Manaslu Region- A Study of Biophysical and Socio- Cultural by DR. NANDA GOPAL RANJITKAR

Manaslu Region lies mainly in Gorkha and partly in Manang and Lamjung distrticts of Gandaki zone in the Western Development Region. It covers 41 villlage development committees (VDCs) of Gorkha district, 26 VDCs of Lamjung district and 2 VDCs of Manang district and has a total areas of 3834 sq. km. including the Marsyangdi Valley in the west and Buri Gandaki Valley in the east.

Physiographic Diversity
Within the short vertical distance, the variety of landscape, climate, flora and fauna and water bodies with different socio-cultural characteristics are encountered in the Manaslu Region. This region presents a wide range of altitudinal variation from 600 m in the south to 8163 m. in the north. The region is characterized by the snow Peak Mountains, cirque- headed valleys, river valleys, steep slopes, deep gorges, glacial valleys, ice fields, glaciers, and glacial lands such as cirque, moraine deposit and arêtes. However, on the basis of varied landscapes, the whole Manaslu Region can be classified in to three major physiographic regions: middle mountain region in the south, high mountain region in the middle and high
Himalaya region in the north. There are a number of snowy peaks in this region (Fig.1). Manaslu (also known as Kutung) is the eighth highest mountain in the world. Manaslu is derived from the Sanskrit word Manasa and translated as “Mountain of the Spirit” ( Manaslu). Manaslu (8163 m) was first climbed on May 9, 1956 by Toshi Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu of a Japanese expedition (Cleare and Sale, 2000:219). Manaslu North (7157 m) is another peak. The other peaks are Himalchuli North (7331 m), Himchuli West (6869 m), Himchuli East (7893 m), Himchuli (7207 m), Ngadi Chuli (7871 m) and Baudha Himal (6,674 m), Ganesh Himal (7110 m), Sringi Himal (7187 m), Larke Himal (Granite Peak, 6249 m), and Kutung Himal. The land feature is extremely rugged with deep side valley enclosed by high ridges creating a semi-arid environment at elevation ranging from 2,500 m to 8,000 m. There are glacial as well as fluvial river valleys in this region. The Buri Gandaki and Marsyandi Valley are the major river valleys. The Upper Buri Gandaki Valley is also referred as Larke Bhot or Nub Ri which is the typical example of inner Himalayan valley with its pronounced Tibetan culture and dry climate. In the north the main valley runs from east to west and it has two major side valleys of the Shiar Khola which drains the northern slope of the Ganesh Himal and the Thaple Himal and the Chhuling Khola which originates from near Baudha Himal and Himal Chuli. The area is characterized by extremely rugged with steep valleys. The other tributaries of Buri Gandaki River are the Larke Khola and the Chhuli khola. These two rivers join between Phillim and Nyak where Buri Gandaki gorge is very narrow. Dhudh Kosi in the west of Larke Pass is another major river in north Manaslu Region. The Dudh Khola joins the Marsyandi River near Thonje. Lakes and glaciers are other attractions of this region. There are a number of beautiful high altitude lakes. The most important lakes are Kal Tal, Birendra Tal, Barakhola lake, Prok lake, Dhud pokhari, and Naradkunda lake. Kal Tal is the largest lake in the area located at an altitude of 3630 m The important glaciers in this region are Puingen glacier, Lidanda glacier, Karkyo glacier, Tulagai glacier and Manaslu glacier.

Variation in Geological Structure and Soil
Mahabharat lekh and Higher Himalayan area are the two main physio-graphical
rgions of this region. Geologically the Mahabharat lekh is the most complex zone composing of meta sedimentary rock of Precambrian period such as mica, schist, quartzite, garnet-mica, and gneiss. This area is highly fractured area due to tremendous tectonic thrust. The higher Himalayan Zone is composed of Precambrian high grade gneiss, schist and cal-silicate. It is actually the steeply elevated region of the Higher Himalaya. Extreme soil variation is found in the region due to variability of climate and topography. Most hill soils are loamy and stony loams in upper hill slope and silt an  sandy loam in the valley and terraces. The hill soils are relatively shallow and subjected to constant erosion.

