Trekker's Journal

Trekker’s Journal: Manaslu, raising spirits!

By: Rabi Thapa June 27, 2016

Manaslu Circuit“…and a big thank you to plate tectonics for creating such beauty 55 million years ago!”
So spoke my geophysicist friend, Raimon, summing up for the benefit of the camera. After a fortnight of tramping around the big mountain scenery of the Manaslu Circuit, I couldn’t agree more.

You never forget your first trek in the Himalayas, whether it’s marching to the top of Poon Hill for a grand panorama of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas, or slogging all the way to Everest Base Camp. There’s always the first time you catch sight of the Himalayas – your breath curls out into mist in front of you, but it feels as though you’ve stopped breathing.You may be exhausted, ill or so hungry you could eat a yak, but when you see the highest mountains in the world in front of you, you can’t help but smile and look to your neighbour.

Nor should you forget your second, third or tenth trek for that matter. That’s the power of the mountains, and in Nepal the rewards usually have to be grasped through sheer physical exertion. In most trekking regions roads and even airports stop halfway up a hill, leaving you to earn the right to a Himalayan panorama one step at a time. And of all the formats, the circuit is perhaps the most satisfying. In circumnavigating a massif, you move through not only bio-climatic zones from the subtropics through temperate forests to alpine desolation, you move through cultural zones, up from the Hindu lowlands to the Buddhist highlands. In circling a mountain as impressive as Manaslu, the eight highest peak in the world, one truly gets a sense of the totality of its milieu.

For us, the journey began on the road to Gorkha, the ancestral home of the now-defunct Shah monarchy. Accustomed to the well-worn route to Pokhara, we found it a charming change to bump up and down the steadily deteriorating road, eavesdropping on conversations. We couldn’t see anything by the time we got to Soti Khola by microbus, bus and jeep. But a world awaited beyond the darkness. After a day picking at noodles and oranges, the hearty dal-bhat cooked up by the welcoming lodge-owner dispelled any doubts we had about the looming clouds. Our faith was repaid by blue skies that, in the course of the following fortnight, opened up whenever it mattered.

Manaslu CircuitOne equates Himalayan treks with chilly scrambles through the day and chillier nights, and to some degree that is accurate. But every circuit is much more than that, starting as it does from lowland villages surrounded with banana trees under forests of sal laced with waterfalls. It took us a few days to approach an elevation comparable to that of Kathmandu. It was hot work, and on the short days we began with, we could even consider cold showers. The afternoon sun was plentiful, and ideal for socialising with the locals.

In Machakhola, once the local matriarchs had their fill of posing for photos with Raimon, he decided to show our charming young hostess iPad videos of his travels. The sight of her oohing and aahing over mountain gorillas in Rwanda (“What is it? A forest-man?”) and glaciers calving off the coast of Argentina (“I’ve never seen the sea!”) was instructive. Tourism isn’t just for camera-toting urbanites. As a young man told me in Humla once: “How you see Humla, we see Kathmandu.”

The mercury dropping by the day, we commenced our “circum-meditation” on the massif of Manaslu. We first caught sight of its devilish, two-horned aspect on the fifth day of walking, a memorable moment that had us unfurling maps and unlatching video cameras. From here on, the “soul mountain” completely dominated the north-western direction we were headed in. Passing through Gurung settlements, we were now amongst the wood-shingled villages of the Nubri Valley, where Buddhists of Tibetan extraction were only just getting accustomed to tourists, and us to them.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why it is that mountains move us. It may just be the sheer grandeur of witnessing the limits of nature, so distant from the mundane everyday of our jumbled-up striving in the urban hustle. But here, too, the microcosms made equal impression. The flocks of butterflies about my feet were a delight – I tried, in vain, to photograph their kaleidoscopic variation. The blue sheep on a mountaintop below Larkya Phedi – I counted through binoculars 40 in all. The mixed forests below Bimtang, shedding their summer leaves as we walked through them – I sat on a mossy rock, and let all be.

Already, Manaslu is looking to be the next trekkers’ Mecca. Yet the serenity of the trail was a far cry from the jams experienced on the more established routes. There is a freshness about Manaslu that excited the sensibilities of even this seasoned trekker, and deflected his thoughts to “Where next?”. The job’s been made easier by the section-by-section elaboration of the Great Himalaya Trails. Easier, that is, to say Dolpa! Kanchenjunga! Makalu! Where next? Where? Many worlds await.

This article was first published on the previous GHT website in 2012. Photo credit to Linda Bezemer. 

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