The Himalayas have been a part of mainstream media for decades. Movies depict harrowing adventures. Articles recount individual quests to reach base camps. Podcasts discuss the environmental impact of trekking. Instagram floods with photos of prayer flags and snow-covered peaks. People see the images, hear the stories and decide they too want to explore the region, be it the Khumbu Valley or the Annapurna Conservation Area. And so, they book a trip, pack their bags and head out seeking that which they’ve only experienced second-hand.
Because of this, and the region’s growing accessibility, thousands flock to the Himalayas every year, particularly to the Everest and Annapurna regions. During peak season, the tea houses get quite crowded. On the trail you can’t go an hour without passing other tourists.
But, there are many alternatives to these highly trafficked routes, a region in which you can return to the heart of Himalayan exploration: Manaslu and the Tsum Valley. From the interesting culture to its elevation, the route checks off all the same boxes as EBC or ABC while also, perhaps surprisingly, proving more trekker friendly. Here are just a few reasons to add the Manaslu and Tsum Valley Circuit to your bucket list.
Walking into Tsum, the Ganesh Himal range dominates the landscape, its snow-covered peaks towering above. Yangra stands at 7422 metres, with a whopping 17 other peaks surpassing 6000 metres. Small villages sit at their base, only adding to their grandeur. The further into the valley you walk, the more you feel surrounded by quintessential Himalayan mountains.
In Manaslu, you’ll have exceptional and varied views of Manaslu, or ‘Mountain of the Spirit’. An 8000 metre+ peak, it is the 8th tallest in the world, and one of only three 8000-metre peaks that sits entirely in Nepal. At its top are two distinct horns, which give Manaslu a unique appearance, and one that changes dramatically as you circle it.
At the trek’s end you even have a chance to catch a glimpse of the Annapurna range. The final two days bring you through this conservation area, full of rhododendron forests, flowing rivers, and similarly massive peaks.
Tsum and Manaslu are ethnically Tibetan, and the traditional culture has been well preserved, particularly in Tsum, which only opened to outsiders in 2008. Hiking along the trail you’ll spot women wearing traditional pangden, or colorful aprons that signify their marital status. Families might invite you into their homes to drink butter tea and snack on dried yak meat. You can visit gompas, local monasteries, lined with statues of Chenrezig, the patron of Tibet and most revered bodhisattva. In villages, traditional carpet weaving continues, for personal use more than commercial, although you can find a store or two for some shopping. Tashi delek, rather than namaste, is shouted as you pass.
This is an important factor for those who head to the Himalayas to get away from civilization. Whereas EBC and ABC see thousands of visitors a year, in Manaslu the numbers are far lower. This means you can wander through villages without laying eyes on a single other tourist.
Larkya La, the highest pass in Manaslu, sits at 5160 metres. While this still proves challenging (you’ll certainly be winded, and might need to take Diamox), it is below what you’d experience in Annapurna and Everest, and you don’t need to sleep at that altitude. You’ll get similar panoramic views but without the added exertion, making it more manageable for all ages.
In both Tsum and Manaslu you have accommodation options. You can choose to stay at the many tea houses along the way, or, with proper equipment and guides, actually camp. If you want a bed and access to more frequent showers, the former makes the most sense. If you want to head off onto side trails that bring you to even more remote and less developed places, camping is your best bet.
With their untouched culture and magnificent landscape, Tsum and Manaslu embody all the qualities that make for the kind of Himalayan trek many travelers seek. Thinner crowds and lower elevation make this circuit absolutely ideal for intrepid trekkers.