Manaslu Circuit Trek: The best trek in Nepal?

The single greatest moment of the Manaslu Trek

It’s late on a chilly afternoon in the high Himalayas. For once, the weather is completely clear. I’m standing under the peak of the world’s eighth highest mountain, on the shores of a crystal-clear glacial lake with the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Getting here involved clamoring up a steep hillside using yak grazing trails, led by my fearless guide Dibash. But it was all worth it to reach the most beautiful place on the Manaslu Circuit Trek.

 

Manaslu rivals Nepal’s most popular treks like the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp in terms of beauty and cultural intrigue. But it sees a fraction of the visitors and is not well-known. So in this post, I’ll shine a light on what it’s really like to take on this epic adventure.

 

(Want to read more about planning a trek in Nepal? Check out my trekking guide here!)

 

Why choose the Manaslu Circuit Trek?

 

The Manaslu Trek itinerary will take you from the jungle to glacial peaks, up and over a high pass and back down.
Classic Manaslu Trek views — huge mountains, blue sky, yaks grazing all around.

 

Trekking in Nepal has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I always envisioned doing the Annapurna Circuit, the country’s most popular trek. I was drawn in by the scenic variety. Instead of just big mountains, you start in the jungle, climb up to 5000+ meters, cross a high pass, and then descend through rhododendron fields. Annapurna also has a reputation for being culturally fascinating.

 

The problem? The Annapurna Circuit sees more than 100,000 trekkers each year. I don’t know about you, but when I dreamed of trekking in Nepal I didn’t imagine sharing the trail with hundreds of others every day.

 

Only opened to trekkers in 1991, and still protected by restricted-region permits, the Manaslu Circuit Trek offers the scenic variety of the Annapurna Circuit — without the crowds. In fact, the trek sees only about 6,000 visitors each year, and more than 50% of them trek in October and November. Visit at another time and you could have the trail virtually to yourself.

 

Additionally, many of Nepal’s most popular treks are quickly being eroded due to road construction. The Annapurna Circuit is especially bad — what used to be a 20+ day trek can now be done in just a week. The Manaslu Circuit Trek, on the other hand, is much less connected by road to the rest of Nepal. No roads = no jeeps spraying you with dust.

 

Finally, the Manaslu region is perhaps even more culturally rich than the Annapurna region. The trek is on the Tibetan plateau, and comes within 10 km of the border with Tibet. The villages and communities consider themselves Tibetan and their food, language, and traditions reflect this. It’s like getting a glimpse of Tibet without dealing with the permitting headaches of visiting the territory itself.

 

The Manaslu Trek Itinerary

 

Mount Manaslu may not be visible on much of this trek, but other 8,000-meter peaks are constantly in your sight.
Approaching Sama, the acclimatization stop.

 

The Manaslu Circuit Trek takes 14 days from start to finish. 11 days of that is trekking, while you’ll need to reserve 3 days to reach the trail head and to get back to Kathmandu at the end.

 

Almost the entire trek follows the stunning Budhi Gandaki River. You only divert from the river to cross the high pass, after which you link up with a remote side path from the Annapurna Circuit Trek for the descent.

 

(Not sure what to pack? Check out my trek packing list for details!)

 

Days 1-3: Kathmandu to Jagat — The lower slopes

 

The steepest section of the Manaslu Circuit was at the beginning.
The steepest climb of the whole trail is on Day 1, on the alternative route to Khorlabeshi.

 

Your first few days on the Manaslu Circuit Trek will be spent getting to the starting point and traversing the near-tropical jungles of the lower Himalayas. Trekking days are long and often very steep.

 

The adventure begins with a slow local bus from Kathmandu to Arkhet Bazaar. In a perfect world this takes six hours, but in reality it will take you the whole first day.

 

I left on a rainy morning in April. The dirt roads were so flooded and muddy that we got stuck multiple times. We left Kathmandu at 6 am and got stuck for the final time at 9:45 pm — at which point my group gave up, grabbed our bags, and hiked the last 45 minutes into town.

