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Nov 2, 2019

How to Trek the Manaslu Circuit in 10 days? My Travelogue!

Photo by: Ben Tubby Source: Wikipedia
When an avid trekker like Nabin dai could not stop talking about a trekking route, I was bound to take note. Thus was my desire to trek the Manaslu Circuit was born. Therefore, I decided to utilize my Dashain vacation of 2076 (2019) to go round the Manaslu Peak, the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 meters. I trekked the route in 10 days (September 27 to October 6) with six of my friends and colleagues. I must say, it is one of the best trekking routes in n Nepal which naturally means one of the best in the world. The best thing about this trek, in my view, is that it has everything - mesmerizing mountain views, pristine lakes, breathtaking (sometimes literally!) mountain passes, majestic waterfalls, and picturesque villages. 

Notwithstanding its amazing beauty, the trek is not recommended for the beginners though. There were definitely several moments where the beginners among our team members were more than ready to give up the trek and return home (although none of them told me this aloud). But if you have prior trekking experience, you can comfortably get this one done in 10 days. Following is our itinerary. I hope our itinerary and our experience will be a very useful guide for you in your adventure in this route and will inspire you to go on a Manaslu Circuit Trek.

Our Itinerary in Brief:

Day 1: Kathmandu to Gorkha Bazaar (By Bus)
Day 2: Gorkha Bazaar to Soti Khola (By Bus) and walk to Khorlabesi (6 hours)
Day 3: Khorlabesi to Philim (11 hours)
Day 4: Philim to Bhijam (10 hours)
Day 5: Bhijam to Lho (10 hours)
Day 6: Lho to Samagaun (4 hours)
Day 7: Samagaun to Samdo via Birendra Lake (6 hours)
Day 8: Samdo to Phedi via Larke Pass (15 hours)
Day 9: Phedi to Dharapani (11 hours)
Day 10: Dharapani to Kathmandu (By bus)

Our Experience:

Day 1: Kathmandu to Gorkha Bazaar (By Bus)

We had planned to take a direct bus to Soti Khola on the morning of 27th but the last-minute new assignment from a client threw our plans into disarray. Nikunja had to travel to Butwal a few days earlier and was supposed to be back by 10 am. He wasn't. So, the rest of us waited and waited until finally, he showed up at around 3 pm at Kalanki. Therefore, the seven of us boarded a night bus to Pokhara because the last bus for Gorkha had already left. As usual, there was a long traffic jam at Thankot, Nagdhunga which further delayed our journey by about two hours. Then, there was another stop for dinner at Muglin. We finally reached Aabu Khaireni at around 9:30 pm where we planned to spend the night if we could not find a vehicle to Gorkha Bazaar. Luckily, as soon as we got off from the bus, a few cab drivers swarmed us offering us a ride up to Gorkha Bazaar. The fare they quoted us was Rs. 1,000 per taxi, which I found incredulous. Just Rs. 1,000 for 24 kilometers? In Kathmandu, a 1,000 rupees would not have gotten us even to the edge of the city. Therefore, we said yes lest the guys changed their minds. We reached Gorkha Bazaar at around 10 pm. The cab drivers took us to a hotel named Satyam right in the middle of Gorkha Bazaar. It was a nice hotel although we had to drive a hard bargain to have them let four of us stay in the same room.

Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

Day 2: Gorkha Bazaar - Arughat - Soti Khola (By Bus) and Soti Khola - Lapu Besi - Machha Khola - Khorlabesi (6 hours)

The next day, we got up early at around 6 am and inquired around to find a bus to Soti Khola. We found a bus to Arughat. From there we had to take another bus to Soti Khola. There were only two buses to Arughat each day, and we had already missed the first one. We quickly purchased our tickets and managed to be among the last people to get seats. If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend you to purchase/book the tickets the previous evening if possible or at least reach the ticket counter before 6 am and purchase the tickets. As we squeezed ourselves into the seats of the last row, the bus left for Arughat at 7:30 am. After a few minutes of a smooth ride, the bumpy roads began. The bus trudged along the narrow and winding hilly roads. The views started to get better though. Hills beyond hills with picturesque villages alongside a fierce river down in the valleys and villages on the hilltops engulfed by the mist, what a sight! I can never have enough of it. One interesting thing we noticed was the Muslim settlement along the way. I had read somewhere that the ancestors of these people had helped Prithvi Narayan Shah produce gunpowder, guns and other weapons during his conquest of Nepal in the 1750s and 1760s.

We reached Arughat after four hours, at around 11:30 am. Arughat is a small market-town alongside the Budhi Gandaki river. As the rest of the team started searching for an eatery, I started inquiring about the bus for the next leg of our journey. Nikunja, however, had already managed to find the counter and book 7 tickets for us. Thanks to his quick action, we managed to get the last remaining seats. It was apparent that the buses in this region are overwhelmed with the number of passengers. Relieved, we had breakfast of sel roti, boiled egg, and tea in a local eatery and boarded the bus.

One more bumpy bus ride for about one and a half hours took us to Soti Khola, the starting point of our trek. At Soti Khola, we had our lunch of dal bhat, purchased a few snacks, and altitude sickness medicines before embarking on our walk for the day. We started our walk at around 1:30 pm. The trail went alongside the Budhi Gandaki river for the day. In fact, we were supposed to follow the Budhi Gandaki river to its origin walking more or less alongside its banks.

