Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Manaslu Circuit | Part I Route and Timings

Manaslu and the monastery of Lho
A team from South Col Expeditions trekked the circuit of Manaslu in April 2017. The trek route, notes and timings are given below which will be useful for trekkers planning for this route.

April 16th 2017 Kathmandu to Arughat 495m to Soti Khola 606m
We left Kathmandu around 7. 15 am and cleared the valley within one hour. The road then follows the Prithvi Highway which goes to Pokhara for around 60 km and then crosses the river and climbs to Dhading. Dhading Besi was reached by around 11 am and then the road started to climb steeply on a dirt track with the bus careering over the mud drenched potholes which made it very difficult. There were many sections of this road where two buses could not pass each other together and hence a lot of backing and manoeuvring was required. The dirt track climbed a ridge from where Ganesh Himal could be seen through the April haze and then skirted the whole ridge before descending into the Arughat valley. Arughat was reached around 1.30 pm and we had lunch at the View Manaslu lodge at the entrance of the village. Our bus then went back to Kathmandu as the motor syndicate allows only a local vehicle to ply between Arughat and Soti Khola. We left Arughat around 2.45 pm and reached the ABC lodge at Soti Khola around 3.40 pm. There are three lodges strung along the road - the ABC, the New Chum Valley and in between them the Green valley all offering similar accommodation in concrete and cement buildings. Both Ncell and Namaste mobile connections were working at Soti Khola. The evening was also warm with the temperatures hovering between 30 and 32 Celsius maximum. Cost Index Dal Bhat 370 black Tea 50.
Arughat 28 2 18 N 84 48 40 E Sotikhola 28 8 2 N 84 51 16E

April 17th 2017 Soti Khola to Lapubesi 823m to Macha Khola 849m to Khorlabasi 879m 
We left Soti Khola around 7 45 am and within a few minutes came to a diversion in the valley as the existing road had been damaged by landslides soon after Soti Khola and we would have to make a long detour to reach Lapubesi. The trail crossed the Budhi Gandaki on a long suspension bridge and then started to climb steeply out of the valley. The trail climbed to around 900 metres in 75 minutes and reached a tea shop on the hill. The trail then continued to climb gently uphill until it reached the top of a ridge and started to skirt the ridge. It then started to leave the ridge and head downhill through the forest on a steep and narrow short cut. It dropped towards the river and then crossed two suspension bridges before making a 40 minute hot and rubbly climb in the mid day sun to Lapubesi. Lapubesi was reached around 11 30 am around 90 minutes behind our scheduled time had we been able to follow the regular route.  Lunch was a delayed affair as there were three other groups at the same lodge. We left Lapubesi after lunch at 1.30 pm along the old road. However due to frequent landslides some of which may still be the remnants of the earthquake, we often had to descend to the river and then climb back again onto the trail which was tiring.  Kharabesi was reached in an hour and 15 minutes and we entered Machha Khola around 3 45 pm where the permits were checked by the Police.  Bibek had to buy a pair of sneakers as the soles of his boots had come apart - he found a pair of red sneakers in Macchakhola. We stopped to regroup in Machakhola and had some tea - we left Machakhola around 5 pm and got into Khorlabasi around 6.20 pm - around three hours behind our scheduled time. The lodges in Khorlabasi are primitive - no lights in the rooms, few outside toilets and presents a dirty bustee aspect a far cry from the beautiful stone patios and blue roofed cottages of Ghandrung and Chomrong on the Annapurna trail. There is no Ncell or Namaste coverage at Khorlabasi and no wifi either. We stayed at Shangri la home one of the two lodges at Khorlabasi. Cost Index Dal Bhat Rs 500 Black Tea Rs 60.
The route which we followed in not the normal route and once the landslide near Soti Khola is repaired the old trail will be in use again.
Soti Khola to top of first ridge 1 hr 15 min Ridge down to river 1 hr 30 min River upto Lapubesi 45 min Lapubesi to Kharabesi 1 hr 15 min Kharabesi to Machakhola 1 hr 30 min Machakhola to Khorlabesi 1 hr 10 min. 
Lapubesi 28 10 40N 84 52 46E Machakhola 28 13 52 N 84 52 26E Khorlabesi 28 15 14N 84 52 59E

