The Destination Manang 2004 campaign is trying to bring in tourists to this trans-Himalayan valley with the slogan: 'See you in Manang'. It has a calendar of festivals throughout next year, and is promoting the valley's accessibility, its superb scenery and its comfortable lodges.
For most trekkers, Manang is just a transit point for acclimatisation before climbing up to Thorung La on the Annapurna Circuit. They rush through Manang and have no time to take in the serene ambience of this uniquely picturesque region. The Destination Manang Campaign is out to change all that. "We want to show that Manang is worth going to even if you aren't doing Thorung La, there is enough to see and do in Manang itself," says Tripple Gurung, an airline pilot.
Humde airport is only 30 minutes from Kathmandu, and Yeti Airlines currently operates a scheduled flight every Saturday, with charter roundtrips during the week. Royal Nepal is set to resume its Pokhara-Manang flights soon, but don't bet on it. The flight skirts Himalchuli, flies up the narrow gorge of the Marsyangdi before the valley opens out in Upper Manang. The airfield at 3,200m is an ideal place to start a week-long trans-Himalayan holiday.
It is a pleasant two-hour walk down to Pisang along meadows and pine forests. There are great views of the north face of Annapurna II which is directly above the village, and is a good place to acclimatise if you have just flown in. There is a grandstand view of Swarga Dwar (literally: 'door to heaven') a geological oddity that has turned a 1,300m high mountain into a near-perfect hemisphere. Swarga Dwar would probably work very well as a parabolic antenna to scan the universe for radio transmission from extraterrestrials.
Next day, walk to the monastery in Upper Pisang, have lunch at one of the numerous restaurants facing Annapurna II, and then on to a cluster of houses that is Ghyaru at 3,800m. The trek from Ghyaru via Ngawal to Manang is the high road that offers a grand panorama of the entire north wall of the Annapurnas. Take side trips to the numerous pastures on the north side of the valley, including the holy Kecho Lake at 4,800 m where the Annapurnas are reflected on the waters.
Descend into Manang and Braga, and eat at the numerous restaurants, bakeries, just lie in the sun, or go see a movie at the video parlour (currently showing: Into Thin Air and Caravan). Another day trek from Braga is to climb as far as you can up a spur of Annapurna III to Mila Repa's cave and see if you can spot the bow that the Buddhist saint is said to have left behind. The road up from Manang, past the bulldozed remains of the lateral moraine of the Gangapurna Glacier, has spectacular views of a turquoise green lake.
All this will acclimatise you for the tough trek to Tilicho, one of the world's highest lakes at 5,100m. It is a three-day roundtrip from Manang via Kangshar, and only for the well-acclimatised. We have it on good authority that the view of the lake and the Grand Barrier on a full-moon night is a spiritual experience that will cleanse your soul for the rest of your life. Tilicho Lake has become a pilgrimage spot for Indians who regard it as the famous body of water mentioned in the Ramayana where the crow gave Garuda a piece of his mind.
The Destination Manang 2004 campaign hopes to capitalise on the variety of pilgrimage, trekking, nature and festival attractions of Manang to bring in at least 20,000 visitors to the valley next year. Manang can be a destination not just for overseas visitors, but also Kathmandu-based expats and Nepali tourists for whom this can be an ideal quick and scenic one-week getaway. There is something for every season: archery contests, harvest festivals, monsoon pilgrimages, trekking and mountaineering all year round, and even heli-skiing in winter.
After this, if you still want to go to Thorung La, be our guest.