The Annapurna Circuit has been a mainstay on Top 10 trekking lists for years. The reasons are obvious.
Hikers get to tread through alpine forests, thick jungle and the remarkable high altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau during this famous three-week trek. Buddhist culture, killer views –this is truly one of the most epic trails in the world.
But unfortunately, it’s no longer a remote mountain escape.
Not only did more than 100,000 people tread along this route in 2012, but roads have been gradually extended at both ends of the trail. And construction continues.
This work will give locals access to much-needed markets (and obviously, that’s a good thing), but the rumble of traffic doesn’t exactly improve the ambience along the circuit.
Fortunately, government and conservation organizations – as well as some innovative tour companies – have been promoting some of the less-treaded trails in the region.
Meanwhile, the Great Himalaya Trail is still being developed. When completed, this network of existing, but lesser-known treks, will form one of the world’s longest and highest trails. Even better, the new trails mean more villages will reap the economic benefits of tourism, rather than it being concentrated in one place.
So if you’re itching to trek in Nepal, you may want to consider one of these alternatives to the Annapurna Circuit.
Much like the Annapurna Circuit, this route begins at a low altitude and then climbs through different climate zones before hitting a high peak – in this case, the Larkye La at 16,930 feet.
The trail then drops back down again before circling one of Nepal’s most staggering peaks.
This route isn’t as developed as the Annapurna, but there are ample tea houses to stay at along the way and trail improvements have been made more recently. You’ll also have ample opportunity to experience the Hindu and Bhuddist-based cultures in local villages during this 14-day trek, but perhaps the biggest reward is the unspoiled views of Manaslu – the eighth-highest peak in the world at about 26,200 feet.
This trek is often referred to as the next Annapurna Circuit. Although only 2,000 people hike it every year, those numbers are climbing steadily. More information is available at the Manaslu Circuit Trek website.
The Tamang Heritage Trail
Cultural trekking at its finest. This unique trail, which takes anywhere from 12-17 days to complete, leads adventurers through Nepal’s remarkable Langtang Region. A relatively new route, the Tamang Heritage Trail was created via the Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Program, which aims to help struggling villages in Nepal through sustainable tourism.
Roam this route and immerse yourself in traditional Tibetan culture as you pass through tiny villages. Terraced fields, tranquil valleys and a natural hot springs are among the highlights. The terrain isn’t as rugged as the Annapurna, reaching a maximum altitude of about 13,451 feet.
Still, this is a challenging – and very enriching – trek.
GHT Upper Dolpo
Foreigners weren’t allowed access to this region until 1996, which means ancient customs here haven’t been significantly influenced by tourism yet. The villages reflect a culture that’s more akin to pre-China Tibet than anywhere else in Nepal.
Different tour companies and guides offer varying versions of this trek, which follows a chunk of the developing Great Himalaya Trail. But you can expect to tackle it in about 20 days. Along the way, you’ll endure challenging terrain while following ancient trade routes that wind through five mountain passes above 16,400 feet.
Explore Buddhist relics and meet nomads while on this epic trek.
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— Dustin Walker