After posting the link to my very rushed Manaslu and Tsum Valley blog post, I have had several requests for a more detailed trip report. So for those of you wondering how many hours we trekked per day and where we stayed, this post is for you!
I will preface this post by saying that all times include breaks – lunches quite often took close to 2 hours, but sometimes just an hour. It really depended on what you ordered. Our group made it difficult by ordering so many different things. I will also mention that our group moved at a rapid pace (much to my dismay). The trek was supposed to be 22 days, but we did it in 20. I would not recommend this.
I am not going to give the name of the company I used anymore. I know I have given it to quite a few people already, but a) I don’t think it’s fair to other companies, as there are many to choose from and it is quite competitive, plus I’m sure there are some really great ones out there b) the company I went with, albeit inexpensive, was not the greatest. Yes, everything was well organized, but at the last minute I was told I would have an hour to decide if I wanted to pay for a porter by myself (they told me I’d have someone to share with, not their fault, but it would have been nice to have more time to make that decision. I chose wrong! c) Our guide offered to carry some of my stuff if I chose to not take a porter, I thought, great, I wouldn’t need to give him much, maybe 4kgs max – on the trek, him carrying anything other than his own stuff slowed him down way too much. He was slow as it was, but carrying my stuff made it painful (for him and me), so I just carried it and suffered. Plus he charged me 10USD per day which I found out after we were on the trail. I ended up paying far more for using him and the couple of porters I hired along the way instead of having one for the entire trip.
Day 1: Kathmandu to Aragaut – 10 hrs by public bus. A cheap trek comes with cheap transportation, in our case, the public bus. It was a harrowing 10 hour drive from Kathmandu to Aragaut, picking up and dropping off locals along the way. Half of the journey was on okay road but it was bumper-to-bumper with diesel spewing buses. The second half was along the sketchiest single lane road with giant mud-filled potholes and buses going head-to-head for who gets the right of way. The bus was packed with lots of spitting and vomiting out the windows. It was all very exciting until about the 9th hour when it got dark, then we were over it.
Day 2: Aragaut to Soti Khola (1.5 hours by bus) and then Sotikhola to Machi Chola (5.5 hours). The next day started with an hour and a half long bus ride, which we could have walked but it was along a road and we wanted to get ahead of the large group of people from France. The hike through the valley was beautiful, yet hot and had us passing several donkey caravans carrying supplies to higher elevations. The trail didn’t seem too busy with tourists but that changed once we reached our hotel. Tons of other trekkers drinking lots and doing all the things I had read not to do. I’ve tried really hard to do my research before coming and to not leave an environmental impact on these remote villages, so I find it extremely challenging when I discover that I am of the minority. It was a great day but I needed to retreat to my room and not see all of that. Pro tips: Bring a refillable water bottle and a steripen or life straw. Use a “pee rag” instead of toilet paper. Plan your trip with a “pack it in, pack it out” mentality. Remember that any plastic/garbage is burned and anything un-burnable gets tossed over a ledge into the beautiful environment – donkeys do not carry garbage out for you.
Day 3: Machichola to Jagat (1340 M – 8 hours). Today was more up and down through the valley alongside the river. It was a beautiful day but my pack felt particularly heavy and I was feeling very sad to not have a porter. The trail was very packed with trekkers, but I’m told Annapurna is way busier. Jagat is a quaint little town with lots of children so I decided that now was the time to offload the school supplies our guide had been carrying for me. I gave to one child and before I knew it, all the children were lining up for their pencils, erasers, sharpeners, and note books. They were happy, which made me so happy and I forgot about the torture of the day.
Day 4: Jagat to Lokpa (2240 M – 7 hours). We finally got an early start, which was much better to stay ahead of the crowds – this also afforded a longer rest in Lokpa before heading up into Tsum Valley the next day. My pack was definitely too heavy and we tried to find a porter but no one wanted to share and it was too expensive on my own. Thankfully my guide came through on his offer to carry a few things (at a cost of $10/day). After a rest, we hiked up to visit a small, abandoned school and monastery. We all sat on a rock looking out at the beautiful vista drinking some blueberry vodka one of the Aussies brought.
Day 5: Lokpa to Chumling (2380 M – 3 hours). Today we entered into Tsum Valley with more stunning vistas and a huge climb up to Chumling. Thankfully I left about 5kg of stuff back in Lokpa. Chumling takes you back in time – a small village where it’s inhabitants lead a very simple life of farming. Since we arrived early, we went and visited a small monastery built into the cliff side of a small mountain (one of Milarepa’s caves). We then had lunch and relaxed for the day (reading, meditating, laundry). Later we visited the local “pub” for a Tibetan beer. A great day all around.
