Jomsom - Annapurna Trek Starting points

by Kshaunish Jaini

The stunning Annapurna mountains of Nepal attract thousands of trekkers every year. This Himalayan massif is host to a number of world-renowned trails including the Annapurna Circuit and the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Jaw-dropping mountain panoramas, varied landscapes, quaint trekking villages and a great trekking infrastructure make this location a favourite alternative to the Everest region. But first you need to get to your trek starting point after arriving in the country . In this article we’re going to look at the best ways to get to your Annapurna Trek.

Annapurna Trek Starting Points

Most Annapurna treks begin at, or close to, the two major trekking towns in the region: Pokhara and Jomsom.

The lakeside town of Pokhara acts as the main trekking hub for most Annapurna treks, west of the capital Kathmandu. It’s full of accommodation, trekking shops and tour companies, with fantastic scenery of the Himalayas on clear days. The Royal Trek and a few others begin here. It’s also where trekkers catch transport to take them to nearby towns and villages to begin other Annapurna treks, such as the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp.

The other main Annapurna trekking hub is the picturesque town of Jomsom in the north. It’s located along the Annapurna circuit in the barren (but impressive) region of Mustang, on the border of Tibet. There are numerous trekking opportunities in this area and truncated versions of the Annapurna Circuit start and end there. The town is smaller than Pokhara but full of teahouses offering food and accommodation and various trekking shops. A small airfield allows trekkers to fly in via light aircraft and a dirt road from the south allows bumpy Jeep and bus access.

Understand Nepal’s Transport

When using transport in Nepal, patience is a virtue. Don’t plan your trip on tight schedules - delays are very common before and during journeys. Off the main highways, roads are poorly maintained and public buses are old. Breakdowns are not uncommon and other vehicles on the road breaking down often cause long delays due to tailbacks. Always give yourself plenty of extra time to account for transportation delays, stay patient and calm - it’s just how things are in Nepal. Bring a book or device to keep yourself entertained!

If you run into difficulties, in any tourist hub most locals will speak English and will be happy to help. In less touristy areas, you may struggle to find English speakers - ask around and look for younger people who are more likely to speak it. Public bus stops and stations can be chaotic and confusing, but Nepalese people are very friendly and you shouldn’t have trouble finding folk to point you in the right direction. A phrase book is always useful.

Nepal Annapurna Trekker

Nepalese people are very friendly and you shouldn’t have trouble finding folk to point you in the right direction

Kathmandu to Pokhara

Pokhara lies around 200km to the west of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, where you will first arrive if you fly into the country.

Kathmandu to Pokhara By Road

The main highway to Pokhara has multiple buses running daily. Journeys on direct buses take around 6-8 hours including rest stops.

Tourist Buses to Pokhara

The easiest option is to take a tourist bus. These leave daily from a bus stop at Kanti Path in the middle of the tourist Thamel district (where most accommodation is located). The most popular departures leave at 7am, although a few services run later in the day. These are basic coaches, usually with air-con and you can buy food and drink at rest stops along the way. There a host of companies do this journey - you can get tickets from most accommodation or tour shops, or just turn up early and buy a ticket on the day. In peak season though it’s wise to book the tourist buses a day or two in advance to secure your seats. Prices are usually around $10 US one way. “Luxury” tourist buses aren’t worth the extra money, offering little beyond the standard tourist buses (usually including a mediocre buffet meal along the way). As a precaution keep valuables on your person rather than in your luggage , which will be kept in a hold or tied to the roof. Tourist buses terminate in Pokhara close to Lakeside, the tourist district - it’s usually best to hop in a cheap taxi there rather than the walk which takes around 20 minutes with all your luggage (the way isn’t signposted).

Public Buses to Pokhara

Public buses are also readily available, but are trickier to organise. Although cheaper, they take longer, are less safe and more uncomfortable (cramped, noisy and no air-con). However, Nepalese public buses are a great cultural experience which you should try - but for this long journey we would recommend the tourist buses. If you do want to take a public bus head to Gongabu “New Bus Park” in Kathmandu, a short taxi ride from Thamel. Buses to Pokhara leave frequently. Ask around for directions if you can’t find the right stop. The journey will take a few hours longer as the bus will make many stops. At bus stations and in the bus, keep valuables on your person. Your big bags will usually have to go on the roof as there isn’t usually room inside for them (aside from stealing an extra seat - bad manners!). It’s a good idea to padlock them and some people like to affix them to the roof rack with looping locks as occasionally bags are stolen from roofs. However this can prove problematic for drivers shifting the roof luggage around and also for you to detach at your stop (you have to get up there too!). At Pokhara it’s best to get off at the Prithivi Chowk stop (ask the driver) and get a short taxi to Lakeside, the tourist district.

Car Hire

There are car rental agencies in Kathmandu, however we wouldn’t really advise travelling by car - the cost is high, you will have to navigate dangerous and chaotic traffic and roads and deal with the logistics of parking, pickup, dropoff and so on. The tourist transport is a much easier option.

Flights to Pokhara

Pokhara has a small airport, so it’s possible to fly from Kathmandu airport by light passenger plane. Flight costs vary, but are usually around $100 to $120 one way. Although you can book tickets online, it’s easier to simply book via the many travel agents in Kathmandu (the Thamel district is full of them). Prices are often cheaper through travel agents than from the airline directly. Book a day or two in advance. Flights go daily throughout the day.

Flight carriers making this trip include Buddha Air , Nepal Airlines , Yeti Airlines and Simrik Airlines . These are fairly respected airlines but do your research on the company you want to fly with, as aviation safety records in Nepal are poor. Avoid Sita Air for this reason. The UK government’s travel advice page has useful information about Nepali flight safety records.

