Everything I know about the Manaslu Circuit trek…
“Manaslu” the Sanskrit/Southern name of the 8th highest Himalayan peak locally known as “Pungyen” towering west of the “Samagaon” valley, this trek “The Manaslu circuit” is not just a journey reaching the abode of a formidable golden pinnacle of Manaslu peaks but a journey that takes you to a hidden world of ethnic Nepali population inhabiting the valleys, their culture and traditions.
Manaslu circuit became familiar to me while reading about “Annapurna circuit” another episode of a geographical and cultural diverse trek reviews suggesting to combine this trek for a full trekking adventure as Annapurna alone is shortened on either side by encroaching road head.
About myself, I am a 51yrs old man from Bhutan who believes that the serenity of the Himalayan peaks speak a thousand wisdom if you can just reach them to pay your tribute. I have an acute Plantar Fasciitis on both heels and have been advised by Ortho experts not to stand longer than 10 minutes about 12 yrs ago. Well human body is so incredible, I did most of the treks in Bhutan, I often lead weekend hikes around Thimphu for enthusiast people of this growing city but most of them prefer to sleep during the weekends.
My sincere thanks to the entire team of NEST Adventure trekking agency in Thamel, Kathmandu who were prompt, always positive and friendly for any discussions. Raj the owner of the company has the experience and wisdom to understand point of views from all perspective, his associates Sandeep are prompt and focus. Deepak, the young guide assigned to me always kept his smile and my situation above his. The management kept track of the progress and wellbeing of the guest wherever communication was possible on the trail.
Day 1. Kathmandu to Arughat
- Experience local public transport.
- Towns and villages.
- Subsistence agriculture along the way.
- Mixed ethnic Nepali population along the highway/motor able road.
- Solentar pleateu-a huge plain area of red soil, traditional village and subsistence agriculture.
- Arughat town thinly populated with multi ethnic Nepali population.
The epic Manaslu circuit trek starts from the base building up momentum as you proceed, unfolding views and hidden valleys with its distinct culture and diversity. Starting from the capital, I enjoyed the bus ride from Kathmandu to Arughat. While most trekkers take the jeep ride till “Sotikhola” a small settlement where the smooth and straight road that is a signature of all developing countries comes to an ends which is further away from Arughat but for me the situation took the precedence and landed me in a local public transport bus with folks from all walks of life villagers, students, children, cartoons of beers, red bulls, cooking oil and others in the aisle.
In the first part of the journey we followed the Pokhra highway/Marg till we cross the Trisuli River at Dhading. The road on the other side was an ascending single lane, sometimes a kangaroo ride reaching at a small colorful town “Dhading Besi”. Nepal is a country with ethnic population like spices in an Indian curry and my curiosity to look around people in their traditional clothes mostly “red” popular with women never got exhausted. Buildings lined the street looked like colorful boxes glued to each other.
Following the muddy, red soil dirt road the “Solen Tar” plateau looked spectacular in the midst of mountains. The bus stopped at Arughat (Dhading admin) from where we walked to the other side of the Buri Gandaki river to a small town of Arughat (Gorkha admin) to catch the last bus departing at 5.00 pm to Soti khola. However, the sky erupted with a fire work display, repeated thunders and it poured, we missed the connection bus by minutes and stayed at Arughat for the night not knowing that this would be the last stop for a good chicken rice.
Day 2. Arughat to Machha Khola (600 – 870 mtr alt)
- The historical 1 step cliff (ek pailay veer).
- Corssing Buri Gandaki river by foot.
Well, halt at Arughat 600 mtr is a junction where people from the remote north come to this last trading town for a better bargain and choices. I had my time passed observing a male goat being assessed and priced.
The morning Bus to Sotikhola leaves at 7.00am, it took 3 hrs for us including an hr of entertainment pulling out stuck up jeeps and trucks on a very muddy stretch of the road on the way after the last night rain.
Shaking the boots (make sure you have a super glue in your bag?), slap muscles, focus your mind and start the EPIC JOURNEY, in some culture a bottle of wine is shared for the road. The journey starts along a wide footpath (it is the remnant of the same road) with donkeys and horses eyeing their share of load. Along the west bank of Buri Gandaki the trails narrows but enough for two way traffic except when you spot oncoming horses look for a spot to hide? The trail then goes through vertical cliff which according to an elder used to be known as 1 step cliff (ek pailey bhir), if one slipped the landing below could be quite painless. The elder related that north of these cliffs lies an area of 2 kingdoms inhabited by ethnic Gurung and Tibetan descendant population further near to the border with Chinese Tibet.
