9th November, 2019
As mentioned before, I had two alarms set for every morning. When the first one went off at 4 AM, it was still dark. It normally was also the time of deep sleep & was a challenge to get oneself out of the comfort of a warm blanket, especially when chilling cold awaits you outside. Washrooms were normally in the common areas & in order to reach there, one had to traverse the balcony (often a considerable distance) piercing through the darkness & cold. The next challenge used to be the first contact of water with the body (getting increasingly harder with rising altitude). Once the tasks got over, it gave me much relief to re-enter the blanket after arousing my room mate Ranjan da. While he used to get started with the daily duties, I enjoyed my 2nd phase of sleep till 6 AM, marked by the second alarm. My stay at Lho was no exception to this routine. When I woke up finally, daylight was just starting to enter the valley. The sky was just starting to light up but the outlines of the surrounding mountains were still dark. It was darker than usual as clouds still hovered over the mountain tops cutting off the peaks from the view.
After the morning tea session, as we headed to the dining space, it was already bustling with activities from different travelers from different parts of the world, a lot of them were now familiar faces to us. A German couple were travelling with us, i.e. to say they were putting up in the same tea houses as ours. They both were above 60 years in their ages but could give us a shame when it came to walking. Everyday they started at least 45 mins later than us, overtook on the way to reach the destination at least 2 hours ahead of us. They came to the Manaslu area after visiting Langtang, a region to the north of Kathmandu. The alternating diets of muesli & corn flakes at the breakfast table kept adding to the monotony of the taste but we continued to force them down our throats. Dhananjoy kept away from these as he had problems digesting milk, which is an important solvent for these items. After breakfast as we ventured out into the lawn, sky started clearing up. The lower reaches of the snow peaks became visible. We could clearly see the glaciers coming down their slopes.
Clouds kept clinging on to their tops as the solar rays tried to force their ways through. They finally started to disperse from there and the famous double edged peaks of Mt Manaslu made their appearance. They rose right behind the hill which housed the Lho monastery. It appeared as if the monastery had been comfortably placed along the snow laden slopes of Mt Manaslu.
The mountains now bathed in bright morning sunshine which added a hue of gold to the surrounding fields with rich & ripe harvest. The dark green & golden yellow colored coniferous trees along the mountain slopes looked ever refreshing after bathing in the early morning mist.
After leaving the tea house, the trail zig-zagged through the village fields & local houses. After crossing the exit gate, the trail entered the woods and started moving up the slopes. Manaslu occupied the northern skies as if keeping a vigil over the valley. Gradually, other neighboring peaks began to appear. We reached a place where we stood along the edges of a valley. The northern horizon was wide open & the majority of the sky was occupied by the double edged peaks of Manaslu. To the right of it, stood Manaslu North. The valley below was covered with thick woods.
In was a perfect backdrop for some group photography & we took our turns to capture the beauty. A small descent followed by a crossover via a suspension bridge took us to the other bank if the river & we followed a gradual ascent.
The river gorge, for a change, wasn’t as deep as we found earlier in the lower regions, a sign of gaining altitude. But the torrent was as vociferous as before. Waterfalls continued to come down the surrounding slopes to join the river. At one place we crossed a wooden bridge over a thundering torrent. The bridge provided a good platform, standing on which one could get a view through the ‘V’ formed by the slopes of the surrounding hills, at the end of which a dazzling snow peak strutted out against the pastel blue sky. A tailor-made post card view.
We spent significant time at the spot. After the bridge, the trail moved on till a point where the route was obstructed by a wooden fence. At a first glance, it appeared as though we were headed the wrong way & we looked here & there hoping to find an alternate route. There were none & the only way was to cross over the fence. We couldn’t fathom what could have prompted someone to put up a fence right across the road. A look beyond the fence gave us the answer. A herd of yaks were grazing hither & thither, some even venturing high up on the slopes. The fence was meant to keep the herd together acting as a boundary to some sort of a local sanctuary for the animals. The bells fastened to their necks kept tinkling as they kept grazing.We carefully made our way through them & continued our ascent. The trail had a canopy cover but we could see through them to get the glimpses of the snowy walls of the mountains.
After continuing for some more time we came out in the open. It was a flat top. Multiple tea houses surrounded us & just beyond their fences, stood the majestic snow peaks with their tops & slopes bathing in bright sunshine. One could turn his head around for a full 360 degrees and his view would be obstructed on each side by snow fields & glaciers coming down the slopes of the surrounding mountains.
