Progress? On the Annapurna Circuit

Annapurna trekWhat really sticks in your mind ten years after you’ve traveled somewhere? I’ve been to a large chunk of those “must see before you die” kind of places and I’ve stayed in some of the world’s most memorable hotels. But when I’m pressed to say which travel experience I’ve really enjoyed the most from all the places I’ve been, I have to say it was the three weeks I spent hiking in the Himalayas on the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.

It was cheap, sure–about $180 total since I carried my own pack. This was 10 years ago, so even if you spend double that now you’re still talking under $150 a week. But really I loved it because it was such a pure travel experience. Yeah, there was a kid playing a Casio keyboard, you could buy Snickers bars, and there were enough NBA jerseys to furnish a few intramural leagues, but there were NO VEHICLES.

It’s hard to imagine the impact of this until you’ve seen it for 20 days straight. People conserve. They reuse things. They grow vegetables and brew corn beer. They take the time to build houses that will last. They spend a week making a sweater and actually care about the quality. People walk everywhere.

The result is that every town is interesting, you can see all the stars at night, there’s no exhaust pollution, and traffic noise is a distant memory.

Alas, the march of progress may change all that, which brings us to this story in GoNomad,Trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal: Change on the Horizon. I am painting an idyllic picture colored by fond memories, but it’s hard to see how a road up to Jomson and beyond is going to help any more than a train to Tibet has helped the people of Lhasa.

With full credit to the writer though, there’s more to the story than just good/bad change in the future. For every easy assumption, there’s a less obvious counter-assumption, generally with bad governance mucking things up.

Will people still spend big money to fly to Nepal and hike for three weeks though if a road goes in? My money would be on the “no” box. Get ready for quick fly in, fly out tours from the Travel & Leisure crowd, which always turns out to be the beginning of the end. Been to Ankor Wat or The Galapagos lately…?

  1. Mike

    If that’s the case I’m actually going to want to go there sooner – to get there before it changes too much.

  2. Kathryn Lee

    I just came back from doing the Annapurna Circuit and yes there is the road going in…I’m not an engineer but from what I’ve seen so far, Mother Nature will pretty much take care of having an open road much of the time…the monsoon season will take its toll on many of the places on the current road. With all the potholes, pits, water running across the road, it’ll make for very uncomfortable riding…we rode in a jeep for several miles and my teeth are still loose from the jolting and nose clogged from the dust. If you get the chance to go…GO GO GO!

  3. tim

    Kathryn – Thanks for the first-hand report. You’re right, even the footpaths get washed out easily and cause a detour, plus when I was there I remember seeing one whole village’s houses wiped out by a landslide. Which is probably why there was never a road in this area to begin with—it’s stupid.

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