I recently spent two weeks hiking in the Langtang and Gosainkund regions. The route I took was a fairly common one: from Syabrubesi east to Gyanjin Gompa, a couple of days there doing day trips to try to see nearby glaciers, then back the way I came until the road forked and I headed south to Gosainkund and then along the Helambu trek to Sundarijal, just outside Kathmandu.
Day One: Wednesday 9/5
Kathmandu (1400 m) – Syabrubesi (1960 m) by bus
Woke up at 5am after not very much sleep, feeling a bit sorry for myself. Made it to the bus station in time for the bus ride of doom, which took ten hours to cover 120 km. Apparently the road now is in much better shape than it used to be, too. I’d hate to think what it was like previously. We were stationary for a couple of hours due to a broken down truck or bus in front of us, and later on had to stop to change a flat tyre. Despite these minor problems, we got there alive.
The highlight of the trip was definitely the half hour I spent riding on the bus roof with a dozen Nepalis, two chickens, and everybody else’s luggage. Fantastic views, no motion sickness, just a faint fear that – since I hadn’t managed to get myself comfortably wedged between the luggage on the roof racks before the bus started moving – I might fall off if I didn’t cling on to the bars for dear life.
Between the passengers on the seats, the passengers occupying the aisle of the bus, and the passengers on the roof, the bus seemed to be carrying 60-80 people at one point. By the end of the steep, windy route to Syabrubesi, the aisle of the bus was sticky was vomit. Some people were evidently not as lucky as I was at keeping their motion sickness under control.
From my very basic hotel room in Syabrubesi, I could see and hear the river that the Langtang Trek follows for most of its route, and just about make out where the road ended and the hiking trail began.
Day Two: Thursday 10/5
Syabrubesi (1960 m) – Lama Hotel (2340 m)
I slept in and was eventually on the move by 9:20. After getting slightly lost leaving Syabrubesi and then walked briskly uphill for what seemed like forever. The trail followed the river, first on one side and then the other, usually through forested areas. This trek has the most frequent and civilised teahouses of anywhere I’ve gone hiking – perhaps even more regularly spaced than you’ll find villages with pubs in England. Food is very expensive, as you might expect when very little grows here and everything has to be carried up by porters. Highlights of the day: seeing a group of mountain goats, getting stung by a nettle and rained on in the afternoon. As on most nights trekking, my dinner ended up being dahl bhat, the usual Nepali meal of all-you-can-eat rice, dahl and curry. The lodge I stayed at also advertised “German-style apple pie” which turned out to be very tasty indeed.
I realised later that after my first day’s walk, I was now higher than the highest mountain in Australia.
4.5 hours walking, 1.5 hours eating and resting.
Day Three: Friday 11/5
Lama Hotel (2340 m) – Langtang Village (3430 m)
Another day spent initially walking alongside the river, getting higher and higher above it. More forests, lots of steep ups and downs, and by the afternoon I was starting to regularly encounter yaks. Some of the teahouse owners were suggesting I tried what sounded like “yuk good” – after a few seconds I realised they were saying “yak curd”. I stuck to more familiar-sounding items on the menu.
For most of the morning I had Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams stuck in my head, particularly the lines “My shadow’s the other one that walks besides me, / I walk alone”. But having said that, the Langtang Trek seems fairly popular, and I was regularly encountering other hikers, both going in the same direction as me (but usually more slowly) and coming towards me. Likewise there are always other people to talk to at the lodges when you stop at night. Considering that this is the off-season and, apparently, a lot less busy than the other Nepali “teahouse” treks, I’m quite glad I didn’t go for a more popular route like the Annapurna Circuit or Everest Base Camp.
On the way to Langtang were the usual teahouses and regular sight of Tibetan prayer flags. I also saw water-powered prayer wheels for the first time, which seemed to be a wonderful invention.
After arriving at Langtang, I went to the local bakery, which I referred to in my mind as “cheesebread” because that’s what was written on the roof in giant letters. Toast with melted yak cheese: yum. At dinner time, I discovered that “momos” here in the mountains were different from what I’d had everywhere else previously. Rather than steamed dumplings, they were more like Cornish pasties. Most lodges here offer snickers momos, which are similar in spirit to deep-fried Mars bars.
5 hours walking, 2 hours resting.
Day Four: Saturday 12/5
Langtang Village (3430 m) – Gyanjin Gompa (3830 m)
Only a short hike today. After breakfast at “cheesebread”, and then an hour and a half talking to someone who arrived as I was eating, I set off up the hill to Gyanjin Gompa, which would become my base for the next few days of exploring the area. On the way there were more water-powered prayer wheels, and also long stretches of mane walls – big stone walls with Om Mane Padme Hum inscribed on them in Tibetan. For correct karma, these should always be walked past on the left, so that you’re conceptually passing them in a clockwise direction, just like other Tibetan Buddhist monuments.
