Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Manaslu Circuit | Part II Route and Timings

For the first part of the trek around Manaslu please do visit

April 22nd Lho to Samagaon 3526m

We got up to a low bank of cloud covering Lho. It had rained in the night and I was apprehensive that we were in for a spell of bad weather. However by around 6.30 am the clouds started to lift and the immense bulk of Manaslu presented itself high over the Ribang Monastery.  Next to it was Manaslu North and the impressive Naike Peak. We left Lho around 8.30 am and the trail initially dropped towards the river. In about 15 minutes we came to a junction - the left was in use as the right trail was damaged by the earthquake. The trail then started climbing and soon came to a solitary lodge under construction in about an hour from Lho. We crossed over a small stream and then followed the stream gently uphill and reached Shyala with a collection of lodges in around another 45 minutes. On the way just before Shyala a trail branches off to the monastery.  As we sat and had tea in the sunshine we had tantalising glimpses of parts of the impressive north wall of Ngadi Chuli (Peak 29) right across from Shyala.  The trail then passed through the village and immediately crossed a bridge over a fairly dry river bed. It then continued to follow the hillside and a little way ahead another long suspension bridge could be seen. We crossed the second bridge and then started to descend to Samagaon which could be seen ahead. We came to a sign which pointed to Pugyen Gompa on the left and Samagaon straight ahead about 40 minutes away. We strolled down across rolling meadows where yaks were grazing and passed a large school building on the right. The trail then entered the old Samagaon village with the houses cheek by jowl to each other. Many of the traditional slate roofs had been destroyed by the 2015 earthquake and had been replaced with new blue GI sheeting. A stream ran through the village and children were playing, old women sitting in the sun and men were busy working on repairing their houses.  A little ahead was the tourist part of Samagaon with a number of lodges and we checked into the Samagaon Guest House.  Above us was Manaslu in the clouds, to the south the peaks of Ganesh Himal. Cost Index Dal Bhat Rs 700 Black Tea Rs 60 Vegetable omelette Rs 350.
Lho to Shyala 2 hrs 15 min Shyala to Samagaon 1 hr 15 min.
Samagaon 3526m 28 35 13N 84 38 29E

April 23rd Acclimatisation walk to Birendra Tal and part of the way to Manaslu Base Camp
Bibek and I left around 7 am with Shyam for Birendra Tal. Manaslu was visible above the lodge but clouds were coming in fast and by the time we reached the Samagaon monastery the sun was vanishing behind the clouds. We reached Birendra Tal in around 45 minutes and found the lake shrouded in clouds - ice floes were in the waters and the debris of the Manaslu glacier was flowing into the lake. There were no peaks to be seen due to the heavy cloud cover. We retraced our steps back to the monastery grounds and there we met a Khampa on his way to Samdo and he directed us to the trail to the Manaslu Base Camp. The trail is in fact the main trail to Samdo and branches off left around 15 minutes after Samagaon. The trail junction is prominently marked. From here the trail crossed a small meadow and then started to climb - across the valley Simnag Himal East presented a formidable appearance. The trail began to climb through juniper shrubs - purple and yellow primulas were just coming into bloom on the grassy patches while purple irises were opening in the crevices below the rocks. We reached a small meadow with broken yak herders stone shelters in about 45 minutes and then the trail began to climb in earnest. On the right about 20 metres above us on the hillside I spotted a family of bharal - blue sheep they watched us curiously and leapt  away  towards the higher ridge line. We climbed upto to around 3975 metres and found ourselves on the edge of the Manaslu icefall. Below us we could see the green waters of Birendra Tal 3600 metres which we had visited earlier and the lake looked much longer than when seen from the top. We heard the sound of crumbling seracs on Manaslu which sadly remained unseen in the clouds above us. A waterfall ran down from the icefall and drained into the Birendra Tal. Below us down the valley we could clearly see the route which we had followed - the villages of Samagaon and behind that Shyala. We retreated from our 3975 m viewpoint - the Manaslu Base Camp was about 4400 metres and possibly two hours away. We came down to our lodge in Samagaon in 90 minutes - it had taken us 2 hrs 15 min to our high point.

