Located in Gorkha district is an often-overlooked but incredibly magical trek: the Manaslu Circuit. From culture to mountain vistas to physical endurance, it offers visitors everything they might want from a Himalayan adventure.
First opened to hikers in 1991, the trail follows what was once a salt-trading route running along the Burhi Gandaki River. Lasting anywhere from 14 – 17 days and covering roughly 177 kilometres, the trek is named after the 8th highest peak in the world, Manaslu. Also known as Mountain of the Spirits, Manaslu holds a particularly special place to Nepalis, as it is one of only three 8,000 metre peaks sitting entirely within the country’s borders.
With the establishment of the Manaslu Conservation Area in 1998, the circuit came under the management of the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), which works to preserve not only natural resources but the cultural heritage that exists within Nepal. Every trekker in the area must obtain a permit, and it’s necessary to enter with a party of two or more members and a registered hiking guide.
The basic permit to enter the Manaslu Conservation Area costs around NPR2000, which is roughly US$20. This money goes directly toward maintaining the region and supporting community development.
In addition to MCAP’s fee, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation requires a payment of US$50 per week that you will trek there, with an extra US$7 for every additional day there. And if you hope to travel through or around Annapurna, you’ll need an additional permit costing NPR2000. While this might seem expensive, it does keep the number of visitors down, giving you a far quieter experience.
Getting There & Back
From Kathmandu you can either take a local bus or organize private transportation to the town of Arughat. The trip takes anywhere from five to six hours, but delays are inevitable. The circuit ends in Besisahar, from where you can take a bus back to Kathmandu or on to Pokhara.
- Day 1: Arughat to Soti Khola, 5 hours, 800 metres
- Day 2: Soti Khola to Machha Khola, 5 hours, 1000 metres
- Day 3: Machha Khola to Jagat, 6 hours, max. 1400 metres
- Day 4: Jagat to Deng, 6 hours, 1860 metres
- Day 5: Deng to Namrung, 6 hours, 2600 metres
- Day 6: Namrung to Lho, 4 hours, 3100 metres, or to Shyala, 3500 metres
- Day 7: to Samagaon, 2 hours, 3500 metres
- Day 8: Rest day in Samagaon – optional Manaslu Basecamp excursion
- Day 9: Samagaon to Samdo, 4 hours, 3800 metres
- Day 10: Rest day in Samdo – optional excursion to Tibetan border
- Day 11: Samdo to Larkya Phedi (aka Dharamsala), 4 hours, 4460 metres (Note that this lodge may close during November. If accommodation is not available here then a very early start from Samdo and long day of walking is necessary to reach Bimtang.)
- Day 12: Cross Larkya La (5106 metres) to reach Bimtang, 8 hours, 3700 metres
- Day 13: Bimtang to Tilje, 6 hours, 2100 metres
- Day 14: Tilje to Jagat, 6 hours, 1300 metres
- Day 15: Jeep from Jagat to Besisahar, and onward transport to Kathmandu or Pokhara
You can, of course, add additional rest days or cut them out depending on your time. It’s recommended to take at least one acclimatization day at higher elevations. You also have the option to break some of the longer days up. One great option is to go from Deng to Ghap, and then reach Namrung the following day.
To spend a bit more time in the middle hills of Nepal, you can start the trek from the town of Barpak. Still recovering from the 2015 earthquake, you can see first-hand the reconstruction, passing through an entire village built by the government in hopes of relocating nearby villagers. From Barpak, trek one day to Larpak and then another to Korlebesi, at which point you meet up with the official route to Jagat.
To spend even more time in the mountains, add some day trips into the itinerary. From the main route, just past Lihi, turn left for a steady uphill climb to Hinang Gompa, a monastery and small hamlet. From Lho, trek up to the remote Pung Gyan Gompa at 4200 metres. Yaks spend summer months grazing above the glacier. Samdo and Samagaon provide the perfect opportunity for additional rest day or explorations. Combine Manaslu with the Tsum Valley and you can add an additional 7 days.
The Manaslu Circuit brings trekkers into the heart of Tibetan culture. Women wear traditional pangdens and chubas. Yak meat is dried and eaten like jerky. Butter tea can be found in most local homes, along with tsampa, a traditional flour-based dish. The greeting of Tashi Delek is heard far more frequently than Namaste. Tibetan Buddhism is the most prevalent religion. Every village has at least one monastery, and mani walls dot the trailside. Be sure to always pass these structures in a clockwise direction. More often than not, when the trail forks, choose the path that goes left, as it is likely due to the presence of a mani wall.
One is never wanting for vistas while trekking around Manaslu. First and foremost, you have ever changing views of Mt. Manaslu itself. From Lho it stands prominently, the two peaks distinct and dominant. From Samdo it still towers but is surrounded by equally magnificent peaks, morphing into a single triangular summit. Throughout the journey you’re also likely to see Ganesh Himal and, toward the end, glimpses of the Annapurna range.
The pinnacle of panoramic vistas is Larkya La Pass. From Larkya Phedi, you climb around 800 metres to reach the circuit’s highest point of 5160 metres, all the while surrounded by snow-covered peaks. Back to the east sit Samdo and Larkya Peaks, the former along the border with Tibet. In the west you’ll catch sight of Himlung and Cheo Himal, all towering over 6000 meters. The summit’s hundreds of colorful prayer flags are perfect accents to the otherwise impressively white landscape.
Despite the ever-increasing elevation, a plethora of animals can be found along the Manaslu circuit. Blue sheep, also known as bharal, love the rocky terrain above 3500 metres. Neither blue nor sheep, keep your eyes peeled for what is better described as a grayish colored ram. Himalayan tahr also graze on the mountainside. Nearly endangered, their population has been dramatically diminished on account of habitat loss and hunting. Smaller animals like the pika also make the Himalaya their home. Comparable to a large mouse, they scurry across and hide amongst the rocks, alongside the common marmot. Snow leopards prove the most elusive of the fauna, blending so perfectly into their surroundings that sightings are exceptionally rare.
Where to Stay
Since opening to trekkers in the ’90s, more and more infrastructure has been built, making the trek now completely doable while staying at tea houses. You can count on a bed, meals and some form of a shower, be it via bucket or solar powered. But expect quite basic accommodations. Be somewhat cognizant of what you order for breakfast or dinner. To be safest, stick to what locals most often eat: rice and noodle dishes. In October, the peak time for summitting Manaslu, you might consider making reservations. Otherwise, due to being far less frequented than the Khumbu Valley or Annapurna, you will find plenty of open rooms.
You can also opt to camp, although it is more logistically difficult. Not only will you have to bring camping and cooking gear, you need to know where to pitch your tent each night. Traditionally, you pay the local on whose land you camp, which can be difficult to discern if you don’t know the area or village well, so it’s good to go with a guide. Sleeping in the backyard of tea houses is also an option.
When to Go
The best times of year to complete the circuit are September through November, and March to May. Harsh winters keep climbers away from December to February, while the monsoons deter travelers from June until August. If trekking in November and March you still might experience seriously cold temperatures, and both May and September could have lingering rain. But overall, spring and fall are ideal for exploring the Manalsu region of Nepal.