After finishing Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) and Upper Dolpo: Jumla to Jomsom trek we were ready for more, so we decided to do another trek with the same trekking agency: Visit Himalaya Treks.
The Upper Dolpo trek was a “fully organized trek”, which meant that we slept in tents every night and brought our own supplies. That, in turn, required a large contingent of porters and mules.
Since we were heading into winter, always being outside and sleeping in tents would get bitterly cold. So, for our second trek we decided to go for a teahouse trek instead of a fully organized trek.
In addition to getting comfy beds, heated dining rooms, “pizzas and beers”, it also allowed us to travel more nimbly, with just a guide and porter. A guide is mandatory for the Manaslu circuit (we used the same guide as in the Upper Dolpo trek). We also decided to bring one porter along (the cook from our first trek who often also doubled as cook in the more basic teahouses).
Once you choose to do a teahouse trek, you only have so many choices. We had already done the Annapurna trek and Three Passes Loop in the Everest region back in 2010, so that left the Manaslu Circuit as an obvious candidate.
Now that Annapurna is quickly being ruined by the road, and the Everest region is starting to suffer from too much tourism, the Manaslu Circuit is beginning to get a well-deserved reputation as the best teahouse trek in Nepal. That said, we would recommend that you go sooner rather than later. By now, the Manaslu Circuit is not exactly a secret anymore, and it can already get very busy with large organized groups to the point that accommodation can become very scarce is some of the smaller villages.
We had a lot of extra time and we wanted to get of the well-trodden-path, so we extended the Manaslu Circuit with the Tsum Valley (slightly off the beaten path) and the Nar-Phu Valley (very much off the beaten path). Instead of hiking it as a loop, backtracking to Arughat at the end, we decided to cross the Thorung-La pass (repeating the best section of the Annapurna trek) and exit at Jomsom.
Even for those of you only doing the Annapurna Circuit, we highly recommend doing the side-trip into the Nar-Phu valley. It is surprisingly rugged and wonderfully remote despite being so close to Annapurna. There is a modest restricted area permit fee and a guide is mandatory for this small section.
One note about walking times and hotels: be aware that your guide might adjust walking times a bit here and there to end up in the guesthouse where he would like to stay and knows the people who run it. If you would like to stop earlier, inform your guide and porter so that they can be on the look out for a nice place – if they don’t know anything. If you would like to continue or pick your own place, inform him/them that you would not like them to check in ahead of you but wait for you to arrive to make your own decision. For this trek it payed off that we are already acclimatized, we have more flexibility in how far and how high we go.
Our schedule was quite aggressive since we were already acclimatized and in good shape from the first Upper Dolpo trek. If you are not acclimatized, you will want to follow a more conservative schedule.
Day 1 (29 October 2017): Jeep Drive Katmandhu to Arughat
We thought the drive from Jomsom to Pokhara was long and rough, but that was nothing compared to the road to Arughat, the starting point of our next trek. Just getting out of Katmandhu takes two hours of torturous traffic jams, polluted air, car horns honking and many, many curves in the road. From the turn-of to Arughat to Arughat itself it goes from bad to worse. The road is not paved and despite it not having rained a lot, the road is one big mud slide. It takes our jeep the entire day to get to Arughat. We get dropped off at the View Manaslu Camping Resort where all foreigners are clearly staying; nothing special but it does the job….
Arughat: GPS 28.038065, 84.811213, Altitude 480m
Day 2 (30 October 2017): Arughat to Machha Khola
Despite a 7:30am departure, it is already hot early in the day. The pattern for the next couple of days is hot and sunny in the morning, clouding in around 2pm or 3pm and cold at night. The further we get into the season, the colder it gets, and the earlier it gets dark. The section from Arughat to Sotikhola is normally not hiked but since there has been a tragic bus accident the day before, no traffic is allowed on this portion of the “road” for three days. Despite the fact that it’s a dirt road, this portion is still nice enough. We walk through Arughat proper, pass rice paddies, monkeys, intermittent houses and farms, and reach Sotikhola after about two hours.
