Nepal is a country of spectacular nature & a heaven for trekking lovers, which has kept me coming back for more since 2015. Having done a couple of short hikes/treks here in the past, this time I opted for a longer-duration and more challenging one. Among a variety of 2-week treks it seems difficult to make the decision. I finally narrowed it down to Annapurna Circuit & Manaslu Circuit trek. Considering how popular the Annapurna region is, and being much of an anti-fan of big crowd, I chose Manaslu Circuit in the end.
Oh, and did I mention that, unlike previous times, I have a trekking companion this time, a four-legged one to be specific! My super duper dog named Fluffy!
There were not much updated information about this trek when I was doing my research prior to the trip. So during the trek, I collected as much information as I could and am going to share with you all my itinerary & the details of my trip here.
Note: In this article I am presenting to you a detailed day-by-day itinerary of the trek I’ve done only. I’ll share more information about other aspects of this trek in different posts.
Day 01 Kathmandu – Arughat – Soti Khola by local buses
Destination of the day is Soti Khola the starting point of our trek. But as there’s no direct bus between Kathmandu – Soti Khola we need to catch our bus to Arughat first.
There are plenty of local buses leaving for Arughat from the New Bus Park. They leave every 30 minutes, start as early as 6 in the morning & last buses around 1 in the afternoon.
Fluffy and I started off early as we need to be at the bus station before 7 am. I booked the tickets in advance so just need to find the right bus by the time we’re there. To my surprise, the bus was quite comfortable. Or as it goes, if you keep your expectation low things will turn out just fine.
Except for a 30-min traffic jam leaving Kathmandu valley & the deteriorated, bumpy road section from Dhading, our trip was as smooth as it gets, given the road & traffic condition in Nepal. Fluffy got his own seat (and inevitable attention) on the bus. We made friends with a few other trekkers on the same bus & doing the same circuit trek.
We arrived at Arughat around 1:30pm, got dropped off by a bridge crossing Budhi Gandaki River. From here, we walked a bit further to the main bazar and found the ticket counter for our next bus. The bus leaves 30 minutes later. And it was one heck of a roller coaster ride for both of us.
Poor Fluffy was constantly getting some air time while the bus speeding along rocky trail & over giant potholes! The dreadful journey ended an hour later. We finally reached our guest house in Soti Khola, dropped our backpack and stretched our sore bodies.
Fluffy deserved some freshly boiled chicken for dinner while it’s still available. From the next day onwards, he needs to survive on the canned & dried food I bring along.
Day 02 Soti Khola – Maccha Khola
As of Nov 2019, although not fully completed, the motor road had already been opened up to Maccha Khola. I talked to some Nepali trekkers who arranged a local jeep from Soti Khola to Maccha Khola to save some walking hours. It was the only jeep I saw on the road that day. I can easily foresee how in the near future the trek’s starting point can be switched to Maccha Khola instead.
Anyways, today is supposed to be a warm-up day. We eagerly set off after some chya & bread for me (And left-over chicken from last night for Fluffy). It’s quite foggy in the morning but soon clears up as we go.
We followed the gentle trail overlooking the Budhi Gandaki river to its right. Caught a few glimpses of Shringi Himal (7161m) from far distance.
After a tea break midway, we crossed over the first of the many suspension bridges to come during this trek.
We reached Maccha Khola in early afternoon. The hike took us less than 4 hours. Some other trekkers chose Maccha Khola as their lunch stops and continued onto the next village Khorla Beshi. I decided to stay as I was told the lodging situation is better here.
After lunch, with lots of time to kill before the night falls, I took Fluffy exploring around the village, chit chatting to locals with my broken Nepali.
Our room in the guest house was basic but had a private bathroom with hot shower – a luxury compared to the situation over the remaining days of our trek.
Day 03 Maccha Khola – Jagat
We started around 7:30 am. The walk today is longer with more ups & downs, which I still find relatively easy. For Fluffy it’s no sweat. This boy has endless energy to burn! It took us about 7 hours including lunch, tea breaks & lots of photo breaks.
We came across many beautiful waterfalls en route. And an interesting Buddha portrait on a rock wall.
About an hour and a half into the trail, we reached Tatopani, which means hot water in Nepali. There’s a natural hot spring upon entrance to the village. While I am daydreaming about a hot bath, Fluffy stays as far as possible. This boy has never been a fan of water, be it hot or cold!
We continued to Dobhan, our lunch stop for the day. I start appreciating Dal Bhat more and more into the trek given how much energy the body consumed over long walks.
I met a German couple on their way back. They couldn’t continue the trek due to food poisoning caused by a kati roll they had before leaving Kathmandu. So guys, be careful with the street food, it might cost you the trip you have long planned for or in some cases it can be worse.
Finally we reached Jagat mid afternoon. The village is the entrance to Manaslu Conservation Area where you need to register your entry permits at check post. Jagat is a very pretty village with traditional stone walled houses nestling neatly next to each other. Fluffy made lots of local furry friends here. But he cared more about food today. Time for dinner and heading to bed early, we need to be prepared for another long walking day tomorrow.
