Hiking in Nepal is a rather exceptional experience. During the day you walk through pine forests, granite rivers, soaring mountains, and yak trains. And at night you end up in a lodge for a dollar or two with menus offering items like pizza, spaghetti, and of course dal bhat. I first hiked the Annapurna Circuit in 2010 and when I came back in 2013 I had to go back and hike it again. Now, as of April 2014, I have just returned from Everest Base Camp. It was an early season hike, and two of the three passes were snowed over, but I got to cross Cho La and spent time in the great towns of Gokyo and Chukkung.
How do the two hikes compare?
I’m glad you asked.
EVEREST BASE CAMP / 3 PASSES
Gokyo Ri – 5357 meters
Though most people fly into Lukla (for 160 dollars each way) I jeeped into Salleri–a crushing 16 hour ride over pretty rough roads. The Japanese have funded the building of a proper road, however, and it is completed I think Salleri will become a very popular trailhead–perhaps even surpassing Jiri.
- The mountains come sooner, there are more of them, and they are quite frankly astounding.
- You are walking through sherpa land, and meet people who have summited Everest (and other peaks) dozens of times. The host in one guest house I stayed was the guide for Bear Grylls when he climbed in 1998.
- More Yaks! Bigger, hairier and hornier–true alpine beasts.
- Fewer Tims checkpoints. Small point, but it’s annoying to have to stop and dig through your pack.
- Monastery at Tengboche. The chanting and singing here is a profoundly beautiful experience.
- Sherpa Stew. Veggies and noodles and flour balls all in savory broth–a true treat of a meal (I never saw it on the AC.)
- Easier to get change. Because it’s more touristy, there’s less problem making change for 500 and 1000 rupee notes.
- Longer at high altitudes. This is both good and bad, but you get higher on the 3 passes track and stay higher for much longer.
THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT
Though some people jeep in, the full circuit starts at Besi Sahar and ends at Naya Pul. This is a 14ish day hike and both ends are a fairly short bus ride from Pokhara.
- The ride from Pokhara to the trail head is much shorter!
- It’s not an out-and-back, which is always nice.
- The people you meet along the way are much friendlier.
- There are water stations to refill–no chlorine pills or filters needed.
- It’s easier to wash and dry your clothes along the way.
- Manang > Namche Bazaar.
- There is more seabuckthorn juice!
- The food in the guesthouses is cheaper.
- Free showers along the way.
- The villages are much, much better.
- The general rhythm of the trail; climbing for half and descending for half, is much nicer than the constant up-and-downs of the 3 Passes.
Part of it might be first love, as I hiked the AC first, but for me it’s still the better hike. But both hikes are great and well worth doing–maybe multiple times. I liken them to Nirvana and Pearl Jam–which ever you heard first is probably still your favorite, but you can’t go wrong either way!