April 18th 2017 Khorlabesi to Jagat 1350m
We left Khorlabesi around 7 35 am and walked up the valley with the Budhi Gandaki on our right roaring through the gorge. Tatopani was reached in an hour and we had a 15 minute tea break there. We left Tatopani around 9 am and immediately crossed a new suspension bridge across the river. The trail now entered a landslide zone with rocks and boulders strewn over the hillside. After some ups and downs it began a last short 15 minute climb to Dovan. Dovan was reached in around 80 minutes and we stopped at the Royal Mountain Lodge for a short break. This was the first lodge that reminded me of the some of the lodges of the Annapurna region neatly laid out rooms around a grassy patch. We left Dovan around 11 am and then followed a group of ponies making their way up valley.  The sun was now beating down on us as it neared midday and the trail immediately entered another landslide zone which took around 40 minutes to cross in the burning sun. Around noon we reached Shyauli Bhatti where Hotel Mountain was a suitable stop for lunch. We left Shyauli at around 1.30 pm after a prolonged lunch and the trail then went down for around 40 metres and then started a relentless climb for an hour which reached the Yaru Guest House on a ridge. We went down to the river from here and around 3 pm reached Yaru Bagar with a series of bhattis strung along the main trail. The river was in a broad flat plain here and we could see the new walkway bridge which had been recently constructed after the earthquake. We left the river around 3 30 pm after a cup of tea and then climbed gently for about 30 minutes until we came to another bridge across the Budhi Gandaki  - we crossed back to the left bank and started a 45 minute climb to Jagat which we finally entered around 5 pm. The lodge of choice in Jagat was the Jagat Guest House which was full and we were somehow able to manage five rooms in the Rubinala Guest House which also had a group of Germans staying and occupying most of the rooms.  Neither Namaste nor Ncell mobiles worked here but the lodge had a phone which could be used for a charge to make calls. Cost Index Dal Bhat 500 Black Tea 60.
Khorlabesi to Tatopani 1 hr 10 min Tatopani to Dovan 1 hr 20 min Dovan to Shyauli Bhatti 55 min Shyauli Bhatti to Yaru Bagar 1 hr 20 min Yaru Bagar to Jagat 1 hr 30 min
Dovan 1016m 28 17 43N 84 54 14 E Jagat 1350m 28 21 6 N 84 53 45E

April 19th 2017 Jagat to Deng 1800m
We left Jagat around 7.15 am and crossed another long suspension bridge across the Budhi Gandaki. The trail then climbed up to a flat piece of land marked as a helipad. From here the trail was cut narrowly into the side of a cliff. In around 40 minutes Salleri was reached which boasted of a lodge and some village houses. From here the trail started to climb out of the valley often on narrow stone steps. Frequent up and down traffic of ponies made the going slow. The trail then climbed upto a ridge top and then descended to Sidebars in about 1 hr 40 min from Jagat. Sirdibas is a good first stop for tea. From Sirdibas the trail passes through some of the village houses before descending to the river. Straight ahead is another long suspension bridge which crosses the Budhi Gandaki to its right bank. After the bridge there is a steep 30 minute climb to the village of Philim. There is a police checkpoint at Philim where the restricted are permit and the MCAP permit is checked once again. Around 50 minutes walk skirting the hill and remaining high above the Budhi Gandaki is the village of Chisopani / Ekle Bhatti which makes a good lunch stop.  There are a number of lodges here. From Ekle Bhatti the trail hugs the side of the gorge with the river thundering through the valley.  In about an hour we reached the junction of the Manaslu and Tsum Valley trail which is signposted. The trail on the left going down to the river leads to Deng. In about 10 minutes from the junction the river is crossed by another small bridge. The trail then begins to climb from the river to Pewa. Two smaller suspension bridges over the river are crossed in 30 minute intervals and the trail then comes to Pewa with two lodges on the banks of the river. Pewa would take around 2 hours from the Manaslu / Tsum valley trail junction.  From Pewa the trail follows the river and makes a number of ups and downs before climbing again to a high point and then descending to Deng. Namaste cell network has a one bar coverage in a fixed place of the Hotel Windy Valley dining room - other than this no networks were working. Deng is surrounded by high hills and I noticed some fresh snow on the hill tops. Cost Index Dal Bhat 635 and Black Tea Rs 60.
Jagat to Siridibas 1 hr 45 min; Siridibas to Philim 1 hour; Philim to Ekle Bhatti/ Chisopani 50 minutes; Elke Bhatti to Manaslu/ Tsum valley trail confluence 1 hr; Trail Confluence to Pewa 2 hrs ; Pewa to Deng 1 hour.
Philim 1570m 28 23 38N 84 53 46E Deng 1800m 28 28 36N 84 52 9E

