Manaslu trekking in the monsoon season
Manaslu circuit trek in the monsoon? Well this article is well worth downloading and reading. Entitled Budi Gandaki’s Soliloquy, it tells of a slow 20 day return journey to Manaslu base camp during the monsoon season with the roaring noise of the great Budi Gandaki river ever-present.
It tells of flourishing wildlife, a villager living under a spell cast upon him, wonky, trembling bridges, a lama who is scared of bears and another lama who disperses clouds with short bursts of breath (for a fee). And the remarkable story of a hole around ten inches deep and three inches wide (look out for that bit!)
Thanks very much to Travel Times magazine for providing a copy of this article in PDF form. Thanks too to Kapil Bisht and Suresh Maharjan for the words and pictures respectively. And thanks too to the Great Himalaya Trail’s Manaslu / Ganesh Himal website section!
Budi Gandaki’s Soliloquy
By Kapil Bisht
All treks during the monsoon in Nepal start in much the same way. You take a wretched ride on a vehicle over abominable roads. It is not simply a journey that takes you from one place to another, but a passage that initiates you into hardship.
Our initiation began after lunch in Dhading Besi, a prominent town in the Dhading district. We climbed in to a white four-by-four truck that was to take us to Aarughat, the town from where we would start walking. As the asphalt road was replaced by a mud one the truck started lurching like a fishing boat in the Bering Sea. The priority was, however, not to haul something onboard but not go overboard. I stood between two of the many metal rafters that ran the length of the truck’s roof, baking in the midday sun, grimacing under the strain every bump on the road put on my arms. In front of me, on a strip of three plastic ropes, which were used for fastening the tarpaulin over the truck’s roof in case of rain, Lama Lakpa was reclined. His posture was that of a man lying on a hammock in the Bahamas.
Behind us Dhading Besi steadily grew smaller; ahead of us the road was getting worse rapidly. Ruts were etched on the road, which was soft as dough. To maintain balance and grip every vehicle had to tread on the ruts. The ruts were nearly a feet deep. As a result, in many places the truck had to jettison some passengers to prevent from sinking too deep into the soft mud. Those of us in the rear had to get off in such places. After getting on and off on numerous occasions I grew tired of the business and left the plodding truck and started walking.
A couple of hours later, I got back on the truck where the road was better. It had also got narrower. Roads everywhere fuse the destinies of those traveling over it, no matter for how brief a period or with however trivial consequences. This fusion thrives on poor roads and amplifies on narrow ones. I had thought of our truck as a truck; just one truck going along a road. It took a jam to make me realize that our truck was one in a cavalcade and was running as much on gas on the fate of all the trucks going up and down the red mud road.
Our truck stopped at the tail of a queue of trucks. We learned that a truck had broken down on the road. Owing to the narrowness of the road there was no room for other vehicles to pass as long as that truck was stuck.
The truck blocking the road was fixed and traffic resumed. But we were soon walking again, as another truck broke lower down on the road. We should have arrived in Aarughat by evening to stroll in the fresh air, but with all the jams on the road, we got there at midnight.
The Siren’s Teahouse
Lama Lakpa hired three porters in the morning. He divided the load amongst them, told them that he would buy their meals, and then took their pictures so that he could track them down if they fled with our things. In the garden, amidst artificial trees, deer, and rabbits, Uday Shrestha, the owner of the hotel, was being interviewed. The hotel’s name was Hotel View Manaslu Camping Resort. I asked Uday whether on a clear day (which that morning wasn’t) Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest peak in the world, was visible from his hotel. “No,” he confessed. Then he said in a humorous tone, delighting in his ingenuity as a businessman. “Tourists frequently ask me if the mountain is visible from here. I tell them it is, but that it is hidden by the clouds,” he said and then broke into a laugh. The false claims notwithstanding, Shrestha’s sense of his duties and responsibilities as a hotelier is never clouded. One of these days he just might install a concrete replica of Mt. Manaslu in his garden.
