Manaslu Circuit Trek
I know very little about the Himalayas. Even after spending 12 days on the Manaslu Circuit Trek, transporting ourselves on foot through the highest of mountains on anything from dirt to gravel paths, mud and rocks, thick snow, icy tracks, to dusty dry tracks, crossing the river hundreds of times via quivering hanging bridges, thousands of steps up and even more down, I'd still say I know very little about the Himalayas. Precisely that, still not knowing, but merely scraping the surface - that is what I like the most about the Himalayas. To me it's one of those places in the world that will remain forever magical, full of its secrets and stories.
Trekking in the Himalayas is not a routine holiday. It's an odyssey of fairytale grasslands at lower elevations and rugged terrain on high passes, demanding your utmost endurance. Although some technical skill is required, trekking in the Himalayas is a bucket-list adventure on all Nepali tourist guides, and thousands of trekkers and climbers go on a pilgrimage in the Himalayan range.
In this post, I've elaborated the content for it to act as a guide and insight, for anyone interested in doing a trek in Nepal. Also, this is a visual journal of the trip, accompanied by words and small anecdotes, to remind myself of what a fantastic journey it was. The trek is portrayed as it was experienced, in a day-by-day chronology, and thereby deciphers our route from A to B.
At the very bottom of the page, I took the time to do a packing list. There are hundreds out there, but I tried to sum up the best ones, combine them and do a few adjustments after I did the trek myself. Also, I've added some trekking tips and advice on packing.
With me on the trek was Jens and my boyfriend Oskar. When I met them in Kathmandu they'd already spent a month in the city, researching for their master thesis. The 3 of us went with the most incredible guide of all. A gentle, heartwarming man named Saubir and a kind, strong porter, Raj. I can really recommend them to be your guides. They were fantastic. You can find Saubirs email at the bottom of the page.
Day 1 - A day of travel
Kathmandu - Arughat and Sotikhola (Altitude 775 m)
On the morning of the 13th of March, we started our journey. Once escaping the dustfilled Kathmandu, the landscape started changing rapidly. Just greener. Rice fields. And clear air.
We took a local bus to Arughat, and during the 8-9 hour long drive we were accompanied by both chickens, vomiting children and rice sacks. Once the core of the bus was full, locals occupied the roof of the bus.
Upon arrival to Arughat we decided to take the first steps with a 1,5 hour walk to Sotikhola, our first tea house on the trek located right next to the river. So we had our dinner, crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep to the sound of the river - the river we would be following for the next week.
Day 2 - The first climb
Sotikhola - Machhakhola (Altitude 900 m)
Most of this first "real day" of our trek was spent feeling amazed. By the landscape, the many mules we met, by our energetic guide and porter, by the food, our camel bags with fresh Himalayan water and countless other things we noticed as landscape architects. But essentially we felt amazed with ourselves and amazed by our feet.
The frist hanging bridge was an exciting one to pass. We spent time photographing it, waiting for our turn to photograph it, thinking this would be one of the few ones we'd meet. However, after the Earthquake in 2014, the route has been damaged by rocks from landslides, and cannot be used. There are therefore more bridges taking you from one side of the river to the other, and we ended up meeting many many of these beautiful hanging bridges.
For lunch we stopped and ordered dal bhat. For the rest of the trip we had dal bhat for lunch and dinner, and believe it or not - we did not grow tired of it. On this first day, we wanted to spice up our lunch with a chicken curry (we really felt like we deserved an extra reward) and it took a good hour before our lunch was served. Well, because they had to kill the chicken, skin it and cook it for us. We didn't know of this before the evening when our guide Saubir told the boys why our lunch took so long. Although it was delicious, we didn't order chicken curry again during our trek.
Walking alongside the stream, in what normally is characterised as a river, during monsoon at least, was very meditative. The landscape here was still dynamic and in movement, fed by this golden colored water, that carried sand and small stones with it. While I was fascinated by the patterns and ripples in the sand, Oskar and Jens took a dip in the very shallow water.
We walked in rain for the last bit of the trek until we reached Machhakhola. Once we got to our pink teahouse it started pouring down heavily and it continued for most of the night. Essentially, this meant snow at the Pass. "As long as it stops in the morning, it's okay" our guide said, "... then the sun will melt the snow." We were nervous about the rain up until the point where we actually made it to the Pass. On our trek up the mountain we met quite a few groups coming back down because off too much snowfall.
