Mountain of the spirit, Manaslu – Khorla Besi and Jagat

Kathmandu

Deng

4th November, 2019

Previous night, our guide briefed us about the day’s plan at the dinner table. His English is difficult to follow and he doesn’t know Hindi. It proved challenging for us to follow his words, but as the trek went through, we got used to him. The plan for the day was to walk up to Machhakhola, the next destination on the route. This was the first day of trekking. I finished the breakfast with corn flakes and milk, while others had pancakes or muesli. It was time to stripe up our respective backpacks and get going. Everybody carried two bottles of lukewarm water with them. The bags were ready, accounts were squared up at the tea house, the sticks were in our hands and we were ready to hit the trail.

Sotikhola, picture courtesy, Dhananjoy De

We strode past other lodges and the trail moved gradually upwards. Mist rose from the valley and surrounded us.

The mist in the valley

It was cold to start with and we had our jackets on. However, as the sun came out and slopes headed up, we felt the warmth and had to peel off. Niladri in fact stripped down to his half pant, a trend that would continue for the days we were on the lower reaches of the trail. The Budhi Gandaki roared down the gorge and kept its presence felt with the continuous sound of its torrents. The early morning mist gave way to bright sunshine with clear skies. Walking was a treat in such surroundings. The slope was gentle, the sunshine was bright. The lush green forests were soothing to our eyes. The trail was still wide enough and there were tracts of tyres clearly visible to us, indicating that Sotikhola was not the last destination accessible by vehicles. I recalled Tej Gurung’s words last year during our Annapurna trek. “Visit Manaslu before road construction erases the trail!”. Sings were now visible that over the years to come, days of walking will continue to get trimmed off with the advancement of road. We were told that a road was being constructed from Machhakhola to Larkya La (the highest point on this trail), meaning a large section of the circuit trail will become redundant in the coming years. The future of the tea houses will also be impacted. Similar fate has been witnessed on the Annapurna Circuit trail, which now requires just 2-3 days of walking. Tea houses at the lower reaches have been made largely redundant as trekkers can now directly reach Manang by road.

Villages were nestled amidst the high slopes of the mountains. Houses were surrounded by terraced fields. Villagers were at work in the fields. Some kids passed by on their way to local school. We carried lozenges with us and were generous about distributing them to the kids whom we met on our way.

Waterfalls kept coming down the slopes. Some even crossed our ways. We had to be careful while crossing them. Though the torrents were not fast, but they were deep and we had to cross them by placing our feet over the precariously placed rocks that dotted the streams.

The first four days of the trek were supposed to be long, approximately 18-19 kms a day. Today was the start of it. With the weather playing fine, people kept their camera shutters rolling, but we also had to keep an eye on the time. Our past experiences in the Himalayas told us that the fine weather may not last in the second half and it’s in our interest to get to the destination before that eventuality.

Budhi Gandaki kept company all along. On our way, we came across a local shop along the road side. Samosas were being fried. Immediately, we all flocked around the seller, who was a lady. The samosas were big. We got to see the raw materials stacked around which included fresh green peas, boiled vegetables and potatoes. These lured us. She fried the samosas and kept serving. The taste was heavenly. A pickle prepared by grinding green chilies, salt and some local spices added taste to the flavor. The price was nothing when compared to the size of the samosas, their taste and above all, the surroundings. After a few bends, we got to see the distant houses of the Machhakhola village.

Picture courtesy – Dhananjoy De

Machhakhola would be the site for lunch. Initially, it was supposed to be the destination for the day, but en-route, our guide decided to carry on after lunch for another 1-2 hours. That should lead us to Khorla Besi and hence, curtail the distance for the morrow by the same amount. The plan sounded sensible and we agreed to it. After reaching Machhakhola, we ordered lunch, which was Nepalese thali that included rice, lentils, vegetables and green chilies. This is the staple food of Nepal across all regions and for most of our destinations along the route, we stuck to this diet. As we started off after lunch, a light drizzle started, which increased on our way and finally we had to pull out our raincoats. Dhananjoy was walking ahead of rest of us and soon moved out of sight. Clouds now moved in front and covered the hills surrounding us. With clouds coming on, the cold increased.

