The Manaslu Circuit trek has been considered one of the best off-the-beaten trek in the world. This route has been open to foreign hikers since 1990s. Manaslu trek gained popularity since tea houses were built here in 2010. Prior to that, you had to camp out in the wild.
In 2010, the Nepal government announced to construct a highway connecting Tibet (China) and India with the route passing through Tsum Valley
. The affected area is the road between Sotikhola and Jagat (first two days of the trek) which normally would be the starting point for the Manaslu and Tsum Valley treks. For many, this is a positive development for the Nepali community living in these areas. However, for tourism, the road construction is somehow threatening its reputation and the future of the trail as a cultural and remote trek. Up to this day, it remains a virgin trail and less crowded than any other base camp treks in Nepal
. It is also one of the least explored trails in Nepal because of the restriction imposed by the government. This may all change in the near future.
This article is inspired by the information from Sonam Lama of Tsum Valley Home Stay Project. He is also a member of the recent survey team tasked to find an alternative trekking trail to avoid landslide and recent road construction
. In this article, we hope to share the optional route to avoid the road section and still have the same off-the-beaten experience in the Manaslu trek. Our company is also exploring this alternate route to ensure safety for our clients and other tourists.
What is the condition of the current trial
The Manaslu hike usually starts from Sotikhola and the day would normally end at a camp near Macchikhola. On Day 1, the trail passes by small towns including Lapubesi, before reaching Macchikhola.
The first three hours of trek from Sotikhola to Naulikhola, the trail condition is smooth through a mountain road. However, from Lapubesi, the old hiking trail has been removed and replaced by a hike by the Budhighandaki river.
The hike by the river could be unsafe due to the falling rocks. It is also sometimes closed during the monsoon season when the tide is high and trail becomes unpassable. This rocky and muddy trail by the river goes all the way to Macchikhola.
The following day, Day 2, trek usually starts from Macchikhola and ends in Jagat. On the way, trekkers would pass by small villages including Khorlabesi and Tatopani before reaching Jagat.
From Khorlabesi, the old trail has been completely closed. Instead, hikers are required to make a detour to another town uphill called Kerauja to reach Khorlabeshi. The detour takes roughly 3 hours compared to a one hour hike if the old trail was not closed.
From Khorlabeshi to Tatopani, again, the old trail has been completely replaced by an ongoing road construction. This area is also patrolled by the Nepal government army who regulates the times when trekkers are allowed to pass by. The army opens the trail to trekkers from 11am to 12 noon, and again at 5pm to 7am. Outside this timeframe, you are not allowed to pass.
What are the challenges to trekkers of the current trail?
During the first two days of the trek, expect a very rough trail. Trekkers are expected to walk on the rocky and muddy road.
You need to be extra careful with falling rocks.
Especially after the earthquake, there are multiple landslides. Expect that you will walk through this landslide zone.
Due to the road construction, some of the classic trails have been removed, so you are required to make a detour that could take a couple of extra hours to reach the camp.
After the earthquake, a lot of villages are still rebuilding. The locals use mules or donkey to help carry some of the load so expect to share the trail with cattle as well. Note that there are more than 1200 mules/donkeys in the Manaslu Tsum Valley area. Usually, one group would consist of at least 30-40 loaded mules/donkeys at a time.
Is there an alternative trail?
The answer is Yes. Based on a recent survey, there is an alternative route that goes from the other side of the river, i.e. opposite to the current trail. The current trail goes from the west side of the river, while the alternate trail would follow the east side of the river. The alternative route will be an uphill trail and passing through the local villages: Manbu – Yartsa – Kasigaun – Keraunja – Runchet – Hulchuk – Dobhan - Jagat
. This is the route usually followed by the locals in the area.
During the main season, there is a direct local bus from Kathmandu to Manbu. Or trekkers could also start from Sotikhola, but will need to hike up for around 45 minutes and cross a suspension bridge to reach Manbu.
What are the highlights of the alternative route?
It is a scenic trail offering panoramic views of Ganesh, Sringi and Manaslu Himalayan ranges.
Experience some of the ethnical groups in Nepal like Gurung and Ghale settlement
Opportunity to live with locals through homestay and taste homemade local food
Mixed culture and religion of Buddhist and Hindu
Avoids ongoing road construction including the landslide zone and the dangerous part of Manaslu trail
No need to wait for the Nepal army to open the trail in Khorlabesi
Avoids hundreds of cattle traffic allowing you to enjoy the hike in peace and quiet
During monsoon, this trail would be ideal. The trail will not close due to high tide.
