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Around Manaslu Trek

We love to hear from our travellers, particularly reading the incredible accounts of their adventures. Here is an exceptional blog from professional... Read more
Around Manaslu Trek

We love to hear from our travellers, particularly reading the incredible accounts of their adventures. Here is an exceptional blog from professional photographer Adam Winfield, first published on his website Through the Lens, of his trek in Nepal on our Around Manaslu trip.

This was our first trekking holiday and our first trip to Nepal, the high mountains of the Himalayas, the scenery, the snow capped mountains, Tibetan prayer flags and monasteries in the mountains have been near the top of our bucket list for some time. The holiday itself had been booked for three years, delayed by Covid, arranged through KE Adventure Travel and our choice of the Manaslu circuit influenced by our research indicating it to be much quieter, less 'touristy' and more challenging than many of the more popular routes in Nepal.

This was also our first holiday where we joined a group and by definition followed a prescribed schedule with (perhaps) little time for our own independent exploring. We're quite independent travellers, happy to explore by ourselves and 'step off the beaten track' a little so this may have been challenging. Below I'll talk about trekking (as novices), the circuit, I'll share my review of KE Adventure and the holiday as a whole, and of course tell the story of our trek through my photographs. The headline though has to be "Holiday of a Life Time, Bucket List ✔️"




Kathmandu looks stunning as we descend, the hills which surround the city reach up to the aircraft and pull us down, the streets looking bright and colourful in the sun, the architecture and traffic immediately reminding me of Delhi - a comparison I'd use many more times on the trip. The disarray of the airport continues as we drive to the hotel but the roads are quieter than we expect, a result of the annualTihar/Deepawali celebrations which will continue for several days. 

The itch to explore is always immediate and we barely unpack before we're walking out of the hotel and finding ourselves heading towards Thamel and Durbar Square, two of the top destinations in the city. The streets are thronged with pedestrians preparing for tonight's celebrations, motor-cycles and taxis battling for the space as we wander, pause, take photos and just get in people's way. The colour, sound, smell and pace are classic South Asia but it's multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, relaxed and friendly, there's none of the constant hounding of tourists, touting or scamming of India and exploring the streets is a joy.



Durbar Square

We've read a lot about Durbar Square as we research Kathmandu but initially it's not as we imagine; it's a little underwhelming, shabby even and its beauty and history is difficult to appreciate. We walk between the many palaces and temples, most still showing serious damage sustained during the 2015 earthquake which devastated large ares of Nepal and destroyed many of the buildings here, there are still piles of masonry and buildings propped up with timber supports. Gradually we see beyond the groups of locals sitting around, the myriad electrical wires strung between and across the facades and the signs and notices posted everywhere, entering the Palace reveals the charm and beauty of the buildings as well as the history and importance of the area.

I feel a little envious of this artist as he paints the view of Durbar Square from his vantage point sat high on the Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple. He can interpret the scene and choose to remove much of the distracting re-construction, wires, signs and traffic that I can't in a photograph. 

The Temple we're sat upon was completely demolished by the 2015 earthquake, its re-building a sign that Durbar Square is recovering (slowly) and hopefully returning to its pre-earthquake grandeur.

In the late afternoon the narrow streets and alleys are transformed for the Lakshmi Puja celebrations as shops and homes are prepared to welcome Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune. Marigold garlands are strung across doors and windows and colourful sand madalas are created at entrances.

Many of the shops we peer into have ornate shrines to Lakshmi within.



Pashupati Aryaghat

Visiting the Ghats leaves me conflicted with what we see and what I photograph, the cremation sight on the bank of the Bagmati River close to the centre of the City is a well known tourist location and I find it fascinating to see and experience the Hindu approach to death and can't help but compare it to our own.



I check it's OK to photograph this sight but it's an incredible experience to just stand and watch as bodies are brought to the river bank, placed onto piles of wood and cremated before us. It's not for everyone and you may choose to skip this location. Sadhus sit by the river waiting for tourists to photograph them. I had vowed in India a number of years ago not to but our guide knows I'm a photographer and has made a deal with them before I can complain. I duly pay the two I've photographed, only for a third, sat well out of frame, to complain vociferously. As we walk across the bridge I notice another Sadhu sat by the path counting a large bundle of cash!


Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa is a must see, for me it's the landmark that defines Kathmandu and it doesn't disappoint. Glistening under the bright sun with prayer flags fluttering it's a magnificent sight, pilgrims walking around its circumference spinning prayer wheels and the shops surrounding it are bustling. I would have liked to spend more time here but we do manage a little people watching as tourists dodge out the way of pilgrims and children chase pigeons.



The Drive to the Start

And so after a good night's sleep we set off for our trek proper - our bus collects us at 7am and after we've picked up our porters en-route we head out of Kathmandu and hit the road.

It soon becomes clear that the term 'road' is a loose one in Nepal, long stretches of winding, narrow tarmac are interspersed with random lengths dug up, washed away or just deteriorated into rutted, rough and loose stone/gravel. There's a reason all the buses are 4x4 with rugged tyres although we're thankful we don't need to ride on the roof like so many of the local routes!



Our road north eventually runs out and for many miles we navigate what in effect is little more than a very rough track. Many times I think we've reached as far as the bus is capable but we keep going, arriving in Soti Khola mid-afternoon.



Our first day trekking is sunny, hot and a little dusty as we follow the trail along the Buri Gandaki River, our stunning and noisy companion for the next as we trek north. Today just serves as an introduction to the landscape of Nepal, blowing our minds with every turn as we pass spectacular waterfalls, hanging valleys, terraced rice fields high above us and just before lunchtime our first glimpse of snow-capped mountains ahead.

It's starting to rain lightly as we arrive in Machhakola, our destination tonight but the little village which sits above the river is lively, groups of children are singing and dancing, bizarrely there's a busy snooker hall and a very serious dice game where small amounts of cash are being waged (legal during a public festival).



During dinner one of the groups we saw earlier set up outside the guest house, they seem to enjoy the audience and a party begins which lasts until 10pm. This is the fifth day of Tihar, Bhai Tika or sister and brother day and it's fantastic to see youngsters of all ages celebrating together, thoughts of an early night though evaporate!

My worries overnight about a day trekking in the rain (see trekking tips below) are wasted as we wake to blue skies and atmospheric mist for our second day walking up the valley. As we steadily climb higher the landscape changes and we alternate between walking high above the river in a steep valley and by it's edge as the valley widens. We cross waterfalls and pass small villages, the road long since having disappeared, mules and porters the only means of transporting goods including food and gas.

Village residents are used to tourists on the trail and greet us warmly as we pass, although some of the younger locals have mixed feelings about one of our group's attempts at magic tricks!

It now feels like the terrain ahead is changing again as we spend a night in the small village of Jagat nestled in the broad, flat bottomed valley before climbing the following day into the 'alpine zone' and crossing a high, long footbridge into thick woodland.



Arriving in Deng for the night, late in the afternoon as light fades adds to the feeling we're now entering the mountains, although basic (our first guest house without mains electricity) the view from our window make up for any shortage of facilities.

Whilst often cut precipitously into the sheer cliff walls our trekking trail is also exposed to mother nature's temperament, late monsoon rains only three weeks ago resulted in floods, avalanches at higher altitude and landslides that we need to navigate around or across.

At our closest we're less than 8km from the border with Tibet and the Tibetan influence increases as we head north. There are monasteries dotting the landscape, Tibetan gateways across the trail and after reaching Lho we take a short walk after lunch to the Ribum Monastery for amazing views across to Manaslu.



We experience our first truly cold night in Lho but down jackets and sleeping bags make it tolerable, we're now acclimatising for the high altitude and cold to come. A consequence of the colder weather and thinner air is the clear skies and especially the views at dusk and dawn.

The following day warms rapidly and as we set off ladies are already harvesting the nearby fields. We climb through more woodland, mainly pine now before we climb out and into mountain landscape, surrounded by snow capped peaks.

Our morning tea break is taken in the most spectacular location, sat on a roof terrace with truly panoramic views of some of the highest, snow capped peaks in the world (Phungi, Manaslu and Himal Chuli).



