On the 11th November 2021, at four o’clock in the morning, I began a long vehicular journey from Pokhara to Gorkha District for the exploration of the Manaslu Circuit. I couldn't sleep a wink last night, and why would I, I had been dreaming about trekking in Manaslu since I led my first batch of Annapurna Base camp in the year 2018 March. And now, I was finally doing it.
I had tried to explore the Manaslu Circuit when I was working with my previous company, Indiahikes but operationally it was always deemed difficult. Stories behind Manaslu Conservation Area being a restricted place, how the local Tibetian tribes were now understanding the importance of mountaineering, and how the trekking culture was slowly developing, ensuring the growth of their region financially were heard all around. However, due to its restricted nature and the cost of permits being pretty high, this conservation area is still very raw when it comes to trekking.
But the landscape and villages, and the fact that my ancestors were from the Gorkha district made me want to hike on the trails of Manaslu Conservation Area.
This time things were different, as I was working for my organization and it was easy to make decisions in terms of operations and management. After leading the first batch
of Khopra Ridge in the middle of October it was pretty clear that we as an organization had to explore more trails in Nepal, so since we already have treks running in both the Annapurna region and the Everest Base Camp area, Manaslu was the obvious choice.
So, I started gathering information about the Manaslu conservation area from the internet and from different guides and agencies I have worked with. Here, I realized this circuit is divided into numerous treks within, I could do a Manaslu Circuit with Larke pass for 15 days or a Tsum Valley with Manaslu Circuit for 23 days, or do the circuit reverse, a very difficult trek as I would have to cross the Larke pass, the longest pass in the Himalaya.
I was told that this conservation area came under the restricted zone as it was close to the China/Tibet border and that most of the various tribes in the interior region wanted their practices to remain sacred and didn't want the outside world to witness them. So, that made the permits of Manaslu Circuit costly as compared to its sister treks Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base camp.
For my trip to Manaslu, I would need three permits, one for Manaslu Conservation Area, second for Manaslu Restricted Area, and finally, Annapurna Conservation Area since I would end my trek in the Annapurna Conservation area. Apart from that, Manaslu Circuit or any treks in Manaslu Conservation is not for solo trekkers so you need to be in a group of a minimum of two and also hire a guide. It was already sounding complicated.
So, I started looking around. It took me three more days to find a group with whom I could go. Here I would like to give a huge shoutout to Ethical Trekking Nepal Pvt. Ltd for making my permits and giving me one of the best guides I have trekked with Puspha Dai. Due to operational reasons, I planned to finish Manaslu Circuit five days earlier. Instead of 15 days, my guide and I planned the
trek for 10 days.
And then it began. I finally started my journey after getting trek guides, and a partner to trek with. It started with a long vehicular journey from Pokhara to Maccha Khola. I slept the moment we started our journey. After five hours we reached Gorkha district at Arughat from where Maccha Khola was around another five hours.
Our guide Puspha dai told us how scenic the rest of the journey will be, so I didn’t sleep a wink after that. When I looked outside the window, the view in front of me was unbelievable. I could feel the rawness of the place with old houses surrounded by big farmland and the Manaslu and Gangapurna Range in the background. The deeper we went into the Manaslu conservation area, the rawness increased. Fewer tea houses and restaurants were seen, more farmlands popped up and Budhi Gandaki kept flowing through the valley, It made me realize how blessed I was to be here. I couldn’t wait to hit the trekking trail.
We reached Maccha Khola around 5 pm. We checked in to a tea house, I dropped my bags and immediately went down to have a conversation with Sachin Gurung the owner of Maccha Khola tea house. He was happy to hear I was from India and that my ancestors were from Gorkha District. As a part of the conversation, I asked him why Manaslu Conservation Area is restricted. He smiled and said as you start trekking you will meet many tribal Tibetians ahead and just seeing them you will understand why we should protect their culture and heritage. That's why Manaslu Conservation Area is restricted and with certain trekking rules.
After our conversation, I went to explore the village and could see a suspension bridge going to a trail on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, it was getting dark so I skipped the plan to explore more. After our dinner, we made a plan to start early to reach Jagat from where the restricted trail starts.
The next morning, as soon as I started the trek, I got a fair idea of what I was going to witness in the future. As we moved against the Budi Gandaki, it was just us walking through the trail, with waterfalls towards our left, and occasionally coming across a tea house or two. After a three-hour hike through this, we reached Dobhan, a very well-organized village in the valley. From there, we walked through river sand for a kilometer and covered a bamboo forest, after which we reached Jagat four hours later. This was the first checkpoint of the trek. I was happy to see a good number of tea houses in Jagat and realized that the popularity of Manaslu Circuit was increasing. But soon I was told that this would also be the last place where we would get such facilities in a tea house.
