World's Best Hikes 7: The Manaslu Trail
Written By: SportsShoes
In part 7 of our World’s Best Hikes series, 84-year-old adventurer, Pat Boys, reflects on her experience of trekking on the Manaslu Trail.
November 2021 and the world was opening its doors to travel once more. It seemed a good time to book flights to Nepal again and try to finish the Manaslu Trek which we started in 2020 but had to turn back and head for home because of Covid.
March 6th 2022 couldn’t come quick enough, although had I known how difficult and time consuming the paperwork was going to be I might not have bothered, especially as no one bothered to check it.
Kathmandu was its usual noisy and polluting self and trekkers and tourists were thin on the ground. Many businesses had disappeared, but the first thing to do was to find out if my favourite coffee shop was open – it was and even better the owner remembered what I always drank. After three hectic days visiting friends and booking bus tickets it was a great relief to get on a very comfortable tourist bus to Pokhara.
Although it was a much higher temperature in Pokhara it was much more pleasant with not so much traffic. It was here that I would meet up with the French-Canadian Adrien to discuss the “unfinished business”. As usual I would be trekking with Madu, my guide for many years. Much to my dismay and surprise, the Larke Pass was closed because of snow, so it became a waiting game to obtain our permits. Fortunately, I was not short of time, so did some local day treks, including a visit to see the largest statue in the world of Shiva - not quite finished but still breathtaking. After a few days Madu became as restless as myself and suggested that we did a small eight-day trek to Mardi Himal, this being a favourite route for both of us. Good training for the big one too. Seeing how many lodges were closed, some permanently, was quite distressing. I could only hope that visitors would soon start coming back to this lovely little country and its wonderful people.
At last the big day arrived and we had our permits. The first day was spent in a jeep for several hours before passing through the large town of Ghorka and leaving a fairly civilized road for a very bumpy track to Arughat Bazar, the trail head. The first few days were extremely hot but it was lovely to see the people we’d met the first time round and who were so delighted to welcome us back. The trail became quite strenuous and as this valley had been the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake many parts of the trail were buried under huge landslides. One such slip looked particularly dodgy and Madu was walking in front of me but with his arm held behind him so he could hold on to my hand. The answer to my nervous query ‘are you watching your feet?’ was ‘No Mama, I’ve got my eyes shut’ - ever the comedian. Eventually the population became Tibetan with prayer walls, flags many temples and monasteries, which make for a very colourful landscape.
Eventually we reached Samdo, the lodge before the climb up to Base Camp. We were to stay here for two nights to acclimatize to the altitude. This is a great area for snow leopards and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one, great excitement! A family of marmots lived under my room which probably accounted for the presence of hungry cats. When we finally started out for Base Camp the weather had changed from being cold but pleasant to ferocious and very unfriendly, which made the slog up to Dharma Shala rather difficult and as much as I love snow, this was way too much. Despite this setback we reached Base Camp by lunchtime and tucked into pasta and tinned tuna, delicious. We spent the afternoon playing cards and trying to ignore the blizzard raging outside. The planned departure of 0430 was a definite no. Even worse, the toilet had vanished under snowdrifts. The weather cleared a little four hours later so we decided to have a go, but following in the steps of a large group of Tibetans who would tread the route for us. Once again, the weather changed and the way became a total nightmare of gale force winds, heavy snow and a temperature of -29. I was lucky enough to be given a lift on a horse, but after thirty minutes that also became decidedly hairy for the horse never mind me. Against all odds the top was reached. We then discovered that the descent was going to be worse. Adrien was having trouble with his sight and even the guides and porters were having difficulties. I was very happy to be given a piggy back for thirty minutes by one of the Tibetan boys. It was certainly an exhausted little group who arrived at the first refuge and had a hot meal and Manaslu coffee, which is heavily laced with rum and tastes like heaven. Because our start was delayed for several hours it was obvious we could go no further. Apart from the darkness, everyone was just too weary. The sleeping arrangements were interesting, with rickety beds surrounded by the refuge stores and no toilets. But who cared – not me that’s for sure. Lying snug in my sleeping bag I thought back to the crossing of the Pass, which seemed like a total none event No flags - just a large plateau covered in deep snow with the sounds of avalanches and the ever-present strong wind. I drifted off to sleep with thoughts of triumph although finally admitting to myself that I am not as young as I was and no longer invincible. Maybe it was time I stayed off the mountains and just ambled round Fewa Lake in Pokhara. (That thought is now on the back burner).
Pictured: Pat Boys on the Manaslu Trail
The next morning we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine plus Madus’ promise of a milk and honey guest house at the next stop. After a heart in mouth descent we discovered he was so right, when we arrived at a row of brightly painted beach huts surrounded by breathtaking mountains. Perhaps it was worth all the hard work after all. Super beds, egg and chips for supper and then it snowed again. The next few days were spent slowly descending and enjoying the wonderful scenery. On reaching the final check point, Jagat, the police asked if they could take selfies with the English Granny. Fame at last. Time was running out, so we decided to take a white-knuckle jeep ride to the small and busy town of Besi Sharar. We spent the night in a very upmarket hotel. This town is always busy as it is the starting point for trekkers doing the Annapurna Circuit. Breakfast was a joy – a bacon sandwich- pity we were not staying longer. Madu spent a couple of hours searching for a taxi to take us to Pokhara, but all were busy, so we managed to get seats on a minibus which was not only comfortable but saved us about £100. Brilliant result for this Yorkshire lass.
I had three days left in Pokhara to attend a birthday party and say goodbye to my wonderful Nepali friends. A quick flight to Kathmandu, Lots of last-minute shopping, a visit to Durbar Square to check up on the repairs to the temples which had been so badly damaged in the earthquake. And finally, a luxury lunch at a Japanese Restaurant. This was a regular treat from my Tibetan friend Diki who owns the hotel I have been using for thirty years. There were many sad farewells but also many “see you next year” calls and that makes it all worthwhile.
Pat Boys lives in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and has been interested in trekking and outdoor adventure throughout her life. She annually walks over 2000 miles on local trails and regularly visits Nepal for epic adventures.