Himalayan Tales: Photographing Annapurna's Secret Landscapes – Nepal
The mighty Himalayas: home to the world's highest mountains, sacred Buddhist monasteries and the few tribes accustomed to living permanently in the thin air. On this photography expedition, we will venture deep into the lands of the snow leopard while trekking from one stone-house village to another. This is not a standard Annapurna Circuit trek. After a month-long scouting expedition in 2015, we noted many side-trails and places to stay that most trekkers never get to visit.
Led by the adventure photographers Vlad Donkov and Michael Clark, together with one of the best Nepali guides around and a team of porters, you will have the chance to photograph some of the most interesting locations north of Annapurna and improve your photography over the course of a fortnight of shooting.
The expedition is designed in a way that lets you acclimatise gradually. At the highest point of the expedition, we will stand at an altitude of about 4800m / 15750ft. During the first two days of the trek, we will save a lot of time by using 4x4 vehicles to cover the first part of the Annapurna Circuit trail, which is already connected by a dirt road and is frequented by trekkers. We will also use jeeps for one more day on the way down: this strategy will let us spend the majority of our time photographing in the high-alpine areas above the regular trail. For the remaining ten days in the mountains, we will be trekking with light camera backpacks for four to seven hours a day. We will stay in six teahouses (and a monastery) and two hotels over the course of fifteen nights.
Dates: 03 - 18 April 2017
Group size: max 6 participants
Vlad Donkov &Michael Clark
Fitness level: Medium
- hotels: 4 nights
- tea houses: 11 nights
Our team will take care of all the paperwork, permits, etc. and will arrange the best possible transportation and accommodation in this part of Nepal. This means that once on location, we will be free to enjoy photographing the stunning scenery, diving into the local culture and making the most of our time in the mighty Himalayas.
Over the past decade, Vlad – one of the two co-founders of Vertical Shot Expeditions – has worked across the Arctic and other remote areas for clients such as Hasselblad, Outdoor Photography magazine, Berghaus, The Royal Norwegian Embassy, Black & White Photography magazine, the Royal Geographical Society in London and many others. In late 2015, he spent a month in this stunning part of Nepal on a scouting expedition. We are still waiting for him to scan his films, though ...
Michael has been on assignments to some of the remotest locations on Earth, and his images are widely published by magazines and newspapers such as National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Outdoor Photographer and Outside. It appears that this hasn't gone unnoticed; his work is also regularly used by commercial clients such as Nikon, Apple, Red Bull, Microsoft and Patagonia, among many others. Michael is among the very few photographers chosen to photograph the prestigious Patagonian Expedition Race. For him, this will be an exploratory expedition. You can learn more about his work on our team page.
Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu. We will pick you up from the airport and take you to our lovely hotel in the centre of the trekkers' district Thamel.
Day 2: A day dedicated to exploring Kathmandu's ancient temples, last-minute shopping for gear and simply catching up with the jet lag.
Day 3: Early in the morning, we will load up all our bags. The whole team of participants, guides and porters will travel using private vehicles to the start of the Annapurna trail. On this day, we will gain some altitude, and in the evening will stay at a teahouse in the village of Timang (2750m / 9020ft) to acclimatise. The jeep ride will be truly scenic and bumpy – very bumpy – so a maximum of three participants will travel in each vehicle. Once in Timang, a small village with stunning views of Manaslu and the Annapurna range, you will start to slowly realise just how beautiful the next eleven days are going to be.
Day 4: After a morning shoot and a hearty breakfast, we will continue driving in the 4x4 vehicles to the village of Lower Pisang (3200m / 10500ft), which will take roughly half the day. There we will start preparing the loads for our porters and get ready for the trek to the lesser-visited villages high above the road.
Day 5 to Day 13:
This ten-day-long trek is the core of our our photography expedition. No two days will be alike; on some we will trek for four to seven hours a day (apart from the morning and evening shoots). On others, we will explore unmarked side-trails and indulge ourselves in photographing our surroundings.
We will visit a couple of extremely atmospheric Buddhist monasteries and maybe spend a night in one of them; our expedition leader Vlad Donkov recently spent several days there, living with the monks. This monastery, situated at 3700m / 12140ft, almost never accommodates trekkers. However, thanks to our local friends, we may be lucky enough to stay there and attend the truly magical morning and evening chants of the monks.
