along an impressive ledge hewn from a cliff face before the trail re-crosses to the southern bank of the river and ascends, opposite the wall, into the U-shaped upper Manang Valley between two snow peaks. The views become more exciting as you approach the split-village of Pisang. Overnight in Lower Pisang.
Two trails lead to Manang. The lower route, follows the river to Mungji (3 500m) where it meets the high route and continues to Braga and Manang.
The challenging upper route presents some of the best scenery on the trek. Climb to Upper Pisang (3 310m) then walk through the dry Nyesyang region to Ghyaru (3 670m): a cluster-village of houses surrounded by fields of barley, buckwheat, beans and potatoes: crops that ripen in a short growing season. Follow a high traverse with great views of the whole valley to Ngawal: a village with ancient juniper trees and a neat gompa. Overnight in cold Ngawal.
Descend gradually to Mungji (3 500m), with a nunnery above the village. Next, is picturesque Braga (3 470m): with clustered houses stacked one above the other up a craggy slope. An impressive Gompa sits at the top. This is the oldest and best endowed gompa in the region. Manang is a short walk from Braga. Rest and explore the village. Overnight in Manang.
Today is a scheduled acclimatization day. Walk to either the Gangapurna Lake or the Bocho Gompa. The Himalayan Rescue Association office has informative information on the symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness. Return to your teahouse for the night.
The trail drops below Manang and heads west along the north bank of the Marsyangdi Nadi. After crossing the Thorung Khola tributary, the trail climbs to a ridge and old fort ruins: with commanding views back down the valley - as far as distant Manaslu. Continue, through stands of blue pine and then the wheat fields below Khangsar. Stop for lunch in the village square.
The trail then climbs, passed the village gompa and school and continues through rich grazing juniper and seabuckthorn scrub to Thare Gompa (3 930m). It soon joins a trail from the lake to Yak Kharka shortly before Shree Kharka. Overnight in Shree Kharka.
Much of today’s trail involves traversing barren, steep, exposed and unstable scree slopes truncated in places by weathered rocky spurs. From the hotel, climb up a side valley to a trail junction then head left on the shorter route to BC. Drop to cross a tributary then climb through several kharkas to a ridge. After crossing a second stream the scree walk begins. Take care and watch for descending debris: the path rises gently, over gravels and sand; towards the BC it becomes rockier underfoot and in places steep as it climbs over several of the rocky spurs. BC is set in a shallow valley, partially protected from the winds. Tilicho Peak is 7 134m. Overnight in Tilicho BC.
Ascend, for an hour up a side valley on a firm trail before climbing onto a gravel moraine and continuing upwards for another hour to 4 700m with increasing views of Tarke Kang, Gangapurna and Khangsar Kang (its black slopes too steep and smooth to hold snow) plus the Manang Valley behind. Steep gravel zigzags complete the climb to a cairn at 5 010m. This is followed by ~¾ hrs of gentle walk to flags and the first views overlooking the lake at 5 005m. The sandy edge of the lake is ~90m below and easily reached. The lake is 4km long, 1,2km wide and ~85m deep: and is not the highest of lakes. (There are 15 over 5 555m which is Nepal’s highest: Panch Pokhari below Baruntse in the Everest Region.)
Walk back, for 1½ hr to Tilicho BC, for lunch. The return trek to Khangsar will take 3½ -4 hrs. Overnight in Khangsar.
An easier day. Climb above the village to meet the Tilicho Tal – Yak Kharka trail. Ascend before dropping to cross the Thorung Khola over a wooden bridge. Then climb to meet the trail from Manang below Ghyanchang (which is above the trail). After crossing the Ghyanchang Khola the trail rises gently through kharkas of grazing horses and yaks. Later, a wooden bridge heads towards an ancient mani wall and the small village of Yak Kharka for lunch and great views. Overnight in Yak Kharka.
A short day’s slow, steady 500m climb leads to the seasonal outpost before the pass. The path snakes through desolate high scenery: scrub vegetation gradually giving way to rock, scree and an exposed path across a landslide before reaching the trekker-lodge at Thorung Phedi (foot of the hill). There is a single teahouse with a warm cosy dining room and beds for some 150 trekkers. It closes for the winter months. Overnight in Thorung Phedi.
Further up the “hill” lodge staff man a small stone teahouse on a cold exposed ridge: known as High Camp. Rather stay at Thorung Phedi than head for this elevation: just for a shorter summit day.
