8th November, 2019
The morning was pleasant at Namrung. Not just because the sun was out, but also a sense of relief prevailed. The day’s walk was just supposed to last for about five hours. We should reach Lho no later than 2 PM, probably even earlier. If weather stays fine, Lho should offer the first view of the coveted Mt Manaslu. At the breakfast table, we were having a chat with the owner of the tea house. They were inhabitants of a village from the lower reaches of the Gorkha district. Their stay at the tea house was entirely seasonal and coincided with the trekking season, i.e. from March to May & again from October to November. They were Buddhists by faith and had already visited the shrines of Bodh Gaya and the monasteries of Sikkim, the state of North Eastern India. When we reached Namrung, the previous evening, I somehow felt at home & was comfortable about reaching a shelter at the end of an arduous day of trekking. The fact that we had an entire evening to rest, gave me peace. I had the same feeling at Jagat. Probably, the neat & cosy rooms had a part to play. The fact that the comfort was only for one evening didn’t stop us from enjoying the warmth of our stay. It was business as usual the next morning. The same tea session, same diet at the breakfast table, a quick brain dump from our guide about the day’s itinerary, the group snap at the lawn of the tea house, strapping of our backpacks & off we went for our next destination.
The route beyond the village of Namrung led us to the barley fields where the villagers were at work. The winds sailed through the fields creating ripples along the crop ready for harvest. In one of the fields, ladies were at work. Big baskets lay beside them. Faces of their new born kids popped out from the basket. They were obedient enough to stick to the confines of the basket, casting their gaze towards just about anything. Their mothers were busy harvesting the crop, but simultaneously kept a strict vigil on them. Solitary houses stood upright amid the vast fields.
The sky started to get overcast as clouds closed in. The mountain peaks hid behind them but traces of snow in their lower reaches acted as reminders of their presence. Another group of trekkers crossed us and their guide struck a cord with Dhananjoy. They were headed to Syala, a village about two hours beyond Lho. That’s one of the beauties of Nepal. There’s no compulsion to halt at “well known” places. The presence of multiple villages along the route, all equipped with tea houses (though their numbers vary), allows for a customized itinerary according to your choice & energy. Children from local villages were roaming around and we obliged them with lozenges.
They had red cheeks with hands and legs smudged with mud. They kept looking at us with wonder. “Where do they come from and what are they doing in our villages?” – was written in their expressions. Their parents wished us “Tashi Delek” from window panes of nearby houses and we reciprocated back. The fields reached right up to the other end of the valley, beyond which lay the river and the hills rose from the other side of it with their slopes covered with coniferous forests. As we moved amid the fields, we saw some of the houses deserted, an indication that their inhabitants had already moved down the valley to the lower reaches, a typical migration at the onset of winters.
The sun came out and poured its golden rays on the seemingly never ending fields, adding a touch of gold. Strong winds created ripples among the ripe crop awaiting a harvest. The vegetation along the slopes of the hills on both sides started having tinges of brown and at times, red. The colors of the leaves were starting to change, a phenomenon that is commonly known as “fall colors” in some of the North American countries. These signs told us that we were gaining altitude while moving from lower sub tropical forests to upper temperate forests. The dense green canopy was gradually giving way to relatively sparse coniferous vegetation. After sometime we reached another milestone that read Bhanjam (2650 m).
We saw a lot of new tea houses coming up along the entire route, some even bore the smell of fresh wood and polish. That indicated growing popularity of the trail among trekkers, but also a potential of overcrowding as has been the fate of the more “famed” ones like Annapurna or Everest. One important difference was relatively low number of helicopter voyages and the sound of their rotors. We heard some of them near Jagat, which has a helipad but not beyond. They are much more prevalent on the routes to Annapurna or Everest base camps with the former having a full helicopter tour right up to its base camp. The snow capped mountains still hid behind the clouds, though the lower reaches of the valley had abundant sunshine. We had enough time at our disposal and kept scouting for photography subjects as we knew even with these delays, we’d be able to reach Lho by lunch time, a welcome change in the itinerary that would continue till Dharamsala. The trail was more or less level which we enjoyed walking through the fields and the valley.
The route meandered through the local villages. Sometimes beside the fields, the monasteries, the mani stones and of course besides the river. Colors of vegetation, in the meantime, increased in their variety. Gradually, we started to see the lower reaches of the glaciers of the snow peaks nearby, but their tops were still covered with clouds.