On the way I met two American brothers from Oregon, named Brit and Scot (short for, bizarrely, Britain and Scotland), who I would spend the next couple of days trekking with. I also met a German guy and an English guy who were on a project to photograph glaciers around the world before global warming melted them.
After arriving at Gyanjin Gompa and resting for a while, I went to visit the local monastery – which was more like a tiny temple, with no permanent monk populated – made a donation and lit a yak butter candle.
In the evening it started raining, and then snowing. We were all grateful for a nice warm stove to huddle around at the lodge in the evening.
2 hours walking, much time relaxing – the elevation was beginning to catch up with me.
Day Five: Sunday 13/5
Gyanjin Gompa (3830 m) – Chhalepochh (4260 m) and back
On Sunday, I’d decided to hike to Langtang Base Camp with Scot from Oregon and Kala from Kentucky. (Brit, the other Oregonian brother, was suffering from food poisoning and wasn’t able to join us.) We made a wrong turn trying to find the trail that led there, but Scot – who had a lot of hiking experience, including having done the Appalachian Trail and other other major long-distance routes in the USA – was confident that we’d be able to join up with right track “just over the ridge there”. After bush-bashing and occasionally rock-climbing along the ridge, looking down on the glacial valley from the opposite side we were originally expecting to be, we ended up at a small collection of stone huts marked as Chhalepochh on our map.
We’d hoped that we’d then be able to take the trail we’d originally intended to follow, but getting down the ridge, across the valley, and half-way up the ridge on the other side looked to be a little bit beyond us. (This is probably the point to mention that Scot’s nickname when hiking was “Not Dead So Far” due to his lack of preparation and gung-ho attitude.) Fortunately, there was at least a trail that led back towards Gyanjin Gompa which was much nicer than. It took four hours to get up, one hour to get back. We decided afterwards that our route probably had at least as good views as the trail we were trying to find, at was a much better adventure.
Got back to the lodge for a hearty meal and started re-reading A Fringe of Leaves, having finished the book on Tibetan history I’d been reading when I started the trek. The Kindle is probably the best thing ever invented for trekking – an almost unlimited supply of books for about the weight of a smaller-than-average paperback, with a battery that easily lasted the two weeks of the trek without needing to be recharged, even though most nights I was reading for hours.
Day Six: Monday 14/5
Gyanjin Gompa (3830 m) – Langsisa Kharka (4285 m) and back
Said goodbye to Kala in the morning – she wasn’t planning on staying at Gyanjin Gompa for very long and was going back down the hill – and when went hiking up to Langsisa Kharka with Brit and Scot. We passed what looked like a lunar landscape – actually a dry river bed – and onwards through grassy hillside, a few abandoned stone huts (population: 7 yaks), and up the hill to the Kharka. Along the way there were incredible views of the whitest mountains I’ve ever seen, which turned out to be part of the Nepal-Tibet border. We underestimated the distance a bit: the owner of the guest house told us it was a six hour return trip, but it ended up being 5 hours up, 3.5 hours down, even moving fairly quickly.
On the way back we saw a herd of what we thought might have been ibex but probably wasn’t because there aren’t any in Nepal. Some kind of big four-legged creature that moved much faster and more gracefully than a yak, and wasn’t a mountain goat, anyway.
Scot and I somehow ended up being conned into carrying bags full of rocks back to Gyanjin Gompa for a Nepali woman. Initially I was trying to carry the back on my shoulder like the locals do, before deciding that putting it in my backpack was a slightly better option. My shoulders hurt for a few days afterwards.
Day Seven: Tuesday 15/5
Gyanjin Gompa (3830 m) – Pahare Hotel (1680 m) – Thulo Syabru (2250 m)
Got up early and was moving by 7am. Long distance to walk – longer than in my original itinerary – from a combination of having spent a day longer at Gyanjin Gompa than originally expected, and one of the trekking lodges telling me over dinner the previous night that the distance I wanted to travel to not possible to do in a day. But I made it!
Between Gyanjin Gompa and Langtang I stopped for a cappuccino at Tip Top Guest House and Restaurant. It was a place that had obviously had Westerners help them with their marketing: quirky signage and menus, and even a web site. The signs boasted Italian coffee, so I had to try it. It was easily the best coffee I’d had up in the mountains, although pretty average by absolute standards. Freshly caffeinated, I did the downhill stretch ridiculously quickly. In fact, one teahouse owner yelled at me as I went past: “Namaste! Why are you running? Try some fresh yak curd!” I did, in fact, end up trying some yak curd. It was actually pretty tasty, although a bit warmer than I normally expect yoghurt to be, and with a fairly lumpy texture. I guess this is what all yoghurt used to be like.
Thulo Syabru turned out to a town built on an incredibly steep hill. Exactly what I wanted after my legs were knackered from spending the entire day walking there. On arrival, I had my first shower in a week, ate dinner, and collapsed in exhaustion. From here on, I’ll be travelling south along the Gosainkund and Helambu trek routes.
8.5 hours walking, 1.5 hours resting.
To be continued…