April 20th  2017 Deng to Namrung 2640m
We left Deng around 7.15 am and travelled northwest - the trail soon dropped to the river and after crossing the river climbed steeply to the village of Ranga in about an hour. From here onwards to Ghap reached in the afternoon the Nepal Telecom (Namaste) cell connectivity works very well but ends soon after Ghap. In around 45 minutes from Ranga, Bihi Phedi is reached with a couple of lodges. The trail then skirts the hillside climbing and descending until it reaches a junction with the left trail leading to Prok and the trail ahead going to Ghap. The trail begins to climb once more and in about half hour reached the solitary Bur Guest House. From here within 15 minutes you come to a landslide area and there is a steep diversion for about an hour through a narrow and rubble trail hair raising at times. The trail then comes down and meets the main trail about 20 minutes before Ghap. Ghap is a broad picturesque village with four tea houses nicely located amongst cultivated fields. From Ghap the trail begins to climb gently and in an hour or so reached the KLSP lodge which is situated in a clearing in the forest. This will make a good stop for those who are late and cannot reach Namrung the same evening. The trail then crosses two bridges about thirty minutes apart and from the second bridge begins the steep climb to Namrung in about 1 hr 40 minutes. Namrung has a number of good lodges with wifi facilities. Neither Ncell nor Namaste cell connectivity works here. Cost Index Dal Bhat 600 Black Tea Rs 60.
Deng to Ranga 1 hour; Ranga to Bihi Phedi 45 Minutes Bihi Phedi to Ghap 2.5 hours Ghap to Namrung 3 hours 15 min
Ghap 2136m 28 31 53N 84 49 16E Namrung 2640m 28 32 34N 84 46 16E

April 21st 2017 Namrung 2640m to Lho 3135m  
 One of our clients was troubled by a bad ankle and her knee was also getting affected. She decided to use her emergency evacuation policy and called a helicopter to get her to Kathmandu.  Shyam our sirdar and I decided to wait with her while the rest of the group left at around 9 am for Lho. However due to bad weather in Kathmandu and Dhading the helicopter did not arrive and we decided to leave at 1130 am leaving her in the care of the Namrung lodge owner. The trail started a gentle downhill and in around 20 minutes reached the pretty village of Bhanjan with green fields of barley and potatoes. From Bhanjan the trail started to climb for Lihi. We were now entering Buddhist country. Mani walls and chortens dotted the roadside and the entrances of the villages were marked by kanis. Prayer flags were strung together across the trail and monasteries were being repaired after the earthquake. At Lihi we entered the damaged monastery but found the idols had been saved after the earthquake. The monastery was being rebuilt in earnest. The trail then remained on the level and crossed a bridge and contoured the hillside before again climbing gently through a Kani and entered the village of Sho. Sho was in a picturesque location with green barley and potato fields. We stopped at a tea shop for a short break and then carried on to Lho. In about 30 minutes Lho could be seen on a hill at the end of the valley but it took another 30 minutes to get there! By around 3 15 pm we were in the Majestic Manaslu Guest House which had some clean rooms with an excellent gas hot shower which I used for the first time on the trek. There was no cell phones working at Lho but the lodge had a satellite phone which could be used for India calls at Rs 60 per minute and Kathmandu calls at Rs 10 per minute. Cost Index Dal Bhat 650 Black Tea Rs 60 Vegetable Omelette 320
Namrung to Bhanjan 25 minutes; Bhanjan to Lihi 50 minutes; Lihi to Sho 1 hour; Sho to Lho 1 hour 15 min.
Namrung 2640m 28 32 34N 84 46 16E to Lho 3135m 28 34 28N 84 42 4E

Note: Lho Ribang Monastery
This monastery has a spectacular location about 30 minutes above the village of Lho. I asked at the lodge and was told that today April 21st was an auspicious day and a whole day Puja was in progress. I walked up around 4. 30 pm and found that all the lamas were in prayers. It was an impressive setting with the village far below and on a good day Manaslu looming behind the ornate roofs of the monastery. The sounds of the long horn Bardo Lhamsol along with the drums reverberating through the monastery took me back many years ago to the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim where I had witnessed and photographed a similar service. Outside the monastery in the courtyard two young lamas were dutifully watching over a tray of butter lamps - I lit one for our trek and safe crossing of the Larke La. By the time I descended it was getting dark and the village was covered in a light mist floating across the valley.

... to be continued next week in Part II

For a photo essay on our trek around Manaslu do visit 
For photographs from the Manaslu circuit please do visit

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mussoorie Mountain Festival | May 18-20 2017

 The Mussoorie Mountain Festival was held from May 18th to 20th 2017 at Woodstock School and was organised by the Hanifl Centre , The Hanifl Centre ws set up in 2003 to extend the school curriculum and activities of Woodstock. The  Centre gives the children an opportunity to learn about the Himalayan environment  and enhance their skills and knowledge in Outdoor Education.

The festival hosted a galaxy of speakers from  across the globe and the action packed three days were enjoyed by all the speakers as well as the students, staff of Woodstock School and the other visitors to the festival.