Traditional Water Mill. Photo by Surath Giri

Less than 30 minutes of our walk, we encountered a mesmerizing sight - a humongous waterfall on the other side of the Budhi Gandaki river. The waterfall was so tall that the water falling off the cliff was turning into a mist swayed away by the wind. We stopped there and took a few photos, just a dozen or so. My friends and colleagues, especially the first-timers were super excited to see the waterfalls. But soon the excitement mellowed to some extent when they realized that such waterfalls are a dime a dozen in this region.  One waterfall, however, seemed to be the king of the waterfalls. Called "Shivaling Waterfall", the waterfall was huge even compared to the huge waterfalls in the region.

In about an hour, we reached a place called Lapu Besi where we stopped for a while and drank tea before resuming our journey. At around 5 pm, we reached Machha Khola. Well, I reached Machha Khola and waited for the rest of the team for about 30 minutes.

As the rest of the team dragged themselves (too tired by now I guess) to Machha Khola, I wondered if we should call it a day and stay in Machha Khola. We were, however, already behind our schedule because of our late departure from Kathmandu. I wished to keep going and stop at the next destination but wanted to know what the rest of the team thought. As they rested for a while and ate some snacks, they recuperated and therefore, voted to keep going.

We resumed our walk. The night was setting in and it slowly started getting dark. From Machha Khola, we crossed a trail bridge and continued our journey alongside the Budhi Gandaki River towards its origin. As it got darker, I asked some of my friends to turn on their headlights and torch lights. Only 3 or 4 of us turned on the lights. I asked the rest not to do so and instead conserve the batteries for the coming days.

I was walking ahead with two other people when all of a sudden my walking stick got tangled into something. It was too dark to see but suddenly someone's headlight turned to the direction and...oh my God! "Aabuiii", I let out involuntarily and froze along with the other two for a few milliseconds which felt like a minute or so.

A huge snake was entangled in my walking stick. It was the largest snake I had ever seen outside television or a zoo. I was so shocked and my whole body was trembling with fear. But then I recovered and I jerked my walking stick against the snake and threw it off a few feet. Startled the snake slithered away across the trail. It took us a few more seconds to fully recover from the incident. I quickly took out my torchlight and turned it on.

We walked for another 30 minutes or so. The trail was getting scarier. Small rocks and stones were falling down. We were moving ahead carefully. We stumbled upon two people coming from the opposite direction. They told us that the road ahead was blocked due to a landslide and one had to trudge through a knee-deep sludge to get across. Besides, the rocks were still falling/sliding and could come crashing down anytime. We were so scared.

Nikunja was quite apprehensive and wanted to go back to Machha Khola but the rest of the team was reluctant to go back after having walked for almost an hour already. We stopped at the next house we found on the way and asked the owner there to verify what we had heard earlier. A middle-aged lady told us all that we heard was true, and we had to go through that particular place to reach Khorlabesi. We inquired if she could host us for the night. She said yes but told us that the accommodation was not good enough. Nikunja went and checked. He came back disappointed. When we decided to keep going, the lady assuaged our fears by saying that there was an alternate and safer way. She told us to take a trail down towards the river immediately before the landslide started and walk along the banks of the river and rejoin the main trail after crossing the landslide area.

So as we continued our journey, we kept looking out for the tell-tale signs of the start of the landslide area. We need not have worried. We could see the whole road blocked for afar. So we took a trail that was not so obvious down to the river and walked along the bank. Most of the team members were at the limit of their patience and willpower now. I wished our destination would arrive soon.

We walked for another 30 minutes or so before we reached our destination for the day - Khorlabesi, a small settlement comprising around half a dozen houses. The whole group was too tired to do anything else besides eat and go to sleep. I made sure that I charged my torchlight fully.

Day 3: Khorlabesi - Tatopani - Dobhan - Shyauli Bhatti - Yaru Bagar - Jagat - Salleri - Sridibas - Ghatte Khola - Philim (11 hours)

The next morning, we started out at around 7:30 am after having tea and some biscuits for breakfast. We continued our walk alongside the river on a trail cut out of the hill. The trail was amazing, not just views but also the way it had been carved out of the huge rocks and stones within the hill. The mountains in the distance were shrugging off the mist and Budhi Gandaki was roaring as loudly as ever. Once in a while, the rhythmic "ting, ting" of the bells worn by the mules managed to emerge above the roar of Budhi Gandaki. The trail was bereft of any people besides our team. I loved the walk. It was like a walking meditation for me.

At around 8:45 am, we reached Tatopani, the tap with incredibly hot water. It felt like turning only the knob for hot water in the shower, a bit too hot for bathing. We took a few pictures there. No one ventured to take a bath though. After a few pictures, we continued our journey.
On the way to Dobhan. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

Another one and a half hours of walk got us to Dobhan, a confluence of the Budhi Gandaki river with one of its tributaries. We crossed the river on a trail bridge to get to Dobhan. Dobhan is relatively a large settlement with several hotels and a school. We stopped at one of the hotels for our lunch. The lunch was delicious, especially the pickle. Even the basic dishes taste so good in the villages, maybe because of the freshness of the vegetables. We spent about one and a half hours for the lunch break and the rest before resuming our journey.