Day 04 Jagat – Dyang
We set off early around 6:45 am. Today we crossed even more suspension bridges with spectacular waterfall backdrops.
On some sections of the trail, the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake can still be seen through existing landslides and hazards. It’s even more dangerous when every once in a while a herd of mules passes through. We were told to steer clear of the cliff edge in such situation. There were unfortunate incidents in the past where trekkers got kicked off the cliff by the mules and ended up losing their life. So you really need to watch out!
The second half of the walk today after Ekle Bhatti was a pleasant and stunning one, taking us through verdant green pine forest overlooking the turquoise blue water of the Budhi Gandaki river. The trail separates after reaching Gampul. To the right is to the next village Lokpa for those heading towards Tsum valley. We continued straight, saving Tsum valley for next time. I met a few trekkers who were back from Tsum and continued onto the full circuit, who said the trip was totally worth an extra 7 days.
The winding trail took us through a cool and relaxing bamboo forest before reaching Dyang around 4pm. A bit weary but we soon cheered up upon checking in our cute little room in the newly built wooden lodge.
The best part is we are the only guests in this lodge!! I bet this hardly happens on the Annapurna Circuit trail! I got to experience local hospitality at its best. They got too excited over the fact that I am trekking with my dog. The lodge owner pampered me with the best local food available in the kitchen. Fluffy got some fresh chicken meat! It’s the owner daughter’s birthday too so we all celebrated and danced together, excluding Fluffy, who was too busy and happy with the chicken to give a fluff! It’s a full moon and starry sky. What a happy night!
Day 05 Dyang – Namrung
Since we are making our way up, it’s getting colder and colder day by day. But the body heats up quickly once you’re on the move.
After leaving Dyang, the trails gradually ascends to Rana, then Bihi Phedi village. We were among the early birds on the trail but there are even earlier mules! Fluffy learned his lesson today. He got too close and kicked by an annoyed mule. Poor boy became extremely cautious to these animals ever since.
I had the most tasty Dal Baht for lunch under the warm sun in a beautiful teahouse garden in Ghap. It took 3 and a half hour from Dyang to Ghap. Fluffy received a red-carpet welcome by a group of school children when entering the village. That’s the cutest thing! Everybody thinks he’s a fox!
From Gap, it’s another 3 hours till Namrung. And it was a fantastic hike. We pass through beautiful Buddhist prayers-encrypted mani walls and had such a romantic walk through the jungle. Autumn was blossoming. The colors were amazing. Not sure if Fluffy appreciated the beauty but he surely enjoyed his freedom in the wild nature.
Namrung appears in sight after a long continuous climb, with a bonus dangerous edge walk at the end. At the village entrance point, a big gate to the ‘fancy’ Nubri Four Season Resort stands strikingly out, with a bakery stall at the front. Quite pricey but only few can resist the temptation at this point! I am obviously not among those few!
As soon as we checked in our room, Fluffy automatically switched to a resting mode. The long walk has finally taken its toll on both of us.
Day 06 Namrung – Lho
Leaving Namrung, the trail peacefully leads through golden millet terrace fields in between picturesque villages. Local villagers happily smiled at us, looking so beautiful in their traditional Tibetan styled dresses. It felt like a dream, until Fluffy’s encounter with an aggressive local dog reminded me of reality!
The trails starts ascending to Lihi, then Shyo village. We took a break by the roadside to refresh ourselves with water & snacks/treats. Fluffy was invited by a local man to his house for lunch!
The autumn display of the sal & oak forests was amazing as we leave Shyo heading towards Lho. The beautiful white peaks make a perfect background for those patterning of colors.
We reached Lho around 1pm.
Apples still grow at this altitude. It’s the end of the season already but I was lucky enough to get some. Super tasty!!
Our accommodation for tonight is a pretty wooden cottage. I noticed many new wooden lodges cropping up along the trail. The Manaslu Circuit trek is getting popular.
Interestingly enough, I found out that it costs as cheap as NPR 500 to get a permit for chopping down any tree in the forest. The costly part is to get them sawed into planks and brought back to construction site.
After lunch, we hiked up Lho Monastery, from where we got a majestic view of Manaslu.
Day 07 Lho – Shyala – Sama Gaun
It’s another short distance day but we must take it slow due to the high altitude. It takes approx. 2 hours to Shyala following some moss-covered paths along the crystal clear stream under the pine forest. Manaslu stays in sight most of the time. We had such amazing weather.
At Shyala we got a panoramic view of the mountain range. It’s just getting more and more stunning as we go.
From today we shared the trail with runners from the Manaslu Mountain Race. Fluffy was competing with them at some legs! I have no doubt he can easily win the race.
After another one and a half hour walk, it’s a gentle descent to a flat area with vast yak pastures on both sides before we enter Sama Gaun at midday.
There’s a large Buddhist gompa with prayer wheels at the entrance of the village. Sama Gaun is a huge settlement with lots of facilities compared to the previous villages we’ve been to. We’re going to stay here 2 nights for acclimatization.
