The Manaslu Circuit: a bridge lover’s paradise

The Manaslu Circuit Trek website recently reported that the Manaslu Circuit is open for business again after suffering extensive damage in last year’s Nepal earthquake. Tour operator Richard Goodey inspected all the bridges on the trek for signs of damage, paying particular attention to cables and concrete for cracks or deformation. He concluded that all of the bridges were in great condition and safe to cross.

The Manaslu Circuit appears to be one of the success stories of regeneration after the earthquake, with locals quick to repair not only bridges, but trails that had suffered from landslide. In one place along the trail a Swiss engineering company helped out by bolting a magnificent spanking new steel walkway to the side of a cliff where the old trail had vanished into the river. There is a great photo gallery of this project, which was completed in only two months with funding in part from the UK Department for International Development (DfID).

The article reminded me of when I trekked part of the Manaslu Circuit on my way to climb Manaslu back in 2011. The trail passes up the impressively narrow Budhi Gandaki gorge, crossing repeatedly from side to side. One of my abiding memories of the trek was the sheer number of bridges. There were zillions of them, constructed using a plethora of techniques.

Here is a selection for your entertainment. For bridge lovers, this blog post is pure porn.

1. The classic miles-above-a-gorge bridge

The classic miles-above-a-gorge bridge
The classic miles-above-a-gorge bridge

You get these all over Nepal, and I never tire of them. Steel cable suspension bridges dozens of metres above a noisy river. On the Manaslu Circuit you have to cross this sort of bridge, of varying length, four or five times a day. If any of your trekking companions are of a nervous disposition you can entertain yourself by setting the bridge swinging from side to side as you walk across. It’s perfectly safe.

2. The rickety old wooden bridge

The rickety old wooden bridge
The rickety old wooden bridge

It wouldn’t be a proper Himalayan trek without one of these. The Manaslu Circuit had several back in 2011, and it would be no bad thing if a few of them collapsed in the earthquake to be replaced by something a bit sturdier. These are definitely not bridges to start playing the silly bugger by setting them off swinging.

3. The back-end-of-a-horse bridge

The back-end-of-a-horse bridge
The back-end-of-a-horse bridge

The chances are you’ll encounter these quite a lot too. They invariably occur on the longest bridges, where there is at least a fifty metre drop to the river. There is no chance of overtaking. You just have to wander along patiently at the horse’s pace. Be careful of “blow back”.

4. The non-existent bridge

The non-existent bridge
The non-existent bridge

There are times in life when you just have to roll your trouser legs up and get on with it. On the Manaslu Circuit this is literally true. In 2011 I trekked in the monsoon season, and there were several places where there was no bridge, but there was plenty of water. In the early stages of the trek you would usually get some kid swimming alongside and laughing at you. Happily, higher up the trail there were fewer villages, and you could wade across lost in your own thoughts. Often these thoughts were, “bloody hell, these rocks are sharp and why didn’t I bring sandals? Or preferably a horse”.

5. The natural stone arch

The natural rock arch. Sorry about the dodgy quality of this photo - it's a screen grab from a video I made. You can watch the video by clicking on it.
The natural rock arch. Sorry about the dodgy quality of this photo – it’s a screen grab from a video I made. You can watch the video by clicking on it.

Between Deng and Namrung the Budhi Gandaki reaches its narrowest point, when there are barely ten metres between the cliffs on either side. There is a place where the cliffs become so close that they reach out and touch one another. An ancient natural rock arch spans the river, joining the cliffs on either side. Happily there is also a rickety old wooden bridge crossing parallel to it, so you don’t have to get across by straddling this mother.

6. The bollock-freezing glacier torrent bridge

The bollock-freezing glacier torrent bridge
The bollock-freezing glacier torrent bridge

The name tells you all you need to know about this bridge on the approach to Samagaon. As it continues its upward struggle to the Larkya La pass, the trek passes directly beneath the world’s eighth highest mountain, Manaslu. Torrents spill down from its glaciers, and the water is so cold a polar bear would need to put on extra layers before going for a swim. The noise produced at this river crossing is akin to two jumbo jets taking off at the same time, and there is an instant temperature drop the moment you put your feet on those boards. A game of Pooh sticks would be over quickly here.

7. The ladder

The ladder
The ladder

OK, so this one wasn’t actually on the Manaslu Circuit; it was about 3000m above it, spanning a giant crevasse on the slopes of Manaslu, but I had to cross it several times during the course of that trip and it’s impossible to erase it from my mind.

I’m not complaining though. The bridges on the Manaslu Circuit are pretty good. Compare them with this 100-year-old bamboo bridge I tried to cross in Malawi a couple of years ago, which should be burned to the ground, and its ashes fed to crocodiles or scattered the length of Lake Malawi.

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