Trekkers return to Annapurna Circuit as Nepal throws gates wide openFor scenery and cultural diversity, this has long been considered the best trek in Nepal, and one of the world’s classic walks.
The Annapurna region has started welcoming quarantine-free tourists back to its popular trekking trails as Nepal tries to reboot its pandemic ravaged tourism industry.
Going all around the Annapurnas, the Annapurna Circuit trekking trail meanders across the central Nepal Himalaya through one of the most beautiful sceneries on the planet. The walking route is triply blessed with stunning landscapes, architecture and culture.
The Annapurna Conservation Area, a 7,629-sq-km protected area encompassing villages, hills, valleys, gorges and lakes with the snowy Annapurnas towering over them, is spread across the five districts of Manang, Mustang, Kaski, Myagdi and Lamjung.
In September, after Nepal removed the remaining coronavirus restrictions, 76 trekkers led the first foray into the Annapurna region. "By the first week of October, 96 foreign trekkers had entered the Annapurna Circuit through Manang," said Lekhnath Gautam, chief of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project unit office in Manang.
A few days ago, a group of 40 tourists, including seven differently-abled sight-seers, chartered a plane and landed at Manang's Humde Airport. “October seems to be encouraging,” said Binod Gurung, chairman of the Tourism Entrepreneurs Association Manang.
“All hotels were closed for a year and a half due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The arrival of trekkers back to the trekking trails has cheered the industry.”
On September 23, the government threw away the seven-day quarantine requirement and resumed issuing on-arrival visas to all vaccinated foreign travellers in a bid to bring the virus-ravaged tourism industry back to life.
Visitors should have received their last dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 full days prior to entering Nepal. Those who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated will not get on-arrival visas. They have to get their entry permits from Nepali diplomatic missions, and also spend 10 days in quarantine in government-listed hotels.
Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit was named among the top 10 most incredible travel experiences in the world by Lonely Planet in October last year.
The world's number one travel guide publisher said in its latest Ultimate Travel List that Covid-19 resulted in travel restrictions around the world, and clipped travellers’ wings through 2020.
For scenery and cultural diversity, this has long been considered the best trek in Nepal, and one of the world’s classic walks.
The trail follows the Marsyangdi Valley to the north of the main Himalayan range and crosses a 5,416-metre pass to descend into the dramatic desert-like, Tibetan-style scenery of the upper Kali Gandaki Valley.
“There is no single restriction on the Annapurna Circuit. It’s fully open for all visitors,” said Bishnu Lamichhane, chief district officer of Manang. “All trekking routes, except a few damaged by rainfall, are safe.”
But visitors have to mandatorily submit a Covid-19 negative report obtained within the previous 72 hours before hitting the trail in Manang and Mustang. “We want to spread the message in the world that Annapurna is safe,” said Lamichhane.
The circuit received zero trekkers in January and February. In March, there were 66 trekkers which grew to 366 in April.
In spring, the government reopened the country for foreign travellers in the hope of lifting the economy and employment by reviving tourism.
Subsequently, Nepal received a record-high number of foreigners aspiring to climb the world’s tallest peak, Mt Everest, as the Covid-19 pandemic looked like petering out. But the Delta outbreaks and slow vaccine rollout again clouded the country's tourism.
After the second Covid-19 wave which struck in April, the country slid into a devastating crisis, and authorities enforced strict lockdown measures. About two months later, the restrictions were relaxed gradually; and since September 1, almost everything has been allowed to reopen.
As the government imposed the second lockdown on April 29, the number of trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit dropped to 48. June and July saw a lone trekker each. According to government statistics, there were three wanderers in August.
The Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp trekking routes count among the world's greatest adventure walking trails. Nearly 200,000 foreign tourists used to throng the Annapurna Conservation Area annually.
The Annapurna area was opened to foreign trekkers in 1977.
On June 3, 1950, Frenchmen Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal became the first climbers to summit the forbidding Himalayan peak Annapurna I. This triumph, an unimaginable struggle against hardship, was completed without supplemental oxygen. It was also the first time an eight-thousander among the 14 in the world was climbed.
Herzog wrote a book called Annapurna about mountaineering which was published in 1952. More than 11 million copies were sold (till 2000) making it one of the best-selling books in the history of mountaineering.
This book has been regarded as a milestone for the development of mountaineering tourism in Nepal.
The original route of the Annapurna Circuit started at the market town of Dumre on the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway and ended in Pokhara, and took about 23 days to complete. After the construction of roads, the original 23-day walk has now been cut to only five days.