17 day Manaslu trek
Tea house trekking the Manaslu circuit organised by Expedition Himalaya and Jamie McGuinness. This is a write up from two guys who completed the trek, Luca and Demet and they posted their full report at: http://fourwalkingfeet.wordpress.com/
As a first long trek in the Himalayas, choosing Manaslu circuit was quite an easy decision and something we never regretted. Here is a summary of our experiences before and during the trip, which might be helpful for planning a memorable trip which is also safe and enjoyable.
The Decision to go to Manaslu
Looking for a hike is easy in the Himalayas, which present many options for beautiful treks, some being more challenging than others. This is why we asked immediately to our friend Jamie from Project Himalaya, which trek he would recommend for us. We wanted a trek which 1. we could do in three weeks as an introduction to trekking in the Himalayas, 2. is challenging, including at least one mountain pass, and 3. we could do as a teahouse trek but without many other visitors. He immediately recommended Manaslu. Other options were either more travelled to, or not yet open for teahouse trekking, and required a bigger budget for a camping trek.
We went to Manaslu in April, the second best (and therefore less busy) period after October/November. An important point for planning the amount of days we needed was the possibility to add the Tsum Valley trail to the itinerary and extend this trip by a few days. We have not chosen this option as this trail was a camping trail until recently. We did hear from other trekkers later however, that it is possible to do this trail as a teahouse trek now. They recommended it very much.
The other trail we need to mention is the Annapurna trek, which Manaslu trek merges with in Dharapani. This is nothing to be happy about. As soon as the trail merges, you notice that everything becomes commercial. The trail becomes wider, the number and size of teahouses get bigger, and the number of hikers increase dramatically. Annapurna trail can be done without a guide, and therefore we have seen many young people in groups or alone walking with big headphones as if in a metropolitan city subway…The two trails cross where Manaslu ends and Annapurna starts. This is also not the best part of Annapurna trail for sure and we found that it is best to do this part as quickly as possible and return to Kathmandu.
- Day 1 -Kathmandu / Arugat > Arket Bazar
- Day 2 -Arket Bazar > Lapubesi
- Day 3 -Lapubesi > Dobhan
- Day 4 -Dobhan > Philim
- Day 5 -Philim > Deng
- Day 6 -Deng > Ghap
- Day 7 -Ghap > Lho
- Day 8 -Lho > Samagaun
- Day 9 -Samagaun (acclimatization day)
- Day 10- Samagaun > Samdo
- Day 11- Samdo (acclimatization day)
- Day 12- Samdo > Dharmasala
- Day 13- Dharmasala > Larkya La pass > Bhimtang
- Day 14- Bhimtang > Tilje
- Day 15- Tilje > Djagat
- Day 16- Djagat > Bhulbhule
- Return to Kathmandu
Description of the Trek
Manaslu follows the Budi Gandaki river and circles around Mt Manaslu (8,156 m). It is a steep climb up until the Larkya La pass at (5,135m) and a steep climb down until the end. This makes the scenery quite dramatically diverse and the hike reasonably challenging for the knees, in case you suffer from a knee injury. This quick change in altitude also brings with it the necessity to acclimatize properly and hence the hike up requires time and must not be rushed. On our way up we have met quite a few people returning, as they had unbearable altitude illness and had to come down the way they went up because simply until after the pass, the only way back down is the
way you climb up. Not wanting to backtrack was a great motivator for us to take the hike seriously with regards to acclimatization. We did this by including two rest days and extending the length of the trip up until the pass, at the expense of shortening the part after the pass. Walking down can also be strenuous for some people and therefore should not be taken lightly. For us this was not an issue and the time on the other side climbing up was much more useful for resting and much more appreciated as it gave us a chance to enjoy the amazingly beautiful scenery and the wonderfully simple Tibetan lifestyle longer.
Unmissable Companions, the Guide and the Porter
Manaslu trek must be accompanied with a guide. This is the rule. Having said that, we have seen a guide or two along the way, who were asking our guide which way to go. So, it is important to get a guide who knows the area well and is a sherpa. This is not just a job anyone can do. We were impressed by the skills and knowledge of our sherpa Gelbu from Expedition Himalaya. He and the porter he employed were a perfect team to take us through the heat and the snow and the long trekking days and also the lazy rest days with always a smile on their faces and kindness in their attitude. We have also learned a whole lot about the Nepalese and Tibetan culture as well as playing card games and singing songs. Good to know that all cell phones in Nepal come with a pre-loaded list of songs and our sherpa had a lot of Sherpa and Indian songs to entertain us during some hiking days!