Since Govt developed the trail for trekking tourism about 15 yrs ago, the trail got widened, horses could transport loads and this brought tremendous benefit to the people in these remote north. Crisscrossing the river and walking along the river bank Machakhola village is reached in the evening. There are many guest houses to choose depending on the volume of guest but more or less of the same standard. The air is cool, long dining table is in the open space at ground floor.
Day 3. Machhakhola to Jagat (870-1340 mtr alt)
- Traditional villages.
- Ganesh himal range peak-north east.
- Philim town and shops on either side of the trail.
- Steel cantilever bridge on the bank-cliff side of Gandaki river.
- Towering mountains and deep river gorge.
Similar to previous day, the trails snakes left and right of the same Buri Gandaki River but the valley opens up and we walk through villages. The first glimpse of the Ganesh Himal range can be seen from here already.
Before reaching Jagat at “Dovan”, there is a spectacular steel cantilever bridge on the cliff above the river bed which is constructed to mitigate movement during monsoon when the river would swell and fill the entire river bed. The trail during lean season passes through the river bed being shorter, however, do not take this short cut!
Jagat is a small cluster village, dry stone masonry houses, the guest house itself reminds of a typical Nepali farmhouse. Gurung language is the universal language of the communities but Nepali is spoken fluently by all, English is a bit rough riding and mostly confined to guest houses.
Day 4. Jagat to Deng (1340 – 1860 mtr alt).
- Isolated villages on the mountain slope valleys.
- Trail split to Tsum valley trek.
- Rhododendrons in Spring.
Quite a long journey ~ 8 hrs including stops, the trail follows the Gandaki but quite higher so that the sound do not disturb you. On the way the village of Philim is reached, the trail-corridor is lined with shops on either side. Lunch at Ekle Bhatti where we found a restaurant with scenic views facing the other side of the mountain and Dal bhat was delicious here. In about an hr, the trail splits, right takes towards Tsum Valley and left to Deng-Larke Pass.
Deng is not a place deserving much description, the guest house is constructed beside a stream, no electricity- dim solar light, perhaps we could have gone a little further up but that would be a punishment and the guest house is just OK. The toilet-bathroom located outside the building is very rudimentary.
Day 5. Deng to Namrung (1860 – 2500 mtr alt).
- Follow the Gandaki river.
- Villages on either side of the mountains along the river.
- Bihi bazar.
- Climbing up-last lap in a peaceful and wide trail.
Not very tiring day, the final lap from across the river is a climb for about 2 hrs mostly over boulder stacked steps improved recently after landslides following the 2015 earthquake. Reserve enough water as I could not find any stream or spring to replenish. Namrung zooms suddenly in a beautiful settings of traditional architecture buildings, there is electricity and even electrical socket inside the rooms which is highly sought by this time for charging the camera batteries.
Looking south the view of Siringi Himal, the valley unfolds towards the north. Along the trail are dry stone masonry houses without much designs and some agriculture.
The walk is pretty gentle, villages along the way and on the other side of the river too, people are seen in the houses or at work, trail passes through the signatory traditional Nepali stupa gates very often with Buddhist paintings mostly various reincarnations of Guru Rimpoche (have to ascertain?) inside.
The weather since the fire show at Arughat was waiting to show its temper at us, the mountain tops were always hidden and, I only noted the snowy peaks without proof as Deepak narrated.
Day 6. Namrung to Lho (2500 – 3140 mtr alt).
- Pre-dominantly Buddhist area hereafter with Buddhist temples.
- Damaged guest houses due to 2015-earthquakes
- Mountains with un-fragmented stones?
- Traditional villages and stone walled houses.
- Manaslu peaks (if weather is clear) and mountain range.
- Ribum Monastery and beautiful Lho village.
