Published: March 31st 2011March 31st 2011
MANASLU CIRCUIT & ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT in 25 days
Walking in Nepal is truly amazing !
Squeezed between India on one side and China on the other this small and colourful country offers some of the best, most beautiful and breathtaking scenery there is making it one of the most unique trekking destinations in the world. In addition to its grand and eye-catching nature the country also hosts rich and interesting cultural traditions which really adds to the adventure of visiting this lovely place.
I went back to Nepal for my third consecutive year in October/November 2010. After already completing the Annapurna Circuit + Basecamp in 2008 and Everest Basecamp including Gokyo, Cho La Pass & Kongma La Pass in 2009, I decided I wanted to try something a little bit more different and remote than on my previous trips to Nepal.
The Manaslu Circuit had been on my lips ever since my first trip to this country in 2008 from the moment I was sitting on a rooftop restaurant in Timang overlooking the impressive and spectacular Manaslu Massif unfold in its beautiful white colours.
In October 2010 I was back in Kathmandu ready to fulfill my thoughts from
2 years back.
The Manaslu Circuit has only been open to tourism since 1991 and has since been considered a restricted area.
To enter the area one must :
1. Trek with a registered guide in a group of two or more.
2. Trekking Permit - 70 USD for the first week and then 10 USD pr.day thereafter in Peak Season Sept/Oct/Nov
3. Manaslu Conservation Area Project permit ( MCAP ) R.s 2000 + Annapurna Conservation Area Project permit ( ACAP ) R.s 2000
I had a very reliable agent in Kathmandu who did all the paperwork for me in advance before my arrival to the country. Coming unprepared could in worst case leave me stranded for several days in the capital since Government offices had the potential of being closed during the famous Dashain festival, slowing down the paper/permit process significantly. I would much rather spend my time in the mountains.
Since I was a solo trekker doing a teahouse-style-trek not attached to any people or groups my agent had to set me up with a another artifical/ghost person to overcome the regulation of " . . . two or more . . .". This basically
meant I had to pay all the fees for both of us.
With all the permits, service charge/taxes, insurance and guide salary this cost me about USD 1000 which did not include food or lodging.
Day 1 : Kathmandu - Okhle
Packed and ready to go ! The scene at the bus station in early morning Kathmandu was pretty chaotic as me and my guide were thrawling through crowds of people and vehicles, beeping horns, fortunetellers, hungry stray dogs, beggars, fruit sellers and everything else making this a very lively and pulsating introduction to my Manaslu trip.
After receiving our blessings we were on our way at 7.15 am. The colourful bus was absolutely packed with people and I was lucky only to be squeezed into a window-seat next to my guide.
Driving on the Prithivi Highway which connects the capital to Pokhara is both scenic and dramatic as it leaves the Kathmandu Valley and enters some nailbiting downhill curves before zig-zagging through some deep river valleys.
We had a good and careful driver who took us safely to the village of Abu Khaireni 116 km west of Kathmandu where we turned right and continued the
last 20 km uphill to Gorkha where we arrived at 1.10 pm.
Gorkha is a town of great historical interest situated at 1135 m. offering some excellent mountain views. On a clear day both Himalchuli and Manaslu can be seen from here.
This was a perfect lunch stop for us as we sat down waiting for our next bus taking us to Arughat our trekking starting point. After finishing our food we were told by some locals that there were no buses going to Arughat today. If we wanted to continue our best option would be to take a bus to Ghympesal. That would leave us within a few hours walking distance to our destination this day.
A ticket was 120 Rupees and off we went. This time our bus was even more crowded, dirtier and older. Once we hit the bumpy dirtroad I knew we would be up for a nerve-wrecking adventure that would scare the hell out of me for the next coming hours.
The narrow dusty roads where littered with big holes, steep plunges and hairy edges as it sneaked its way slowly through overcoming some major obstacels almost tipping over at times forcing
me to jump out of the window on one occasion. The road safety in Nepal is beyond poor and to witness this myself was not the best thing I have done in this country.
Our pre-blessings paid off and luckily we got to our place in one piece :-) The sun was about to go down as we continued our quest on foot towards Arughat passing through a green landscape dotted with small villages, colourful houses and farms.
With almost no daylight left on the sky and still an hour or so to go we had no choice but to stop for the day and ask a random local family in Okhle if we could stay overnight at their place.
The warm welcome and hospitality we received was overwhelming. The friendliness and care they gave us with the limited resources they had was an example to follow. With drizzling rain coming down from the nightsky we were served a delicious dal bhat before going to sleep on some handmade straw matresses thinking "what a day this has been ".
Day 2 : Okhle 1000 m - Lapubesi 880 m 9h00m
The rain was about to end
when we left Okhle at 6.50 in the morning waving goodbye to our friendly family. We followed a wet dirt road for the first hour before we took a shortcut down to Arughat Bazaar where we arrived at 8.20 am.
Arughat Bazaar, sitting on the bank of Buri Gandaki, is the starting point for most people who walk the Manaslu Circuit. Some small shops with a limited selection of food, snacks, drinks and clothes were available in addition to a few teahouses. We opted for a quick light breakfast, went to the checkpoint office for the formal paper procedures and continued from Arughat at 9.10 am.
The flat inital terrain was a very gentle introduction to the Manaslu Circuit as we passed small houses and green farms going from one small village to another on the left side of the river. In each village there were signs pointing to the Larkya Pass + the next village ahead and the time it would take to get there.
Before arriving in Arkhet 760 m. at 11.00 am we had to take our shoes off to cross a river. As we entered the village I was surprised to see all
the garbage littered all over the place. Scenes like these are definately not as obvious on the Annapurna Circuit/Everest Basecamp trek and I could only assume that the Nepalese Government prefers to spend their money and efforts on the more famous and prestigious treks rather than trying to develop and educate the places that do not see so many tourists.
In Soti Khola 710 m at 12.40 pm we had lunch at the ABC Hotel which seemed to be under construction when we were there. A noodle soup 180 Rupees.
The trail became a bit more strenous after leaving our lunch spot. Before reaching our destination this day the trail climbed up an exposed track of stone steps clinging to the mountain wall making it the most dramatic ascent this day.
At 3.50 pm we finally arrived in the Gurung village Lapubesi 880 m. Checked in at the very basic Manaslu Hotel with simple rooms run by some very friendly people.
Just a few other tourists here as well. Among them some Czech people who were on their way to Tsum Valley to run an eye-clinic there
Day 3 : Lapubesi 880 m. - Dobhan 1000
The morning mist was covering the green rice terraces in the village as I woke up to another day of clouds with big potential of rain in them.
With a bowl of noodle soup and some chapati bread as starting fuel we left Lapubesi at 8.15 am continuing north on the spectacular trail next to the Buri Gandaki River.
Passed through Nauri Khola at 8.40 am, crossed a long suspension bridge and entered a trail cut into a cliff before descending down to the sandy banks of the river where some temporary shelters were put up offering a chance to take a rest.
About an hour later we reached Macha Khola 900 m. at 10.40 am and had a snack break at Jun Vally Restaurant & Lodge with one Snicker costing 80 Npr. This place looked pretty good and new by Manaslu standards.
