Trek Nar Phu and escape Nepal’s apple pie trail

Trek Nar Phu and escape Nepal’s apple pie trail

If you love trekking but can’t live without wi-fi or banana pancakes, stop reading now. Snaking off from Nepal’s legendary Annapurna Circuit, the wild, rarely-visited, valleys of Nar and Phu are slowly opening up to independent trekkers, offering a window onto one of Nepal’s most untouched, Tibetan-influenced quarters.

Once the exclusive domain of expensive, porter-hauled mountaineering expeditions, Nar Phu is becoming increasingly accessible to ordinary ‘carry your own pack’ trekkers. It’s now possible, with a guide and the right permits, to string together simple village lodgings into an inexpensive seven day teahouse-style trek, visiting a string of stone-walled villages dotted across the Annapurna range.

Leaving the Apple Pie Trail

In the company of an obligatory guide, I started my expedition at Koto (2600m), a small village on the Annapurna Circuit route, kissing goodbye to the creature comforts of pizza, apple pie and Facebook updates. Within minutes of joining the narrow, unmarked trail, the number of trekkers slowed to a trickle. For the next seven days, I would see more porters than walkers on this ‘blink and you’d miss it’ track. With no roads or mechanized transport, all goods enter Nar Phu this way, carried by mule, yak or human muscle.

Climbing onwards through lush conifer forests above the raging white-water of the Nar Khola, there was little to do but soak up the sounds of nature. A cluster of simple bhattis (food stalls) made for a pleasant lunch stop before the trail beat an increasingly vertiginous path towards the treeline. Breathlessly, I gained the ridge at a lonely chorten (stupa) and basked in front of sensational views of the coming route – aloof, snow-capped peaks, brittle, jagged cliffs, and deep, plummeting gorges.

After crossing the stream on a wobbly suspension bridge, I spotted a dusty mule trail zigzagging west, high above the gravity-defying monastery of Nar Phedi, but that would come later in the trek. First, I needed to tackle the barren ridges and sheer rock walls of the winding Phu valley, striking north towards Tibet. I could feel the altitude as I rolled into Meta (3530m), set in a high bowl on the valley side, where a simple lodge offered a meal of daal bhaat (lentil and rice) and a rustic bed for the night.