We continued our trek alongside the Budhi Gandaki river, on the right side of the river this time. We reached another settlement called Shyauli Bhatti after walking for about an hour. We continued walking. After walking for another two and a half hours, we reached an incredibly scenic place called Yaru Bagar, a settlement on the banks of Budhi Gandaki river. The river had flattened and spread wide in this place, therefore it was called a 'bagar' I guess. It was also the confluence of Yaru Khola and Budhi Gandaki. As I crossed the settlement, I realized that Yaru Bagar was a special place. It was the place where the first cantilever bridge of Nepal was built with the assistance of DFID. I remembered translating a press release about this place. I was very excited to get photographed in this place. My team, however, was way behind me. So I asked a foreigner to click a few pictures of me standing on the bridge. The bridge is not only a marvel of technology but also very beautiful. Definitely, one of the highlights of the trail.

Nepal's first cantilever bridge at Yaru Bagar, Gorkha. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

It was almost 4 pm when I reached Jagat, a relatively large settlement for the region and the starting point of the Manaslu Conservation Area. The foreign tourists have to show their permits at the checkpoint here. I rested on a roadside stone and ate the moong dal I had with me as I waited for my friends. They arrived half an hour later. All of us were famished and exhausted by now. Therefore, we had some snacks at a restaurant there. The team was divided on whether to continue the journey or call it a day and stop there. After a short deliberation, we decided to keep going as we were still behind our schedule. So at around 5 pm, we resumed our trek with the aim of reaching Philim which was supposed to be 2 hours of walk away.

It turned out to be almost 4 hours of walk away for us. Maybe because we were too tired. As the sun took a break for the day and the darkness rushed in to envelop the world, we rushed towards Philim with our tired legs and exhausted bodies. We passed Salleri in less than an hour and then Sirdibas in about two hours. Then, we passed the Ghattekhola village to reach a large trail bridge. At every village, my teammates were tempted to call it a day and spend the night there. It took quite a lot of convincing to get them moving. The uphill stretch, although less than half a kilometer, was too steep and tiring for them though. The trek must have felt more like a punishment in a communist gulag rather than something you would do for entertainment. I reached Philim at around 7:30 pm and waited for the rest of the team for half an hour before realizing that they were way behind and I had to go back to get them. At around 8:30 pm, all of us reached Philim. We hit the bed as soon as we finished our food. We were that tired!

Day 4: Philim - Ekle Bhatti - Pewa - Dyang - Rana - Bihi Phedi - Bhijam (10 hours)

The next morning, we dragged our tired bodies out of bed at around 6 am and got ready for the day. We drank tea and ate the remaining biscuits for breakfast. We started the trek at 7:30 am. We were expecting to have the same scenery as the last day to continue for today as well. But less than two hours into the trek, we were pleasantly surprised. As soon as we passed Ekle Bhatti, we came upon a spellbinding waterfall. I tried to look at the top of the waterfall but almost fell down backward. It was that tall. I took a few snapshots and a video to capture the beauty and resumed walking as I knew more of such sights were waiting for us.

The spellbinding waterfall. Photo by Surath Giri

Walking for an hour more, I reached a fork on the road. The right fork would lead us to Tsum Valley, another great trekking destination on its own right. We, however, were supposed to take the left one down to the river and beyond. I crossed the river and waited for my teammates to appear on the horizon. But even after 20 minutes, only Govinda and Raseela appeared. Therefore, I kept walking.

Since Khorlabesi, I had been listening to the audiobooks of Nepali novels through the recordings of Shruti Sambeg, a book recital radio program. As I neared Nyak Phedi, I was totally submerged into the listening as the novel was an engrossing thriller. The musical breaks in between were equally amazing.

"Rangi Sari Gulabi Chunariya Re...
 Mohey Maare Nazariya Sawariya Re...

Rangi Sari....."

"What the f*ck!!", I jumped in shock and almost fell off the trail down the precipice. I could hear my heart beating beyond its optimal capacity. My whole body was trembling.

A large snake was slithering on the wall of the trail. I swallowed my spit and slowly turned toward it. The snake was basking in the sun, I guess and was slowing slithering upwards towards the bushes. The guy did not pose any threat to me and was actually just chilling out. But hey, who cares? It scared the shit out of me.

"Two snakes in a row, in a single trek? What are the odds? What the hell is going on?," I thought to myself incredulously. In more than a decade of trekking and more than 15 such adventures, I had never encountered one snake, one single snake, not even a tiny one. And here, two huge reptiles scare the shit out of me in two days. When I shared the incident with my teammates, they were more than happy to pull my legs. They thought that I should perform pooja to appease the snake god on returning to Kathmandu.

I recovered and kept walking. I passed Nyak Phedi in another 10 minutes and then kept walking through the trail as it passed through a denser forest. Now, I was alert enough to look around properly before putting down my bag and resting on the side of the trail.

As I walked for one hour more I came into a trail bridge. I crossed the bridge and waited for my teammates for a while. They showed no signs of showing up. So, I continued my journey. At one place, I stopped in the middle of the trail to rewind the audiobook. As I was scenery too, I had failed to register some portions of the audiobook. As I was doing that, I felt someone patting me on my back. A shiver ran through my back. I turned around quickly to see who it was.