 

If you arrive in Arkhet Bazaar early enough, you may cross your first suspension bridge and then trek along the road for about an hour to Soti Khola, where you’ll spend the night. Otherwise you’ll start Day 2 doing this.

 

The first proper trekking day runs from Soti Khola to Macchakhola. It starts with about three hours of trekking along the road, before you veer down toward the river. If it has rained recently, this part of the trail may be flooded, in which case you’ll have to do a series of (easy and shallow) river crossings — my group encountered four.

 

You’ll reach Macchakhola by around 2 pm. This is the traditional first overnight stop on the Manaslu Circuit Trek. However, if you’re making good time, you can just stop here for lunch. Then, cross the river and take on the alternative path through the rice terraces to Khorlabeshi.

 

This trail offers the best lower-Himalaya views on the whole trek, but it’s also one of the most difficult segments. You’ll gain and then lose 1,000 meters in three hours before reaching the beautiful village of Khorlabeshi, with a few tea houses where you can spend the night.

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Get an early start on Day 3 to trek to Jagat. The first hour is along a not-yet-ready-for-use road to Tatopani. You’ll reach a construction zone where you may have to wait for the road blasting to pause. This is a landslide-prone area — don’t walk below construction equipment until you get the go-ahead from the workers. The good news is, once you reach Tatopani, you’ll say goodbye to the road for the next nine days.

 

You’ll spend the next two hours walking through a pretty gorge until you reach Dobhan. This is the typical lunch stop. After this, you’ll cross another landslide-prone area and start climbing. You’ll gain 200 meters and walk for almost four hours before reaching the unique 500-meter-long suspension bridge hanging off the side of a cliff. On the other side is the entrance to the Manaslu Conservation Area — marked by your first stone gate. It’s another hour to Jagat from here, where you’ll spend the night.

 

Days 4-5: Jagat to Namrung — First snow-capped peaks

 

If you trek Nepal, you'll get constant views like this.
Some of the best views on the entire trek are on the mid-altitude slopes between Jagat and Namrung.

 

Jagat is where the Manaslu Circuit Trek starts to get good. This stone village is where you’ll first notice people wearing traditional Tibetan clothing and greeting you with “tashi delek” instead of “namaste.” It’s also some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Nepal, with stunning waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, and fir trees.

 

Day 4 involves about a 500-meter altitude gain. Setting out from Jagat, you’ll climb steeply for a couple hours. You’ll pass some of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Nepal right at the beginning as you cross a series of suspension bridges. Then it’s up, up, up until you reach Philim, the typical lunch stop. If it’s a clear day, you’ll catch a glimpse of 7,000-meter-high Shringi Himal, right on the Tibetan border.

 

After lunch, the trail flattens out and weaves through high-altitude bamboo forests. You’re still gaining almost 300 meters here, but it’s very gradual (and quite long). As the afternoon clouds start to roll in, you’ll see the village of Deng — the overnight stop — well before you reach it. Marked by a stone gate and surrounded by wheat fields in a valley between 5,000-meter-plus peaks, Deng is very atmospheric — and the first place you’ll notice that it’s a little chilly at night.

 

Day 5 involves one of the biggest altitude gains on the Manaslu Circuit Trek — but it was also one of my favorite days on the trail. The scenery is truly breath-taking.

 

Over the first few hours, you’ll criss-cross the river a few times. You’ll pass a series of hillside gompas and chortens, and a handful of mani walls (always walk to the left). Shringi Himal is almost constantly in view.

 

Most of the altitude gain is in the morning. Lunch is in the tiny, heavily-Tibetan village of Ghap. It’s chilly enough that you’ll probably want to eat inside for the first time on the trek.

