One of the most beautiful but lesser known trails in Nepal is the Manaslu Circuit. Established in 1998 and located in the north-eastern part of Nepal, the Manaslu Circuit exists within a conservation area and used to be a restricted trekking trail that opened to the public in 1992, although permits are required to enter. The Manaslu Circuit trekking is famous for the beautiful mountain of Manaslu, the 8th highest peak in the world at 8163 meters and nicknamed the “killer mountain” by locals. The views here are breathtaking and suitable for trekkers who want to avoid the crowds on the Everest Base Camp trek and like to travel off the beaten path.
Picture: Manaslu seen from Lho Gumba
This trail is literally on the other side of the famous Annapurna Circuit trekking, and is used by experienced trekkers and guide companies as an alternative to the Annapurna Circuit since the construction of a road that significantly shortened what was once considered one of the best trails in Nepal.
Picture: Entrance of Samagaun Village at 3500 meters altitude
Picture: Cottage of a tea house we stayed at Bhimtang. Bhimtamg is a destination right after the Larkey Pass
The Manaslu Circuit does not reach the same altitude as the famous Annapurna Circuit but offers a sense of wilderness that is unique to this region of Nepal. It used to be a camping and trekking destination prior to 2009, before tea houses opened with help from local villagers and the Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP). Most of the natural wonders of this region are untouched, unindustrialized, remote and secluded, with fewer houses on the side of the trekking trail, primitive living conditions, and basic facilities. For this reason, this trail is not recommended for trekkers who like to travel in comfort. But the trade-off of a few days using basic facilities is worth it for the jaw-dropping views.
Picture: Trekking towards the top of Larkey pass (glacier walk)
Five things to consider on your Manaslu Circuit trek:
Due to the wild nature of the region, it is easy for solo trekkers and those unfamiliar with the region to get lost. Therefore, it is required that you take a guide and must have at least 2 (preferably more) people on the trek, along with a special permit given by the immigration office located in Kathmandu. Along the trail, there are numerous check points where Nepali police will mark your presence as you pass to ensure that tourists travelling in this region remain safe and accounted for.
Since this region is still in its infancy of building tea houses and commercialization, you will still encounter find many aspects of location culture and traditions practiced by families living in the region.
Trekking starts from 700 meters altitude in warm temperatures and takes you through river valleys and remote villages from the very beginning. You will enjoy the bus ride from Kathmandu to the starting point of the trek and every day of trekking is beautiful.
Picture: Bus from Kathmandu to SotiKhola (trek starting point is SotiKhola)
Trekking is always along the riverside until you get to the top of Larkey pass (5160 meters), which is where the river along your side originates from (the Larkey glacier). Deep river valley, lush green jungle, clifftop villages, charming people, glaciers, glacial lakes, yak & sheep sheds, Thakali village, 110 bird species, 2000 flower species, blue sheep, musk deer, Himalayan Thar, mountain goats and snow leopards for lucky eyes might make this your greatest trek, a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Like Annapurna circuit trekking, they are constructing a road on this route as well, so visit Manaslu before it gets spoiled. This trail is connected with Tibet and government is hoping to open another border with China through this region, so if anyone is interested in seeing Manaslu pre-modernization, go! The sooner the better.
For the first six nights, trekkers will enjoy lush green forest and charming people being below 3800 meters. Easy walking, a trail along the riverside, pine trees, rhododendron forest, rain forest and other trekkers passing by all make the journey interesting. Although it seems easy in the beginning do not push yourself – it gets harder.
Picture: River valley on the second day’s hike
You must save your energy and stamina for the pass as it is your aim and is stunning. Basic food and accommodation might be frustrating, but kids welcoming you with Namaste (Nepali greeting to elder ones), and nature welcoming you with birds chirping, waterfalls, and amazing mountains seen in distance. Walking in this low altitude is humid, so one can walk with shorts, T-shirt and proper hiking boots. A light back pack is advisable as walking 6-8 hours per day is hard on your back – you will feel it when you get to the destination and take your bag off.