"Oh hello there, Mr. Mule! Sorry for blocking your way! You see, I didn't notice you were just behind me. I am sure you must be in a rush. Let me get out of the way. Such a lovely morning, ain't it?"

I reached Pewa village at around 12 pm. Before I could inquire if they served lunch, a guy came running down from the wooden terrace of his hotel and took me to his hotel. He offered me a glass of juice and told me that the food was ready whenever we were ready. I nodded and waited for my teammates. A cold breeze was making shivers run down my body. I wore my jacket. As I looked at my shoes, I noticed that the top piece of my shoes was about to come off. I purchased a superglue and pasted it while waiting for my teammates. They arrived in 30 minutes. The dal-bhat at Pewa was probably the most delicious lunch we had throughout the journey.

The journey after lunch was relatively uneventful. We walked for about two hours to reach Dyang aka Deng village. Then, we crossed the river to the right side and followed the trail uphill to reach a picturesque village called Rana village. Looking from afar, I could see a red and pink tinge in the village which turned out to be the color of the Amarnath, the local crop also called the superfood of the Himalayas.

Beyond Rana village, the trail passed through a dense forest before emerging on a trail bridge. 20 minutes from the bridge, I reached Bihi Phedi where we were supposed to stay for the night. It was still daylight though. So when the rest of the group joined me, we had tea and some snacks and resumed our trek to the next destination - Bhijam. We walked for around 35 minutes to reach Bhijam. Bhijam has just one hotel. Therefore, it is advisable to confirm the availability before head towards it for the night.

We reached Bhijam at around 6:30 pm. We were relatively less tired today. Therefore, we decided to drink some rum and chitchat for an hour before going to sleep.

 Day 5: Bhijam - Ghap - Namrung - Barzam - Lhi - Sho - Lho (10 hours)

On the 5th day of our trek, we woke up earlier than usual because we had gone to bed earlier the day before. We got ready and ate a local breakfast - Champa aka saatu in other parts of the country. We departed Bhijam at around 7 am intending to reach Lho village by the end of the day.

Walking for two hours we reached an exquisite village called Ghap. Full of similar-looking little houses with blue corrugated sheets as roofs that were glistening in the early morning sun, the village looked like it belonged to a fairy tale. I was thirsty when I reached the village. Bhimsen and I went to a hotel to get some drinking water. The hotel owner inquired where we were headed and where we had come from. Then she brought out two apples and gave them to us. Boy, were they delicious? When I offered to pay for the apples, she refused and said that she gave them to us as a gift. We were moved by the generosity of the lady.

Ghap Village in Manaslu Circuit. Photo by Surath Giri
The trail which had been more or less plain until Ghap suddenly began to go uphill considerably slowing down our pace and increasing the pace of our hearts. I walked for another two hours and reached Namrung, a large and beautiful settlement with lots of hotels including some fancy ones. Namrung also has a resort that serves international standard food and international dishes provided that you are willing and able to shell out the same level of money. I stopped at one of the ordinary hotels and ordered dal-bhat for seven people. As the hotel had a television with movie channels, I started watching a movie as I waited for my teammates. It was 45 minutes before they arrived, exhausted and famished.

Priya seemed not only exhausted but also annoyed, irritable, and seemed shaken to the core. Upon inquiring I found out that, she had narrowly escaped a dangerous situation. While giving way for the mules, she mistakenly stood on the edge of the trail rather than on the side towards the hill. Dear reader, please remember that this is a dangerous thing to do. Always, always remain on the side of the wall when giving way to the mules. So as it happened, one of the mules carrying LPG gas cylinders pushed Priya with the cylinders and she fell down the slope. Luckily, the guys were alert and caught her by her legs instantly. A slight delay could have meant injuries, even serious injuries.

But once she recovered from the shock, we started teasing her saying that she had gotten a second life and that she should be more generous and spiritual from now onwards.

We left Namrung at around 1:30 pm. We walked along muddy trail getting our shoes all wet, no thank you mules! Upon walking for about an hour, we reached an incredibly beautiful place called Barzam aka Bhanjam. Barzam is a narrow valley on the banks of the Budhi Gandaki river. There are just a few houses and the rest of the land is cultivated with local crops. When we reached there, the crops looked all green. It looked as if it was a huge football ground. The green crop was swaying rhythmically with the breeze. What a wonderful sight it was! Nikunja and I took several pictures and video clips. After 15-20 minutes we tore ourselves apart from the place and resumed our walk. We realized that if we let ourselves be then we could spend hours at the place just looking at the crops swaying in the wind.

From Barzam, the trail went steep uphill. As I climbed the trail for about 15 minutes, I was tired. So I rested on a rock and looked down at the Barzam valley from above. It looked even more beautiful. A few girls and a middle-aged lady, probably their mother, were also resting nearby. They looked at me and then looked down at my friends far away and then began giggling. They teased me saying that my friends were too slow and would not be able to make it to Larke Pass. I teased them back that maybe they should help us by carrying my friends on the dokos (bamboo baskets) they were carrying.

