Dust, Dirt, Sunshine, Numb Fingers, Rice, Transport Issues, Diarrhoea, Constipation, sore feet, tan lines, bartering, laughter, card games, noodles, Rakshi.....all words that can help to sum up one incredible trip of a lifetime to the Nepal Himalaya.
In November 2017 we took a team out to Nepal to complete the Manaslu Circuit, a trek which is now regarded as one of the best Nepal has to offer. This blog is designed to give you an insight into our experience, the trek itself and what to expect from a trip to the Nepal Himalaya.
There are many itineraries listed in guidebooks and online for the Manaslu Circuit, but ours was to be a 13 day trek, plus two days of travel to get there and back. Our total trip duration door to door from the UK was 21 days - a fairly standard duration for most substantial treks in Nepal, especially if you are planning on taking on a trekking peak such as Mera, Island or Lobuche East.
Day 2 - Arrival (Day 1 is leaving the UK)
We landed in a familiar Kathmandu Airport at about 8pm and I was instantly happy to be back to the country that I hold so dear. Now my third trip to Nepal, but my first work based trip with clients. Within minutes the paperwork onslaught starts as you are required to complete a small arrival form and then a 30 Day Tourist Visa Application. The Visa can be applied for here in the UK by either sending off your passport to the embassy or by visiting a webpage, however I found the webpage glitchy so opted to just do it in country. There are now touch screens which help you through the process, and once it spits out a receipt you go and pay your visa fee ($40USD - now accepted in any currency however), flash your passport to immigration and you're on your way to baggage reclaim. In typical Nepali fashion our bags were waiting for us in Baggage reclaim - in a pile on the floor next to the conveyor belt.
We were met outside by Siddick from Basanta Adventure Trekking & Expeditions (BATE) who was to transport us to our residence in Thamel. I have a long relationship with BATE and they were to be our hosts in country for the duration of the trek - the reasons for hiring additional Nepali guides will soon become evident to anyone wondering why I may do this...
Day 3 - Familiarisation Day
It's always well worth building a day for finalising bits and pieces before heading off to your respective treks. You will no doubt be tired from the travel and it's just great to settle in to the sights, sounds and smells Nepal has to offer. Depending on where you are trekking you may also need to sort permits. We had multiple permits to sort as the Manaslu region is a semi-restricted area, but we were also entering the Annapurna Conservation Area, so more paperwork was required. Again, BATE took the helm on organising this information for us. Kathmandu is quite a full on experience, but a fun one for sure. It is likely you will stay in the Thamel area which is the main tourist district. This area reminds me a lot of Keswick in the fact that the type of shops are not that varied, there are just many of them! If you want to buy fake outdoor kit this is the place to be, as well as an ideal spot for anyone partial to Tiger Balm, Chess Sets, Singing Bowls, Prayer Flags....the list goes on, and on, and on....
We spent a our afternoon with a tour guide who took us on an extended Temple tour of Kathmandu. On this trip we visited the 'Living Goddess' and also the incredible Monkey Temple that stands high above Kathmandu. Be careful with the monkeys however as some of them have a tendency to jump at you as I found out.
Our tour lasted about 4 hours, but the benefits of such a trip were soon to be realised....
Day 4 - Kathmandu to Soti Khola
An early rise saw us jump in a couple of 'Jeeps' to head to the start of our trek, an estimated 7-8 hours drive away. Our guide Netra who has 25 years of experience suggested we take the opportunity to drive past the usual start point of Arughat and start from Soti Khola. We would avoid a day of low altitude walking on uninteresting trails and add the spare day on at the end to get us to a nicer finishing point - we agreed unanimously.
The calamities of the day started before the drivers had even turned the keys as the lead 'Jeep' driver refused to put bags on the roof rack of his vehicle as it was insecure. The bags were piled in the back and with it so were 4 porters into the back of ours (a seat barely wide enough for 3 adults!)
It took ages to get out of Kathmandu itself. The traffic is beyond mad and it is amazing there are not more incidents. The population of Kathmandu is approximately 4 million and it feels like they all own a car, bike, bus or lorry and travel on the same bit of road at the same time. We eventually got out of Kathmandu and started cruising towards the hills. A few hours rolled on and we then hit a bit of a jam on a hilly section. It transpired the rain that had fallen a few days early had turned the road in to a bit of a mud-bath and the vehicles ahead were unwilling to risk it.
As we were all out of the two 'Jeeps' the lead driver took a run up and flew in to the muddy mess....
A few meters later and the 'Jeep' was static with the rear wheels going ten to the dozen. It had become clear to us all that these so called 'Jeeps' were not even 4 wheel drive. Calamity number two had arrived. As with any good roadside issue in Nepal there was a solid crowd of 30 odd people casting their opinions on how to solve this problem. People were bouncing on the rear of the vehicle, pushing and pulling, but it was stuck. My mind was racing as to what we were going to do as the vehicle vehicle was stuck fast, and the road ahead was a total unknown even if we could get it through this section - of which there was an even muddier bit to come. Everest Base Camp...Langtang....the options were racing through.
Soon enough Netra appeared and said he had solved our predicament. He had walked up past the mud-bath and found a large 4 wheel drive Tourist bus coming the other way - completely empty. I'm unsure of how the conversation went, or how many rupees were exchanged but the driver agreed to take us to Soti Khola. One thing I do know is that if we didn't have Netra there with us I would probably not have wangled such a deal. We pulled the bags from the 'Jeeps' and left the drivers without much of a second thought (sorry!). Our bags were piled on the bus and we were good to go, well after calamity number three had been sorted....we were facing the wrong way.
There are three common themes with Nepali mountain roads; 1, They're often very bumpy, 2, they're often very narrow with limited passing places, 3, they're often bound by a steep drop certain to kill everyone on board the tumbling vehicle. This particular section of road ticked all the boxes. Fortunately for us the driver of the bus turned out to be the Senna of the bus driving world and with that a 45 point turn was embarked upon. One small bit of overpower on the throttle and we'd all be heading face first down a valley wall...oh what fun. Alas, we survived the turn and we celebrated with a lot of cheering. We were back on track and one thing had become clear - spending 4 hours visiting temples and building up good karma was time very well spent!
Days 5-8 - Soti Khola to Namrung
The Manaslu Circuit is listed as a 'Hard' or 'Tough' Trek in most guides and the first 4 days will certainly help you realise this as you will be walking for between 6-8 hours each day. In a typical day you will ascend and descend many hundreds of metres even if your next stop is only a few hundred above where you slept the previous night. The trail on these 4 days is however breathtaking. You soon experience the delights of trekking in the Himalaya as you cross multiple suspension bridges, walk above steep drops, through tiny villages and under gorgeous canopies.
Most days will start at around 7:30am, and by 11-12 you will have stopped in a teahouse along the route to have some lunch. We often went for Dhal Bhat, the local dish of Rice and lentil soup. The afternoon would then consist of a few more hours trekking along with the chore of gulping down litre upon litre of water. Although by the time you get to Namrung you're still only at 2,500m and not really in the zone of Altitude Sickness it is great to get into the habbit from the off of consuming 4-5 litres a day, including any soups or teas you may drink. With this said, we were encountering 26-30 degree heat throughout the day and so getting the water in wasn't too hard.