Trek review 2016
Richard Goodey of www.lostearthadventures.co.uk has blogged about his trip last year – a great read if you are thinking of the Manaslu trek and are wondering about it’s condition after the 2015 April earthquake. Enjoy the read!
The pungent aroma of yak dung burning in the kitchen wafted in and around us. But still, we sat contently, steaming cups of Tibetan tea in our hands, listening. Man Bahadur had an overwhelming air of humility about him. Weathered lines carved into his round face, affected by age and the harsh alpine environs of his surroundings. His house, much like Man Bahadur was modest, yet sturdy. The walls were made of stone, the frame of wood and the ground of dirt. Both survived the earthquakes of 2015.
Upon first impression, the thought may never have crossed your mind, “this man has summited Everest, no less than five times.” His achievements in the West would, should be lauded and his name recognisable beyond the mountaineering community. Instead, contrastingly he lives a quiet, simple life with his wife at the base of the world’s 8th highest mountain. Remarkable.
Four days prior we had left the roadside in Soti Khola, gateway into the Manaslu region in search of Man Bahadur. This was not our only objective. Our original intentions were to assess the trails and infrastructure of the Manaslu Circuit, post earthquake. The region was close to the epicentre, with heavy damage reported throughout. Frustratingly there was very little in the way of official information regarding its condition. It was also the last of the trekking routes to be taken off of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) advisory against all but essential travel. I had wanted to see for my own eyes what conditions were really like. I was hoping that the unofficial reports I had heard would be true.
As we were only one of a handful of commercial tour operators offering treks in spring of 2016 to the region, a man named David Lim reached out to Lost Earth Adventures. Lim had been on a 1998 Everest expedition with Man Bahudar as his Sidar and wanted to reconnect. Lim had a vague idea of where to find Bahadur, so we set off with a printed letter and a photocopy of an 18-year old photo.
And so there we were, walking away from roads, cars, electricity and the daily bustle of the urban grind. The beginning of the trek, normally completed anti-clockwise was the worst hit of the trek. As we walked, it was immediately evident that a tremendous amount of work had been done over the past year to repair the trails and the teahouses that lined the route. Based on previous visits to the region, it’s apparent that the trails aren’t just ‘back to normal’, they’re better, safer and improved from before the earthquake struck.
In my eyes, another bonus was meeting Prince Harry, assisting with the rebuilding of a school. It was a sign that progress was being made and it was great to see his support.
Whilst trekking I was fortunate to have former client and architect John Cambridge join us on the trek. In the autumn of 2015 his journey around the Manaslu Circuit with us was cut short by a family emergency. Although he was not working in an official capacity, it was invaluable to have his insight and expertise into assessing the integrity of the buildings we passed and bridges we crossed.
Whilst trekking I specifically looked at and inspected: the trails, the lodges, bridges and evidence of landslides. The following is list of observations:
Bridges on the Manaslu Trek
- A visual inspection of all bridges and their materials along the trail
- Inspected the cables and concrete for cracks or deformation
100% of all bridges encountered and crossed were in great condition, safe to cross and continue to use.
Guesthouses on the Manaslu Trek
- Inspected every guesthouse on the circuit for damage
- Made an assessment (of the method) of the construction of the building
- Graded buildings based on what type of method would be most earthquake resistant
- Listed and graded all buildings in order of overall safety, so that we have an accurate list for future expeditions.
- Assessed their positioning within the landscape: specifically looking for risk of rock fall and landslips. Fortunately Nepali’s know where landslides most likely will occur and build lodges away from these areas.
Of all the buildings assessed, 95% of them were in exceptionally good condition. The other 5%, while showing signs of damage were being repaired and I am confident that by the autumn trekking season, these too will be in habitable condition.
- The majority of the damage that occurred along the route was from falling rocks and landslides. Shortly after the earthquake, the monsoon season approached cleaning the debris from the mountainsides.
