For over 25 years I have yearned to visit the Himalayas, but I wanted an authentic experience not the commercialised circus that Everest Base Camp appears to have become. So we found ourselves registering for our first multi day event, the 9-day Manaslu Trail Race. I can’t fault the organisation, their care, and the camaraderie of my fellow runners…but I won’t lie, even with my husband constantly by my side, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!
Our pre-race journey began in Kathmandu, and wow, that’s a unique experience in itself, it’s dirty and smelly and the traffic fumes hurt your throat, a place where you have to gather your courage just get across the road!
There appeared to be no traffic rules so you just have to go for it….dodging the antique motorcycles and cars belching out toxic fumes, bicycles transporting whole families, street vendors balancing their loads 12 ft high on decrepit bicycles and in the midst of that, it’s not unusual to see the odd cow trundling along!
Skipping past the hair-raising six-hour bus journey to get to the start of the race we finally arrived at Soti Khola, this apparently means ‘end of the road’ and yep, from here it was mule trail only.
Our first night in a typical Nepali Tea House was a bit like camping but with a raised bed, solid-ish hardboard walls and the luxury of a dim solar light! The monastery (complete with their own herd of yaks) that we stayed in one night pretty memorable too, as was the remote monastery at Pungyen which was at 4200m and remote in the extreme…and let me tell you that altitude is character-building!
The first two days of the trail race were desperately hot, the terrain ridiculously steep as we climbed up and up and despite training in the Welsh hills day in and day out we weren’t able to do much running. As it turned out, we ended up fast trekking most of the 160km route. In the days after, and as we climbed higher the sun would go behind the mountains early, and the temperatures plummeted.
No two days were alike as we made our way around mountainsides, through stunning valleys beside glacial lakes and rivers, tropical forests complete with monkeys and through ever more remote villages where the inhabitants observed us with curiosity and amusement, but always with a “Namaste.” It was fascinating to see how the dwellings and people differed as we moved closer to Tibet
Quite early on I was unlucky enough to get a dose of travellers tummy and if you’re familiar with Asian loos you’ll appreciate the effect this had, this and altitude related nausea plagued me to the end, not only did it kill my appetite and zap my energy, it also took the edge off my excitement and enjoyment. I don’t mind telling you, I felt so rough I didn’t change my pants (or anything else) for 3 days!!!
Manaslu is the 8th highest mountain in the world, watching the sun rise over its snowy peak is breathtakingly beautiful but the huge snow clouds from continual avalanche is sobering, no wonder it’s one of the most dangerous peaks to summit.
Did I mention the bridges? They were absolutely awesome, they were long and sometimes a bit ramshackle, they carried us over rivers and gorges, but beware being caught on a bridge (or the side of a mountain) with 30 odd mules in a train, they’re hefty animals that just barge past with huge packs on their backs…we encountered several mule trains every day and I loved the smelly creatures!
One of the best memories was the children’s race put on by the organisers, about 40 local school children had numbers pinned to them and then ran their little hearts out, racing from one end of Samagaon to the other leaving clouds of dust and laughter in their wake, a totally awesome sight!
The most hazardous part of our journey was crossing the Larkya La Pass at 5200m, we started at 5am, leaving the village by the light of head torches and in temperatures reaching -10. Ironically this was one of my stronger days but how individuals cope with altitude is unpredictable, and although my face swelled up to the point where I was unrecognisable, I was relieved not to be the one carried off the mountain by one of the amazing sherpas – yep this actually happened!
Now by day five, I’ll admit I wanted it all to be over….so I’m delighted to say I completed this tough event in one of the most inhospitable but stunningly beautiful places on earth, the raw beauty and humility of the people I met there will stay with me forever. Would I do it again? Hell Yeah!