Just outside of Sotikhola we have to cross a long suspension bridge to avoid some road construction. This means an extra two hours of hiking but we don’t mind since the diversion proves to be beautiful. An introduction for the many ups (and downs) that are to come on this hike, we ascend a stone staircase for about 30 minutes until the ground levels out and we follow a trail along and high above the river. We pass beautiful rice terraces and small agricultural hamlets. Views are extensive and gorgeous, so we don’t even notice the ups and downs that are also not too bad. Before Lapubesi village we cross the river again, go 15 minutes steep up, and return to the main trail. We stop for lunch in the village. If you like a short day this would be a nice place to stop, with some good guesthouses and nice views. But we choose to continue along the river to Machha Khola. These last couple of hours are not the easiest since there are a lot of ups and downs due to landslides caused by the 2015 earthquake and by blasting activities. Machha Khola is a tight cluster of houses, not a particularly nice village. We stay at Larka Peak hotel, a well-run but not very charming hotel (the other hotels are not very charming either.)
Machha Khola: GPS 28.228845, 84.873848, Altitude 843m
Actual walking time: 8h10
Day 3 (31 October 2017): Machha Khola to Salleri
Since yesterday was busy with many hikers, we decide to leave at 8am after everybody has already hit the trail. This proves to be a good decision and for the rest of the trek we will continue to leave late, after most hikers have left. Side note and tip: there are many mule trails to transport goods up and down the valley. If you are stuck behind a huge caravan, it pays to stop for a coffee or tea and let them get ahead of you. It’s difficult to pass them and the amount of dust they work up is impressive. The day starts out hot but later turns into a mainly cloudy and quite cold day. We continue along the river, pass Korla Besi, and stop for a coffee at Dobran, a tiny but nice village with good views. Resist the first guesthouse / restaurant that you pass, there are a couple of new places with terraces with a view further along or you can eat a basic lunch at the “town square”. We have lunch 45 minutes after Dobran, in the lovely New Mountain hotel and restaurant. After lunch we continue along the river. The vally gets very narrow and gorge-like in the next couple of hours but suddenly opens up again and reveals a quite spectacular path over a steel walkway that is bolted to a vertical cliff above the river – a perfect picture opportunity. We cross a bridge again to the true right of the river and pass many red “Stars of Bethlehem” flowers, soon reaching Jaghat, a tight cluster of hotels. Since Jaghat is the stop for the night for many hikers and the village itself nothing special, we decide to continue to Salleri, 30 minutes further along the trail. We leave Jaghat, pass the hydroelectric station, a series of 3 beautiful waterfalls, and follow the trail up and down over a short section that clings to the cliff above the river. Salleri is a small, beautiful village with many more views. We stay at the Shringi guesthouse: brand new cabins with view, attached toilet and cold shower – but a really hot shower is waiting for me in the main building.
Salleri: GPS 28.359575, 84.888675, Altitude 1333m
Actual walking time: 6h30
Day 4 (1 November 2017): Salleri to Lhokpa
The trail to Philim is nice and takes about 1h30, following the river, crossing two bridges and passing through villages. The views, as they have been every day, are beautiful and keep getting nicer. We are surprised by two things: how many ups and downs there are, and that despite following the river so closely, it is never boring and all the time quite spectacular. The villages we come through cater mainly to tourists but there is still enough traditional life to see. Tourism is still small scale and low-key, especially if you stop in the villages in between the official Lonely Planet / tourist group stops. Very enjoyable. We recommend to hike Manaslu now, before Annapurna has turned completely into a road and many people will divert to hike the Manaslu circuit. Tour groups already hike the circuit and with the increased popularity of the trail, there are simply not enough beds to accommodate everybody.
After Ekle Bhati the trail splits. Take a left to go over the bridge to continue on the Manaslu circuit. Take a right to enter the Tsum Valley. Most people continue straight on the Manaslu Circuit, but we turn right and start the last ascend for the day. We immediately get the feeling that we are on our way to a hidden treasure, which proves to be true. Soon we reach a little teahouse with some cabins for rent and beautiful views at the top of the up. We stop for lunch, more to enjoy the views, and continue on to Lhokpa. In retrospect, I would have preferred to stay at the lone teahouse on the top because Lhokpa has only one hotel that is very busy with tourists and that has a huge fly problem, which makes sitting and eating outside uncomfortable.
