27 September- 5th October
Days 27 – 35
Annapurna and Manaslu Circuits
Our emergence into the tourist region of Annapurna could not have contrasted more sharply with our time in Dolpo. To say we suffered culture shock would be an understatement as we wandered through a town gazing at chocolate bars, alcohol, toilet paper and the other conveniences of western life. We saw more westerners in two minutes than we had seen in three weeks! The contrast was particularly acute as we had left the village of Santa not less than a day ago, a stunning subsistence village that sees few tourists.
The walking itself in this section has been a good break for us as it has been much easier than our time in Dolpo. This meant we could cover ground very quickly, averaging 20km + days as we raced along the Annapurna circuit and stayed in lodges rather than camping. As we were walking the opposite direction of the usual Annapurna trekker, we bumped into hundreds of people a day! Over 2 days, we ascended nearly 3000 vertical metres to cross the Thorong La (5415m). Unfortunately we had poor weather with driving sleet bordering on snow and strong winds. We crossed the majority of the Annapurna circuit in just 5 days and headed into the Manaslu region where we took just 3 days to travel from Tilije (2300m) to the impressive Larkye La (5160m). Fortunately we had fabulous weather which afforded fantastic views of Mt Manaslu (8156m) and was a favourite Pass so far.
The Manaslu circuit saw us walking through beautiful rainforest and alpine meadows, and like in Annapurna we could stay in lodges the whole time. Which means Dahl Bhat every night! We tried a few other dishes, like Nepalese interpretations of pizza for a treat and a change but fell back to Dahl Bhat as it is the only meal that is large enough to sate our ravenous stomaches, with reliable thirds available. The Manaslu region is becoming more popular (but still less than Annapurna), albeit with an older demographic as a guide is required, meaning we saw roughly 150 Westerners a day compared to 500+ in Annapurna..
Unfortunately in Annapurna Ciara’s first hot shower in weeks was somewhat tempered by managing to melt her glasses frames on the hot water heater. Back-up solutions are a slow ‘in progress’….
We passed hundreds of mules carrying climbing gear from Mt Manaslu (8156m) which hundreds of climbers have recently summited. The climbers catch a helicopter but the Sherpas and equipment travel on foot and by mule. The mules have not helped the mud situation. But we did pass a trail runner, Anthony, who had skied off the summit of Mt Manaslu and was running the Annapurna circuit in a few days before heading home.
We do not want to speak too disparagingly of our time in Annapurna but suffice to say we were glad to be walking it 2-3 times faster than the average trekker, meaning we travelled from Kagbeni to Dharapani over the Thorong La (5415m) in just 5 days rather than 12 and then headed into the Manasalu region. Unfortunately in Annapurna there really is no feasible way to avoid the newly built road that carves along the trekking route. There are some tracks to avoid the road but they tend to be a harder gradient than the road so the average trekker will chose the road. We spent several days dodging jeeps hooning around hair pin bends and racing through towns never built to accommodate vehicles. We passed through an area of vast deforestation in the town of Humde. A new airport is being constructed, or possibly an entire town from the amount of clear felling. I (Ciara) understand the importance of roads, but in an area like Annapurna where the vast majority of the income is built on tourism, the Nepalese government would do well to reconsider their enthusiasm for progress. I write this because there are plans for a road through the Manasalu region, an area which shares many similarities with Annapurna but far exceeds it in charm, principally because of the lack of a road. Again, the economy here is tourism, not agriculture based, and is booming despite the absence of a road. I dearly hope that the road in Manaslu does not eventuate. However Annapurna was beautiful, and we especially enjoyed the canyonesque sections in the lower region.
On our last day in Annapurna we were stopped by a road being constructed directly above us, sending hundreds of tonnes of rubble and boulders flying onto the road below where tourists and locals were walking. After about 30 minutes we were allowed through and raced across before more boulders started falling.
The Manaslu circuit was highly rewarding and our well deserved rest day in Samagon was full of washing and relaxation, as our half rest day 10 days prior in Kagbeni was not sufficient considering the effort we have been putting in. We restocked carbohydrates and snacks, had a little rum in the evening and got stuck into our books. We also managed to cut a day out in our final 3 days, meaning we are finally a full 24 hours ahead of our schedule.