Manaslu Circuit: Tsum Valley

After some much needed rest and relaxation in Pokhara, including a second mountain bike trip up to Sarangkot, it was time to embark on the Manaslu circuit. The Manaslu trek is similar to Annapurna in that you go around an 8000 meter peak. The main difference is that there has been far less development and there are no roads running up the circuit.It’s also mandatory to hike with a guide on this trek.

With the help of the internet I found some trekking partners to split the cost of the guide with. I worked with Shree, whom I’d previously meant on the bus ride to Pokhara, to obtain permits and hire a guide. On October 10th at 6 AM the five of us, plus our guide Prim, set out in a jeep from Kathmandu. At first we were told that the ride to Arughat, the starting point for the trek, would take around six hours. We were also going the long way around as the last stretch of road was supposed to be better than the direct route. We reached Gorkha before noon and grabbed an early lunch. The locals said it would take a minimum of four more to do the last 20 kilometers to Arughat, which shed some light on the 6 AM departure time. The road was muddy and we spent the entire time in four-wheel drive. We made it to Arughat just before sunset, grabbed a beer at our hotel and then some some sleep.

The next morning we officially started trekking. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the heat. Arughat sits at only 530 meters in elevation which means the climate is fairly tropical. We fought through it, drank tons of water, and hiked all day to Lapubesi. We stayed in a nice teahouse which we shared with the most boring German couple in the world. On the plus side, their guide was the Nepali version of Cosmo Kramer and provided loads of entertainment. There was a local festival going on so the locals had built bamboo swing sets in the villages and were doing some traditional dance in the evenings.

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When we set out the next morning we quickly realized we were going to be battling for space on the trail with a Czech group that had approximately one thousand members plus two million donkeys to pack up their 1 liter bottles of shampoo and daily pair of clean underwear. On the plus side, we did learn that they would not be doing the Tsum valley side trip, so we would lose them in a couple of days at most. The second day was as hot as the first and we cut it a little short, stopping for the night in Tatopani, which was basically just a couple of buildings sandwiched between the cliff and river. Since we had some time to kill we started drinking Raksi, the local “wine”. Thankfully they only distill it to what I would guess is somewhere in the 15% to 20% range. Our guide got us the local price so we drank more than our fill, and I promised myself I would only drink at low altitudes on this trek (more on this later).

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A Himalyan still, where Raksi comes from.

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One of the countless waterfalls we saw while hiking up the lower Buri Gandaki river.

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The next day was much like the first two, sweaty hiking up the river valley. We spent the night in Philim and drank more raksi of course. The day after Philim is where things really started to get interesting, a couple hours in we veered off the main trail into Tsum Valley. We had all heard that Tsum Valley is very different from the other trekking in Nepal and I would have to agree. After hiking through a tunnel of bamboo for an hour we reached Lokpa. We stopped in Lokpa for lunch and spent a good while stretching out in the sunny grass. It was a good thing we stretched because we had no idea what the afternoon hike would entail.

Less than an hour after lunch the trail descended sharply and then split. The old trail had “under construction” signs at its head. The other fork went down to the river bank and disappeared. Prim instructed us to go down to the river and cross the rickety bridge. The group stopped for a short break, partially because there was some confusion over whether we were really on the right track. From the riverbank it was obvious the old trail was impassable. A big swath of it had been taken out by a landslide and you could see the trail workers bamboo ladders’ high up on the hillside. While the others rested  I carried on up the river a bit and spotted the makeshift bridge back across the river. I really enjoyed this part as it was the first time trekking in Nepal that I felt like things weren’t completely on rails.

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Rickety bridge number two, it was bouncy and awesome.

Once we’d crossed the bridge we quickly found the path to rejoin the old trail. It was a massive climb back up to the trail, followed by countless more descents and ascents of the same hillside. The valley is extremely narrow and steep in this area which makes the trekking grueling. Eventually we came to another sketchy bridge, this time of the suspension variety. Every suspension bridge I had crossed thus far in Nepal felt indestructible. The cabling and footings for this one were the same, but instead of steel for the the floorboards there was rotting wood. All in all it didn’t feel terribly unsafe.

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Sketchy bridges all day!

From the other end of the makeshift suspension bridge it was a steep climb up to Chumling. We chose to stay at the tea house which was situated on the biggest hill around. The last fifteen minutes of hiking that day were probably the toughest of my entire time in Nepal. In Chumling you could tell that things were starting to get more Tibetan.

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The view back  down the valley from near Chumling.

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The view from our Chumling tea house in the morning.

The next morning we trekked onto Chokang Paro and made it a short day. The day after was a long one, we trekked until the early evening eventually arriving at a monastery called Mu Gompa. The monastery was high up on a mountainside and very exposed to the weather. It was only a few miles from the Tibet boarder, and the Chinese were actually working on a road to connect to Tibet. They had a backhoe up there for the roadwork and the driver was living out of a tent just below the monastery. He was an enterprising man and had yak meat and Tibetan beer for sale. The beer was a steal at $1.50 a can so we loaded up and drank in the kitchen of the monastery while our guide curried some yak meat. The monks found it hilarious that we were drinking in their kitchen, but don’t worry we did ask permission before cracking the beers. The yak meat was tasty, and a bit of a delicacy considering where we were. It’s forbidden to kill animals in the Tsum Valley, so the only time you get any meat is when an animal dies naturally, in this case the yak we were eating had been gored by another yak during a fight.

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Some picturesque Mani walls.

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Exposed trail as we continue up the valley.

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The village of Nile, just before the final push up to Mu Gompa.

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The view down Tsum Valley from near Mu Gompa.

The next morning we decided to descend from Mu Gompa, it was a bit too cold and there wasn’t much to do. The trek back down the valley was a bit easier than the trek up, although the sections at the bottom of the valley were still quite strenuous. In a couple days we were back in Lokpa, where we rested up and prepared to rejoin the main circuit and head towards the pass.

 

 

 

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