Lhokpa: GPS 28.442370, 84.918308, Altitude 1894m
Actual walking time: 4h00
Day 5 (2 November 2017): Lhokpa to Chhokang Paro
We leave Lhokpa on a wide easy trail and start a steady up that will continue the entire day. The valley is now a narrow gorge and follows a walkway that is bolted to vertical cliffs. There is some damage from the 2015 earthquake but most of the trail has been beautifully rebuilt. Just before the village of Chumling the valley opens up and reveals snowcapped peaks on all sides of the valley, farming fields and a trail that follows the river high above the forest. People are harvesting and herding cattle and we enjoy this section a lot (but heck, so far we have enjoyed every section). One tiny part is a bit tricky: you have to pass a landslide on a narrow trail. Some small stones do sometimes fall but your guide should be able to alert you if this happens. We had no problem and did not hear of anyone encountering problems or a falling stone for that matter :). We reach Chhokang Paro after a long but not difficult up and stay at hotel Tashi Delek Lobsang, quite basic but with a nice traditional Tibetan dining room and a very nice hospitable owner/lady – and a good cook.
Chhokang Paro: GPS 28.489586, 85.042270, Altitude 3049m
Actual walking time: 6h30
Day 6 (3 November 2017): Chhokang Paro to Mu Gompa
Today we walk most of the day on an almost flat plain with extensive views all around, passing agricultural fields and Mani walls. Note: as of Chhokang Paro, a non-paved road is being constructed all the way to the border with Tibet but it’s easy to avoid this road until Nile.
We reach Lamagaon and pick up the key for the Milarepa cave, a beautiful atmospheric old monastery that is a 15 minute hike up past Lamagaon (300 Rp entrance fee). From Nile we continue on the “road” to Mu Gompa, a large monastery that has a gorgeous location high above the road and with extensive views. Rooms are actually quite nice but not the cleanest – neither were the bathrooms. But the location and “side trips” possibilities are stunning and we highly recommend staying at Mu Gompa instead of staying at Nile and making a day trip up to the Gompa. Also, chances are that the mountains cloud in in early afternoon, clear up at night and are clear in the morning – at least that seemed to be the weather pattern when we were there and what we heard from other travelers.
Whereas yesterday steep cliff trails in narrow gorge, today wide trails on almost flat plain in wide valley
Mu Gompa: GPS 28.585868, 85.109881, Altitude 3666m
Actual walking time: 5h45
Day 7 (4 November 2017): Side trip Mu Gompa to Lamagaon to Mu Gompa
Today we make a side trip into the higher mountains behind the monastery. The side trip takes a total of 4h30 and brings us up to an elevation of 4700 meters. We start with visiting a small nunnery (visible on the left-hand side when walking the road to Mu Gompa), following a sidling trail for about 20 minutes. We are welcomed by two nuns and admire the beautiful well-kept monastery in this most serene location (it was one of my favorite monasteries). We leave the nunnery and starts climbing past the “regular” viewpoint to a more remote and much higher viewpoint just below the actual peak. The views are truly amazing and we stay a long time until clouds, strong wind and threatening snow force us down. We lunch quickly at Mu Gompa (tip: if you are picky about food, make sure you bring some snacks) and walk back to Lamagaon in 3h30 where we stay at Lamagaon guesthouse, a nice new guesthouse on the left-hand side of the trail and very close to Rachen Gompa.
Lamagaon: GPS 28.594280, 85.094475, Altitude 4678m
Actual walking time: 3h30
Day 8 (5 November 2017): Lamagaon to Ripchet to Chumling
Before breakfast we visit a puja at the Rachen Gompa women’s monestary just across river. Rumor goes that tourists are not allowed to visit the monastery anymore since some nuns ran off with guides/porters but we visit without any issues. We arrive during the morning prayer and there is plenty of activity. The monastery is newly built with some incredible features if you come to realize them: the glass protecting the statues, for example, has been flown in by helicopter!
