This trek has been on my list since I was last in Nepal in 1999 visiting Lillian who spent several weeks in Pokhara on her medical elective, and when the chance came to join Kate and two of her friends (Melanie and Jackie) to walk it this November I was in. Our timing was good as new road building is going to change the character of the circuit in a few years so we walked with a slight feeling of sadness; but you can’t stand in the way of progress or the deep pockets of Nepal’s northern neighbour… but more about that later. Below are some photos that show why it was such an amazing experience.
It’s necessary to have a guide for the Manaslu trek and we were very lucky to have an excellent local guide, Dipak Tiwari, arranged by Magical Nepal. I’d recommend this company as they did a great job of arranging everything for us including transport and trekking permits.
Donkey train passing Manaslu on Day 9.
View from the top of a small peak we climbed, and the highest point we reached at 5177m (Day 10).
Walking to Dharamsala, the last stop before the Larkya Pass, the high pass we had to cross to complete the circuit (Day 11).
On the drive to the start of the trek (Day 1).
Our guards dogs sleeping outside our room in Samagaon (Day 7).
I went for dawn run along the lake in Pokhara (which we visited for night after the trek) and my canine friend followed me the whole way.
Food and Drink
Beer was available in most lodges costing at most Rs700 (c.$7), not bad considering it cost about Rs500 in Kathmandu.
And when we didn’t feel like beer there was rum (a bottle of rum and beer cost about the same).
I ate vegetarian food for the whole trek and had dahl bhat for every lunch and dinner that we had in a lodge, hitting a dhat bhat streak of 26 in a row! This is a decent dahl bhat on Day 3. As well as reducing the risk of getting sick, the other advantage with dahl bhat is that further helpings keep coming until you’ve had enough.
The least appetising dahl bhat was not surprisingly in Dharamsala, the highest place that we stayed in (Day 11).
Once over the pass things picked up again. This is dhal bhat 24 on Day 13.
One of many bridges crossing the Buri Gandaki river and its tributaries (Day 4).
Approaching the Samagaon valley with Naike Peak in the background (Day 7).
Our porters, Pulu and Dawa, Dipak and the rest of us about to leave Bimthang on our last day of walking (Day 13).
All of us on the top of Sarangkot, a viewpoint in Pokhara, the day after we finished the trek.
Day by Day Account
Below are more photos and some diary notes, for anyone interested in finding out more. The times include lunch and photo stops.
First though I have pasted the best map I could find on the internet below. It’s not perfect but it shows the general shape of the circuit. On the first day we drove to Soti Khola which is not shown on the map but which is just past Arkhet Bazar.
Day 1 (Kathmandu to Soti Khola)
The first view I had if Kathmandu in the daylight was after we piled into a 4×4 and headed for the hills. It was not the best sight, with rutted roads, haze and trucks bleaching black smoke. We left at around 8am which was just as well as we had a long day ahead of us. Some crazy overtaking and large clouds of fine dust brought us to Soti Khola, our destination and the start of the trek at about 3.30. I was definitely glad we were in a private car as the second half of the drive, from Dhading Besi was on a rough track. It was a little sad driving through the town of Arughat Bazar (the home town of our local guide, Dipak) as it is due to be submerged in the next ten years when a Chinese built dam down river is completed. Lunch was the first of many meals of dahl bhat and the second day of my vegetarian diet. Our accommodation, Hotel ABC, was at one end of town. The other end was only 200m up the track and in between were a few open fronted stores selling fruit and veg and a tailor shop. Kate and Jackie had pizza – not a good move – but I was happy with more dahl bhat and Gorkha Beer. Went to sleep to the sound of the Buri Gandaki rushing by the back of our hotel.
Not good to be a nervous passengar. Lorry off the road just after leaving Kathmandu.
Also not good to drive too close to the car (or in this case lorry) in front.
Day 2 (Soti Khola to Macchakhola) (5.5 hours)
I felt bad for out two porters, Dawa and Pulu, carrying 20+kg of kit and fruit for us. I also felt a bit sorry for some of the donkeys we saw, including one with two 50kg bags of cement. We spent the day walking along a dusty road – and later a road under construction – but it was interesting to watch it and the villages we passed through. Had a shower and washed clothes at Machhakhola which was the first town we have come to whose main street has not been replaced by a road. It gives the village some charm with donkey trains and people passing by our guesthouse (the Chum Valley Guesthouse).