Henceforth all walking distances are ‘short’ like half day for acclimatizing and sticking to this plan helps a lot from the headache of high altitude. The approach to Lho is supposed to be mind blowing had it not been for the dark clouds rumbling above our heads. Lho is a beautiful village at an altitude of 3140 mtr with a well carved and painted chorten in the middle of the village and comfortable guest houses. To the north of the village located over a bump is the Ribum Monsatery of Nyingmapa sect Buddhism. There were seven Bhutanese monks in the hostel to the surprise of both the parties (us). We can lit butter lamp (Karmei) and make donations to the monastery. The views on any direction is heard to be spectacular but not during my time. Spending some time looking down the village could be interesting off course as I spotted a huge silver langur encroaching the village then there are flocks of raven birds everywhere with their typical crow sound.
Down in the valley, I took the opportunity to enter a house ad hoc and found a big central room which serves as kitchen on one part and sleeping on the other part, Interesting! smoking food, smoking utensils, smoking walls, clothes and even inhabitants. I accepted to drink butter tea in place of local wine and milk tea seems to be off the menu.
Day 7. Lho-Samagaon (3140-3520 mtr alt).
- Manaslu mountain range.
- Wide glacier moraine valley.
- Sama village and primary school.
- Manaslu Peaks and glacier.
- Birendra Tal/ lake.
Easy and comfortable walk. We are supposed to be walking below the Manaslu range but the sky blanketed everything except the ground. Samagaon 3520 mtr at the base of the Manaslu peaks. Located over the glacier moraine, the whole settlement is concentrated on either side of two signature Nepali chortens one to the north and other to the south. The houses are pretty basic in dry stone masonry with combination roof covers from split timber to slate and the trending galvanized sheets, no electricity and limited heating of the dining room at the guest house. Sama could be reached before lunch. Afternoon could be spend for a range of touring like the Birendra tal/lake located north of the Sama village, source of the great river “Buri Gandaki” with active avalanches dumping loads of snow in the lakes, the Pemachyoling Lhakhang, a primary school or helping the villagers carrying leaf composed manure on the back in a bamboo weaved basket to the fields at the outskirts.
However, as I completed a few pose at the bank of the lake the cloud started bursting with heavy snow fall which continued throughout the night. As an early bird, I looked out of the window and had the first glimpse of hardly visible manaslu peaks. While the visibility was not yet clear, the early sun rays caught the peaks from faint yellow to brighter and finally full blown golden yellow. That was a yahoo moment for all of us.
Day 8. Samagaon-Samdo (3520 – 3875 mtr alt).
- Gentle and easy half day walk.
- Panaromic views.
- Samdo village and Yaks.
- Shorter route to Tibet or visit Beijing.
- Naike and Pangboche peaks.
Clear sky, snow covered valley and all peaks visible, the beauty of Manaslu valleys began to unfold itself at this perfect altitude. The trek to Samdo is very comfortable and easy, Manaslu peaks at the back drop and 360 deg of panoramic views reaching Samdo was much faster, halt at Samdo with side trips is highly recommended.
Samdo is a typical village with Tibetan origin populations. The place is quiet, cold and wet. There were yaks grazing on the slope high above, which are brought down in the evening to the vicinity of the village. A primary school which was yet to be opened located beside the trail. Preferred side trip is mostly towards the east of the valley as the gradient is gentle and one can go quite further and easily see the Himalayan blue sheep and Marmots (hunting prohibited!).
Day 9. Samdo-Dharmasala (3875 – 4460 mtr alt).
- Larke Bazar ground, only memories.
- Marmots and Blue sheeps.
- Panoromic views, Naike peak.
- Larke Glacier moraine.
This is a journey that has to be taken slowly taking in every glimpse of the landscape. While there will be an atmosphere of urgency to reach Dharmasala 4460 mtr for reserving a room for the night but at the end it does not matter. Those who reached there to reserve the only seven rooms under a timber roof expressed the same level of discomfort as those in the tent outside. Dharmasala in Nepali means a shelter for pilgrims constructed not for economic benefit. Therefore, standing adjacent to the dining-kitchen house is the actual dharmasala which is now almost a heap of stones barely standing with collapsed roof and hardly any floors.
Larke bazar is an open ground now after the Samdo village but story goes like it used to be a bustling market with Tibetan trader coming and doing barter, quite unfortunate that it is no more but memories. As the last halting place before the crossing the pass, Dharmasala has stunning scenes, Naike and Larke peaks that will lock your eyes.
Dinner is served quite early in the evening, breakfast should be pre-ordered and paid as there is no wasting time next morning.