The festival opened with a 90 minute screening of outstanding films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival which left the audience spellbound. Amongst the notable presentations were mountaineer Martin Moran on Exploring New Peaks in the Garhwal and Kumaon, South African Deshun Deysel on how climbing Everest saved her life, conservationist Daniel Taylor on the myth of the Yeti and Michael Benanav on the migratory Van Gujjar tribe.

The festival also hosted two exhibitions: Nepal Himalaya – A Journey Through Time by Sujoy Das and Himalaya Bound – A Journey with the Nomads of North India by Michael Benanav.

 Veteran mountaineer Chandra Prabha Aitwal, who named Nanda Devi as her most memorable summit, was felicitated by Deshun Deysel and Rita Gombu Marwah (seen in the photo on the left) along with Hanifl Director Krishnan Kutty. The excellent organisation and sumptuous meals left both the speakers and the audience looking forward to the next Festival.

Here are some of the photographs from the festival

Martin Moran speaking with Nanda Devi on the slide

From left: Rita Gombu Marwah, Deshun  Deysel, Chandra Prabha Aitwal and Krishnan Kutty at the felicitation of Chandra Prabha Aitwal

Sujoy Das speaking on Mustang

Michael Benanav's exhibition on the Van Gujjar tribe
Daniel Taylor speaking on the yeti

The Nepal Himalaya exhibition panorama

For more details on the Mussoorie Festival do visit  http://haniflcentre.in/mussoorie-mountain-festival/  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Prambanan | Ramayan Ballet

The Ramayana Ballet is a visualization of the epic Ramayana saga originally written by Valmiki in the Sanskrit language, Ramayana Ballet show that combines dance and drama without dialogue.  The performance combines traditional Javanese dance, drama, and music. In Indonesia, Ramayana ballet regularly performed in many places, such as: at the Hindu temple Prambanan, also known as Prambanan Ramayana Ballet; Purawisata Ramayana Ballet, at Purawisata; and Hyatt Hotel.

We watched the Ramayan ballet in the open air theatre against the stunning backdrop of the Prambanan temple lit up in the night sky. As the ballet started, the full moon rose behind the temple. Some of the photographs of the performance are below:

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Borobudur, or Barabudur (Indonesian: Candi Borobudur) is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia, as well as the world's largest Buddhist temple, and also one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.

Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty, the temple was designed in Javanese Buddhist architecture, which blends the Indonesian indigenous cult of ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. The temple also demonstrates the influences of Gupta art that reflects India's influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument and ascends to the top through three levels symbolic of Buddhist cosmology: Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades. Borobudur has the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

Evidence suggests Borobudur was constructed in the 9th century and abandoned following the 14th-century decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java and the Javanese conversion to Islam. Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Borobudur is still used for pilgrimage; once a year, Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia's single most visited tourist attraction. (from Wikipedia)

Some photographs from my visit to Borobudur are below:

For more information on Borobudur please do visit the following links:




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sikkim Flora | Yumthang and Yume Samdong Valley in June

At the start of the monsoon in early June and after the crowds have gone the valley between Yumthang and Yume Samdong  in North Sikkim presents a floral spectacle which is not seen by many. Here are some photographs of the flora of the valley.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mallory and Irvine | 8th June 1924

The view of Everest from the Kharta glacier on the 1921 expedition
On 8th June 1924, two men left  Camp VI (26,700 feet)  to make an attempt on the summit of Everest. 

Camp VI  was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. " Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping  across the mountain and covering the north face. Neither the face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. There was also a sharp wind which was making climbing very difficult.

Suddenly at 12.50 pm the mist cleared and Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first,  the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest". 

Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

But even today, ninety three years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest experts believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb.

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924.

The 1921 expedition team - Mallory sitting first left

Mallory and Irvine boarding S. S. California on their way to India in 1924 

Irvine working on oxygen cylinders  on the1924 expedition

Members of the 1924 expedition - Standing from left Irvine, Mallory, Norton, Odell, Macdonald. In front: Shebbeare, Bruce, Somervell, Beetham. Members not in the photo : Noel, Hingston, Hazard.
Norton and Somervell with their sherpas before the summit attempt

Route map of Norton and Somervell's attempt
Norton set an altitude record  in 1924 without oxygen reaching 8570 metres which remained unchallenged until Messner and Habeler climbed Everest in 1978 without oxygen

Last photo of Mallory and Irvine leaving for Camp VI 1924

The list of provisions for the summit climb found on Mallory's body  - he planned to be on 2 cylinders of oxygen. Please note the rations on the left!

The 8 pm in the note to Noel should be 8 am

Mallory had no compass on his last climb

Map showing position of Odell and the last sighting of Mallory and Irvine

                                  "..... some day you will hear a different story..." George Mallory

All photographs reproduced above are copyright of Royal Geographical Society, John Noel Photographic Collection and their respective owners. 


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