Our group comprised mostly of journalists and writers. Suresh was on the trek to take photos for Travel Times, for which I was to write an article after the trek. Kantipur had sent their staff photographer, Laxmi. Badri had joined the trek as a photojournalist for Nagarik, a Nepali daily. Pushkar and Deepak were the reporter and cameraman for the news channel, National. Shanker, a staff of the organization that had sponsored our trek, had come along to shoot footage of the trek. Being from the region we would trek through, Tsewang and Lama Lakpa were to guide us. Besides us journalists and writers, there was Chandra and his two American friends, Kerry and Missy.
We first saw BG from an iron suspension bridge. BG is the Budi Gandaki, a river that rumbles through Gorkha. It was our first look at the river that would keep us company during our entire trek, one that got out of sight sometimes but never out of earshot.
Our porters turned out to be bothersome. Although no one could question their decision to rest every half an hour or so, it was their habit of eating at every other cluster of shops that was particularly annoying. Tsewang, who had joined the trek at Lama Lakpa’s request, was given the unpleasant job of walking with the porters. One of porters had given him a strange reason for his excessive drinking. According to the man, some of his enemies in the village had cast a spell on him that made him hanker for alcohol. He said that the spell had been cast to ensure that he drank away his wealth, so no matter how much he drank he was never inebriated.
In the blue dusk the waterfalls cascading into the BG turned milky. We arrived at Lapu Besi in the dark. The roar of the Budhi Gandaki had been audible for over 12 hours. I sat on a bench on the teahouse’s porch, where our porters were sipping raksi (a local wine made from millet). The porter at the far end of the bench and I were both searching: he was fiddling with the dial on a radio to find a station; I was searching for words to describe the day.
As they passed a cigarette to one another, one of them told his friends that he didn’t want to go any further. He had only a sleeveless vest on, and one of the porters who had convinced him to come along by assuring him that he had enough warm clothes for the both of them, apparently didn’t have any.
In her coquettishness the girl running the teahouse was akin to the owner of Geisha house. Never did she serve a single item without a playful remark. Her charms took hold before and for longer than the wine she sold; even though she took hours to serve dinner, none of us, who had walked for over ten hours, were angry.
Later in the evening I wrote a poem about the porters, the concluding lines of which I hoped would come true.
By day they groan under their loads
In the evening they sing
Near one bend in the trail they decide to quit
On the next they realize they can’t.
My prediction, like my verse, was lame; the porters quit in the morning. We hired replacements and moved on.
Gateway to MCAP
The trail descended and passed closer to the BG. Lama Lakpa scurried past me, on his way to the next village. He always traveled ahead of the group to get to the next village, so that he could have our meals ready upon our arrival. A miniature Nepali flag with the words ‘Visit Nepal 2011’ jutting from his backpack moved as he ran down the trail.
Dusk was already descending between the towering walls of the hills when we got to Yaru Bagar, a collection of huts on the bank of the BG. A resident of Yaru Bagar told me that on the gaunt hills to the north and in the forests on the south hills there was plenty of game. Yaru lies just outside the Manaslu Conservation Area, so hunting isn’t prohibited here. Hunters had a diverse quarry to hunt down: Barking Deer, Himalayan Tahr, Musk Deer, Himalayan Goral inhabited the region in good numbers. The only animal our group was interested in was Red Bull, of which everyone drank a can.
Jagat marks the entry point to the Manaslu Conservation Area. Bal Bahadur Karki, the landlord of the lodge we stayed in, was a laconic man, whose big eyes appeared to reprimand us every time we asked for something. That evening he hardly said a word to us.
BG had been in our ears for over 30 hours.
In the morning I noticed strange trees on the ridge across the BG from Jagat. The limbs of the trees were turned eastwards, as though a gale was blowing in from the west. Suresh and Laxmi were atop a monolith, taking pictures. Lakpa Lama, like he had done before in every village we had stopped in, had gone around announcing to the villagers that a team of journalists was around, and had corralled some of them in front of the lodge. Pushkar was wielding a microphone and Deepak had the camera on his shoulders. In their presence Bal Bahadur Karki turned into an orator.