Day 6: Chumling to Lamagaun (3300 M – 8.5 hours). Despite my neck being out, I think today was my favorite so far. It was another big climb and a long time between breakfast and lunch so we were starving by the time we reached somewhere with enough food for us. We were invited into someone’s home and watched our meal being cooked on the fire for us while we drank tea. The people around here are Tibetan and lead a very simple Buddhist life. It just feels good to be here. I am humbled by how poor, yet how welcoming everyone has been. Today was also a winning food day: Champa for breakfast; Dal Bhat for lunch; and fried potato momos for dinner.
Day 7: Lamaguan to Mu Gompa (3709 M – 7 hours). Today was less steep but still up. We arrived at Mu Gompa at 2:00 after a long lunch break in Nile with another lovely Tibetan family in their home, where I also tried yak butter tea for the first time (nope). Mu Gompa is cold and very rustic. It has only a handful of monks, which we were able to observe chanting. The only thing for dinner was dhal bhat, made by a monk with very dirty hands. This is also the place where I experienced my first bout of stomach upset.
Day 8: Mu Gompa to Chumling (2380 M – 9 hours). We woke up to clear blue skies and amazing views of Ganesh Himal and the rest of the mountain ranges. It was unfortunate that my phone and camera batteries decided to die this same morning (apparently this happens when they get cold – who knew). We then went down the wrong path and ended up at a river crossing that was super sketchy. I slipped on the rock and broke one of my poles, which resulted in my first cry of the trip. We stopped at the great place that cooked our lunch in front of us again and sat in the sun. I was also able to wash my hair, which was the only good thing that happened that day (in hindsight, the day wasn’t that bad, I was just having a moment). After lunch my stomach went again, which is not a pleasant thing to experience while trekking. I just barely made it to Chumling (which had one of the worst toilets of the trip).
Day 9: Chumling to Dyang (1860 M – 7 hours). Today was pretty good. It was super hot outside, but I still wasn’t feeling well. Luckily we made it back to Lokpa to pick up my stuff (where I had stupidly left my medical kit behind), after some lunch and antibiotics, I started to feel better. I hated being the slowest in the group, but I couldn’t go any faster, especially with a full pack – these people were literally racing! Our guide was also suffering, so I felt too guilty giving him any of my stuff. I would have preferred to take things slow, take it all in, and stop for photos, but I felt like I was continually trying to just keep up.
Day 10: Dyang to Namrung (2880 M – 7.5 hours). Today I despised everything and was feeling very sorry for myself but tried hard not to complain. Each step was painful and my neck was definitely out. I hated my pack and I just wanted to be done with the trek. After lunch in Ghap, we had the worst section of uphill so far and after being left in everybody’s dust, I had a total panic attack on the way up and my second cry of the trip. Our guide (who was actually slower than me) felt bad and didn’t really know what to do. Once we arrived at Namrung, my luck changed, first a hot shower, followed by a neck massage from a fellow trekker, and then news that they had found me a porter. We also got let into the monastery, so I took the opportunity to meditate. Our guest house was very nice here: comfy beds, great food, and a western toilet!
Day 11: Namrung to Shyalla (3530 M – 4.5 hours). It was nice to have a shorter day today since we had a 900M elevation gain. I was also extremely happy that I had a porter. Shyalla is a sleepy town that looks like it was flattened by the earthquake. They are doing a great job of rebuilding and with the new hotels, I’m sure it will be bustling with tourists in no time.
Day 12: Shyalla to Samageun (3570 M – 30 minutes). Today was an unintentional rest day. We thought it would take 2 hours to Samageun but it was much quicker. Everyone but Chelsea and I took a 5 hour side trip to Pungyan Gompa. I of course, caught a cold, so it was good to have a day of rest. My stomach at least was feeling better. We awoke to magnificent views of Manaslu. Clear blue skies and mountains all around. I guess that’s the reason to stay in Shyalla – otherwise there is not much there and the views are not as great from Samageun. So far my porter has had a pretty easy gig, $25USD to sit around in the sunshine all day. Samageun is a bigger town with lots of people – a popular rest stop. At least I found an extra pole to buy today and was able to exchange some USD for Rupees (I did not bring enough and food was very expensive). Not a bad day at all. Tomorrow everyone is going to Manaslu base camp. At a 900M elevation gain, I am going to have to give it a miss. I am certainly the odd man out in this group – oh well, the introvert in me doesn’t mind the alone time.
Day 13: Samageun – rest day. Today was a full rest day, but since I took the previous day as a rest day, I decided to go on a few excursions. First was up to Pungyan Gompa, which was less about the gompa and more about the amazing views of Manaslu. It was also good altitude practice to stay an hour at 4000M and then sleep at 3500M. After lunch we headed over to glacier lake (Manaslu glacier). A beautiful sunny day again (though super cold evenings). We stopped off at a very old monastery on the way back and luckily it was open. Great day all around.