We will most likely see vultures, eagles and blue sheep on many days, and if we are extremely lucky, maybe a snow leopard or two. On our way to a camp near Tilicho Lake (the highest lake in the world), we will visit an abandoned ancient stone village (at about 4700m / 15400ft) which looks just like a set from Game of Thrones. In all the villages on our route, the houses are built from stones brought from the slopes. The landscape is dotted with prayer sites and temples. Until the 1960s, the community of the Manang Valley was only visited by foreigners on a total of two or three occasions, so it is no wonder that you may feel like you have been taken back in time in many of the settlements.
Day 14: After going down to the village of Braga, we will drive down in 4x4 vehicles to the town of Besisahar. Again, the ride will be a true adventure – the Himalayan dirt roads are anything but even. However, this will save us about four days of walking. We will make several stops to photograph awe-inspiring waterfalls and landscapes before checking into a local hotel for the night.
Day 15: On this day, we will have a drive of between five and seven hours to Kathmandu (though on much better roads), where we will stay at the same lovely hotel and have a goodbye dinner in the colourful district of Thamel. Shopping for gifts made by the creative locals in Thamel is considered a pleasure – even by those who usually dislike shopping!
Day 16: Should you decide to fly on this day, we will transfer you to the airport.
If you prefer to stay for a while and explore the city, we will be glad to help you extend your stay at the hotel.
The Annapurna Circuit is also called “The Apple Pie Trek” for a good reason – at most places on the route the food is excellent, and you will find many meals that you wouldn't usually expect when trekking in remote areas of the Himalayas. Most of the local dishes are based on rice and noodles, but in some teahouses you can order from a selection of steaks, pizza, delicious cinnamon rolls and cakes baked on site. Due to the way these places are supplied (mostly by porters and horses), the menu will vary from day to day, so everyone will order (and pay for) meals separately, according to their preferences. You can expect to spend from 10 to 25 US dollars per day. You should definitely try the traditional Nepali Dhal Bhat dish, which is what most locals have for dinner and lunch every day.
We will spend four nights in hotels (three in Kathmandu and one in Besisahar) and eleven nights in teahouses in the mountains. We will do our best to arrange single rooms for you whenever possible, though in some teahouses this will not be an option and you may have to share a room with one or two other participants on some nights. The conditions at the different teahouses vary greatly from village to village, but in general you can expect a comfortable hard bunk with a thin mattress in a stone-house which will have a shared bathroom and a restaurant. There are electricity sockets in the dining rooms and we will carry extension cords to make sure that we have enough sockets for everyone.
One-to-one and group photography tuition by our tutors.
Nepali mountain guide.
Personal porter for each individual, plus one porter whose job will be to carry everyone's tripods.
Pre-arranged trekking permits.
Transportation by private vehicles (4x4 and minivan) on four days.
Fifteen nights’ accommodation: four in hotels and eleven in teahouses/monastery.
Fitness level: Medium
You need to have trekked previously just to have an idea of the level of effort required. On this expedition, we will not camp or carry heavy backpacks (as the main loads will be carried by local porters), but you still need to be in shape to enjoy the expedition to the full. The treks are moderate and a reasonably fit person should have no problem completing them. The route is designed in a way that allows you to gradually acclimatise to the altitude, yet some minor discomfort such as a light headache on some days may be expected. Should you feel any serious symptoms of high altitude sickness (which is unlikely to happen), we will assist you to a lower altitude where you will feel better in a few hours.
Meals and drinks (roughly $10 to $25 a day, depending on your choice of meals).
Flights to Kathmandu.
Tourist visa ($40).
Tips for the local guide and porters (roughly $100 in total).
Getting there and visas:
Getting to Kathmandu is generally easy, as about thirty international airlines operate flights to the capital of Nepal. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribhuvan_International_Airport#Airlines_and_destinations
A tourist visa can easily be obtained on arrival at the airport – you need a passport photograph and $40 for a one-month visa.
We will be happy to help you with your travel plans, please just get in touch with us.