April 24th Samagaon to Samdo 3865m
We left Samagaon around 8.15 am.  It was a clear morning with the peaks visible all around the village. The trail travelled through the village and then crossed a small stream on a log bridge - it then came to the junction with the Manaslu Base Camp and continued up ahead. The views began to improve as we continued to walk with the Manaslu massif right above us, Simnag Himal behind, Himalchuli coming up next to it and Naike Peak in front. In about an hour the trail reached a small meadow which serves as a good rest stop. We passed some long mani walls on the way and then reached the last climb before Samdo which took around 25 minutes. We stayed at the Yak hotel which was a cramped and depressing place - as expected none of the cell connections worked here.  After lunch we took an acclimatisation walk upto around 4050 metres above the valley and had an excellent view of Samdo peak  - we also saw a herd of blue sheep which came loping down the valley and settled to graze on a hillock above us - marmots were also in plenty rushing in and out of their burrows. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with the huge bulk of Himalchuli visible across the valley. Cost Index Dal Bhat Rs 650 Black Tea Rs 70 Vegetable omelette Rs 325
Samagaon to Samdo 3 hrs 30 min 28 38 59N 84 37 59E

April 25th Samdo to Dharamsala 4467m
It rained at night and must have snowed higher up but the morning was beautifully clear and still. The first rays lit up Himalchuli the highest peak in  view - as the sun touched the village houses, Samdo came to life - the yaks and ponies came out onto the meadows , the villagers went about their daily chores, the children rushed out to play in the morning sun while we trekkers got ready to start our walk. We left Samdo around 8.15 am and in about 20 minutes crossed a bridge and headed up the valley. The bulk of Samdo peak behind us got bigger and bigger as we ascended gradually through the valley. We could now see the Larke glacier below us descending in a broad sweep from the mountains. The Budhi Gandaki was now a narrow stream we were at the source having travelling upstream with this river for the last nine days. In around 30 minutes we passed Larkya Bazar and a sign which said Dharamsala 4 hours - in reality it takes 3 hours. The trail continued to wind its way up valley sometimes flat and sometimes climbing some steep sections. About 45 minutes away the huts of Larke Phedi could be seen. We reached before noon after a number of rest stops and as soon as we reached the camp we found a small herd of bharal grazing nearby.  They seemed to be quite unafraid and I was able to photograph them from very close getting some nice portraits of a male with horns. Within half an hour of reaching Dharamsala the sun vanished behind the clouds and it started snowing. It snowed off and on all through the afternoon and even as I write this around 5 pm it is still snowing. The rooms in Dharamsala are like small coffins somehow constructed out of stone and tin roofs - the floor has the stones of the area and there are no proper windows - other than these there are two man tents and dormitory tents which can be rented from the Larke Hotel the only establishment catering to the trekkers.  The dining room is a long affair with tables attached to each other in another tin shed - all in all a desultory and depressing place - the 4 am starts from here to the pass don't make it any more palatable. As I am watching the snow falling and the white out conditions in the valley I am hoping that somehow it will stop and we have a clear morning tomorrow as otherwise it will be very difficult to cross in the snow.  Om mane padme hum!! As expected there is no mobile connectivity or wifi here. Cost Index - Dal Bhat Rs 800 the highest so far black Tea Rs 120 Vegetable Omelette Rs 425.
Samdo to Dharamsala 4467m 28 39 33N 84 35 2E  3 hrs 30 min to 4 hours

