MANANG, THORUNG-LA & UPPER MUSTANG – The Highest Of the Beyond the Annapurnas –
24 Days. Max. Altitude 5,416m.
Basic Tea-House Trekking with guides and porters.
Pre-trek Briefing: HE Office (Kathmandu Guest House) 5pm on day prior to Day 1.
DAY TO DAY PLAN –
Day 1: Drive to Besisahar (6hrs approx) & Trek to Bhulbule
(O/nt Altitude 840m/2.5hrs approx.)
Set off by chartered vehicle towards Besi Sahar, gateway to the Annapurna Circuit. A long walk through Besi Sahar bazaar leads downstream, followed then by an ascent up a series of rocky steps. There are several more ascents and descents as the trail makes its way through sub-tropical forests and across the rice terraces of Sera. Further on, across a saggy suspension bridge over the Khudi Khola is Bhulbule.
Day 2: To Bahundanda
(O/nt Altitude 1,300m/4hrs approx.)
The trail leads to another suspension bridge crossing, this time of the Marshyangdi River. After then subsequently crossing the Ngadi, the trail gently climbs upwards through scrub forests and for a short distance across landslips. A few teashops and cold-drink stalls are conveniently located opposite the rice paddies of Lampata; it’s a pleasant rest point. Our night stop, Bahundanda (hill of the Brahmins), is an attractive village located on the saddle of a long ridge.
Day 3: To Chyamje
(O/nt Altitude 1,410m/7hrs approx.)
The route continues high above the river on an exposed trail before arriving at Lili Bhir. Further on, passing several small streams, it then climbs up to and over a ridge. Prior to reaching our destination of Chyamje we also encounter the serene, pleasant villages of Kanigaon and Ghermu Phant, and then the stone-built hamlet of Jagat. Opposite a high waterfall, Jagat was previously a toll station and still has a somewhat medieval charm.
Day 4: To Bagarchhap
(O/nt Altitude 2,160m/7hrs approx.)
As the trail makes its way onwards, it crosses to the east bank of the Marshyangdi River. Here gabions - wire cages filled with rocks - are used to sure up the river embankment. (Gabions are used extensively throughout Nepal to stabilise river banks and road cuttings.) Much of the trail today is up hill, with waterfalls and small teahouses and lodges encountered along the way to Bagarchhap.
Day 5: To Chame
(O/nt Altitude 2,710m/6 hrs approx.)
We’re in Manang district and the valley here is made up mostly of virgin forest of fir and pine. En route, the peaks of Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II and Manaslu Himal are in visible. The trail passes the small settlements of Timang Besi and then Lattemarang, eventually arriving at our night stop of Chame, the administrative headquarters for the Manang District.
Day 6: To Pisang
(O/nt Altitude ,3240m/5 hrs approx.)
Beyond Chame, the trail crosses a small stream and then, by way of a large suspension bridge, the Marsyangdi river itself. Continuing on through fields of barley and then a descent to a bridge, one reaches the Khampa settlement of Bhratang. The trail now heads into deep forest, followed by a steep climb over a ridge and further higher, to the upper Marsyangdi Valley. Pisang is a cluster of houses; a long mani wall near a bridge being the village’s most prominent feature.
Day 7: To Manang
(O/nt Altitude 3,540m/6 hrs approx.)
The trail passes by way of small villages, including Bryaga. Here, stone houses are built one atop another, each with an open balcony created by a lower neighbour’s rooftop. Here also is the largest Gompa of the Manang district, perched on an elevated cliff overlooking Bryaga. The Gompa has an outstanding collection of statues, thankas and manuscripts, some estimated to be 400-500 years old. A short walk past the gompa are more chortens and mani walls. Further on, and having crossed a stream, the way opens out into the flat, arid ‘moonscape’ of Manang.
Day 8: In Manang
The special trading privileges conferred on the people of Manang in 1784 by King Rana Bahadur Shah brought major outside influences to the region. These days the local inhabitants dress in fashionable Western clothing, much brought during their trading excursions throughout Asia, especially Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. The shopkeepers have pretty accurately figured out what western trekkers want and hotel menus usually consist of such things as hamburgers and steaks.
An additional day in Manang to acclimatize and to ramble around the old part of the village, a compact settlement of approximately 500 dwellings, separated by narrow alleyways. With the summits of Annapurna and Gangapurna less than 8kms away, it’s a remarkable setting.
Day 9: To Yak Kharka
(O/nt Altitude 4,018m/5 hrs approx.)
Now begins a serious ascent (of almost 1,500m in total) towards Thorung La. Climbing up out of the Marshyangdi Valley and leaving large vegetation behind, the route traverses through scrub juniper and alpine grasses, then through meadows where horses and yaks graze, and then sparse forests of juniper, rose and barberry.
Having crossed a large stream that flows from Chulu Peak and Gundang and passed by ancient mani walls erected in the midst of serene grasslands, the trail reaches Yak Kharka, also known as Koche. A visit to a yak herders’ camp in the late afternoon is customary.
Day 10: To Phedi
(O/nt Altitude 4,450m/4hrs approx.)
Today the going is deliberately slow due to the high altitude. Two days are dedicated to the crossing of the Thorung La, the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit. Once at Phedi, there is time to rest and further acclimatise.
Day 11: Cross the Thorung-La Pass and to Muktinath
(O/nt Altitude 3,800m/8-9hrs approx.)