Machhakhola – picture courtesy, Dhananjoy De

After walking for sometime, we saw Dhananjoy standing beside the road in a local shop. After reaching there, he dropped a bomb shell . He had left his water bottles at the tea house at Machhakhola. Our destination for the day was just ahead. The porters were reluctant to go back and fetch the bottles. After some deliberations, Dhananjoy himself went back. It was a tough ask at the end of the day, to go back the distance we just covered and repeat the same journey. It would take him at least two to three hours more. With all of us exhausted by the day’s walking, it was painful to even think of it, but he had no other option. We plodded ahead and reached Khorla Besi, a small village nestled amidst the hills with just a few tea houses. Our sweatshirts were drenched and we hung them on the wires, but with the moisture in the atmosphere, their chances of drying up were feeble. After arrival of Dhananjoy, Niladri pulled out the snacks and tea bags from his repertoire and we chatted along. Evening wore on and after dinner at 7 PM, we subsided to our rooms. We were sleeping at 1200 m.

5th November, 2019

I spent the previous evening sweating over how to get my clothes dried. Hanging them outside didn’t work, so I laid them under my blanket and slept over them (with the hope of my body warmth drying them up). However, they were still wet when I woke up the next morning. Getting clothes dried in time was crucial as we had to reuse them (may be not on successive days, but every alternate 2/3 days). Finally, Niladri gave the idea of hanging them on my back while walking. The days were usually bright and clear, so why not let the Sun do its job. 5th November, 2019 was the first day when I tried that option and it continued throughout the trek. Bags were packed and handed over to porters. Our morning tea session started with discussion about the day’s plan. It was a long one. To reach Jagat, our next destination, we’d have to walk about 20 kms and would take almost the entire day. We left Khorla Besi after breakfast at about 7 AM in the morning. The trail continued up along the banks of Budhi Gandaki amidst bright sunshine, traversing through the valleys, ravines and the gorges.

Sections of the trail were broken by land slides and the route was riddled with boulders, pebbles and loose grounds. We skid frequently, especially when the trail moved down towards the river bank. The views were ecstatic, but we had to focus on our feet while moving over unsettled grounds. The frequency of landslides, narrow trails, rock fall zones on this route gave a feeling that we humans are not always welcome in these “internal” areas of nature. As if it was giving us signs to stay away. It doesn’t like these relentless intrusions in its interiors in the form of ever increasing tea houses, tourists and the accompanying road construction. The trail now descended to the banks of the river, which roared down the gorges.

En-route Jagat

Herds of ponies kept crossing us and we had to make way for them. They are the lifelines to the upper reaches of the region. One has to be careful while encountering these herds. The trails are narrow and there’s no luxury of space. The ponies are often burdened with loads and they don’t tolerate any obstruction on their way as it’s very difficult to contain their momentum with loaded backs. Hence, it’s the pedestrians who have the make way for them on the way up or down. Things can get tricky on narrow blind bends. Since you can’t see the other side (hidden from your vision by the mountain walls), you may come across them unexpectedly. But the good thing is they have bells hung in their necks which keep ringing and can be heard from a distance. The moment you hear them, keep an eye to judge how far they are at the back or in front and whether you can cross the upcoming narrow passage before they reach that point. Paving way for them isn’t easy always as space is a luxury on these trails at many places and at times, you have to slant your body along the rising walls to give them passage. The key here is to reach a convenient point of passage early enough where you can stand decently and wait for them to cross instead of clamoring for space which can be precarious and dangerous at times.

The river gave us ample opportunities to shoot and our shutters kept rolling. People posed by standing on the boulders with the river in the background.

