Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Manaslu Circuit - An Intro

Arughat is the start of the Manaslu trekking circuit, a 16-18 day trek which circumnavigates Manaslu, the world's 8th highest mountain. Until recently this trek was solely a camping trek, involving being completely self sufficient. Camping treks can be quite an expensive and cumbersome way to trek as the amount of porters needed seems to increase exponentially with every trekker. However teahouses have been cropping up so now it is just about possible, if you are in a small group, to complete the circuit as a teahouse trek. Developing fast, the Manaslu circuit is tipped to be the new Annapurna circuit as trekkers are deterred from Annapurna due to all the road building taking place.

Manaslu stands at 8156m and was first climbed by a Japanese team in 1956. It has therefore always been thought of as a Japanese mountain and it continues to have ties with Japan. We saw some sacks of aid in villages marked with 'gift from the Japanese people'. The sacks were clearly quite old and unopened. We wondered if Japan would like them back for the moment!

Although trekking agencies still like to sell the Manaslu circuit as a camping trip it was a blog which first made us aware of the possibility of completing the trek as a basic teahouse trek. As this circuit is developing rapidly, that blog is now quite out of date, so I'll try to write about our experiences to give some more up to date information.

The first consideration when planning a Manaslu trek is that the Manaslu area is currently a restricted zone which requires an extra permit but this is easily acquired in Kathmandu. You are also meant to have a guide but we met a few people who just had porters. To do the trek staying in teahouses I'd recommend a group with a maximum of 4 trekkers (not including guides and porters) as there are some places which currently have very little accommodation. On the accommodation front you have to be prepared for a sometimes very basic standard. The rooms can be bare and sometimes the only food is Dal Bhat - vegetables were scarce and meat nonexistent. However, I think this adds to the experience and we enjoyed sitting in the smokey kitchens watching  family life go on around us. But if you want the same experience go now as it is changing fast.

A few other practical tips are that a 3 season sleeping bag is necessary as well as a thermarest or roll mat as sometimes the beds are very hard and cold. There was electricity in every other village, so charging of cameras etc is possible (sometimes for a small fee) and there is even internet at Samagaon. Simple food supplies like biscuits and noodles can be bought along the circuit but it is best to take your own means of purifying water rather than to rely on bottled water.

In my next installment I'll given a brief description of our trek on the circuit, hopefully for some light entertainment as well as giving some useful information for those wanting to do the trek themselves.

Friday, 29 April 2011

A typical bus journey in Nepal

A local bus journey is a precursor to any trek in Nepal and is similar to an unpleasant vaccination before going on holiday. It involves everyone, together with belongings including the kitchen sink, cramming onto a decrepit bus. People squeeze themselves inside and when there is no more space they climb onto the roof. Our bus had the addition of a small, although highly decorative, shrine, complete with offerings, on the dashboard. James gave his seat up to an elderly monk wearing a grubby yellow fleece over his red robes. As the roller coaster ride began along the woefully inadequate, for the volume of traffic, road out of Kathmandu, the monk began to pray. The praying became more intense with every near miss.

Four hours in, and now off the paved road, the bus shuddered and bounced along next to precipitous drops. James regained his seat. Sat in the aisle next to him was a young girl who watched his every move. On her left hand she had 2 thumbs. With the ability to count to 11 she must have been getting ahead in school.

We were now stopping regularly so that the driver could realign the suspension with a sledge hammer. He'd borrow the hammer from the road labourers who were building the road we were travelling on using only hand tools. After a lot of banging we'd continue.

By the time we arrived in Arughat we were covered in dust, 3 thumbs was sitting on my lap and complete exhaustion had set in, but at least the most dangerous part of our trekking trip was over!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


As we discovered last night, clubs in Kathmandu don't simply turn on the lights when they are closing, they send in the Army. It was, however, very effective, everyone went home. This was probably a good thing in hindsight, if my headache was anything to go by this morning.

We have been able to catch up with lots of friends over the last couple of days, hence the drinks last night. And have also managed to do some sightseeing. But most of our time has been taken up with organsing our trek and climb. We are planning to do the Manaslu Circuit and then climb Pisang Peak. As is the way in Nepal, nothing is impossible to organise and we have arranged porters and a guide as well as the 4 different permits we require. We have also sent a change of clothes on to Pokhara, where we will be heading after the trek, organised the food for the couple of days camping we will do when climbing Pisang Peak and bought a load of fake mountaineering gear to supplement the kit we brought from the UK. In total we will be trekking for 24 days or there abouts, so I won't be blogging for a while now. But here are some pictures:

James gives the rickshaw driver a break!

Vicki and James in Durbar Square

Saturday, 2 April 2011

No pain no gain

OK, so two sleeps was a little optimistic. We were up all night packing, right up to the point when our taxi came to pick us up at 4.50 am. During the day James had finished and posted his Master's dissertation, we had sold the car to '' (and I can confirm that they do in fact buy any car), gone out for dinner with James's Mum and packed up our lives into the attic. We were still finishing packing our rucksacks at the coach station.

A National Express coach followed by Heathrow is never a good start to any journey but, apart from being unpleasant, everything went to plan. I am pleased to announce that Delhi airport has been transformed since pre-commonwealth games times and cricket fever had gripped India. Then finally Kathmandu and sleep.

Unpacking our rucksacks was like unwrapping a Christmas present from a distance relative, unable to look at what was awaiting us. At the moment we haven't found any major omissions due to our seriously rushed packing but the true damage my take a couple of days to reveal itself.

James on the hotel rooftop terrace with sprawling Kathmandu in the background