After arriving in Sama Gompa, home for the night we walk up beyond the monastery to Birendra Lake, a spectacular sight surrounded by the highest peaks and fed from the Manaslu Glacier. We could sit and admire the views all day but the light soon begins to fail and it begins to get cold.




Starting to feel the effects of the altitude now and today's relatively short trek is mostly a gentle climb along the wide valley to Samdo with just a steep twisting climb into the village.

It's in Samdo that we pause for a couple of nights to acclimatise, we're now approaching 4000m altitude and I'm finding breathing harder. We trek towards the Tibetan border on our 'rest day' climbing further before dropping back down to Samdo and its beautiful views.



It feels like we're building to the highlight of the holiday but every day has provided amazing trekking, stunning views and an experience that will last a life-time. We trek another relatively short distance to Dharamsala but the going is tough at this altitude and temperature below freezing. Dharamsala is the last village/accommodation before the Larkya La pass and it has an end-of-world feel to it, with no electricity or running water (other than the adjacent stream!). Like many of the places we've already visited however its location and its stunning views make up for any deficiencies as we sit outside and try and take in the scene.



A 4am alarm call and we hit the trail at 5am with head-torches shining, crossing the snow-line and climbing steadily onto the Larkya La pass, at 5,100m this is the highest point of our trek and the reason for the acclimatisation.



The snow deepens and in places my trekking pole disappears entirely through the soft snow on either side of the path, the valley widens and levels off, peaks on either side hem us in, rising high above.

A sound like a clap of thunder but under a bright blue sky makes us stop in our tracks and behind us an avalanche tumbles down from above. It's perhaps a mile or more away so of no danger but it's a spectacular, awe-inspiring spectacle as the snow tumbles into the valley and creates a huge cloud of powder.

After several false summits we spot the final short climb to the summit cairn ahead and short of breath we feel a sense of achievement as we ascend to the collection of prayer flags and stones. The views all around are breathtaking (literally) and our fellow trekkers celebrate with high fives and selfies, I'm more interested in celebrating with a Mars Bar!



Once we stop it soon gets cold so we carry on beyond the summit of the pass and begin to descend. We think we've seen the best views but the scene before us is truly staggering; a ridge of snow-capped peaks runs across us giving the impression we're dropping into a deep bowl with no way out. The mountains ahead are part of the Annapurna range, a glacier flows down from the right and has scoured a deep gulley below which indicates our way out. Before then we have a precarious, steep descent still on the deep and now loose, patchy snow, it's slow progress as we edge lower.

We're all relieved to catch sight of the first tea house after the pass, the perfect spot for a late lunch which we eagerly devour. We quickly descend along gentle stream as it tumbles from the snow above down the valley that we'll follow for a couple of days.

Our accommodation in Bimtang is easily spotted below us, one of the bright orange cabins on the left of the first row. It's another stunning location surrounded by the towering peaks of Manaslu North, Manaslu and Phungge Himal, after nearly two weeks of these views they still amaze.



Over the next couple of days we head down the valley, back through forest again, spotting monkeys in the trees as we pass and stay in simple guest houses initially still with no mains electricity.

The walking is easier and faster in this direction, we encounter only two or three landslides, the valley is wider and protected by more trees so those we do cross are not as hazardous as before. As we leave the high mountains behind we savour the last views of their snowy peaks but enjoy the warmer weather again.

As we pass through the pretty village of Tilche with its colourful buildings and numerous lines of prayer flags strung across the river we spot a motorbike, the first we've seen for many days and after we cross the river shortly after a 4x4 drives past. It's a bit of a shock and indicates we're not far from the larger, busier villages we left behind two weeks ago and sure enough later as we arrive in Dharapani there's lots of construction work in evidence, this is the starting point of the much more popular Annapurna circuit and there are suddenly lots more trekkers.



Our final day of trekking and we follow the road down for the first half of the day before crossing the river and following a trail which falls quickly via sets of stone stairs to another crossing where we have to negotiate an angry goat herd and his flock. After lunch in a road-side restaurant we continue down the road admiring numerous high waterfalls plunging down the steep valley wall opposite.