Picture courtesy – Dhananjoy De

Boulders studding the river bed, bore the signs of the flowing torrent over the years which carved its own sculpture and pattern over them. After walking down the banks, we came across a suspension bridge which carried us to the other bank and a steep hike followed. We passed along villages where people were engrossed in their daily work. That mainly involved working in the fields, taming the roaming herds of goats to guide them to the pastures or towards home. Kids continued to cross our ways and we obliged them by distributing lozenges. Greetings of “Namaste” (a standard Nepalese respectful greeting) were exchanged. This greeting would gradually change to “Tashi Delek” (the Tibetan word for welcome) in the upper reaches inhabited by Tibetan refugees who came across the high mountain passes from trans Himalayan regions to settle in those areas after Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Picture courtesy – Dhananjoy De

We gave a halt for sometime to drink water. Our guide informed that we were nearing our place for lunch. Another half an hour should lead us there. He gave us corn grains to chew. Apparently, this gives oxygen which is helpful in the higher altitudes. When we reached there, we saw just a few tea houses on the edge of a wide valley. The river Budhi Gandaki flowed through many streams spread wide across the huge valley that formed an amphitheater surrounded by hills. It was an exquisite place to have lunch.

We sat around the table as lunch was being prepared. The standard dal bhaat, the staple food of Nepal. Ranjan da pulled out his bottle of pickle made of green chilies. Every item on the menu was repeated as many times as we wished. We could see the walkway along the vertical rocky walls that rose above the valley of Budhi Gandaki.

The walkway – enroute Jagat

This walkway deserves some mention. The earthquake of 2015 and the changing courses of the rivers had devastating effects on the trail to Jagat. At times, these events eroded large sections of the old trail. For quite sometime, the access to Jagat was through steep rising trails followed by sharp and dangerous drops. People from the valleys of Tsum, Nubri and other remote areas are heavily dependent on supplies and aids from the lower regions which were difficult to reach since the trail between Machhakhola and Jagat got severely damaged by the aforesaid events. Then, a Swiss company was tasked to make the trail safe in this section. After a superb display of engineering and an arduous effort put in by the locals, they came up with what is now called the walkway. It is a level steel bridge supported by angular structures clamped into the vertical rocky walls that rose up from the valley. After lunch, we resumed our walk and crossed a stoned stair case to reach the newly built walkway.

It was a treat to walk on this and we thanked the efforts of the people who built this. It was almost like walking along a level footpath in the high mountainous regions. After the end of it, another stone staircase brought us down to the valley again and a gradual trail followed which led us to the base of another suspension bridge that carried us to the other bank of Budhi Gandaki. Helicopters were making trips to the other side of the valley indicating the presence of a helipad nearby. After sometime we could see the distant houses of the village of Jagat. As we entered its outskirts, we were welcomed by a board of Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP).

Jagat

A map of the trek route was also on display with the prominent places, mountain peaks and passes marked out. Jagat is also the place where our permits would get checked. Our guide went to the MCAP office to have our permits checked.

We headed to our tea house. A single four-bedded room was allocated to us. Our bags reached there before. After changing to homewears, we sat on the beds with our usual tea and snacks session. Conversations involved our experience during the day, the new walkway, some friendly banters, leg pulling and the plan for the morrow, which would take us to the next destination Deng. The tea house had WiFi available and we called our respective homes to inform about our safe journey and health. A sense of relief, completion and satisfaction prevailed. After dinner, we went under the blankets. We were sleeping at 1370 m.

Kathmandu

Deng

Mountain of the spirit, Manaslu – Kathmandu

Manaslu

Khorla Besi and Jagat

2nd November, 2019

The previous night went in discussing with other members about the luggage they were taking along. Speaking to different members led to different opinions about the number of items to be carried along. There was one problem to cope with. We won’t be coming back to the place where we start from. It was a circuit trekking. Unlike previous occasions, Kathmandu (neither Pokhara) won’t figure on our way of return. Pokhara won’t come at all, while Kathmandu was to figure on the route, only on our way to the Manaslu circuit. This did have a bearing on the luggage as we couldn’t have dropped some at a place to recollect on our way back. Given that, we had to go through varying altitudes, the clothes, particularly warm-wear would vary accordingly. The thermal inner-ware is useless in lower reaches. We also had to keep an eye on the weight of our luggage to be humane towards the porters who would carry them along for about eleven days. After many deliberations, each of us narrowed down to our respective luggage – leaving out what we thought to be unnecessary.