Through the course of the interview it became clear that although Jagat was inside the Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP), its people were made to feel like outsiders by the people running the project. Karki spoke with the fervor of an activist. “It takes 13 days to carry cabbage from Manang over the Larke Pass to Jagat. A single porter charges around 400-500 rupees per day. We requested MCAP for cabbage seeds so that we could grow our own vegetable. But they didn’t do anything,” he said. His words were like the first drops of a heavy rainfall. Soon almost every villager present was criticizing MCAP.
The people of Jagat (and those living within the protected areas in Manaslu) resent the fact that the government has made MCAP a restricted area. In this they are wrong, because although the government only issues travel permits to only a thousand tourists annually, the area is not closed to foreigners. They have probably mistaken the limit on tourist number as a restriction. With Nepal celebrating 2011 as its tourism year, even a limit of tourist numbers seems unacceptable to the people living in MCAP. Another issue is the exorbitant royalties levied on tourists. The government charges every foreign citizen $90 per week. The permit lasts for two weeks. In addition, they have to pay 2000 Nepalese rupees to National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) in Kathmandu. If the sum is not paid in Kathmandu, it can be paid at the NTNC office in Jagat. But in Jagat tourists are required to pay double of the original amount. Kerry and Missy paid 4000 rupees each.
By time we got ready to leave, the officials of MCAP had been established as villains and Karki had earned the reputation of a great orator. We were to find out on our return that he was a folklorist as well.
A Rare Glimpse
Crossing the BG on a long, iron suspension bridge we arrived at Philim. Streets paved with stone, Philim was the cleanest village on the trail so far. As the landlady of the teahouse served us lunch, she asked us where we had spent the previous night. “In Lapu Besi, at Laxmi’s lodge,” replied Badri. The he asked her in turn if she knew Laxmi. “Who doesn’t know her?” said the landlady with a hint of mischief in her voice.
Between Philim and Deng, where we spent our second night, we crossed four bridges, switching banks alternately. Two of these were wonky and would tremble whenever someone passed over it. Gnarled and dilapidated, one of them had become like a trough tilting towards one side. Rocks were strewn on them, probably to improve stability. The only pleasure I got from walking on them came from knowing that the odds of it collapsing when I was on it were minimal; I’d have to walk on them only once again on our way back.
Towards evening I caught up with our porters, whom we had allowed to walk on ahead. They were all Gurungs: Sukpal Gurung, Gopal Gurung, and Suk Bahadur Gurung. Sukpal Gurung, who was the oldest at 56 years, but looked much younger, told me the secret of his youth. “No matter where I am or what I am doing, I always eat my meals on time. Your body grows stronger if you eat on time,” he said. He also told me that he loathed staying idle. Apparently, he led an eventful life. He had married thrice: he left his first wife; his second wife had left him for another man; now he was living with his third wife. He also boasted about his ability to drink five bottles of raksi. Not to be outdone Suk Bahadur claimed he could drink six.
We arrived at Deng in the faint light of dusk. Deng is the doorway to the Nubri Valley, which is sprawled over four village development committees of Gorkha—Sirdibas, Prok, Lho, and Samagaon. The Nubri Valley has its own unique culture, which has changed little over the centuries. Even today its people prefer the Nubri dialect – maybe as a matter of choice and possibly because they’re not fluent in Nepali – to Nepali.
In the narrow hallway of the teahouse we were spending the night in, I saw a long queue of villagers waiting their turn to enter Chandra’s room. I peered into the room, where Chandra was examining the people and handing out medicines. Chandra, who is raising a number of children from the Nubri Valley in Kathmandu with assistance from foreign sponsors, had been distributing medicine to the sick and balloons to kids throughout the trek. Muffled coughs reverberated in the hallway.
I went down to the dining room, where a large group of women were seated. Through Badri’s questioning we learned that the women were from the village of Nyak and were traveling to attend the opening of a new monastery in Tonge. There wasn’t a single male in the group; the oldest member was 75 years old and the youngest was a five-month-old baby.
