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From the Hindu middle hills culture to the Tibetan high-country dwellers, the Manaslu Circuit trek is a cultural trek par excellence, without a doubt one of the best treks in Nepal.
Manaslu, 'The mountain of the spirit', is the eighth highest peak in the world, and from upper Nubri valley must be one of the most beautiful ones; the huge mountain scenery has to be seen to be believed. In the heart of the Himalaya there is more than mountains though, and we also pass thru some of the most picturesque villages in Nepal, peeling snotty-nosed kids off your pants.
Manaslu is far left - panorama photo by Jamie.
Note: The Lonely Planet guide book describes the Manaslu trek as tougher than most, but this is now wrong. There have been new trails put in that significantly reduce the climbing involved and reduce the exposure. The trails are now wide and good unlike in Tilman's time (1950) where in one part the trail was a few narrow planks resting on branches that had been hammered into cracks in the rock!
Day 1 - arrive Kathmandu 1350m
Arrive in Kathmandu. You’ll be met at the airport by a representative from Explore Himalaya so look out for a sign with your name on it. If, for some strange reason, the Explore Himalaya staff aren't there, either contact us or take a taxi to the hotel in Thamel.
You have the rest of the day free to explore Thamel. Thamel is a mass of energy and chaos with a myriad banners, signs, pumping music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and eccentrically clad backpackers. Normally we meet at Sam's bar over a drink before dinner.
Day 2 - Kathmandu 1350m
Today we’ll explore the sights of Kathmandu and the valley (opens in a new window) with a good local guide. Many trekkers are already familiar with Kathmandu so we match the sightseeing itinerary to what people haven't seen before. In the late afternoon we can sort out any equipment that you need.
Day 3 - drive then trek to Arughat 570m
We leave early by private bus packed with us and our crew. Leaving on the main road to Pokhara we turn off for Dhading and take a rough road to the end, where we have lunch. The afternoon is thru beautiful (and hot) low country, endless fields. Once upon a time in Nepal very trek started like this. Flat land, wandering through lush green paddies, caked in sweat, resting under pipal and banyan trees, with those white giants on the horizon; so count your blessings as we wade a side river and stumble deliriously into the tropical shade of the bazaar of Arughat. This can be a longer day, or as in 2007 the road was so bad that we took one extra day to get to Arughat.
Day 4 - Soti Khola 730m / Korsani Khola
Today will be hot, but classic lower middle hills trekking as we meander along the river.
Day 5 - Machha Khola 930m
The country changes, the broad valley narrows and at times the trail is cut into the steep valley side, which is densely forested. We pass a number of small villages, tucked into the hillside, until we reach a widening of the valley, opposite the point where a large tributary stream enters the Buri Gandaki. The terraced farmland here belongs to the village of Lapuabesi. We descend once again to the wide, sandy riverbed and follow a path which runs below the steep, craggy valley side. At length, we have to climb up once again on a trail to Machha Khola. We camp outside the village, which has a number of teashops.
Day 6 - Jagat 1370m
A few hours of walking by tobacco and buckwheat fields, past rocks washed smooth by the river, we reach the hot springs in the centre of the small, terraced village of Tatopani, where we have plenty of time to soak our grungy bodies in the gushing hot water, and then perhaps go for a swim in the icy river below, drying off on the wonderful river-side beach. A gentle climb through the woods past some spectacular waterfalls, across another suspension bridge and through a short section of forest path and we reach Dobhan, where we stop for lunch. Above Dobhan, the Buri Gandaki descends in an impressive series of steep rapids. Here, our trail climbs high above the river to descend through what appears to be a huge gateway into some secret place; in front the valley widens, the river calms, and we splash through streams before coming into our camp below Jagat, the entrance to the Manaslu park. It is worth wandering around this beautiful, paved village, where proud villagers have recorded how much they contributed to these paving schemes; Jagat people love their village! Our campsite is impressively clean and grassy, with cold beers available at the shop next door.
Day 7 - Philim 1570m
After descending a long series of stone steps to the river, we climb a terraced hill to Saguleri, from where we can see the impressive Sringi Himal, 7187m. We pass through the charming, paved village of Sirdibas, where the local children might be selling oranges. Crossing the river again via a long suspension bridge at Gata Khola, the path splits, with the right-hand branch heading off towards the Ganesh Himal. Our route continues upstream, and again we have a steep climb to reach Philim and its Japanese sponsored school. We will either camp here or at a campsite an hour further, Eklai Bhatti.