Villages of Manaslu:
From day two of the trek, I started to visit numerous villages, all of which were unique in their own way. Philim was the first village from where we saw Mount Gangapurna two and three. Dang was situated in a valley and was isolated and very peaceful. It had a scenic teahouse with a big garden surrounded by Gangapurna Range and Langtang range. The trail to Dang from Philim was filled with beautiful birds, and I had to walk through a deciduous forest with Mount Gangapurna forming the background. Ghap was amongst the most beautiful villages I came across with huge agricultural land and very less crowd.
The further I went in, the rawness of the trek increased. I guarantee you will fall in love with all the villages you come across. I vividly remember the time when I caught my first glimpse of Mount Manaslu. I was stunned as it came surprisingly while walking towards Lhogaon. Lhogaon, which for me is the best village I have ever come across in the Himalayas, holds a special place in my heart. With Manaslu standing tall in the background, beautiful landscapes and a Monastery nestled in between, this village is one of the highlights of the trek.
What's unique about this Manaslu circuit is that it has many side hikes which take you close to the Manaslu peak and beautiful alpine lakes. Punggen Gumba is one of the closest viewpoints for Manaslu from Syalagaon. Samagaon which is the culturally richest village of Manaslu conservation area has an alpine lake named Birendra tal nearby. Birendra tal is a lake formed by the snout of the Manaslu glacier.
The most interesting village however was Samdo which is above the treeline from the Samdo China-Tibet border. It took around two hours of hiking and now I would say this village should ideally be an acclimatization place before we head to Larka La-pass.
But for me things were different. I had to complete the trek soon so I didn’t stop there and moved to the base of Larka La-pass - Dharmashala. This place had just one tea house and was the costliest place of all. The trail on this day though was very scenic. Walking along snow-capped mountains and cold desert landscapes made this day both interesting and challenging.
Here, I came across a British group of five with guides and porters, three gentlemen and two women. The oldest members of the group were standing young at 67 and 61 and the most experienced ones. They had done reverse Annapurna circuit and numerous hikes in Britain. The evening was amazing with great story sessions and conversations. Since the next day was the Larka La-pass day and an early start around 3:30 am we all ended our day early.
Rescue mission on my exploration!?
The weather was being a bit dramatic for the last two days, clouds were gathering during the day and clearing in the evening. Everyone predicted the possibility of snowfall. I felt the same but didn’t expect it to happen on the pass day.
But, when I woke up around 3 am, I saw snowflakes. Luckily it wasn't windy or cold. This was an advantage for us when we began our trek on one of the longest passes of the Himalayas that day. We covered a great distance within three hours while it was snowing continuously. I remember the group from Britain started first and we were the second one. When the clock turned seven o’clock the vision got a bit clear but it started getting windy. There, we reached a trail full of snow so we stopped and decided to wear our microspikes.
Nearby in a small shelter, I saw one of the older British men sitting without his microspikes on. Curious as to why he was sitting all alone in this snowed-down area he said he was taking a break and his spikes were with the guide ahead. I found it strange but didn't expect myself to end up being a trip leader again, as it was my exploration. But that is exactly what happened. I offered him my microspikes but unfortunately, he was 6’4” so he was of a way bigger size. So, I asked him to join us as we were a group of three including our guide and we could walk together.
The wind factor was increasing every minute and the small snow clusters were hitting our faces and eyes. It made it difficult to see and move. The trail was getting difficult to find. My guide moved ahead and kept on making a trail for us, while I was holding the British man and walking so that he wouldn't slip.
After five minutes I saw the oldest man ahead, stuck in the snow and asking for help. I guess for me what I did for the next four hours was more of an instinctive behaviour as an outdoor leader where my guide and I conducted a rescue of the two old trekkers. Both of them didn’t have microspikes, and their guides had left them in the snow and gone ahead. The oldest one looked like he had the first stage of hypothermia. We took them up till the pass by almost carrying and dragging the oldest.
Then we continued dragging him down to a point where he got back in his sense and could hike on his own. It was one of the most challenging days of my life as an outdoor leader and a great day where I learned so much. I just had one thing in mind: they should reach the next teahouse safe and sound which they did. After four hours, we successfully helped them cross the pass and reach the safety of a lower altitude where they finally met their team.
For us, we didn’t stop there and hiked further down to cover more distance to increase our possibility of reaching Pokhara the next day. Although I felt bad about missing the tea house Bhimtang after Larka La-pass which is considered to be the most scenic one because it is surrounded by Annapurna and Manaslu Range, I was happy to have helped two men in need and realized how powerful the mountains truly are. Again.
With that, my exploration of Manaslu came to an end. We headed to Pokhara the next morning, where two days later, we met the British man at a cafe. He thanked usView and said this trek would be one to remember. I don't doubt it!