My first visit to Nepal was in 2008. It wasn’t the typical introductory trek that you might expect. Firstly, my husband Dennis and I didn’t go to Everest Base Camp, and secondly, we didn’t complete one trek, we combined three circuit treks in Western Nepal—Manaslu, Annupurna and Dhaulagiri. In this post I share the highlights from the Mount Manaslu Circuit Trek, which at the time was relatively unknown compared to the Annapurna and Khumbu regions.
Mount Manaslu Circuit Trek Background
The Manaslu region opened to trekkers in 1992 and the basic circuit, takes around 14 days. The Manaslu circuit trek circumnavigates Mount Manaslu (8163m/ 26,781ft) and passes through diverse terrain offering a cultural and wilderness experience with amazing river crossings and mountain views.
Our trek commenced at Arughat and joined the Annapurna circuit near Thonje. I have compiled this post from my notes and photos taken during the trek and itineraries that are now available with our current trekking company, Mega Adventures International (see link below).
In 2008 trekking around Manaslu was undertaken in traditional Nepalese style, which meant camping and self-catering. We had a large group of porters, and also our own chef, guide and assistant guide.
This region has altered significantly over a 10 year period.
In 2008 teahouses were designed for local travellers and the building of trekker teahouses had just commenced. This trek is now mostly completed as a teahouse trek, which means more tourists visit the region.
The trekking route changed after the April 2015 earthquake, which was most devastating in the Manaslu region. Many paths and bridges were destroyed. Some of which were still being rebuilt during our last visit in June 2017.
Manaslu Circuit Trek Itinerary
Drive Kathmandu to Arughat Bazaar (600m/ 1968ft): 6- 7 hours
Early start for our drive to Arughat, which became very exciting after we left the sealed road. The drive out of Kathmandu into the regional hillside was a cultural experience in itself, including a truck breakdown on a narrow section of a windy road. I was amazed at the number of trucks bringing produce from India, and also the beauty of the lush mountainous terrain.
Our team took a seasonal short cut but had a couple of delays getting bogged. We met up with the rest of team in Arughat, a local market town, where much sorting of food and gear was required. We enjoyed our last warm shower for the trek. Overnight camp in Arughat.
Walk Arughat to Soti Khola (710m/ 2328 ft): 4-5 hours
It was good to be walking after a 6 plus hours in the 4WD vehicle the day before. A relatively flat and open start to the walk along the Budhi Gandaki River. I enjoyed the rural scenes of rice paddies, the donkey teams and the local children eagerly going to school. The children all wanted pens. At this time, very few children were funded for schooling. Loved our camp ground at Soti Khola perched above the river and across from a waterfall. Had a wash in the nearby creek- yep it was cold.
This section of the track is now passable by 4WD vehicles, which means you can travel from Kathmandu to Soti Khola in one day.
Walk Soti Khola to Maccha Khola (900m/ 2952 ft): 6 – 7 hours
During the 2008 trek, we were fortunate to see monkeys in the forest along the east side of the river. Today’s track has altered since the April 2015 earthquakes. The track now crosses the river just past the tea houses in Soti Khola. In 2017 we were unable to reach the camp ground that we had stayed during our 2008 and 2011 visits.
After crossing the bridge after Sotikhola there is now a steep climb through Sal forests. You are rewarded with a great view of the Budhi Gandaki rapids below. The trek passes through a couple of large rice terraces before taking you down to Labubesi, where there are now well-equipped teahouses. With a few more climbs you reach another widening of the valley and the path drops down to the river.
A suspension bridge leads you into Machha Khola. During the 2008 visit we camped overnight in this village, which is a central location for travelling donkey teams. We camped in an area that now has Teahouses. We had a quick swim in the river, which in hindsight was not a safe bathing area due the strong current. And we have not repeated this during our 2011 and 2017 visits!
Walk Maccha Khola to Jagat (1410m/ 4625ft): 6-7 hours
Today’s trail had minor ups and downs, what my husband Dennis refers to as Nepalese flat! There are sections of track as well as stone steps. A highlight of today was a short stop at Tatopani (meaning hot spring). The trek crossed the Budhi Gandaki on a suspension bridge before climbing up to a stable landslide section before Dobhan. After crossing the Yaru Khola there is a steep decent to the Budhi Gandaki. Following the crossing of the Budhi Gadaki there is a steep climb to the village of Jagat. We camped in camp ground just prior to Jagat.
Walk Jagat to Deng (1,804m/ 5917ft): 6 – 7 hrs
The trek begins today with a climb over a rocky ridge to Salleri (1440m/ 4724 ft). We were spoiled with clear blue skies and magnificent views of the Shringi Himal (7178m/ 23,549 ft). The track descends to Sirdibas, where the first signs of Buddhist culture begin. You will then cross the longest suspension bridge in Nepal and climb up to Philim (1590m/ 5216 ft), a large prosperous village surrounded by fields of corn, potato and millet.
About one hour past Philim there a lone teashop. Then you pass through a section of narrow gorge and pine forest that is spectacular. The next landmark is the turn-off to Tsum Valley, which we trekked in 2011. You will then cross to the east bank of the Budhi Gandaki and enter the Nubri Valley. There are thick bamboo forests on the way into Deng. We camped by the river, but this camp ground is no longer in use as Teahouse accommodation is now available.
Walk Deng to Bhi (2130m/ 4274 ft): 2 – 2.5 hrs
Just after Deng, we crossed the Budhi Gandaki and climbed to Rana at 1910m. From the bridge, we joined a trail to Bhi, heading west up the Budhi Gandaki valley. Two highlights today, were our first long mani wall made up of stone carvings of Buddha and mantras, and a water fuelled grain mill. We camped just below a teahouse and woke to a clear view of the peak of Mount Manaslu. Bhi has one of the few reliable clear views of the mountain.
