Langtang and Gosainkund Trekking, part two

This piece continues on from part one, the first week of the Langtang Trek.

While writing this, it also occurred to me that I left out an important detail from my post from Darjeeling: on the jeep ride back to Darjeeling from the Singalila Ridge Trek, I saw a red panda! The driver spotted it by the side of the road, stopped the car, and everyone quickly got out to have a look at it. Absolutely beautiful animals. I didn’t realise quite how rare it was to encounter one until someone else’s trekking guide mentioned over dinner one night that even the locals might only see one every few years.

Day Eight: Wednesday 16/5

Thulo Syabru (2250m) – Sing Gompa (3250m)

I set off with the intention of reaching Laurebina, 2-3 hours past Sing Gompa, but soon discovered that I was very tired and hurt, well, everywhere: knees, shoulders and feet at any rate. The trail was ridiculously steep heading out of Thulo Syabru and continued that way for most of the rest of the day. For most of the day, I was walking through pine forests. Wonderful forest smells!

On arrival at Sing Gompa, I decided to try a seabuckthorn juice, which I’d seen on menus of a number of places in the mountains, but had no idea what it was like or even what a seabuckthorn was. But hey, I’d tried and enjoyed yak curd the day before, so how bad could it? It was okay. Sweet but also slightly tart, like lemon or grapefruit.

I also met Jezza and Izzy, a couple from Queensland. That’s Jeremy and Isobel for those who don’t speak Australian. It felt almost like being home to be hanging out with Aussies again, and I ended up trekking with them the next day.

4 hours walking, 2 hours resting.

Day Nine: Thursday 17/5

Sing Gompa (3250m) – Gosainkund (4380m)

Another steep, up-hill kind of day. Walked with Jezza and Izzy up to Gosainkund, through and out of the pine forests and above the tree line where the mountains are rugged and not much grows. As we looked around we could see far-off mountain peaks, Ganesh Himal and the Langtang. Up up up! Eventually we could see Gosainkund lake and the town just above it. About half an hour from Gosainkund, Jeremy started to feel a bit dizzy from the elevation. He was a tough Aussie bloke so didn’t say anything, just dropped to the back of the group and fell progressively further behind until either Isobel or I looked back, realised and waited for him. In the end, he made it there okay and was feeling better the next morning.

On the way up, I bought a slightly ridiculous-looking woolen Nepali hat. It cost less than my lunch and successfully kept my ears warm. Maybe it’ll be handy in Melbourne, too.

Gosainkund is a town set on the shore of a lake – “kund” meaning “lake” – and there are a number of other lakes adjacent to it. It’s a holy site in Hindu mythology, for reasons which I can’t recall exactly, and this trek is a fairly common pilgrimage route. It’s also beautiful. In the evening, around sunset, clouds started to roll in over the lake. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera on me when I noticed this, and was feeling too lazy to go and get it; I would have had to leave my warm seat by the fire and go back to my freezing cold room. In the morning, it was still and clear, and there were absolutely beautiful reflections of the mountains on the lake. Apparently the lake had only just thawed, and a month or so ago you could walk across it!

5 hours walking, 2 hours resting.

Day Ten: Friday 18/5

Gosainkund (4380m) – Laurebina Pass (4610m) – Ghopte (3430m) – Tharepati (3690m)

Said goodbye to the Queenslanders in the morning. They turned back to return the way they came from, while I continued south to do the Helambu trek, which takes a day longer. Lots of ups and downs today. When I got to the top of Laurebina Pass, the highest point in my fortnight’s trekking, I found a group of Israelis stopped for breakfast. They offered me a cup of coffee (real freshly-brewed Israeli coffee, not instant!) and we stayed chatting for a while. From there, it was downhill to Phedi, and trees started reappearing again. After there, it got quite foggy and started drizzling, so I don’t have many photos for the rest of the afternoon. After Phedi, it looked mostly flat or downhill on my map, but once again the countours deceived me. The trail kept going up and down and up and down, usually at an unpleasantly steep gradient regardless of direction.

When I arrived at Tharepati, the sky was a little bit clearer, with wonderful forest and mountain scenery. But shortly afterwards, distant sounds of thunder and storm clouds obscuring the far-off peaks again. The next morning, the skies were clear and blue again, and the view was spectacular.

6.5 hours walking, 1.5 hours resting.

Day Eleven: Saturday 19/5

Tharepati (3690m) to Patichaur (approx 1000m)

Early – well, 7am – start now, hoping to get to Chisapani by the end of the day, and Kathmandu by the day after. Once again, descending through mountainous terrain to sparse forests, and hit the town of Gul Bhanjyang where I saw a vehicle track for the first time in ten days or so. I found myself a little bit off the trail on my way there, and didn’t end up going into the town itself. Instead I found myself on a rough jeep track going in the direction I was hoping for, and which a local assured me was the path to the next town.

I still don’t know if that initial path was the correct one or not. What I do know is that, as I wound my way around and down the hill, I stopped passing the places that were in my map, and started seeing vehicles for the first time since Syabrubesi: two motorbikes, a jeep and a bus. It seemed increasingly likely that I wasn’t on the right road, but I figured that since I was going down, I would eventually hit civilisation and be able to get a bus back to Kathmandu. I started seeing people working on fields by the side of the road; it may still be hilly countryside, but things grow here unlike where I’d been previously. One small boy yelled out “Hello! Give me money!” from the front of his house as I walked past. The trappings of Tibetan Buddhism – bright colours, prayer flags, prayer wheels – had given way to those of Hinduism. People looked more like Indians and the women had red tikas painted on their forehead.

