I expected trekking the Langtang valley in Nepal to be a peaceful stroll along a wide open himalayan valley. However we started by descending into dense jungle.
Monkeys rattled the trees swinging on creepers way up above us. Large black shapes rustled the bamboo all around, fortunately it was just grazing Yak pretending to be Pandas. The path twisted down steeply towards the raging whitewater of the river below. We passed our first lodges in the valley perched up above some sections of rapids shortly before crossing a bridge. They had German bakeries, the first sign of how many tourists used this trail.
The path turned uphill and we continued on our epic day of descending 2700m from the Gosaikunda lakes. Huge landslides scarred the steep valley sides as we continued across them. Finally we decided to call it a day at a nice lodge, the top one of the so called Bamboo lodge area. It was again free and we warmed up by another enticing fire for the night, the only other guests were a French couple, one of whom spent the night be in a horrendously sick.
The next day we set a big target of reaching Kyanjin Gompa the small village at the end of the trek. It was ‘only’ about 2400m of ascent today from our lodge at 1800m, our knees were still reaping a bit from yesterday but we soon warmed up and enjoyed walking through the forest alongside the river. After being at 4600m yesterday we assumed the altitude would be fine.
We even caught sneaky views of snow capped mountains. A local chap carrying a large lettuce was walking along behind us, next thing we know he had caught up and between panting hard he asked if we wanted lunch at his restaurant. I agreed after we negotiated a good price for Momos, then we left him behind to catch his breath. It made us realise that we were walking at a decent pace when the locals couldn’t keep up.
We did stop at his place and enjoyed a cut price giant cheese and vegetable Momo, a bit like a calzone pizza! We also saw many heavily loaded porters along this stretch, it’s pretty I sane what they carry for the lazy tourists.
We were now out of the forest and walking past the endless intricately carved Mani stone walls. Behind which the cloud had thickened but we still saw the huge peaks briefly!
The temperature had fallen with the height gain so we were keen to get somewhere for the night. We passed the uninspiring Langtang village and climbed past the many Yaks, some of the bulls were huge and one in particular was staring at us intimidatingly, then it walked briskly in our direction. Without fences or any other cover we were pretty exposed to its giant horns if it wished to charge us. Luckily it lost interest and changed direction.
A large white Budhust Stupa appeared just before Kyanjin Gompa, a stunning location surrounded by huge snow capped mountains, well if we could see them that was! We got a good view on the way out though!
As we crossed the final bridge a French couple stopped to chat, the lady was incredibly excited. First she recommended a little guest house that was friendly and free. Then she told us how the location and the beautiful mountain surroundings had inspired them to get married at the Buddhist monastery. They were an older couple who apparently never contemplated getting married but the Buddhist mantra, the Llama and their surroundings had inspired them! So here they were as a married couple sad to be leaving but over the moon at what they had experienced here! Sadly I didn’t get a picture of them but we also met this super friendly local guy carrying stuff up by mule.
After meeting these people we were now even more excited to stay here. At the other end of the bridge we met a lady who stopped us, it was a bit like the bridge troll asking for money as she hassled us to stay at her Tibetan guest house. We explained that we were already headed to the Sunrise view guesthouse, where we had been recommended. Unusually she didn’t try to lie and say it was full, dirty, closed or expensive like most people but just said it was nice too. She walked with us back to the village telling us about the local yak cheese factory, then showed us her guest house, which was free and she claimed was cheapest for food. We agreed to look mainly to humour her, but the room she cunningly showed us had windows on two sides offering the most spectacular views ever and her food was indeed very cheap. Her clever sales technique had won, it was straight out of a sales marketing textbook!
It was a nice place and she had seven young kids to support so we enjoyed eating and chatting. The older ones had all been sponsored to study in various boarding schools. As a result they spoke good English and had high hopes for careers as teachers or doctors. It is good to see these sponsorship charity schemes making real improvements to lives.
The family were pretty well off in all regards. The dad managed the government owned cheese factory and they had this nice guesthouse, and the kids were sure to find good jobs with the education they were receiving at school. Here is the yak cheese being eaten, it had the texture of gruyere but a very bland flavour.