Compared to other guest houses along the way, Dharmasala guest house could have been managed better with reasonable prices as it has advantage of receiving supply from the other side of the pass where road head is much closer? They have to improve and it is possible when workers are abundantly available to improvise the toilet, raised platform for the tents etc during the lean season from June till September.
Day 10. Dharmasala-Bhimthang crossing the Larke Pass (4460-5106-3590 mtr alt).
- Larke Glacier moraine.
- Larke Pass alt 5106 mtr.
- Panoramic views of Kanggaru, Larke, Namjung and many peaks.
- Ponkar Glacier moraine.
- Ponkar glacier lake/ tal.
- Look for live avalanche views?.
Larke Pass alt 5106 mtr greeted us with “surprise” despite the immaculate weather. The common consensus of hitting the trail at dawn 4.0 – 4.30 am seems to be a common practice, the reason cited high velocity wind after 10.0 -11.0 am at the pass. Walking at this alt with a 12kg+ back pack is quite a challenge (not in front of the Nepali porters). The entire journey snakes up and down the glacier moraine covering a lengthy distance till the pass.
A short whiff of wind blew around 5.00 am and slowly the velocity picked up. As the day broke, the crystal clear sky had unseen force of nature taking opportunity to claim its dominance. The bellowing wind, picked up snow and threw around along with small stone pebbles with force, often we were pushed drunkard and had to fall behind boulders for protection and wait till that gust of wind passes and the journey continues immediately to avoid freezing. While my endurance and will power was put to test, the “made in Nepal hand gloves” with a thin layer of fleece inside not designed for this weather battled to protect my fingers which were discoloring and getting painful towards the end. I was literarily at the end of my capacity, guides and porters running back and forth to ensure safety of the trekkers, who were scattered. It was a scary experience, fortunately, half a day and then there we reached with much relief the signboard reading ‘LARKE PASS”.
Downhill trek after the pass is sporting if your muscles still have some reserve energy sliding over the snow but a slip could plunge you down 100s mtr. At the end of this descend called “Phedi” a lady in a Hut was selling hot tea in sugar and milk even biscuits.
The day’s journey ends at Bhimthang 3590 mtr. What a beautiful place! a flat plain with panoramic views to the south, west and north. Manaslu range view at the south is so perfect that we noticed a group of Japanese elders who came to stay there for a week repeating the sequence periodically every year. Such a breath taking location is hard to find and I really envy those guest house owners. This place could host many international truce or could have institutions for research studies on the magnificence of this beautiful planet earth.
Day 11. Bhimthang to Dharapani (3590 – 1965 mtr alt).
- Manaslu Peaks
- Pine forest.
- Villages along Dudh khola/ river.
- Dharapani road head town also Annapurna circuit trail.
Leaving Bhimthang is a very reluctant departure, however, we are at the end of the timeline and sadly have to accept it. The trek from Bhimthang passes through pine forest, varieties of rhododendrons, the glacier stream which finally accumulates volume to be named as Dudh khola. Gho and Tilije villages on the way have beautiful spacious guest houses as this entire journey in one day is a bit on the mad side for such romantic journey. Following the Dudh khola we reach Dharapani 1963 mtr where Dudh khola join the Marsyangi.
Dharapani is a small town old and new located on the mountain slope has limited space. The motorable dirt road in the middle, Mahindra bolero double cabin jeeps appears to be the favorite for various reasons one of which is that bigger size vehicle cannot pass through the rock cutting on the cliffs along the way. The town comes to life once in the morning and evening. Annapurna trekkers taking the Thorong pass continue to come along the road almost till late morning and most of those who complete Manaslu leaves by Bolero jeep early in the morning bound for Besi Sahar and then Pokhra.
I completed this trek in 11 days non-stop. The natural beauty of the places remained embedded in my memory, all along the way the cascading waterfalls, the Budi Gandaki River cutting through rocks, various people we met on the way starting from Soti khola to Samdo, Bhimthang and Dharapani. Way of life that transcend to peace, subsistence and beauty goes beyond words to describe.