Just after breakfast, Ranjan da came down to my place with a cab and we both headed towards Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport. Dhananjoy was in touch with us all throughout. He started from his quarters and boarded the Airport Express Metro to reach Terminal 3. The boarding queue was long but finally, we made it through the check ins to the departure gate. We were careful with our seat selection in order to get window seats to get glimpses of the Himalayas as soon as the aircraft took off. Before boarding the aircraft, we spoke to Niladri on phone. His train was running late by an hour. After that conversation, he went out of contact as he entered Nepal from the Raxaul border. We were deprived of the views during the initial part as clouds held a veil in front of The Himalayas. The ranges of Garhwal and Kumaon eluded us, but gradually the clouds cleared up and once we were passing the ranges of Central Nepal, we could clearly identify Dhaulagiri, the peaks of the Annapurna range and the “double-edged” summit of Manaslu, our destination.

The Himalayas

Unlike their Indian counterparts, the Nepal Himalayas didn’t disappoint. We had our eyes glued to the range as the aircraft went past them and started it’s descent towards the Kathmandu valley. We could see the valley surrounded by distant mountains, dotted with houses and fields. Temples and Monasteries stood out among them with their golden tops.

Before the trip, I started reading about the Annapurna expedition by the first climbing French team led by Maurice Herzog. Back then, the Kathmandu valley or for that matter, Nepal was a land of mystery offering limited access to the Western world. In order to reach Kathmandu, people had to travel by rail, then by road to a point. From there, a trek to cross a pass and again by road. But even this mode of transport couldn’t deter the royals from purchasing the modern cars or riding them on the streets of Kathmandu. Cars were carried by huge teams of porters (or coolies as they were called) who devised innovative ways of creating a platform of logs. The car used to be placed and fastened on top of that structure. This entire setup got carried by coolies through the roads, across and beyond the passes to Kathmandu.

We landed at the Tribhuvan international airport at about 1 PM, local time. It appeared all so familiar this time. The sky was clear with a very comfortable warmth of a November sunshine. A taxi took us through the Kathmandu streets towards Thamel, the tourism district of the city. We went past the Pashupatinath shrine on our way and reached the hotel Tibet Peace Inn. It is located just a few steps away from our place of stay for the Annapurna trip. After the formalities, we were served a welcome drink and then a local staff led us to our rooms. A few moments later, we ventured out to the streets of Thamel for lunch. Our plan was to have lunch and walk down to the Royal palace, about 3 kms from our place. After visiting it, the plan was to go to Basantapur Durbar Square, a must visit on the list of local sight seeings in Kathmandu. Hot, steaming momo served good for our lunch and after that, we started walking towards the Royal palace but as luck would have it, it was already closed for the day (we missed it by an hour).

Narayanhiti Royal palace – Kathmandu

Nevertheless, a few snaps in front of the palace, gave us some consolation and we started off towards Durbar Square. There was a glassy mall right opposite to the Royal palace. This, to me, came across as a sign of declining stature of the royals in Nepal, who, till a decade ago, commanded a lot of respect from the general public. In those days, it was impossible to have a commercial building obstruct the clear views of Royal palace from distance. But those heydays are a thing of past in contemporary Nepal. The statue of the former king Mahendra continues to adore the crossing in front of the royal palace. So do metallic sculptures of the kings Mahendra and Birendra, in the courtyard of the Pashupatinath temple.Unlike what some people said earlier, the Durbar Square turned out to be quite far from the Royal palace. We kept walking and asking the locals till we finally reached there. It was a slice of ancient Nepal amidst the modern streets of Kathmandu.

Basantapur Durbar Square

The area was dotted with ancient temples and structures all around. Tourists from all around the world thronged the place. Shopkeepers were busy luring them with their “best deals”. Tourists enjoyed the local street food and the numerous monkeys kept constant vigil with the hope of confiscating them.

Durbar Square

Another attraction of the Durbar Square was the idol of Kal Bhairav – a deity that gets worshiped by locals, in the hope of warding off the evils.

