It had come out of the blue, a request I wasn’t expecting, but was undoubtedly happy to fulfil.
David Lim, a mountaineer whom had a led an Everest expedition in 1998 was searching for a man, his Sidar and five time Everest summiteer, Man Bahadur. The Sidar is one of the most important members of a Himalayan team, managing all of the staff and crew during an expedition. David reached out to Lost Earth Adventures, as we were one of the few commercial outfitters leading a trek through the Manaslu Circuit this season.
Equipped with a letter and the name of a village (Namrung) in the remote Buri Ghandaki Valley without internet, electricity and a four day walk from the nearest road, we set off on our trek with an added incentive, to track down Man Bahadur. David Lim was planning another expedition and was seeking the assistance of his friend and former Sidar.
Joining us on the trek was past client John Cambridge, whose aim was to complete the Circuit after his first attempt was unfortunately cut short in 2014 following a family emergency. The trail started at Soti Khola, an exciting 10-hour drive along twisting mountain roads from the nation’s capital. For John, this meant repeating the first few days of the trek, but as he said, “that was no hardship and I really enjoyed re-visiting the locations that at the time I did not expect to see again.”
Four days later we arrived in Namrung. Man Bahadur’s caste is Tamang and Namrung is a village of Gurung people. Upon our arrival we made some initial enquiries before settling down in a teahouse for the afternoon. Drinking warming cups of Tibetan tea, a man was hurriedly rushed into the room, followed by the scurry of excited villagers wanting to know why Man Bahadur was being sought.
Man Bahadur was very excited to hear from David and invited us to his house where he lives with his wife. He had met her on an expedition to climb Manaslu. Namrung is on the trail to the base of the mountain and she was employed en-route as a porter to carry expedition equipment. Man Bahadur later returned to marry her, settling in the shadow of the world’s eighth highest mountain.
The following morning we were invited back to their home. His house is traditional: wooden, small and tarred black by smoke from the fire. It was 9am and we started with coffee and biscuits before being given homemade beer. He eagerly showed us his many certificates from high altitude expeditions where he’s built a reputation as a man who can be relied upon to manage a team in the death zone.
We bid adieu to Man Bahadur and his wife, keen to set the pace for another brilliant day on the trail. We had a side trip planned to a remote monastery 4500m high directly under the East Face of Manaslu. Not many people venture here and it is one of the best mountain panoramas you will ever see, but it is not without its challenges.
Not only would we be facing a 700m ascent we’d be living off a diet of cabbage and potatoes! Life is tough in the mountains, food is difficult to grow and the variety available at lower elevations simply cannot thrive at these heights.
We had stopped for lunch in a brand new teahouse, so new in fact there wasn’t any food! They failed to mention this to us until after we had ordered. After being declined all of my menu choices I was told I could have Sherpa stew. A delicious mountain treat of dumplings and vegetables in a tasty broth. It suspiciously looked like cabbage soup. I ventured into the kitchen and encountered a young boy, the ‘chef’ reading the book, How to Cook. A chef he was not. The boy had gestured to the empty pantry and simply said there wasn’t any food, just bread and cabbage.
Dissatisfied by our afternoon meal, we later met a man barbecuing a yak’s head on the side of the trail. His delicacy looked decidedly appetising after my disappointment with the cabbage soup! I held off though, looking forward to tucking into a hearty meal at our evening stop.
We arrived in the village of Shayla, not usually a main stop on the circuit but en-route to Punguen Gompa. Man Bahadur told us there was one place we could secure a bed for the night. In the whole village there were only two female monks and one of their mothers. The others had left for lower elevations until their return in May. Shayla was a ghost town.
One of the monks was brewing Rakshi a rice wine similar to Saki and the other was managing the only open teahouse in the village. I enquired as to what food was available and she pointed to a room full of cabbages and said ‘we have cabbages and potatoes’. I said, “Is there anything else?” She said “no and that she’s not a chef.” Regretting not buying the yak head I went for a walk to see if I could catch a chicken or anything that wasn’t a cabbage. A nearly fruitless search, but I mustered up a single tin of tuna, cheese and eggs.
The monk let me take over the kitchen and I cooked us omelette and chips. An omelette had never tasted better! This of course was washed down with rakshi that the other monk had made and we had a fun evening around the fire communicating in Nepali, Gurung and English. We never really understood what each other said but we clinked our glasses together and laughed every time we made eye contact.
Hiking to the Gompa, we drank tea from the sole resident, a monk who’s called this remote haven home for the past 9 months, and probably hasn’t had a shower in just as long! We made our way back to the main trail and finally treated ourselves to some well-earned pizza at a fully stocked teahouse. The pass, the Larkye La was now within our grasp.
Walking becomes challenging as the air gets thinner, but is made quite bearable when seeing interesting things like a black leopard backing down after being charged by two resilient yaks and seeing a marmot standing on his hind legs squeaking at us.
The night before the pass was spent in Dharamsala. A large scruffy teahouse in a fairly hostile environment built next to a huge glacier and surrounded by piles of moraine and 8000m peaks. The atmosphere was full of excitement as trekkers from around the world swapped stories of peculiarities met along the trail. Amusingly the room was divided into three equal parts of German, English and French speakers.
A 4am breakfast was easily accomplished with a clear sky full of stars and the Milky Way in full splendour. The nearest town was over 100km away and there was not a cloud in the sky. Surrounded by silhouettes of the world’s tallest mountains we set off. Within four hours we’d reached 5100m and it was then downhill all the way to Bimtang.
We planned to all have a bit of a celebration but we were in bed by 8pm so the party was postponed until the following night. I bought two chickens that were freely roaming outside and cooked a curry for everybody including the staff of the teahouse.
This was a great end to the trek, we made some great new friends and I’m looking forward to treating many more people to this fantastic experience in October – see you on the trail!