The Annapurna Sanctuary
The final leg of our journey is not traditionally part of the Annapurna Circuit. We extended our trek by adding on an additional seven day side trip to the Annapurna Sanctuary, a hidden natural amphitheater of spectacular Himalayan peaks.
Highlights of this stretch include the spectacular panoramas from the hills surrounding Ghorepani, beautiful bird-filled jungles and cloud forests, spotting Himalayan Langurs frolicking in the trees, the mysterious unclimbed peak of Machhapuchhre towering above us, and, of course, the Annapurna Sanctuary itself.
Getting to the sanctuary trail involved three days of crossing a series of steep ridges through Magar villages, cultivated terraces, and dense jungle. Even after two and a half weeks of walking up to 11 hours a day, this stretch was quite a challenge – especially the one-day 1540 meter (5,080 foot) ascent between Tatopani and Ghorepani. Man, were we exhausted!
Once over the ridges in Chomrong, we continued up a narrow canyon along the Modi Khola River through the protected jungles and cloud forests up to the phenomenal sanctuary itself. Considering the popularity of the sanctuary trek, I was stunned at how precarious some of the rickety, old bridges were. More than once I heard cracking under my feet – yikes!
But it was all worth it for the Annapurna Sanctuary, an absolute jewel. The natural bowl is surrounded by Machhapuchhre, Hiun Chuli, Gangapurna, Tharpu Chuli, Singu Chuli, Gandharba Chuli, Annapurna South, Annapurna 3, and Annapurna 1 (the tenth tallest peak in the world). Check out our 360 degree view of the Sanctuary. Walking up the moraine ridges, the views were almost too spectacular to describe. Glaciers everywhere, but the Annapurna South glacier dominates with constant cracking and chunks of ice tumbling down the slopes of the mountain. Beautiful!!!