We continue to Chumling via Ripchet, a tiny village across the river with views of Chumling, our destination for the night. It’s a different trail than the hike in and no one seems to take it so provides some variation. But the views are less since the trail is mostly forested and Ripchet is not a particularly charming village. We descend an out of proportion nice stone staircase for some 30 minutes, cross the river on a suspension bridge and walk 30 minutes back up to Chumling, where we stay in the nice Tashi Delek hotel (gorgeous views from the terrace).
Chumling: GPS 28.473246, 84.962468, Altitude 2350m
Actual walking time: 5h45
Day 9 (6 November 2017): Chumling to Pewa
Today we retrace our steps to the Manaslu circuit via Lhokpa. We follow the river again, up and down until we reach Pewa, a little before Deng (where most people stop). Pewa is nothing more than a couple of basic hotels but the hotel we stay at is impeccably clean with nice wooden airy and light rooms, delicious food, a kind owner and the sound of the river in the background, enough to make it one it one my favorite hotels.
Pewa: GPS 28.462861, 84.882023, Altitude 1722m
Actual walking time: 4h30
Day 10 (7 November 2017): Pewa to Namrung
We keep following the river, and keep going up and down until we reach Namrung at the end of the day. Namrung feels like one big hotel (there are only two and one resort at the moment of writing) and after the quietness of Tsum valley and after having stayed in Pewa, we are a little overwhelmed by so many people. Clearly, we are back on the banana pancake route :).
Namrung: GPS 28.544798, 84.770186, Altitude 2631m
Actual walking time: 6h30
Day 11 (8 November 2017): Namrung to Shyala
We walk for 3h30 along agricultural fields and through villages to reach Lho where we have lunch. Tip: just before Lho we pass through a little village where on the left-hand side is a charming homestay, the traditional house is surrounded by a beautiful garden filled with orange marigolds and fruit trees and it looks like a wonderful place to spend the night.
We are told to expect the first views of high snow capped mountains, including Manaslu itself, from Lho, but we are thwarted by dense clouds and strong winds. After lunch, we continue to visit the Ribung monastery perched on a hill and visible from Lho. The Ribung monastery is big and still has a lot of renovations going on. They are clearly used to visitors: an English-speaking monk is available to answer any questions you may have. From the monastery, it’s possible to take a short-cut to Shyala where we stay for the night – a village without any charm but quieter than Lho.
Shyala: GPS 28.574195, 84.671953, Altitude 3516m
Actual walking time: 5h00
Day 12 (9 November 2017): Shyala to Pungyen Gompa to Samagaon
We had hoped for a good day but it’s still completely cloudy when we wake up this morning. We start hiking in a little bit of drizzle, hoping that it will clear up (it doesn’t). Today visit Pungyen Gompa and the glacier next to it. The hike up is nice and easy and it takes us about 2h30 to reach the Gompa. Despite the absence of views due to the clouds, the plateau where we end up at is beautiful, quiet and serene. The Gompa is closed up but that doesn’t bother anybody: it’s more the location that makes it worth it. Since we will go to Samagaon we have plenty of time and walk to various viewpoints to peek into the glacier until it really starts to rain and we quickly walk down to Samagaon. The village results to be quite big with plenty of character and many lodge options. Our guide had booked us in “the” hotel of town and although it was used by tour groups and individual guides alike and is therefore very busy, we like it since it has a nicely heated dining room, piping hot showers and a delicious yak curry!
Pungyen Gompa: GPS 28.550848, 84.628308, Altitude 3927m
Samagaon: GPS 28.587263, 84.641525, Altitude 3526m
Actual walking time 5h00
Day 13 (10 November 2017): Side trip Samagaon to Manaslu Basecamp to Samagaon
We spend an extra day in Samagaon to make a side trip to Manaslu base camp. We leave around 9am for the hike up to Manaslu Base camp, one of the highlights of this trek. We walk via the beautiful Birendra Tal lake and then start the steady, long but easy ascent to basecamp. It is a clear, sunny day and the views are just out of this world. We pass the glacier with close-up views of the ice, and far-away views of Manaslu and the mountains surrounding her. 3h30 after leaving Samagaon we arrive at Manaslu base camp. Since there is only a little bit of snow and ice covering the trail past Manaslu base camp towards high camp 1, we decide to continue a bit. This was an excellent call – we are surrounded by the mountains, silence and beauty. We sit for at least an hour before making our way down. On the way back we stop at the Gompa just outside of Samagaon, since it is already dark and there is no electrical light, we promise to come back the next morning to be able to see something.
