Monday 22/10; Tuesday 23/10
Flight Ams-Doha, and after a refreshing night in Doha and a visit to the Souq Waqif, we continue to Kathmandu, where we arrive around 20:00 hrs.
Wednesday + Thursday
We take two days to explore Kathmandu and to book a trek. We visit Green Valley treks after some online evaluations and decide to go for a 14day trek, the Manaslu Circuit. This is a more expensive trek, because a guide is required, and additional permit costs are involved with the conservation area, but it’s supposed to be much more quiet than the ABC or EBC and at least as nice.
In Kathmandu we visit Durban square and the Swayambhunath stupa, both amazing places to go to. Close to Swayamb. we see a funeral ceremony. We have great lunch and dinners at the Western tandoori place in Tamel, where we eat a good meal + drinks for about 2,50€per person.
Friday 26/10. Start Manaslu.
Gopal picks us up at 5:45 from our hotel. We take a taxi to the public bus station. Kathmandu is already up and running. The bus ride is quite an experience. The driver is playing with the horns all the time, the bus is fully loaded with people, some transporting furniture etc, the music is on at full volume, and the road is basically a dirt road. After 8-9 hours we are cooked, shaken, and filled with dust. Oh and we had our first Daal Bhaat at lunch…:D. Rice, curry, lentils, vegetables.
But once outside the bus we have the time to admire the beautiful landscape that surrounds us. Everywhere in the valley people are harvesting rice. We arrive around 4 pm at our first stop: Soti Khola.
Saturday 27/10. Stage 1; Soti Khola – Machakkola
Our first full day on the trail is a relaxed day. We start with breakfast at 7, leave around 8, and arrive at Machakkola already at 1pm.
The road is ‘under construction‘, and being extended from Soti to Machakkola. In the future even more of the Manaslu Circuit will be paved. For now it means that we can hike the gravel road instead of the older trail which used to take much more time (and possibly was prettier and less dusty). The vistas of the valley are beautiful and it’s impressive to see how the local people get by with very basic means. We see how they do the laundry next to a waterfall, how they transport rice across the valley on countless mule backs, how new goods are carried in by vendors who carry more than their own body weight.
We have a great, tidy lodge with hot shower and of course Daal Bhaat (600 rps).
I forgot my camera charger in Kathmandu, but even in this tiny village, unreachable by motorized transport, they have a ‘master charger’ which seems to work for my battery!! (later this will turn out not to be the case)
In the village, the people have goats, mules, and chicken. There are no rice fields here, the valley walls seem too steep. Kids play on the street with basically anything. Some look very dirty due to the dust. On the other hand, Many adults, especially young women, are very well dressed. Most look healthy, at least from the outside.
Sunday 28/10. Stage 2; Machakkola – Jagat
Today a more serious day of hiking, around 6-7 hours. We have breakfast at 6:30 and leave around 7:30. After Machakkola the road quickly changes into a trail, which is very narrow and steep at times. Still there are hundreds of mules passing by, mainly without luggage as they descend back to lower elevations.
The people also carry anything, stones, wood, baby’s and even an old lady in a basket on the back. We see many waterfalls coming off the valley walls. GPS reception is poor due to the mountains.
The first hours we still walk in the shadow of the mountains.
In Tatopani there is a mule drinking station and some nice houses, where we enjoy a cup of tea. We arrive early in Dobhan, our supposed lunch spot, so we continue to a smaller village (Thulo Dhungga).of course we have Daal Bhaat, a very nice one, and, surprisingly, our friend Nasser from Israel brought a mokka express on the trail with which he is making fresh coffee for us!
After lunch, the trail becomes harder, many steps slowly bring us to higher altitudes. The sun is now burning on our backs and it’s hot. After Yaruphant we pass over a cantilever bridge. Another suspension bridge takes us back to the left side of the Budhi Gandaki river. Some more steps follow to Jagat, a small village that forms the entrance to the Manaslu conservation area.
Daal Bhaat is 550rps.
