You're on a path where you can see terraced crop fields climbing impossibly steep mountainsides. You step aside to allow a mule train to pass and tip your hat to porters bent under monstrous loads. In the distance, you hear the thunder of avalanches as you eat lunch at a lonely teahouse at 13,000 feet. Inside a tiny stone temple built into the foot of an imposing cliff, a stooped, aged monk blesses your journey. You tentatively cross narrow footbridges that sway above raging rivers and pass through villages of stone huts where children laugh and play and people live as they have for centuries. Buddhist prayer flags whip in the wind at a mountain pass at nearly 18,000 feet. This is the Annapurna Circuit, a 17- to 25-day trek around Nepal's lofty Annapurna range, and your pathway through hands-down the biggest, most majestic mountains in the world. It's a journey that will show you what it means to live simply and savor the wildest of wilds.
Guide services: You can do this trek unguided or find a licensed trekking service in Kathmandu's Thamel District (see Guide below).
Season: From October through November, skies are clear, valleys are warm and flower-filled, and higher elevations may get snow. Rhododendron forests bloom in spring. Don't attempt to cross 17,700-foot Thorung La pass in bad weather.
Gear: Pack a sleeping pad and three-season bag, but leave the tent and cooking gear home. There are plenty of teahouses or "hotels" that offer meals and a bed with a thin mattress. Carry water treatment equipment.
Elevation: The trek begins in a tropical valley at about 3,000 feet and rises to 17,700 feet at Thorung La pass. Ascend slowly to acclimatize to the altitude (read "Heave Ho!"). Above 10,000 feet, spend each night no more than 1,000 feet higher than the previous night.
Guide:Trekking in Nepal: A Traveler's Guide, by Stephen Bezruchka (The Mountaineers, 800-553-4453; $16.95). Includes maps.