Photoset: The Annapurna Circuit, Part I
The Annapurna Circuit may be unique in all the world for its incredible diversity of scenery. Anywhere else this would be a fantastical land leapt for from someone's overactive imagination. Here it's simply Nepal.
The walk begins on a rutted dirt road alongside a river cutting its way through a green valley of dense tropical forest. The trails diverts from the road and runs through terraced rice patties where villagers work in the fields. Soon sheer rock walls rise from the river, crisscrossed by narrow suspension bridges. The newly built road snakes along, blasted into the canyon walls. The trail leaves the road again and continues to rise. The jungle transitions to pine forests, revealing glimpses of snow-white peaks of staggering height. Climbing higher still, the pine trees thin, giving way to a surreal arid landscape of sharply eroded cliffs with enormous snowy peaks above, now revealed in their full splendor. Monasteries and crumbling villages are scattered throughout the valley, punctuated by colorful Buddhist prayer flags and white domed stupas. The air is thinner now, requiring a two night stay in the bustling village of Manang to acclimatize. Thorong La Pass, the highest point on the Circuit, looms in everyone's consciousness, still over 6,000 feet above at 17,769 feet (5,416 meters).