Picture: Kids greeting a trekker “Namaste”
Normally 15 days is enough for this trek with an average fitness level. 15 days also includes a rest day at the altitude of 4000 meters and gives you the chance to visit a yak shed, a glacial lake or Manaslu Base Camp. As you are trekking over the pass above five thousand meters, I don’t recommend going for the base camp hike, which is tiring and nowhere near your destination. Save energy for the pass, so you will enjoy the rest of your trek in good shape. As Manaslu circuit is a restricted trail you need to buy a special permit for the trek and must have a guide with you. Extending your guide’s time might not be hard but make sure you have enough days of trekking permission in the restricted region. In brief, you will start your trek from the end of the road by a village named SotiKhola, then walk along the riverside for 6 days below 4000 meters which takes you through beautiful river valley, pine trees and rain-forest.
You might see locals working their fields for corn or potato farming; see people chasing yaks and cows in the jungle or in fields. Houses are small and they keep livestock in the basement and live on the higher floors. Sanitation is basic, but generally they do not get serious diseases. If they do get one, they don’t have a proper hospital, so the patient needs to be carried all the way down to starting point of the trek. But those people who can afford a chopper get an air ambulance and are treated in a good hospital in Kathmandu. But do not worry, you will live more comfortably than the locals in the tea houses where you will stay during the trek, but be prepared to share your room with strangers and use shared washrooms.
Once you get above 4000 meters you will see different scenery – snow-capped mountains rather than green hills and small villages. Villages above 4000 meters have thatched houses; monasteries and a few reinforced buildings are the tallest structures up here. People here are look more Tibetan and the kids have red cheeks; they are very cute when they smile at you. At this altitude you will feel cold, even during the trek you might need to wear long pants and full sleeves. It is colder during the night and peak mornings are horrible sometimes, there is no heating system in room, just a stove in the dining room where they burn wood. This stove will have a scheduled start and stop time, but you always can request some extra time if you pay. The temperature might go below -15 degrees Celsius during the night while a sunny day can reach 20 degrees Celsius. But the temperature during the winter goes down to -30 degrees Celsius on the pass.
As this is longest pass in the world and you will literally walk through the glacier, be prepared with proper trekking gear in this pass; warm clothes, sunglasses and a pair of gloves is mandatory. Start early on this day so that you can catch sunrise from the top or near the top.
If you leave early for the pass and get to the top for sunrise, you will dodge the wind on your descent to Bhimtang, the other side of the pass. If it is windy while walking downhill on sandy ground it is difficult as air will blow sand up in your face. Apart from avoiding the deadly wind you will catch breathtaking views on the other side of Larkey pass top, if you get to the top before noon. It takes about 8 hours to get to the top at a normal pace.
If you don’t follow your guide, losing the trail during ascent to the pass is a real danger; you cannot find the trail if it is snowing and there are no houses or people to ask in case you get lost. Having a guide not only makes a good Nepali friend but also help in booking accommodation, getting your food in time, tracing your trail and taking care should you fall sick.
There are no airports for the trekkers, so your options are to take a public bus or hire a private jeep. Hiring jeep costs a lot more than public buses. Buses in Nepal are really basic and the bus to the starting point of Manaslu trekking is even worse. It will be a story to tell but I doubt you’ll enjoy the journey.
Once you are done with the longest pass in the world, walking for 8-14 hours that day, you will get literally to other side of Manaslu. Manaslu won’t look like a fishtail anymore and you’ll feel very small at the base of the massive mountain range in front of you.
The other side of the pass Bhimtang village is below 4000 meters so you will forget the pain at Dharmashala, forget the pain during the pass, but you will remember the beauty from the top of the Larkey pass while scrolling through your photos with a sip of cold beer in that chilling temperature. This is the time to celebrate, most of the trekkers will be enjoying the end with beers, and some of them will buy drinks for their guides and porters. After dinner time most of the tea houses at Bhimtang look like party houses as some of the group will be singing and dancing; mostly guides and porters dance if you buy enough drink for them to get drunk, it adds another joy in the trek. Dancing in Nepali folk song in the cold with hot rum is always nice feeling; some trekkers distribute tips at the same time, thank their guides and porters, hug warmly and talk about their life.
Just to recover your sore body and make your ending easier, I recommend that you stay at Bhimtang; some people go to Goa for that night but it’s a foolish idea to walk even more after hours of walking over the pass on the glacier. Also, Bhimtang has a beautiful sunrise beneath the face of Manaslu and a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. This is right after the pass and you still need to walk for 1 and half days but still everyone feels accomplished at this point.
Last but not the least, you might be interested in this short option of manaslu circuit trekking 12 days.