Manaslu Basecamp: GPS 28.593335, 84.597666, Altitude 4881m
Day 14 (11 November 2017): Samagaon to Samdo to Dharmasala
We start the day exploring the Gompa and Samagaon itself. Most hikers have left and we enjoy walking around the village and admiring the beautiful traditional houses, Mani walls, and seeing the locals busy with their daily life. The Samagaon Gompa doesn’t have any resident monks anymore but there is a caretaker who opens the door and we admire the beautiful painted walls and the altar, which are very well preserved… the Gompa is definitely worth a little detour.
We leave Samagaon and hit the trail to Samdo. Although we initially thought to stop here for the night, we decide to continue after a quick lunch since the village is packed with tourists (we of course adding two to the total :-). It seems that there are no rooms available anymore anyway so continuing might have been the only option anyway. Since we are already acclimatized from our previous trek , we don’t have to stay and can leave the craziness behind. Just as before, the times mentioned on the official signs are way off: according to the signs it should be a four-hour hike to Dharmasala from Samdo but it takes us only 2h30. It is late afternoon but the views are still beautiful: no clouds to be seen. But it does get incredibly cold once the sun disappears behind the hills. Our guide and porter have gone ahead of us and have grabbed us the last available tent. There is no hotel in Dharmasala, only a big stone dining hall with a lot of tents set up around it. There is at least one other place where you can rent a tent and eat, but that dining hall is a tent itself so it gets incredibly cold and I think the only option would be to stay in your sleeping bag and tent. Later, we heard that the next day it would be so busy that people end up sleeping in the dining halls. The location is beautiful, the sanitary situation deplorable and of all places it becomes most obviously clear here that accommodation extensions are direly necessary.
Dharmasala: GPS 28.659156, 84.584126, Altitude 4478m
Day 15 (12 November 2017): Dharmasala to Bhimthang
Blue skies await us in the morning and it is perfect weather for crossing the Larkya pass. We get up at 5:30am, have breakfast and start hiking at 6:30am. Dharmasala is deserted, people have been leaving as of 3:30am and with our departure time, we are the last ones to hit the trail. Note: we were one of the last ones to reach the pass and it took us 3h30, a lot of people who left at 3:30am reached Bhimtang around 1pm. Depending on weather and what time you would like to reach Bhimtang, make sure to discuss with your guide your departure time, a lot of people regretted having left so early since they hiked most of the way up to the pass in the dark and could not enjoy the beautiful views. The trail up is easy, apart from the fact that you are gaining altitude. So, enjoy the extensive views and the little lakes you pass on the way and take your time. Stop for a cup of tea or coffee an hour before reaching the pass and then make a dash for the highest point at the Manaslu circuit, decorated with the traditional prayer flags. After another 15 minutes, we reach the “other side” of the pass, also decked out with prayer flags and offering fantastic views of the mountains and glaciers on the other side. From there we start the 3h30 walk down to Bhimtang. The first little bit is steep over dusty switchbacks, then a flatter section over moraines next to big glacier follows. The trail is not difficult it just gets a bit tiring since there is quite some gravel and little stones on the trail what makes that you have to pay attention. Another teahouse stop (the only one) with beautiful mountain views an hour before Bhimtang and then we arrive in Bhimtang, beautifully located on the valley floor and surrounded by mountains. Bhimtang is “full” and only after pleading with the manager of the cottages right at the beginning of the village, does our guide manage to get us a room there.