View of Barzam from Lhi. Photo by Surath Giri

At 4 pm, I reached the Lhi village and waited for my teammates. Lhi is a beautiful village with a monstery. After a break of about 15 minutes, we resumed our journey towards Sho village. This stretch of the trail was quite easy as we were walking on a straight road. The exhaustion was catching up, however. On the way, I stumbled upon three men who were striding off towards Sho. The men rested for a while and we chitchatted. They hailed from Sindhupalchok district and were going to Lho village to do some carpentry related work. They came from Helambu village, a popular trekking destination and thereby had quite a lot of experience of constructing tea houses and lodges. With the increase in the number of tourists visiting the Manaslu circuit, the demand for lodges and guesthouses had gone up and so had the demand for carpenters. The development of tourism was creating employment opportunities for not just the local people but also for people from other districts. I was jubilated.

We reached the Sho village at 5:30 pm. The sun had set already and darkness was engulfing the world. We were not sure whether to continue our journey to Lho village or to stay at Sho. To utter disappointment of Nikunja, the majority of us decided to continue walking and reach Lho village for the day.

The trail was almost flat until Lho village with only minor uphills and downhills. It was already 7:30 pm by the time we reached Lho. We had to wake up a family and ask the father to show us a decent hotel. He was drunk and sleepy but he managed to guide us to a hotel. The caretaker of the hotel, Mr. Dinesh Katuwal gave us a warm welcome and started preparing food. Dinesh was an amazing host. He had quite a sense of humor and regaled us with his adventure (mostly misadventure!) stories during his travel to different districts of Nepal in course of employment. He served us a delicious dinner. With a full stomach and a tired body, we went to bed. I fell asleep the moment I hit the bed.

Day 6: Lho - Shyala - Samagaun (4 hours)

On the morning of day 6, we woke up earlier than usual with the hope of observing the Manaslu peak. Dinesh had told us last night that Lho was the best place to view the top of Manaslu. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. As the distant mountains were engulfed in the mist, we could see nothing, not even the shape of the mountain. Therefore, we had our breakfast of Champa and Tibetan tea and embarked on our journey for the day. As we were exhausted by the long and arduous trek of the past five days, we had decided to just reach Samagaun that day and visit the nearby attractions. It turned out that nature wanted us to just rest that day.

It was already 9 am when we left Lho village. We tried to observe Manaslu from the top of the village near the Ribum Monastery which was supposed to be the best viewpoint for watching Manaslu. Still, we were unable to see the mountain clearly. We took a few photos and continued our journey, a bit dejected. We passed through a dense forest and crossed Budhi Gandaki once again to reach the village of Shyala at around 11:30 am.

We walked for another one and a half hours to reach Sama Gaun which is probably the largest settlement in the region and is culturally and commercially very important. But before we could reach Sama Gaun, it started to drizzle and pretty soon, the drizzle grew into full-fledged rain. We book rooms in a lodge which turned out to belong to one of the girls who had teased us in Lhi village. We ate our lunch and then waited for the rain to subside. The rain seemed to be adamant about not letting us go anywhere that day. It kept raining until the evening and it grew very cold. So we decided not to resist. Therefore, after lunch, we just went to our rooms and slept. I was well-prepared for a situation like this. I watched a movie on my phone before going to sleep.
Samagaun, Gorkha. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

We slept for the whole day and woke up only for dinner. The rain had subsided but it was freezing and a cold wind was blowing that ran shivers down our spine. We quickly ate our dinner and went back to sleep hoping for a better day tomorrow. The rest was an opportunity for us to recuperate as well.

Day 7: Samagaun to Samdo via Birendra Lake (6 hours)

Thanks to the rest of the day before, we were full of energy when we woke up the next morning. I woke up at around 6 am to a majestic view of the mountains all around me. Everyone started posing and taking photographs. The mountains looked as if they were in our backyard rather than many kilometers away. It felt as if one could run and just climb them like a small knoll. Well, it always feels that way.

It was quite difficult to lure away my teammates from the mountains and towards breakfast. Again, we ate Champa and tea for breakfast and embarked on the day's walk at 7 am. We were strolling rather walking savoring all the beauty around us. Walking for an hour, we reached Birendra Lake at 8 am. The lake, like every lake, was beautiful enough but not especially captivating. We were a bit disappointed but hey, we had a lake with the reflection of a mountain range. Who can resist taking a hundred pictures at such a spot?

Birendra Lake from on the way to Manaslu Base Camp. Photo by Surath Giri

After 40 minutes that passed too quickly, we decided to resume our walk. The locals had told us to retrace the trail back for half an hour and join the main road to continue the journey. "There is a shortcut but you will have to cross a river originating from the lake to take it. You guys will not be able to cross the river", a woman had told us.

The river did not look that big and we were reluctant to waste half an hour of our time just going back. Bhimsen decided to give it a try. He said if he was able to cross the river, he was ready to carry all of us one by one across the river if need be. He crossed over the river and came back. "The water is freezing", he remarked. "The river can be crossed but it is too freezing for a person to do it more than once."

"How freezing it could be?" I thought and ventured into the river carrying my shoes in my hands.

"Oh my my! What the hell!"

