“You who call my Nepal small: walk the hills and valleys cross the rivers and climb the mountains Then you’ll see How big my Nepal is”
by ALOK TUMBAHANGPHEY
MANANG YOUTH SOCIET
Destination: Tilicho lake
Altitude: 5200m above sea level
Location: Two hours southwest of Tilicho Base Camp, in upper Manang, Gandaki zone
Minimum budget: Rs 500-700 a day
Getting there: Either fly into Humde (RNAC flights cost around Rs 2,000 for Nepalis), an hour-and-half below Manang village or take a bus to Besisahar from Kathmandu and walk up the Manang trail
When to go: Late spring, around March-April or autumn, mid-September
What to take: Sleeping bag, waterproof jackets and trousers, t-shirts and thick socks, thermal wear, hiking boots, sunscreen, sunglasses, cap, windcheater, water bottle, munchies (don't litter the trail), camera and money
What to do: Hike up the trails, binge on buckwheat pancakes, locally grown apples and local ara. Visit the Manang Culture Museum, smile at the locals and trekkers, skinny dip in the icy cool waters of Tilicho lake, enjoy the view of the mountains, and feel good about being away from the city.
Manang, one of the most beautiful remote districts of Nepal, lies in the trans-Himalayan region of Gandaki zone, between the Annapurna range in the west and the Himchuli range in the east. This very remoteness and high altitude of Manang does not allow agriculture to flourish. Until recently, all that farmers grew were buckwheat, wheat and potatoes. Now, you'll find a range of produce: spinach, cabbage, apples, plums, and cauliflower.
The people of Manang have been successful traders since King Prithvi Narayan Shah's days. Back then, trade was limited to bartering salt with Tibet, and trading herbs, coral, jade and semi-precious stones in the Indian subcontinent. After King Mahendra ascended the throne, he waived customs and provided passports to the people of Manang. They were soon heading for southeast Asian nations like Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand where they excelled in trade. That was also how the exodus from Manang started emptying the villages. However, the tourism business and the education of the young saw many returning to their roots to rediscover the home of their ancestors.
Most people here are Buddhists so almost every village has a monastery, some of which are 500 years old. When you go to Manang, don't forget to visit the Milarepa Cave. It is named after Milarepa, a Tibetan Buddhist saint born as Thopaga in 1052 in Tibet to a wealthy family of wool traders. Initially, Thopaga practiced black magic at his mother's bidding to avenge the wrong done to them by his evil uncle and aunt. Later, he realised his mistake, repented, meditated to pacify the storm in his heart, and developed compassion for all living beings. This idea of compassion is central to Buddhist teaching and is defined as a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering of others and a desire to help them. Milarepa's power of compassion was such that he could transform the lives of suffering individuals. He persuaded a hunter following his wounded prey, a deer that sought refuge with the meditating Milarepa, to renounce killing and adopt the middle path. This cave, high on the walls of a cliff next to a glacier, is where the hunter is said to have met Milarepa.
Villagers from Braka gather at the inaugaration of Milarepa's statue.
Milarepa's Cave is about half-an-hour's uphill walk southwest of the village of Braka. Just as you near the village, there's a bridge across Marsyangdi river, leading to a trail across a meadow. Take this path as it leads to the monastery and the cave. The monastery has a rock with what is believed to be Milarepa's handprint, the cliff has his footprint and a bow believed to belong to the hunter.
Upper Pisang Village next to Swargadwari
Before you head for Tilicho lake, which at an altitude of 5200m is the world's highest lake, be sure to acclimatise yourself—spend a day in Manang village before hiking upward. You must cross a 5,100m-long pass to see the lake, serene and peaceful, at the foot of Nilgiri and Tilicho peaks. Tilicho lake is also the main source of the Marsyangdi river. The Upanishad talks of Garuda, Vishnu's baahan, who rested at the lake and listened to the Ramayan.
Tilicho Base Camp is a day's walk from Khangsar village and has only one hotel. Check in here or you might be stranded in the icy cold with nothing to eat. When you are hungry and cold, the Himalayan beauty can seem cruel.
Manang district is home to an exhilarating variety of flora and fauna as you will discover on the trail. Respect nature and local culture, avoid littering and the gods might bless you with clear weather, sunshine and sightings of rare musk deers, herds of blue sheep and the endangered snow leopard.