The flight only takes about half an hour (of course allow an hour or more extra for airport waiting times). Pokhara airport is a short distance from the tourist district of Lakeside, about a 20 minute walk, or a short taxi ride.

Views from the Annapurna trail

Views from the Annapurna trail

Besisahar

The town of Besisahar is the normal starting point for the Annapurna Circuit, as most people do it in an anti-clockwise direction. Besisahar is about halfway between Pokhara and Kathmandu, on a main road that goes northwards from the highway between those cities.

The easiest way to reach Besisahar is to get a direct tourist bus from Kathmandu or Pokhara - ask at travel agencies. The journey is around 5-6 hours from Kathmandu and 3-4 hours from Pokhara if you go direct. You could hire a taxi but it will probably be prohibitively expensive for this distance. Direct public buses are also available but not recommended due to their cramped conditions and very slow travel time.

Another option is to take a tourist or public bus to Dumre - a dusty intersection town on the Pokhara>Kathmandu highway where the northward Besisahar road starts. Public buses, Jeeps and minibuses leave here frequently and are easy to locate at the main junction, or you could opt for a taxi. Leave plenty of time spare if you use public transport, or need to transfer at Dumre.

Pokhara to Phedi and Nayapul

The main trek starting points near Pokhara are

The Annapurna trek starting points near to Pokhara are 1 to 2 hours drive from the town. If your transport isn’t already arranged to your start point, then it’s easy to arrange yourself. There are three main options:

Note that in peak season taxis will often hang around at end points as well hoping to drive people back to Pokhara.

Jomsom

For those heading to the trekking town of Jomsom at the top of the Annapurna Circuit (and starting point for many other treks), the easiest and by far the fastest option is to fly into its tiny airfield from Pokhara. The second option is a long and bumpy road journey from Pokhara by Jeep or bus.

Flights to Jomsom

These are made in light aircraft. It is only possible to fly to Jomsom from Pokhara airport - although you can fly via Kathmandu, transferring at Pokhara to a different flight. Multiple flights go to Jomsom throughout the day. The flight only takes 20 minutes but be aware that they can be cancelled due to bad weather or high winds.

Pokhara airport is only around 20 minutes walk from the Lakeside area, or a short taxi ride. The Jomsom airfield is in the heart of the town. Tickets can be booked easily via travel agents in either city, direct from the airline offices (in Pokhara these are near the airfield) or online (more expensive). Book one or two days in advance. Expect to pay upwards of $100 to $120 one way.

Flights to Jomsom have a bit of a reputation due to their safety record. Mountainous surroundings and volatile weather conditions (especially cloud and quickly changing high winds) have been responsible for a number of plane crashes over the years, along with Nepal’s poor aviation safety standards. However, bear in mind that hundreds of trekkers fly safely into Jomsom every day. See the UK government’s travel advice page for more information on aviation safety records

Flight carriers making this trip include Buddha Air , Simrik Airlines and Tara Air (a subsidiary of Yeti Air). Avoid Sita Air due to their bad safety standards.

Annapurna sanctuary

Annapurna sanctuary has some of the best views

Jomsom by Road

You get to Jomsom by road from Pokhara using buses and/or Jeeps. Much of the journey is on a rough road. Check the road status in advance as it can be closed due to rockslides or earthquakes. If this is the case, you can still hike north from where-ever the blockage is, following the Annapurna Circuit, although this could take days if you can’t find transportation on the other side!

It’s potentially possible to do the whole trip in one long day (road conditions permitting) but this relies on getting all the correct transport connections and there being minimal delays. A better idea is to spread the journey over two days by staying at one of the villages en-route like Beni or Tatopani.

The first leg is simple, from Pokhara to the small town of Beni, along a paved road. Public buses run here from Pokhara (catch them from Prithvi Chowk or Baglung Bus Park) or you could hire a taxi. The journey takes a few hours. Arrive in Beni early to try and secure onward transport. Beni is not an attractive place but does have some accommodation if you have trouble finding onward transport on that day.

From Beni, it’s all dirt or gravel road all the way to Jomsom. You can take a public bus or a private Jeep service onwards and hop off at any of the trekking villages along the way if you choose, all of which have trekking accommodation. Be aware that some public buses do not go as far as Jomsom so it is possible if you stop to be stranded in one of the villages if no further transport is heading that way today. As of this year though a lot more private Jeeps have been added to this route making finding transport much easier.

This road is not for the faint hearted - it is narrow with poor road conditions after bad weather, sheer drops with no barriers as you pass through the Kali Gandaki gorge and in general it is a very bumpy, dusty and uncomfortable ride to endure. However the views are incredible (bear in mind this follows the same route as Annapurna Circuit). There are a few  trekking checkpoints along the route where your transport may stop so you can show your trekking permit to a warden.

If all goes well, the journey from Beni to Jomsom by road will take around 5-8 hours. This completely varies depending on the road condition, rest stops, transport transfers and so on. The Beni to Jomsom trip is quite the adventure but the new fleet of private jeeps making the direct trip should make things a little easier for trekkers wanting to get to Jomsom quickly.

Safe Travels!

Fortunately, although getting around Nepal can sometimes be confusing and slow, there are always people, both tourists and locals who are happy to help and point you in the right direction. In general in Nepal it’s simpler, faster and less stressful to pay more money for tourist transport, for those on a tight timeframe. Don’t be afraid of public transport though, it’s a great experience for shorter journeys - for longer ones you need a bit more patience!

We hope you found this article useful. For more advice and tips about Annapurna treks, comparisons etc. check out our other informative articles on this site. Happy trails!

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