I took this photo to send to Lillian but did not get wifi again until the end of the trek (mainly because I decided to take an internet holiday as wifi was available for Rs500 in several towns on the trek).
Jackie and Dipak with our route ahead behind them.
Day 3 (Macchakhola to Jagat) (9.5 hours)
Had a fantastic 9 hours of sleep. Luxury is now a clean pillow and a bathroom that doesn’t smell. After a couple of hours of walking on the dirt track – still interesting as the Buri Gandaki went through a gorge – we came to some hot springs (Tatopani) and the way became a proper trekking trail. It was a challenge to stay out of the way of the donkeys – apparently some trekkers had been knocked off the trail and into the river – but the views were increasingly spectacular as the rapids become more turbulent. We were happy to spot some of the striped ‘humbug’ boulders that our guidebook mentioned.
A couple of memorable sights were a woman with a very cute one month year old baby who was digging sand while her husband looked on! The man did carry the heavy bag off – presumably to build their new home. We also came across two Brits, one of whom was an A&E doctor, who had stopped to bandage up an old women who had tripped on a suspension bridge and cut her head. All they needed was something to stitch the wound. Luckily Jackie had some steri-strips which were perfect for the job. Finally there was a cool walkway about a flat gravel section of the river before we reached Jagat and the Jagat Guesthouse. A good bucket shower and my sixth dahl bhat of the trip was a good end to quite a tiring day.
One of the many donkey trains.
Melanie at the Tatopani (‘hot water’) springs.
Day 4 (Jagat to Deng) (9 hours)
A really nice day’s walking following the river up through some spectacular gorges. After a couple of hours we met some Polish mountain-bikers descending. I asked the first one how rideable the trail was and he said he was too tired to talk and just rode (sorry, walked) by. The next two didn’t look like they were having much fun either. However the final two smiled and the last guy said that it had been a tough few days with not enough of the trail being rideable to make it fun. We were taking it easy in the morning, so easy that we were overtaken by a big group of Germans. At least they provided a bit of a spur to stop us dawdling too much. After a dahl baht no. 7 we passed the trail to the Tsum Valley and entered a beautiful pine forest. After a final Coke stop we did a push to get by the Germans (again) and reach Deng. At its entrance we saw our first prayer wheel. Stayed at the Shangri-La Home. Had a nice wash under a cold tap – I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean on a trek before. Also shared a Snicker Roll for dessert. A Snickers Bar deep-fried in a pastry. Delicious.
Morning tea stop. Melanie, Kate and Dipak.
Day 5 (Deng to Namrung) (8.5 hours)
Another fantastic day. As well as more vertiginous cliffside paths, pine forest and mossy jungle other highlights of the day were as follows: seeing some wild deer on the other side of the valley; a snake, albeit it a small, lethargic green one; and a water driven mill in action. It was a solid day’s walk with a couple of strenuous climbs. As we entered Namrung we passed the Four Seasons Guesthouse – we’d seen signs and posters for it all along the trail ($28 for bed, breakfast and dinner buffet!) – and in truth it was a spectacular building. The menu was very tempting including a yak steak and yak sizzler as well as a sauna for Rs 2000 ($20).
After the 2015 earthquake houses have been constructed with layers of wood between the stones and the Four Season was also built in this fashion. Our accommodation, the Thakali Guesthouse, however was also nice. It gave us the three essentials: good lighting, free power charging and tasty dahl baht. Even better there was a warm shower – with electric heating so there was no need to worry about wood-burning to heat the water – and a new bucket for washing clothes. Happiness is a clean bucket!
Pilot Earthquake Resilient House.
Day 6 (Namrung to Lho) (5 hours)
As planned we had our ground coffee in the Four Seasons. The beans were grown a day’s walk away and it tasted good. It was interesting talking to the owner, Lakpa. He had worked abroad for 16 years and had returned to his home village to build the hotel. He thought it would take 6-7 years before the road from the south reached Namrung. On the plus side he said it would be a lot cheaper to buy materials. Everything for his hotel that could not be brought in by donkey (you can only 80kg on a donkey) had to be helicoptered in at a cost of $2500 for 500kg load. (Dipak later told us that was also the price of a helicopter evacuation.)