Our final push up to Doban involved some steep ascents and descents ,walking pass tobacco and buckwheat fields, crossing some small tiny handmade bridges and edgy landslide-areas. A few tourists here and there but not even close to the numbers seen on the more famous treks in Nepal.
through Tatopani 930 m. a suspension bridge took us to the right hand side of the river for the first time and the trail gradually took us to Doban 1000 m where we arrived at 3.00 pm.
The Himalaya Hotel & Lodge seemed to be the only teahouse option in this village and we were put in a dark smoky room with eight hard straw matresses sharing the place with a few other trekkers from England and Spain. A big camping group was also spending the night in Doban making it the most touristic place so far on the route.
In the evening the rain was back with us again :-)
Day 4 : Doban 1000 m. - Phillim 1590 m. 6h40m
Weather had improved quite a bit and chances to get some sun this day looked quite likely as we set off from Dobhan at 7.00 am crossing the Doban Khola on a suspension bridge.
Within less than one hour we reached Tholo Dunga which offered a simple seasonal restaurant & lodge. We decided to have breakfast here ( noodle soup 100 Npr ) before we continued uphill for a while reaching Yaru Bagar at
9.10 am situated on a quiet bank of Buri Gandaki. Hotel Sandbank and Lodge looked like a decent place to stay overnight set in a very atmospheric valley.
The trail looked a bit outwashed in places as we contiued on the right hand side of this beautiful valley crossing a small stream and climbing up and down along some edges. Soon we reached another suspension bridge taking us to the left side of the river again with a steady climb waiting on the other side. A huge sign at the end of the climb welcomes you to MANASLU CONSERVATION AREA and there are some nice views of Jagat a little bit further down.
We reached the scenic Gurung village of Jagat 1410 m. at 10.20 am. Fixed with paved stone plates throughout this really looked like a pleasant little village which even had a school, police station and a custom office to collect tax on Tibetan trade. In Jagat we had to register at the MCAP checkpoint.
The next hour took us to the small settlement of Salleri 1440 m. According to the Lonely Planet "Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya" the view of Sringi Himal 7187 m.
is particularly good from here, but ever since we left Arughat 3 days ago we had not been able to see any snow capped mountains so far because of the cloudy/overcast weather throughout.
After leaving Salleri a fairly long ascent awaited before the trail eventually descended to Sirdibas 1430 m. with its stony houses and quiet atmosphere. A pepsi here cost 130 Npr.
Another short walk took us to what must have been one of the longest suspension brigdes on the whole circuit before a steep climb up took us to our final place this day Phillim 1590 m. at 1.40 pm.
Phillim is a Gurung Village sitting on a slope where the Manaslu Conservation area Project headquarters is situated.
We checked in at the new and simple but clean Maila Guesthouse in the centre of the village.
That evening Sringi Himal appeared for the first time only to disappear a few seconds later
Day 5 : Phillim 1590 - Ghap 2160 m. 9h05m
I could not have asked for a better wake up view than the sight of Sringi Himal in the distance making a great backdrop from Phillim in the scenery.
one of my toughest walking days on the whole trek .
We made a start from Phillim at 7.15 am, walked for 45 mins on a fairly flat trail to Ekle Bhatti 1600 m. and then gradually downhill until we reached the intersection where the Tsum Valley trek and the Manaslu trek splits. On the way down we had to traverse a narrow trail cut into an almost vertical landslide section where monkeys playing above triggered rocks coming down in full speed. We kept our heads down and tried to get through as quick as possible without being hit from above. After coming down to the trail junction in the "safe- zone" we deservedly had a 5 min break :-)
After crossing a blue bridge to the west side of the river again we had a 2 hour steady uphill walk to what I think must have been the small settlement of Nyak. My map said this place was situated at 2340 m. which I think is wrong unless there is an Upper and Lower Nyak. After checking, the right altitude should be something like 1950 m.
This section of the trail looked a bit deserted with very few
people and houses along the way set in a very nice and quiet atmosphere. Reached Nyak at 10.30 am. The place had 2 simple lodges. One of them looked brand new.
A little bit further ahead was the tiny village of Deng 1800 m. which is situated at the start of the lower Nupri Region called Kutang. There are views of Lumbo Himal as well as Lapuchen Himal and Djiwen Himals from here
We reached Deng at 11.35 am. A perfect lunchstop for us.
There were at least two lodges in Deng.
Another suspension bridge just after Deng took us to the right side of the Buri Gandaki and was followed by what must have been the steepest part of the trail so far climbing on some wooden handmade steps and curvy slopes before reaching the windy Bihi Phedi 2130 m. at 2.05 pm. This place had a lodge and campsite with views of Kutang Himal.
We decided to finish the day by walking for a few more hours along the valley which sneaked its way through bending slightly to the left towards Ghap. With my 20 kg backpack I could really feel the burden of
the weight with all the ups and downs-ins and outs of canyons- style terrain. When we reached Ghap 2160 m. at 4.20 pm we were more than happy with todays long hike and decided to check in at the very basic Manaslu Thukuri Hotel as the only guests here this afternoon.
Day 6 : Ghap 2160 m. - Lho 3180 m. 610m 6h10m
It has become a routine on all my trips to Nepal to get up early and start walking in the morning. Today was no exception and at 7.25 am we were on our way.
This day would take us a 1000 m. higher up in the valley where we would be surrounded by more snow capped mountains and more Tibetan Buddhist culture with all its chortens, mani walls and prayer flags.
It took us a little bit less than 2 hours of uphill walking to reach Namrung village at 2660 m. Namrung village is the start of Nubri Region, one of the most isolated areas in the Himalayan border areas.
The Nubri Valley has a population of roughly 3500 people. While the upper part of the valley is populated by ethnic tibetans who began
settling here over 600 years ago, the lower Nubri is inhabited by a mixture of Tibetans and ethnic Ghales who migrated from the south.
This place had a few shops with a decent selection by Manaslu standards ( 1 water bottle = 150 Npr ) and at least one guesthouse.
After leaving Namrung the valley opened up even more as we reached the scenic village of Lihi 2910 m. at 11.30 am with views of Simnang Himal 6251 m. and Naike Peak 5515 m. at the far end of the valley.
As we crossed the Hinang Chuli on a wooden bridge soon after leaving Lihi and started the climb up to Shyo, even better views opened up with Ngadi Chuli 7871 m., Manaslu North 7774 m. , Manaslu 8156 m. and Naike Peak appearing . At least this is the case in clear weather, but again the clouds worked against us keeping everything out except a beautiful white stretch of Mansiri Himal.
Shyo 2950 m. ( at 12.30 pm ) was a beautiful little place with nice open fields and apple trees which we simply had to try :-)
Coming up to Lho we eventually
passed the 3000 m. altitude line.
Lho 3180 m. is one of the biggest villages in the upper valley surrounded by dense pine forest and open fields. We arrived here at 1.35 am with plenty of daylight left to walk around and observe daily life in the village.
In the late afternoon we had a very short glimpse of the Manaslu summit for the first time. It really looked impressive from the place we stayed and I could only imagine how sensational the views would be had the weather been clear.
Day 7 : Lho 3180 m. - Samagaon 3530 m. 2h25m
Another miserable night with rain which literally had been following us every day now since we took our first steps from Arughat one week ago.
