This past fall I returned to Nepal for the third time, thirty seven years after my first visit in 1982. Much had changed since my last visit in 1990, when tourism en mass was still developing - thousands of trekkers versus perhaps a few dozen back then, widespread accommodation, wifi, hot showers, espresso, etc - yet the majestic Himalayan landscape and the kindness of the Nepalese people were exactly as I remember them from my first trip.
During five weeks I completed three itineraries totalling two hundred trekking kilometers with an overall elevation gain of 18,000 meters. My first destination, Annapurna Base Camp, is an easy to moderate trek which takes around one week. There are full accommodations with a wide variety of amenities from the very first day at Nayapul (elev. 1070m) all the way to base camp, the reason many opt for this popular itinerary. Additionally, there's extraordinary scenery along the entire route culminating at base camp (4130m) located below the immense, three thousand meter south face of Annapurna South and the West Face of sacred and unclimbed Machhupuchhre. These are once-in-a-lifetime views that anyone can appreciate.
My motivation for returning again to Nepal was to witness the many changes taking place during three decades and to also follow some of the original approach route taken by the 1950 French Expedition that made the first ascent of an eight thousand meter peak, without supplemental oxygen on their first attempt of a mountain that had never before been explored. The subsequent account 'Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8000-meter Peak' by expedition leader Maurice Herzog is today the best selling mountaineering book of all time, an epic yet controversial story which adds further mystique to the region on both sides of the Kali Gandaki, the deepest canyon in the world.
For my second itinerary I was thus interested in exploring the Dhaulagiri Region directly across the Kali Gandaki Valley from the Annapurna Massif via the Dhaulagiri Circuit, one of the most difficult treks in Nepal due to the remoteness, altitude gain (4400m) and exposed sections of trail that could be treacherous during bad weather or after heavy snowfall. In 2016, a Dutch climber attempted to return alone to Italian Base Camp from Dhaulagiri Base Camp, normally a one day traverse on the rock-strewn Chhonbardan Glacier followed by an exposed canyon traverse and finally crossing the massive debris zone below the west face of Dhaulagiri I. He hasn't been seen or heard from since.
What also distinguishes this trek from others in Nepal is the necessity to bivouac for up to a week at high altitude where no villages exist, and to carry the necessary provisions, an anomaly when tea houses are prevalent on nearly all other itineraries. During two weeks in late November my guide and two porters we were not only extremely fortunate with the weather but perhaps even more so for the total lack of other trekkers along the route - we had the entire place to ourselves until the final day on the descent to the village of Marpha in the Mustang Region. I later learned that our small group was the last permit allowed on the route for 2019, which explained the near absence of others.
If you're interested in escaping to a region of the Himalaya which today remains nearly untouched by tourism en masse, I highly recommend the Dhaulagiri Circuit, particularly in late autumn between mid November and December, when climbing expeditions and trekkers have already finished for the season.
My third and final destination was the popular Poon Hill Trek, one of the best locations in Nepal to watch the sunrise on Dhaulagiri I, seventh highest mountain in the world, the Annapurna Massif and Machhupuchhre. This is a short and easy itinerary, just 3-5 days with a little over 2000 meters of elevation gain. Arrive well before sunrise and watch the landscape transform as stars disappear from view and alpenglow begins to paint the Himalaya.