Mushrooms, Weddings and Jungle Fun

6 October – 15 October

Days 36 – 45

Manasalu (East side) and Ganesh Himal (Ruby Valley)

This was a very culturally vibrant section and our lowest altitude section of the trip, we enjoyed it immensely. This section featured only 1 night of camping and many teahouses and homestays.

We left Samagon on the 6th on October and headed down into lower Manaslu. We spent 3 days slowly descending down the valley which became hotter and hotter until we reached Khorlabesi on the 9th at only 970m of altitude. This was the end of Manaslu for us, but very close to the starting point for a standard Manaslu trek. Lower Manaslu was quite different to the alpine sections. The walking was all down a huge gorge, scarpering up and down the contours and avoiding landslides. We crossed dozens of suspension bridges, at one point Patrick tested our nerves by tripping mid bridge and falling spectacularly. Thankfully he did not fall off the bridge itself!

(Photo of bridge coming soon)

In lower Manaslu we witnessed the construction of a road that has to be seen to be believed. The army is constructing a road through Manaslu. So far there is only about 2 days of walking on the road on the circuit as the road is far from complete. The army has blasted a route along vertical cliff-faces. Many things can be said of Nepalese road construction, but it cannot be said that they lack sheer audacity.

As we headed down the valley we encountered growing numbers of tourists walking the other way as October tends to be the busiest month for trekking in Nepal. These trekkers were a very different demographic to Annapurna. In Annapurna most trekkers were young and often American or Australian. In Manaslu, they tended to be older and often walking with porters. We figured this is because it is compulsory to have a guide in Manaslu so the outright cost is higher. Manaslu is also slightly harder and more remote than Annapurna.

The number of teahouses in Annapurna and Manaslu certainly made life easy. A typical teahouse day involves waking at 5:40, breakfast of porridge and tea at 6:30, depart 7:30, lunch of Dahl Bhat or noodles around 11:30, arrive between 2 and 4, Dahl Bhat for dinner at 6, in bed by 7:30. The lodges have been hit and miss, varying hugely in quality and price especially in high transit areas. We’ve been covering 15-25km fairly consistently as the walking of late has not been dramatically vertical.

(Photo of walking along gorge coming soon)

On the 6th of October we reached Khorlabesi, the closest we would come to a road head and the departure point for us from Manaslu and towards Ruby Valley. We bought some essentials, like biscuits, chiura (beaten rice) and porridge and then began the arduous 1000m climb to Kerauja. Under the blazing afternoon sun we climbed 1000m up an endless flight of stone steps. Once we reached the town it was quite a convuluted process to locate the homestay.

Kerauja was only 4km from the epicentre of the devastating April 2015 earthquake. It experienced a 7.9 quake itself. For the next week we were to see many sobering reminders of the quake. For example, in Kerauja, all the houses had tin roofs instead of the typical stone slate roofs. This is because tin is far safer in a quake. After the quake, each household was given $US 2000, much of which was spent on this tin. We have seen many many tarps still in use today, labelled UKAID or USAID.

At first we were confused by the amount of activity in Kerauja, hundreds of people were assembling in the evening for what seemed like a festival. It turned out to be a last rites ceremony following a cremation. It was the most vibrant funeral/last rites ritual any of us have ever witnessed. We were in Gurung territory, who are neither Buddhist nor Hindu. The funeral featured a procession headed by a dancing lama. The last rites were conducted in the centre of a huge crowd and lasted all night with music and dancing. On the outskirts of the crowd, people played betting games and vendors sold food.

(Photo of funeral gathering coming soon)

It was satisfying to feel like we were away from the tourist regions and back in everyday Nepal again. This was confirmed when we began paying 200-250 rupees for excellent Dahl Bhat again, instead of 650-800 ($AU11) for Dahl Bhat of varying quality in the lodges.

On the 10th we left Kerauja and headed along the hills, contouring dramatically through the jungle. We witnessed a crowd of monkeys. Unfortunately it seemed Patrick was still not over his stomach issues and began his second round of treatment for giardia! That afternoon was particularly brutal as we headed up into thick jungle along an overgrown, leech infested track, climbing 1000m in 100% humidity. Suffice to say we didn’t make it to our intended camp that night and had to pitch early at a small kharka (meadow). We picked off the leeches and crawled into our tents exhausted.

(Photo of Nauban Kharka coming soon)

The next day also featured challenges as we lost the main track in the dense jungle. While we followed a track, it turned out to be the wrong one and took us an extra 200vertical metres above the pass we were aiming for! We realised our error and were able to traverse the ridge to our actual pass at 2975, the Myangal Bhanjyang.

(Photo of jungle coming soon)

That night we had intended to camp but decided to stay in Batasee above a shop. In hindsight, it was a slightly uncomfortable night as we watched dozens of hefty rats scampering along the beams above us. For breakfast we had champa made of corn, rather than the roast barley we are used to. The primary crop in the Ganesh Himal seems to be corn, and it is picking time so everyone is in the fields.

The next night was a homestay in Lawadung. Now we had moved into ethnic Tamang territory. Pemba speaks Tamang which is just as well as their language is quite distinct. A great many people were amassing and we soon found out a wedding was taking place. Many goats were slaughtered and copious food was put out. The music and dancing continued late into the night and we were invited to join the festivities. Some children climbed a tree and provided us with more pears than we could carry, our first fresh fruit in weeks!

On the 13th we ascended Pansang Pass (3830m) by climbing up through the jungle and then above the tree line. We were surprised to find a teahouse at the top but relieved to be out of the cold. There we bumped into another pair of tourists, in total we met only two groups in Ruby Valley which is surprising because it is only a hair’s breath from Manaslu but very worthwhile. That day we were served local wild mushrooms in in both lunch and dinner Dahl Bhat which were delicious.

(Pass photo coming soon)

We were spoilt with another culinary treat the next day when we discovered the existence of a local dairy! We detoured slightly to it and were richly rewarded. It was a government run dairy and we each bought 1kg of cheese for 1800rupees ($AU22). The cheese is produced by a cross-breed between a cow and a yak. We also enjoyed rich buttermilk with lunch which settled better with some stomachs than others. This was only our second serving of fresh dairy in six weeks!

(Photo of animals around dairy coming soon)

On the 15th of October we reached Syabrubesi, a major objective and roughly halfway in terms of days, although well over half by distance. Here our friend Rick had very kindly dropped our resupply bags a few days previously before heading up the Langtang Valley where we would meet him. The bags contained such goodies as new socks and chocolate, as well as a few much-needed items like a bigger pot, tent pegs, iron supplements and sunscreen. We also got new chlorine drops so we could finally stop using Betadine in our drinking water! It only took us six weeks to get used to the taste!

(Photo of beers in sunset coming soon)

Here we also met our new porter named Sonam. We had decided to hire an extra porter for this section as we had gone from a group of 3 to 4 and were now carrying technical climbing gear like crampons, axes, helmets and harnesses. Sonam has worked on Everest and is handy with ropes.

We are now staring down our next major challenge, the formidable Tilman’s Pass (5300m). Only 50 people cross the pass a year as it is very remote and technically challenging. It will require roughly a week of isolated camping and a few days on glaciers! We’re looking forward to walking with Rick and hoping he brings some new topics of conversation!

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