Expect a very early start for the crossing of Thorung La (5,416m). Immediately after leaving Phedi the clearly marked trail becomes very steep. A 4-6 hour ascent leads to the apex of the Pass, which is festooned with prayer flags, a chorten and stone cairn built by those who’ve met the challenge of the crossing. The views from the pass and from the trail are majestic. Further along, the way descends steeply towards Chabarbu. From here on, the trail crosses meadows, drops into a deep ravine, climbs out and follows a wide path to Muktinath, a revered pilgrimage site of both Hindus and Buddhists.
Day 12: To Kagbeni
(O/nt Altitude 2,800m/3.5hrs approx.)
To allow for a much-deserved rest after yesterday’s crossing, it’s a late morning start. There is first time to visit the Muktinath temple complex, one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Nepal. Refreshed and perhaps spiritually invigorated, descend through farmlands and clusters of poplar trees to Ranipauwa, Jharkot (3,550m), and Khingar (3,200m). Shortly after Khingar should be the first glimpse of the Kali Gandaki River at its confluence with the Jhong Khola. Further on the trail forks: the left hand trail leads to Eklaibhatti, and the one on the right leads to Kagbeni - a green oasis in the middle of desert, a former junction on the ancient Trans-Himalayan trade route and the gateway to the restricted region of Upper Mustang.
Day 13: To Chele
(O/nt Altitude 3,050m/6hrs approx.)
The back route from Kagbeni village leads into the restricted zone of Upper Mustang. The trail heads due North and we reach Tangbe, a pleasant village of white-washed houses and narrow alleys set in patchwork fields of buckwheat, barley and apple orchards. We reach Chhuksang, nestled in a crook at the confluence of the Narshing River and the Kali Gandaki, and then continue on to Chele. The transformation from ethnic Manangi to Tibetan (Mustangi) culture is well-expressed in the local architecture.
Day 14: To Syanboche
(O/nt Altitude 3,800m/7hrs approx.)
The trail from Chele climbs to a spur, from where there is a view down to the village of Ghyakar. It then continues over the Chele La (3,630m), then down to the ‘oasis’ of Samar. High above the river and set amongst apricot and apple orchards and often a bright yellow mustard crop, Samar is known for its supply of sturdy pack-ponies. From here one should still be able to see the Annapurnas and Nilgiri in the South. The trail continues to Bhena before crossing the pass known as Yamdo La (4,010m). A descent, before another short climb to Shyangmochen, a classic Mustang village. On upwards again to Shyangmochen La (3,850m), and then yet another remarkable valley.
Day 15: To Ghemi
(O/nt Altitude 3,510m/4hrs approx.)
Another high point of the expedition, which is reached today, is Nyi La (4,020m). There are 360 degree panoramic views, North to the Tibetan plateau and South to the Annapurnas. Descending from the pass now, reach Ghemi, a large settlement distinguished by scores of white-washed houses and surrounded by cultivated, walled fields.
Day 16: To Charang
(O/nt Altitude 3,560m/4hrs approx.)
Two impressive sights today: the broad alluvial plain, and a 400m long 2.5m tall prayer wall – the longest in Nepal. The trail climbs to cross Choya La (3,870m) and then descends to the fields and village of Charang.
Day 17: To Lo Manthang
(O/nt Altitude 3,840m/4.5 hrs approx.)
It is not actually the valley of the Kali Gandaki that we have to follow today, but a series of tributary valleys, both sharing and crossing our path. We thus avoid the geological chaos of all the torrential tributaries as they rush to meet the Kali Gandaki. Around us now is a barren yet remarkable landscape, intense and colourful none-the-less; its desert-like features belie its simple riches. A short descent after Lo, then on upwards onto a plateau, arriving at the walled city of Lo Manthang.
Days 18: In Lo Manthang
A day is set aside in this most atmospheric of places for savouring Lo Manthang and the surrounding mountain views.
There are around 150 houses clustered in close proximity in this ‘city’ settlement. The doors of most houses open onto a two-storey central courtyard with ground level generally used as storage space. A wooden staircase leads to the upper storey, which characteristically has a veranda overlooking the courtyard and doors leading off to living rooms and kitchen. The all-important sunshine means most activities are conducted out-of-doors hence, many opportunities to glimpse typical domestic scenes.
There are four Buddhist gompas within the city: Jampa Lhakang, Thubchen, Chodey and Choprang - each one of different interest and each dimly lit by row-upon-row of butter lamps.
An incongruous four-storey building, the king’s palace, is in the centre of town. Though only ceremonial, the king is still well-respected and consulted on many issues.
Day 19: To Dhakmar
(O/nt Altitude 3,820m/6hrs approx.)
To date the sun has always been at our backs but from today it will travel across our horizon. We may opt for a different, more westerly route, via the Marang La (4,230m), using it to include a visit to the monastery at Lo Gekar. Surrounded by grassy pastures the gompa is decorated with paintings and statues and numerous large prayer wheels. It’s a lively place, busy with monks and pilgrims. Next is the Mui La, and alpine meadows give way to fluted red and purple cliffs leading us to Dhakmar.
Day 20-23: To Ghiling
(O/nt Altitude 3,570m/5.5hrs approx.),
(O/nt Altitude 3,050m/6 hrs approx.)
(O/nt Altitude 2,800m/4hrs approx.) and
(O/nt Altitude 2760m/3hrs approx.) Retracing our route to Jomson, this is familiar territory. To make it even more interesting, we turn to take a new route from Jhaite, passing via Ghemi to the village of Ghiling (3,570m). We rejoin the main trail at Syangboche, making our next two night stops at Chele and Kagbeni, and reaching Jomson the following day.
Day 24: Fly to Pokhara
A morning flight (25 minutes) to Pokhara, where we are soon at our Pokhara Base Camp. End of Expedition. Final celebratory dinner in the evening.