Manang, the Jewel of the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is rated as one of the most beautiful treks in the world, and with good reason. The scenery is some of the most diverse you will find on a trek. Walking the Annapurna Circuit will give you row seats to some of the most impressive snowy Himalayan peaks as well as idyllic mountain villages, where traditions and Tibetan Buddhist culture is still preserved. One of the villages I fell in love with is Manang.
Perhaps I loved it so much because I arrived there after a long day of hiking from Upper Pisang. But, even after spending three days there I was still in love with it. Maybe it was because of the best yak burger I tasted on the trail, at the Mountain View Lodge. (Seriously, try it!) Maybe it was the daily breathtaking view of the Annapurnas, or the impressive view of the Gangapurna Glacier, hanging just above the village.
The truth is, all of these things make Manang a wonderful place to spend a few days. You also need it, because this is where you should acclimate. Sitting at an altitude of 3,519 metres, Manang is well-known to be a good place to stop on the Annapurna Circuit to adjust to the altitude. Trekkers should spend at least two night here to rest. And by ‘rest’ I mean ascending to above 4,000 metres every day.
There are no shortage of options for hiking around Manang. The Gangapurna Lake and Glacier are just 15 minutes’ walk away. I ventured higher up on my first day, following the horses and cows that grazed on the slopes. The views over the village, the valley and the mountains were spectacular.
If you want to explore the local cultural heritage, there are a number of gompas and monasteries in the smaller villages around Manang. The most notable and one of the oldest in the region is the monastery in Braga, about 45 minutes’ walk from Manang.
A side trip you should certainly take from Manang is the trek up to the Ice Lake. The lake itself is not impressive, but the hike there is a delight. You will have the most astonishing views over Annapurna IV. It is one of the toughest side treks I took on the circuit, because you go up from 3,500 to 4,600 metres in four steep, long uphill sections. Make sure you take plenty of water with you as there was only one tea house half way up, and it is closed in the off season (June-August). No other sources of water or snacks are on the way.
In Manang I was happy to find two trekking shops, as I had lost my trekking poles and needed to replace them. You will also find a safe water source as well as a big information centre/check point. Here you will need to register your passage and, importantly, you can ask about the weather forecast for the Torong-La Pass and Tilicho Lake, in the following days.
From Manang you can do the beautiful, three to five day side trek to Tilicho Lake. I highly recommend it if you have the time. It was the most beautiful lake I have ever seen, with the most astonishing scenery on the way. If you don’t have the time, you can continue on towards Thorung Pedi and cross the infamous Thorung La pass (5,416 metres) in about three days.