Introduction to the Annapurna Circuit

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Nepal  , Western Region,
Sunday, April 1, 2012

So the first part of my Nepal adventure is trekking in the Annapurna Himalayas. So first if all a little (well slightly more than a little bit – you know me, don't do things by halves) about the Himalayas. And to be honest the Himalayas are the real proper mountains of the world, just as the Sahara is to deserts, McVities are to Dark Chocolate Digestives, Milton Keynes is to roundabouts and having no flippin’ idea where you are, the Himalayas is to mountains.

The Himalaya Range or Himalaya Mountains is usually called the Himalayas or Himalaya for short. The name is a Sanskrit world literally meaning "abode of snow", Anyway it is a mountain range immediately at the north of the Indian subcontinent, in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and China, and is the world's tallest mountain range. It extends generally ESE in an immense curve about 1500 miles long. The Himalayas outclass every other mountain range in the world. The Himalayas contains Mt. Everest, the world's tallest mountain, which rises 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level, and nine other peaks over 8,000 meters (26,246 ft) in height, called the Eight Thousanders. It contains over 100 mountains exceeding 7,200 m (23,600 ft). To put this into perspective, the tallest mountain outside Asia, Aconcagua in the Andes, is only 6,962 meters (22,841 ft) tall. The highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis and that is 1,344m high. So all in all they are pretty tall.

Though the Himalayas are the world's tallest mountains, they are also among the youngest mountain ranges on the planet, with the substantial growth occurring only in just the last million years. So how were they formed Liz? I hear you ask. It all comes down to plate tectonics and the concept of continental drift.

About 250 million years ago, there was a single super continent (Pangea) on Earth. It was surrounded by a large ocean. About 200 million years ago, the super continent (Pangea) started to split into different land masses and moved apart. At that time an extensive sea (Tethys) stretched along the latitudinal area presently occupied by the Himalayas.

The Himalayas began growing about 50 million years ago when the Indian subcontinent, which used to be an island continent beneath Eurasia (and was previously attached to Antarctica), slammed into the Eurasian continent. Prior to this, the Indian plate was one of the fastest-moving tectonic plates in the world, traveling northward at a rate of 16 cm/year (ooh speedy). When the Indian plate hit the Eurasian plate, parts of the former began to subduct (go beneath) the other. Its rate of movement slowed by about a half (not so speedy now then). The soft sediments that covered the northern edge of the island continent began to crumple,since these sediments were light, and they crumpled into mountain ranges rather than sinking to the floor. The Himalayas are made from the thick layers of marine sediment that had accumulated on the floor of the Tethys Sea, formed from sand, coral debris and the innumerable corpses of aquatic animals. Even today, fossils of coast-dwelling creatures can be found in the Himalayas (have got one now myself – would love to say I went fossil hunting and discovered it after hours of digging, no I actually got it in a shop from a lovely lady from Tibet). The Indo-Australian plate is actually still moving at 67 mm per year, and over the next 10 million years it will travel about 1,500 km into Asia. About 20 mm per year of the India-Asia convergence is absorbed by thrusting along the Himalaya southern front. This leads to the Himalayas rising by about 5 mm per year, making them geologically active (i.e. earthquakes).

So the first trek I was to do was the Annapurna Circuit in the Annapurna Himal. Annapūrṇā is a Sanskrit name which literally means "full of food" (seems apt now following the trip considering how much food was consumed- though not necessarily by means), but is normally translated as Goddess of the Harvests. In Hinduism, Annapurna is a goddess of fertility and agriculture and an avatar of Durga (still not seen the film).

The entire massif and surrounding area are protected within the 7,629 sq. km Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), the first and largest conservation area in Nepal, established in 1986 by the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation.

The Annapurna massif contains six major peaks over 7000 m. The Annapurna peaks are among the world's most dangerous mountains to climb, with a fatality rate of 40% (was actually planning to pop up a few of them but maybe not then). There is Annapurna I which is 8,091 m (26,545 ft) and the 10th highest peak in the world. Annapurna II is 7,937 m (26,040 ft) and the 16th highest peak in the world. Annapurna III is 7,555m hihg and the 42nd highest peak in the world. Annapurna IV is 7,525 m (24,688 ft), Gangapurna is 7,455 m (24,457 ft) and Annapurna South 7,219 m (23,684 ft). Machapuchare (also known as Fishtail) (6,993 m/22,943 ft) is another important peak of the Annapurna Himal, though it just misses the 7,000 metre mark.

About two-thirds of all trekkers in Nepal visit the Annapurna region. The area is easily accessible from the town of Pokhara, guesthouses in the hills are plentiful, and the treks here offer incredibly diverse scenery, with both high mountains and lowland villages. Also, because the entire area is inhabited, trekking in the region offers unique cultural exposure and experience. There are three major trekking routes in the Annapurna region: the Jomson Trek to Jomsom and Muktinath; the Annapurna Sanctuary route to Annapurna base camp; and the Annapurna Circuit (opened in 1977), which circles the Annapurna Himal itself and includes the Jomson route.

The Annapurna Circuit is a 212 kilometre trek around the Annapurna mountain range. The trek reaches an altitude of 5,416 metres on the Thorung La pass, touching the edge of the fabled Tibetan plateau. The magnificent mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurnas and Gannapurna, the Niligiri peaks, the magnificent ice pyramid Dhauligiri, once the home of the legendary Buddhist guru Padmasamba, and Machhupuchhare (Fish Tail), considered by many to be the most beautiful mountain in the world. The trek follows ancient paths used as trade routes between Nepal and Tibet. These paths have long facilitated the flow of cultures and religions in this remote and formerly inaccessible region. Today Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism and the mysterious Bon-Po (wasn’t he one of the tellytubbies) religion still coexist and interpenetrate one another in this region which contains many pilgrimage sites.
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