We were standing at Syala. People who stayed overnight, must have been awarded with a magical sunrise. We envied the other group whom we met on our way to Lho, for their decision to stay at Syala. We just kept revolving our heads, with our eyes peeping through the lenses of our cameras.
The weather was exquisite & we basked in the sun. Dhananjoy kept requesting others to take snaps of him against the backdrop of almost every mountain around. The photographer had to keep shifting his position while Dhananjoy was able to maintain his own by just turning around in small angles. Apart from Manaslu and Manaslu North, others like Ngadi Chuli, Himal Chuli and Ganesh Himal also had to do their part in providing backdrops for the numerous snaps that we took of each other.
We could have continued further, but our guide reminded us that there was another half of the route to be covered and so we moved on. The entire village of Syala, its houses, the monasteries, all places had to offer exquisite views of the surrounding mountains. The route went through the tea houses, all of which appeared to be “the place to stay” and reached a suspension bridge. We noticed a difference in the tree line. Their heights were less than what we saw in the lower reaches and so was their density.
The colors of the leaves too, showed greater diversity (as opposed to primarily deep green in the lower reaches). These were signs of higher altitudes. After crossing over to the other side, we kept walking along till we reached the entry gate (a common feature of Tibetan villages at higher altitudes) of Samagaun. But beyond the gate, there were vast fields where yaks grazed around lazily. The entire landscape, mainly its lower reaches were scattered by black and brown moving dots which represented yaks.
It was wide valley and our route went through the middle of it. Far beyond the fields, the houses, monasteries and the tea houses of Samagaun made their appearance. As always, sight of your destination generates energy, though in this case, we knew it would take us at least an hour more to reach the tea houses.
After crossing the fields, we entered the main village and were greeted by another team who reached before us. It was the team that stayed on at Syala. The houses of Samagaun bore the stamp of hardship and toughness that form part of the lives of people who inhabit the place.
Women kept walking along carrying loads of wood on their backs and children peeped at us from behind the windows of their homes with innocent amazement. Their red cheeks had patches of dirt but their eyes made it evident that the dirt was entirely physical.
When we finally arrived at the tea house, it was about 2 PM. The location of the tea house was exquisite. It was right at the feet of a hill beyond which Mt Manaslu strutted its head in its majestic form, the classic double edged view. We had lunch in an open balcony basking in the bright sunshine. At the first glance, it was apparent, this was the place to shoot the classic sunrise view of Mt Manaslu. We consulted a senior guide about our options for the extra acclimatization day. The options ranged between Pungyen Gompa, Virendra Taal and Manaslu Base Camp. We initially wanted to go for the last option, but the senior guide suggested against doing so. The trail was risky, very narrow at some places and hence, fraught with danger. Based on his suggestion, we opted for Virendra Taal, a small glacial lake nearby for the afternoon and Pungyen gompa, a monastery up on the mountains, about two and half hours away, a place for potentially great views of Manaslu. That was for the morrow. After lunch, we headed towards Virendra Taal. The route went up towards the local monastery. After going around it, we entered a field which led to the base of a trail that moved gradually up towards Virendra Taal. Virendra Taal is a small fresh water lake located just below the Manaslu glacier. When we reached there, the afternoon sun cast its glow on its fresh waters. Strong breeze raised ripples on its surface.
Glaciers hung almost to the level of its banks. We stood on the edge of a hill from where a slope went down towards the banks of the lake. It was dotted with memorials built from stones, a sign of respect for the deceased. They seemed to rest in peace on the banks of the lake or so is the intention.
After about 30-45 minutes, we headed back to our tea house and settled in our rooms. Reaching Samagaun brought us to the height of 3530 m. It marks an important milestone on this trek. Beyond Samagaun, one could say, is the start of ascent towards Larke Pass. Samagaun is probably the largest village in the upper reaches of this circuit and forms the base of all ascents to Mt Manaslu. The fields of Samagaun sees significant cultivation considering the circumstances. Samagaun also is probably the last place to see trees as the land of barren rocks starts from here. Shrubs and bushes continue to Samdo, beyond which they give way to boulders which takes one to DharamShala, the place of stay before the pass. After which, boulders and snow reign supreme and one can hope of reaching within the tree line only after crossing the pass to move over to the Manang district. We made phone calls to our respective homes and then settled under the blankets.