They were traveling as much to attend the ceremony as to seek a cure for their ailments. They believed the blessings from the rinpoche, a reincarnate lama, who was going to inaugurate the monastery, would cure them. Badri asked them why they didn’t get themselves checked at the health posts in their village. “We don’t even have tablets to fight fever in our village,” one of the women answered. Shocked, Badri asked what happened if someone fell seriously sick in their village. “Well, those that die die. Those who survive recuperate gradually,” said the same woman, probably the only one in the group with proficient Nepali.
The next morning was bright and clear. To the east of Deng a mountain was glistening in the morning sun. It was to be, much to the photographers’ dismay, the only time we would see mountains during our nineteen days on the trail.
Towards evening we descended along a large water pipeline to a verdant plateau. This was Prok. Mist was rolling into the village along with darkness. There were no lodges in Prok, so we had to split into two groups and spend the night in different houses. After checking on the group that was staying in a nearby house, the lama, Tsewang and I started for our home for the night. The lama was barely inches in front of us when we exited the house’s gate. But when Tsewang and I stepped onto the street outside he was nowhere to be seen. Somewhere far away a man was shouting to frighten away the bears that raided the crops at night. There was possibly a bear somewhere in Prok, prowling under the cover of the mist. The presence of a couple of mani walls on our way to the house heightened our fear. I kept visualizing a bear hiding on the other side of the mani walls.
When we got to the house, the lama was sitting in front of the hearth, talking to the people of the house. We asked him where he had disappeared minutes ago. He confessed sheepishly that he had run all the way because he had been scared of the bears.
In The Village Of Rain
The next day Lama Lakpa, Kerry, and Missy left Prok. The rest of us went on a hik to Kal Tal, a lake north of Prok. All of us had seen pictures of snowy peaks mirrored on Kal Tal. Due to the overcast weather, we returned from Kal Tal without even getting a glimpse of the mountains.
The next morning, a couple of hours from Prok, we crossed the river over a wooden bridge. Moss and fern were growing on the bridge and under it the BG had cut itself a large hole through a boulder. The trail passed through a forest of giant pine trees. Our destination for the day was the village of Namrung, where Lama Lakpa, Chandra, Kerry and Missy were awaiting us.
Around 2 p.m. I saw two policemen coming towards me from the opposite direction. They asked me where I was coming from and whether I was traveling alone or with a group. I told them that I was a member of a group of journalists. The policemen then shook hands with me and told me that they had come from Namrung to escort us to the village. As we waited for my companions to arrive, I talked to the policeman, Gopal, about the security situation of the region. “The people here are very peaceful. There are hardly any instances of crime or violence. We have nothing to worry about here,” he said. Not having to worry had given him time to pursue his love for writing, and he had a manuscript of a novel that he planned to publish.
At Namrung a small crowd was gathered alongside the trail. Foremost in the crowd was the chubby, mustachioed face of Lakpa Lama (not to be mistaken with Lama Lakpa, who is a monk), whom we had first met in Kathmandu. He shook our hands firmly and placed khadas (a scarf) around our necks. Then we were led to a small lawn, where we were served home-brewed wine and Tibetan tea. Men and women in traditional Nubri attire sang songs with their arms around each other’s waists, swaying back and forth.
Being predominantly Buddhist, killing of animals is forbidden in the Nubri Valley. The punishment for killing a wild animal is 500 whippings in public. As a result wildlife has flourished in this region. In the evening we spotted a herd of jharals (Himalayan Tahr) on the hill across the BG from Namrung. The herd, which consisted of only females and a few kids, were licking minerals off the hill slopes.
When I remarked how much it was raining in Namrung, a nun told me that the name Namrung translated as ‘the place where it rains a lot’. No one could doubt the accuracy of the translation.
The Cloud Disperser
The next day we left the wet village for Tonge, where we were to attend the inauguration ceremony of a new monastery. The Tonge Monastery was situated beside a dark cleft in the hill face, within which a stream flowed. The stream fell and then crashed onto a ledge that jutted from the gorge wall, shaping the milky water into a saxophone that played day and night. Chandra chose to stay the night in a lodge owned by a man called Tsering. The rest of us crossed the river on a frighteningly inclined bridge and climbed up to the monastery.