As the day progressed we saw some spectacular but not particularly high mountains (Simnang Himal and Naike Peak, both around 6200m) and as we went through Sho, our first view of Manaslu North (7157m). The valley stated to open out and began to feel very Tibetan with our greeting changing from ‘namaste’ to ‘tashi delek’. We passed many chorten and mani walls and once we reached our final destination, the Majestic Manaslu Guesthouse in Lho, after lunch we strolled up to the Ribung Monastery perched on a hill above the town.
Lakpa and his coffee machine.
The entrance to Lihi and our first good view of snowy mountains.
Children watching the monkeys in Lihi.
Little girl chewing on a pink balloon as we approached Lho.
Manaslu North and Naike Peak.
Day 7 (Lho to Samagaon) (4.5 hours)
We woke up early to watch the sun rise on Manaslu (8163m). I waited in a field above town until the sunlight finally hit the summit and lit it up with a brilliant orange glow. When I got back down to our hotel though I found that the view from the terrace was even better! Our stop for the day, Samagaon, was a surprisingly large town in an open and well farmed valley. After dahl baht I headed out for a run. I felt okay on the downhill and flat sections but was only able to power-walk the uphills. I met the others at a lake below the Manaslu Glacier (Birendra Tal), but not before I’d had a quick wash in its icy outflow stream, and we built an impressive cairn together.
It’s nice to see the valley as it now is because it won’t stay this way for long. We met Lakpa, the boss of the Four Seasons Hotel, again both last night and as we set off this morning. He had come to Lho for a meeting with locals about the route of another new road. This one will come from the Rui-La where there is already a road on the Tibetan side. He showed us a picture of himself with some Chinese counterparts shaking hands on the top a couple of weeks ago. In only two years there should be a road from Tibet to below Samagaon!
Manaslu and the Ribung Monastery at sunrise.
The twin-headed main peak of Manaslu with Manaslu North to the right.
The Ribung Gompa above Lho.
Lakpa making some measurements for the new road.
Two children who ran over to me on the flat valley floor around Samagaon.
Birendra Tal, the lake below Manaslu Glacier with Manaslu on the left and Naike Peak on in the middle.
Dipak, Melanie, Jackie and Kate by our carefully constructed cairn.
Day 8 (Pung Gyen Gompa) (6.5 hours)
It’s getting cold. I had to break almost 1cm of ice on an outside bowl of water in order to wash my face this morning! Today was a rest day for acclimatisation. We had two options, described by Dipak as follows: Manaslu Basecamp (six hours of uphill, steep and windy); or a walk to the Pung Gyen Gompa (beautiful views just as good as the Basecamp). It’s no surprise that we chose the latter and it did not disappoint. The gompa was at 4000m on the edge of a flat grassy plain underneath the east face of Manaslu. The gompa was closed (it’s now too cold) but Deepak brewed up some tea and Melanie conducted an impromptu yoga class for us. We climbed a further 125m vertical onto the juniper scrub and snow covered moraine overlooking the glacier. As we started to descend I felt an altitude headache coming on and we were all quite tired when we returned to the Hotel Mount Manaslu.
Frozen stream on the walk up to the Pung Gyen Gompa.
Nadi Chuli (7891m) and Manaslu.
We conjectured that the surprisingly flat ground by the gompa must have formed as the floor of an ancient lake.
On the morraine with the Pung Gyen Glacier and Manaslu in the background.
Manaslu from the main building of the gompa.
Day 9 (Samagaon to Samdo) (3 hours)
Another short day, climbing just 400m. After passing the longest mani wall on the trek we stopped by the river for a wash. It was cold enough for an instant ice-cream headache but it felt good. Samdo was created by Tibetan refugees fleeing Tibet in the 1950s and indeed the surrounding area looked Tibetan with no trees and tens of shades of brown on the hills. After lunch at our residence, the Yak Hotel, Jackie and I walked towards Rui-La and the Tibetan border following the route the road will take. After 6km and about 90 minutes we grudgingly had to turn back having reached about 4350m (we still had 700-800m of ascent left). We met three guys carrying massive loads of timber down the trail. They said these had been trucked up to the border and were for building a hotel in Samdo. It’s cold. As soon as it is in the shade any exposed water freezes pretty quickly.
