Around Manaslu Pursuits Trip: An Immersive Adventure Through the Sacred Himalayas

Posted by Roberto Lara, Pursuits Program Director on November 20, 2017

Robrto2If I were to write an article on adventure travel to tell you about this trip, I would move the story along, describing it with single words and numbers. It might look like this:

“An adventure spanning 17 days, 15,150 miles traveled by plane, round trip, which translates to 38 hours on a plane, 325 miles in a 4WD vehicle, 113 miles hiked, the 8th highest mountain in the world, lentils and rice, curry and potatoes, starry skies, meditation, Buddhism, spiritualism, about 20 suspended bridges crossed, lots of rain, monkeys, mules, great people, great country, huge elevation change, remote, unique…” the list describing the experience could continue but “telling” is not what I would like to do. Instead, I invite you to experience it along with me.

Adventure with Purpose

We awoke somewhat early. We are sitting in a restaurant eating breakfast by the gate for our flight at JFK Airport.
“So, what are the goals you have for the trip?” I ask.
“Good question…I want to learn how to be in the present moment, enjoy what I have in this very moment. I don’t want to worry much about the future or ruminate about the past. I think because I don’t know how to do it, I am stuck, feel depressed and anxious, and lose motivation. I don’t know why I feel this way so I am looking for something different,” he responds.
I smile and say, “I hear you. That’s what it’s all about. Hopefully this experience will give you what you are looking for.”

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Despite our planning and mental preparation, the arduous 19-hour flight gets the best out of us. I can tell you, 19 hours of traveling, along with dramatic time-zone changes and little to no sleep equal some serious jetlag. We are at the Kathmandu Airport trying to sort out our visas and getting a grasp of how things work. Take your picture here, make a payment over there, get your visa all the way across the room. While looking at each other, we shrug. The therapeutic experience has begun!
On our ride to the hotel I thought to myself, “Well, Kathmandu is not very different from where we just came from (NYC). The only difference is that here there are no defined driving lanes, almost no traffic lights, and cows have the right of way.” I laugh. It took close to an hour to drive the 2.5 miles to our hotel in Tamel. Tamel is busy in a kinetic way. Developed to meet the need of travelers, you find shops on top of shops, which are on top of restaurants, which happen to be on top of more shops. While out for our first supper we become fascinated by the low-hanging electrical cables, swinging just above our heads, and connecting from one pole to the next and coming together in a rat’s nest of tangled wires. People, motorcycles, Rickshaws, cows (yes, cows), and cars share these narrow bustling streets. On the way back we are stoked, feeling anxious and excited about what is ahead of us.

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The main challenge on this adventure is backpacking around Manaslu. At 26,781 feet of elevation, Manaslu is the eighth highest mountain in the world. This goliath of the Nepalese Himalayas is in the Mansiri Himal, in the west-central part of Nepal. To make the loop around Manaslu, we must hike over 100 miles with considerable elevation changes. Let’s put it this way, Arughat Bazaar, where we begin the trek, lies at 1,930 feet of elevation. We have 10 days to reach the Larkya mountain pass at 17,103 ft. to get to the other side and continue hiking. We have created a strict itinerary so we can accomplish what we came for and get Leo back on time, before school starts. Another challenge is the weather patterns; we are now at the end tail of the monsoon season, which means lots of gray sky, and rain. While this doesn’t sound so good, the positive side of the monsoon season is that is very likely we won’t find many other trekkers doing the circuit. Because of the dual challenges of elevation variation and distance, this circuit is not as popular as others. We are here and we will let Mother Nature do its thing.

The Jeep Ride to Arughat

Another early head start. We leave behind our phones and other electronics, and we hit the road in 4WD jeeps, driving on snaking roads, away from the energy of the industrious city and towards the mountains, feeling liberated and excited for what’s ahead. We see it all, temples and monasteries rising out of the hillsides, small roadside villages, groups of smiling kids walking to and from school. They all wave at us. We wave back. On a more somber note, we take in the destruction left behind by the two earthquakes in 2015. Most in Nepal haven’t recovered from it. We see equal destruction of old and new buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. The condition of the dirt roads is extremely challenging, with steep, muddy trenches carved by the vehicles passing through. Not even our skilled driver is able to maneuver certain sections and we are getting stuck every mile or so. While the drivers and others were working on the road, we were often mingling with the locals, trying to communicate in the universal language of signs and smiles, much like a game of international charades. At this point, even big semis are getting stuck and breaking down in the mud, too. Our 7-hour trip has turned into a 15-hour trip, and only then because we transferred to the cabin of a semi-truck that was able to pass through the muck. We were back on track, singing and laughing as we crossed over every hole and bump on this bizarre road, snaking its way northwards into gorges and deep canyons. Eventually, we arrive by the Budhi Gandaki River. Lentils, chicken curry, and basmati rice prove to be the best combination to end our day.