Larkya La Pass: GPS 28.663876, 84.520461, Altitude 5134m
Bhimang: GPS 28.635906, 84.470873, Altitude 3709m
Actual walking time 6h00
Day 16 (13 November 2017): Bhimtang to Ponkar Tal to Bhimtang to Goa
We start the day with a 3h return side trip to the lake Ponkar Tal (tal means lake in Nepalese). We walk 20 minutes back on yesterday’s trail and then start to go up again to reach the lake after an hour’s hike. It’s absolutely gorgeous and we are happy that we decided to hike back and up again. The lake is a stunning blue and the views of the glaciers, mountains and moraines amazing. We decide to walk around the lake, which is absolutely worth it and takes us another hour. After this little morning excursion, we hike back to Bhimtang, have lunch and continue on our way to Goa, a total of 4h from Bhimtang. The hike to Yak Kharka takes about two hours and is the last bit above tree line with views of Manaslu. We linger as long as possible and then shift into “forest gear”: we hike fast to make up for all the photos and lingering. We pass monkeys, beautiful bamboo forest, trees covered in moss and start heading down following the river. One hour after Yak Kharka you pass through Surki where normally people stop for lunch but there are a couple of nicely looking guesthouses here so if you wish, you could stay the night here. We reach Goa just before darkness sets in and stay at the end of the village in the charming Superview hotel.
Ponkar Tal: GPS 28.667600, 84.471795, Altitude 4062m
Goa: GPS 28.574463, 84.416756, Altitude 2482m
Actual walking time for side trip Bhimtang to Ponkar Tal to Bhimtang: 3h00
Actual walking time for Bhimtang to Goa: 4h00
Day 17 (14 November 2017): Goa to Koto
From Goa we hike to Dharapani, where we join the Annapurna circuit again. We go through a couple of villages and follow a dirt road most of the time. The trail is uneventful and road walking… not the most pleasant. So, when we arrive in Dharapani we decide that we will try to get a jeep to Koto since most of the time we will have to follow the road (now with cars on it on top of that). After some haggling, we get a jeep for 8500 Rps and reach Koto in an hour and a couple of more grey hairs since the ride is at certain points quite harrowing. We stay at hotel Himlung, nothing special but again, they have a heated dining room and one has to get his priorities straight! We walk 15 minutes to Chame, the next village and bigger than Koto, to buy a couple of snickers and chocolate bars and then head back to play our daily card game with our guide and porter.
Koto: GPS 28.551986, 84.260845, Altitude 2638m
Day 18 (15 November 2017): Koto to Meta
In Koto we first check in at police checkpoint and get our permits stamped in order to start the Nar Phu portion of this hike. We veer away from the Annapurna main trail and suddenly have the trail for ourselves. The start is not very promising: it seems that they are constructing a road here and we are afraid that we will be hiking just as on the Annapurna circuit, on a road. Fortunately, this fear is not founded since the road ends after about 30 minutes and we enter a very narrow valley, actually more of a gorge and often less than 50m wide with very high and steep walls. The trail hugs the valley wall, undulating between 10 to 100 meters above the river below. We cross several bridges, some across the main river swinging back and forth between the left and right side of the valley, some crossing side rivers. There are often steep drop offs from the trail and several times the trail is chiseled out of a sheer cliff. There is a sense of wildness and remoteness and we all have the feeling that we have entered a hidden valley; even more so than when we entered the Tsum Valley since we meet only a group of 4 other hikers today. The trail itself is beautiful as well: wild and rugged with the river is raging below us, the forest changes from pine to bamboo until we finally climb above tree line and have extensive views. Along the 700m ascend to Dharmasala we pass three basic teahouses; at the last one we stop for a dahl bhat. Dharmasala has a basic teashop as well and it’s a nice break before starting with the last ascend of 400+ meters. The wind has picked up – as it will every afternoon from now on – and it’s gets very cold around 3pm. We quickly make our way to Meta and decide to stay at the Narpha hotel. It looks a little like a castle, has nice rooms and guess what? A heated dining room! We are surprised to find accommodation in the remote villages of Nar Phu valley, and even more surprised that the quality of the food is simple, but good.