Time to say goodbye to views of Manaslu from this side.
Memorial to 5 climbers (French and Canadian) killed on Manaslu in an avalanche in 2012 (which also killed Rémy Lécluse).
Our impromptu hairwash in the Buri Gandaki.
Dipak obviously got bored waiting for us.
Catching some rays on the roof of our hotel in Samdo.
Om Mani Padme Hum.
Looking down at Samdo on our walk towards the Rui-La, one of the passes to Tibet.
Three guys carrying timber from the pass to Samdo. I lifted one load and it must have been 40kg, all carried on a headband!
A panorama of our walk. We turned back on the far left hand side. The mountain on the right is the one we climbed (from behind) the following day.
Day 10 (Samdo Peak) (8 hours)
We had another ‘rest’ day and after much debate decided to climb the mountain to the north-east of Samdo and/or walk to another pass to Tibet, the Lajyung Pass. It was the best day of the trek so far though it was tough as Samdo Peak at 5177m will be the highest that we will go. We saw herds of wild blue sheep, one very close. At about 4600m we had a view into the valley leading to Tibet and voted for the peak, which was probably wise as I’m not convinced we would have made it to the pass. My head was by now throbbing and the final hour was a real slog. Twenty paces, 10 breaths to recover, rinse and repeat. However it was worth it and included a view of the valley we had walked up yesterday showing that we still had some way to go to get to the turnoff to the Rui- La.
After descending to a flatter section Dipak brewed up some tea. Lunch was cup noodles and boiled egg. Unfortunately Dipak’s delicious lunch meant the for the first time in the last 10 days I didn’t have dahl bhat. So that meant my evening one was no. 19 versus Kate at no. 18. However, after some debate we agreed that the dahl bhat streak should remain intact. A tiring day, with 1471m of ascent! Finished with a shower for Rs500 with solar heated water. This could not be described as even lukewarm but it was in a spacious concrete hut so it was nice to have space to change in. Simple pleasures.
More spectacular views of Manaslu North, the main summit and Naike Peak.
Crossing the frozen streams was more tricky that it looks in the picture.
On the final grind to the top of Samdo Peak. The Laiyung Pass is in the background to the left.
On the top of Samdo Peak.
Looking down to the walk Jackie and I had done the previous day. We’d turned around when we reached the right side of the moraine.
Jackie on the summit.
A view towards the Larkya Pass, in the middle of picture and only a few metres below us in terms of altitude.
Dipak boiling water for a delicious lunch of cup noodles and boiled eggs.
Day 11 (Samdo to Dharamsala) (3 hours)
Time to say goodbye to Samdo. It was windy in the morning especially in the well ventilated squatter toilet in the Yak Hotel – it has a large open window. We had 800m to climb over 6km so it was not particularly strenuous although I felt an altitude headache coming on and popped a few ibuprofen. Dharamsala has been created as a stopping point for trekkers going over the Larkya-La. One of us make the slip of tongue of calling one of our previous hotels a ‘resort’. Anyway we liked the ‘sun-deck’ at this resort and stayed on it until the sun disappeared at about 2.30pm. It became cold very quickly so we chased the sun by walking about a kilometre up towards the pass. The wind had dropped and we sat in the sun looking at the moraine of the Larkya Glacier; it looked like a conveyor belt of boulders and rubble and with white earth of the moraine it almost looked like there was ice underneath.
The Syacha Glacier with Manaslu and Manaslu North poking out from behind Naike Peak.
Yaks wondering by gave the resort some unique photo opportunities.
On the sun-deck. We thought that Jackie almost looked like she was on a beach on the Med before she put on her face mask.
A warm and peaceful half hour before the sun finally disappeared.
Tonight we are all in a room for four so we should be warm!
