Manaslu and Nar Phu: I’m (almost) back!

Hello from the High Himalaya!

It’s my last day in Kathmandu and I’m killing time here at the Marshyangdi Hotel until my 02.40 flight.

A perfect opportunity for a post-trip blogpost!

On the approach to Kathmandu
On the approach to Kathmandu

The trip went really well. My two Bristol trek mates were great and it was fab spending time with Mingmi, Buddhi, Tsering (but not Chherring), Krishna, Tashi and Lakpa, and with Val. There were no major dramas (other than pre-election violence which has meant a curfew for the past couple of days) and in the 24 days I’ve had in Nepal – the first time since COVID struck – I revisited the Manaslu Circuit, had my first encounter with the (not so) “Lost Valleys” of Nar and Phu and topped and tailed the trek with a few days in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Thank you, Val!

Nepalese Himalayas
Nepalese Himalayas

We completed the Manaslu Circuit (Machhakhola to Dharapani) in 12 days, jeeped up to Koto and spent the next 5 1/2 days exploring the valleys and villages of Nar and Phu, up close to the border with Tibet.

The trek featured two high passes (of course): the Larkye La (5106m) between Gorkha and Manang in Manaslu and the Kang La (5306m) between Nar and Manang. Both passes were snow covered.

The snow on the Larkye La started quite low down, and it was a much colder ascent than on my previous visit back in 2018. On the plus side the snow cover made for easier walking as we didn’t have to pick our way through all the boulders, rocks and stones on the way up, and we were on snow rather than slippery dust trails on the way down. Still very steep though and the hot sun made for potentially dangerous conditions so it was an “as speedy as possible” descent. The microspikes I bought for Dolpo were invaluable for stopping slippage whilst walking on the compacted snow trails. I’m still amazed that Hazel and I managed to negotiate the snowy Thorong La in 2009 without spikeys or poles.

The other difference in my 2018 and 2022 experiences on the Larkye La is that this year there were a bazillion other people at the pass at the same time as us, although that did include a proposal at the prayer flags (she said “yes”).

The trail we took from Dharapani to Tal and Chamje at the end of our 2018 Manaslu Circuit is no more – at least two big sections have slid into the river or been washed away. Nepal has been dealt two torrential monsoons in the past two years and you can see the damage everywhere.

The weather wasn’t looking great for the Nar Phu extension and Val almost took us back to Pokhara and out somewhere else instead but the weather gods were generous (and Mingmi checked a lot of forecasts) and in the end we managed to do 5-6 good days there, visiting both villages (very Dolpo – wood and stone, built into the hillsides) and getting over the Kang La pass just before the snow came to Nar …..

So, the Kang La pass: 2.30am bed tea, 3.15am start time, a good few hours before dawn trudging over frozen trails and streams and shattered rocks, then a couple more hours on steep zig zags trodden into a metre or so of snow. We got to the chorten that marks the pass at 8.11 am. Not bad going. The descent was a steep moraine / scree slope like the start of the descent from Amphu Lapsta, except it went on for 2 hours. And then there was another 2 hours of more down, some of it a bit less steep, before lunch. And then another 2 hours to Yaru village where we spent the night, face to face with Annapurna IV.

Crossing the Kang La pass also brought us into the Annapurna Circuit and The Road. Even taking the alternate higher route we were still on the same sort of dirt road / jeep track, just the less used one. Driving from Lower Pisang to Besi Sahar – where my 2009 Annapurna Circuit trek started – was all on the road, and it just got more and more depressing. The classic Annapurna Circuit trek has been destroyed but we still passed a lot of people doing it. My advice is “Don’t”, at leat not unless and until a new Annapurna Circuit has been established on alternative trails (assuming that’s possible).

From Besi Sahar we drove to Pokhara – on roads that were more potholes / dirt than tarmac: monsoon damage plus road works. The drive took 5 very uncomfortable hours, and half of that was on Nepal’s main East-West road, the Prithvi Highway. The upside was that Val decided none of us could face driving from Pokhara to Kathmandu (est. 12-16 hours) so we flew.

And the final bit of road news is that on the Manaslu Circuit the road is drivable to Macchakhola, will soon by drivable all the way to Jagat and is in place all the bridge to Doban. The proto-road has been dug out much further than that, heading on towards the turn off to Tsum. So I’m all the more glad I did my trips in 2015 (Tsum) and 2018 (Manaslu and Tsum) – I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this part of Nepal.

Do keep your fingers crossed for Kanchenjunga Base Camps North and South for next year! Hopefully that’ll be a camping trek – tea houses were OK but the food was a lot more limited than when we camp. The appeal of dal bhat wore decidedly thin…..

Dinner!
Dinner!

To end on a positive note: We distributed around 100 LED solar lights in Manaslu and Nar, and held a couple of eye clinics to distribute spectacles / glasses in Manaslu. Even though the electricity poles are more prevalent these days, many of them are bent double, buried in landslides or minus wires …. And, last but absolutely not least, Tseten and Tenzi did us proud in Tashiling.

I’ll add some photos once I’m back in Blighty – let’s hope the train strikes don’t make my GWR journey home toooooo painful….. Ever the optimist!