Meta: GPS 28.655111, 84.238615, Altitude 3614
Actual walking time: 5h20
Day 19 (16 November 2017): Meta to Phu
This morning we start hiking under clear and cold skies. The trail is as any other day: beautiful. The valley opens up and we have extensive views of snowcapped peaks; we can even see glimpses of the Annapurnas. Today we gain only 600 meters of altitude and the trail is wide and easy so this section almost feels like a walk in the park. We pass some houses and tiny hamlets (all deserted), and enjoy the wideness of the valley. In Chyako we stop for a coffee at Dikey restaurant and lodge (Chyako would make for a good overnight stop as well – a couple of nice guesthouses that offer food – although the village itself is completely deserted). After Chyako there are lots of ups and downs over large old moraines until we reach Kyang – one hour later. Kyang is an again deserted village in a wide open plain, it’s a pity to see all these empty beautiful old villages after so much activity in the other ones on the rest of the trail . In Kyang two hotels are under construction so hopefully tourism will pick up in the Nar Phu Valley and bring people back. Immediately after Kyang the valley narrows dramatically and reminds us of Zion National Park. After the first up there is a photogenic section hacked out of the cliff side. You follow the river in a deep narrow canyon for the next 2 hours, crossing a couple of times of very dramatic rickety bridges. At the end of the gorge there are 20 minutes of steep switchbacks up to the entrance gate of the village. The final approach to the village is one of the most dramatic approaches ever. Walking along steep gorges with twisted rock formations, the village appears on the other side of the river perched in a tight cluster on top of a rock with a monastery on another rock. As if that’s not enough beauty, the village and monastery are surrounded by snowcapped mountains. There is a climbing group in the village so accommodation is a bit difficult to find, but we end up staying in a basic lodge.
Phu: GPS 28.772281, 84.272840, Altitude 4062m
Day 20 (17 November 2017): Side trip Phu to Himlung Basecamp to Phu
We start by crossing the river and then follow the trail along a moraine parallel to the glacier. Himlung Base Camp is in a different location than indicated on the map: it is now on the south side of glacier. The views of the mountains and glacier become increasingly spectacular as you get closer to basecamp which is marked with prayer flags. It is worthwhile to spend an extra 30 minutes to climb the grass hill just after base camp for best views. It’s a bit cold and windy up here, but heck, we are at 4950m 🙂
We walk back to Phu village, take pictures of the old medieval looking town that appears to be built out of the cliffs and is a delight to stroll around. We hear horns from Phu monastery so, although we are a bit tired, we decide to hike up to the monastery, a 20-minute stroll. There is a public puja (prayer session) going on and we enjoy watching locals enter the monastery with offerings and monks praying accompanied by gongs, horns and shells. We quickly walk up to the viewpoint behind the monastery but then the cold and wind force us down to the warm kitchen of our lodge.
Himlung Basecamp: GPS 28.768590, 84.341633, Altitude 4940m
Day 21 (18 November 2017): Phu to Nar
We trace our steps back to Chyako and have lunch at Dikey restaurant again. At the split, left for Meta, right for Nar, we take a right and start the descent to the river over a gravely, narrow trail. The bridge crossing the river is spectacular, the river is raging 80 meter below us and you have your pick of bridge: the old rickety one or the new, strong suspension bridge. Needless to say, we recommend the latter. We pass the Nar monastery and start the last up of the day, strong winds and again, increasingly cold since the sun has disappeared behind the mountains. After 30 minutes the trail levels out and we reach a row of big chortens. Despite the winds, we walk to the viewpoint on the right hand side (actually only 5 minutes away). We climb over a fence, pass through a herd of yaks, turn a curve and finally see Nar ahead of us. It’s a big village and there are plenty of lodging options available. They all look newly constructed or very well maintained and it’s difficult to pick, we settle in the end for the comfortable and nicely decorated Nar Guesthouse.
Nar: GPS 28.681355, 84.199176, Altitude 4207m
Day 22 (19 November 2017): Nar to Ngawal
Today we will cross the Kangla Pass but we first spend an hour taking pictures in the village – we also don’t want to leave too early since otherwise the valley and mountains will still be in the shadows. The trail is easy and gorgeous and gives you the opportunity to soak in the beautiful surroundings. We go up high but don’t feel the altitude anymore after having spent so much time above 4000 meters, it’s just a pure joy to be here in this mountainous solitude. We reach the pass after about 3h30 and soak up the views on both sides of the pass (Annapurna range in front of us, Gangapurna, Himalchuli, Himlung and 99 Peak behind us). We linger on top since the weather is holding up and only after an hour or so do we start to head down. The descent is steep and gravely at first but not exposed, it’s a bit of work for the legs but nothing too difficult. The hike to Ngawal, where we will spend the night, takes us about 4h30, it’s a beautiful hike with views all around us and we stop plenty of times to soak up the views. In Ngawal we stay at guesthouse Tibet, a small delightful family guesthouse.