It rained all night and the morning was cloudy—not suitable for a day as important as this. People, some of whom had come from as far away as Manang had spent the night under the canvas roof that had been rigged over the monastery’s courtyard. Some had arrived too late to even get a seat in the courtyard and had been out in the rain all night. As I stood in the courtyard watching clouds slowly engulfing the gorge in the distance, a man was pacing about turning a prayer bead in his hands and exhaling short bursts of air. This, I learned, was the man responsible for blowing away the clouds. Coincidentally or by sheer power of his lungs, the sun gradually began to shine, and by late morning the clouds had receded.
An hour before mid-day the sound of a helicopter stirred the monastery into excitement. Monks started for the helipad, carrying colorful paraphernalia. Two monks began blowing trumpets, which they kept up for an astounding duration. People who had been hunched on either side of the path from the helipad to the monastery stood up. A few minutes after the helicopter had landed, a burly man in yellow and maroon appeared on the path. As he moved, people on the trail bowed their heads. The rinpoche had arrived.
After the rinpoche had cut the ribbon strung across the main door of the monastery, a crowd of monks and distinguished guests followed him into the prayer hall. The rinpoche climbed onto a high chair. Cups and bowls of gold were laid out on a table before him. There was a picture of the Dalai Lama on the altar, slightly obscured by paper currencies of various countries. People shuffled to the rinpoche to offer khadas, which the rinpoche took from their hands and then placed it around their necks. After I had got the rinpoche’s blessings, I went outside, content spiritually, but reeling from hunger.
In the afternoon a group of dancers performed in the courtyard. Then, after the dance was over, there was a sudden kerfuffle in the crowd. Everybody started to push towards the rinpoche. Apparently, the time to receive the rinpoche’s blessings had arrived. Most of the people in the crowd had traveled for days for this opportunity. The rinpoche’s chair in one corner of the courtyard suddenly became the center of a spiritual vortex; the crowd seemed to be sucked towards him. Young monks were operating like security personnel in a concert: they were simultaneously pulling and shoving people to bring them to the rinpoche and to send them away once they had been blessed. The wails of the children and the drone of the trumpets merged to produce a melody, like the union of the rumbling waterfall with the indefatigable BG.
Buying Fine Weather
In the evening we headed for Tsering’s lodge across the river. Unlike many young men from his village who move to big cities or even abroad, Tsering had returned to his village after graduating high school from Kathmandu. “I knew if I went abroad I would have to wash dishes. So I decided that I’d wash my own dishes, in my own village,” he said. After washing a pile of dishes, he told us another thing about dishes. “Formerly, people here didn’t wash their dishes. We licked them clean and put them on the shelves,” he said, almost wistfully.
There had been incessant rain since the rinpoche’s departure the previous day. On the third morning after the monastery’s inauguration, Lakpa sent a horseman to deliver some money to a nearby monastery. The money was a fee for dispersing the rain-swollen clouds. Once again the weather cleared. As we stood outside marveling at the wind disperser’s powers, I noticed an old building directly above the Tonge Monastery. I asked Lama Lakpa what it was. He told me it was a very old monastery. It called Nakchhal Gumba. Nakchhal is Nubri for ‘dense forest’. The lama also told me that the monastery once housed a statue that possessed the power to change the weather. It is said that the statue could reverse the prevalent weather when it was brought out into the open. Unfortunately, the statue was stolen years ago. The lama had never seen it, but only heard about it from his elders.
We had to cross three swift snowy streams on our way to Samagaon. One of the bridges over these streams had a door at one end. Shanker, who had trekked in the region before, told us that the doors were built to prevent animals from one village straying into another. The doors usually remained open but were closed if disputes broke out between two villages.