Kal Bhairav – Durbar Square, Kathmandu

After the visit to the Durbar Square, we came back to the hotel to await the arrival of Niladri. We had to be present before his arrival as there was no way we could communicate with him on phone. Finally, when his figure entered through the door, it seemed to me, once again, a slice of Kolkata, my native place, with a freshness, arrived in my life after about six months (since my last visit during the summers)! We ordered tea as soon as he arrived and a tea conference ensued (first of the many that would follow throughout the trip). Niladri pulled out some snacks from his bag, in which he carried a load of items that included tea bags and a steel mug for each one of us. All of these were a part of a strategy to reduce cost (food costs go extremely high, especially at the higher altitudes). The hotel had WiFi, which allowed us to contact our homes to announce our safe arrival. I gave a call to Tej Bahadur Gurung of Nepal Alternative Treks to inquire about our permits. We also had to meet him in the evening to submit our passports and pay our advances for him to arrange for our permits. We met him in the evening at his hotel to hand over our documents. He would send his men to the permit office the next morning and it could take till noon to get them done. After that, he’d arrange for a vehicle to take us to Sotikhola, which is where our trek would start from. We arrived in Kathmandu on a Saturday, the weekly off day in Nepal. That’s the reason, the permits had to be done the following day. After meeting Tej, we had our dinner at a local restaurant in Thamel and returned to the hotel. Plans were drawn up for a visit to the Pashupatinath shrine in the early morning, the next day.

3rd November, 2019

We woke up next morning and after the morning bath and a small tea session, we headed for the Pashupatinath shrine as planned on the previous day. The taxi took us through the dark streets of Kathmandu to the shrine. We walked down the lanes, all familiar since our visit last year. The temple courtyard was bustling with devotees and monkeys alike. After a visit of the idol, we started a walk around the courtyard (a Parikrama). It was all the same as before. The temple, the morning tolls of it’s bells, the chants by the priests and also, the cremation ground at it’s backyard. We crossed over the Bagmati river to it’s other side to have a view of the temple complex from elevated banks on that side.

Pashupatinath shrine

On our way back to the hotel, we boarded a bus which took a different route that wandered through the streets of Kathmandu and dropped us at a place, from where we had to take a walk towards Thamel. On our way, we had breakfast. Finally, at about 11.30 AM, Tej Gurung gave us a call that our permits were ready. We took our bags to the place where the vehicle awaited us. We met our guide and one of the porters. Bidding goodbye to Tej Gurung, we started off on our journey. Another porter, Naveen, joined us en-route. The vehicle headed out of the Kathmandu valley along the highway to Pokhara. From Benighat, it left the Pokhara highway towards the town Aarughat. The afternoon was bright and the sun showered its golden rays over the paddy fields we passed by. The road started meandering up the slopes till it reached a point where Asphalt gave way to mud and boulders. We knew earlier that the secion of the road from Aarughat to Sotikhola was totally made of boulders, but it turned out that the stretch started much earlier, even before Aarughat. Evening was bearing on and we had to reach Sotikhola before dark. The vehicle kept bumping up and down on our topsy turvy ride. The road moved along the banks of the river Budhi Gandaki which came down the slopes with it’s water frothing along the rapids formed by it’s uneven bed. When we finally reached Sotikhola, the last trace of daylight was leaving the lower reaches of the valley, while the upper slopes of the surrounding hills still bathed in sunshine, a common phenomenon in the mountains. Our guide found a tea house and we subsided into our rooms. A tea session followed soon. Let me describe these tea sessions as it merits some mention. It usually started with Niladri puling out some tea bags from his repertoire. All of us then followed by pulling out some snacks (biscuits, chocolates, dates etc.) from our respective bags. We ordered a jug of hot water from the tea house. Mugs came out and tea got prepared by dipping the bags. Dhananjoy preferred having his tea bag dipped for at least 5 minutes before consumption. Apparently, that yielded a much better flavor (a fact which served as a basis of immense leg-pulling throughout the trip). It was then followed by candid discussions, friendly banters, leg pulling and plans for the coming days. We responded to a call for dinner at 7 PM to come out in the lawn in the chilly evening. The sky was pitch dark, studded with some stars. The guide gave us a lecture about the morrow’s plan (a pattern that would follow throughout the route). It had a fixed agenda and was spoken in a unique accent (more about it later) which was difficult to decipher. As per the plan, our next destination was Machhakhola. Finally, the day arrived when we’d hit the trail, once again! We subsided under blankets for the night. We were sleeping at 700 m.