Our guesthouse in Machhakhola
Day 3 - River tales
Machhakhola - Jagat (Altitude 1340 m)
This day can be told just by the above images. Beautiful scenery, trekking both next to, over and in the river. Once we arrived to Jagat we all had milk tea followed by bucket showers. Although we'd been walking for the whole day, we put on some fresh clothes and went for a small stroll down the alleys and found half of the village gathered around the butching of a goat. They sat on a huge blue plastic sheet, that they'd spread out in the back garden, and sorted the goat into different piles of guts. When we had our dal that a few hours later, we were offered to taste some of the goat. I'm not a huge fan anything woolly, but it seemed to be a pretty tasty one according to Oskar and Jens.
Day 4 - Pumpkin and pines
Jagat - Deng (Altitude 1860 m)
Where we stopped for lunch was probably the best place to stop for lunch. Looking around it became clear that today's curry would be with pumpkin. I think this was one of the best dal bhat's on the trek. Not only did the pumpkins come from right outside the kitchen, as well as the mustard leaves, but it was our guide Saubir and our porter Raj who cooked for us. Their efforts, the local ingredients, the taste and the fact that this meal was, yet again, a well-deserved one, made it nothing but delicious in every way!
Later on the trek, when talking about dal bhat, we all looked back on this day, since this was by far the place where the vegetables on our plates were most bountiful. As we climbed higher up in the mountains, the crops naturally grew sparser and so did the freshness of our daily dal bhats.
By far the hottest day on the trek. Walking in full sun, with many alterations and steep trekking. But seriously, what a landscape we spent the day walking through and just taking in! And the smell here of pinewood, warm earth, swaying grasses and river gushes - I had quite a magical time spending half the day in this scenery. The landscape colour palette was simply on point.
After having crossed the river from the sunny side to the shaded side, we walked upwardes for a good half an hour, turned a corner and entered a totally different landscape typology. We thereby went from a dry, dusty gravel path to a humid forest, where the temperature dropped substantially within seconds. Here the surface was wet and muddy, and the vegetation was dominated by bamboo and rhododendron, which were by the way blossoming at the time of our trek.
The cabin in Deng.
4 walls, 1 window, 1 door and 2 beds. Simple.
Day 5 - The day we got Wifi
Deng - Namrung (Altitude 2630 m)
Today was long, a tough. The fourth day in a row where we'd trek for around 8 hours or more to reach our next destination.
The earthquake in 2014 not only the resulted in dramatic landslides that damaged the trekking routes around the lower region of the Himalayas. Electricity, cables and satellite connections were impaired, and a year after - still no internet. I was really enjoying the whole "disconnected" aspect of the trip, however it always has its drawbacks. I experienced these minor panic attacks about the whole "being-out-of-reach", thinking what if anything had happened to my family back home and no one could get in touch with me to let me know?
When we reached a teahouse that signed with Wifi it was like, oh cool, but it probably doesn't work. When we found out that it did work, we all turned on our phones and called our families back home. Hearing their voices and reading their words was the highlight of the day for me.
Below are some pictures from the Wifi teahouse. On the right some beautiful mani stone walls with the six syllabled mantra 'Om mani paddle hum' inscribed in them. It's a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddism, and a hymn everyone, including ourselves were humming during our trek.
Day 6 - Temples, monastery and hammocks
Namrung - Lho (Altitude 3180 m)
The trek to Lho was a very short one, so most of the afternoon was spent exploring the area around the village. On a hilltop a few kilometres away lies a monastery for young munks. From there, when the weather is clear, you can see the peak of Manaslu in the distance. On that day the clouds dominated the sky, so we only caught a small glimpse of the mountain.
Lho was quite a cute little village. We hung out on the field enclosed by little teahouses and small cabins upon arrival, chilling in the hammocks with the sun in our faces. On the picture below you can see our two cabins just to the right of the flag.
Dal bhat in the making
Day 7 - Clouds and desert
Lho - Samagaun (Altitude 3580 m)
At sunrise, or perhaps even before that, we were awoken by hymns from the local monastry in Lho. Giant bells and repetitious sounds spread across the village and we all turned over in our beds and decided to get up. The walk to Samaguan was easy and we took us a long tea break, sitting in plastic chairs with the locals with a view to Manaslu, still hiding a little behind the clouds. Eventually we got to see the ice mountain top, which brought a smile on our faces!
During our trek and the first half the day the sun was out. Upon arrival to Samaguan and our multicoloured teahouse we had dal bhat lunch on the roof terrace enjoying the view and the fresh air. Within an hour the weather shifted and it became super cloudy and the mood of the village changed completely.