Day 8 - Deng 1540m
We pass through Eklai Bhatti, and then on through a narrow, dramatic gorge section with towering walls, and past a thundering waterfall just above us on the right of the trail. We cross the river three more times in the next two hours (on even more sketchy bridges, Nepali style) to avoid the difficult valley sides, and then leave the gorge, climbing at one point on steps cut into tree trunks, to the small village of Deng. This is the start of the lower Nubri region called Kutang, where the people are ethnically Tibetan but speak a different dialect than the people of upper Nubri. We camp just below the village, and get fresh greens from the family that owns the land. It's worth a visit to the upper floor of their house above us, perhaps for a glass of local 'chang', or Tibetan beer, and for a chat around the hearth. It starts to feel like a piece of old Tibet at last.
Day 9 - Ghap 2165m
The valley is still steep-sided and impressive; we cross to the village of Lana, and start to see mani stones (prayers etched onto wayside rocks), a sure sign that we are entering another of the tiny Tibetan footholds that mark the high Himalayan places. After about three hours, we reach Ghap, where we set up camp for the night at the house of some wonderful villagers. The egg-shells strung above their 'tea-house' door prevent the evil spirits from entering the house. The sun goes down early here, so we will cross the small bridge spanning the Buri Gandaki and trek steeply up for 45 minutes to the village of Chaak, where the son of the tea-house owner lives with his family. There is a small, deserted gompa, carved mani stones (the style here is distinctly different that most other Tibetan Buddhist regions), and some Tibetans from Samdo who graze their yaks here. In the village, they will be drying their maize to grind into flour, and then trade with the people of upper Nubri, and we might be invited into the son's house for some Tibetan salt-butter tea and roasted maize on the cob. Look out across the river for views of the village of Prok perched on the plateau jutting over the river below us. From Chaak, you can trek further to Kwak, and there is a trail up to Shringi Himal base camp.
Day 10 - Lho 3180m
Today is a wonderful trekking day; after passing through the seemingly deserted village of Nambachhe, planted with fields of barley and lined with mani walls, we ascend through a dense, cool forest for an half an hour to Namrung, at 2540 meters, where we will stop for a cup of chai. A few hours later, we reach the village of Lihi at 2840 meters, a substantial altitude gain. The air is pleasantly cool, and we stop for a breather before heading on the Sho, which we can see on the ridge ahead, for lunch on the deck of a local house. Look for the bear claw on the upper deck of the house. From Sho, the views of Ngadi Chuli are spectacular, and further on, towards Lho, we are finally treated to views of Manaslu itself; quite an impressive afternoon!
Day 11 - Sama Goan (Ro) 3525m
We gain altitude to take us into alpine territory and increasing mountain views. There are more mani walls and three more crossings of the Buri Gandaki on our route to Namrung, a great place for morning chai in the Manaslu lodge, run by friendly Tibetan family; check out their prayer area and masks! Above this village the valley opens out and there are extensive pastures. We are climbing climb gently now, cross a large stream flowing down from the Lidanda Glaciers, and reach the picturesque Tibetan village of Sho at 3000m. We may camp at Shyala, or push on to Sama Gaon; from either there are incredible views of Manaslu.
Sama Gaon, or Ro, as the locals call it, sits in a bowl at the foot of the pastures leading to the high peaks. The people settled here from Tibet over 500 years ago, and there are two gompas dating from this time with unique architecture, built of wood. The Tibetan villages here have entrance gates which are very distinctive from Ladakh and Tibet, and they maintain an active trade with their coreligionists in Tibet (notice the Chinese brandy and beer on sale). If the weather is good, you will see the village women weaving wool (baal) from Tibet into gowns - which are then traded back to Tibet
Day 12 - Sama Gaon
We have two nights here, a full day to explore the village and gompas; a little piece of old Tibet! This is also an extra day to help acclimatization.