Food (and Hygiene) at Manaslu
Dal Bhat, Dal Bhat, Dal Bhat…and more Dal Bhat. Not that there is nothing else to eat, but this is the staple food of the villages, and when in Rome do as the Romans do. Why would you want to have a vegetable pizza at 3000m altitude in a village where these vegetables don’t grow. Well, one of the fellow trekkers we met ignored this and couldn’t leave the teahouse WC for two days. This can be very unpleasant, waste your time and make you weak for the days after when you need more energy to climb. We had the rule of not doing anything stupid until after the pass. We had to make this rule as I (Demet) got sick from omelets one morning which made me suffer from an instant 24 hours diarrhea and learned a lesson early on. Stick to chapati and jam for breakfast, or chapati and peanut butter which we got hooked on. And dal bhat for lunch and dinner. When you have dal bhat, not only you get to see the whole preparation which is always slightly different, you also get to eat with the sherpas and the porters. This is all they eat, day in and day out. Sometimes they also help the women in the kitchen to prepare. Our sherpa Gelbu always checked the kitchen for cleanliness and gave a hand to the woman of the house and sometimes even taught them a thing or two in order to make sure we get a clean and good meal. Have I said how happy we were with him?
When it comes to tea and coffee, unless you bring your own portable coffee maker (too much hassle really) or dry powder mix, it is best to forget coffee and stick to tea. We are heavy coffee users but it was just fine to be without it for a while. When you order milk tea or chai, you almost always get a teabag with a spoon of milk powder. Doesn’t matter, it tastes so good that you think this is the best tea prepared by hand right there and there.
Water is a more tricky subject. One must hydrate a lot when exercising at high altitude, 2-3L per person a day they say. You also don’t want to drink too much and dilute electrolytes in your body. Checking the color of your urine is a good test for sufficient hydration; go for a light yellow. I am not sure how much we drank, but we stopped buying bottles of water when we saw that the empty bottles ended up at the side of hiking trails. In each village we asked for boiled water and we put it in our empty water bottles at breakfast, lunch and dinner (we had a total of 4L in bags and bottles). This worked well, as we also put one Micropur tablet in each liter of water, and sometimes we asked them to filter the water from dust and visible particles. We would use the cool water while the still warm bottle was cooling down. Moreover, a hot water bottle makes a companion in sleeping bag at night.
You can take bring some snacks such as trail mix, salty and sweet cookies, to eat during the hike but also to diversify the meals a bit and to share with the guide, the porter and sometimes with other hikers.
What to wear, what to take
We took a list of equipment and personal gear you see mentioned on any hiking site suitable for the altitude and weather. However, the temperature deviation was so large and the information we can gather about this beforehand was so little that we had to take pretty much everything from t-shirt and sandals to hard sole hiking boots and a down jacket, with layers of hats and gloves. What was important to take were: hiking poles, sunscreen, sunglasses and definitely the trail map for Manaslu circuit and the travel guide, Trekking around Manaslu and the Tsum Valley by Sian Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons.
A pair of instep crampons for the day of the pass is recommended. We did not have these and it was very slippery. Some people simply sat on their butts and slid down the whole way but depending on the amount of snow this may not always be the safest way to approach the descent.
Having good layers of gloves is very important, not only for the hike while stopping or exposed to heavy winds, but also while resting in the teahouses at the high altitude where the inside temperature is very low. We have recorded the temperature each day which you can see below in the daily overview. A good three season sleeping bag is really essential. Even if it is needed for two or three days of the hike, those are the days when you need your energy level high, and being tired because you could not sleep due to cold is not what you want when you need to haul yourself to 5000 meter. It is advisable to get one of those silk inners to place inside the sleeping bag to use it as sleeping bag during the first and last days of the journey when temperature is too high for the 3 seasons sleeping bag.
Buy a lot of toilet paper, chances are you will need a lot at some point. You can remove the inner cylinder cardboard and flatten the rolls, this way they would take less space.
In terms of medicine, besides what is in an average medical kit, we bought some Diamox and Imodium. On day 5, morning temperature was 14C. Luca woke up outside the sleeping bag (must have removed it unconsciously while asleep as it was too warm). While trying to lift the duffle bag with a very cold back he got his lower back muscles contracted and stuck. Learning: get physically and mentally awake before doing anything as you’re outside your routine environment and this requires more attention. Add plasters releasing mio-relaxant to the first aid kit. Tiger balm and Ibuprofen have been of great help.