With most of the majestic scenery wrapped up in clouds we left our cosy but smoky guesthouse at 7.50 am hoping that the weather would improve soon.
A downhill walk after coming out of Lho was followed by a fairly long uphill task before we arrived in Shyala 3520 m at 9.10 am. Coming up the slopes to this village I could feel the effects of altitude for the
first time being slightly out of breath when pushing it too hard up the hills.
From Shyala the valley opened up and soon a big open wide area appeared with Samagaon village sitting at the far end at the foot of Mt Manaslu.
The final walk across the open plains was easy and we finally arrived with drizzling rain on our shoulders at Mount Manaslu Hotel & Lodge in Samagaon at 10.15 am.
Samagaon village is one of the 10 villages situated deep within the Nubri Valley of Mt Manaslu. Despite its remotnes and harsh climate the village has more than 1000 inhabitants and 200 households. Most of the locals live in complete poverty with almost no basic health facilities available. The infant mortality rate is extremely high and even the simplest of diseases potentially life threatening because of very limited medical services. Nearest hospital is in Gorkha which takes almost a week to reach on foot.
Illiteracy rate is also very high among people.
With the rain still coming down in drizzles we spent most of the day in and around the lodge. Two climbers from Ecuador who had to suspend their their attempt to
reach the Manaslu Summit because of bad weather, joined us later in the afternoon after coming down from basecamp. They were probably the last people to make an attempt for the summit this season.
Day 8 : Rest day in Samagaon
My initial plan this morning was to do an acclimatization walk up to Manaslu Basecamp at 4900 m, but as soon as I looked out the window I knew this would not be the case. Again wet weather was looming in the whole valley hiding all the wonderful mountain views.
Instead I decided to take an easy 1 hour walk up to the scenic turquoise Birendra Lake just above Samagaon Village. This lake originates from Manaslu glacier near the Manaslu Basecamp and offers a tranquil and relaxing place set in a dramatic cathedral-like atmosphere.
Back at the lodge more people were checking in or just stopping by for lunch. This was the first teahouse I stayed at who had a menu and considering how remote this place really is I was very impressed with the selection they had. The family who ran the place was very very friendly and the owner himself spoke really good english
and had great knowledge about everything going on in the area. There was even internett in the lodge, but the connection somewhat unstable from time to time. 30 Nrp pr.min.
Day 9 : Samagaon 3530 m. - Samdo 3860 m. 2h45m
Today was another short and easy day of walking up to Samdo at 3860 m.
There was a mixture of rain and snow in the air when we woke up in the morning but by the time we left our lodge in Samagaon at 8 am the clouds were beginnig to crack up. What initally looked to be another wet miserable viewless day in the mountains soon changed into an outstanding day as the bad weather moved away revealing more and more of the breathtaking scenery that had been hidden for us for almost the entire trip. Within less than an hours walking on a wet and muddy snow covered trail Mount Manaslu suddenly appeared in its amazing full figure for the first time making a very impressive presence in the valley. From the moment we caught this breathtaking view of the 8. highest mountain in the world it marked the turning point in the weather. From
now on the late wet post monsoon had been replaced by wonderful sunshine and clear blue skies.
A couple of big groups with all its porters and guides doing a camping-style-trek and the big caravans of yaks and donkeys coming down with goods from Tibet made the trail somewhat busy. About half way was the pasture of Kermo Karka with a very long mani wall and fairly soon after the entrance chorten to Samdo Village became visible at the far end of the valley.
We reached reached Samdo 3860 m. at 10.45 am.
Samdo is the last village before the Larkya Pass and was established in the late 1950s by Tibetans who escaped from Chinese occupation. The place offers some great views of Samdo Peak 6335 m. and Pangpoche Himal.
The village is less than a days walk away from the Tibetan border and tradesmen with their convoys of yaks and donkeys traffic this route on a regular basis.
We checked in at the nice Yak Lodge & Restaurant offering the best room so far on the trek.
In the evening I decided to walk up a few hundred metres above the village where the views
of the valley and all the mountains surrounding it were even more spectacular.
Day 10 : Samdo 3860 m. - Dharmashala 4470 m. 2h.55m
The ground was solidly frozen when we set of from Samdo at 7.50 am heading for Dharamshala the last stop before the Larkya Pass.
A flat introduction was replaced by some gradual climbing as the trail sneaked its way higher up on a barren landscape offering some magnificent views in all directions along the way. Once the sun hit trail there really was no better place to be than this in isolated and remote part of the world.
A little bit further up before we reached our campsite, some amazing views of the whole north face of Manaslu from the east pinnacle to the main summit appeared, providing a sensational scenery that will stay in my memory books for a very long time.
Arrived in Dharamashala/Larkya Phedi at 10.45 am
A brand new stone hut with 10-15 rooms has been built here this season to provide accomodation for people crossing the Larkya Pass, offering an alternative to the old stone porters resthouse which really was the only accomodation option ( in
addition to tent ) up here until now.
Just below a kitchen has been constructed as well offering a surprisingly tasteful and good menu considering how remote and isolated this place really is. Next to it a new dining/sleeping hall building where people gathered in the evening to eat their food
According to the two people who built this place very few residents benefit from trekking groups on the Manaslu Circuit. Food is brought in from Kathmandu and loads carried by outsiders. Just a few rupees are earned only from renting space for tent " . . . campers leave footprints and sometimes garbage, but no money. . . ". With this new lodge up and going it is now possible to do the whole circuit as a teahouse trek and hopefully this will pave the way for a more teahouse-trek-style rather than the tent-trek-style which really does not put much money back to the people in this the valley at all.
The new owners donate 30% of its profits to the nearest villages.
I spent the rest of my day chatting with people and walking around the area enjoying the wonderful scenery. When darkness arrived and
a full moon appeared on the sky my camera was on full throttle to capture the brilliant atmosphere which came along with it.
Day 11 : Dharamshala 4470 m. via Larkya Pass 5100 m. - Bimtang 3720 m. 7h00m
The Larkya Pass has been closed more than once. Too much snow, sudden and severe storms occur on a regular basis making it one of the most unreliable passes in Nepal. The highest point on the Manaslu Circuit can sometimes be uncrossable for weeks and months and in some cases forcing people to backtrack all the way to Arughat.
Lots of people had already left the campsite when I woke up to yet another perfect clear and beautiful day knowing that I could not have asked for better conditions on this special day. The crossing was definately ON.
Some oat porridge as warm up and breakfast set me up nicely to meet the bitterly cold temperatures outside as the morning started to throw its first lights on the scenery when we set off from Dharamshala at 6 am.
An easy to see trail winds its way gradually up. There are poles every now and then to mark
the way but I would not rely on them in bad weather.
At 7.10 am we passed a small lake situated below us on the left. Looking ahead the Larke Himal sits on the left as the trail continues to go up in gentle fashion and more views open up.
The pass seemed to go on and on as the trail became a little bit less distinct in an incredible moon-like-walk-terrain covered in snow.
At 9.40 am we finally reached the top of the pass at 5100 m. with its prayer flags blowing strongly in the cold wind overlooking some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.