Monday 29/10. Stage 3; Jagat – Deng
After leaving Jagat (7:30, breakfast at 6:30 is Tibetan bread and pancake with egg) we pass by a small hydropower station. According to Ghopal, large parts of the circuit will be used for hydropower, and in fact the road construction works around Machakkola and further on are primarily for this.
The valley widens and we have great views on the xx mountain of 7100 m. GPS now works properly. Mountain bikers pass by, quite incredible since large parts of the trail are steps or rocks where the bikes are not of much use.
Today is the first day that the village on the trail have entrance gates and some form of stupa in the village, which we always have to take clockwise. Religion is intertwined with the people’s lives although we don’t see so much explicit expressions of this. But when talking to Ghopal we notice this: when there’s a snake on the trail, and I touch it with my hiking pole, he says not to do that, because snakes are the god of rain. Similarly, when we see crows, he explains they are messsengers of the gods.
Waterfalls everywhere. Tea break in Philim.
Early lunch around 11-11:30. We eat as much Dal Bhaat as we can.
Junction with Tsum Valley. Lisa super happy. The valley narrows significantly for several kilometers.
The nature is diverse and beautiful. We now see bamboo, pine trees, rhododendrons, Himalayan pepper (very nice), and much more.
Cold bucket-type shower today. We’re just in time, 4pm, before it’s getting chilly outside (we’re now at 1800m).
Dinner is of course DB with spring rolls. We have a nice chat with the two Britjsh Cliff and Paul who seemed to have escaped Monty Python both in terms of accent and humor.
Views on Dwijen Himal and Tewa Himal, and on the Milky Way!
Tuesday 30/10. Stage 4; Deng – Namrung
The last of the “three long days”. As usual we get up around 6am after a nice 9-10 hours of recovery sleep.
The mattresses are getting really thin now, but who cares when you are tired.
The first part of the day is rather agricultural, we see buckwheat and corn fields. There are stone walls along the fields and the trail. We get a first glimpse at Manaslu.
At many places we see “mani walls”, stone walls with tens of tablets with Buddhist prayers or mandalas depicting Buddha in hundreds of forms. We see some prayer wheels near village entrances. Water power is used to grind corn into corn flour, but also to automatically power praying wheels!!
At our tea break we see Nasser, Peter and Fred. Nasser makes us delicious fresh coffee. Lunch is of course DB, which takes forever to be prepared, at a somewhat windy place.
The afternoon is through a beautiful forest, ‘the mother of all fairytale forests’, according to Lisa. We see a group of monkeys close to the trail. The last part of the trail is a long climb of thousands of steps through the forest.
In Namrung there is a “resort”, with a Finnish sauna, WiFi etc, for just 28$. Our lodge is also nice, including a hot shower and electricity. We have great Mountain Views and also see some blue sheep on the mountain edges.
We have nice chats with the couple from Wales, Leslie and David, who have the book describing the circuit.
Wednesday 31/10. Stage 5; Namrung – Lho
Today indeed a short day. We leave only at 8:30, after having relaxed breakfast and coffee from the coffee shop!! A barista from Kathmandu has his coffee shop here in the high season and has fresh coffee made with all kinds of coffee machines.
The landscape changes again, now we see fields of barley everywhere, which are being harvested. It is being dried in the sun. The people are friendly and often smile or great us. Their faces are changing and look more Tibetan like. We also see many cows and potato fields. The villages have many beautiful flowers, mainly orange. The houses often have the cattle in the ‘basement’ so that they heat the houses.
As we climb further fantastic views on Manaslu North, Naike peak, and later also Lho appear. The gateways to the village look fantastic in combination with the dramatic background mountain vistas.
In Lihi we visit the gigantic prayer wheel in a beautiful temple. There are views on Himal Chuli.
In Lho we have lunch and then go to the monastery. At first, we don’t see much activity, and we hike around the hill towards the view on Manaslu and Naike peak. On the hill top we find Peter meditating. Back in the monastery we order Tibetan tea in the ‘monastery café’, where a super polite young monk takes our orders. A little later the courtyards fills with the monk students, who are playing an incomprehensible game.