We wanted to climb Kanji Ri a 4800m peak next to the villge to get sunrise views. Without any proper hiking or winter walking kit it was the least snowy of the peaks so also the safest.
The alarm went off at 5.30am and we set off about 5mins later, however it was soon obvious we were a bit later than we should be. As a result we took a direct route straight up the steep slopes, we ran up the first 300m of vertical and arrived as the first rays of sunshine lit up the snowy face of Langtang Lirung at well over 7000m!
One the way down we passed some groups slogging up, but it was not much later the first clouds moved in. It was a perfect climb for us even if the jog up to 4850m was probably ill advised and pretty exhausting!
That night I stayed up late to take some night photos of the area. It was eerie at night because the yak sleeping creating mysterious dark hairy lumps and they make this really odd low growling noise like you might imagine a lion making. It was certainly disconcerting as I stood in the almost pitch black waiting for my camera’s long exposures to finish!
We again woke up early and enjoyed sunrise from the valley floor. We left our bags at the lodge and headed up valley towards the Tibetan border. The main path was gone and so had the tourists, it was a beautiful hike across unbridged rivers, past families out dung collecting, then after the last stone stupa there was nothing, no evidence of humans bar the rough path we walked. The snowy mountains changed and seemed more impressive as we turned the corner, another glacier could be seen as we carried on yet further. Finally we stopped admired the view where the GPS said we were just 3km from the Tibetan border.
We were soon back in the village and we carried on walking down the valley. We retraced our steps past Langtang valley and further on until we called it a day at Llama hotel, a cluster of lodges in the forest. In the lodge we again paid nothing but the owner was even more cautious telling us not to mentioned room price to anyone else staying. It soon became clear why as we ate dinner with a group on an Exodus guided tour. If you pay almost $1000 for a trek that costs $5 a day for food plus $5 each for a guide it seems someone is making a lot of money somewhere……
A few lodges have embraced solar panels here so there’s a 12v light system and even a hot water shower, such as at the Llama hotel lodge. Its good to see some strides toward sustainability in a country and industry that lacks much capital for schemes such as this.
The stroll out the next morning was further than we thought, but we made it out to the road head by about 11.30 and then we tried to get a Jeep to Kathmandu. The trek had taken 8 days, roughly half the recommended time frame. It had contained a little bit of everything and was a great route given our limited time and non winter hiking equipment. It was just a shame to be sharing it with half of Europe and their broken backed porters. I won’t go into the ethics of hiring porters but some seemed to be carrying way too much stuff to be healthy.
Getting off the trail was the easiest part, we had been warned in no uncertain terms that the buses back to Kathmandu were just plain dangerous. They are often overloaded but mainly the narrow road was not suitable for big buses. A Canadian couple had been on a bus behind one that got stuck, balancing over a cliff. The passengers all had to be carefully unloaded. Another bus the next day hadn’t been so lucky, falling far enough to kill 20 people.
This stretch of road takes 10 hours and it is narrow, exposed and twisty but it was even worse thanks to a combination of huge landslides and washouts from the recent storm and then factor in the overloaded buses from the Diwali festive holidays.
We struggled to find a Jeep to rent but found another couple from Sweden to share with. A Jeep with four Australians drove past who stopped and offered us a space but they had both literally and figuratively been taken for a ride paying a whooping $160. The going rate was about $60. We gave up waiting and negotiated one for $100 between 8 of us.
The friendly Canadians had now also walked out, so we shared with them and the Swede’s guide and porter. Neither of whom would ever get the bus it should be said.
The road was as horrendous as expected, and certainly the scariest drive I have experienced. There were a few “bad bad” sections, as the guide told us, these were washouts making the road unstable but also rough and narrow. The worst one was 200m across where a digger had just finished digging a flat “path” across a huge mud slide to replace the now non existent old road, on one side was a near vertical drop falling maybe 500m. It was one car wide and up a steep slope of saturated dirt, even the 4×4 struggled for traction lurching stomach churningly close to the loose mud edge. A group of locals were watching us drive up this section, such was the extremity, it clearly made good morbid entertainment. How the local buses made it across was a mystery, I was just glad we were in a Jeep.
We arrived back in Kathmandu and our trekking was done. Onto an adventure by bike and steam train in the Indian mountains!