From here and around we could see Kang Guru 6981 , Gyaji Kang 7074 m., Namjung 7140, Himlung Himal 7176, Cheo Himal 6820 m, Annapurna II 7937, Pang Phuchi 6575 m. and many many more in an almost poetic line up.
The true name of Larkya La is apparently Lhargyal La which means "Victory Hill".
At 10.00 am we started the descent to Bimtang. A 20 min fairly flat and easy start was followed by a long and steep downhill walk on scree slopes with patches of ice here
and there making it a little bit tricky to traverse. I could see that people coming down was very careful on their approach and some guides and porters had to assist some of their clients passing some of the more exposed areas. A mistake here could be potentially fatal and I fully understand why some guidebooks warn against this descent and telling people to take extra care here.
On the way down we caught a glimpse of Pongkar Tal down below. At 11.15 am we reached the "safer" grassy slopes which would see us following the Salpudanda and Bimtang Glaciers on their left all the way down to Bimtang Village 3720 m. We arrived here at 1.00 pm.
Checked in at the New Tibetan Hotel which handed us some very basic rooms.
Bimtang offers some impressive mountain views. On one side is the Manaslu summit plateu with the east pinnacle to the left and the summit to the right and looking back Nemjung/Himlung Himal towers majestically.
Day 12 : Bimtang 3720 m. - Dharapani 1920 m. 6h00m
The habit of getting up early continued as I woke up to another cold, but outstanding morning in the
Himalayas. A big campinggroup in front of my tiny little room was already well underway with their morning rituals and looking to my right at the far end of the village I could see that some people were already on their way down the valley that would eventually take them to Dharapani.
In the warm and cosy kitchen of The New Tibetan Hotel I had my daily portion of oat porridge ( which also has become one of my habits in Nepal ) before I went back to pack my backpack and left the the meadows of Bimtang at 7.15 am.
Just outside the village a descent took us down to the glacial streams of the Bimtang Glacier which we followed for a short while before crossing it on a wooden bridge with great views of Manaslu behind us. From the bridge a climb up to a ridge eventually took us to the forest and from here it was almost all downhill to Dharapani.
We made a quick decent. Every now and then the forest opened up offering some breathtaking views of snow covered mountains and again the wall of Manaslu behind us looked particularly impressive. The trail
took us down to the Dudh Khola riverbed where landslides seems to be a pretty regular occurance by looking at the trail conditions.
Passed Sirke/Karche 2700 m. at 09.55 am which had at least a restauarant. An hour later we reached the village of Gho 2560 m. set in a quiet colourful valley which had at least one good looking lodge - Hotel Manaslu & Restaurant.
After continuing in pleasantly nice weather through more fields passing small farms and houses we arrived in Tilche 2300 m. at 12.15 pm in what must have been the largest village since Samdo. This place is inhabited by a mixture of Ghale Gurungs, Manangis and Chettris and had a few lodges to choose from.
Leaving Tilche a suspension bridge took us to the left side of the Dudh Khola and soon we had some good views down to Dharapani in the Marsyandgi Valley. Coming down I was disappointed to witness that a road seemed to be under construction up to Tilche.
When we finally entered Dharapani 1860 m. at 1.15 pm. we were suddenly finding us on the premier Annapurna Circuit with all its wealth and fame. Being here two years
ago I knew I was in for a massive upgrade in terms of better facilities and teahouses. From now on internett, bakeries and hot showers were not utopia anymore, but readily available on almost every corner on the trail.
Checked in at New Tibet Guesthouse.
Day 13 : Dharapani 1920 m. - Pisang 3240 m. 8h50m
Coming back on the exact same trail I walked in 2008 felt a bit strange but I was pretty sure I would enjoy it just as much this time as I did back then. A nice warm shower, some serious laundry and great food had put me back in a new fresh starting position with 12 days ahead of me on the Annapurna Circuit.
The Annapurna Circuit has been opened to foreign trekkers since 1977 and is considered one of the most famous and popular treks in Nepal. The 210 km long circuit normally starts from Besisahar 820 m. in the Lamjung District and goes up the Marsyangdi Valley where it reaches its highest point Throung La 5416 m. before coming down the Kali Gandaki Valley with a finish in Beni or Nayapul 1025 m in the Myagdi district.
After waving "Goodbye" to my guide I left Dharapani at 7.20 am
A last look up the valley we came down yesterday, where the Dudh Khola River comes down with its water from the south face of Manaslu and melts into the Marsynangdi River, made me wonder how the Manaslu Circuit will look like in the future. With the road building on the Annapurna Circuit bringing cars and motorbikes on to the scene damaging its pristine beauty people might soon turn their attention to the Manaslu Circuit instead which still inhabits some mystery and remotness.
A quick and easy walk took me to the Tibetan Village of Bagarchap 2160 m at 7.55 am and shortly afterwards Danaque 2210 m. where I refilled my bottle at The Safe Water Drinking Station.
A steep and fairly long climb up to the gurung village of Timang 2630 m. at 9.20 am was rewarded with some excellent undisturbed views of the Manaslu massif. I decided to take a 1 hour break here just to admire this perfect panorama.
On the walk from Timang to Chame I had frequent glimpses of Lamjung Himal 6932 m. and Annapurna II 7939 m. along the way.
In Koto 2640 at 11.45 am I had to register at another checkpoint.
A short walk took me to Chame 2710 m. at 12.15 pm which had plenty of lodges to choose from, shops, bakeries and internet access ( 20 Npr pr.min ).
After some refreshments in Chame and still with plenty of daylight left I decided to continue a little bit further on. A gentle uphill walk through forest took me passed Bhratang 2950 m. and then a steeper part which soon offered some impressive views of the Paungda Danda wall rising 1500 m. up from the valley on my right hand side.
It was getting a little bit chilly in the air when I reached Dhukur Pokhari 3200 m. at 3.10 pm. Since I left Chame I had, surprisingly, only seen a few other trekkers on the trail the whole afternoon and this village looked completely deserted with people.
Finally I arrived in Pisang 3240 m. at 4.10 pm.
After checking all the lodges in Upper Pisang I knew where all the people had gone. To my disappointment every single room was already taken forcing me to go all the way down again and spend the
night at the New Tibetan Hotel in Lower Pisang instead.
Day 14 : Pisang 3240 m. - Bragha 3470 m. 5h30m
A barking dog outside my window throughout the night was not really the sweetest of sounds in my ears and when it finally stopped yelling and went to sleep I went to sleep as well :-)
Pisang Village is one of the main settlements on the Annapurna Circuit and is mainly inhabited by Gurungs, Ghale and Tibetan migrants. Lower Pisang is a fairly new settlement built for tourism purposes while Upper Pisang is more a traditional settlement offering some wonderful views of Annapurna II and III.
Left Lower Pisang at 6.55 am first crossing a suspension bridge to the right side of the Marsyangdi River and then turning left. I was now on the trail that would take me on the high route up to Ghyaru and Ngawal. A fairly short walk took me through an area of forest until I reached a Mani Wall which marked the steep and curvy climb up to Ghyaru. Again the trail was surprisingly deserted with people and my only encounters so far had been some local farmers and
Coming up to Ghyaru 3670 m. at 8.25 am I was a bit surprised to see a big new lodge had been built here since 2008 sitting strategically at the entrance of the village. I later met some others trekkers who had spent a night here telling me that they were the only guests there that night. The panorama sunset and sunrise views of the Annapurna they had witnessed from here was absolutely outstanding and being here myself this morning I can really understand why. I think this place is a great, maybe even better, alternative to Upper Pisang, which seems to be a lot more busy.