The water was indeed freezing. I could feel my feet go numb and the riverbed was too slippery. I strode across the river as fast as I could. On reaching the other side of the river, I threw my shoes and sat do down rubbing my feet and calves trying to warm them up.

Crossing the river. Photo by Surath Giri

Then, the others started crossing the river. It was hilarious to see their reactions the moment they put their foot into the river.

Anyway, one by one all of us crossed the river. Here I decided to propose splitting the group. Whoever wanted to go to Manaslu Base Camp could be in one group. The group would go to Base Camp and then go to Samdo. The other group could go to Samdo directly. Priya and Sunita chose to skip Manaslu Base Camp and go to Samdo directly whereas I, Govinda, Raseela, Nikunja, and Bhimsen chose to go to the Base Camp before going to Samdo.

So the two groups departed. The two girls joined the main trail which was flat almost until Samdo whereas the second group took the precipitous trail towards the basecamp. After walking for an hour or so, I looked down towards Birendra Lake. I was mesmerized! The ordinary-looking lake of the morning was now looking ethereal. It looked like an emerald ground surrounded by small hills. Govinda took several photos of us overlooking the emerald lake.

Almost at the Manaslu Base Camp. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

At around 12 pm, we reached a place called Bhatti, a small eatery in a tent. We drank tea and rested for a while. Then, we put down our bags there and resumed our journey. We walked uphill for another one hour before we were told that we were now halfway to the base camp. The weather, however, was deteriorating as we could see the sky and the mountains covered in the mist. We waited for a while to see if the sky would clear up because there would be no point going to the base camp if the weather persisted. Unfortunately, the weather got worse. The mist got thicker and it began to drizzle. The people we passed told us that the weather was unlikely to improve now and that we would not be seeing anything even if we reached the base camp.

Dejected, we took as many photos as we could from the spot and started making our way back downhill. We ate super delicious "potato Mo:Mo:" at the Bhatti before resuming our journey downhill.

Enjoying Potato Mo:Mo on the way to Manaslu Base Camp. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti

After reaching the main trail in about an hour, we made our way towards Samdo. We reached Samdo at 5 pm. Priya and Sunita had booked a hotel already. The hotel was run by a sprightly old man who regaled us with his adventure stories while we waited for our tea. He claimed that he was one of the earliest hoteliers in that village and that too as an outsider. He recalled locals telling him that he was an asinine person to be setting up a hotel in this village alongside this trail which no one visited when he set up his hotel there more than 2 decades ago. "Now, I make the most money around here and the locals want to buy back the land and the hotel from me! Now, who is the foolish one here?", he chuckled. "I have a 17-roomed house in Kathmandu", he boasted.

Then, Govinda made the mistake of asking a 'wrong' question to the man. "Baje, how long will it take us to cross the pass tomorrow?" he asked. The man stared at him before retorting, "Are you someone who hasn't even passed SLC exams?"

Govinda was puzzled. So was everyone else. The old man broke the pin-drop silence. "A person who is educated would not ask such a question. Is that even a question to ask? It may take me 9 hours. It may take you 12 hours. You just walk. You don't worry about whether it can be done."

By this point, the rest of us were doubling over with laughter and making fun of Govinda who was annoyed like hell but could not help himself from chuckling. Throughout the rest of the evening, we taunted Govinda asking him if he had passed SLC or not. The dinner was delicious enough. We informed the old man that we would be leaving at 3 am in the morning and requested him to prepare Champa for us before we leave. He readily agreed and we went to our beds after setting up at least half a dozen alarms.

Day 8: Samdo - Larke Bazaar - Dharmasala - Larke Pass - Phedi (15 hours)

(Note to readers: It is not recommended to cross Larke Pass in one day directly from Samdo unless you know what you are doing. You run the risk of getting altitude sickness. If you feel unwell at any point in time - nausea, vomit, headache, the difficulty of breathing, etc. then you should stop your journey and come down to a lower altitude. Usually, people stop at Dharmasala for a night before crossing Larke Pass.)

It was the day we were going to cross the Larke Pass, the toughest day as well as the most interesting day of the trek. Trekkers usually stay the night at Dharmashala and cross the pass the next morning. We were, however, in a precarious situation. We would be reaching Dharmashala too early with nothing to do for the rest of the day but too late to cross the Larke Pass. So we decided to leave early in the morning, too early in fact, at 3 am. We managed to wake up at 2 am and get dressed and fed by 3 am. This way, we would reach Dharmashala latest by 9 am and would have reached there early enough to cross the pass the same day.

So we turned on our lights and started the journey at 3 am. We walked for about 30 minutes to reach Larke Bazaar which has just one hotel. Walking in the dark was not that interesting. At one point, a yak scared the hell out of me when I just saw a pair of shining eyes in the distance. I was eager to see the sunrise over the Himalayas though. At around 5:30 am, two and a half hours after we started walking, the rays of the sun started peeking over the Himalayas. We could see the sky turn yellowish in the distance and the mountains turn golden. It was such a majestic view! I sat down for a while and savored the moment. Moments like this make all the troubles of a trek worthwhile.

