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Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison

Bavaria, Germany
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Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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Hello everyone,

I used some of my self isolation time to create another video, which I hope might help some people to decide what trek to do (once treks can be done).

I compared the Annapurna Circuit to the Manaslu Circuit based on the treks we did on both of them in late 2019. The aspects I decided to look into in details are time and stage planning, transport to the trail head and back, permits, deciding about hiring a guide, costs of that, walking and sleeping altitudes, difficulty, safety, remoteness, lodging, local culture, and landscape.

Rather than deciding what is the better trek I tried to give some hints at the end regarding what "type" of trekker might enjoy which of the two more and why.

Take a look in case you're interested:

https://youtu.be/gs-bNJxHEPA

PS: I am aware that many people love the Annapurna Circuit dearly (me included) and I recognized a number of times that criticizing it in whatever way tends to offend some of these people.

Everything I say in that video is my very own humble personal opinion and I hope i made that clear enough in this video. Please consider this more like a starting point for good discussions rather than some guy claiming what he says is the ultimate truth.

18 replies to this topic
Oslo, Norway
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1. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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Good comparison and info. Recommended video for anyone considering Annapurna/Manang valley or Manaslu trek.

It’s time for Nepal to open all areas for individual trekkers, without guide.

By the way, I love the golden line animation to illustrate the path on Google Earth.

OG Australia
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2. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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Thanks Men!

Having walked the AC long ago it was a bit of shock to watch. A recent short walk along the Tamang Trail provided only a few days without a road and that was enough to understand the impact of roads on ‘trekking’ routes.

I suppose the walk to Tilcho and over the La might be enough if landscape is one’s only reason rather than a long meditative sojourn as in days past.

If a demand for guides keeps numbers down in the Manaslu area then ‘maybe’ that is not a bad thing given the repeated comments on the loss of cultural authenticity along the AC.

Though obviously a huge economic problem, one wonders what cultural realignment happens during the COVID 19 shut down in mountains tourist areas. Is there a step back and examination or just a need for the transformation to live.

Tsum Valley Home Stay made a doco exploring local thoughts about the impending road to there a few years back, it offered some competing views but cultural protection seemed more prevalent amongst the Tsumpa.

The other aspect is the idea of a circuit. For a once only trip a circuit sort of makes sense, but for repeat walkers, it is retracing, so perhaps the idea of a circuit becomes moot.

By the end I was thinking, as a very simple break down.....landscape, many very unlike minded tourists and secure creature comforts or.....culture, landscape and Possibly more like minded conversations based on the joys of trekking in culture and or general world view. But these are simplified experience breakdowns.

I would be surprised if serious First time walkers or escapist types would think twice after watching the comparison. If funds were an issue other walks over MC rather than AC would have to be better options.

Surrey, United...
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3. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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Thanks for posting up, and especially for the video, which seems very well put together, is not overdone and seriously tempts me to get some sort of video camera (it will have to be simple) to better remember the treks.

I have done the full AC 4 times (Oct 2005, April 2008, Dec 2012 and Jan 2016), walking all the way from Besisahar to Nayapul or Dhampus/Phedi all 4 times. I have done quite a few side trips, including to the top of Kang La (fantastic panorama) on the last 2 ACs, and I have managed to get to Tilicho twice. My favourite parts of AC are the walk from Ghyaru to Ngawal, Kang La, Tilicho, Thorung La, the area of Muktinah - Changur - Dzong - Kagbeni, and the walk from Marpha down to near to Ghasa. These parts, for me, are almost magical. I love the old Buddhist monasteries at Dzong and Kagbeni.

For culture on AC, if people stay, or even just stop for lunch, in the smaller places, you will get a lot more contact with 'real' Nepal. I got fed up with standard lodge food in 2012, and because it was low season, my guide asked the locals to cook their own proper local food for me – this worked really well and is something I have done on subsequent treks. Also stopping at small places that locals use will give people a very different general experience from the tourist oriented places. Having said that, I do like some touristy things – a cooked, English breakfast, if done well, is a treat (and not cheap).

