Adventures on the Manjushree Trail

Experience Issue 199 Jun, 2018

Trekking on any trail in the midst of rugged nature is an adventure, but sometimes one finds more excitement than bargained for.

In 1982, Alton C. Byers did the Kathmandu Rim Valley Trek; in 2010, Ashish Shrestha of HoneyGuide did it too, and here we were, in 2018, doing this trail again. The inspiration for hiking this trail came in one clear morning when the view of the hills from the roof of my house was crystal clear. Luckily, I got connected with HoneyGuide and was also able to crowd fund the trek via Grasruts, which propelled it to tangibility.

Manjushree Trail—so dubbed, because Manjushree circled the Kathmandu valley before cutting the gorge at Chobar—is about hiking the Kathmandu valley in a circuit, where each section has its own significance. You will hike through the national park, meet with sadhus, watch panoramic mountain views, climb the highest hill of the valley, and experience the friendliness of villages that are not yet on the tourist radar. Section hikers are those who hike only a section of the trail, while those who hike the whole circuit in one go are thru hikers.

Since most of the trails were already marked and mapped, we had to bushwhack and trail-blaze only a very small portion of the circuit. That portion of the circuit is what makes a complete Manjushree Trail, and which was missing. We started our hike from Hattiban Resort, where we quickly realized that, with 25 kilo bags, we had underestimated the trail. Our mantra for the whole circuit trek was to walk slowly and rest infrequently. On the second day of the hike, we took a wrong turn at Chitlang Bhanjyang, where we reached Naubise, Dhading. My morale was so low by the time we got to a hotel, because I made my team walk in the wrong direction for hours.

Our third day was also disappointing, because we were denied access to the Nagarjun National Park, but the love and sympathy from the villagers at Ain Dada boosted our enthusiasm. The next morning, we simply walked the borders of the national park, where the trail was a foot wide, with deadly slopes to the left. Surprisingly, we came upon a nice waterfall with a swimming hole, where we dove and forgot our pain. There were mulberry trees on the trail, too.

The fifth day was spiritual for us. After walking on and off in the jungle, a little interaction with a sadhu over a hot black tea felt peaceful. I was very impressed by his minimalistic life. That day we just walked five hours and called it a day, because we had blisters on our feet. We had a nice campfire going for an hour, where we roasted eggs in aluminum foil. At 9:00 p.m., strong winds from the west started to blow, and the dark sky started to buzz with lightning. We quickly dug water lines around our tent. We were so tired that we managed to sleep through the storm.

At 2:00 a.m. on our sixth day, I woke up to the sound of rain falling on our tent. I checked to see if anything inside the tent had gotten wet, but we were perfectly dry. The water lines helped keep us dry. We had strong winds from the morning, with black clouds coming from the east, so we hurried to Gurje Bhanjyang. The Shivapuri Peak trail looked so ominous that we both got scared and instead pushed further up to Shivapur Village Resort, where we patiently waited for the rain to pass. At nine, we made our move to go inside the trail with both of our knives drawn out and music playing at full volume to let any leopards know we were coming. This was one of the scariest trails on the whole circuit. The jungle was so thick and the wildlife was so plentiful. The trail was abandoned, so it was very hard to trace it. Luckily, we had offline maps on our phone, where we had the GPS data for the Bagdwaar trail, and we kept walking in its direction. It snowed a little when we were descending down to Todek baba’s ashram. We spent the rest of the day in his kitchen, which had a woodstove and it was warm. We again talked about spirituality here.

On day seven, we met my hiking family, hike4lyf, on the trail to Chisapani, and another member from my cycling family on the way to Dhaap. We were hoping to hitch hike a truck up to Jhule, but found no trucks on the trail that day. At Jhule we met two campers, with whom we camped and enjoyed the young night. It was a full moon, we had a nice campfire going, good music playing in the background, and we had plenty to eat. It was just magical. You will have to experience it to understand it.

Day eight was just plain tough. I started getting so homesick that I stopped eating properly. To add salt to the wound, the trail to Nagarkot was just walking on a road with so many settlements that we just hitched a truck up to Nagarkot, where we stopped for cheese and ice cream. I was so homesick that I stopped enjoying the trail, but we kept on walking to Dhulikhel, where we stayed with my friend’s relative. It was nice staying at a place where you knew people. It felt like home.

On day nine, we didn't start the hike until 11:00 a.m., because we had to go to Banepa to pull out some cash, and there was a road blockade for a short time. At four, I was hoping to spend the night in the Namobuddha Monastery, but it was out of our budget, so we pushed on to Balthali. We stayed in the very nice homestay of a kind and generous family.

On day ten, we walked along the canals up to the dam and bushwhacked up to Kushadevi. From there it was a straight uphill climb. Near the top it rained, so we took shelter in a hut, where we were invited for meat and beaten rice. While eating in the hut, I felt that I took a lot of things for granted. After the rain, we pushed further up Nagi Danda to Gurdhum, where we could not find a camping spot, so we slept in a local’s homestay. At night they had a fire going, where we sat and talked. They talked about huge leopards, wild boars, tigers, and bears in the jungle—some of which was hard to believe.

Day eleven, we reached the ridge quickly, and then down the thick jungle to the Phulchowki top, where we were invited by Major Umesh Adhikari for lunch. Then, we were also offered a ride down to Godavari. When we buckled up to hit the trail, the weather changed and it started to rain, so we planned to postpone the hike until 2:00 p.m., but it kept raining after that, too. We booked a hotel and slept all day, resting our feet.

Day twelve, we saw some pheasants on the trail. So quiet was the trail that it was scary. I had a huge leech stuck on my shoe. I am a brown guy, but that turned me white. I have a huge leech phobia. The trail is damp and covered with moss until it starts to go uphill, where it receives plenty of sun. On the way to Tika Bhairav, we tried swimming in Lele Khola, but the water looked so dirty, we passed. We were also lost on the Dukuchap hill, and we had to retrace our steps. At Pharping, we hitched a truck up to the road below the Hattiban Resort, where we camped. By day thirteen, we both were excited to go home. We bid goodbye to the staff of Hattiban Resort, who had been so helpful to us.

Thru hiking the Manjushree Trail taught me about endurance, friendship, and management. I made sure that my friend was getting enough calories and protein for the next day’s hike, and my friend stepped in when I was dead scared in the Gurje - Shivapuri Peak trail. We both had our own responsibilities, like setting up camp, starting the fire, or taking pictures and videos. We walked many hours a day, got lost in the woods, ate with sadhus and army men, hitched rides, and made new friends, but most importantly, we looked out for each other.