Charging Batteries & Camera
In general in each village there was a possibility to charge the batteries of your camera. You might need to pay for charging in some villages but it won’t cost you more than a bottle of boiled water. It is advisable to bring an extra battery (and do not forget to sleep with your batteries in the sleeping bag; cold can drain the charge very quickly otherwise).
Carrying your SLR camera can be tedious because of size and weight, so consider investigating solutions that fits your need before hitting the trek. I (Luca) hiked pretty comfortably using a Cotton Carrier system (google it to learn more about this specific system) which allowed quick access to my Canon 5D while keeping it secured to the shoulder strap of my backpack preventing the camera to swing while walking…still in more than one occasion I wished my camera of choice was lighter and smaller…
We knew from Jamie that as you go up in the mountain you must expect higher prices. We did not drink any beer or had too many Snickers bars to be affected by this a lot, as these are highly priced items. However, each day we were ascending, indeed the price of the simple dal bhat and even boiled water was increasing. It is good to calculate well and have enough cash for this. We never felt like carrying cash was unsafe and didn’t hear of any trips where any money was stolen. So, better to have enough.
The reasons for acclimatization is obvious and mentioned elsewhere in great detail. In order to ease your adjustment to high altitude, take enough time at each altitude gain, drink plenty of water and take some Diamox pills if you feel a persistent pressure on your head or nausea. We also learned a new trick. Garlic. At least this is what our sherpa was swearing on and we wanted to believe him. We started having garlic soup after 3000m which was also quite tasty and a good alternative to the potato soup which was the other fresh soup alternative. We were not willing to settle for a soup made from powder, so we always took whichever soup was freshly made. As the fire was always on in teahouses it took them no time to cook.
You really need to give your body enough time, warmth and rest. It worked very well for us to take more time on the first half of the trek and speed up the second half. We have seen people with altitude sickness returning, even from the very top at 5000m, because they could not acclimatize. At this altitude it is dangerous to trek back with illness, a helicopter pick up is often the only way which can cost a lot of money if you are not insured properly and also takes time, as the weather must be good for the helicopter to land. We have seen this first hand.
What Made our Hearts Smile
April turned out to be a wonderful time to go. We have seen young animals, small children and people working in villages, as rainy summer season was approaching and it was the perfect time to mend houses.
Also in April you can witness the show of the Rhododendrons in full blossom. This was like being in a candy shop, with lots of sweet and colorful candy. They were painting the forest with such rich colors and adding a fairytale feel to the forest that we had to stop every few meters to admire the scenery. Walking the Bhimtang – Tilje section has been an amazing experience to view the diversity of the flora.
While climbing up, not only the environment but also its inhabitants were changing. At first people we saw were more Hindus, later a beautifully peaceful mix of Hindu and Buddhists, and more and more Tibetan buddhists as we climbed up. We could observe this in their healthy red cheeks, round faces and their behavior; and the higher we went the more playful people become, in their own shy kind of way. We will never forget when sitting at a little open air shop for a few minutes rest in Lihi, people from all ages popped up from behind the shop to look at us and laugh with curiosity…we’ve been offered super hot boiled potatoes which they were peeling with bare hands skillfully, and to thank them all we could do was to sing the folkloric song “reshram piriri” that our sherpa taught us during the long walking hours if the previous days… our surprising performance resulted in a lot of laughs and large smiles on the faces of our shy Lihi friends.
As strange as it sounds, you will not see Manaslu from day one…the first time we saw the 8th highest mountain of the planet was on day 7, our way to Lho. We were simply blown away by its timeless greatness. This kind of experience really resonates to the core of your being.
Visiting Lho which is dominated by a beautiful Monastery was also amazing. We arrived in Lho a little before the monks students were getting lunch in the village and we have been welcomed in their dining area and offered a delicious Raksi made by the monks themselves…it is hard to tell the alcohol level of that drink, but the smile of the Monk offering it and the great stories he had to tell about the Monastry and Nepal were making us tipsy from compassion.
While in Samdo, as we felt too cold to stay in the dining area, we joined the hosts, sherpas and porters in the kitchen and watched Bollywood movies on a little TV with a DVD player while sipping our hot chai…the little kids have watched those movies so many times before that they memorised each scene by heart and were laughing before funny scenes were even shown…keeping us warm and smiling for the two nights we were there despite the chilling temperature of the evening hours.