Day 13 - Samdo 3690m
Another day, another kingdom in the sky. Hard to keep stopping, but we do to look back at the incredible mountain views on the walk up to Samdo, an easy three hours. You can spot the entrance chorten high on a bluff an hour out of Ro. The village is a collection of houses and lodges at 3690m, high enough to feel it now, and most trekkers miss the heat of a week ago as we huddle around the lodge stove and a wind from Tibet batters the windowpanes. As Eric Newby, the doyen of travel writers said, 'you wanted Central Asia, and you got it!'. But the dining tent is warm and cozy, and so are our tents.
Day 14 - Samdo 3690m
On our rest day here why not a day trip to Old Tibet; no passport required. It takes five hours walking to do just that, and then take in the views and ruminate on the border markers at the top; 'China, 1962.' True high Asia!
Like the people of Ro, Samdo inhabitants are Tibetan, and were ceded the land by the king of Jumla over 500 years ago; but, unlike the Ro people, they only claimed their land after the Chinese takeover in the early 1950s. Since then they have established a trade with China and India, marketing among other things, the aphrodisiac root that grows in the region.
Day 15 - Dharamsala/Larkya Phedi 4460m
We leave on the trade route to old Tibet and climb through the ruins of Larkya bazaar, one of the trade markets that flourished years back. After two hours of climbing with increasingly incredible views, we come to the campsite at Dharamsala, where it's a hot lunch and a feast of views.
Day 16 - cross the Larkya La (4930m) to Bimtang 3590m
After a short climb above the lodge, we reach the ablation valley on the North side of the Larkya Glaciers. There are views of Cho Danda and then of Larkya Peak. Finally, we walk across the moraines of the glacier, making a gradual ascent which becomes steeper only in the last section to the pass. From the pass, there are outstanding views of Himlung Himal, Cheo Himal, Kangguru and the huge Annapurna II. If there is fresh snow, we may see snow leopard prints.
The top of the pass is truly unbelievable. From the pass, where we dive into lunch, is a steep ankle straining drop to a trail following the glacial moraine. Be warned, stop to admire the view, or you may fall. It is a longer day then usual to Bimtang, but to walk into these low pastures with the evening mist coming in and Manaslu; it's an experience not to be missed. And of course the three sisters of the 'Three sisters hotel' are on hand with Himalayan chilled beer. Does life get any better?
Day 17 - Tilje 2300m
Let Kim have her coffee this morning before you say Hello; she is no fan of cold, and the campsite at Bimtang is FRIGID in the morning. Porters pour hot water over tent pegs to get them out. Pee bottles freeze. No option if you want to get warm, move down valley into the sun, through forested hillsides to Tilje, at the end of our lost world. The gorge ahead marks apple pie and hot shower land - the Annapurna circuit. Our last day of camping!
Day 18 - Chamje 1430m
We climb through terraced fields to the Karche La (Pass), and can see ahead a green and heavily forested valley, dropping down to the distant Marshyangdi river. At Thonje village is our final restricted area checkpost. Here we cross the Marshyangdi River and join the main Annapurna Circuit, and the hoards of trekkers. At the intersection, we head down through the checkpost at Dharapani and along the valley to the scenic Tal. Tal means lake, and the area here was formed when the valley was blocked by a landslide and a dam formed behind. The lake has long gone and now the village of Tal sits on the river flats. We lose much altitude today as we drop back down the steep hillside and over the river to Chamje, the 'wild west' village of the Annapurna region, where we stay in a lovely lodge ... with hot showers!
Day 19 - Ngadi 930m
We start the morning with another steep downhill trek to Jagat and continue into rice paddy realm again as we trek down again from Bahundanda to Ngadi at 930 meters. Back to the lush, semi-tropical middle hills of Nepal! We stay at yet another wonderful lodge tonight, taking advantage of the well developed system of tea houses in the Annapurna region.
Day 20 - trek to Besi Sahar 760m, drive to Kathmandu
The last day of the trek. It is a relatively short (and hot) walk back to Bhulbhule and Khudi, where we will meet our transport back to Kathmandu if the road is passable. If not, we continue back to Besi Sahar and start the drive from there. It is a different world back in the Nepali hills, and the gentle light sends us on our way back to Kathmandu.
Day 21 - depart
We take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you've had a fantastic trek around Manaslu. You may want to stay an extra day in Kathmandu; we can book the hotel to suit.
See you again in the Himalaya soon!