In the Manaslu Region climatic variation in term of temperature and precipitation is clearly noted within the short vertical distance of 100 km trail between Arughat and Samdo (McEachern and others, 1995:8). There is extreme climatic contrast with tropical climate in the south to freezing climate in the north. The southern part is warmer with an average temperature of 30°C in summer and 10°C in the winter while the northern part is very cold below freezing point. The six different climatic zones are noted in the region. The lowland valleys of the Buri Gandaki River and Marsyangdi River and lower hilly areas below 1000 m are characterized by tropical climate. Sub tropical zone exists between 1000m and 2000 m with average summer and winter temperature range between 31° to 34°C and 8° to 13°C respectively. Temperate climatic zone lies in the higher hills at the altitude between 2000m and 3,000 m. The average summer temperature is 23°C and winter temperature is 3°C. Frost and snowfall is common in winter (January and February). Sub-alpine zone lies in between 3,000 m and 4,000 m with 6° to 10°C. Winter is very cold and there is snowfall for six months (December to May). The alpine zone lies between 4,000 m and 5,000 m and above 5000 m is the arctic climatic zone where winter is severe and snowfall is common. In the valleys and tars, particularly in the southern and central region, the maximum temperature is 34°C and minimum is 13°C. June and September are the monsoon months with three-fourth of the annual rainfall. The post-monsoon period from October to November and winter months from December to February are usually dry. The average rainfall is 1,900 mm per annum. The southern part of the region gets more rainfall than the upper sub-alpine and arctic region in the north. Beyond Jagat, the force of the monsoon is drastically reduced and diurnal valley winds are more pronounced. In the southern Manaslu Region, rainfall varies from 2000 mm to 3000 mm per year. Dry climate is prevalent in inner valleys.

The varied forest types of the Himalaya ranges are endowed with enormous floristic diversity. It is actually the richness of the country (Gulrel and Sharma, 1996:24). Vegetation types in altitudinal zones is clearly visible in the Manaslu Region. There is a clear diversity of vegetation from tropical riverine forests to tundra vegetation due to the great variation in climate and elevation. One can encounter a variety of vegetation in a stretch of forest within less than 49 km distance. Vegetation changes are clearly noted in this region. The tropical hardwood forest with sal, papal lampastti (Duabanga) and Dhusure (Lagerstroemia parviflora) is found below 1000 m in the south Buri Gandaki River Valley, Marsyangdi River Valley and lowland areas in the south. The subtropical forest lies at an altitude between 1000 m and 2,000 m. Schima wallichii, Castanopsis indica , Chirepine (pinus roxburghii), Pipal lampastti (Duabanga), Dhusure (Lagerstroemia parviflora), Siris (albizia mollis) and Nepal alders are the main tree species in this vegetation zone. At an altitude between 2000 m and 3000 m., the temperate vegetation of extensive forest of blue pine (pinus wallichiana), Spruce (picea smithiana), oak (quercus semecarpifolia) and larch are predominant. The Buri Gandaki Valley at Lho (2700-3000 m) is the Land of Conifer Diversity. It is a place of richness of coniferous forest. In one area there are variety of coniferous trees such as spruce, larch, hemlock, fir, and blue pine. There is no such area is in the other parts of Nepal. The mountain slope from Kal Tal to Pork and thence to Namrung exhibits a juxtaposition of more than eight vegetation types in a single sweep (Baskota and Sharma, 1995). In Sub Alpine Zone between 3,000 m and 4,000 m. rhododendron, fir-birch, juniper (juniperus recurva) and spruce constitute the forests. Alpine Zone (above 4000 m) gives way to only dwarf junipers and dwarf rhododendron. There are alpine meadows and grasslands in this vegetation zone. Open meadow is prevalent in Alpine Zone above 4,000 m. Nival Zone lies above 5000 m altitude and has tundra vegetation in the form of lichen and herbal plants.

Flora and Fauna
The Manaslu Region harbors a unique environment with extremely rich biodiversity.

This area encompasses befitting habitats of many protected and endangered animal species. There are several bird species which are confined to small gullies sheltering broad leaf trees in the north. There is a record of 33 species of mammals, 110 species of birds, 211 species of butterflies and 2,000 species of flowering plants in the Manaslu Conservation Area (Bhatt and Bhatt, 2006:219). In the north Manaslu Region, the important animals are blue sheep, musk deer, snow leopards, Himalayan black bears, hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrels, red panda, common leopards, wild dogs, Himalayan yellow-throated martin, porcupines, jackals., weasels, monkey, Langur monkey, wild cats, Himalayan Thar, ghoral, Himalayan marmot, pica-horse mouse (ochotona roylei). Choughan snow pigeons, ruddy shelducks and jungle crows are the bird species found in this region. Himalayan griffin and lammergeyer are found in the alpine zone. In the south, there are barking deer, common leopards, jungle cats, mongooses, yellow-throated martin, porcupine, wild boar, black bears, monkeys, ghoral and porcupine. In this southern Manaslu Region, the bird life is much pronounced. Even thirty to forty-five bird species can be spotted in a day (Baskota and Sharma, 1995:137). Green heron, brown-eared bulbul cuckoo are also found in this region.