 

After Ghap is one of the most amazing stretches of trail in Nepal. You’ll see the transition from low to high altitude before your eyes as you trek on the (brand-new) trail to Namrung. The best part is at the teeny-tiny village of Lunga Chhyuda, where you’ll cross a suspension bridge over the most beautiful river gorge in the entire Himalayas. I’ve never seen anywhere so green. Take a break and enjoy the views before the long slog up the hill.

 

Namrung is at 2,700 meters — about the point at which you may start feeling the altitude. It’s definitely cold at night. But the town also has the best tea house on the Manaslu Circuit Trek. You can have a hot shower for 200 rupees, do your laundry using the provided wash basins and clotheslines, and enjoy the company of your fellow trekkers. The morning views from this spot are especially spectacular, with your first clear views of Ganesh Himal.

 

Days 6-8: Namrung to Sama — Altitude adventures begin

 

Mount Manaslu -- the eighth highest mountain on Earth -- is on the far right.
Crossing a suspension bridge en route to Sama

 

This is what you had in mind when you signed up to go trekking in Nepal. The serious mountain views kick in, along with shorter trekking days and risks of altitude sickness. You must keep daily altitude gains to a minimum and take an acclimatization day in Sama.

 

Your first day in the high Himalayas begins with a steady but gradual climb up to Lho. You may start to feel out of breath or sluggish due to the altitude — keep a close eye on those symptoms and inform your guide. You’ll climb up to a quiet hillside monastery at Lihi, and then dodge your first yak trains as you walk above the river to Lho for your first view of Manaslu itself.

 

Lho is at 3,000 meters and makes a logical lunch stop. If you are feeling any altitude sickness symptoms — nausea, headaches, shortness of breath, etc., you should stop here for the night. But if you still feel fine, you can continue for another three hours of climbing to Shiyala. The path is not steep, but it’s very slow going due to the altitude. The tea house here is basic, but the owners grow delicious organic potatoes, herd yaks, and sell simple Tibetan handicrafts. If you arrive early enough you can hike up the hill outside of town to reach some gorgeous rhododendron fields.

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Set your Day 7 alarm for 5 am to see one of the Himalayas’ best sunrises over the entire Manaslu range. Then, continue up the path for just two hours of relatively flat walking until you reach the incredibly charming stone village of Sama (also called Samagon). The tea houses here are pretty luxurious for the Manaslu Circuit Trek, so drop off your belongings, do your laundry in an actual sink, and have lunch before heading out to explore.

 

Spend the afternoon hiking to the amazing glacier lake of Birendra Tal. You’ll have views of Manaslu, Larke, and Naike Peak. The path to the lake links up with the Manaslu Base Camp path, so you can trek partway up to get even better mountain views — just be aware that the wind picks up in the afternoons and it gets quite cold.

 

Sama is at 3,500 meters, so you’ll need to spend a second day here acclimatizing. But that’s no hardship — there are a handful of great day hikes nearby. Serious trekkers can attempt to reach Manaslu Base Camp (where you may find expeditions in October-November), but this path is snowy, steep, high, and generally unpleasant. The better option is the six-hour round-trip hike to Pung Gyen Gompa, one of Nepal’s oldest monasteries.

 

The path to the gompa starts halfway between Shiyala and Sama, so you’ll have to backtrack a bit. Then, it’s a very steep two hours up the side of a waterfall before you reach a stunning Himalayan amphitheater of mountains, with yaks grazing and avalanches crashing down all around. Keep an eye out for blue sheep — a species of mountain goat.

 

The gompa itself is closed, but the views from it are among the best on the whole trek. This is an especially good acclimatization hike because you’ll reach 4,200 meters. (Hiking higher than you sleep that night is thought to aid in acclimatization.)

 

Days 9-10: Sama to Dharamsala — Approaching the pass

 

Hiking in Nepal is tough, especially at altitude, but the views on the Manaslu trek are worth it.
The trekking days get shorter at this altitude, leaving plenty of time for afternoon walks (or just reading a book at your tea house).

