Manaslu Circuit Trek
Manaslu Circuit Trek
The Manaslu Circuit is the trekking jewel of Nepal. Bordering the Annapurna Conservation Area to the west and the Tibetan Plateau to the north and east, the region was closed to foreign tourists until 1991, effectively blocking the development that occurred after the country was opened to the outside world in 1951. Since 1991, Manaslu has been opened on a restricted basis for organized groups, offering a glimpse into pristine natural and cultural conditions that have been compromised in other parts of Nepal.
The trekking begins after a full-day drive from Kathmandu to Arughat—there is a direct bus from Kathmandu but a hired jeep will cut down the trip time significantly. The walking commences the following morning and the first few days on the trail may well be the most difficult: the Budhi Gandaki Gorge is harrowingly steep, the young trail is not in is as good of condition as the well-known treks, and the distances are long. Soon, however, the elevation dictates shorter days and the valley widens on the westward arc toward Larkya La Pass.
The trail enters the Manaslu Conservation Area just before Jagat, which also marks a cultural shift from Nepalese Hinduism to Tibetan Buddhism. For decades, Tibetan refugees have fled to this remote and undisturbed region of Nepal, and the villages here represent generations of these people. The stone-roofed Buddhist villages such as Namrung, Lho, Samaguan, and Sambdo set against the towering giants of Manaslu and the Himalchuli Massif are truly magnificent.
Crossing Larka La (5,213 m) is a difficult day, but it’s more a test of will power than anything else. The pass itself requires walking on snow but standard hiking boots should be sufficient. Most people complete a long day and finish in Bimtang before heading down to the convergence with the Annapurna Circuit at Dharapani. Hitting the hustle and bustle of the Annapurna Circuit is unwelcomed after the tranquility of Manaslu, but this also means that civilization is near.
A highly recommended side trip from the Manaslu Circuit is the Tsum Valley, located east of Philim near the Tibetan border. This valley is as isolated and untouched as any in Nepal, first opened to foreign trekkers in 2008, home to a small indigenous group known as “Tsumbas,” and surrounded by mountains that include Himalchuli to the west and the Ganesh Himal to the south. More information on the Tsum Valley is available through the Tsum Valley Homestay and the Tsum Valley Welfare Committee.
On the whole, the Manaslu Circuit provides a great opportunity for Nepal to get it right—they have a clean slate and seem intent on managing the area more closely than other treks in earlier years. Teahouses will be built, which will provide a much-needed and well-deserved boost to the impoverished local villagers. The Manaslu Circuit and the Tsum Valley will begin to make the lists of the world’s best hikes (insiders have been saying this for years), but it's better to experience it now than later. "World Class" doesn't begin to describe this place.