From the old and atmospheric village of Ghyaru the Annapurna Circuit continues to the larger village of Ngawal on one of the most scenic stretches on the whole trek. Along with all the prayer flags fluttering in the wind, prayer wheels, mani stones, kanis and gompas there are some amazing views of Annapurna II, III and IV, Gangapurna, Pisang Peak, Tilicho Peak and Khangsar Shar making the most perfect frame.
About half-way between the two villages "A Wonderful Side View Restaurant & Bakery" was a great place to
sit down and get a fresh and delicious cinnamon roll while enjoying the breathtaking scenery.
Reached Ngawal 3660 m. at 10.35 am. Manangi people call this village Pangba.
From Ngawal the trail descended to the valley floor again with the Hongde airstrip clearly visible on the way down. A dry and fairly flat desert-like stretch took me to Mungji 3500 m. before finally arriving in the scenic village of Bragha 3470 m. at 12.25 pm.
Bragha is home to the largest gompa in the district which apparently holds an outstanding collection of Tibetan Tankhas and manuscripts believed to be almost 500 years old. In my eyes it is also one of the most special villages on the route with many of its houses built into a cliff.
Like two years ago I checked in at my favourite lodge on the whole circuit, Himalayan Lodge, run by a wonderful family. The food, atmosphere and friendliness here was absolutely superb. According to the owner the lodge was the first of its kind to open a bakery on the Annapurna Circuit
Day 15 : Bragha 3470 m. - Khangsar 3745 m. 2h20m
Some tasteful homemade trekkers bread for breakfast
was a nice and welcoming break from the oat porridge which had been on my menu almost every morning for the last two weeks. The Annapurna Circuit really has an abundance of food items to choose from and the selection of bakery goodies in some places along the route are incredible. Compared to the Manaslu Circuit walking on the Annapurna trail is like walking in a candy store :-)
Today was a short day. Left my fabulous teahouse in Bragha at 8.25 am and a quick 20 min walk took me to Manang Village, the last big village before the Thorung La pass.
This settlement has more than 500 flat roofed houses and with its wide selection of teahouses, hotels, bakeries, internett cafes, shops selling just about anything needed for a walk in the hills this place is Nepals mountain version of Bangkoks Kao San Road. From its spare days in the 1970s when less than 1000 tourists passed this village on their way around the circuit the number of trekkers has gone up by a significant number now counting tens of thousands every year. In Manang tourism is booming.
Paid 50 rupes to refill my water
bottle at the Safe Water Drinking Station located in the middle of the village, invested in a few chocolate bars ( 1 Snicker = 90 Rupees ) and descended out of Manang following a sign that said Tilicho Lake.
Fairly soon after leaving the village I came to the edge of the river which offered some nice views of Tilicho Peak and The Great Barrier in the valley ahead of me. Stayed on the right hand side where the Khangsar Khola and Jarsang Khola melts together following it upstream for a while until I reached a suspension bridge that took me safely across the Jarsang. Apparently more than 2300 suspension bridges funded by the Swiss have been built in Nepal over the last 40 years, enabling local people to move safer and easier from place to place.
A short but steep ascent was followed by an easy walk for the last hour in to Khangsar 3745 m. Reached the old tibetan style village at 10.45 am.
Khangsar is the western most village in the Manang district and among locals it is also known as Ngaba. The place offers some fine views up the Khangsar Khola to Tilicho Peak and
the Great Barrier.
Checked in at the Hotel on Hight and spent the rest of the day enjoying the nice warm sun and just walking around watching the daily life as it passed by.
Day 16 : Khangsar 3745 m. - Tilicho Lake 4920 m. - Tilicho Peak Hotel 4045 m. 7h55m
My ambition this day was to reach Tilicho Lake.
Weather was again superb, but a bit cold when I left Khangsar at 6 am. I did not really mind that because the steady climb out of the village was a good warm up.
Reached Thare Gompa 3930 m at 6.35 am. This gompa is believed to be 1000 years old and holds some of the oldest scriptures of buddhism. It is said that offering a prayer here will keep you safe and make the trip to Tilicho Lake and across the Thorung La a success . . . . . . . . . .
Above I could see the Tilicho Peak Hotel 4076 m. which I reached at 6.50 am. Just before arriving at the lodge there is a trail junction with a sign pointing to Yak Kharka.
About 20 minutes after leaving
the lodge the trail split into two and I had to ask som local people which one would be my safest option. With them pointing "down" I really had no choice but listening to their advice. On my way back from the lake later that same afternoon I realized why they warned me against going straight.
A fairly long descent ( at least it felt so ) took me to a small and frozen stream which was a bit tricky to cross. An equally long ascent finally took me to the edge of the scree slopes/landslide area which is considered to be the most exposed and dangerous section of the trail. Here I was met by a frustrated guide who said he had lost his two clients somewhere on the trail indicating they may have run off from the bill . . . .
Coming into the infamous scree slope area was a bit intimidating but once I had overcome my first fear it really did not scare me that much. It was quite thrilling and exciting actually to be walking in a place such as this and it took me no more than 40 minutes to get
After making a right curve at the end I could see Tilicho Basecamp Lodge 4140 m. at the far end of the valley. Reached this place at 9.10 am
The lodge seemed somewhat busy with trekkers and the owners could not guarantee me a room for the night. I therefore decided to take a quick lunch break, leave my heavy gear at the lodge and walk up to the lake and back to Tilicho Peak Hotel in what would be one long day.
Left the lodge at 9.30 am. The trail was easy to follow and climbed gradually and steadily with some steeper parts here and there especially on the latter part of the climb.
With the spectacular Great Barriere, Khangsar Kang dominating in front and Annapurna I lurking behind there somewhere, the walk up to the lake is fabulous. Add this with some wonderful views of the snow capped mountains dotting the flanks of the Manang Valley and the reward is complete.
A fairly flat stage with cairns guided me the last bit up to the lake where I arrived at 11.35 am.
The lake was absolutely magical ! Standing there looking over its
tourquise waters I now understand why so many people spend their time and effort to get up here. It is simply sensational !
A small lodge has been built here offering food and shelter in this windy environment.
Tilicho Lake is 4 km long and 2 km wide with a depth of 85 m. A big sign close to the lodge says this is the highest lake in the world. This is not correct. Ojos del Salado Pool 6390 m. in Argentina is probably nr. 1 with Tilicho Lake probably nr.20.
A very cold wind did not really invite for a very long stay up here. Coming down to Tilicho Basecamp Lodge took me about one hour ( 1 pm ). Picked up my backpack and left ,the somewhat crowded place, at 1.10 pm. After coming out of the landslide zone I decided to go against the advice from earlier today and stay on the "easier" level route instead walking on the same trail I arrived which involved a fairly long descent and ascent.