 

The next two days on the Manaslu Circuit Trek are short and would be easy if it weren’t so damn hard to breath at altitude. Altitude sickness is a real risk here, nights are frigid, and hygiene standards plummet — so be very conscious of how you’re feeling. Sama is the last village with a reliable satellite phone from which you can call for emergency evacuation.

 

Day 9 involves a short walk with a 300-meter elevation gain from Sama to Samdo. You can sleep in and you’ll still arrive before lunch. I was feeling pretty sick from food poisoning on this stretch, so I don’t remember it being particularly noteworthy, but the views as you leave Sama are epic.

 

Samdo is incredibly atmospheric. Just 10 km from the Tibetan border, it’s the most strongly Tibetan village on the Manaslu Trek. The medieval stone streets, ancient monasteries, and mani walls add to the appeal. When I was there the town was celebrating a major festival, so all the locals were dressed in traditional clothing. They invited me to watch their archery games, eat momos, drink millet beer, and sing folk songs with them — truly a memorable experience.

 

Unfortunately the tea houses in Samdo are pretty grim, but they serve some of the best food on the Manaslu Circuit Trek. Try the veggie curry.

 

Day 10 is the shortest day of the trek — it’s only two and a half hours from Samdo to the camp at Dharamsala. This is where you’ll finally veer away from the river. The views are only average, and the trekking is slow going due to the altitude, with a handful of very steep sections that seem to go on forever.

 

Dharamsala is less a village and more of a staging point for the pass crossing. The lone tea house offers rooms and permanent tents. I know it’s totally counter-intuitive, but trust me, for hygiene and warmth, choose a tent. The food here is awful, it’s freezing cold (and often snowing), the bathrooms are beyond disgusting, and there is nothing to do in the afternoon besides nurse your altitude headache, making this the one truly unpleasant day of the trek. Your best bet is to go to bed as early as possible to prepare for the pass crossing tomorrow morning.

 

Day 11: Dharamsala to Bimthang — Crossing Larke Pass

 

Reaching 5,200 meters -- the highest point on the Manaslu Circuit Trek.
Celebrating reaching the highest point on the Manaslu Circuit Trek.

 

This is it. Every blister, headache, and steep climb has been building to this. Today, you cross the 5,200-meter Larke Pass.

 

A few words of warning: This is a long day at very high altitude. You will have nowhere to buy food or refill water once you leave Dharamsala. The weather can be unpredictable and the trail is often covered in snow. Plan on ten hours of hiking, stock up on everything you need the night before, and seek local advice about the weather. Also note that the descent is extremely steep and slippery. If you have bad knees, use trekking poles or even knee braces.

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It’s also hands-down the best day of the Manaslu Circuit Trek.

 

Most trekkers wake up around 3 am for breakfast. The goal here is to get over the pass before 9 am, when the wind picks up and the weather gets sketchy. If you’re on the trail by 4:00, you should be fine.

 

The trail is not steep, but it is a continuous ascent of nearly 800 meters, in the snow and in the dark. As the sun starts to come up, you’ll realize you’re not only surrounded by huge mountains — you’re actually higher than many of them! The views are nothing short of spectacular. But you’ll be too tired to care much as the altitude takes its toll.

 

It takes nearly four hours to walk up the glacier to the small string of prayer flags and the sign that marks the high point of the trek. The natural first reaction is to burst into joyful/exhausted tears (don’t worry, it happens to everybody). Take photos at the sign, hug your trekking buddies, and have a snack at the top of the world.

 

Believe it or not, the hardest part is yet to come. But first, shortly after leaving the top, you’ll come to the single best view on the Manaslu Circuit Trek. The valley below you opens up and you’ll be able to see an epic lineup of mountains including Manaslu, Ganesh, and even Annapurna II.

