After departing Pokhara, we headed back to the mountains to begin our treks of the Manaslu and Annapurna Circuits during our Great Himalaya Trail thru-hike. Buckey and I decided to be easy on ourselves and split the bus ride up into two days. First we took a five-hour bus ride to the town of Gorkha. There’s a palace there and we had hoped to go exploring. Alas, we were hungover and didn’t make the morning bus so we didn’t have time for sight-seeing upon arrival. The next day brought another long bus journey to Soti Khola, the start of the Manaslu Circuit.
Manaslu is a restricted area, and a guide is required. We worked with Adventure Mountain Club to get a guide and organize our Dolpa permits (our next section). Our guide Bashu was waiting for us in Soti Khola. After having some momos for a late lunch, we decided to get a few hours of evening hiking in since the temperatures were cooler.
Pleasant hiking days
I didn’t know what to expect from the Manaslu section because it’s not a region I’ve done much research on and I don’t know anyone who has hiked it. Most of the trek follows the Budhi Gandaki river up the valley, gradually gaining in elevation over nearly a week of walking. The valley is compact for the first few days, with cliffs and mountains towering over the river on both sides. Finally, around the village of Samagon the valley opened up to views of the white-peaked Manaslu range.
One thing I absolutely loved about this section was that the road did not extend beyond the starting point of Soti Khola. The lack of motor vehicles made for a peaceful experience. The trail itself was one of the best and well-maintained we’ve experienced yet. For the first time on the Great Himalaya Trail, there were signs directing us to where we needed to go.
If you read my last post, part 6, you know that Buckey and I were getting wrecked for a month by bad weather brought on by monsoon season. It seems that our luck changed for Manaslu. We had clear skies nearly everyday, allowing us to actually appreciate the views we were working for.
Megan and Buckey: 2, Monsoon season: 1
The slow elevation gain along the Manaslu Circuit was all building up to Larke Pass, at 16,850 feet.
The evening before hiking the pass, we slept in Dharamasala. It wasn’t really a village; it was just one guest house. I was annoyed because the prices there were unnecessarily high. Like, the guest house owner wanted to charge $2 to use a blanket. In all the places I’ve hiked in Nepal, no one has ever charged for blanket use before.
After a night of lack of sleep due to the high elevation, we awoke at 5 am to start our big day. Bashu said it would be a three-hour walk to the top of the pass. It was lucky that we woke up so early because we had views first thing in the morning. However, the clouds quickly rolled in and didn’t go away all day.
We are acclimatized pretty well, so the hike over Larke Pass was easy. However, we caught a couple hours of rain during the hike down which made the walk chilly and unpleasant. Finally, we reached our destination, the village of Bimtang, by noon and were able to put on dry clothes and have a hot meal.
For the final day of the Manaslu Circuit we had a mellow, downhill walk to Dharapani. Dharapani is located on the Annapurna Circuit, so it was convenient for us to start the next segment of our hike.
The Manaslu Circuit would be great for a first time trekker.
Between the valley, river, cliffs, and white-peaks, the Manaslu Circuit offered a lot in the way of scenery. As I’ve said before, the trail itself was easy in comparison to other hikes in Nepal. Being able to leave our camping gear in Pokhara and eat and sleep in guest houses along the way allowed us to have lighter packs than what we’re used to.
With all of these factors combined, I would say the Manaslu Circuit would be ideal for a beginner trekker or someone who is traveling to Nepal for the first time. It’s far less crowded than the Everest region, and there are no roads like in the Annapurnas.
Revisiting the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit was my first ever trek in Nepal back in 2015, and I was looking forward to revisiting it. We took a rest day in Dharapani, and said goodbye to our guide.
Our first few days were slow. The afternoon rain compelled us stop early at guest houses. We could have kept going, but we are tired of dealing with monsoon season. Finally, from Upper Pisang we had a big day into Manang. The mountains turned barren, and reminded me of Colorado and Utah.
When I did the Annapurnas two years ago, the journey from Manang over Thorang La pass into Muktinath took five days, including a rest day in Manang. This time, Buckey and I skipped the rest day and did the hike in two days.
Thankfully, I didn’t get any symptoms of altitude sickness on the walk over the 17,700 feet pass. It was however a tough hike to get to the top. I couldn’t hike fast without getting winded. Once we made it over, we ran into a family with two kids who looked about five and seven. I thought it was pretty cool that the whole family was out hiking the Annapurna Circuit together.
The Annapurna Circuit hasn’t changed much since I hiked it two years ago. It did seem like there were more vehicles out on the road during the lower part of the circuit. I forgot about the variety of food available along this route. Mostly Buckey and I just eat dal bhat when we’re staying in guest houses. On this hike we got to have pizza, chicken enchiladas, cinnamon buns, and yak steak.
Vacation from our vacation
Overall, the Manaslu and Annapurna Circuits were relaxing in comparison to what we’re used to. It was nice to carry light packs, stay in guest houses with ample amenities and good food, and have a clearly defined and easy to navigate trail. It was like having a vacation from our vacation.
The Home Stretch
From Jomsom, we caught an afternoon bus back to Pokhara. Buckey and I have been doing the usual rest day activities of eating lots of food and watching HBO in our hotel room.
In a few days, we will set out for our final stretch, Dolpa and the Far West.
3 Things from Buckey:
We saw quite a few different animals on this past stretch of trail. The first thing we saw looked like some sort of marten, a long, slender mammal in the weasel family. It was pretty big though, maybe 15-20 pounds and it moved through the lower pine forest of the Manaslu region with ease and stealth. As we moved up to about 13,000 feet we began to see himalayan marmots. They are a giant blubbery rodent of sorts, digging burrows through out the pastures to allow for easy access to a a safe spot. These marmots are a good snack for snow leopards and yeti.
We continued to gain elevation, perhaps around 14,000 feet we saw four blue sheep. This is an animal that I had read about before coming to Nepal and one I really wanted to see. They live mostly between 10,000-18,000 feet and are almost as sure footed as you can be in the environment they live in. Not many animals on earth can survive in the rugged terrain of the high himalaya, but blue sheep are definitely one. Later on in the Annapurna region just before Thorang La pass we saw a a herd of 35-40 blue sheep on a steep hill side, most of them were either sitting down and relaxing or eating grass. It was an honor to see the blue sheep and all the other animals too. Seeing wildlife is always tougher than one might imagine, so it is important to appreciate the critters you do encounter.
We ran into quite a few groups of hikers on these two sections. We hiked the majority of Manaslu with two guys on solo treks. They each had a hired guide as well. It’s interesting how many world travelers you meet in Nepal. One of the guys was on a post college adventure in Southeast Asia, and the other was 30+ years old and had been living in Southeast Asia for over seven years. It is inspiring to meet other adventurers and share stories of triumph and misery.
Doplo and the Far West are the two sections I have been looking forward to the most. Both regions are remote and they will not offer a lot of the amenities mentioned above in this post. What i am hoping they do offer is a remote and untouched wilderness, more wildlife encounters, and badass camping areas with amazing views. Dolpo and the Far West are both at high elevation, and Dolpo is allegedly in the “rain shadow” so I am hoping for clear weather and cool temperatures…Fingers crossed.
Miles Hiked: 600