Day 14: Samageun to Samdo (3875 M – 2 hours). Oh how I wish I had only signed up for a 14 day trek – I am so done. For as cheap as the booking was, everything else has been pretty expensive. Now the porter I hired to get my stuff over the pass, suspiciously has to leave. I just paid him $200USD to sit on his ass for 2 days and carry my stuff for a total of 5 hours. What a scam!! I told my guide I’d better have a porter for the next 2 days for the same price as the one before. I am so angry right now and could cry. Everyone but Chelsea and I went on a side trip towards the Tibet pass. I instead did my laundry in ice cold water, and now I can’t get warm – it is so windy and cold. I’m thirsty, mad, cold, and tired from not sleeping last night. Definite low light of the trip.
Day 15: Samageun to Dharamsala (4460 M – 2.25 hours). Another short day, but this time with a 615M elevation gain. You can really feel the altitude hiking this high. It was slow going and I was grateful to not have my pack – apparently I have a new porter but I have yet to meet him. I left my guide and my pack behind to wait for him in Samdo. So far I feel okay, just a wee bit of a headache. I should probably hike a bit higher today before sleeping at 4460M. Dharamsala is a very small town, if you could call it that. Just a few rooms (which we thankfully got two of) and a bunch of tents and very expensive food and hot beverages. A plate of momos here will set you back 7USD and a pot of tea is 5USD. I ended up hiking up the hill to acclimate a bit (stayed an hour). We played cards, then to bed early as we needed to be up at 3:15. Thankfully I slept great!
Day 16: Dharamsala to Larkya La (5106 M) to Bimthang (3590 M) – 3 hours to the pass, and ~3hrs to Bimthang. Having never been about 2100M before, today was an even more exciting day than the 4460M I just slept at. Super happy to leave the expensive, boring, and barren landscape that is Dharamsala. We awoke at 3:15 and were on the trail by 4, in a long ‘donkey train’ of head-lamped people. I slept really well and therefore felt really good in the morning. Also, I am pretty sure that the Diamox (that everyone else poo-pooed) really helped. Ironically, the person who was the most against it and also sped ahead, was the one person who got altitude sickness. We were at the top of the pass in 3 hours and although it was beautiful, I snapped a few photos and moved on; at -9 degrees and wind, I was frozen solid. The trek down was long and steep, but my knee held out and I made good time into Bhimtang. We stayed at the nicest place with comfy beds and an attached bathroom with a western toilet. We celebrated with beer, pizza, snickers spring rolls, and rum/water/honey in a woodstove heated room all to ourselves. Pretty great day all around – but then a cold and restless sleep.
Day 17: Bimthang to Tilije (2300 M – 6.5 hours). The landscape now changes from snowcapped massive mountains to lush forest and greenery. This also brings warmer weather to which I am grateful. Tilche is a bustling town with what seems like a younger demographic. There is a festival happening that I believe is mixed Hindu/Buddhist and about worshipping the cow. This blessed us with an impromptu dance party that moves from town to town. Three of our team got Tikas and flowers and joined in on the dancing – I sat up on the roof and just watched. I still have a terrible sinus cold, which is so bad my nose has been bleeding. I thankfully brought cold meds and sleeping pills, so had a good night’s sleep.
Day 18: Tilije to Chyamche (6.5 hours). Today the Manaslu circuit joined up with the Annapurna circuit. Fresh-faced and clean smelling (mostly young) people are heading up the hill as we, thankfully, are heading down. We had the most amazing lunch in Tal, seriously the BEST pumpkin and bean curry with fresh corn bread. Tal is a lovely town surrounded by small, lush, green mountains and tons of waterfalls. We decided to keep going to Chyamche where there was a nice “perch” overlooking the valley and the guys promptly ordered beers and continued to drink many beers… the night got a bit crazy but I managed to not drink too much. A couple of us went to bed early while the others went out to party with the locals.
Day 19: Chyamche to Besi Sahar (4.5 hours by jeep). No hiking today, just a super fun jeep ride to the city of Besi Sahar and the harsh realty that our trek was over. The Aussies and I found a private and posh hotel to enjoy cocktails at to get away from the noise. Despite how difficult it was for me, we were all feeling pretty sad that it was done.
Day 20: Besi Sahar to Kathmandu. We took a bus (coach not public thankfully) back to Kathmandu. I can’t remember how long it was, but it was not 10 hours. We had an amazing night overindulging at the Aussie’s hotel and at Fire and Ice Pizza. We behaved like Neanderthals, but it was fun and worth it. It was definitely hard to go our separate ways when all was said and done. Great trip!