Diversity in Economic Livelihood Pattern
The people of Manaslu Region have different livelihood patterns. There is a contrast in the economic base of the people living in the north and south of the Manaslu Region. The people of both north and south areas of the Manaslu Region depend mostly on agricultural farming. In the southern part of the Manaslu Region, agriculture is the dominant economic base because of comparative advantage of warmer climate, fertile valleys and foot hill to grow more crops. As a result, there is a cropping culture and has more than one crop a year in the warmer valleys and lowland in the south. The dominant crops are rice and wheat. For the cultivation of the crops traditional irrigation systems is also practiced. Animal husbandry supports only the farming system. Fruits are also cultivated but it is limited to some localities only. In case of northern Manaslu Region, livestock becomes the main agricultural operation. There is enough grazing land in the north. There are more than 61 large ranging lands called Kharka with the size ranging from 10 ha to 1,600 ha. available in the northern Manaslu Region. Alpine and sub-alpine meadows are the major grazing land of this area. However the productive grazing land period last for 4 to 6 months only because of sevre cold climatic condition in winter. Unlike in the Annapurna area where education, development and off-farm employment opportunities have led to a breakdown of this system. Lamb meat, cheese, woolen materials and butter are the animal products used by the local people and for tourists. These animal products are taken to Tibet market in the Tibetan market. Rangeland management has emerged as a big issue after the Forest National Act in the 1960s which made the rangelands previously owned by herders national property. Crop farming is very limited in the north because of unfavourable climate and limited arable land. Barley, wheat, beans, soybean and potato are major crops. Most of the households grow vegetables like radish and cabbage at present. Because of tourism development in this area, the tourist service business has become one of the important economic sources of the people living in middle Manaslu Region.

Cultural Diversity
The Manaslu Region has multi-ethnic diversity in tradition and culture. Elevation has greatly influenced the general ethnic composition. The decrease in the Hindustic-Aryan population with increasing elevation is clearly noted in this region. In the southern region, the ethnic communities are Hindus like Brahmins,
Chhetris, Thakuris, Kami, Sarkki, Damai, etc. In the mid-region the Tibeto- Burman people are the major ethnic communities comprising mainly of Gurungs, Magars and Tamangs. Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar are also the inhabitants of the middle Manaslu Region. The middle Manaslu area is the heartland of Gurungs who refer themselves not as Gurungs but as Tamus. They use Tibeto-Burman language and had migrated from northeastern Tibet and entered Nepal through the Na valley in upper Manang. In the northern region from Bihi onwards there is Bhotia community where the people mostly practice Buddhism. In this area Bhotia , Sherpa and Lama are major community groups and they are very rich in culture. All the villages are inhibited primarily by Tibetan speakers with Tibetan culture. But the Tibetan culture of the people of this region do not form a homogenous group and is reflected in the traditional division into three distinct areas called Nubru area, Kutung area and Tsum area. The family structure is based on religion and cultural tradition. The first son manages the house, the second son becomes the Lama and the third son can choose some other work. The second daughter should be Jhumma, an Ani (nun) but it is not so now. Polyandry is there among the communities of Tibetan origin. Polyandry system is for economic purpose but this practice is declining with exposure to the outside world. In the north Manaslu Region has many monasteries. The most notable are Chhetenpork, Rajen, Manang, Malbul Chhekang, Chholing, Serang (largest gompa), Namla, Namrung, Hansyangpo and Sama Gompa. The monasteries have a great influence on decision making and on development activities. The Lamas of the northern Manaslu region rely on the traditional way of healing the people. Lamas are the village doctors who do spiritual healing, dispense herbal medicine and take part in village ceremonies.

Manaslu Region is a land of great diversity. The scenic beauty, perennial sources of water like glaciers, glacial lake waterfalls and exotic cultural values are main assets of this region. The great diversity in natural and cultural resources is very attractive for eco-tourism in Nepal. There are great possibilities of further development of trekking and mountaineering activities in this region. Tourism activity, however, should be carefully assessed with regard to its impact on these resources. In the present context sustainable development in the field of tourism is highly felt. Conservation and development are the two basic components of sustainable development. There should be cooperative efforts of government, local people and internal and international communities for sustainability of tourism development.

Professor, Central Department of Geography
Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu

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