Dinner is mixed fried rice and spring rolls (no DB!). DB is now 610.
Thursday 1/11. Stage 6; Lho – Samagaon
Another easy day.
Lisa gets up early for photographing Manaslu in the early morning sun. Ben is attacking stomach cramps. Fortunately the sunrises on the balcony of our mini cottage and we quickly warm up and recharge our batteries. Breakfast is pancake with egg or Tibetan bread with egg. Pancake is like Dutch eierkoek. First a climb to the Hongsanbu monastery, at around 3500m, which is relatively steep and we clearly notice the altitude effects kicking in. Along the way we see Lammergeyers / Eagles and Blue sheep. The monastery is closed for visitors, as apparently monks just started a three year (!!!) meditation session. We continue to nearby Shyala, with 360 degree views on the surrounding peaks: Himal Chuli, Nada Chuli (peak 29), Manaslu and Manaslu North, Naike peak. An excellent place for tea and chocolate biscuits.
In Shyala lots of construction work is going on to build new lodges. This is something we have seen on the entire trail and must be attributed to the growing popularity of the Manaslu Circuit.
After Shyala the trail undulates a bit, we cross a great suspension bridge, and then enter the valley/plains of Samagaon, with incredible vistas towards Manaslu and Naike. The short stage of today allows us to make plenty of pictures: kids studying for their exam outside school; yaks grazing on the plains; man carrying baskets with wood; a graveyard for the mani walls; etc.
After lunch we hike to a glacier lake, Birendra lake, at 30 minutes from Sama. The water is turquoise blue and the lake shore is filled with cairns.
Back in the village we hear people singing in a tent, with drums and bells. Apparently, according to our guide, this is a funeral ceremony. The young kids in the village are playing and dancing here but are very dirty in their clothes and faces.
Friday 2/11. Stage 7; Samagaon – Pung Gyen Gompa – Samagaon
Today is acclimatization day. At 7:30 we leave towards the Pung Gyen monastery at 4000 m altitude. We partly follow yesterday’s trail back to Shyala. At the junction the path goes up quite steeply, following more or less the Pung Gyen glacier. The glacier has, however, disappeared to a large extent, and its top is covered in rock, mud, and plants. Around 4000 m the path ends up in a magnificent valley, a plateau, enclosed by mountains on three sides. At the end of the plateau lies the monastery where we arrive at 10.
The plateau is covered by juniper bushes and yak dung. The monastery is closed (only open in June/July) but the sun is out and we have some snacks while chilling on the grass. Manaslu unfortunately hides itself in clouds; it is the first day that we have clouds already from early morning. We hear and see some avalanches coming from the surrounding mountains. The plateau really feels like a hidden paradise surrounded by magnificent mountains.
An easy hike down brings us back to Samagaon, where we have lunch; fried spring rolls and potato curry with rice, and then a hot shower!
Saturday 3/11. Stage 8; Samagaon – Samdo
Bright and fresh start of a new day after a good night’s sleep. It’s around freezing point during the night, and the socks on the laundry line are frozen. The rooms are not insulated and we generally sleep with one layer of clothes in a liner in a down sleeping bag, which is just fine to stay warm.
Breakfast today is Tibetan bread (sort of fried bread) with fried egg, and pancake with honey (roughy our daily menu). Drinks are normally masala tea, ginger tea, black tea, or milk tea.
The hike from Samagaon to Samdo is easy, and takes around 2.5 hours. Samdo lies around 3850m and is a pretty little village with houses made of stone, shingles on the roof, and wood everywhere in and around the houses – for heating and cooking. We arrive in Samdo at 10:30 and have early lunch, already around 11:15. Soon after lunch we go for an acclimatization hike to 4200m. The weather is sunny, with a couple of clouds in the valley of Sama, and quite a strong wind. While we hike up, the first vultures appear and show that they are the kings of thermal up drafts. When we are at 4200, the vultures are giving a fantastic show that we witness from nearby, with as background the Samdo peak, Larke peak and Kyonggma Kharka. We also have views towards the Larkya glacier in the west and towards the Tibetan border in the east.