Walk Bhi to Namrung (2630m/ 8626ft): 4 – 5 hrs
Today the track passes through several forests and it crosses back and forth across the Budhi Gandaki river. There is one particular river crossing where the river sounds like thunder in a narrow gorge. There are also many mani walls and gompas along the way to Namrung. There is a steep climb up to Namrung. We camped below a teahouse.
Walk Namrung to Samagaon (3530m/11,578 ft): 6-7 hours
During the morning we passed many mani walls, fields and stone house. The track passes through fir, rhododendron and oak forest before climbing to Li (2900m/ 9514ft), and then onto Sho (2950m/ 9678ft). When we completed the trek, from this point on people mostly wore traditional Tibetan dress. There are many colourful kani (gate ways) on the way to Sho. Then a leisurely walk to Lo (3180m/ 10,433ft).
I recall the lush fields and prayer wheels during this part of the walk. On a clear day, Mount Manaslu can also be viewed from here. Just prior to Syala (3520m/ 11,548ft) there are pine and rhododendron forests. From Syala it is about one hour to Samagaon, a large village and monastery made out of stone. At this higher altitude the main crops are potatoes and barley. We camped on the outskirts of Samagoan.
Today I learned about the importance of Bistari Bistari (going slowly slowly) to aid the acclimatisation process. It was on day 7 that I noticed the first signs of my body acclimatising to the higher altitude. I felt my carotid arteries widening and my breathing slow down.
On our way to Samagaon we also met our friend Nuptul Rinpoche. He was making his way to his monastery. Dennis has visited the monastery a few times since 2008 and provided free medical and health support. I have also been fortunate to visit this remote and very beautiful place on two occasions.
The Serang monastery and school rely on donations, so please donate, if you can afford to.
Walk Samagaon – Samdo (3860m/ 12,660 ft): 4 – 5 hours
On our way out of Samagaon we visited the local monastery for blessings before taking the trail down to the Budhi Gandaki River. The track to Larkya la passes several mani walls. I recall wider, rocky valley as well as juniper and birch forests. There was a large white kani guiding us into Samdo. We reached the village prior to lunch. After our camp was set up we took an afternoon acclimatisation walk behind the village of Samdo.
Walk Samdo – Dharamsala/Larkya B. C. (4460m/14, 628 ft): 4 – 5 hours
I was thrilled to see my first yaks on the way out of Samdo. There was a team of yaks from Tibet. I think I photographed every one of them! The track continued alongside the Budhi Gandaki. The terrain is much more barren as you head higher to Larke Phedi, also known as Dharmshala. A relaxing afternoon for everyone. The porters had two short days of walking and enjoyed some additional free time. At this stage of the walk I had not experienced any signs of altitude sickness, but our overnight sleep was interrupted due to the higher altitude. I will discuss altitude management in my next post.
Dharamsala – Larkya la (5160m/16, 92 ft) – Bimthang (3720m/ 12, 201ft): 8 – 9 hours
We started before sunrise, and our pace was slow. We were blessed with clear skies for the whole day. There was a steady climb from Dharamsala beside the moraine of the Larke Glacier. There were plentiful cairns and snow poles to show the route, and of course our guides stayed close by. I recall the beauty of the wide-open space and pure air. We were surrounded by snow and frozen lakes. Larkya La was clearly marked by prayer flags.
Whilst we were not on top of a mountain, we were surrounded by peaks, Cho Dandam Larkya Peak, Annapurna II, Himlung Himal and Kangguru. It was a long descent to Bimthang, and we reached our campsite at dusk. Our day had been lengthened by a team member’s mild altitude sickness which eased as we descended. It was a 12 hour day for us, and we gained from our lessons in patience and perseverance. My recollection of our campsite was that of a small farm and a very friendly and curious dog. Sleep came easy tonight.
Walk Bimthang – Tilije (2300m/ 7544ft): 5 – 6 hours
We descended across a high pasture (Sangure Kharka) and then crossed a bridge over Dudh Khola. I recall the ancient rhododendron forest and passing local men with their ponies. We passed through the village of Gho and camped at Tilije where we were invited into the home of the family who provided the camp site. They cooked over an open fire in the middle of the room. This is when I tasted real chai for the first time. And I have been hooked ever since.
Walk Tilije to Thonje (1900m/ 6233ft): 3 – 4 hours
After leaving Tilije we crossed the Dudh Khol and descended rapidly towards the Marsyangdi Valley through forest. We crossed back over the river just below Thonje and then over the Marsyangdi Khola on a long suspension bridge and we had reached the main Annapurna trail.
On reaching the Annapurna trail we realised how long we had been away from civilisation and fellow tourists. There were large groups of trekkers passing by, all smelling fresh from their recent showers. We on the other hand, hadn’t had a proper show for 12 days! We said our farewells to our trekking team, other one porter who was staying with us for the Annapurna trek.
7 reasons to complete the Manaslu Circuit Trek
- Remote and relatively unspoiled
- Less crowded compared to other trekking regions
- Amazing rivers and mountain vistas
- Diverse agriculture
- Experience rich Buddhist culture
- See/ hear native birds and animals
- Can join up with and complete the Annapurna Circuit Trek
I look forward to sharing our adventures on the Annapurna trek next.
For more information on trekking in Nepal and supporting Serang Monastery please contact me here, and visit Mega Adventure International for trekking information.