As nature lovers and adventuresome souls, trekking the white-capped Himalayan mountains has been on our bucket list for years.
Having spent the previous three months at sea level; from beachside on N’gor Island, cliff side along South Africa’s Garden Route, and relaxing on Zanzibar and the Sinai Peninsula, we were looking forward to a relatively moderate hike to get back in shape and acclimatise to higher altitudes.
Research suggested we head to the Langtang National Park (LNP), the nearest Himalayan par to Kathmandu and the area is less crowded than the famous Everest or Annapurna trails.
The Himalaya’s are the world’s highest mountain range, formed forty to fifty million years ago when the Indian subcontinent collided with Eurasia. The ongoing movement between the two plates causes frequent earthquakes & landslides. Most recently the April 2015 earthquake had a devastating impact in the Langtang Valley.
Additionally, by trekking in the region, we become part of the rebuilding effort, bringing financial contributions to the communities which were severely affected.
The park offers a choice of hiking trails, and we were confident that we didn’t need a guide or porter to navigate our way, but a chance encounter and a reasonable rate led us to hire Janak, a local Nepalese, as a guide.
Day One: Journey to Langtang National Park
We left Kathmandu, heading north by bus to Syabru Besi (1467m / 4,750ft). Guidebooks estimate a travel time of 5 to 7 hours. In reality, it took us 9 hours to get there, the first two hours alone, at a snail’s pace leaving the populous city.
The winding mountain road leading to Syabru was undoubtedly one of the most dangerous we have experienced. Only 200+ km from Kathmandu, the twisting road was narrow, bumpy, and hugging unfathomable depths. Ginette refrained from looking out the window and at the virtual sheer drop.
Day Two: The Trek Begins
We woke up to a bright day, excited to start the hike. After a late breakfast, we left the village of Syapru Besi, crossing the suspension bridge and headed for Lama Hotel, (2470m / 7,920ft). From the trailhead, we followed the Bhote Kosi river, moving at a steady pace while climbing the rather gruelling grade.
Walking at higher altitudes is physically more demanding than at lower altitudes, and it didn’t take long that we regretted not hiring a porter to carry our packs. Janak repeatedly offered to help with our load, and soon we accepted his offer by transferring some of our stuff to his pack.
By lunchtime, famished, we each devoured a large plate of vegetarian Chow Mein. Beyond Syabru, the teahouses along the Langtang trek only serve vegetarian food. The most popular fuel for porters and climbers alike is the traditional Dal Bhat, an all-you-can-eat meal of steamed rice, lentil soup, and curry vegetables.
While in the mountains, to acclimatise, it’s important to consume lots of liquids, alcohol not included. Besides water, we drank lots of ginger lemon honey tea, and bowls of garlic soup reputed to combat altitude sickness. How cute are these local kids?Nearby, we watched this gentleman skillfully braid a bamboo basket. Sherpas traditionally use these to carry supplies along the Himalaya mountains. Continuing along, we passed through oak, rhododendron, and larch forest, and spotted these Nepal grey langur monkeys swinging through the trees. They kept us entertained for a while before we moved on. Reaching Lama Hotel, we were thrilled to remove the burden of our backpacks and settle into our cosy teahouse accommodation.
Day Three: Poignant Scenery of the Langtang Village
Today we headed to the Tamang village of Langtang (3430m / 11,000ft) gradually leaving the lush forest and moved into the sub-alpine zone.Along the trail, we passed mules and porters carrying loads twice their body weight, from a wood stove, rocks, to lumber.
Prayer flags, prayer wheels, and Mani stones are a frequent sight along the paths, welcoming travellers to the Tibeto- Nepalese villages. Tibetan Buddhists believe the holy mantras and designs deliver messages directly to the divine, and that the blowing winds spread goodwill and compassion into the breeze.An impressive dry stacked cairn of Mani stones with splendid designs.
As we approached Langtang, the massive scale of the landslide that completely buried the small village became evident as we reached the 650-meter wide path of destruction. On the other side of the valley, the trees are flattened, blown down at right angles against the mountain from the formidable air blast generated by the avalanche. A chilling image of the devastation: Notice the lone surviving building sheltered by the rocky enclave. An eerie fog swept up the valley as we reached New Langtang and the Memorial for the two hundred plus villagers and foreigners who perished from the destructive landslide. After a restful night at a local teahouse, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast made by our host in his well-organised kitchen.
Day Four: Kyanjin Gumba
The next leg of the journey was short, and it took us three and half-hour to reach Kyanjin Gumba (3798m / 12,330ft), the final destination along the in-and-out trail.
After settling in, we took a walk along the river bed and the glacial moraines left behind from retreated glaciers while Janak, who lives by yogic teachings, took a dip in the icy water.
Day Five: Hike to the summit of Kyanjin Ri
We had an early start, leaving at 4:30 am, by the light of our headlamps. We progressed up quickly, and as the day brightened, we had stunning views of the Langtang Lirung amphitheatre and the retreating glacier below the peak.At the summit of Kyanjin Ri, (4773m / 15,659 ft) we shared the solitude with Janak and a girl from Israel, each of us taking a moment to admire the magnitude before us.This small peak is about two-thirds on the way up to the summit. We didn’t stop on the way up but did on the way down. Clouds were quickly rolling in from the valley, so we made a hurried stop before continuing along.By the time we reached the village, the rain had started. We congratulated ourselves on our wise decision to start early and celebrated the mornings climb with luscious desserts at The Dorje Bakery Cafe.
Day Six: Retrace Our Way Back
We retraced our way back on the trail we had ascended just days before and returned to Lama Hotel.
From Kyanjin, there are various day hikes we’d have liked to do. In retrospect, staying a few extra days would have been nice. Easily said now, but at the time we were fatigued from climbing 11,000 feet with a heavy pack and the changeable weather.
Gordon’s pack (far left) doesn’t seem so big beside the sizable porters’ bags.
Day Seven & Eight: The Journey Back
Granted going downhill is easier, at our age, the strain on our knees keeps us from moving too fast. We focused on our steps, stayed loose, and descended in good time, arriving in Syabru Besi four hours after leaving Lama Hotel.
The next morning, apprehension filled us at the thought of the bus ride back. Our presentiment was justified, for the journey to ‘Chaotic Kathmandu’ took 11-hours. The Langtang trek combined the soaring Himalayan landscape we yearned for, with a cultural journey through Nepalese villages and pleasant encounters with the humble inhabitants.
We couldn’t be happier with our excursion in Langtang and only regret that it wasn’t longer.
“Naturally Nepal: Once is Not Enough!”