Walking the trek was sometimes difficult, not that it required a physical preparation we lacked, but because the mental stress increased as we went up as result of less oxygen and also because lodging conditions were getting less and less comfortable, making your sleep less relaxing. And clearly because food was very repetitive with no more than 4 “safe” options to choose from. Nevertheless, every morning we woke up, eager to start the next section ahead, confident that it would have given us a spectacular scenery and nice people to interact with, and this is exactly what happened each and every day…and it got better and better. This is by far the best aspect of this unique trek we’ve loved so much. If you like to tough it out a bit, Manaslu is your place.
Daily manaslu trek notes on weather and trek expenses
Day 1 – Katmandu / Arugat > Arket Bazar
The Manaslu circuit starts from Arugat which we reached in 5 hours of a very bumpy jeep ride from Kathmandu. We hit the trail which is 45 min walking from the village of Arugat where we stopped for our first dal bhat. In Arugat price for 2 daal bhat and 2 tea was 620 Rs. Temperature at lunch time was 32 C which made it a nice t-shirt walking day.
In 3 hours walking we reached Arket Bazar where we choose to spend the night. Lodge was very clean including the squatting toilet. Two daal bhat for dinner with 3 bottles of water and breakfast with two “chapati with jam and honey” set which contains 2 chapatis, 2 scrambled eggs and a tea per person accounted for a total of 1210 Rs.
Night temperature is still too warm (above 25C) for our 3 seasons sleeping bag. The silk cocoon was used as a sleeping bag instead.
Day 2 – Arket Bazar > Lapubesi
Left Arket Bazar within 2,5 hours we reached Liding where we stopped for lunch in front of a spectacular waterfall.
Temperature at lunch was around 30 C with an nice fresh breeze. Lunch with 2 dal bhat and 2 cups of tea was 580Rs.
Walk continued to Lapubesi where we choose to spend the night. Dinner was 300 Rs for a portion of dal bhat and 30 Rs for a cup of tea. For breakfast we got only one chapati “set” 2 omelet and 2 milk tea which made a total for our stay (including dinner) of 1540.
Warm night again.
Day 3 – Lapubesi > Dobhan
A nice 6,5 hours walking day with a convenient stop for lunch after 3,5 hours in Khorlabesi, where for 540 Rs we got 2 Daal Bhat and 2 cups of tea.
We got caught by rain in Dobhan which dropped the walking temperature a bit from 30C to a lovely and fresh 23C. Rain lasted some 30min and as soon as it decreased we did the last bit of the now slippery walk to Dobhan.
In Dobhan we stayed at the Shanti hotel and campsite. For a dinner with 2 daal bhat, 4 cups of tea and breakfast with 1 chapati set and 2 omlette we paid a total of 1480 Rs.
Day 4 – Dobhan > Philim
Temperature at 8am was 25C which made it a nice day to start with a light fleece. Within 3 hours we reached our lunch spot in Jagat. During the walk temperature increased to a windy 28C making it nice in t-shirt.
Lunch in Jagat was 840 Rs for 2 dal bhat and two cups of tea.
We reached Philim in 3 hours from Jagat, last 45 min under a light rain. Temperature in Philim at 6pm was 17C.
In Philim we stayed at the Royal Garden guest house. Arrangement was getting increasingly basic. Squatting toilets in this case were really dirty and shower was in the same structure together with the toilet, making it inconvenient.
Dinner for two with dal bhat and 4 tea cups and breakfast with 2 omelet and one chapati was 2055 Rs.
Day 5 – Philim > Deng
Wake up temperature was 14C. Dinner and breakfast for 2 in Philim was 1880 Rs.
We reached Pewa for lunch. Lunch spot at 32C was also a “flies paradise” making the rest quite stressful. Deng was only one hour away from Pewa, which made this a relatively short day.
In Deng we had a restless sleep waking up due to barking dogs. Moreover, the lodge was infested by rats running all night above our heads and defecating between the gaps of the wooden roof covering our sleeping bags with their droppings.
Day 6 – Deng > Ghap
Wake-up temperature in Deng was 10 C at 6:30 am.
This was a short hike of 4,5 hours to reach Ghap. This section has been rather steep and mostly in fresh shadow for the first part, which made it good with fleece.
We had lunch and dinner in Ghap which was 2050 Rs for 2 persons.
Day 7 – Ghap > Lho
A little longer than a 7 hours walk today, which made it the longest so far and the steepest with a gain of 1213m and a drop of 270m accounting for almost an absolute 1000 meters gain. Day temperature was between 20C and 25C and we were comfortable walking with long sleeve t-shirts.
Evening temperature was now getting as low as 10C, time for our down jackets.