After a short walk on the level route I came into a section where the trail seemed to have been lost in a
landslide or something. Some local people were on the spot doing construction work to repair the damage and to get through I really had to balance extremely carefully clinging on to a mountain wall that would not allow any mistakes. Hopefully this part of the trail is much much better now and much safer and comfortable than when I did it in late October.
Finally arrived at the Tilicho Peak Hotel at 1.55 am.
Day 17 : Tilicho Peak Hotel 4045 m. - Yak Kharka 4020 m. 2h55m.
The Tilicho Peak Hotel was packed with people and I had to spend my night in a dormitory sharing with 6 other people.
After a noodle soup breakfast ( 230 Npr ) I was on my way at 6.50 am.
About 5 mins down the road a sign pointing to Yak Kharka ( seasonal trail ) directed me on the right trail. After following this for a while I soon had some good views of Khangsar Village well below. A little bit further on I reached what looked like a settlement of stone houses/ruins which is said to be Old Khangsar ( 07.30 am ). From this point it
was not easy to pick a trail but it was obvious that I had to cross an open pastureland before connnecting to a trail again on the other side. From here a good climb took me to a ridge ,marked by some prayer flags, which offered some excellent views up to Yak Kharka and down the Manang Valley. Reached this place at 8.05 am. Unfortunately the overcast weather was hiding all the famous peaks from here otherwise the views would have been sensational.
A tiny,narrow trail descended into the Jarsang Khola Valley. I think this trail can be a bit tricky a quite dangerous in snow and icy conditions, but today it was all dry. A wooden bridge at the botton of the valley took me safely across the river and soon I joined the big crowds on the main trail coming up from Manang.
The last walk up to Yak Kharka 4020 m. was easy and by the time I reached my destination at 9.45 am it had already started to snow.
Checked in at the Hotel Nyeshang.
Day 18 : Yak Kharka 4020 m. - Thorung High Camp 4850 m. 4h20m
The ground was
covered in some snow when I looked out of my window. Luckily there had only been a light snow fall throughout the night and from my position the trail conditions looked fine.
I was on my way at 7.10 am. The clouds were beginning to crack up unveiling some superb mountain views down the valley. Up and ahead of me the sun was starting to throw its first morning lights on the narrow Kone Khola Valley as I slowly and gradually took my way up well above on the right hand side of the river. Passed Letdar 4230 m. at 7.45 am where some people were still eating their breakfast and others getting packed and ready to go. Up until now I had only met a handful of other trekkers on the trail which I found a little bit surprising. Back in 2008 I remember this leg being more busy.
About 1 hour after passing Letdar the trail took a sharp plung down to the river on an icy and very scary section which forced me to go down on all four to negotiate the slippy conditions. Under normal circumstances this descent is easy but today I had
to be really really careful not to fall down the almost vertical slope. Coming down I had to cross a wooden bridge which was followed by a steep but short climb to the Deurali Teahouse ( 9 am ) which offers some amazing views down the valley. From here it took me 45 min to reach Thorung Phedi 4540 m. ( 9.45 ).
Decided to sit down for a while and eat some lunch before continuing up to Thorung High View Camp 4850 m.
It took me a 1 hour steep climb to get up there. The camp was apparently constructed in 1998 and offers an alternative to the much busier and crowded Thorung Phedi down below. The mountain views here are much better as well and if you take a short walk just above the lodges to a summit point dotted with prayer flags the panorama is amazing.
Spending the night in High Camp is not recommended if you are not acclamatized well enough. If in doubt stay in Thorung Phedi instead.
Day 19 : Thorung High Camp 4850 m. via Thorung La 5416 m. - Muktinath/Ranipauwa 3800 m. 5h10m
Sleeping well at an altitude
of almost 5000 m. can sometimes be a challenge in itself and with the added excitment and expectation of what the next day over the Thorung La will be like it sleep normally boils down to just a few hours or, for some , nothing.
I was in "the few hours category" and felt great once I got out of my sleeping bag ready to take on the 5416 m challenge
Lots of people had already left before daylight but I knew from last time around that I did not have to hurry. Again we were gifted with some superb weather.
Left High Camp at 6.05 am. Despite the snow fall less than 2 days ago, the trail was perfectly clean and in good condition. Coming up the scree slopes in the barren naked landscape the trail was less congested than what I had expected making it a real joy to walk. Looking at people many of them seemed very focused walking slowly slowly - bistarai bistarai with their heads down almost hiding in their big down jackets one step,two steps,three steps . . . . . .
When I reached Yakawa Thorung Ri Guesthouse and Teahouse 5030
m. at 6.55 am the sun also made its first arrival.
Coming up Putrun Himal 6500 m. , Genjang 6111 m. , Chulu West 6419 m. , Annapurna II 7937 m. , Annapurna III 7555 m. , and Annapurna IV 7525 m. all represents themselves in an excellent frame behind you.
The Thorung La Pass sits on a broad saddle guarded by Khatung Khang 6484 m. on the left and Yakawa Khang 6482 m. on the right. After a nice and gradual climb up from the teashop I finally reached the Annapurna Circuit highpoint 5416 m. at 8.25 am.
The huge decoration of prayer flags makes the most colourful welcome up here and with the big smiles on everyones faces cheering and hugging each other for their accomplishment this really feels like top of the world !!!
Coming down again the Kali Gandaki Valley reveals itself slicing its way between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs together with the impressive brown moon-like-landscape of Mustang.
Views of the 7th. highest mountain in the world - Dhaulagiri 8167 m. , Tukuche Peak 6920 m. , Sita Chuchura 6611 m. and Hongde Peak 6556 m. are outstanding making the descent a real
pleasure for the eyes , but maybe not so for the knees.
Walking down was a bit tricky since the trail was covered in snow and ice in some places. Mule convoys coming in the opposite was the nearest I came to a traffic jam.
Reached Muktinath 3800 m. at 11.15 am
Muktinath apparently means " Lord's Salvation " and is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus. Worshippers from all over Nepal and India visit this tempel complex every year. Hindus believe Muktinath is the only place on earth where the 5 elements exist in their distinct form.
The impacts of the new road coming up from Beni took me a little bit by surprise when I saw the huge number of motorbikes lined up at the entrance of the village.
Checked in at the cosy Mona Lisa Hotel
Day 20 : Muktinath/Ranipauwa 3800 m. - Kagbeni 2840 m. 2h10m
Coming to the other side of the Annapurna Circuit I was determined to avoid and stay away from the dusty new built road as much as possible down the valley. My map and guidebook had given me a few off the beaten
track ideas which I intended to follow along the way avoiding all the fumy cars, buses and motorbikes the best I could. The number of vehicles up and down the Kali Gandaki Valley had definately increased since when I was here two years ago !
Left Muktinath at 6.50 am.
There were almost no other trekkers on the trail this morning and I was wondering where all the people had gone in this beautiful part of the Circuit. Passed the impressive Jarkhot 3500 m. at 07.10 am, the main village between Muktinath at Kagbeni and soon afterwards the small settlement of Khinga 3400 m. which had a decent selection of teahouses to choose from.
Coming down is almost like walking into a crater of barren dry land but once Kagbeni comes into sight at the bottom of the valley yellow and green fresh colours appear for the first time
Reached Kagbeni 2840 m. at 10.35 am.