Dharmasala, the last stop before Larke Pass ascent. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti
We reached Dharmasala at 6:45 am after almost 4 hours of walk from Samdo. We were about to gain significant altitude (more than 1200 meters) today so as per the suggestion of the locals we kept ourselves hydrated. We drank soup at Dharamshala and refilled our water bottles before resuming our trek. Deciding not to stay a night at Dharmasala was a prudent decision from our side because the accommodation was very basic and both food and accommodation seemed too expensive.

From Dharmashala the trail climbed quickly. The view of the mountains surrounding us was getting even more majestic. We took several photos with the mountains in the background.

Beginning the ascent of Larke Pass. Photo by: Govinda Siwakoti
At 9:55 am, I came across an extremely beautiful lake. The lake looked very blue as if someone had poured gallons of kerosene into it. It looked so serene, pristine, and ethereal. I put down my bag and sat beside the lake looking at it, totally captivated. I waited for the team members to arrive so that I could take at least some photos by the lake. The locals later told us that the lake does not have a definite name. Some call it Larke Lake whereas some call it Mattitel Pokhari meaning the kerosene lake. After a few minutes, Nikunja and Priya arrived. We took at least a dozen photos each. Slowly the other two couples also arrived. I left them at the lake to continue my journey ahead.

Larke Pokhari/Mattitel Pokhari. Photo by Surath Giri
The trail was not very steep but I was continuously ascending and it was getting harder and harder to get enough oxygen as the altitude was nearing 5,000 meters. The exhaustion and hunger were also catching up by now. Although I had carried a few dry foods with me, I was in no mood to eat. I kept walking. The desolate beauty of the place was mesmerizing. There were heaps of stones washed rough by the snow as far as my eyes could see. It seemed more like a valley than a mountain pass. My body and my lungs were tired almost to the breaking point but my heart my delighted. Once in a while, I would close my eyes and just try to take it all in - the cool breeze, the whisper of the mountain, the desolate quietness of the place, and my racing heart.

The desolate beauty of Larke Pass. Photo by Surath Giri

The false ridges were annoying though. There were several times when I thought I had reached the top only to have my hopes dashed by another soaring ridge ahead. And there were too many of them. But I kept walking. At around noon, the weather began to deteriorate. Dillydallying on a mountain pass is never a good idea. The weather is fickle and it can get inconvenient or even dangerous quickly. I saw rain-laden clouds headed my way. Therefore, I gathered my willpower and quickened my pace. My teammates quite far behind and I began to doubt if they could make it to the other side of the pass. I decided to keep going rather than wait for them. That way, I could at least get help if needed.

Not finding a thick layer of snow as we had expected was another disappointment. As I neared the pass, however, I began to notice remnants of snow under the rocks. It was good enough for me. I found one pristine slab of snow and wrote Kamala's name on it. I was missing her badly. As I finished writing her name and took a picture of it, I was filled with renewed vigor that helped me push further.

I definitely deserved a selfie!
It was 1:43 pm when I reached the top. Larke Pass, finally!! I was euphoric. I had been walking for almost 11 hours now and I was completely drained. I took a few selfies as I was alone. I rested for a while and waited for my teammates but they were quite far behind were unlikely to get there for at least another hour. The rain-laden clouds and what seemed like a snowstorm was quickly engulfing the surrounding. Therefore, I squeezed out all the remaining energy I had left and began the descent. I was to reach a human settlement and then come back to get my teammates if need be.

The descent was equally tiring though. The way the ascent tested my lungs and my muscles to the breaking point, the descent was testing the strength of my knees. I was also worried about my teammates. Therefore, I asked every person coming from behind me if they had noticed my friends and where they had seen them last. Most of them told that they were very far behind making me worried further. I finally breathed a sigh of relief when one mule shepherd said that all of my teammates had reached the top and were now descending. That meant I did not need to worry about them getting altitude sickness or being unable to ascend. Now they could come down by any means necessary. I descended for almost two hours to reach the bottom of the hill. I was now in Manag district, finally! The journey was far from over though. I walked for another one and a half hours (totally downhill) and reached a small settlement of two households called Phedi. There I drank tea and waited for my teammates. I was hoping to walk more and reach another settlement called Bhimthang but my teammates were nowhere to be seen yet.
Mountains Galore. Photo by Surath Giri

I waited for almost an hour and then decided to go back for them. I was worried that some of them might have been injured. But as I was about to leave Nikunja and Priya appeared on the distance. They look ravaged and debilitated. I told them to rest and went out for the rest. Govinda and Rasila arrived sometime later. They were also as exhausted. Then after sometime Bhimsen and Sunita arrived. They told me that Bhimsen had bouts of nausea and vomiting and was exhausted. So I carried their bags and we slowly walked toward the hotel. It was already dark by now and everyone was on the brink of their patience. Therefore, we decided to call it a day and stay the night there. We hurriedly ate our dinner and went to bed. One good thing that came out of the arduous day was that Sunita who had been unable to fall asleep past several nights managed to get a good night's sleep.

