We left kathamandu headed for Sundarijal in the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park on an overcrowded local bus, the type of bus that has a chicken flying about and where old lady’s refuse your seat but happily sit on your lap without asking.
We were doing a trek not far from Kathmandu that linked three routes together: Helambu, Gosaikunda and then the Langtang valley. It was meant to take 14 to 16 days, but feeling super fit from recently cycling to China we optimistically planned to take 8 days as bit of a fell run approach. We were walking from Kathmandu north towards Dhunche, not the more popular way of north to south. This was because we still had to pick up our Trekking card aka the TIMS card from the tourist centre in the morning. We had stupidly forgotten to do this the day before, which we later discovered was a fortunate twist of fate: one of the buses at the time we had intended to go, had crashed killing many passengers.
The tourist services office, which was conveniently located next to the bus station, was where we discovered the TIMS card costs a hefty $20 excluding the $35 park permit costs on top, in a country where a meal and lodging costs $3 it surprised us. It was the Diwali festival so the National Park permit office was closed but we correctly concluded we could pick them up en-route. The bus station was the usual carnage, it was simply a question of walking around the hundreds of buses and asking for your destination and ignoring a lot of misunderstood responses. I picked up some more of my favourite dried fruit with chilli for the trek and a calorific doughnut thing for the bus ride and then we were on our bouncing way out.
Sundarijal was a pretty little village, busy and alive with Diwali celebrations. The best part for me was all the exciting festival sweets being sold, we had an odd cheese milk fudge, crumbly gram paste ones and the excellent syrup soaked sponge balls. To wash them down we also bought lardy samosas!
The path out of the village was obvious, sticking next to a large hydro pipeline up the hill and today it was full with locals out for the holiday celebrations.
The cows were even decorated for Diwali:
We reached the park gate, buying our first park permit, the park itself has a variety of wildlife and a temple but we saw little as we steeply climbed.
If there is one major benefit about cycling to China, it is how fit you feel, I was bounding up the steps like a mountain goat, while singing songs and enjoying life! We quickly crossed the entire park and reached the village of Chisapani. A place full of ‘sunrise/sunset hotels’ and littered with tourists, many looking like they probably took the Jeep option up to this ridge top village.
We stopped for a fried rice refuel before heading onwards to somewhere more peaceful. Following the ridge was easy enough and we soon dropped down to a pass and a rough little traditional wooden house filled community. The main street reflected what you imagine of rural Nepal, with the central mud road scattered with goats, effluent draining down one side and hay and corn drying on the houses. We carried on up another steep hill. Finally a pleasant looking lodge appeared in Thulo Bhanjyang, being the only guests we bagged a room on the top floor corner ensuring views of both sunset and sunrise! The bare beds presented the first indication we should have brought sleeping bags not just our silk liner bags!
As the only guests it was a fun experience, we helped the family prepare for the evening’s Diwali festivities. Many marigold necklaces were being made and then after dark the younger daughters were lighting candles in the doorways. They were keen to have their pictures taken so I got some artistic shots of the candles being lit.
Next to the candles were some offerings one had a chilli the other a toothbrush, which seemed odd.
Later that night the party really started as groups of people appeared to be touring the villages in the dark of night, stopping to sing and bang loud drums. At 4am the novelty had very much worn off!
I don’t think the lady had been to bed at all as she made our Tibetan bread at 8am for our breakfast!
The second day was epic we covered a huge distance and climbed a vertical height gain of about 2400m. It was a scenic path but with more tourists and an abundance of commercial lodges it had a less engaging feel to it than the Mohare Danda route.
We covered the ground pretty quickly, passing through numerous villages along beautiful ridge tops. We also stopped to buy a park pass for Langtang National Park. It cost s three times what the latest lonely planet says, we tried to pay in dollars to save our rupees but instead we had to change at the next door lodge. It was fair to say the exchange rate was not competitive up here.
The trek continued through forest and along a ridge with a few short exposed sections, but we just kept walking up hill.
With our steady pace we overtook quite a few other groups and one Italian in lycra, he had all the fancy lightweight gear. He seemed to be perturbed that a couple skipping about while (badly) singing songs had overtaken him, he asked if we were competitive mountain racers! I truthfully replied this was my second long walk in over a year, I failed to mention a winter of ski touring at altitude before 8500km of cycling!
We wanted to finish the day as high up as we could to ensure we got good sunrise views, as a result we ended up at Thadepati, nestled on a pass at 3600m.
The cloud was charging all around us, sadly obscuring any chance of a good view. We stayed in the first lodge we saw and rather bizarrely it was free, in fact it turns out that all the lodges are free if you haggle a bit and buy all your food from them. Over the next 8 days we never again paid for accommodation, just buying dinner and breakfast. Some people even haggle the food prices down, but personally I think that’s a bit harsh when you consider everything is carried up on peoples backs or using the occasional mule. It was fortunate to be free because at this point we realised just how little cash we had for the trek. The Langtang park permit had been much more than we expected and all our dollars were changed at such a bad rate to cover it. This left us just $10 a day for the trek and the bus home!
The next morning we yet again woke up for sunrise, only at dawn is the sky beautifully clear and the views at their most spectacular, so we adjusted our body clocks going to bed earlier and getting up at the crack of dawn throughout the trek.
The ground was frozen solid at 6am with a thick layer of white frost crunching under our feet as we roached a stupa on the ridge by our lodge. This was a point offering stunning mountain views with the first rays of a new day creeping slowly higher.
Today was going to be an epic day, as we left the Helambu trek and joined the Gosaikunda trek. We could see the Laurebina pass we had to walk up and over at 4600m+, the route looked rather intimidating crossing a vast steep mountainside before crossing a gulley then straight up the mountain pass.
Our next lodge was waiting for us on the shores of a sacred lake at an altitude of 4400m. Little did we know getting there would be even more epic than we realised!