The Climb to Larkya Pass

As we start the hike, we are following and crossing the Budhi Gandaki River. We are meant to be following this river for several days until the day before reaching the Larkya Pass. For 10 days, we ascend from almost sea level. We are pumped. It is mostly raining, but we don’t really see this as a negative. We are prepared for rain every day; well, at least I was mentally prepared to have lots of rain. Any improvement on the weather is just a bonus. Our local team consists of Tsering and Sunjeep. Tsering is a senior experienced guide. He is in his mid-40s, very knowledgeable, and has a great sense of humor. He is also the only one who could speak English and Nepalese, so he is our verbal connection with the world. Tsering is the man! Sunjeep is about 30-years-old. He speaks a few words of English, but he is always smiling. He is our porter. He carries the duffle bag with our gear. We are hiking with a 30-pound backpack, which is more than enough to hike within this terrain. In order for us to follow our itinerary, we must hike about 10 miles a day and it’s all uphill. We start every morning early and finish before dinner. We have just enough time for a morning meditation, and some time to journal at lunch or in the afternoon. We have time to stop and take pictures. We have time to talk, laugh, think, and share.

For the next several days, we climb. The trails are really exposed as we are hiking a few hundred feet above the torrent; we are also crossing suspended bridges back and forth as we move from one side of the canyon to the other. We are crossing tremendously beautiful waterfalls. We see wild monkeys. We are still moving along the green vegetation, and the climate is hot and humid. It feels as if we were in a sauna, or perhaps in the middle of the Amazon. Even if we must cover some distance, we always have time to stop and enjoy the scenery and reflect on the landscape. Locals are also going up and down this trail. “Namaste,” we heard as they passed us. These trails are the only method they have to travel from village to village. We see many funny and furry mules. Locals use mules as their cargo animals. Children are curious about us. When we are coming close to a village we hear, “Namaste,” so we respond with “Namaste” and suddenly we have about 5 to 10 kids surrounding us. It’s good that we brought Crayons and colored pencils to give away (rather than candy, which is what they really want). They take the gifts, mumble some words of thanks with a grin, and run away, probably to let their friends know where they got their goodies.

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“Have you realized how happy people are here?” Leo asked. “Yes,” I responded, “I know.” “Not many people live in distress here. They are only concerned about meeting the very basic needs.”

Leo takes a second to think about my response, nods, smiles and continues hiking up the hill.

Indeed, we are putting things in perspective. The fact that we are down to the basics certainly allows us to reflect on the things we take for granted or the things that we crave or covet because we don’t have them. Experiencing nature organically and adopting a simple lifestyle in a spiritual culture fosters reflection on what we value intrinsically.

The next few days were unforgettable. The more we climb the more challenging the trail becomes, but the more acclimatized we feel, so we are cruising. A couple of days before we reach the pass, I woke up early; I yawn and stretch and walk out the door of my room and there it is: Manaslu! We have clear skies, no clouds and a dreamy view of this giant. I hurry to wake Leo, as if the mountain might move while I’m gone. I didn’t want him to miss the killer views of Manaslu.

It’s 4:30 am and we get ready to leave the tea house and head in the direction of the pass. Today should be the longest day, and the most difficult as we must first reach the pass, and then hike for several more hours until we reach the next village. Today is rainy and windy. We have a few layers on but it’s mostly our adrenaline keeping us warm; we are ready to beat this challenge. Every 3rd or 4th step we are taking a deep breath. We feel the effects of the altitude, the dry air and the wind whipping our faces. We finally get to the top of the trail. Hugs and tears were left behind at the pass, which was full of old and new prayer flags indicating previous hiker’s gratitude for life.
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We have a couple of days to make the complete descent before we take a jeep back to town. After so many miles, we feel accomplished but exhausted. I don’t want this to be over. I want to have a simple life, a spiritual life that allows for compassion and loving- kindness. We met great people, like the monks in the monasteries and the different families who hosted us; the people who cooked some amazing meals for us; the villagers who smiled at us, and those who laughed when they saw Leo, who was so tall, and me with my long beard. We will have to leave behind the mountains, the rivers, the prayer flags, the Gonpas.

A Day in Kathmandu

Our journey is coming to an end. But we couldn’t finish it without enjoying what Kathmandu has to offer. The Kathmandu Valley is home to the greatest concentration of temples, shrines, monasteries, and idols in the world. Vibrant and colorful, this city is the crossroads of trade for India, China, and Tibet. We walk through the city, feeling mixed emotions because it is time to say goodbye and go back to life, head first back to the known, back to the routine.
At the airport, we say goodbye. We hug, and we promise to keep in touch.

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About the Journey and Not the Destination

We can tell you all about our Pursuits trips but the intrinsic value can only be discovered and owned by the participant. The sense of accomplishment, of something learned, of gaining self-confidence, the ability to come away with a different outlook is what we strive for, and it is created solely within oneself.

To learn more about of Pursuits Trips, you can visit our Pursuits Page, or call one of Admissions Counselors at 866.411.6600.



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