A pre-dawn start is wise for this long arduous day. There is a 900m/3 000ft ascent before a 1 600m/5 250ft descent. From the teahouse the path climbs steeply up the valley: leading to a stiffer ascent up an ancient moraine. After that, it ascends more gently. Thorung La is a flag bedecked col between Thorung Peak (6 211m/20 378ft) and Yakwakang’s (6 482m/15 434ft) stupendous cliffs.
Views back to the east are snowy. Ahead and far below is the brown desolate scenery of the rain-parched Kali Gandaki-Mustang Valley. On the opposite side of the valley, the huge Dhaulagiri range rises to the southwest. Ahead and to the north, the mountains of Dolpo stretch to the horizon: these are an extension of the Tibetan uplands to the north.
After photos and a rest, begin the ~4hr descent to Muktinath. Tread with care as the path drops steeply over loose gravel. Later, it becomes rockier and easier to walk on. The captivating scenery and chance to “sleep low” should spur you on.
Eventually, the important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site of Muktinath will come into view. This oasis of springs is surrounded by a lengthy wall and is bedecked by thousands of prayer flags. There is a small Vishnu temple and smaller Buddhist shrine: testament to Nepal’s religious harmony. The Tibetan name for this oasis is Chu Mig Tsa Gye (108 springs).
The dusty village of Ranipauwa (3 710m, and traffic) is a 10 minute walk beyond the shrine. The region is collectively known as Muktinath. Overnight in Ranipauwa.
A rutted road has been built, mostly along the trekking trails, from the lowlands to Muktinath. A recent Chinese road from Tibet through Upper Mustang meets this road below Kagbeni (2 840m: consider a detour to this fascinating ‘first village’ into Mustang.) From ~10:00 to 16:00, daily winds blow in dust from the lowlands and now the gravel road makes trekking particularly unpleasant.
Jeep transport has become preferable through this rugged scenery; and returning vegetation. Jeeps are used for the drive to Jomsom (2 760m, administrative centre of the Lower Mustang region). Change to a second jeep for Tatopani (hot springs). From there we leave the road and Buddhist culture – and trek into lush forest once more. Overnight in Tatopani.
The trail enters the Ghar Khola Valley which swings south east towards the front of the Annapurna Range. Most of the trail is through protected rhododendron, oak, birch and magnolia forests; rich in wild life. Ghara (1 780m), Phalate (2 390m) and Chitre (2 420m) are agricultural villages on high ridges: with views of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas. The large tourist village of Ghorepani is below Poon Hill. Overnight in Ghorepani.
An early, ¾ hr, steep trek leads to Poon Hill’s grassy knoll. This landmark viewpoint offers unobstructed vistas of the high Himalaya from Dhaulagiri I (8 172m) and Upper Dolpo in the west, across the Annapurnas (Annapurna I, 8 019m), to Machhapuchhare (6 997m, Fish Tail) and east to Manaslu (8 156m). Behind: an ocean of Sal forests stretch to lowland India.
After breakfast, trek east through pine and rhododendron forest, over numerous ridges, to Tadapani: with occasional flat sections and wonderful views of the snow peaks to the north from high ground. Overnight in Tadapani.
Today offers a short, downhill trek through farmland and forest with occasional peak views to Ghandruk: a modern Gurung village. Afternoon free: to explore the area; and village museums. Overnight in Ghandruk.
The trail drops down stone staircases to the Modi Khola: from Annapurna’s South Glacier in the breathtaking Annapurna Sanctuary. Cross the river and walk up to Landruk (1 620m) then through scrub bush to Tolka (1 790m). A further ~2 hr trek, through lovely forest ascends to the ridge village of Deorali (2 150m). Views of Pokhara and Lake Phewa are Behind are the last views of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna wall. The trail then drops down a broad red-earth track (that is lethal when wet) to Pothana. Overnight in Pothana.
An easy descent leads to the agricultural village of Dhampus (1 700m) then smaller hamlets with rice paddies to Dhampus Phedi on the Pokhara – Baglung highway: for the short drive to Pokhara and your hotel. Afternoon free: to explore the lake and waterfront; or visit the Mountain Museum. Overnight in Pokhara.
After breakfast, drive to the nearby airport and fly back to Kathmandu along the Himalayan Range. Transfer to your hotel. Afternoon free.
Transfer to Tribhuvan International Airport for your flight to your next destination.