Larka Pass: GPS 28.688413, 84.124288, Altitude 5300m
Day 23 (20 November 2017): Ngawal to Julu to Manang
A leisurely morning since we don’t have to go far. From Ngawal we follow the “new” official Anapurna trail, passing high above the valley, away from the road and airport, and through the village of Julu. The Sher monastery just outside of Ngawal looked beautiful but was closed up so we continued our way up to and past Julu until we reach a plateau. From there we start to sidle the mountain, soaking up again gorgeous views and making our way to Bragha Gompa in about 3 hours. The Gompa is normally closed from noon until 2 pm but we tag along with a couple of ladies who bring offerings. The Gompa is perched high above Bragha village itself, 500 years old and beautifully maintained. The old paintings behind the altar as described in the Lonely Planet have been replaced by statues so no headlights needed anymore. We continue to Manang and decide to stay in the Yeti hotel. Excellent food, nice rooms and a warm solar shower (if you take it around noon). At 3pm we attend the free lecture about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) given by one of the international doctors from the Himalaya Rescue Association. One of Manang’s delights are the cinemas and we immediately settle ourselves in a makeshift cinema at the North Pole Hotel with blankets, popcorn, tea and Jack Gyllenhaal starring in Everest. Tip: if you are with a group of people you can “rent” the entire cinema at whatever time you like and watch whatever you like for 1500 Rps.
Manang: GPS 28.661495, 84.029981, Altitude 4997
Actual walking time: 3h30
Day 24 (21 November 2017): Rest day in Manang
Today we visit Praken monastery, 400 meters above Manang. The tiny one room monastery is chiseled out of the rock and very atmospheric. The old lama passed away at the age of 103 but his 75-year old daughter has fortunately taken over the business/tradition and will bless your Thorungla pass crossing for 100 rupees (nickname 100 lama) by giving you a little string. We stroll down and visit old Manang and it’s Gompa (both definitely worth it). We again hit the cinema, eat delicious hot cheeserolls with salami in the Yeti bakery and play another game of cards.
Day 25 (22 November 2017): Manang to Thorung Phedi
Despite being on the Annapurna circuit it is not as busy as we expected and with a late departure, we hardly see anybody on the trail. Easy beautiful trail and we try to linger as much as possible to enjoy these last days in the mountains. We arrive in Thorung Phedi, tucked away in a corner just before the pass. The 3 hotels are nothing special and we settle on Hotel New Phedi, the best of the bunch in our opinion.
Thorung Phedi: GPS 28.779061, 83.971316, Altitude 4488m
Actual walking time: 6h00
Day 26 (23 November 2017): Thorung Phedi to Muktinath
A lot of commotion early in the day (read 3:30am) but we stick to our regular “pass departure time” of around 7am. Slowly but steadily we make our way up, passing quite some people on the way, in about 4 hours. I am alone with my thoughts, thinking about the amazingly stunning two months we spent hiking the hills of Nepal, and am extremely sad that this adventure is coming to an end. We had the best guide and porter and it feels more like we have been hiking with a bunch of (very knowledgeable and capable) friends. The pass is busy and peace is disturbed by a group who has loud blasting music going on. Fortunately, they respond to the request to turn the volume down and we enjoy the quietness – and of course – the views. Our guide and porter leave us here in order to prepare tonight’s dinner what promises to be feast (our porter was the cook on our last hike and stirs up fabulous dishes). The way down is easy, we stop for a quick coffee and visit Mukthinat’s central shrine. The last two hours are on a dirt road and you definitely have the feeling that you leave the beauty and simplicity of a mountainous life. We stay at the Eureka Inn Hotel and indeed, Shambhu, our cook, has cooked up a storm and we celebrate the end of this gorgeous month in the mountains with delicious food and beer.
Muktinath: GPS 28.815830, 83.863148, Altitude 3788m
Day 27 (24 November 2017): Drive Muktinath to Pokhara