The Manaslu Trek (or Manaslu Circuit Trek) is a 14-day tea-house trek which circumnavigates Mt. Manaslu, the 8th highest peak in the world (8,156 m). The trek has all the elements of other treks in Nepal including both Hindu and Buddhist culture, protected wildlife, rhododendrons and wild flowers, a 5000+ m pass, raging rivers, precarious bridges and stunning mountain scenery.
The trek is much easier than it used to be with greatly improved trails along the Budi Gandaki river gorge. In terms of difficulty, it is comparable with the Annapurna Circuit Trek or Everest Base Camp trek. It's highlight is undoubtedly the spectacular unhindered views of Manaslu that appear midway through your ascent of the valley.
Just over 2,000 people complete the trek per year with more than half visiting in October. This is substantially fewer than visiting Annapurna, Everest or Langtang. There are two main reason for the fewer numbers.
The first reason is that the trek used to require camping, as there were too few tea-houses along the trail. In particular there was no lodge below the Larkya La (a pass at 5135m) requiring an enforced night of camping. This is no longer the case. Since 2010 there has been a tea-house below the pass and others regularly spaced all the way up from the starting point at Arughat. A few of the tea-houses are still rustic compared to counterparts on the Annapurna Circuit, but most are comfortable.
The second reason is that the trek has restricted area status. This means it requires a special permit (see below), that the group have two or more members and that a registered trekking guide accompanies the group. In 2011, for Nepal Tourism Year, the permit fee was reduced to USD50 per week. The fee for this permit has since been increased to USD100 plus USD15 for every day over 7 days, counting only those days needed for trekking between Jagat and Bhimtang.
These two factors together have made the trek affordable for budget traveler and it is now being referred to as The New Annapurna Circuit.
You have to arrange this trek through a registered trekking agency, even though you may just be two people with a single guide. You can book a local agency on-ground after you reach Nepal in both Pokhra and Kathmandu, or book the trek inclusive of guides and porters through registered international agencies or aggregator sites. The agency is necessary for arranging the permit, as individual tourists are not permitted to do that.
In addition to the restricted area permit are entry fees for two national parks and a blue TIMS card:
- Restricted Area Permit: USD100 per week (plus USD15 per day over seven) which must be bought through a through a registered trekking agency. Normally only one week is needed from Jagat to Dharapani if not visiting Tsum Valley.
- Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP) entry fee: NPR3,000 (approx €26 or USD30 in 2018)
- Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) entry fee: NPR3,000 (approx €26 or USD30 in 2018)
- Blue TIMS card: USD10 for the blue TIMS registration card for group trekkers.
Prepare as you would for any other trek equipment-wise. Water purification such as a Steripen (UV), iodine or a portable filter will be needed. Get fit.
In present days the trek generally starts at soti Khola. This is a simple 7-8 hour bus ride from Kathmandu costing around US$7. It's a completely off road driving, so a private 4/4 jeep can be another option to reach Soti Khola, if you want to have your own private vehicle. Ensure you book in advance and check with local four-wheel jeep rental companies in Kathmandu. Jeep rentals often cost around USD150 to USD220.
Check the online Manaslu Trek map to understand the locations mentioned in the itinerary.
Travel from Kathmandu to Soti Khola [800m good lodges]. The bus may take you further than Arughat depending on the state of the road ahead. Sleep there or continue to Arket [750m basic lodges] or Soti Khola [800m good lodges] to get a head start. Otherwise the standard itinerary with days of 6 hours or less of walking is as follows:
- Soti Khola to Machha Khola, 5h (Fish River) [1000m good lodges]
- Machha Khola to Jagat, 6h(Jagat means tax collection point) [1400m good lodge (25 rooms 50 pax) ]
- Jagat to Deng, 6h [1860m good lodge called Manaslu Trekkers Home (20 rooms 40 pax)]
- Deng to Namrung, 6h [2600m reasonable lodges]
- Namrung to Lho, 4h [3100m reasonable] or Shyala [3500m basic]
- Lho To Samagaon, 4h [3500m good]
- Rest day in Sama – Manaslu Base camp excursion optional
- Samagaon to Samdo, 4h [3800m reasonable lodges]
- Samdo – excursion up to Tibetan border (Rui La pass, 7-8 h) recommended.
- Samdo to Larkya Phedi, 4h [4460m good lodge]
- Cross the pass and reach Bimtang, 8h [3700m good lodges]
- Bimtang to Tilje, 6h [2100m good lodges]
- Tilje to Jagat, 6h (roadhead, sleep or jeep to Besisahar depending on time) [1300m good lodges]
- Besisahar [800m good lodges] – Public transport departs from here.
It is also possible to start from Gorkha Bazaar which is quicker to reach from Kathmandu on a smoother road. You can find onward transport to Barpak, where there is accommodation, and continue via Larpak to join the main trek. A side trip to Tsum Valley is also possible, but this also requires camping or pre-arranged homestays. Itineraries can be as short as 10 days, excluding rest days, or as much as 21 days, taken at a relaxing pace with plenty of exploring.
It is also possible to combine this particular trek with the Annapurna Circuit trek: from Dharapani, continue to Manang and over the Thorung La at speed having already acclimatized. Then fly or bus out from Jomson to Pokhara. Other options include the trek to Nar and Phu and over another 5300 m pass, taking advantage your trek-earned acclimatization and fitness.
Popular day trips en route include a visit to Kal Tal (Kalchhuman lake) from Prok, Syarang Gompa from Bhi village, Pungyen Gompa from shyala or Samagaon, Manaslu base camp from Samagaon and a hike to Rui La, the border with Tibet which is a 7/8 hour return trip from Samdo.
The principal danger is altitude, specifically going too high too quickly. Follow these instructions for altitude sickness prevention. This is a serious issue. There was one death on the high pass in October 2013 from cerebral edema. Acclimatization is not to be taken lightly. Your life depends on it.
Turn right at Dharapani and complete the northern section of the Annapurna Trek, ending at Jomsom. Another week would be needed for this option, especially if the side trip to Tilicho Lake is taken.