Hiking was my forte and trekking was something I had always longed for. Opportunities came and went, but somehow I had missed every one of them and I was not going to miss this one. Manaslu, a name everyone was familiar with, came knocking on my door and the planning started. Five of us were finalized as the ‘Larke Pass Team’ although I had doubts regarding my health when I found out that we will be reaching an altitude of 5200 meters but I was prepared to take it on. We had found out that an average person takes around 14 days to complete the trekking route, but still a 10 day trip was planned (a bit of arrogance perhaps but as we found out later, arrogance is never a good commodity). We had heard that food and shelter privileges were at its worst as we ascended higher altitudes which meant proper food supplies and sleeping bags were a must and walking with those enormous bags on our back was going to be a challenge in itself. Come to think of it, even standing up straight for the first time required added effort.
Before you go through whole of the article, I just wanted to let you know that this article is not concerned with the details. So, if you are looking for specifications regarding the trekking route in particular, this is not the article for you and you have plenty out there. The purpose of this article is to give you a general idea of the trek, things you’re probably missing out on.
Now let’s get back to business, the bags were packed and we were ready to go. We took a micro bus straight to Arughat, Gorkha; the starting point of Manaslu circuit and it took about 6 hours to reach there. Upon arrival we were amazed. The hotel we stayed at reminded us of places like Pokhara or Thamel. Beautiful interiors with good comforting facilities and great food welcomed us. We knew that as soon as we woke up the next morning, we had a hard day ahead of us and thus needed good food and good rest. Arughat gave a perfect beginning to a breathtaking trip.
THE WICKED TWO DAYS
Everyone knows that the first couple of days of any trek are probably the hardest part of the whole trip and it was not any different for us. Hot sun, uphill, downhill and lack of shade were some of the features of the first two days. Although people might find it difficult, we must understand that these two days are very important to build up all the stamina you have lost as a result of your city life. I too found it very hard but trust me, if you can complete the first two days, you will complete the rest. Besides its not all that bad, beautiful sceneries will follow you like a shadow while the thundering sounds of Budhi Gandaki plays music in your ears. Just remember, water is the most important thing in the universe and I suggest everyone to take lots of rehydration salts along with you. It will help you to loosen muscles and prevent cramps while giving you a boost of energy with every drop. It’s a must.
THE MUCH NEEDED REST
After two days of grueling walk separated by a night at Labu Besi, arrival at Thuldhunga meant a much needed R&R. A warm glass of locally produced wine along with dried meat served as a charm on that night. Clear skies, dim light emitted by the fire along with friends was all I was asking for, and that’s what I got. Slipping into the sleeping bags was a nightmare (yes! a first time user) as I kept on sliding left and right. Note to myself, no more sleeping bags.
GETTING INTO THE STRIDE
The next morning, with a renewed confidence and determination we began our walk at 6 in the morning. Lush green fields with hills as high as the moon were the view for the next couple of days. After a while it begins to feel like you are in a race with the hills but no matter how fast you climb, the hills are always winning. Dyang was our destination for the day. Finally reaching Dyang at around 7 p.m., we were totally exhausted. It was a feat since we accomplished approximately 9 hours of continuous walk in 13 including lunch and stops along the way.
THE FIRST SUNRISE
Namrung was our next destination and the day had an equally daunting path lined up for us. After having a hot meal at Lho gaon, which takes about 3-4 hours from Dyang, the walk gained pace. Upon reaching the destination, a hot shower followed by a walk around the village was very refreshing. An unexpected get together of sorts was awaiting us which we had no idea about. The people of Namrung would gather everyday in the evening to watch a movie at the hotel where we were staying. Children ageing 3-4 years to elderly people without a single tooth all gathered up to watch a movie. It was amazing to see how these people treated movies as they were some sort of documentary of even news for that matter. At one point, upon seeing vampire like teeth on one of the actors, a female in the audience ran out of the room crying as though her life depended on it. I wondered about how lucky we city dwellers were to have the luxury of entertainment or were they the lucky ones because they could enjoy a shitty movie with whole hearted conviction. Overall, it was a wonderful get-together.
The next morning, waking up to a slight headache, we had the opportunity to witness a wonderful sunrise. A mountain approximately 6000 meters high had its peak on fire. This was a view I had missed. But, assured that this was just the beginning and a lot more would follow, we went on our way.