Just before arriving back in Samdo, first snowflakes appear. We get inside quickly with a warm cup of tea and fried potatoes while we watch the snowfall getting heavier. Mountain conditions!
The rest of the day is spent playing Uno and Biggen with the British and the guides and speculating about the weather and the accommodation in Dharmasala.
The master charger bought in Machakkola does not work for the camera but has in fact drained it. So… end of pictures with the SLR camera…. L
Sunday 4/11. Stage 9; Samdo – Dharmasala
After getting up Lisa is not feeling well and we contemplate at breakfast what to do. It is really cold this morning, the outside tap is frozen and there is hardly running water except in the kitchen. We take it slowly and then decide to start moving slowly after taking some medicine. The trail and views are gorgeous due to yesterday’s snow. The sky is clear again and with the sun the snow quickly disappears.
We move slowly towards 4460, happy with each 100m that we gain. At 4300 we almost decide to go back and try again a day later, but Ghopal convinces us to continue to Dharmasala to have at least lunch and postpone the decision. In Dharmasala Lisa takes some rest, and after having lunch things look much better. We take a mini acclimatization hike 100m up. Some clouds have entered and there is light snow. The moraine is close to the lodges and is huge; in the middle of it a landslide has cut a wedge out.
It is getting very windy and it is time for tea in the small dining area. The lodges and dining area at Dharmasala are very basic (4 mattresses on the ground per hut), but the prefab material that has been used provides better insulation than what we have seen so far in the lodges.
The dinner is fine, especially when considering we are at almost 4500m! DB is 810 rps, but we skip it this time and
We share the room with Leslie and David, the super friendly couple from Wales. Surprisingly, we have a nice warm and cozy night!
Monday 5/11. Stage 10; Dharmasala – Bhimtang
Today the climax! Alarm is at 3:15, breakfast 3:30, departure planned at 4:00. Eventually we leave at 4:30 – we’re waiting for hot water for our thermos bottle, but the kitchen is super busy with all the hikers that want to leave around 4-4:30. While waiting, a thin moon rises in the east.
The early start is not necessary so much to be on time in Bhimtang, but rather because in early morning hours the sky is clear and there is hardly any wind. Indeed, when we hit the trail the atmosphere is calm, and it’s freezing cold.
Headlights on, down jackets on, time to hit the trail. In front of us we see lines of lights going up the mountain. The path has a thin layer of snow from last night’s snow. Step by step we slowly move upwards. In our back, in the east, the moon is rising further and slowly also the twilight starts. We pass along the moraine of the Larke glacier, then along a frozen lake, passing by a tea tent (which appears to be owned by a guy who lives in the tent in order to be able to build there a hotel later on), and then on to “base camp”. Before base camp Lisa becomes dizzy and weak and has to sit down before moving on. The sun has just risen, but it is still very cold. We manage to get to base camp, where we get the most expensive tea in Nepal (250 rps), and a thermos refill a 500 rps!! Lisa is not doing well and Gopal and Ben divide Lisa’s luggage over their bags and free Lisa from her bag. After a snickers and a regular supply of “lifesavers” (auto drop), Lisa slowly gets better and gets back to pace. The terrain is undulating, there is a sandy ice lake to pass by, and the wind is increasing in strength considerably. But, slowly we are getting to 5000m, and then we can see the pass and last stretch. We made it! Picture time and snickers time! Officially we are at 5106 m, gps says 5144. After many pictures and happy faces, and Lisa back in the game, it’s time for the descend, although there is a small climb to 5160m, the border of the manaslu conservation area. From this point on, the panoramic views are endless and simply fantastic. Below us three glaciers come together and flow towards Bhimtang. We see the Kangguru massif, the Himlung, Cheo, and further away Annapurna II. The scenery is unbelievable. As we descend we get more oxygen and feel better. The base camp comes into sight and we have second (or is it third) breakfast / first lunch in the sun (chapatis, Tibetan bread) with a fresh cup of tea. Reenergized we do a quick descent to Bimthang, a small settlement mainly aimed at providing lodging to tourists, beautifully located amidst several high mountain peaks. One of them is of course Manaslu, which we now see from a different side and a completely different appearance.