April 26th  Dharamsala to Larke La 5160m to Bimthang 3700m
It continued to snow through the evening. At night when I returned to my tent I found that the snow was coming through the tent door as the zipper was not working properly.  Diner was at 6 pm in the frigid dining hall packed with about twenty five trekkers all heading to the pass in the morning. Some groups had set a 4 am departure and were having breakfast at 3.30 am. The idea was to cross the pass within 8 am to 9 am before the icy winds picked up and made walking very difficult. We decided on a 4.30 am start as it would be extremely cold before this and it would also  be light by 5 am. We had started in Arughat around 500 metres and we were now headed to cross 5000 metres!  I had set an alarm at 3 am. When I looked out of the tent all the stars were out including the Milky Way - the circle of peaks surrounding Dharamsala looked ghostly in the star light as if belonging to another planet. We set off around 4.40 am. It was cold though the climb was very gradual. The sun hit us around 6.15 am and we had already gained 200 metres by then. The massive bulk of Samdo peak appeared to get bigger and bigger behind us while in front the graceful contours of Himlung appeared. The path to the pass was well defined with iron poles about 8 feet high at regular intervals. During heavy snowfall these poles would be very useful in navigating the route to the pass.  We reached an abandoned tea shop in around 2.5 hours and from there the path continued to climb through the moraine - we crossed small sections of snow but it was not very deep - finally the trail crossed another small snow field and we could see the prayer flags of the pass ahead - it took around 30 minutes from here to reach the top and the Larke Pass sign greeted us.  The descent to Bimthang was a long one as we needed to lose around 1400 metres. Initially it was through boulders on a gentle incline but after around 30 minutes it started a steep downhill descent through rubble and stone on a fairly slippery path - after around 30 minutes it reached a level spot overlooking the Ponkar lake below. It then started to descend again through some snow patches and finally dropped to a level trail parallel to the  glacier. We could see a small tea shop below which we reached in about 2.5 hours from the pass. After stopping there for a cup of tea we carried on down the valley but it soon started to snow - it was around 2 hours from the tea shop to Bimthang and by the time we reached Bimthang the  snow had intensified and had cloaked the village in a white mantle. We stayed at the New Tibet Hotel - an excellent lodge with good food and warm dining room.  No wifi or cell phones were working in Bimthang and the land phone was also out of order so we could not communicate the pass crossing. Cost Index Dal Bhat 650 Black Tea 70 Vegetable Omelette 350
Dharamsala to Larke la 4.5 to 6 hours Larke La to Bimtang 4 to 4.5 hours 28 38 1N 84 28 15E

April 27th Bimthang to Gowa 2500m
It snowed for most of the earlier evening and stopped sometime in the night. The morning was frosty and clear and the snow lay on the ground. It was a very impressive view - we could see the trail heading back to Larke pass covered in snow which would make the descent quite treacherous. Himlung and Cheo Himal were behind us while in front was Manaslu north a completely different view and Phungen. We started out late almost around 9 am and soon entered a magical rhododendron forest. The sun was melting the snow off the trees while a golden light filtered through the branches. Rhododendron buds were about to bloom through the fresh snow.  It about 90 minutes of slow walking we reached a clearing with a sign Habu 3400 metres. From here the trail continued to drop through the forest with the peaks getting larger and larger and reached Chauli Kharka in another 75 minutes or so. The river was near us now and running parallel to the trail. We then reached the single Purti Himalayan hotel in a clearing where we had lunch - it was a very pleasant location with a nice clean lodge. From here it was around an hour to Surki after lunch where again a landslide had taken down part of the trail and there was a diversion once again. Surki and Karcha marked  on the map are the same place. The 7 Sisters Hotel at Surkhi had beautiful cottage rooms but unfortunately we could only make a tea stop there. The trail then climbed a small pass and descended into the village of Gowa about 80 minutes walk from Surki. Namaste cell connections started to work from an hour before Surki and in Gowa there was a good signal and good wifi as well. Cost Index Dal Bhat  Rs 550 Vegetable Omelette  Rs 300 Black Tea  Rs 80
Gowa 2500m 28 34 16N 84 24 24E

April 28th Gowa to Dharapani 1931m  and jeep to Besisahar 788m
We set out a little after seven and within 30 minutes were on a big road to Tilje. This was obviously a new road built to get a jeep upto Gowa and it had made considerable progress. The old trail next to the river was in disuse and lay below us. We entered Tilje village in about 75 minutes. Tilje had a number of lodges, a school and village houses. We crossed the bridge over the Dudh Khola which we had been following from Bimthang. The large road still continued down and work was in progress to complete it. In another couple of years it would be possible to drive up to Tilje and Gowa from Dharapani on the Annapurna circuit. We reached Dharapani in an hour and crossed two bridges - one over the Dudh Khola and finally the last bridge over the Marsyandi and climbed up to the ACAP checkpoint in Dharapani. From here we took a  jeep over an apology of a road more suitable for ponies than jeeps to Besisahar 6 hours away.
Gowa to Tilje 1 hour 15 min Tilje to Dharapani 1 hour 28 31 27N Besisahar 785m 28 13 34N 84 22 42E

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

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