Day 8 & 9 – Lho > Samagaun + acclimatization day
Wake up temperature was of 6C in Lho.
The trail to Samagoun is steep but short; we made it in a bit more than 4h after visiting the monastery which overlooks Lho. Walking temperature was again around 20-25C.
In Samagoun the lodge had a battery charging service for 100 Rs.
For the acclimatization day we choose to hike to a viewpoint from where there is a lovely view of Manaslu and a glacier lake. Wake up temperature was of 5C…and first signs of acclimatization, as our sleep is interrupted many times with visits to the toilet.
We had twice dinner and breakfast and one lunch in Samagaun for a total of 3560 Rs for two persons which included 4 garlic soups with noodles, 11 tea cups, vegetable momo, corn dindo, chapati with jam and honey and various liters of boiled water.
Day 10 & 11 – Samagaun > Samdo + acclimatization day
2,45h walk. Walking temperature was 20-25C. Comfortable walking with fleece. By 3pm weather got cloudy with a mix of rain and snow, dropping the temperature to zero. Surrounding was now mostly rocky. We took half a diamox each.
On acclimatization day we climbed up to 4200m and came back when we saw heavy clouds coming in just in time to avoid the snowstorm that covered everything in white. For these two days in Samdo we paid 5150 Rs including food and water. Going to bed and waking up temperature was 10 degrees in the teahouse. We took half a Diamox again. Some other travelers start having symptoms of the high altitude here.
Day 12 – Samdo > Dharmasala
We left early as the amount of snow is increasing and we were concerned that the pass would close. It was a 3,5 hour walk to Dharmasala. The trail was muddy with the snow of the previous day melted by the sun. It was comfortable walking with a thin fleece in the shadow and a long sleeve t-shirt in the sun. After arriving in Dharmasala we quickly realized why people stay here only one night. The lodges were very cold, small and dirty. The toilets were the worst we have seen. The lodges are built from mud and stone; with the cold and humidity, the walls crumbled and dirtied our stuff in the room. In the dining area the temperature was 8C around 1pm. Also today the weather got worse at around 2pm, starting to snow. At 5pm it was 2C. This was the coldest part of the hike, with no chance to warm from a hot drink alone. People were dancing to warm up and eager to go to bed and get this night over with. A group of Dutch travelers were very sick and calling the helicopter to organize a pick-up. This was not possible until the day after as the weather condition did not permit for the helicopter to land. For 2, we paid around 5000 Rs for 1 day. We didn’t record the prices of things that well here as managing our warmth was the priority.
Day 13 – Dharmasala > Larkya La pass > Bhimtang
We crossed the peak today. Wake up was 4:30am, and we left at 5:15 am after a quick breakfast. The morning was very cold and windy. Exposure of the path to the sun was continuously changing and was making it difficult to regulate body heat. Layering clothing and gloves was very important.
Getting to Bhimtang was a 9h walk with an altitude gain of 680m, and a loss of 1444m. Three quarters of the trek was in knee-deep snow, which made going up very challenging and going down very slippery. We met marathon runners with clip-on crampons who had an easier descend.
Arriving at Bhimtang, we picked one of the teahouses with no shower, and could pay for a shower elsewhere but decided that we could delay the shower to the day after when the temperature will be higher.
Day 14- Bhimtang > Tilje
Temperature was 20-25C and we were walking in long sleeved t-shirts. We had a last glimpse of Manaslu before the trail went along a river and turned towards Goa. At lunch we stopped at Goa. We saw that many new lodges were being built.
Once in Tilje we finally had our first hot shower in a long time.
Day 15- Tilje > Jagat
6,5h to Jagat. On this day, we exited the park as the trail joins Annapurna. As we were not impressed with the trail and trekkers of Annapurna, we decided to finish the last bit of the trek as quickly as possible and asked our guide to arrange a pick up at Bhulbhule one day earlier.
In Jagat we slept at a lodge with the owner, who as many Nepalis worked in Dubai years and came back to settle. It was a super dusty and windy day in Jagat and all the tin roofs were shaking and making a thunder-like noise all night.
Day 16- Jagat > Bhulbhule
Last trekking day. 6 hour walk to Bhulbhule. We enjoyed a bit of the remaining beauty of this well walked and now widened part of Annapurna trek. We chose not to walk on the jeep road and saw some waterfalls; yet the width of the valley and the awareness of so many trekkers and jeeps around made us only walk faster to reach our final night at Bhulbhule.
To book Gelbu or one of his brothers, email Expedition Himalaya.