11 - 24 October 2013 #677
Going on trek at the tail end of monsoon season is a double-edged proposition. On one hand, visitors can be assured of the fecundity that follows the weather: lush greenery, thundering waterfalls, and life at its most pristine. On the other hand, there are the landslides and cloudbursts to contend with. And yes, leeches too.
The Manaslu Circuit Trek, which actually circumnavigates Manaslu (8,163m), is fast gaining popularity as an alternative to the beaten trails of Everest and Annapurna. It is touted to be the new jewel in the crown of Himalayan trekking and for good reason too.
For one, we thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of terrain that we traversed. After a bumpy jeep ride on mud and rock-laden tracks from Dhadingbesi to the start of the trail at Arughat, we hiked valleys with the roaring Budhi Gandaki as a constant companion, through primeval rainforests, before emerging into the barren sub-alpine terrain on the approach to Larke La (5,135m), while in the shadow of Annapurna, Ganesh Himal, and Manaslu.
We also had the opportunity to experience different cultures - the Gurung and Hindu inhabitants who populate the lower altitudes and the Tibetans at the upper reaches of the region. One of the highlights of the trek came when we visited the Lho Ribang Monastery which sits on a hill towering over Lho village. Turns out that we were in time to catch the annual puja, which was presided over by a high-ranking Khenpo (monastic scholar) from Taiwan.
As of now, the Manaslu circuit can be done as a tea-house trek, without the need for camping. The state of accommodation, however, runs the gamut from spartan, as is the case with the lodging at Dharmasala just prior to crossing the Larke La, to quaint, colourful cottages at Bhimtang, on the other side of the pass.
Given its clear attraction as a diverse and relatively untouched region, the Manaslu Circuit will certainly not remain a secret for long. Locals predict a growth in the number of visitors and are hedging their bets with a boom in the construction of new lodges and amenities for trekkers. Inevitably, the crowds will follow and intrepid travelers will begin to look elsewhere (the far east, perhaps). For now, it is the Spirit Mountain’s turn to have its time in the spotlight and deservedly so.
Foo Chee Chang
Walking among giants
Two experienced Kathmandu-based adventurers, Sian Prichard-Jones and Bob Gibbons, released a trekking guide this month with the Himalayan Map House. The guidebook, the first of its kind for the region, explores the Manaslu Mountain Circuit and the Tsum Valley trail. Tucked between Langtang and the Annapurnas, many regions of Ganesh Himal and Manaslu Himal have just been opened to outsiders, including the lush and almost otherworldly Tsum Valley.
For those new to the lower Manaslu, Ganesh Himal, or to Himalayan trekking in general, this guidebook will be a useful resource. The guide starts with basic background information to Nepal, including its cultures, customs, religions and holidays. If one wants to plan one’s own journey, the book offers a plethora of services to choose from, each vetted by the authors, as well as logistic information for flights, permits and lodgings. More than a brief overview, the background and logistics information is everything an inexperienced trekker would need.
The 'routes' section of the guide, by far the book’s biggest asset, offers a day-by-day, almost hour-by-hour, description of what one’s experience on the trail will be. As the title of the book suggests, the book gives a day-by-day for both the Manaslu circuit and the Tsum Valley, including several variations. Instead of finding out as he goes along, the trekker will know how many ascents and descents to expect, locations for water and food, and otherwise hidden gems to look out for. Each trek offers its own technical challenges, accommodation difficulties and majestic splendours, and the authors give them each good treatment.
The guide delves into an impressive level of detail when discussing suggested diversions to the trail, culled with the help of locals Sonam Lama and Lopsang Chhiring Lama. Advice such as “the older bridge will lead to an easier ascent,” or, “look for Lama Sherap at the Gonhgye monastery, who speaks good English,” ensures that one won’t have to backtrack or get lost in the pursuit of these necessary ‘side-tracks’. The sheer number of them suggests a rich experience for the traveller, even after several visits.
The book is a pleasurable read, even before one sets off, and will prove useful during one’s trek. Funny, though admittedly corny, lines, such as, “I saw the lodge on the edge of the cliff; good thing I didn’t wake up with a hangover!” add a bit of levity just as one’s legs are about to give out. All-in-all, the book’s charm doesn’t take away from its utility and one’s trek will surely be complimented by it.
For two routes gaining in popularity, and in a region so close to Kathmandu, this guide is a must for any trekker, initiated or uninitiated to the region.
By Viggo Brunn
by Sian Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons
Himalayan Map House, 2013