The Annapurna Sanctuary is a high glacial basin in central Nepal. This oval plateau sits at an altitude of over 4,000 metres (13,123 ft) and is surrounded by a ring of mountains, the Annapurna Range, most of which are over 7,000 metres (22,966 ft). Because of difficult access through a narrow pass the area was not visited by outsiders until 1956 but it is now the base of one of the major routes to the peaks. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project was established in 1986 in an attempt to limit the damage done by visitors while protecting the traditional rights of the local inhabitants.
The entire sanctuary was held as sacred to the Gurung people, one of the many native people to inhabit the area. They believed it was the repository of gold and treasures left by the Nagas the serpent-gods of India. The sanctuary was believed to be the home of several Hindu and Buddhist deities as well as older animistic gods. The peak of Machapuhare at the santuary’s entrance was understood to be the home of the god Shiva, and the daily plumes of snow were thought to be the smoke of his divine incense.
Because the surrounding mountains are so high the Sanctuary receives only 7 hours of sunlight a day in mid-summer. This results in a wide variety of ecosystems. The south-facing slopes are thick with rhododendron and bamboo, while the north-facing slopes, in the rain shadow, are sparsely vegetated.