There are two routes from Pisang to Manang: a low route on the road near the Marsyangdi River, and a high route traversing hillsides on the north-east side of the river. The low route is faster, the high route is more scenic. This is about the high route, which three of us took, guided by Pasang Sherpa, one of the expedition Sherpas for the climb of Chulu West.
We crossed a wooden bridge over the river at the centre of Pisang, then noticed a building in the stratosphere above us. "I hope we're not going up there", we said. Alas, we soon began a very long, steep climb via innumerable switchbacks to the village of Ghyaru, which overlooks the valley.
After that, the trail became a much easier traverse of several hillsides. We had lunch on a restaurant terrace at Ngawal, which afforded a panoramic view of Annapurna 2 and 3 and the valley below. And the chips and fried rice were the best we've had so far!
Afternoon continued like the morning, but the wind picked up – at our backs, fortunately. We hiked through dry, dusty country with aromatic junipers and pines, and bushes in fall colour. The sky was blue, with eagles riding updrafts into it. There were a few trailside vendors, and not many trekkers, on the high route.
Not only did we enjoy magnificent views of Annapurna 2, 3, and 4, Ganggapurna, Tilicho Peak, and Pisang Peak, we passed directly under huge hoodoo formations for a few kilometers.
There was a strong Buddhist presence all along the route: mani walls, gompas, chortens, prayer flags, and a few monasteries. A side trail at Druka leads to the reputed cave of Milarepa, a Buddhist luminary of the 11th century.
Finally our dusty, tired group trudged into Manang at 3:30, passing bakeries displaying enticing chocolate treats, before arriving at our upscale hotel, "Himalayan Singi". For the first time, our rooms include an attached bathroom.
Over afternoon tea we planned the two prongs of the next phase of our trek: the climb of Chulu West, and our visit to Tilicho Lake.