Mother Nature surely delights human souls to no ends, but it can also be a monster when least expected. Trekking in Nepal’s Manaslu region explains this to us well…
An important part of the ‘Great Himalaya Trail’, trekking in Manaslu would be a great option to the ‘Annapurna Circuit’. Trekking in this beautiful region can be anything to 16-18 days that starts with a drive to the unfortunate village of Barpak for upper route and sotikhola to lower route Barpak brunt of the series of earthquakes that hit Nepal in the month of 25 April 2015. Barpak was the epicenter of the earthquake. You are likely to see the mountain split in some areas due to avalanches caused by the deadly earthquakes, and the Manaslu trail goes across sections of some of the destruction caused by the earthquakes. Manaslu was only opened to visitors in the 1990s but was closed for some time due to the destructive earthquakes that took some 9000 lives. Almost 3 years down the road, visitors are still likely to see whole villages with ramshackle temporary shelters and white plastic tarpaulins strung on to rods to form roofs. Sheets of corrugated iron have been drilled in to create rough walls. Mules are also seen plowing some areas of empty ground going through the center of the village; into the mud for agricultural purposes.
But for all this damage caused by nature that could be sore to the eyes, exploring the natural beauty of Manaslu with its unexplored, lesser-known Tibetan culture, the mind-blowing landscapes, its flora and fauna and the stunning dancing waterfalls, combine to create the specialness of Manaslu region, which is rising faster than we would expect from the ashes it was. Trekking Manaslu normally begins from the lively town of Arughat above the roaring Buri Gandaki River which will remain stuck with us for almost half the trip. The journey goes through some interesting villages as we get to know them on the way: Mamche Khola at 2800m, the friendly Gurung village of Laprak where trekkers can stop for some rest and enjoy the lovely views of Ganesh Himal, Sringi Himal, and the lush forest while snacking with some drinks in one of the teahouses around. We finally reach Khorlabensi, a junction for the major trek routes which begin from Sotikhola. If we are doing the upper route, then we continue on to the village of Jagat and this is where the restricted region of Manaslu begins. Trekkers will need to register their permits of the Manaslu region and only registered local guides are allowed to enter the National Conservation Park of Manaslu.
From here on, the trek goes to the higher reaches further on to Philim, an intersection of Manaslu and Tsum Valley which brings us to the village of Deng. As we hike the wilderness routes, we get amazed at the changing landscapes as the trees get smaller and the mountains get larger. We also note changes with the local people and their religious beliefs as Hindu villages give way to Tibetan Buddhist settlements. We soon reach the village of Lho, one of the main attractions of this journey. Lho gives us the first commanding views of the eight tallest peaks on the planet at 8163m – Mt. Manaslu, after all, this is what the trip is all about. By this time, with our next destination to Samagaon, we pass by a chocolate box village called Syala with breathtaking beauty. It’s the closest we’d get to paradise with the clean air and the natural oxygen; this lush green village with little rosy-cheeked children in the backdrops of the setting sun in the far distance at dusk is scenery that will likely remain in your memories for the rest of your life. As we go on to explore the village further, every turn and spin in this hamlet leaves you breathless. The clean river, the mountains, hillocks, clouds, the green fields, yaks, and the warm people all combine to give us an unforgettable experience beyond what we could have expected.
Next up is the village of Samagaon, the largest village on the upper routes. Samagaon is the gateway to Manaslu Base Camp from where mountaineers set up a base camp to the summit of Manaslu peak. This village also offers great side trips to Pungen gumpa, Manaslu base camp and the serene Birendra Lake. Samagaon also offers some good acclimatization options to discover some surprises about the Manaslu region. After we’ve enjoyed the most of this happening village and a trip to Samdo, the last Nepalese village on the old route to Tibet, we get set for the final run-in to the Larkya La Pass at 5160m, the highest altitude of our trip for 360 degree views of some of the most spectacular mountains on earth. After descending this pass, we stop for some time to rest and enjoy some hot drinks before we head down to Dharapani after passing through Bimthang, a tranquil little town blessed with natural beauty, colorful houses, good food and some great facilities for weary trekkers on their way back to Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Teahouses on the Manaslu Circuit
The Manaslu route only became ‘teahouse treks’ from as early as 2015. Before this camping was the only option. But now trekkers can sleep out in the teahouse with basic facilities in the true spirit of adventure in the wild. Standards could be different from the lodge to lodge, but most teahouses offer a bed, shower and ‘dug in’ toilets called ‘long drop loos’. Getting hot water sometimes can be a problem and meals are basic that consist of typical Nepalese fare of ‘Dal Bhat’ – a local dish of rice, cumin-spiced lentils, and locally grown vegetables. Breakfast could be Tibetan bread and grained coffee with yak’s milk. But the Manaslu region and its trek circuits could yet be the ‘trekkers’ paradise’ sooner than later and will surely overtake the Annapurna Circuit on the popular charts someday.
Perhaps, what could touch you most about your visit are the bright signs selling hot showers, wireless internet, bakeries and mountaineering equipment, and one or two hotels will have a reading that says, was “not recommended by Lonely Planet guidebook”. This is where as a trekker you could realize the value of your presence, and sadly, become an important part of this most beautiful devastated region’s recovery.