This was my first trip outside of North America and I must admit, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Actually, "little" is an understatement. A LOT overwhelmed. In the past I've taken pride in my ability to throw myself into something new and flourish. This was the first time I admitted to myself, and others around me, that I was struggling. Wow! That was hard to do! With this admission came a freedom to experience my surroundings and not slog through it. I was in Nepal and I wanted to remember it, not just get through it.
My friend, Jo, had been in Nepal for the past 7 weeks conducting a study for her Masters in Public Health. She was a gem, picking me up at the airport and being patient with me as I adjusted to the new time zone. After spending a day exploring the labyrinth of Kathmandu we met our guide, Jay, and set out on a 6 hour (125km) jeep ride to Arughat. The Jeep was the most expensive part of the trip, costing $165USD. There is also a local bus. With our tight schedule we chose reliability and convenience over saving money. Arriving in Soti Khola the local buses were not running. A government strike was on and no one could get petrol. Our jeep couldn't take us the final leg so we chartered a vehicle for 4000ru. What we didn't realize was that this "vehicle" WAS the local bus. WE CHARTERED THE LOCAL BUS! I have never been so embarrassed of my privilege (and my poor decision making). The locals were waving, trying to flag it down, and we drove right by them. Their faces covered with confusion; why was the bus was not stopping? I wanted to hide! It was not fun in the least, but it was a good learning experience. Getting off the bus Jo and I both looked at Jay and said...we are never doing that again!
Eight hours in, our first day was complete. My bum was sore even though I had yet to take a single step on a trail. For those familiar with the Canmore area, the roads were like driving into the Ghost Wilderness Area, an amusement park ride of it's own!
In the morning the trail was impressively dry. Hiking along a road for an hour we were finally on the "trail". Going into this trip I imagined the trail to be similar to the ones here in Canada, surrounded by wilderness, no people, and having a feeling of being cut off from the world. I was a bit off. The Manaslu trek follows the Buri Gandaki River passing through many villages along the way. This trail is essentially like the Trans Canada highway, connecting communities and people together, except the semi trucks are mules and everyone is hiking. The villages varied in size, from one family to the largest being Samagaon, with a population of ~700 people. Along the way we witnessed an odd paradox; a lot of the villages have power, wifi, cell service, and some have satellite TV, but they don't have clean drinking water and their houses are not sealed to the elements. My brain really struggled with this. The trek has yet to become popular and therefore has kept some of it's pristine feel. We were all surprised with the amount of new infrastructure being built. My recommendation is...if you want to complete this trek, do it sooner than later. It is gaining momentum
With the trail being along a cliff it was vulnerable to damage during the 2015 earthquake. Parts of it were destroyed cutting off the upstream villages for up to 6months. Using international funds, a 93m bridge was constructed, bolting it to the side of the cliff, re-establishing the connection.
Continuing on we met more and more people retreating; unable to cross Larkya La pass. We had yet to hit snow and hoped the good weather would hold out. That night we decided to crash in the village of Philim. It was a busy place, a common stopping point for those making their way back down. If you want a quieter experience, there are accommodations just before town. Another quiet option is on the way out of town, you'll find little cabins on the left.
Stopping for lunch in Deng our group voted their dal bhat the best on the trail. Dal bhat is all you can eat and thus a trekkers go to...for the first 3 days at least. The great part is that it only costs around 500ru (350ru at lower elevations and 600ru at Samagaon). Arriving in Ghap I was feeling tired, my legs were sore, and the horizontal realm was calling my name. Since arriving in Kathmandu I had been sleeping 10hrs a night. Tonight was no different. The accommodations in Ghap were newly built and we were the only ones there! Silence...bliss!
Here we were able to access wifi and with this luxury I had one thing on my mind...no, not that...the weather forecast. Our nice weather would soon be that of the past. They were calling for +30cm of snow!
Leading up to this trip, I read various blog post and itineraries. Some seemed aggressive, gaining over 1000m in a single day. Having only been at 3500m I was nervous about how my body would tolerate higher elevations. Therefore, Jo and I elected a more conservative plan. With the new weather report that plan was officially thrown out the window!
We reached Lho in only 3 hours. To our surprise, Lho had an amazing amount of stuff to buy; hats, gloves, microspikes, gators, they had it all...at a price. Jay asked if we wanted to stop for lunch. There was no doubt in either of our minds. We were continuing on without lunch (lunch usually took 1.5hrs). Jo and I both packed bars to eat along the way, Jay had none. The kitchen whipped up tibetan bread, he swallowed it hole, and we continued onwards.
By this time the sun was beating down on us. The snow had softened and we were post holing...or should I say, Jay was post holing...up to his mid thigh. Jo and I had the luxury of following his steps. They told us in Lho that the village of Shyala remained closed for the season. Jay was so excited when we found people there upon our arrival. "Stay here?" He asked. Nope...while the views were amazing in Shyala; Samagaon was our goal. Based on views alone I recommend staying at Shyala over Lho.
Finally, Samagaon comes into view. It stays in view...and seems to get further away. The final 45min into Samagaon were the longest of the entire trip! Arriving at the hotel we devoured a very late lunch.
Waking at 5am, the skies were grey. It wasn't snowing so we stuck to our previous decision and started hiking. An hour in the snow started to fly. Both Jo and I had surpassed our comfort zones and elected to return to Samagaon. On the way back we expected to meet some of the other groups, but we saw no one! Returning to our hotel everyone was gathered outside debating if they would continue. Jo and I voiced that we were heading down.
I am VERY grateful that I was born in Canada!
We returned to Namrung the same day we turned around on route to Samdo. From Namrung we were able to make it back to Philim; this time staying at a quieter location. The next day we stopped in Dobhan for lunch allowing Jay to visit his brother. That night we decided to rest in Machha Khola. This left us with only a 2 hour hike back to Soti Khola where our jeep would be waiting for us.
All in all I am very glad I went on this trip. Many insights were gained. Thank you to Lok, our travel agent, for organizing everything. Jay for your amazing sense of humour and for not killing us when we took off running down the trail. And Jo, for being the amazing person you are. I am so glad we are friends!
...more info...just what you wanted, right? You were probably expecting something free...jokes on you! :)
Below is our itinerary including: morning temperatures, elevation changes, and villages we stayed in. If you have any questions please reach out. I'd be more than happy to help you out! That's what travelling is all about, right?
If you are looking for more information on the cost of the trip or other itinerary options you can check out these two blog posts by NEST adventures.