Manaslu Circuit: The alternative Annapurna Circuit

Manaslu bathed in the morning sun | Ben Tubby
Manaslu bathed in the morning sun | Ben Tubby

The Annapurna Circuit has traditionally been a prime go-to for adventure trekking in Nepal. But change has come to the Annapurna region in the form of road development—and it’s noticeably changing the area for those who travel there for a pure wilderness experience.

If you’re seeking a more pristine, less-travelled journey in a remote location, the nearby Manaslu Circuit might be just what you’re looking for. 

The Manaslu Circuit travels through a less-developed region up against the Tibetan border. The area is arid, wildly rugged, and the culture you'll encounter feels more Tibetan than Nepalese. (One visitor described the locals as more “innocent” than in other areas.)

This remote trek in Nepal has all the highlights trekking purists look for in a Himalayan trek: Buddhist culture, spectacular rhododendrons during spring, protected wildlife, colourful wildflowers, wild rivers, shaky bridges (and shaky bridges above wild rivers), and of course gorgeous mountains jutting into the sky, including the world's 8th highest peak, Manaslu (8163m / 26,781ft).

Perhaps the most noticeable thing trekkers on the Manaslu Circuit have reported, compared to the Annapurna Circuit, is the stillness and quietude they encounter. (Apparently truck drivers use their horns prodigiously on the new Annapurna-area roads). And let’s be honest, a sense of calmness, stillness, and getting away from the thrum of humanity is why so many experienced trekkers keep returning to magical landscapes like the Himalaya.

Mount Manaslu from the village of Lho |  <i>Michelle Landry</i>

The Manaslu Circuit opened up to visitors in 1992. Initially, only 400 trekkers were allowed on the circuit each season, but that number has obviously grown—but not like the other famous treks in the Himalaya. Experts believe the Manaslu Circuit gets 2,000–3,000 people per year. The Annapurna Circuit gets as many as 100,000. Trekkers who’ve done the Manaslu Circuit report the trek as having the feel of a pioneering expedition rather than a tourist hike.

The trek follows the Bhudo Gandaki (the Ghandaki River) to its source, just below Larkya La, a pass at 5,140 metres. The view from the Larkya La has to be seen to be believed: lined up before you are Himlung Himal (7126m), Kang Guru (6981m), Annapurna II (7937m) and dozens of other smaller peaks. This is one view that will make you realize you chose well in the circuit treks department. 

After crossing the Larkya La, the trek continues down the western flanks of the Manaslu massif, following the Marsyangdi river downstream past the settlements of Ghoa and Tal, joining the Annapurna Circuit for the final two days of trekking.

In terms of difficulty, many who’ve done the Manaslu Circuit liken it to both the Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. The highlight is the incredible views of the mighty Manaslu and the peaks seen from the top of the Larkya La.

World Expeditions offered its first trek in Nepal in 1975. View all Nepal treks.
Manaslu Cirtcuit, Manaslu, Manaslu trekking

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