We reach Jagat mid afternoon and everyone dashes for the hot showers. It's a celebratory dinner in Jagat and we enjoy a beer together. The next morning we climb into 4x4's for a very uncomfortable journey again down the valley, the drive doesn't look far on the map but with dreadful roads it seems to go on forever. Eventually we arrive in Beshisahar and our hotel has a coffee shop, I've not had a good, fresh coffee since Dyang so that's a priority before we go and explore. Beshisahar is a large town but not a tourist hub, the shops are practical but it's interesting to walk around after the tiny villages we're used to. Our room has en-suite facilities with hot water which seems a luxury, at tonight's dinner we thank our porters and guides before tomorrow's bus trip back to Kathmandu and the end of our holiday.


KE Adventures

We chose to travel with KE Adventures after researching many companies providing similar treks, their range of treks appealed to us. The Manaslu Circuit in particular offered us the challenging adventure and quiet trails we had hoped for. Having booked the trip three years before we eventually travelled, delayed by Covid, KE were flexible and helpful, reassuring us about the current situation in Nepal and when the time came, handling our flights as well. KE's website provides a great deal of information, the additional advice and detail supplied after booking was comprehensive. The holiday was everything we'd hoped for and more, everything ran seamlessly to schedule, our guides and porters were excellent, helpful, professional and friendly. You can travel this circuit independently, we met trekkers travelling alone with guide and porter (you must have an accredited guide to enter the Manaslu Conservation Area) but for us the peace of mind of travelling with an experienced company, was vital. We couldn't be happier with the service provided by KE, we would (and indeed already have) highly recommend them to anyone looking for an adventure, we would and probably will travel with them again.



As mentioned above this was our first trekking holiday and we felt (at least initially) outside of our comfort zone - with a friendly, experienced group of travellers and expert guides we quickly found our feet (!) and whilst we're still novices we learned a great deal that might be useful to you if you're considering a similar trip;

KE Adventures supplied us with an excellent kit list which formed the basis of our preparations. As our large bags were transported by porters we packed light, these bags weighed approximately 15kgs maximum and we both probably still packed items of clothing we didn't need. Facilities on the trek are minimal and everyone's in the same situation so no-one's judging you if you're wearing the same sweater as yesterday - 1 or 2 less tee-shirts, 1 less fleece etc. Thinner layers were especially useful as it was often cold in the mornings as we set off hiking but soon warmed up when the sun rose, equally it was sometimes cooler in the day where we were trekked through deep valleys where the sun didn't reach. The nights were especially cold and this, along with the day high in the Larkya La Pass was when the down jackets we had hired from KE were so important, we were also grateful for the high quality down sleeping bags we'd hired (all for free) too. Our luggage was packed into a couple of large duffel type bags (rather than cases) which were best for the Porters to carry, after much deliberation we had purchased 'smaller' 65L bags to keep our kit to the minimum but in hindsight I would have used 90L bags, not so we could take more but so our jackets and sleeping bags hired from KE and provided in Kathmandu would have easily fitted inside. These bags can be squashed down and secured with straps so being less than full isn't an issue.

Essentials for the kit included higher factor sunscreen (a daily must), good quality boots (the confidence they provide on loose ground is essential) and trekking poles (I'm a convert). All the tea houses we visited were very used to providing boiled water for drinking and we never needed to sterilise water but I'd still include sterilisation tablets on future trips just in case.

We had great weather for our entire trip as you can see from the photos but we had waterproofs just in-case. My main worry however was that if it did rain and we had to trek through days of rain our luggage in particular may not have been adequately protected, next time we would pack and organise our kit in dry bags, our bags did at times get a little chaotic!

The Manaslu circuit is rated 8 out of 12 for difficulty on the KE website and described as challenging. We're a fit couple who do a lot of cycling and walking, we both found the trekking challenging and at times more difficult than we anticipated but always achievable and we were always well supported by the guiding team. The scenery and experience of visiting this quieter area of Nepal was absolutely worth the effort however and I'd highly recommend this route if you're relatively fit and seeking a challenge in a quieter area of Nepal. I do think that slowly the circuit will change, with the construction of a road north along the Buri Gandaki River and north from Dharapani it'll get busier and the trekking will be less 'wild', but the stunning views won't change.

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