After a few hours, I hit a river, a major (but still unsealed) road, and a small village that didn’t look particularly set up for tourists. I found a small shop that also advertised rooms being available, and ended up staying in what looked suspiciously like a child’s bedroom. I took out my map and the shopkeeper, who spoke fairly good English, pointed to the town of Mahankal. “Mahankal, that’s where we are!” A while later, it was clarified that Mahankal was the “big smoke” and we were in Patichaur, a few kilometres south. I asked if it was possible to get a bus or a taxi to Kathmandu tomorrow, and it turned out it wasn’t. There was a Nepal-wide transport strike, and there was no way to quickly get from anywhere to anywhere else.

It felt strange to be back in a place connected to the outside world by roads and hooked up to the electricity grid. I was reminded of the section of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where they reach the west coast, having come from the mountains of Montana, and the people are described as busy, distracted, absorbed in their own thing, miserable on the morning commute. Obviously it’s not exactly like that in Nepal, but it’s still a different world from the isolation and quiet of the Himalayas.

Instead, I made plans to rejoin the trekking route. From Gul Bhanjyang where I got lost, I’d come south-east when I’d been planning to head almost due south. If I went south to the next village, half an hours’ walk away, I could take another track heading west and eventually end up on the Helambu Trek again, at roughly where I’d been intending to get to today.

6.5 hours walking, 2 hours resting.

Day Twelve: Sunday 20/5

Patichaur (1000m) to Pati Bhanjyang (1830m)

Today, my mind was focused purely on the destination, but the universe conspired to keep me occupied with the journey. I set off at 6:40am from Patichaur for the town of Talamarang where the trail that took me back to the Helambu Trek began. After what felt like an interminable 2.5 hours of steep uphill climbing, I arrived at the village of Batase (pronounced “Battersea”, like the suburb of London). Near the top of the hill, or so I thought. As I arrived, a local guy offered to take me to his friend’s tea shop, which appeared to also serve as the school canteen: it was adjacent to the local school and a number of kids were buying drinks and sweets there. I had some tea and biscuits, and was offered a Nepali bride if I wanted one. I politely declined.

The next town was Thakani, where I’d hoped to stop for lunch. When I arrived, I asked an old man sitting outside his house if there was a tea house in the village. He said yes and pointed down one of the several trails heading out of town. After walking along the path for a while, no tea shop was evident. But it seemed to be going west, roughly the direction I wanted to be going in, so I kept at it. I was told at Batase that the path would be flat from Thakani onwards, but this path was definitely steep, alternating between going up and going down. This should have started ringing alarm bells in my head. Eventually I reached some farms, asked for directions, and they pointed me back the other way and along a minor side track. This process repeated itself a few times, and four hours later – three times longer than I was expecting it to take – I arrived at Pati Bhangjyang, back on the Helambu Trek again.

So, having managed to un-lose myself, I had a cup of tea, found a place to sleep, and ate a giant dinner. Once again, I’m in a town that’s joined by road to the outside world. It was so much nicer when I could stop moving and not be able to hear any human-related noises at all. But apart from that, everything is okay again, and – I promised myself – I’ll be in Kathmandu tomorrow afternoon.

7 hours walking, 2 hours resting.

Day Thirteen: Monday 21/5

Pati Bhanjyang (1830m) – Sundarijal (1460m) – Kathmandu (1400m)

Last day! Should be an easy one. There are three towns marked on the map between Pati Bhanjyang and Sundarijal, although one of them turned out to be just a bunch of prayer flags on top of a hill. At Sundarijal, there’s a big sealed road again, and it’s supposedly possible to get a taxi or a bus the rest of the way Kathmandu. Powered by tea and Snickers bars, I made it to Sundarijal in time a for a nice lunch of vegie chowmein. It cost about a quarter of what it would have up in the mountains.

4.5 hours walking, 1.5 hours resting.

As I was eating my lunch, I heard some disastrous news: the transport strike was still happening. It wasn’t possible to get to Kathmandu by any kind of motorised transport, no matter how much I was willing to pay, because a “strike” in Nepal means big mobs with a “we will tell your passengers to get out and then set fire to your vehicle” kind of attitude. Fortunately, it was only 18km to Kathmandu, and I was told it was an easy three-hour walk. I was tired, my legs didn’t want to move, and my feet were covered in blisters from walking for too many hours along steep paths for the last few days. But there was nothing else I could do, so I rested for a while in Sundarijal, and then pointed my legs south-west to Kathmandu.

After two hours of walking, I’d reached Bouddha. The blisters were getting worse. I was limping and every step was painful. I sat down for a rest, and then spotted some cycle rickshaws. The one mode of transport available to me that wasn’t powered by my own legs! I asked a driver if he could take me to Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. He could. I was saved. Along the way, we gave free lifts to a couple of Nepalis. One hour later, just as we were approaching Thamel, there was a snapping sound, and the rickshaw slowed to a halt. The chain had broken. I got out, paid the driver 50% more than the agreed price out of pity, and hobbled into town. The adventure was over, and having arrived in Thamel, I could get what I wanted more than anything else in the world: some hash. No, wait, wrong ending. I mean: a hot shower and a comfotable bed.

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