Lowlights of the alternative trail
It requires more hours of walking (approximately 7 to 8 hours daily). There are also a lot of downhill and uphill treks making it more challenging for some.
Tea houses are not yet fully developed in each camp, so you will need to stay in a local's house (i.e. homestay). While this is a plus for many who would like to experience Nepali culture and mingle with locals, one downside would be that there may not be any comfortable toilets or showers.
You may need at least one extra day.
You may not easily find a local company and a guide who know this trails. Most of the local companies and guide would prefer the current trail.
Food options might be limited. Please expect to eat what locals eat and there will be no food menu for you to choose from.
Depending on the weather and the season, it might be hot, humid or rainy as you will walk through the low hilly region. Depending on the season, please also bring insect repellant.
What is the itinerary if I follow the Alternative route
The itinerary from the alternative route would only differ for the first couple of days before reaching Jagat. Once you reach Jagat, you will follow the same classical itinerary.
Here is the itinerary based on the alternative route mentioned above. We highlighted in blue below the change from the usual current route. The NEST Adventure guide team is also set off to depart next week to test this route.
: Kathmandu to either Sotikhola or Manbu by local bus (about 8-9 hour and private jeep 6-7 hour)
Trek from Sotikhola to Kashigaun (via Manbu). Lunch at Yarsa and overnight homestay in Kashigaun (7-8 hours)
: Trek from Kashigaun to Runchet. Lunch at Kerauja and overnight in Runchet (7-8 hours)
: Trek from Runchet to Jagat or Dobhan via Yaru (8-9 hours)
Day 05: Trek from Jagat to Deng (6-7 hours)
Day 06: Trek from Deng to Namrung - 2630m (6-7 hours)
Day 07: Trek from Namrung to Sama Gaon - 3530m (6-7 hours)
Day 08: Rest day and sidetrip to Manaslu Base Camp (MBC) or Bihendra Lake - 3,530m (6-7 hours)
Day 09: Trek from Sama Gaon to Samdo - 3860m (4-5 hours)
Day 10: Rest day and sidetrip to Tibetan border or day hike - 3860m (8-9 hours)
Day 11: Trek from Samdo to Dharmasala - 4460m (4-5 hours)
Day 12: Trek from Dharmasala to Bimthang Via Larke pass - 5160m (8-10 hours)
Day 13: Trek from Bimthang to Tilije - 1700m (5-6 hours)
Day 14: Trek from Tilije to Dharapani - 1080m (5-6 hours)
Day 15: Drive From Tal to Kathmandu (Jeep, Bus, or Car) - 1300m (7-9 hour drive)
How is the Accommodation in the Alternative route?
For the first two nights, you are required to stay in a local homestay. There are no commercial tea houses available yet in this route. That means you will sleep how locals sleep and use what local resources are available.
Based on a recent survey only a few homes in each camp have toilet facilities. This means only a small group (up to 4 people) can stay together in each homestay with basic food and accommodation. But if you are in a bigger group (e.g. more than 4), you may need to bring your own tent, set up camp just outside the homes, and eat at the homestay.
In order to introduce the trail and confirm available homestay, senior members of the NEST Adventure is set off to depart next week. We will update more information about the trail, food and homestay in a few weeks' time.
What food is available in the Alternative route?
A common national dish of Nepal called "dal bhat", fried rice, fried noodles, with fresh vegetables are the common dishes for the lunch and dinner.
For breakfast, it is likely hard-boiled egg, omelette, fried Gurung bread (also called Tibetan bread), millet bread, chapatti bread, noodles soup, seasonal fruits such as banana, orange, etc.
For the snack, roasted corn (depending on season), popcorn, cucumber and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Continental foods such as spaghetti, pizza, and pasta will not available.
What to pack for the Alternative route trek?
Only the first two nights would differ from the usual trail where you will be required to homestay. The rest will be staying in teahouses. In this particular region apart from the regular packing list, you are at least required to bring:
Light snacks (Chocolate bar etc)
Toiletries, toilet paper, etc
Water bottle and water purification tablet
Optional would also be to bring some small things for the local kids. They usually like a balloon, pens and pencils, candies, etc. They will appreciate it very much.
Due to the road construction project, there are challenges trekkers will face during the first two days of the trek. While the current route is still possible to follow, there are some restrictions along the trail and in some situations, the safety of the tourists may not be guaranteed all the time.
There is also the alternative route to be explored. It may not have the same level of comfort and convenience as the current route, but it promises a different experience of Nepal and that which brings you closer to its culture, nature and people.