THE DIVINE BEGINNING/ ENTERING PARADISE
It was the sixth day of the trek and we were in for one of the longest walks; our destination, Samgaon. After a long day of walking, we entered a village named Syala. It was one of the best places I had ever been. It felt like entering a paradise. Clean, clear air filling up the freshly green colored village full of little red cheeked children and the sun setting at a distance was the view that will be printed in my mind till the day I die. From then onwards, on every turn I was flustered by the beauty. The river, the mountains, hills, clouds, fields, yaks and the people made up the paradise I was entering into.
We reached our destination at around 5-6 p.m. in the evening; mount Manaslu was winking at us. The view from the hotel’s rooftop was exquisite. Hot coffee, mushroom soup, the mountains and Pink Floyd made a wonderful combination. And as the moon rose, the mountains shone like a crazy diamond. It was simply breathtaking and words could not describe it. I was glad that we had chosen Samagaon as our rest point for acclimatization.
The next morning we took a short one hour hike to Birendra Lake, one of the calmest places on earth if you ask me, a place for solitude. Icy cold water flowing down from the glacier above filled up the lake . It was pure bliss. A morning well spent. After returning to the hotel, I spent the whole day on the rooftop laying my feet up and staring into the mountains. The thought of how I could spend the rest of my life there and I would probably choose to go back to Kathmandu tore me up inside. Teaching in a school nearby and contributing something to that society is a feeling that has been nagging at me ever since.
ABOVE 4000 METERS
The trek continued with us prepared to cross the dreaded 4000 meters from where altitude sickness grabs a hold of people every single day. We reached Samdu, another popular destination among tourists for acclimatization. After having a much needed meal, we carried on. The trees were getting smaller and smaller while the mountains were getting bigger and bigger. Big vast fields filled with horses and surrounded by mountains was a pleasure to tread on. Our next destination was Dharmashala, a hotel at the base of Larke Pass at an altitude of 4600 meters. It was cold and thus, a hot garlic soup worked like a charm. By the end of the night, to our surprise, we had a pizza, yak soup, garlic soups and plenty of hot lemon tea treated with honey. Generating heat within your body which lasted the whole night was vital for survival at such climate. Although clouds had filled up the skies on that night and we were disappointed in the beginning, we were told that it was good sign. The temperature remained normal and it was not that cold that night.
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and started the hardest part of the trek with a fear deep inside telling you that this might be your last day on earth, take in as much as you can. I cannot describe the scenery; I have no words for it. The lakes, birds swimming in a pattern, mountains everywhere and shortness of breath were the four most important attributes of the morning. It was here that I actually realized the meaning of ‘The Turtle and Hare story’. For me it was not about winning the race so much as it was about crossing the finish line. And by being slow and steady, I crossed it without any hitch. It was a feeling of achievement that surpassed my all other achievements so far.
Crossing the pass was ecstatic, but thinking that the hard part was over was a big mistake. The downhill that followed was scary. Steep hills made up of loose rocks, gravel and dirt slips right off from under your feet. With every step, you sink a little. The downhill continues for hours and hours in the sun and without any shade.
After walking for a while, lush green fields emerge. It looked like a well managed garden. It seemed like someone was taking care of it, that’s how perfect it was and it lasted for hours during the trek.
After a day of downhill derby, we arrive at Bimtang, a peaceful little town blessed with immense natural beauty. Brightly colored cottages with good food and facilities were a surprise we loved. It felt like God had taken a piece of heaven and placed it on earth for us to enjoy. I could have stayed at Bimtang for an additional day but we did not have the luxury of time. I suggest everyone to separate at least two days for Bimtang while planning.
GREENERY AT ITS BEST
It was our tenth day of the trek. We had a daunting task ahead of us. At least 10-11 hours of continuous downhill again and thankfully no one had any problem in the knee area, a major factor on such situations. During the way, we came across an amazing forest. It was lush, green and dark and big. I never thought ‘scary’ and ‘beautiful’ could both be used as adjectives while describing something, but it was what it was. I had never seen so many shades of green in one place. I was walking at an increased pace but others were practically running. This meant I had to walk alone for almost four hours. I always had a wish to go trekking alone, but I had not planned for it. Anyway, one wish completed and will never be repeated.
Hungry, thirsty and exhausted; I finally reached Dharapani. After such a wicked day, a much needed relaxation was on the horizon. Although it was a fun filled evening, somewhere deep inside I was sad that the trip was over. Kathmandu was waiting but I never missed anything about Kathmandu. Well, the only thing I could do is plan a trip every year and I could not wait to get back on the trails again.
PHOTO COURTESY: ROSHAN JOSHI