After the last of these streams, the trail passed through flat ground. Chortens, stone monuments that are built in memory of the deceased, to store relics, or as an ode to the deities, and mani walls began to appear at regular intervals. Then a large chorten came into view and behind it, clad in a veil of thin mist, was the dense village of Samagaon, looking as though it stood on clouds.
Samagaon was a village embellished by water. On its southern side BG flowed. Half-a-dozen waterfalls fell in dense white plumes from the hills that ran parallel to the village in the north. In the east, just above the village monastery was Birendra Tal, a glacial lake.
Into The Country of The Wandering Poet
We set out for Samdo, the last village on our itinerary, in a drizzle. At one point we came across a small pit beside the trail. In the center of the pit was another hole around ten inches deep and three inches wide. It turned out that this was an immensely sacred spot. The lama related the tale of the pit. Centuries ago, in the course of his wanderings the revered Buddhist monk and poet, Milarepa, arrived in this place. He was deep in meditation when a demon disguised as a beautiful woman appeared before him and proposed to sleep with him. Milarepa declined the offer, but the demoness continued to press him to make love to her. Angered by the disruption in his meditation and the insolence of the demon, Milarepa thrust his penis into a rock, saying, “I’d rather make love to this rock than making love to you”. The hole in the ground is believed to be the impression of Milarepa’s penis. Across the river, at the end of a series of three waterfalls, there was a cleft in the gorge wall—apparently a waterfall that was now dry. That is believed to be the vagina of the demon who had tried to seduce Milarepa.
After laboring up a bluff we came to a multi-tiered stupa, known as kang ni, which translates roughly as ‘two-footed’. The lowest tier in a kang ni is hollow, through which people and animals can pass. This gives the stupa an appearance of standing on two legs, hence the name kang ni. We passed under this stupa, and got our first look at Samdo.
To the south of Samdo a large stretch of a hill’s face had been eroded, creating a brown strip that came right down into the river. At the head of this strip small white areas were visible. We soon learned that the strip had been made by a glacier that had now melted away. The white spots in the distance were permafrost. Lakpa reminisced how only 25 years ago he had seen a river of ice where now there was only rock and earth.
As we were sauntering around the village Lakpa, his wife, his nephew, and I were invited by a man into his house for tea. The main door was very small. As he lit a fire, the man explained that doors in Samdo were made small so that the skeletons that roamed the village at night could not get in. A ferocious dog tied near the door deterred those who had skin over bones and roamed the village during the day.
There was a large field east of Samdo. This was where until a hundred years ago traders from Tibet and Nepal bartered goods. Caravans descended from Tibet carrying salt and traders from villages lower down brought grains and other supplies to Samdo. Even today the old trade routes exist, although anybody hardly travels on them. Now, potatoes are grown in the field where once trans-Himalayan trade was conducted.
I had noticed that Nubri men always carried a knife around their waists. Lakpa explained the origin of the tradition. In the old days most Nubri men drove caravans of mules up and down the BG gorge. Due to the narrow and precipitous trail accidents were common. In most cases, the men were confronted with a situation in which they could only save either the animal or their cargo. So the men always carried a knife to cut off the animal from the load or vice-versa.
The next day, my birthday, the sun came out for the first time in days. After breakfast we walked to Birendra Tal. Chunks of ice that had broken off from the glacier floated on the lake’s turquoise water. On the north shore of the take, a stream of water fell with a crashing sound. The lake flowed out from its southern shore as a swift stream. Like all lakes at high altitude, it had a menacing air about it; it was brimming with energy that didn’t want to be confined.
The next morning, as we were about to leave Samagaon, news arrived that a bridge on the way to Samdo had been swept away by the river during the night. A grinding sound came from the direction of Birendra Tal. Chunks of ice were breaking away from the glacier. We left Samagaon.
If it wasn’t for the people you meet and the places you see, most treks during the monsoon in Nepal would end in much the same way as they had begun. But after meeting people that live without so much as the comfort of a tablet, the wretched ride becomes pleasant and the abominable road elicits a cheer from you.