Manaslu

Khorla Besi and Jagat

Mountain of the spirit, Manaslu

Kathmandu

During the concluding phases of our visit to the Annapurna Base Camp, we were thinking about what could be our next venture. The target was obviously Nepal as it houses half of the highest mountains in the world. Though we are not a group of climbers, so the rankings of mountains by their heights shouldn’t mean much to us, but there’s no doubting the fact that they add to the aura. More often than not, it’s likely that they’d have a route to their base camps and they normally go through a wide range of altitudes and varying landscapes. The name of the mountain that came up this time was Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain of the world. The name Manaslu translates to the meaning “mountain of the spirit“. It is derived from the Sanskrit word manasa which means soul or spirit. Firstly, it belongs to the famed 8000-ers (the mountain peaks that reach 8000 m or more) and secondly, this trail is not about going to the base camp and returning via the same route. It is about encircling the Manaslu massif with the route likely to take us through the varied landscapes, flora, fauna and the culture of the people inhabiting the villages that are sprinkled densely (at the lower levels) and sparsely (at the higher levels) along the route. For the first time, we’d be taking a route that will not be the same on our way back. That is to say, on our way up and down, we’d be traversing “different” places.

The region

Mt Manaslu is the eighth highest mountain in the world with a height of 8163 m. It is a part of the Mansiri Himal (Himal: Sections or ranges of The Himalayas typically including many mountain peaks) lying in the Gorkha district of West-central Nepal. It lies about 64 km east of the Annapurna range of Central Nepal. Starting from Arughat to Larkya La (the highest point in the trek), the Manaslu region covers different climatic zones ranging from tropical & sub-tropical zones in the lower reaches, to temperate, sub-alpine and alpine zones. The flora and fauna varies accordingly. The valleys in the lower reaches are covered with lush green forests, which gradually pave the way for arid trans-Himalayan pastures finally reaching the snow line at its highest elevation at Larkya La, which is the passage from the Gorkha district to the Manang district or in other words, from the Manaslu Conservation area to the Annapurna Conservation area. The Manaslu Conservation Area Project was started in 1997 with the aim of conservation of natural resources and culture of the region.

There are many ethnic groups inhabiting the area, Nubri and Tsum being the primary two divides. The Gurungs inhabit the hills of the central area, while the Bhotias of Tibetan ethnicity can be found in the higher reaches dotted with serene monasteries, stupas and mani walls.

Climbing history

They say Mt Everest is the mountain of the British, but Mt Manaslu belongs to the Japanese. This is mainly derived from the fact that the majority of the initiatives to climb the former was driven by the British and ultimately, the expedition that tasted success for the first time, was also organized by them. Similarly, for the latter, the same applies to the Japanese (be it the majority of failed attempts, the first successful climb and even the first successful team of women on the mountain).

In 1950, H. W. Tilman led an expedition that trekked from the Kathmandu valley to Manang, which they used as a base camp to explore the valleys and mountains in and around the Annapurna massif. It was the same time when a French expedition team led by Maurice Herzog was exploring the regions between the Annapurna massif and the Dhaulagiri massif looking for options to climb any of the two who would lower their defenses first. While Maurice’s team tasted success on Annapurna Main, Tilman’s team made an unsuccessful attempt on Annapurna IV. During these efforts, when Tilman’s team was exploring the higher reaches of the river Dudhkhola, they were able to get a clear view of Mt Manaslu from Bimthang (now used as a stopover on the way down from Larkya La in the Manaslu Circuit Trek). Three months after that aborted attempt, Tilman, along with J. O. M. Roberts trekked to Larkya La and from there, had a clear view of Manaslu and its slopes. They concluded that there is a direct route to the summit, but they didn’t attempt it.