- During the monsoon months, landslips are a common occurrence and for this reason, I don’t recommend visiting the Manaslu region during monsoon from July – September.
Man Bahadur was a Tamang in a Gurung village. When we reached Namrung we made initial enquiries. I thought it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack, but in a flurry of excitement he was found and introductions were made!
After tea followed homemade beer and Man Bahadur regaled us with tales of love, of how he met his wife on an expedition to climb Mt Manaslu. He returned to her village, they became husband and wife and the rest they say, is history. Bahadur is still climbing 8000m+ peaks today.
We bid adieu to Man Bahadur and his wife, keen to set the pace for another brilliant day on the trail. We had a side trip planned to a remote monastery 4500m high directly under the East Face of Manaslu. Not many people venture here and it is one of the best mountain panoramas you will ever see, but it is not without its challenges.
Not only would we be facing a 700m ascent we’d be living off a simple diet of cabbage and potatoes! Life is tough in the mountains, food is difficult to grow and the variety available at lower elevations simply cannot thrive at these heights.
We arrived in the village of Shayla, not usually a main stop on the circuit but en-route to Pungyen Gompa. Man Bahadur told us there was one place we could secure a bed for the night. In the whole village there were only two female monks and one of their mothers. The others had left for lower elevations until their return in May. Shayla was a ghost town.
One of the monks was brewing Rakshi a rice wine similar to Saki and the other was managing the only open teahouse in the village. I enquired as to what food was available and she pointed to a room full of cabbages and said ‘we have cabbages and potatoes’. I said, “Is there anything else?” She said “no and that she’s not a chef.” A nearly fruitless search, but I mustered up a single tin of tuna, cheese and eggs. Taking over the kitchen I mustered up an omelet and chips. An omelet had never tasted better! This of course was washed down with rakshi that the other monk had made and we had a fun evening around the fire communicating in Nepali, Gurung and English. We never really understood what each other said but we clinked our glasses together and laughed every time we made eye contact.
Hiking to the Gompa, we drank tea from the sole resident, a monk who’s called this remote haven home for the past nine months! We made our way back to the main trail and finally treated ourselves to some well-earned pizza at a fully stocked teahouse. The pass, the Larkya La was now within our grasp.
Walking becomes challenging as the air gets thinner, but is made quite bearable when seeing interesting things like a black leopard backing down after being charged by two resilient yaks.
Dharamsala – the tea-house before the Larkya La pass
The night before the pass was spent in Dharamsala. A large scruffy teahouse in a fairly hostile environment built next to a huge glacier and surrounded by piles of moraine and 8000m peaks. The atmosphere was full of excitement as trekkers from around the world swapped stories of peculiarities met along the trail. Amusingly the room was divided into three equal parts of German, English and French speakers.
A 4am breakfast was easily accomplished with a clear sky full of stars and the Milky Way in full splendor. The nearest town was over 100km away and there was not a cloud in the sky. Surrounded by silhouettes of the world’s tallest mountains we set off. Within four hours we’d reached 5100m and it was then downhill all the way to Bimtang.
Over the course of the past twelve months it is evident that a tremendous amount of trail repair and maintenance has occurred. So much so, that the route is even better, with wider, safer trails than before the earthquake.
Manaslu Trek conclusion
In conclusion, the Manaslu Circuit has always been an adventurous trek, off the main tourist routes. The region offers some of the most spectacular mountain views, combined with a thriving Himalayan culture. Post-earthquake, this still hasn’t changed. Over the years the lodges have improved, as have the trails, and it is evident that the region is back in business and more than ready to accept visitors to its trails.
Co-Founder Lost Earth Adventures
Lost Earth’s fixed departures for 2016 / 2017
Find more information here for the following dates: lostearthadventures.co.uk/manaslu-circuit-trek/
- 1 October 2016
- 22 October 2016
- 12 November 2016
- 25 March 2017
- 08 April 2017
- 22 April 2017
- 07 October 2017
- 28 October 2017