Karyn Anderson from New Zealand visited Nepal in March 2016 to hike the Manaslu Circuit Trek. We (KimKim) interviewed her about her experience.
What drew you to Nepal?
Being a New Zealander, I have always wanted to go to Nepal as Sir Edmund Hillary (among the first two men to summit Everest and return alive) is our national hero and went on to do some amazing charitable work for the Sherpa people. I think traveling to Nepal as a New Zealander is a kind of pilgrimage to our national identity, although I did not end up doing Everest, but chose the Manaslu Circuit Trek instead. I had not specifically intended to come at this point in my life but was going to India for medical work and decided that I couldn’t get this close without a visit.
Tell us about your days in Kathmandu. Did you have a chance to see Kathmandu’s cultural highlights?
I spent one day in Kathmandu prior to the trek, and four days after. Kathmandu is like any main city in a developing country – dirty, crowded, loud and sometimes smelly – but with that comes some amazing cultural insights to the way others live outside of Western society. I stayed in Thamel, which is a thriving hub of excitement and truly caters to anything you could possibly need to go trekking as well as a great place to meet fellow travelers. I visited Durbar Square which was largely destroyed by the earthquake, as well as Monkey Temple which offers a great view over the valley (provided it has rained to clear the dusty haze from the air).
When I came back from the trek, I stayed in Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley, which was beautiful and comparably less damaged by the earthquake. Pradeep, my guide, also took me to a rock bar, Purple Haze, to see a local Nepalese band play, which was a great experience.
Tell us about your drive to the trailhead in Arughat. This must have been quite an adventure already!
The trip started with being picked up from my hostel in a taxi half the size of normal and having to strap our hiking packs to the roof. We caught the bus from a small square of dirt (the bus station) and again our luggage ended up on the roof. Driving out of the valley took a long time as we stopped constantly to pick more and more people up until the bus was bursting. The locals spit often and while in the bus would spit into plastic bags and throw it out the window, further adding to an already terrible roadside litter problem. We stopped three times during the 5-6 hour journey: twice for toilets and once for lunch – my first taste of Dhal Bhat.
What started as a regular road became hairpin bends for 20 km leading out of the valley and over the hills, then crazy overtaking for another hour or so until we turned off the main highway onto a single lane sealed road. We kept meeting tractors and trucks and at several points were nearly driving off the road to get past each other. After another hour or two, we again turned off onto an even smaller dirt road leading up and over the hills – met about 5 buses on this road and literally came within inches of driving off sheer cliffs.
The road takes you through rivers and over such rough terrain that we were forced to get out and walk parts as it was to dangerous. We then took a second bus from Arughat to Soti Khola which was so packed full with food and supplies for the up river guesthouses that we literally had to climb in and decided the best exit was through the window. The road to Soti Khola is little more than a 4-wheel-drive track although the bus was not 4 wheel drive. At many points on the drive, I was sure that I was going to die but it all adds to the thrill and experience.
How did the scenery vary during the trek? What was it like at the start compared to the area around Larkya La pass?
The Manaslu circuit follows a river up to the pass and then a different river back out. The temperature at the start was warm and we hiked in shirts amongst green farms. As we progressively moved to higher altitudes, the temperature dropped and we began hiking in trees and then alpine grasses, and then snow and rock by the time we reached the pass. Absolutely beautiful scenery surrounded by mountains.
What was the most challenging part of the trek?
The hardest day for me was Day 5 from Deng to Namrung, not because it was any more physically demanding but because we all got sick from a chicken we bought and killed to make Dhal Bhat the previous day (bad karma on that one). It is difficult to walk 20 km in a day when you are physically drained of energy. I was worried coming into the trek about altitude and my fitness having previously struggled quite a bit on Kilimanjaro, however the ascent to the pass is slow enough to allow your body to adapt and, although it was difficult, I found it comparably much easier.
What aspects of your trek did you enjoy most?
The biggest enjoyment for me was feeling like I truly got away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. During the entire 12 days, we saw at most 30 trekkers (only 5 prior to reaching the pass) leaving just the local people to get to know and talk to over the fire at night or while preparing food. I love feeling completely dwarfed by the sheer size of nature. The Tibetan cowboy horse race at Lho was also a highlight as it only happens once a year, as well as being able to meet the famous monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in Samagaon during his visit to his home monastery.
What were the teahouses like? Were there any specific ones that stood out?
Overall, the teahouse were of a higher standard than I had expected given their remoteness and the fact that all supplies are brought in by mule or yak. Namrung had a gas hot shower which was by far the best (and only) hot shower not out of a bucket on the trek. Food was generally of a high standard given conditions but you do need to be sympathetic when they do not have all the ingredients.
The view from the point at which we gave up our ascent to Manaslu Base Camp is one of my favourites (it became too risky in terms of avalanches), and my favourite town on the trek would be Shylo – beautiful snowy mountains and quaint houses, though it appeared deserted. The view back over the pass was great but I had expected something more than a pile of prayer flags to mark the spot. Coming down the other side if the pass had great views but it was hard to appreciate as we tried not to slip over on the ice.
Was there anything that surprised you about your trek?
It surprised me that you could get WiFi at 3500m at Samagaon and it worked well enough to contact my parents and upload a picture. I was unprepared in terms of bringing anything to give to the children along the way – most asked for balloons, but we had none. I guess I was also surprised by how much I liked the local food such as Tibetan bread, chapati, dhal bhat and how much a Snickers became a welcome treat at the end of the day (you can buy them at pretty much any guest house along the way when you stop for chai).
I would definitely, 100%, recommend this trek to others – particularly if they want to escape the busy treks of Everest and the Annapurna.
Karyn booked her trip using kimkim. For more info about kimkim and the Manaslu Circuit Trek visit kimkim’s Manaslu page