Going even slightly off the main trails can be incredibly rewarding - in 2012 we (younger guide and I) were wandering around the area north of Jharkot and came across at least one little village that looked to be almost totally untouched by tourism. This was something like a 20 minute walk off the main trail. Most of the villages after (or west of) Changur are very similar in this regard, until you get to Kagbeni (which has not yet been ruined by tourism). I think people need to be a bit more imaginative and inquisitive – there are still quite a few more authentic places around, often very near to the main trails. I should make it clear that we trek on a proper daily rate basis, so I get the same freedom as independent trekkers.

Trekking off season really helps with avoiding the worst of the effects of mass tourism. Even if the road did not exist, I would not trek AC (or any of the main treks) at peak season – the sheer numbers I would find very, very off-putting. In 2005 the civil war, which ran from 1996 until 2006 and killed over 14,000 people, kept the number of trekkers at about half the normal level and a higher proportion of those who did trek seemed to be more adventurous and independent, which made for a socially more interesting trek (no guide back then).

The road on AC was not a problem in Jan 2016, but that was low season, and snow on the ground (ie not falling) stopped all vehicle movements after about Danaque on the east side. However, a lot of what I have seen and read since then suggests that the road is ruining much of AC, though the older of the guides that I trek with did AC in Oct in 2018 (or 2019) and said that the road was not too bad. The road footage in the video looked pretty grim.

I am hoping to do AC again this Dec – Jan, if corona virus permits, if not at some point in the future – I really like AC. I am curious to see the effects of the road off season – I just hope it is not a disaster.

I have only ‘done’ Manaslu once, in Dec 2019 – Jan 2019. I was with the older guide who has done M many times (the guides I trek with are brothers – one per trek). As my guide had warned me might well be the case, we were not able to get over the pass – Dharamsala was closed, and we and other trekkers were unable to persuade locals in Samdo to open up a lodge for the night. The villages on the far side of the pass were also closed, we heard. We walked back down from Samdo – I should have spent a couple of nights there doing local walks.

We did the Tsum Valley, and spent a night as the only guests at the Mu Gompa.

So, I have done part of Manaslu twice, but the pass not at all. The lower part of M I found rather limited in terms of the views – you are basically in a narrow valley. It was also very dusty (it was by far the dustiest trek I have done in Nepal), many of the trails are quite rough/rocky and quite a lot of the time lower down you are walking next to significant drops – I felt much less comfortable and heard that someone a few months earlier had broken a leg falling over one of the drops. Also, there were huge numbers of mules – there seemed to be a lot of lodge construction going on, but the combination of the mules, rougher trail and drops made for a much less enjoyable walk lower down.

Higher up, in both the Tsum valley and above say Sho, the scenery is as good as anything I have seen in Nepal, plus you get that incredible high Himalayan sunlight and colouring and it was much less dusty. The valley widens which gives a much better sense of space, and great views. I loved the, so far, unspoilt villages higher up, especially Samagaon and that area. The lodges were quite mixed – everything from an amazing new lodge, complete with a sauna (seriously) at Namrung (the owner is quite a character) but done in an authentic local style, to more basic lodges. One night we had to stop in a guest house for locals – the owner at first did not want to have a foreigner stay, thinking that I would be very unsuited to that standard of accommodation. In fact, I have stayed many times in my guides’ village and he was able to persuade the owner to let me stay – the food was good.

For permits for Manaslu, the need for a ghost permit meant that the total cost for me was US$300 – quite a lot of money for some pieces of paper.

All in all I have rather mixed views about Manaslu – I might attempt it again, but in 2019-20 we (older guide and I) did the 3 High Passes in the Everest region (my 4th time for that trek), and as above, my current plan is to do AC again, after that probably Langtang – Gosainkunda and Helambu. I have been to L and G 4 times, but Helambu only twice, and not since Nov 2012.

I half jokingly said to my guide that we will do Manaslu if we can helicopter into Namrung, which is a bit of a contradiction of my desire to always do the full AC, but for me the lower parts of Manaslu, which we did twice, were not that great. By the way, we walked in via Barpak, which is my guides’ ancestral village, and which the older guide had never visited – his ancestors left the area about 150 years ago. His clan form the majority in Barpak.

Back on the subject of experiences of authentic local culture, I get my fix from stays in my guides’ village (11 stays 2011 to 2020, for 49 nights in total) and 3 stays in the village of another Nepali I know well (6 nights in total). These villages are totally non-touristy, and a very different world from what I am used to and very different from the trekking villages. I also find that trekking with a Nepali, especially one I know and get on really well with, massively enhances the sense of being somewhere very different.

