Monday, 2 May 2011

The Manaslu Circuit - Part 1

Day 1 - Arughat (600m) to Khursane (820m) 6 hrs Basic teahouse. 
The trek begun by following a 4x4 track through Arughat and the rice paddies beyond. On the horizon was the 7000m peak of the Sringi Himal. There was little shade and we soon became hot and bothered. The trail followed the Buri Gandaki, a river which we would be walking beside for the next week. The valley narrowed during the day and we lost the views of the mountains.

Two intrepid trekkers (with silly sun hats) leave Arughat.

Day 2 - Khursane (820m) to Macha Kolna (900m) 5 hrs Good teahouse
Soon after Khursane the valley narrowed further into a gorge and the 4x4 track ended. The trail wound its way along steep forested slopes. The shade was welcome and monkeys could be seen through the undergrowth. The path climbed and dropped along the valley side eventually dropping to the river bed where we followed the sand bars for an hour or so, unprotected from the blazing sun.

In Macha Kolna a newly built teahouse awaited us and a trip to the hot springs in the afternoon was welcome.

Day 3 - Macha Kolna (900m) to Jagat (1410m) 7 hrs Basic teahouse
I felt sick all of today and could only manage a couple of mouthfuls of porridge in the morning. It was our first day of significant ascent (500m) so not a good day to feel ill. After Tatopani, which means hot water, and is named such due to the hot springs, we crossed the Buri Gandaki to its east bank for the first time. Here we got some relief from the sun.

Feeling nauseous and only being able to stomach Coke and a little water I was relieved to reach Jagat and the basic teahouse where we stayed. As I collapsed into bed the wind got up blowing clouds of dust up the valley and banging the bedroom shutters closed. After a rest I managed a light dinner, my first proper meal of the day.

Day 4 - Jagat (1410m) to Dyang (Deng) (1800m) 6hrs Teahouse under construction
Today we saw our first rhododendrons, red ones in the forest. Also plenty of monkeys. Unfortunately the teahouse we stayed in that evening was still being built (not very sympathetically) and was dusty and noisy.

Although I'd felt fine all day I started to feel ill again in the evening and couldn't manage much dinner. I had another virtually sleepless night and had just drifted off when some scrabbling woke me. A mouse had climbed onto my pillow and was watching me but soon ran off when I gave a very girly shriek - James didn't respond.

Day 5 Dyang (1800m) to Namrung (2660m) 6hrs Good teahouse
We had a great day today. I was now fully recovered and we followed the trail through a beautiful pine forest of huge mature pine trees and bamboo. We saw the summit of Manaslu for the first time and the mountain views became more and more spectacular throughout the day. We finished at an excellent, characterful and cosy teahouse, and spent the evening chatting to the 3 Australian park rangers who we had coincided with from the start of our treks and 2 bossy Belgium girls.

Other trekkers on the trail

A word about our guide and porter
So it wasn't just James and I on this trek we had employed a guide and a porter to help us. Gopal our guide was probably the tallest man in Nepal, at well over 6ft, and proved to be extremely strong and steady on his feet. He'd find everything hilarious. For example 'the French Canadians came into the dining room at 2.30am and we all had to get out of bed hahahahaha' ?! All the guides of the independent trekkers would work together to make sure we got a good bed for the night, taking it in turns to go ahead and reserve the rooms. So we were well looked after. Nabaraj was acting as our porter for this trek even though he was a guide. This was because he had not guided on the Manaslu Circuit before and wanted to take the opportunity to learn the route. Each evening he'd take notes on the days walk. He had a more normal Nepali stature and when he walked ahead of us it looked like our huge red bag just had two little legs attached to it.

Nabaraj, Gopal and porter in training, James.

Day 6 - Namrung (2660m) to Samagaon (3530m) 7hrs Basic teahouse
As we climbed today, more and more of the mountains revealed themselves, and the villages became more Tibetan. We left the 3 Aussie park rangers and 2 bossy Belgians at Lho to continue onto Samagaon and as we walked out of the gorge onto a plateau it started to rain. By the time we got to Samagaon it was pouring with thunder and lightening overhead.

Samagaon was a surprisingly large town cowering into the valley out of the elements. The paths were an inch thick in mud and yak poo and it was like stepping back into medieval times.

Our teahouse was pretty basic and we congregated around the fire in the kitchen. We joked about what energy efficiency rating our room would get as we could see light through the walls.

 James unimpressed with the weather

Day 7 - Rest day in Samagoan
It rained all night and in the morning the snowline had almost reached us. The dampness was penetrating and we still hadn't seen the mountains as the mist hung low in the valley. The Aussie park rangers and bossy Belgians had joined us by lunchtime when the rain turned to snow. We huddled closer to the fire in the kitchen. Food was of little comfort as even vegetables were running out and meals could only be described as having traces of vegetables. We had however gained yak's cheese which was delicious.

When the snow eased James and I walked up to the gompa which seemed virtually deserted.

Most worrying of all was the fact that if this weather set in it would be impossible for us to cross the pass and therefore continue on our trek. We hadn't contemplated this situation before we set out and it would be a disaster for our further plans of climbing Pisang Peak which we had already shelled out the hefty permit cost. If the weather continued we'd simply have to turn around and head back.

Samagaon in the rain / snow / slush / mud

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