Box 3: Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP)
The Manaslu region, which was closed to tourists until 1991, was declared a conservation area in 1998 by the Nepali government. Since then, the conservation area is managed by the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC). The region is bordered by the Annapurna Conservation Area in the west, Tibet in the east and north, and by the district of Gorkha in the south. The Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP) covers an area of 1,663 sq. km. There are seven Village Development Committees – Sama, Lho, Prok, Bihi, Chumchet, Chhekampar and Sirdibas – within the conservation area.
MCAP is endowed with spectacular natural features, unique bio-diversity, and rich religious and cultural heritage. Mt. Manaslu (8,163m), the eighth-highest peak in the world, lies in MCAP. Other prominent peaks in the area include Himalchuli (7,893m), Shringi Himal (7,187m), Langpo (6,668m) and Saula (6,235m). The occurrence of lofty mountains and low-lying areas within a relatively small area has made MCAP into a region with diverse ecological conditions. There are 19 types of forests in MCAP. A total of 33 species of mammals inhabit the area. The diversity of habitat in MCAP has created a congenial environment for some of the rarest species in the world to flourish in the region. Snow and Spotted Leopards, Lynx, Grey Wolf, Himalayan Musk Deer and Blue Sheep are found in good numbers in MCAP. The area’s population of Himalayan Tahr is unequalled in the country. Other important species include the Himalayan Black Bear, Assamese Monkey, Himalayan Goral, Himalayan Marmot, Golden Jackal, Yellow-throated Marten, Musk Palm Civet, Leopard Cat, Barking Deer, Wooly Hare and Red Flying Squirrel. Numerous packs of Dhole (a wild dog) are reported from the area.
There are 110 species of birds in the area, of which 14 are protected species. Pheasant species such as the Monal Pheasant and the Impeyan Pheasant inhabit the Kaal Tal and Manaslu base camp area in good numbers. Ruddy Shelduck, Golden Eagle, Eurasian and Himalayan Griffons, Booted Eagle, Himalayan and Tibetan Snow Cocks, Collared Pigmy Owlet and Nepal Sunbird are some of the bird species found in MCAP.
MCAP also has three species of reptiles and 11 species of butterflies. An estimated 2000 species of plants grow in the region, many of which have medicinal properties.
The region is also famous for its old monasteries. Mu Gumba in the Chhekampar VDC was built in 1895. It is the oldest monastery in the region. In the same VDC lies the famous Rachhen Gumba. The monastery has the largest population of resident monks and nuns in the region. There is a stone near the monastery that is believed to bear Milarepa’s footprint. The Sehrang Gumba in the Bihi VDC is famous as the place where deer are so tame that they feed off people’s hands.
Box 2: A Sacred Place
The Manaslu region is regarded by some to be a ‘beyul’. In Tibetan Buddhism, a beyul is a sacred valley. It is believed that Padma Sambhava, who introduced Buddhism to Tibet and founded the Nyingmapa tradition in the eighth century, identified 108 such valleys throughout the Himalyas. He created them as havens for Buddhism, where the faith could seek refuge from attacks – which have been prophesized – by evil forces. Then Padma Sambhava, known reverently as Guru Rinpoche, concealed these valleys using his powers. It is believed clues have been hidden in sacred texts about the location of these hidden valleys. Many beyuls are considered to be already discovered and inhabited by people. Beyuls are places that are free of vices such as violence and avarice, and are so pure and sacred that the results of meditation and prayers are multiplied a hundred fold there.
In a Beyul, some natural sites and objects such as lakes, forests and rocks are revered either because they are places that were once visited or occupied by saints or deities or because some supernatural beings are believed to dwell there. There is a cave north-east of Samagaon, where Milrepa is believed to have meditated centuries ago. The cave is under an enormous rock and a wooden house has been built against the rock. Inside the house, which resembles a monastery’s prayer room, are all the paraphernalia of a religious ceremony: there are brass lamps on the altar; in one corner a pot containing butter has been kept; and a drum hangs from the ceiling. The butter has been collectively bought and stored by the villagers so that anyone visiting the cave may light lamps.