After a long time, we saw a few houses right at the top of a distant hill and our guide stated that it was the Lho monastery. It was at a considerable height and we had to look up to it. We started to prepare in our minds for a long and steep climb but our guide assured us, that the Lho village and all its tea houses lay at the base of that hill and hence, would require us to climb. However, we could still visit the monastery and have a bird’s eye view of the valley we just came across, if we wanted to, after a hike to that location after lunch. Dhananjoy, as usual, was excited about that prospect, but I preferred not to commit myself and take the decision after lunch, which was still a long way ahead as we’ve just “seen” from a distance and not yet “reached” the houses of Lho . The act of seeing and reaching a destination, especially in these mountains, has a lot of difference, especially to us, the mortals from plains.
Lho is a relatively large village and has a number of tea houses. It is the most common stop over before SamaGaun, though some trekkers prefer to continue ahead after lunch to stay ahead, in order to gain some ground before reaching Samagaun (as one of the other groups did, as I mentioned before). We preferred not to, as there’s no way we could skip the halt and an extra day of acclimatization at Samagaun, so there wasn’t any point to hurry. Furthermore, Lho offers the first views of Mt Manaslu on this trail. While clouds kept it at bay, but we were hopeful of having a glimpse of the famed peak, the next morning, before leaving for Samagaun. After crossing a few more bends, we finally arrived at our destined tea house “Majestic Manaslu”.
A first glance at the tea house elevated our spirits. It had a well decorated lawn with well maintained gardens that spread out in front as well as the back. It had its own fields where they grew some of the vegetables. The rooms too, looked good and most importantly, especially after our experience at Namrung, it had warm blankets.
By this time, the sun, once again hid behind the clouds and strong winds started to blow and with it, brought in a light drizzle. We were chilled to our bones and quickly entered the dining space which was covered with glass on all sides and had a fire place in the middle where dried yak dungs provided the fuel and the smoke got drifted out by a chimney strutting its head above the place. It reminded me of the tea houses on the route to Everest base camp. It was a good place to hang around after lunch and I lost my interest to hike to the Lho monastery, another 2 hours to go up and come down. Dhananjoy retained his energy and went ahead with Niladri, who primarily went to provide company. It was only 2 PM and we had the entire afternoon with us. Ranjan da preferred to have a nap and went to the room while I hanged around in the dining space watching the surroundings or the other groups sitting in other tables. Some played cards, some others kept swiping through their snaps in their cameras or mobile devices. We were almost half way through our trek as the next day would see us reaching Samagaun, which is approximately half way through the trail and takes one to almost the base of Mt Manaslu.
The hills in and around Lho were covered with coniferous forests and every third tree bore a brownish yellow color making the overall canvas wonderful. I spent some of the time shaving as the temperature of the flowing water was somewhat bearable. That gave a feeling of weight loss from my chin as the last of these acts were performed at Kathmandu. Dhananjoy and Niladri came down from their hike in the evening. They had some good views from the top but not as good as they hoped for, thanks to the clouds.
Soon after their arrival, darkness engulfed the valley. It appeared as if evening was waiting outside the door and the moment one opened it, it came rushing in and with it, the biting cold. Given the fire place was turned on, I went up to my room and brought down the wet clothes and hung them on chairs around the fire place. We started playing cards but one of my eyes was on my clothes and I kept checking their moistness which wasn’t keen to go. After somewhat of a consolation, I turned them around to give the other side a chance to get dry. However, it turned out that I’d have to rely on the next day’s sun (as I’d been doing so far) for rest of the process as the fuel in the fire place started dwindling and tea house owners weren’t keen to replenish. After Jagat, we also had another chance to call our homes using locally bought WiFi cards. Exchange of news brought some comfort at both the ends. We kept playing cards till dinner got served. The lecture from the guide about the plan for the next day revealed that the walk up to Samagaun would be similar – i.e. we’d be able to reach by lunch and hence, would have the the later half to visit Birendra tal, a small glacial lake which could be reached after a small hike from Samagaun. The next day at Samagan was still an open question. We had the options to visit Manaslu base camp or to visit Pungyen gompa, a decision we deferred till we reached there. After dinner, we loaded our bottles with warm water and headed to our rooms. We would be sleeping at 3180 m.