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Annapurna Region As the title "Annapurna Region" suggests, the centre-piece of this part of Nepal is the range of mountains that includes Annapurna I (8091m.), the very first of the 8000+m. peaks to be climbed, in 1950, by the Frenchman, Maurice Herzog. Also included in this general area is another 8000+m. giant, Dhaulagiri (8167m.) which is located to the west of Annapurna I. Kali Gandaki, the deepest gorge in the world and Tilicho, the highest lake in the world at an elevation of 4919m, are both located here. Annapurna is a name taken from Sanskrit that may be translated as "Goddess of the Harvests, and of the region's many high peaks, five are named using some variation of the word" Annapurna.. Of these, the two highest, Annapurna I and Annapurna II stand like bookends at the western and eastern ends of the massif. Few places in the world have such a splendid variety of natural beauty as the Annapurna region. This area is considered the most popular trekking region in Nepal and is visited by about one-third of adventure holiday visitors to Nepal. The entire region is administered by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) which is working to conserve the natural and cultural resources of the area, and which has made Annapurna trekking one of the best examples of eco-tourism in Nepal.

The region is said to be the most geographically and culturally diverse, protected area anywhere in the world, and is a rare combination of long arrays of snow-capped peaks, crystal clear lakes, turbulent rivers with deep gorges, Tibetan monasteries, hot springs, and picturesque villages inhabited by simple and friendly ethnic people. Certainly, nowhere else in Nepal can one meet and experience such a wide variety of human culture. There are, in fact, seven ethnic groups living and working in the region, the most prominent of which are probably the Gurungs, the Thakalis and the Manangis. Gurungs are the most widely distributed group, being found from the hills of Gorkha district to as far west as Palpa. Their heartland, however, is centred on the hills and valleys between the Marsyangdi River and the Kali Gandaki. Thakalis come from the upper Kali Gandaki valley, around where their traditional farming has been supplemented by trade and, in particular, hotel and restaurant businesses. The Mananagis are found in the upper reaches of the Marsyangdi River and are in many ways similar to the Gurungs, to whom they are possibly related. They are skilled traders and trace their roots back to Tibet. Religiously, the Manangis and the Gurungs of the upper hills are Buddhist, with traces of their ancient, Shamanistic faith still apparent. The communities that live further south are predominantly Hindu. As may be imagined, the range of geographical and climatic variations has led to a diverse variety of flora and fauna within the Annapurna region. Pokhara and Beshisahar (the starting point for Annapurna Circuit Trek and Thorung La) are below 1000m. elevation and their climate is quite tropical. These parts of the area are heavily cultivated and the landscape, therefore, largely consists of terraced paddy fields for most of the year. As you progress higher up into the hills the natural vegetation changes from the tropical species to more temperate stands of forest trees including oak, beech and rhododendron. These finally give way to coniferous forests of pine and, ultimately, juniper just below the tree line. In the rain-shadow, to the north of the mountains, the landscape is quite barren, being an extension south of the Tibetan plateau. Here there are only stunted bushes and shrubs except near to rivers, where irrigated cropping is possible.

The Annapurna region has been widely recognized as a naturalist's paradise. The uppe,r sub-alpine, steppe environment harbours some of the rare snow leopards and blue sheep. Other areas of the region protect bird species such as the multi-coloured Impeyan, kokla,and blood pheasants, amongst a multitude of other birds, butterflies and insects. Many plants, native to Nepal, are found in the forests; the conservation area has 100 varieties of orchids and some of the richest temperate rhododendron and magnolia forest in the world. Given its extreme diversity, it is hardly surprising that the Annapurna region remains Nepal's most popular trekking destination. The area is dominated by both the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himal which sweep from the low hills at 700 m to pierce the sky at 8,000 m within a distance of 50 km! This relative closeness to the high Himalaya is one of the reasons for the region's popularity. Most treks start from, or end at, the well-known tourist destination of Pokhara, famed for its tranquil and beautiful lake setting within easy view of arguably one of the most beautiful Himalayan panoramas in the world. Access to Pokhara is very convenient, being a mere half-hour flight, or a 5-6 hour drive, from Kathmandu, 202 kilometres away. The road journey from Kathmandu to Beshisahar takes only around four to five hours.

All Annapurna region treks offer a great deal of cultural and geographic diversity; indeed the Annapurna and Manaslu Circuits,and other treks to Muktinath and Jomsom, may be described as Trans Himalayan, as they venture north of the Himalayan watershed, into the dry desert area which is properly part of the Tibetan plateau. A trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary takes you right in among the mountains of the Annapurna Range and to the base camp of Mt. Machhapuchhre (known as Fishtail due to the appearance of its twin peaks from certain viewpoints). Treks from Jomson and Muktinath follow the Kali Gandaki valley between the soaring peaks of Annapurna and Daulaghiri, finally emerging to the north of the main Himalayan range, on the dry, desert-like Tibetan plateau. For those who enjoy climbing, there is the possibility of relatively inexpensive expeditions to Tent Peak (Tharpu Chuli), Chulu East and West Peaks, Pisang Peak, and Mardi Himal, while for those with much more time and resources, expeditions to ascend the peaks of the Annapurna Massif itself, such as Himchuli, South Annapurna, Annapurnas I and II, may be arranged. Popular extensions to trekking holidays in Annapurna region can include white water rafting on the Trisuli river, followed by the wildlife activities available in the famous Royal Chitwan National Park. These include riding on elephant-back to explore the jungle in the hope of seeing the protected and endangered one-horned rhinoceros, and the Royal Bengal tiger, as well as several types of deer, monkeys, and wild boar.

As with most areas of Nepal, the best times to trek in the Annapurna region are during the spring and autumn. Spring is the time for rhododendrons while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon, in October and November. At these times the weather is generally mild and there is very little rainfall. However, unlike other parts of Nepal, the monsoon season, from June to September, is another ideal time to visit parts of the region that fall in the rain shadow. In particular, the arid region of Upper Mustang is the perfect destination during the rainy season. The winter months provide good trekking conditions throughout the foothills, but some of the higher passes will be closed due to heavy snow.