There wasn't a lot to do in the village, but we spent the afternoon going for a walk around the area. Jens and Oskar climbed a huge rock lying in the landscape. Both wearing red, they stod out completely from an otherwise very rough setting. After that we all bought locally crafted hats, preparing for some very cold nights ahead higher up in the mountains, but also as souvenirs for friends and family.
We were lucky to have Wifi in our teahouse, especially since we were to stay there for 2 nights to acclimatize. Other than that, we pretty much spent most of the time being cold in our rooms, playing cards by the fire and drinking hot lemon-ginger tea.
Day 8 - Manaslu glacier
Rest day in Samagaun (Altitude 3580 m)
Although this day was a rest day, we still couldn't help ourselves by seeing more of what was out there. Besides, it was simply too cold to just sit still.
The landscape at this altitude has to be my favouite. It was like a stale winter desert, magical with its shredded pines and the jags walking around like kings of the Himalayas. The colour contrasts from this area a few kilometres outside Samagaun still inspire me very much. And this photo below of a deserted stone house is one of my favorites from the entire selection of photographs from the trip.
At the foot of the Manaslu glacier lies the Birendra Lake. A place that is most often portrayed as having bright turquoise waters. When we were there the colour of the lake was more like a faded emerald or a light, matte petroleum. It was magnetic. Seconds later a family of Himalayan blue sheep passed around the edge of the water behind us, and we slowly approached them to get a better look. They're quite stoic, with their huge horns that look something like an upside-down moustache.
It was great to be able to do a short light-weight trek, carrying only our camel bag with water in a small backpack. But it was also interesting to feel how our motor skills had gotten used to the weight on our backs. We almost has to find a new sort of balance on our feet without the weight of our big backpacks.
Day 9 - When the cold started kicking in
Samagaun - Samdo (3875 m)
Another short trek only lasting 3-4 hours, where we'd wander through both snow and gravel. Approaching 3850 meters above sea level we could really start to feel the cold. When the wind was there too it was almost as if it was biting you, however when the sun was there it was just such a fresh feeling. Upon arrival the sun was out and we were lying outside on sheep skin soaking up the sunshine. Shortly after it turned snowy and grey. While the boys went off to do their thing, I went for a solo trek up the mountain nearby but had to come back down after an hour due to the hard winds end the icy snowflakes it carried with it. In the evening we sat by the fire as long as we could until bedtime. We all took a bottle of boiled water with us to warm us during the night. Cold, cold night.
Day 10 - Camping
Samdo - Dharamsala (4460 m)
The weirdest endeavour on our trek was around 30 minutes outside Samdo. In the middle of nowhere sat a man, selling souvenirs. Earrings, bells, necklaces and woolen goods. To be honest, I would have loved to buy something of him, however at this point in time, just before crossing the Pass, none of us wanted to add extra weight to our backpacks.
So the truth is we'd been on the same schedule as a big group of 11 Frenchmen and 5 Germans for much of the trek, and in Samdo other groups started to join the route. We hadn't booked any of our teahouses before leaving Kathmandu, no need for that really on the Manaslu, however the French had booked up all the cabins in Dharamsala. This meant we had to stay in tents. Camping at 4460 meters with a night temperature below -10. Freezing.
Dharamsala is not a village like the many other places we'd stayed during our trek. It lies 100 km away from the nearest town, in a rather hostile environment. Dharamsala is a tea-house with a large stone hut and lies at the foot of a glacier, surrounded my piles of moraine and snow-covered peaks anywhere you looked.
Although air was thin here, and the smallest ascend has a direct impact on your breathing, there was such an incredible atmosphere here. The night before all trekkers cheered and wished one another good luck with tomorrows big day of crossing the Larke La Pass.
Day 11 - The pass
Dharamsala - Bimtang (3590 m) via Larke La Lass (5160 m)
We all woke before sunrise and had a 4am breakfast. The clear black sky was dotted with stars, and minute by minute the silhouette of the world's tallest mountains appeared. This early morning set-off into the snowy landscape was however affected by the fact that I'd slept really bad, not to say hardly any. We made sure to stay together in our little group. As the sun rose, a calmness spread amongst us and we watched the sunrise in full splendor. The light was just such a relief.
Four hours later we'd reached 5100 m.
Larke La Pass
Finally. We made it to the Pass! It is marked by lots and lots of prayer flags, tied to a pole, stretching from one to the other. Our guide Saubir had a long string of prayer flags with him that we put up to mark our presence!
At the Pass the wind was brutal and we struggled putting up the flags. All photos from here were terrible too, mine overexposed, Oskars underexposed. The best one is the one here on the right that I managed to balance out.