 

Then begins the descent, which actually takes longer than the ascent. The first two hours are down a near-vertical cliff face covered in snow and ice. You’ll slip, slide, and hopefully avoid tumbling down while your knees beg for mercy.

 

Once you get off the snowy portion, the path gets much less steep. But you still have four hours of walking down. You’ll see the stopping point of Bimthang well before you reach it. By the time you arrive, you’ll be ready to collapse from exhaustion and/or eat everything in their kitchen. If you’ve been feeling any signs of altitude sickness, you’ll probably also feel quite a bit better.

 

Days 12-14: Bimthang to Kathmandu

 

The end of the Manaslu trek meets up with the beginning of the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
Entering the Annapurna Conservation Area and linking up with a side trail from the Annapurna Circuit Trek.

 

Bimthang is still pretty high, at 3,800 meters. So wake up early to get your last amazing mountain sunrise views (and your last glimpse of Manaslu). You’re in for another long day, but it’s all downhill from here.

 

After about an hour of gradual descent, you’ll reach a sign informing you that you’re now in the Annapurna Conservation Area. This section of trail is actually a side trip from the Annapurna Circuit. It sees hardly any trekkers, but is noticeably more developed.

 

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you lose the altitude that it took you ten days to gain before. The day starts out above the tree line, but before you know it you’ll be in pine tree forests. Then the rhododendrons come out in full force, and you descend to a river where everything is green again. In all it takes five hours to reach the lunch stop at Gho, where you’ll be surrounded by wheat terraces.

 

Shortly after Gho, you’ll run into the road. Descend another two hours — and cross your final suspension bridge — to reach the Hindu town of Dharapani. Here, you’ll find tea houses with seriously good food, amazing hot showers, and a steady stream of the Annapurna Circuit crowds. Celebrate the completion of your trek with a few rounds of millet beer.

 

You’ll spend Day 13 in a very bumpy jeep to get off the trail and down to Besi Sehar. This large-ish city is a pretty dull place, but it’s the best option for breaking up a long travel day. Then, it’s a six-hour ride in a microbus back to Kathmandu and the end of your adventure.

 

When I got back to Kathmandu, I felt like I was in a daze. I said goodbye to my guide and porter — who had become like family — knowing I would never see them again. Stepping into the polluted, high-traffic, noisy streets, it almost felt like it had all been a dream. It took a solid three days for it to really sink in.

 

In short, completing the Manaslu Circuit Trek was one of the greatest adventures and accomplishments I’ve ever had. While I could have chosen a more popular trek and I’m sure I still would have loved it, it would be hard to top the Manaslu Circuit.

 

Are you considering doing the Manaslu Trek? Have you done other treks in Nepal? Leave a comment!

 

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The Manaslu Circuit Trek is one of the best treks in Nepal. Suspension bridges, yak trains, and a high-altitude pass crossing -- it has it all. #travel #nepal #hiking

 

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My Ticklefeet
5 years ago

Oh My!! This looks like an icredibly beautiful trek, so glad you shared this with us 🙂 I had only heard of Annapurna and base camp treks so far.. I will definitely consider this when I make my choice since trekking in Nepal is on my bucket list.

suedavies689
5 years ago

Manaslu Circuit sounds like a great adventure. Great idea to do that instead of Annapurna. Nepal is on my bucket list but not sure of doing this extensive a trek.

Finding Yoki
5 years ago

What an adventure!! Your photos are absolutely gorgeous too 🙂 I’ve never been to the NP, but I have to visit someday. Thanks for sharing!! <3

Shweta Singhal
5 years ago

What an incredible feat for you to cover this 14-day trek. I am not into long treks at all, but would recommend this to friend who have done Everest Base Camp. Lesser crowds, more scenic views, raw nature…looks awesome!