Kagbeni sits on a cliff overlooking the confluence of the Jhong and Khola rivers. It is the last village in Lower Mustang and guards the entrance into Upper Mustang on the old trade route between Nepal and Tibet. Kagbeni is as far
as one can go without a permit.
Checked into the brand new Hotel Yeti & Rooftoop Restaurant ( 300 Npr ), had a big lunch and with plenty of daylight left I decided to go out and explore.
My aim this day was to walk up to the Sher Dhak viewpoint sitting high above Kagbeni.
To be a little bit more adventerous than the guidebook I decided cross the suspension bridge to the other side of the river and instead of turning left up a difficult scree slope that would take me on a zig-zag climb up the mountain I decided to continue upstream towards the small village of Tiri on the west bank of the valley. The villlage sits in a green oasis next to the river and as I gradually started to climb above it I had a fine overview. Coming up a little bit further I got a glimpse of what I think must have been the Sumdu Choeden Gompa. Turning left up the valley I followed a trail for a good while until I left it and headed up a big wide valley that that would eventually take me well above the Sher Dhak Viewpoint.
Along the way I had some outstanding views deep into the Upper Mustang area and the lonely herdsman I met up here in the middle of nowhere probably must have wondered what this norwegian guy with a big camera around his neck was doing up here.
After finally finishing, what felt like an endless valley, I came up on to the main ridge which offered some absolutely brilliant 360 degree panorama views. Yakawa Khang 6482 m. , Tilico Peak 7134 m. , Nilgiri Himal , Dhaulagiri 8167 m. , Tukuche Peak 6920 m. were all rising in the distance together with many many more.
A fairly short descent on the ridge took me to the empty white house at Sher Dhak Viewpoint.
From here I took the dusty sharp gravel zig-zag trail ( clearly visible when coming down from Muktinath ) all the way back to Kagbeni and arrived at my hotel at 1.20 am with my shoes and socks overloaded with sand and my camera with some truly amazing photos.
Day 21 : Kagbeni 2840 m. - Tukuche 2580 m. 7h35m
The walk from Kagbeni to Jomsom is famous for being very windy and dusty but this
morning the valley only produced a moderate breeze which made it a very comfortable walk.
Left Kagbeni at 06.45 am and again the road was completely empty. I did not see any other trekkers on my way to Jomsom which surprised me a little bit. I had expected it to be at least a little bit more busy. Maybe I was out a little bit early today or perhaps this is an indication that more and more people take the jeep down the valley instead of walking it. For me it is really hard to understand why somebody would travel as far as this and take a car through some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world. Ok, the road is there and the cars run up and down the valley which is not very pretty , but the spectacular mountain views and scenery is still there and if you want to avoid the fumy buses and motorbikes be a little bit adventurous and go off the beaten track. I promise that you will be rewarded with some marvellous experiences.
Arrived in Jomsom 2760 m. at 08.15. Jomsom is the capital of the Mustang district
with its own airport linking the village to both Pokhara and Kathmandu.
After walking into the village I turned left and crossed some open fields where farmers where out working and moving their cattle around. Soon I hit a good trail that would take me on a gentle ascent up to the Thakali village of Thini 2860 m. This is the oldest village in the valley apparantly offering some fine views down to Jomsom and the old salt trade route that runs through the valley. From Thini a trail goes all the way up to the strenous Meso Kanto Pass and Tilicho Lake.
A short descent after leaving Thini took me down to the Thini Khola which I crossed on a wooden bridge. Flights were coming in and out of Jomsom on a regular interval as I climbed up to the Dhumba Lake 2830 m. ( 9.30 am ). This turquoise lake is said to be one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the valley. According to legends the water apparantly turned red at some point and it was only after performing a long and devoted religious ceremony that the lake returned to its natural colour again. Since then
Dhumba Tal has been considered a sacred place.
From the lake a 20 min uphill walk on a wide road took me to the Katsapterenga Gompa. This gompa sits on a hilltop dotted with prayer flags offering some outstanding views in all directions.
Coming down again to the valley floor I only had a short stroll to Marpha 2665 m. ( 11.00 am ). With its narrow streets paved with nice stone plates situated in a side valley protected from the strong winds this Thakali village is a popular stop for many on the Circuit.
I decided to have lunch on rooftop restaurant at the Dhaulagiri Hotel in beautiful warm sunshine overlooking the village and valley.
About 10 minutes out of Marpha a sign pointed to Chhairo/Chimang which took me across the Kali Gandaki River to its left side again away from the jeeps and buses on main road. Chhairo village was just across the river. The walk to Chimang was quiet and beautiful with Dhaulagiri making a nice backdrop especially after coming up the final steep climb to the village. Reached Chimang 2870 m. at 1.20 pm. I really believe this place has the potential to
become a favourite among trekkers in the future.
Coming down again from Chimang I decided to end my day in Tukuche 2580 m. ( 2.20 pm ). "Tuk" means grain and "tche" means flat place. This village used to be a thriving market place for centuries when traders came down from Tibet to exchange their salt and wool with grain and cigarettes. Many of the lodges now serving trekkers were originally built to house rich Thakali merchant families.
Checked in at the High Plains Inn which offered the best facilities so far on the trek. From the doorstep I had some nice evening views of the Nilgiri range. Again I was surprised to witness how few trekkers there were here this day.
Day 22 : Tukuche 2580 m. - Ghasa 2000 m. 6h35m
My legs were a little bit stiff from yesterdays relatively long walk, but soon after leaving Tukuche at 7.15 am the symptoms were already starting to shake off and I was well into my walking-rythm again.
In less than one hour I reached Larjung 2560 m. ( 7.50 am ) situated well below the impressive Dhaulagiri Icefall.
After walking on and off
the jeep road for a while I eventually reached a suspension bridge ( 8.40 am ) with a sign pointing to Kokhetanti. This bridge took me to the east side of the Kali Gandaki River away from the dusty jeep road.
Kokhetanti 2545 ( 8.50 am ) was just around the corner and had a decent selection of lodges to choose from set in a very quiet atmosphere. Passing through here this morning I did not see any other trekkers !
5-10 mins out of Kokhetanti a sign pointed left up to Titi Lake. I followed this wide tractor road as it climbed gradually through forest and a few open spaces here and there. Coming up I had some great views of the Nilgiri Range ahead of me and a little bit to the right the impressive Annapurna I 8091 m. and Baraha Shikhar ( Fang ) 7647 m. added to the wonderful background. Behind me the Dhaulagiri Icefall looked more spectacular than ever. Walking up here was a joy for the eyes and further up it would get even better !
Reached Titi Village 2670 m. at 9.50 am. This small village is situated 2,5 km east
of the Kali Gandaki River and is in close proximity to Titi Tal , one of the holy lakes in Mustang.
Between the village and the lake a sign pointed left up to Nupsang Kharka and I followed this trail that would eventually give me a birds eye view of the village itself and some breathtaking views of the Dhaulagiri Icefall and Annapurna I. The trail is clearly visible from village as it zig-zags its way up to a ridge with a small white house next to an antenna sitting on the tip of the ridge overlooking the Icefall.