Such a relief getting rid of the backpack, we happily headed for Birendra lake after lunch. It’s a one hour hike and you’ll reach this stunning glacial lake. The scenery on the way is nothing short of impressive. Fluffy was excited the whole time until he realized I was taking him to the water! He still reluctantly followed me though. We had some alone time contemplating about life by the lake.
There are two options to choose for the following acclimatization day: Manaslu Base Camp or Pungen Gompa. The runners are heading to Base Camp so I chose the Gompa.
Day 08 Sama Gaun acclimatization day
It’s a chilly day. I wish I had Fluffy’s coat at this altitude. We had our breakfast, packed some small lunch and headed off. We walked back the same trail we entered yesterday till there’s a wooden board suggesting direction to the Gompa to the right.
It’s a majority of steep climbs, passing through some landslides before reaching a large open plateau at the end. It took us two and a half hour including the drama of Fluffy chasing after a mountain goat and then me chasing after him.
It got quite cloudy when we reached the Gompa. We even got some snow. The mountains looked so close, as if they are just a few steps away. It’s a great side trip.
We made it back to Sama Gaun in early afternoon and took our time exploring the village. Fluffy wanted to befriend some yaks but they were not interested.
Day 09 Sama Gaun – Samdo
The air is getting thinner by day so I tried to maintain a slow steady speed. After a beautiful sunrise on our guesthouse’s roof top & full breakfast, we left for Samdo. I tried to tell Fluffy the peak behind him is the world’s 8th highest but he’s not that impressed.
We continued the beautiful rocky trail, crossing yak pastures, mani walls and some small settlements on the way.
After crossing a wooden bridge, we climbed up a steep hill ridge and continued walking a bit further till Samdo came to sight.
The walk today took only 3 and a half hour. In the afternoon we climbed up the nearby hills for further acclimatization.
Day 10 Samdo – Dharmashala
Some trekkers spend another acclimatization day in Samdo but I decided to continue.
Today’s walk is a a bit longer and harder. The trail starts showing some icy patches in early morning.
It’s another beautiful clear weather day. Fluffy got so excited when he spotted some blue sheep from far distance. I’m not sure if he would ever return if I let him off leash at this moment.
Altitude is clearly taking its toll as we make the climb and keep running out of breath. We reached Dharmashala after 4 hours.
There’s no local inhabitants in Dharmashala, only some people from other villages who came to run the lodging and restaurant business. The accommodation choice is very limited with each room being shared by at least 4 people. Those who are not early & lucky enough to get a room have no choice but sleeping in tents.
We continue hiking up in the afternoon to pass the time & get our bodies used to the high altitude.
It’s freezing cold & very windy when the night falls. The dining room is always packed so Fluffy & I secured our spot in the warm kitchen the whole time. Tomorrow we need to start at 4am to make sure we cross the pass in good weather.
Day 11 Dharmashala – Larke Pass – Bimthang
It looks like the weather is generally favorable around this time of the year so some groups decide not to start until 6am. I just want to be on the safe side so we started at 4 as planned. It’s a real challenge walking in the dark, on slippery trail and under such bitter cold conditions. But we pulled it through.
We made it to the pass around 8. The view was fantastic with majestic mountain surrounds. I think Fluffy didn’t want to leave now that he’s back to his natural habitat.
Once the pass is behind us, it’s constant descent with no settlement in between until our tea break 3 hours later. Then it’s an extra hour till Bimthang – our long awaited stop for the day.
Day 12 Bimthang – Dharapani
It’s another long downhill day which first brought us to the bank of Milky River – Dudh Khola a short while after leaving Bimthang.
The trail later winds through beautiful shady forests, with a variety of flora and fauna. I keep looking back for the mountains before they soon go out of sight. It has been an amazing trek and the nature’s beauty is just astounding.
We had our lunch stop in Surki then moved on. There were some parts of the trail which looked like they were washed over by flood water, leaving tangled vegetation, tree trunks & debris exposed. Fluffy had his first encounter with some cheeky langurs on the way. We passed though some villages: Gowa, Tilche, Thonche and finally Dharapani after almost 9 hour walk.
Dharapani is quite busy as it’s the meeting point of two treks Annapurna and Manaslu. Time to get some fresh chicken for Fluffy and a big dinner for myself.
Day 13 Dharapani – Beshi Sahar – Kathmandu
We found some fellow trekkers to share a private jeep to Beshi Sahar the night before. First I need to check us out at the Annapurna conservation check post. Then we’re good to go. The jeep was what’s called a typical mountain drive in Nepal – super bumpy and dangerous. We passed through the beautiful village of Tal set against a waterfall backdrop. Fluffy constantly pops his head out the window. I bet he prefer it on the trail.
We reached Beshi Sahar after three hours. After lunch we hopped on to the next micro bus to a long-awaited hot shower and comfortable bed in Kathmandu!!
We’ve had an amazing journey and I don’t think the pictures could do this land justice. You must experience it with your own eyes.
I hope you enjoy the read and get the chance to do this trek before it gets flocked with tourists soon.