Marcus and Mel
5 years ago

It does look an amazing week, we’ve only done a trek of a couple of days. The fact that it isn’t so crowded sounds good as we are wary of visiting places and turning around to see hordes of people trooping up the path behind you. It must be incredible to see those mountain sunrises,

Drew Seaman
5 years ago

Wow, what an adventure on the Manaslu Circuit! I agree too that going all that way to only hike with crowds of people on Annapurna would be a bit of a disappointment. I think you choose wisely. The landscape is just so incredible and that suspension bridge is crazy. Congrats on the trek and great job putting together the information. Sounds amazing!

Andi
5 years ago

I’m not sure I can do the suspension bridge! Although I am sure it is worth it! I would like to go to some of the places where you need a permit, so they limit the amount of people, I hate going to places that are crowded. This looks like an amazing trip!

Mar Pages
5 years ago

My flatmate did this trek earlier in the year but she was too early and it was absolutely freezing all the way (it was a last minute decision) but she said it was the toughest most rewarding thing she had ever done and i bet she was right. Also, half of her team didn’t make it to the end. Good on you for taking the challenge
, sure looks beautiful

Indrani
5 years ago

I like how conquered this trek. Very inspiring. I had known more about Annapurna circuit, this is new and exciting.
The pics are fantabulous, loving the scenery of the place a lot.

SherianneKay
5 years ago

This blows my mind, I can’t imagine doing a 10 mile hike, let alone 14 days. Such a huge accomplishment! It would be awesome to catch a sunset and I can only imagine the build up of excitement in Jagat when you saw the first snow capped peaks and heard the first tashi delek

Vasu
5 years ago

Like the everybody else in this world, I have been on a EBC trek and I call it the trekkers highway with so many people coming and going. I find Manslu quite interesting and after reading your post , am contemplating a trek late this year or summer next year. I agree coming back is blazing quick compared to the huffing and puffing on the way up .:)

Kirstie Saldo
5 years ago

Manaslu Circuit sounds like a great adventure but Im not sure Im up for this challenge (especially with that loooong suspension bridge!) If my friends are going, I probably will be staying in Kathmandu by myself haha but hats off to you for going for a 14 day hike! Your photo smiling at the highest point says it all!

Jennfier
5 years ago

I was sold the minute you said Manaslu Circuit Trek was less crowded than the other treks. This looks amazing. I love the ideas of trekking without all the crowds. That suspension bridge look epic.

adolewhipandadream
adolewhipandadream
5 years ago

What an incredible trek! I’ve always wanted to go to Nepal and do some sort of “adventure.” I’d love to be immersed in that quiet beauty. Thanks for all the good info!

Nadia @ Nomadic Nerd
Nadia @ Nomadic Nerd
5 years ago

This looks gorgeous!! I think you made the right choice, the lack of people probably made it so much better! I would do this 100%

Emily
5 years ago

I haven’t done much trekking anywhere really—but Nepal is my top choice when I eventually do dive in. You might have mentioned this, but how much training/preparation did you do ahead of the trek? I’ve heard good things about Manaslu from other bloggers too!

Nafisa Habib
Nafisa Habib
5 years ago

I didn’t try the Manaslu Trek. Just enjoyed a short trek in Sarangkot to Paragliding point, hehehe. Loving the breathtaking landscape. Trekking is the best way to enjoy the mountainous view in Nepal.

Ruth
Ruth
5 years ago

I had no idea the Annapurna Circuit get so many visitors in a year. Like you, I feel like trekking with tons and tons of people is not necessarily fun. In my case, I hike to find peace and appreciate nature. Difficult to do that with crowds surrounding you. I have to say the Manaslu trek looks epic. Nice to read about your experience.

Suzy Jones
5 years ago

Wow this is stunning. I would love to do this some day. I wonder how a child has to be before going to altitude – we hike with my toddler but probably not safe to go this high until she’s a lot older.

Natasha Lequepeys
5 years ago

My gosh, what an accomplishment! I can only imagine how tough it would have been with the altitude and food poisoning! Would love to try a challenging trek one day but I have no experience. Do you have any suggestions for a beginner?

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