OG Australia
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4. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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A cooked English breakfast.......

The issue re imagination for side trips does seem to be time constraints from observing most questions re schedules .

Edited: July 04, 2020, 8:12 pm
Espoo
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5. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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I have contacts with a couple of Finnish travel agencies running trips to Nepal (good section offered, actually, but I do not know if they are able to run all of them). While I have been able to persuade them to go up to EBC via Mong La - Phortse - Pangpoche (which they like and clients love), they say selling something truly different like Pikey Peak entrance walk is not possible. First timers want something familiar and braggable, and time is always in short supply. Difficult or actually impossible to sell any treks longer than 2 weeks and max 18 days out of country total. Like we here know, many "proper" treks take much more time than that. More adventurous souls either arrange the treks themselves, or just go without much planning.

Edited: July 04, 2020, 8:58 pm
Whangarei, New...
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6. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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Hi

Another great video. I've walked the Annapurna circuit about half a dozen times over the years but stopped going there after the road construction started to progress beyond Bhulebhule. At that point a road of sorts already extended on the other side of the pass all the way to Muktinath. By the looks of it things have not improved since then.

I've never done the Manaslu trail as it requires you to take a guide and I prefer to hike alone. I know this is not recommended but it's what I like. However now that I'm on the wrong side of sixty I might consider it next time I go to Nepal.

Eric

My Nepal Pages https://wanderingeric.org/category/nepal/

Surrey, United...
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7. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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Some of the cooked English breakfasts I have had in Nepal have been quite good, even out trekking (where western food can often be a matter of 'interpretation'). Most of the time nowadays I am more than happy to eat local (a big change from when I first started trekking in Nepal) especially compared with much of the stodge offered on standard lodge menus.

Some of the 'cultural' type things can be accessed easily - however I appreciate that a lot of people only want to do very standard things.

Interesting to read about the time constraints and how they affect what people want to do and what is then offered (and which becomes the norm). For those who just want to tick off EBC, AC etc, a short, truncated trek, probably makes sense, but for those who really like the great outdoors, the more time the better. Interestingly, one of my guides' uncles, who is a real character, said that 30 or so years ago, it was not at all unusual for treks to last 2 months - this was probably before the lodge system really developed, and the groups had to be self supporting (lots of porters), plus he did quite a few climbing expeditions.

OG Australia
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8. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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The quality of the breakfast might / must be a Gurkha thing!

I think the word ‘trek’ is Swahili for a walk of longer than three weeks. Something I read long ago, so I am not saying that’s gospel.

The best thing about circuit treks (in the past or from what I read of the MC) is that you do ‘walk’ out. Both of my longer Khumbu walks, I flew out to the jarring arrival in Kathmandu. The return from the old AC walk was so much more gentle.

A Scotsman Doug who we joined up with on the first day, took a detour around Ghorapani and raced up the ABC. We all met up again a Fish tail lodge across the lake for a beer. He had already had a few whe he arrived and slammed down his boots on the table...not kosher in any land but a memorable moment!

The eight who joined up early on the trail were early 20’s. Five joined up from the Kathmandu Lodge and three of us from Melbourne. When we get to Paris we have a day out with the ‘French’ girl from the trek and her husband.

Edited: July 05, 2020, 11:03 pm
Oslo, Norway
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9. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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I miss the local Nepali coffee. In Kathmandu I usually enjoy a small French press, catching the morning atmosphere from rooftop or garden.

Nepali coffee has a pleasant but powerful flavor I’ve seldom found in other coffee growing regions. It is excellent for a chilly wake up.

One benefit to increasing tourism in the high valleys is that you can now get Nepali coffee in Namche, Dingboche and Gokyo etc.

After weeks of Nescafe powder, it tastes heavenly.

A popular coffee shop is Himalayan Java.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBuipe0SjSY

OG Australia
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10. Re: Annapurna Circuit vs Manaslu Circuit: A detailed comparison
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rdc...I am interested in why the lower part of the Tsum /MC walk does not grab you. From pics of waterfalls and leafy jungle type environments I have imagined that to be a great start, particularly if one walked in April and the Rhododendrons were out. Though I know your a January walker.

My first trek in the ABC was amongst flowering rhododendrons and red and pink strewn trails.

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