The visit was short both due to the blizzard but also due to the very thin air here. From the Pass downwards, we wore crampons. The snow here was in some places knee high and in other places the path was covered by ice layers that was impossible to walk on without sliding.
For some of the descent I was skidding down the snow-covered hillside, using my feet as brakes. I had been experiencing some trouble with my knee so it felt like a really good way to save them from the pressure of walking down. And as you might know, it is much tougher on the knees to descend than to ascend.
Day 12 - The descend
Bimtang - Dharapani (1965 m)
The sky in the Himalayas has this immensely deep blue colour. When descending from the Pass, I had to stop several times just to stop and stare at it. There is something bigger, darker and more filling about the sky in the mountains. And right then and there, in the midst of the alpine meadows, is the closest I've been to spiritual peace.
When starting the second half of the descend on day 12, we knew this would be our last trekking day. We took it easy, and took the time to photograph the changing landscape typologies we wandered through. We admired the mountain peaks that drew the horizon in front of us, and yet again we were greeted by the sounds of the river.
Before showing you the packing list please read these suggestions...
1. Get some really good hiking boots
This is by far the most important thing of them all. Think about it - these boots will carry you over a mountain and they take care of the two things you are most dependent on on the journey - your feet! Invest in something Goretex, with high ankles and a solid sole. Remember to wear them in a month prior to your trek. Wear them to work, when you go for walks, at home. Just wear them to make sure you get all the blisters beforehand and not on your first day in the Himalayas.
2. Avoid packing cotton and jeans
Cotton is heavy and it never really dries quick enough on the mountain. Jeans are heavy too and not mountain-friendly. It's all about synthetics. They are light and they dry super fast! So top and shirt and even shorts can be synthetic. In general, just pack as little as possible. You won't stay fresh, and neither will your clothes. So fresh underwear everyday is a bit of a waste really. It's always nice to have some soft and comfortable clothes to wear in the camp and at night.
3. Use a camel bag
Although it sounds (and looks) a bit silly, this is by far the best way to carry water whilst on the move. It is quite annoying to stop and unpack - it will most likely become too much of a hassle and as a result you'd just drink less which is not good. The water is so clean up on the mountain that you just need 2-3 drops of water purifier and then you're good to go. I'd also recommend bringing a 1 L Nalgene water bottle. I'd used it as a hot water bottle for cold nights and it literally saved me up there in the cold teahouses!
4. Bring some sweet treats
When you've walked straight uphill in the baking sun for 2 hours, you will need high amounts of sugar, fast. So do yourself a favor and pack some chocolate bars and small sweets. I never really enjoyed eating a Mars bar or anything like that, but I definitely did on the trek! Also, in the tea houses, there is no such thing as creme brûlée or banana splits. We even brought nuts and dried fruits from Kathmandu that had on the trek. We even sprinkled some on our morning porridge too.
5. Keep batteries warm
The cold temperatures eat batteries up faster than you can imagine. All my batteries and phone were kept in an inner pocket on the fleece I slept in, keeping them warm all night. During the day when hiking in colder climates, I'd wrap clothes around them and put them in the middle of the backpack.
1 pair of loose shorts
1 pair of
1-2 pairs of smart wool socks
1-2 pairs of cool-max socks
1 pair of thick trousers
A warm hat
1 thin roll up neck, preferably wool / thermal underwear
1 soft shell jacket
1 dewn jacket
1 pair of woolen long johns / thermal underwear
1 thin shirt
5-6 pairs of underwear (re-use)
2 sports bras
40-50 L backpack
1-2 liter camel bag for water
1 liter Nalgene bottle
Water purification drops (buy in Kathmandu)
Anti-bacteria gel for hands
Sunscreen (30/50 SPF)
Head lamp + extra batteries
Thick warm gloves
A micro-fibre towel
Gaitors (talk to guide)
Down sleeping bag (talk to guide)
Crampons (talk to guide)
Walking poles (buy in Kathmandu)
Toothbrush and toothpaste
A small bar of soap (can be used for both body and hair!)
Bandage/band aids for blisters
Pills (imodium, paracetamols..)
A toilet roll (1 pr. person)
Bag with documents (passport, wallet etc.)
A (light) book
Camera, charger, extra batteries and memory cards
Phone and charger
Candy and chocolate bars
Depending on whether you trek alone or with a guide it is important to consider bringing a first-aid kit with extra medicine, such as Cephalexin 500mg to aid with respiratory problems, infections and wounds. Acetazolamide (Diamox) for acclimatisation.
I have not tried any of the above. Normally a guide will bring medicine necessities, however it is best to ask them about this.
Contact Saubir if you ever need a skilled private guide!