Read on for a detailed account of our eleventh day on the Annapurna Circuit. Today, we trekked from Muktinath to Jomsom, also visiting the pretty village of Kagbeni, covering a total distance of 20.2 km in around 7.25 hours. This was a long day that took us tantalisingly close to the remote Upper Mustang region and culminated in a town where most trekkers end their Annapurna Circuit adventure.
Our eleventh day walking the Annapurna Circuit was one of the longest and definitely the dustiest of the entire trek. Our route would take us from Muktinath to Kagbeni and from Kagbeni to Jomsom, which for many is the final stop on their Annapurna Circuit Trek. Starting at 3650m, we would descend to 2830m by the end of the day. It’s around 20.2 km and 7.25 hours walk from Muktinath to Jomsom including all stops as well as time exploring Kagbeni.
Read on for my experiences, tips and advice from day eleven hiking the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
Day Eleven: Muktinath to Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit
Muktinath (3670m) – Kagbeni (2810m) – Jomsom (2830m)
Distance: 20.4 km
Time: 7 hrs 11 minutes (08:54 – 16:05)
There are a number of options for reaching Jomsom today. Regular buses and jeeps ply the Muktinath to Jomsom route – it’s a journey of around 1.5-2 hours. There is also a walking trail that goes through Lubra and avoids a big chunk of the road that’s a good option for trekkers. However, we were particularly keen to check out the village of Kagbeni which serves as the gateway to the remote Upper Mustang region. So instead of the trekking path, our route would take us along the new paved road out of Muktinath.
Muktinath to Kagbeni
Muktinath (3670m) – Kagbeni (2810m)
Distance: 9.5 km
Time: Around 2.5 hours
We decided on a slightly later start after a monster previous day crossing the 5416m Thorong-La Pass. We had coffee and a big breakfast. Our group got a bit smaller for the next few days as one of our fellow hikers, Martin, decided to continue on a mountain bike. This is another of the options for continuing the Annapurna Circuit out of Muktinath – especially as there are fewer uphill sections from here on in as well as a road connecting the town with Pokhara.
After setting off, we followed the path through small villages, trying to avoid the busy main road. Buses and jeeps ferrying pilgrims were frequent and this was the most traffic we experienced since starting the trek. Instead, we passed fields and terraces, crossed mountain streams and dodged grazing animals for the first hour. The landscape was more arid here but there were still specks of green vegetation around. Livestock grazed in the fields and the scene was still beautiful, albeit noticeably different from the rest of the trek so far.
Eventually, we had no choice but to join a tarmac road which we followed for a while. Cars, buses and bikes zoomed past at speed. The landscape was now looking decidedly desert-like. You could almost imagine that you were somewhere like Morocco or Jordan. It had an otherworldly feel to it. We descended towards Kagbeni, trying not to slip along a slope covered in loose rocks. Eventually we made it down to the village flanked by fields and mountains.
After arriving in the village, we dropped our bags at a guesthouse our guide knew and headed out to explore. We passed a brilliantly named Yacdonalds restaurant along one of the narrow lanes before visiting Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery in the centre of the village.
The complex also included a school for young Buddhist monks and was a fascinating insight into the importance of the monastery to the area. Even though a modern building is mostly used today, we were able to visit the old monastery too. It’s been significantly restored but the colourful wall frescoes, ceremonial masks and artefacts were fascinating to see. The building is only opened on request or on ceremonial days so we were lucky to get a private tour along with another two trekkers. We also got a chance to look around the new monastery building.
We continued our walk around Kagbeni. It was more traditional than many of the villages we have seen so far. We navigated the maze-like alleyways lined with stone houses, tiny archways and even erotic statues.
At the edge of the village, we got a glimpse of Upper Mustang – a region of Nepal which requires special permits to visit. These cost $500 for 10 days not counting the cost of additional permits, guides, accommodation and food. Understandably it’s still considered to be somewhat off-the-beaten-track! We would love to visit Upper Mustang in the future but for now had to settle for sweeping views and some enticing tales from our guide.
Kagbeni to Jomsom
Kagbeni (2810m) – Jomsom (2830m)
Distance: 11 km
Time: Around 2 hrs 45 mins
We made our way back to the guesthouse and had lunch. I went for a delicious local speciality – chicken thupka noodle soup and Kagbeni bread. After eating, we set off along the largely dry riverbed to Jomsom. The road was unpaved and the strong wind kept blowing dust in our faces . This was probably my least favourite portion of the entire trek. We had to give way to buses and cars and the conditions made the walking tough. There are a couple of steeper climbs but for the most part this entire section is flat, especially if you stick to the riverbed.
After a while we saw a figure sitting on the edge of the road overlooking the riverbed. It was Martin who, it turns out, took a bad fall off his bike and injured his leg. Luckily he was OK and decided to continue riding. We pushed on and soon had to cross a river that flooded the road. I had to walk along the rushing water and cross it barefoot where it wasn’t too wide. Luckily we didn’t get swept away and continued on. We could see Jomsom in the distance but it was almost like a mirage – it always seemed to be moving farther away no matter how long we walked.
The wind didn’t calm down and continued blowing all the way to Jomsom. After what felt like an eternity, we arrived on the outskirts of the town. It was almost another 30 minutes until we reached our guesthouse as there is a checkpoint where you go through the usual process of showing your permits. A long shower was a must to wash off all the dust from today. We enjoyed coffee and delicious cakes from the onsite bakery before taking a walk around the town. It’s one of the biggest on the Annapurna Circuit and even has its own airport, which was literally behind our guesthouse.
The town wasn’t quite what we expected though – it was quite dirty and livestock walked around it freely, nosing through the rubbish on the streets. We ran into a few other travellers but it seemed that most people were just here to catch their flights or buses back to Pokhara. We didn’t meet anyone else who was continuing the trek on foot. We spent some time at another coffee shop chatting to fellow travellers before having drinks with some of our friends from the trek.
Muktinath to Jomsom Key Notes
- While we didn’t take the proper trekking route today, I would recommend getting away from the road if possible (unless you are keen on seeing Kagbeni).
- Kagbeni is an interesting place to spend a couple of hours. There are a few guesthouses and cafes around where you can grab lunch.
- Jomsom is a bustling town with loads of guesthouses, restaurants and shops. There is even a branch of the popular Himalayan Java Café coffee shop chain. It doubles up as a cool art gallery and live music space too!
- It’s possible to skip the day’s walking by catching the bus from Muktinath to Jomsom (or even all the way to Tatopani and Pokhara!). Prices start at 400 NRP and go all the way up to 1500 NRP for a bone-crunching and soul-destroying ride to Pokhara.
- Flights from Jomsom to Pokhara depart daily (multiple departures but always before 10am). Search on Skyscanner or purchase flights direct at https://www.yetiairlines.com/. The standard price seems to be £90/$120/13,300 NPR one way.
Staying in Jomsom: Xanadu Guest House
This centrally located guesthouse looks out over the airport so is a great place to stay if you’re taking an early flight. There is a cute coffee shop area, a well-stocked food and book store and a modern washing machine. The rooms are clean and comfortable, there is hot water and western toilets. Food was good and you can watch planes take off and land over the huge breakfast. It’s not the cheapest but definitely worth splashing out.
Up Next: Jomsom to Tukuche
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