Day 9: Phedi - Bhimthang - Habu- Chauli Kharka - Surki - Gowa - Tilche - Dharapani (11 hours)

On the ninth day of the trek, all of us woke up around 6 am. In fact, Govinda and I woke up at around 5 am and started discussing our next trek- where should we go, when should we go, etc. Our discussion woke up the others as well, especially the girls in the next room. Nikunja and Bhimsen, it would have taken a blast to wake them up from their slumber.  But by 6 am, everyone was awake and ready to move. We ate rotis and jam for breakfast and started our journey at 6:20 am. The hotel owner told us that Ponker Lake is nearby if we wanted to visit. We decided to skip it because we were short on time and we had seen too many lakes already.
Bhimthang. Photo by Surath Giri
Full of energy, we strode downhill for one and a half hours to reach Bhimthang which in our view was the most beautiful village in the whole of Manaslu circuit. It reminds you of the song "Himalko kakhma chha sano mero gaun...".   Nestled in the foothills of the Manaslu and other mountains, Bhimthang looks like something out of a fairy tale book. Little houses with blue tin roofs are gathered around in a small valley and a small rivulet flows beside the village. Exactly like what we used to draw in our childhood. I never thought there would actually be a village like this. Moreover, we saw it in the morning as the sun rays were turning the mountain peaks golden and the chimneys of these little houses were spewing light blue smoke. What a sight it was! It prompted us to take another dozen or so photographs.

Although the major attraction of the journey, the Larke Pass was behind us, the trail was enjoyable nonetheless. A different landscape and a different kind of vegetation made the journey equally rewarding. At 9 am, we reached Habu where there is nothing! I wonder why they bothered to give this place a name. I could not find anything remarkable nor a settlement in this place.

View from Habu. Photo by Govinda Siwakoti
Anyway, we walked for another hour and a half to reach Chauli Kharka, a small settlement where we had our lunch with the hottest chilies of the trip. After lunch, we walked for about one hour and fifteen minutes to reach Surki and two hours more from there to reach Gowa. Yes, Nepal also has Gowa which may not have beaches but is equally breathtaking. From Gowa, it took us about two hours to reach Tilche, one of the relatively larger settlements there. We were finally able to get back the network and with that wifi access as well. We wanted to reach Besi Sahar that day if possible. So we inquired with some people at Tilche. They said that we might have a chance of getting a vehicle that would take us to Besi Sahar from Dharapani but it was quite slim as it was already 5 pm and we were still at least one hour's walk away from Dharapani. One guy made a phone call to his friend at Dharapani asked him to keep seats reserved for us and then told us to hurry.

So we gathered our remaining energy and shot towards Dharapani. Alas, it was 6:30 pm but the time we (I, Sunita, Bhimsen) reached Dharapani. There were no vehicles left and four of our teammates were still behind. Therefore, we decided to stay the night at Dharapani. The hotel owner was really nice to us. When I mentioned that a few years back, I had eater a very delicious bamboo pickle in this route, he searched for and brought us some bamboo pickle.

At the hotel, we met a guy whose exploit we found very hard to believe. A thin and emaciated looking guy told us that he had come to Dharapani that day from Samdo. "What was he? A marathon runner?" I thought to myself. He had walked as much in a day, in fact, less than a day, as we had in two days. Even the guides and porters were incredulous. He then explained to us that he is a policeman and he had been assigned to go to Manaslu Base Camp to check on the Polish lady who had died due to altitude sickness. I wished I had his stamina and strength. I would complete trekking trails in half the usual time taken.

At the hotel, a guide/entrepreneur offered to book a vehicle for us. His vehicle was supposed to return to Besi Sahar with some of the mountaineering equipment but all the equipment had not arrived. So he offered us to use that vehicle which we readily accepted.

Day 10: Dharapani - Besisahar - Kathmandu (By bus)

On the final day of our journey, we took the jeep from Dharapani to Besisahar. There was a landslide on the way and therefore we had to change vehicles. The arrangement had been made beforehand. In about four hours, i.e. at around noon, we reached Besisahar. From there the group split. Bhimsen and Sunita boarded a bus to Pokhara whereas Nikunja and Priya accompanied us until Muglin and parted ways toward Jhapa. Govinda, Rasila, and I headed towards Kathmandu. I was jubilated to go back home and was looking forward to a wonderful Dashain celebration. Conquering Manaslu Circuit was not a small feat and I definitely deserved to treat myself.

At the end of the trek, I was overjoyed to have done the trek and was thinking to myself: well, I guess that's it, that's all the trekking for this year! 

Turns out, it was not the only trek I would be doing this year! But that's another story!


Some Useful Information:

Total Cost of the Trek: Rs. 12000 per person
Total Days Taken: 10 Days
Need to Carry Tents? No
Need to Carry Sleeping Bags? No (unless you are finicky about where you sleep)

Things to Carry:

1. Warm clothes (2-3 pairs and a jacket)
2. Comfortable and sturdy trekking shoes
3. Raincoat/umbrella
4. TorchLight (Of good quality) + a few lighters + headlight (can be purchased in Thamel)
5. First aid (basic medicines) plus if you have any medical condition-specific medicines
6. Sleeping Bag (Optional)
7. A DSLR with lots of batteries
8. A Swiss knife (Optional)
9. A map (Can be purchased in Thamel)
10. Walking stick ( Optional)
11. 4-5 pairs of socks ( the more the better)
12. Water bottle +Sun-cream +sunglasses + Toiletries like tooth-brush, paste, soaps, shampoos
13. Watch (To keep track of time in absence of cellphone)
14. A woolen cap