Between 1950-54, there were as many as four Japanese expeditions to the mountain. In 1952, a Japanese reconnaissance  team visited the area after monsoons. The following year saw a Japanese team of fifteen attempting to climb the mountain via the east side by setting their base camp at Samagaun. But the expedition failed with four members of the team having to turn back after reaching 7750 m. The 1954 team had to face a group of hostile villagers at Samagaun who thought that the Japanese expeditions of the previous years have displeased the God, resulting in avalanches that destroyed the Pung-gyen monastery, killing 18 people in the process (now a side trek destination from Samagaun that gives exquisite views of Himalayan peaks including Manaslu). The team had to make a hasty retreat to Ganesh Himal. They made generous donations towards rebuilding the monastery, but that failed to please the local inhabitants. Finally, in the year 1956, on May, the 9th, Toshio Imanishi of Japan and Sherpa Gyaltsen Norbu made the first successful ascent of Manaslu. This team too, had to face the wrath of local population (a leftover of previous expeditions). The next successful climb was only in 1971, again by a Japanese team, lending weight behind the term “Japanese mountain”. The next year, 1972, saw the first climb via the South-West face by Reinhold Messner. The same year saw one of the deadliest accidents on the slopes of Manaslu. Fifteen members of a Korean expedition were killed when an avalanche buried their camp at the height of 6500 m. In this topsy turvy history, if there were some lows, certainly there were some highs too. The year 1974 saw the first team of women succeed on the mountain. An expedition led by by Kyoko Sato, a team comprising of the climbers Naoko Nakaseko, Masako Uchida and Mieko Mori successfully climbed Manaslu on 4th May along with Jambu Sherpa. They were also the first team of women to climb any 8000 m peak.

The trek

A trek that now spans for 163 km, starts from Sotikhola and ends at Dharapani, on the Annapurna circuit route. The trek follows an ancient salt-trading route along the gorges of the Budhi Gandaki river. The slopes are steep in the lower regions till one reaches the village of Deng. The lower reaches go through dense forests amidst the river gorges and offers ample views of gorgeous waterfalls.

The slopes start becoming more gradual after Deng, after which, views of snow-capped Himalayan peaks start to appear. The village of Lho offers the first view of the double edged summit of Mt Manaslu.

After that, the route travels through the forests of the Syala village (that offers a 360 degree view of Himalayan peaks) to a slight descent to Samagaun, lying on the eastern base of Manaslu. After Samagaun, a flat trail with a steep rise at the end takes one to Samdo, the highest village in the Budhi Gandaki valley. The trail after that is along another valley bordering Tibet taking one to Dharamsala, the base for night halt before attempting to cross Larkya La, the next day. After crossing the pass, the trail enters the Annapurna Conservation area to descend to BimThang and then moving further down to Dharapani following the banks of Dudhkhola. From Dharapani, one can take a jeep ride to Besisahar. The trek takes you from an altitude of 600 m to a maximum height of 5106 m (Larkya La).

The trip

We returned from Nepal after completing the Annapurna Base Camp trek making a pledge to return to the Manaslu region next year. At the turn of 2019, I reached out to my regular companions Dhananjoy De, Niladri Sekhar Guha and Ranjan da (Ranjan Ghosh). They are the ones who have accompanied me in all my earlier ventures to Nepal. This time around, we were cautious about reaching out to others. We did reach out to other members of the erstwhile Annapurna team, but they were not able to make it for different reasons. But, unlike on last occasion, we didn’t try to convince many people and were content to limit ourselves to the “core four”. Our usual queries started flowing in different directions. Some to the tour operator, others to internet. People started watching videos about the trek. The views on the offering made us exited even more and plans were drawn out. Initially, we wanted to include Tsum valley, but had to drop the idea because of time constraints. According to the final plan, Niladri was to start from Kolkata on 1st November (a Friday) on a train to reach Raxaul on 2nd. He was to reach Kathmandu, the same day in the evening. The rest of us were to take a morning flight to Kathmandu on 2nd November. One the 3rd, we were to travel by a jeep to Sotikhola. The trek was to start on 4th. Successive days were to see us scaling heights and 13th was supposed to be the D-Day, i.e. the day to cross Larkya La. The bugle calls were on and so was our journey to the Himalayan nation Nepal for a third time on a trekking adventure! In my upcoming posts, I intend to take you along the journey through the gorges of Budhi Gandaki and Dudhkhola.

Kathmandu