Villages and living conditions of the people were a bit behind due to circumstances, although, life may not be easy for some of them as I met many families with some members working abroad to meet up family income, but this beautiful places could be developed under various programs aimed at improving the livelihood of these people and communities. Increasing tourism and other associated economic activities carefully planned not to let exploitations of indigenous people, nature and resources may bring good results. The world must come together to protect such places and bring developments in the manner that these tranquility, peace and harmony as manifested by the nature is not compromised. Of all the things, the natural splendor of these places is a gift of God that will always remain eternal and will inspire many souls.
Expenses, food and accommodation etc.
- On the trail the accommodations are pretty cheap ranging from NRS 250 – 300 per night. No heater in the rooms so warm up in the restaurant or in the kitchen if they allow you. Dharmasala did not have heater so ask the guide to get a bottle of hot water which you can insert inside the sleeping bag and it will last till early morning.
- Food is usually prepared after taking order and takes 30 – 45 minutes, the menu is surprisingly long. Dal bhat, pizza, noodles, potatoes etc are the main course. Tibetan bread, muesli, oats etc for breakfast. Tea and coffee can also be ordered in larger quantity such as medium or large pot. Medium pot usually is 4 – 6 cups.
- A standard lunch or dinner could cost about NRS 1000.00 per meal including a side dish. In average an estimate of NRS 3000.00 – 3500.00 per day is good. Fruits, green vegetables and meat is only dream. The price is highest at Dharmasala where I paid NRS 850.00 for a dal bhat meal and every cup of plain hot water is NRS 60.00.
- Hot shower is available till Lho and cost around NRS 200 per shower or half bucket of hot water. You have to carry your own shampoo/ soap and towel etc.
- The toilet is very basic usually squatting type but running water may disappear at Samdo and Dharmasala where nature came to my help so I recommend a toilet paper that could be pushed in any slots after removing the center roll.
Gears and miscellaneous:
- You can go as grissly bear nobody will bother but as you go higher up it gets windy in the afternoon and cold after sunset. Crossing the Larke pass could be tricky incase if high speed wind claims the day. I had 800 fill power down jacket and a gore-tex trouser that saved me but a pair of woolen gloves with thin fleece layer inside could not check the cold from penetrating, therefore a pair of down gloves is recommended. Sunglass is essential as you go higher up and get surrounded by snow.
- All branded hiking boots are good, you may not really need crampons on the pass as some people made fuss about it.
- A small kit containing threads, needle, nail cutter, super glue, small Swiss knife, head lamp powered by alkaline batteries, extra batteries etc.
- Medical kit could only be a burden if you are a bit versatile. I mostly drank and refilled bottle from tapes and streams, it was fine. Massage cream makes me feel healthy carry extra tubes as you may be asked by some villagers. High altitude sickness becomes apparent if you run like yak so just be gentle as there are many guest houses with enough rooms. The standard destinations are carefully worked out for acclimatizing just follow them.
- A pair of slippers comes very handy. A soap could be very good for washing hanky, socks and inner wears especially in the evening before dinner.
- Buy some sachets of shampoo instead of a container and a body soap that can be inserted in any small hole in the bag.
- Carry post cards that you can give as souvenirs with your address to people you become familiar with or leave one at the guest houses.
- You may take and distribute thick woolen half socks, gloves, small ornaments etc that last and serves purpose instead of chocolates that is finished in a minute (purely my personal opinion).
Tashi Delek, Happy Trekking.
About the author
I’m Padam Bdr Chuwan from Thimpu Bhutan. Hiking and trekking has always been a part of my life and work perhaps because of the rural childhood and foundation. I am a regular trekker myself whenever I have free time. My quest for adventure in the Himalayas finally turned to take me to the exotic and ultimate destinations like Everest base camp, Manaslu circuit and Annapurna circuit etc in Nepal.
Padam Bdr Chuwan, served the govt and various other development partner agency(s) as a civil engineer in Bhutan. The same man who supervised the construction of the trail when Bhutan opened up for tourism in the 70s has introduced Drukpath to me. Educated within the country, quite linguistic Dzongkha, Sherchop, Lhotsham (Nepali-mother tongue), fluent English and indeed Hindi comes by default due to our proximity, trade and other synonyms. Padam Bdr Chuwan, served the govt and various other development partner agency(s) as a civil engineer. Semiretired now from the long associated professional service, it is an adventure once again to be associated with WOW-Bhutan Travels based in Thimphu Bhutan. If you would have any questions, pls do not hesitate to write to me here or at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.facebook.com/padamb.chuwan.