Happy to have completed the long day we enjoy a hot (bucket) shower and our first beer since the start of the trek!!
Tuesday 6/11. Stage 11; Bhimtang – Tilche
One day you are freezing at 5100m altitude, and at the end of the next day you walk in your t-shirt through the forest and bamboo wishing for a dip in the river. Welcome to the Himalayas!
We wake up as usual around 6am. Lisa woke up earlier because a mouse was running over her head at night. It’s still very cold at this altitude (3800m) at night and in the morning. It remains a challenge to get out of your warm sleeping bag, change sleeping clothes to almost frozen hiking clothes, and not cool down immediately. We left our socks on the laundry line overnight and they are frozen.
We take a short pre-breakfast hike to the ridge to have a view on the glacier, Bhimtang, and Manaslu in the rising sun. Ben is grumpy due the ever enduring cold and wants his camera charged to make close up mountain shots. But breakfast is good (pancakes and omelette) and the sun is almost reaching Bhimtang.
Once on the trail life is good again, with beautiful mountain views and warm sunlight. A long descent is today’s goal, from 3800 to 2400 meters. A new river is our companion, the Surkhe Khola. We see Manaslu for the last time and enjoy good views on the Larke range. We enter a beautiful forest already at 3500m, with Himalayan hemlock, rhododendrons, and later also bamboo. The smell of the pine trees is fantastic. We taste some tiny yellow berries that are used to make juice.
We have tea stop at Chauli Kharka and enjoy the warm sun. Lunch is at Surki, Dal Bhaat and mixed pizza.
The air is now much warmer and we walk in t-shirts once again.
We pass through beautiful barley and buckwheat fields. Harvesting is still a manual process. Goa is a nice village along the trail with beautiful flowers decorating the houses.
Upon arrival we have enjoy the last rays of sun with a Ghorka / Everest beer. Soon the British army arrives, Paul saying “Is that beer?”, and a great evening follows, including Uno plays with the British and the guides.
Wednesday 7/11. Stage 12; Tilche – Darapani – Besisahar
Our last kilometers on the Manaslu Circuit! Downhill again, with some tricky bits where landslides have occurred. After about an hour we arrive in Dharapani. Finish! For many others it is the start, of the Annapurna Circuit.
From here we take a Jeep, together with Paul, Cliff, Gilda and Gosha, and the three guides, to Besisahar. Fits easily? Yes, if you compare to the Jeeps we encounter on the road, where 20 people is not uncommon. But for us it feels cramped. In any case, the bumpy ride of about 5 hours is one to remember!! The ride is extra long due to the numerous “ropeblocks”: men/women/children celebrating Dipawali, dancing in the street, and earning some extra money for their festivities from charging passing cars.
Finally in Besisahar, the city is a mess with dancing children on the street, performing acts, while at the same time traffic tries to continue. We have a stroll through the city and Ben joins Paul and Cliff for a clean shave. Then we start with beers on the rood top terrace. A lively evening follows, with very good DB, several beers. Nepali whisky, the British, polish, and Israeli, and the guides, and all the local people singing and dancing. A night to remember, especially when later in ththe night we discover bed bugs in our room…
Thursday 8/11 Besisahar – Pokhara
After the terrible night with the bedbugs, we have an OK breakfast. The minibus is already waiting outside the door to bring us to Pokhara. We say goodbyes to Paul, Cliff, Gilad, Gosha, and most important: Gopal.
The drive to Pokhara is quite easy, it’s quiet on the road due to the festival. A toilet break is accompanied with an excellent espresso stop.
Pokhara is a real relief after two weeks of hiking. We have excellent cappuccino, scrambled eggs at Himalayan Java, and book a great hotel with pool and lake view. Clean sheets, electricity, thick mattresses, hot shower: we are in paradise.