Day 12 (Dharamsala to Bimthang) (9 hours)
Our four person room was cosy… almost too cosy. We went to sleep at around 7pm. Melanie woke me when going to the loo. I looked at my phone. 9pm! Then I woke two hours later feeling really hot. Had to unzip my sleeping bag. It was so stuffy. I had a headache and wondered if we were suffering from carbon dioxide poisoning! Then had a nightmare and work at 12.30. My tummy was making some strange noises – could it have been the lukewarm cup of tea I was served the day before in Samdo – which persuaded me to brave the loo. Walking to and from it was a magical experience with such bright moonlight that you could have almost read a book outside. Our alarms went at 3am and just before 4.30am we were on our way to the Larkya-La at 5160m, 700m above us.
I persuaded everyone to turn off our head-torches so we had an amazing moonlit walk by the side of the moraine slowly watching our surroundings brighten as the sun rose. It was still a slog to the pass but made much nicer by our acclimatisation days. We were also lucky with the weather only have to deal with a light but cold wind. Some liberal dosing of ibuprofen meant may head was okay though I felt slightly nauseous. From the pass we had a long descent down to the beautifully situated village of Bimthang.
From our room in the Himalaya View Hotel we can see Manaslu from the west. It’s nice to be back in ‘civilisation’. Had a cold shower partly because this saves $5 but mainly because I prefer a tap with a decent flow rather than an anaemic shower. After a late lunch I had an explore and came across a donkey graveyard were the dead animals had been left to be eaten by scavengers. There was no smell, mainly because I don’t think it got much above zero all day. We also met some Thai trekkers who had also climbed a peak north of the Larkya Pass and I stole a snapshot of one of them posing in traditional Thai dress on the top of the moraine.
The sun was rising behind us and starting to overpower the moonlight.
Kate crossing a frozen lake on the final approach to the Larkya Pass.
Kate and Jackie on the pass.
A welcome break after descending to a few hundred metres below the pass.
Cheo and Pawar Himal from Bimthang.
Prichaya posing below Manaslu.
Day 13 (Bimthang to Dharapani) (8.5 hours)
Our final day of walking. Now that it’s nearly over we all felt a little sad. The trail was fantastic dropping 1700m to Dharapani on the road to Manang… which is on the Annapurna circuit. As we bid farewell to Manaslu we followed the Dubh Khola out of the mountains, dropping first into pine forest, then red leaved deciduous trees followed by bamboo and finally terraced farmland. It was a relatively long day and it felt good to arrive at the King Fisher Hotel and enjoy a shower, albeit cold, in a clean and bright shower room with a tiled rather than concrete floor and with surrounding air temperature that was greater than zero. We bought a bottle of rum for our porters, Dawa and Pulu who were celebrating with a chicken curry. Our guide Dipak had hit the rum the previous evening to celebrate our crossing of the pass but seemed happy to do the same again!
The donkey graveyard. Dipak though they must have eaten something poisonous as there were so any bodies.
The river that we followed all day flowing out of the moraine.
A final view of Manaslu North (on the right).
Day 14 (Dharapani to Pokhara)
One of the longest days yet; an 11 hour jeep ride to Pokhara! Initially the walking trail ran on the other side of the valley. But a few kilometers below Tal (at Chamje which we had walked to for a Coke when our jeep was held up) the two merged and the few trekkers we saw did not look like they were enjoying walking up the rough, dusty road. Many diggers were working on clearing landslide debris which delayed us so we arrived in Besi Sahar for a late lunch and my 26th and final dahl bhat.
We swapped jeeps, to one with a careful driver at a special request from Kate, and followed a quiet tarmac road to Dumre Bazar. This would be a nice bike ride. Once on the main Kathmandu to Pokhara highway, the road became increasingly congested until eventually we were enveloped in dust, headlights, trucks, cars and motorbikes as we entered greater Pokhara about 10km from the lake. The place has certainly grown since I was last here! Still the Lakeside area looked nice in the dark, although very different from the single dirt road that I remember, and our hotel, Ecolodge Pokhara, okay too, though not that different to any of the other 4 to 5 story hotels clustered behind the lake.
One of many diggers on the road to Besi Sahar.
Thankfully we found the following day that although Pokhara has developed massively since Lillian and I (as well as Jackie and Melanie) were here it was still a nice place. We also had the bonus of a scenic and exciting flight back to Kathmandu where we spent another day before flying home. Hopefully it will be less than 19 years until I am next back in Nepal!