It took me 40 hard minutes to finally reach the top of the ridge and coming up was definately worth it by far. The views were absolutely outstanding and the Dhaulagiri Icefall looked particularly impressive from here. I do not think I could have found a better place to have a snack break this day.
Coming down again I had a good view of Titi Lake, which really looked like a small pond and really not what I had expected. A big sign near the lake says this is one of the best places for bird-watching in the area.
A couple of bikers next to the sign were the first tourists I saw this day after coming down from my little side trip.
From Titi Village I continued on the tractor road following a sign pointing to Taglung/Kunjo. Soon a wide valley appeared with good views down to Konjo. A little bit hidden behing the trees on the left is Taglung which I reached 25 mins after leaving Titi. Konjo sits below Taglung and the two villages are connected to each other by a clearly visible stone paved road with walls on each side.
With the road taking more and more space on the circuit I think both these villages and the area in general have the potential to become an excellent alternative.
The walk to Chhayo and back to the Kali Gandaki River and eventually the road was mostly downhill. On the final leg down to Ghasa I had to compete with frequent buses and cars for space on the trail/road.
Decided to end this eventful day in Lower Ghasa and checked in at the very friendly Eagle Nest Guesthouse. Nice rooms ,good food and quiet location.
Day 23 : Ghasa 2000 m. - Tatopani
1190 m. 3h05m.
Left Ghasa at 6.40 am. To avoid the road as much as I could this day I dropped straight down to the river from my guesthouse and crossed a wooden bridge taking me into a narrow gorge on the left side of the Kali Gandaki river. The trail was not very well maintained after I had crossed the bridge but it did not take long until it got a lot better. Reached the small settlement of Talbigar at 7.15 am which seemed to have 2 simple lodges- The Bimala Lodge and Sunflower Hotel. Passed through Kopchepani 1620 m. at 7.40 am which had a decent selection of lodges.
Just outside Kopchepani a suspension bridge took me to the right side of the river again and on to the jeep road down to Dana 1450 m. ( 8.40 ) and finally Tatopani 1190 m. at 9.45 am. Tatopani is officially known as bhurung Tatopani.
Arriving in Tatopani I finally understood where all the trekkers had gone. With the famous hot-springs being the main attraction here in a addition to its nice and warm climate, Tatopani seems to be a hub for those coming down from the Thorung
La or any of the other smaller treks in the area. After seeing so few people since Thorung La it felt a bit strange to be among so many tourists again. I wondered how many of them really enjoyed the drive down here from Muktinath. . . .
Day 24 : Tatopani 1190 m. - Ghorepani 2750 m. 5h45m.
After some comfortable days on the trail with lots of easy downhill walking through apple gardens and pleasant small villages I was confronted with a huge climb up to Ghorepani, counting 1560 altitude metres in total making it the longest ascent on the trek so far.
Left Tatopani at 6.35 am. About 15 minutes down the road I had to cross the Kali Gandaki River on a suspension bridge and shortly afterwards another bridge across the Ghar Khola River.
A steep climb took me on to a jeep road which I followed up to the Santosh Viewpoint 1555 m. ( 7.35 am ). I was very surprised to see that a jeep road had "infected" this area as well and apparently it would go as far Sikha ,on the halfway stage between Tatopani and Ghorepani.
I left the jeep road and continued on a more gentle climb through colourful small settlements and villages dotted along the trail. Reached Sikha 1935 m. at 9.25 am and went through the checkpoint there before continuing.
The views of Dhaulagiri ( = white mountain ) , Tukuche Peak, Nilgiri ( = blue mountain ) and Annapurna South were excellent as I got higher and there were many nice places to break for lunch.
Reached Ghorepani 2750 m. at 12.20 pm and checked in at the very friendly Gueshouse The Hungry Eye & Restaurant situated a few metres above the main square.
I must admit that Dhaulagiri looked particularly impressive from Ghorepani. Apparently this was one of the last 8000 m. mountains to be conquered in 1960 and is considered to be a very dangerous mountain to climb with a fatality rate of aroung 18 %.
Ghorepani is very often included in many of the varities of treks in the Annapurna Region and attracts more than 6000 tourists every year. The main reason people come here is to visit the nearby view point of Poon Hill situated less than an hours walk from the village.
: Ghorepani 2750 via Poon Hill 3210 m. - Birethanti 1000 m. 3h45m
The only reason to wake up very early this morning was Poon Hill. Situated 1,5 km up from Ghorepani and south-west of the Annapurna Massif this hilltop is perhaps the most famous viewpoint in the Annapurna Region offering some legendary mountain views that are truly spectacular.
I could see people already moving when I left my guesthouse at 5 am. My cheap headtorch bought in Kathmandu was definately not among the brighest but at least I could see the tip of my feet once I entered the pitch dark trail going up to Poon Hill. Ahead of me I could see lights moving up the hill and every now and then people were stopping to take a break and reorganise their things.
It was still almost black when I finally arrived at the watchtower that dominates the hill at 5.30 am. There were already quite a few people here by then and with many still coming up this place got fairly crowded after a while.
When the sun started to lit the atmosphere throwing its first lights on to the scenery around 6 am
revealing the beauty of Gurja Peak 7193 m. , Dhaulagiri 8172 m. Nilgiri 7061 m. , Annapurna I 8091 m. and the always so impressive Machhapuchhre 6997 m. this really was the place to be. Standing here looking at this beatiful range of mountains it is easy to understand why this place attracts so many people every season.
Coming down again I had a quick breakfast at my guesthouse before I left Ghorepani at 8.05 am heading down to Birethanti and then Pokhara.
I made a very quick descent Reached Nangge Thanti at 8.35 am, Bhanthanti 9.15 am and Ulleri 9.45 am. It was ALL downhill on a well trodden trail with some step sections here and there especially coming down to Ulleri. Lots of tourists were coming up in the opposite direction and I could look on their body movements that many of them were really struggling in the steep terrain.
From Tikkedhunga the trail became a little bit more level and the final walk on the left side of the Bhurungdi Khola to Birethanti was a real pleasure . Reached Birethanti at 11.50 am.
Coming down here marked the end of 25 amazing days in
the beautiful mountains of Nepal. Now some relaxing days in Pokhara was waiting which included a visit to the barber-shop, some much needed laundry and a serious pedicure.
I would definately do this walk again :-)
My top 8 list :
1. Best views : Manaslu when it appeared in full figure for the first time on the walk between Samagaon and Samdo, Larkya Pass with its poetic line up of snow capped mountains, Bimtang with views of Manaslu and Nemjung/Himlung, Tilicho Lake and its stunning surroundings, Views of Dhaulagiri Icefall and Annapurna I on my walk up to Nupsang Khark from Titi Village
2. Best lodge : Himalayan Lodge in Bragha. Excellent !!!
3. Best food : Himalayan Lodge in Bragha. Superb !!!
4. Toughest ascent : Phillim 1590 to Ghap 2160 on Day 5
5. Toughest descent : Ghorepani 2750 m. to Birethanti 1000 m. on Day 25. Knee-crunching !
6. Biggest disappointment : The newly built jeep roads
7. Biggest surprise : Facilities in Dharmasala compared to what it used to be.
8. Manaslu Circuit v.s Annapurna Circuit : Manaslu Circuit.