The morning greeted us with blue skies and a glimpse of sunlight hitting the slopes above. The one street that runs through the village was already bustling with locals doing their morning chores, the early trekkers heading out and the occasional chicken stuck wandering the rainwater drain. We grabbed out backpacks and started walking
Old Syabru Besi is a tiny village, sitting at 1460m a.s.l. in the fork where Langtang river meets Trishuli river. It is hard to say how old the place is – the Trishuli valley has been a trading route from Tibet to Nepal for more than a thousand years. It is also one of the two major paths of war between Tiber and Nepal and the site of several battles between the two countries. Following the 1959 uprising, many Tibetans went into exile in Nepal and Old Syabru Besi still hosts a small Tibetan refugee camp.
Most of the “native” people inhabiting the valleys in Langtang are of in fact of Tibetan descent. The most numerous ethnicities are Tamang and Sherpa. The latter should not be confused with the Sherpas of the Everest region as they’re apparently different in both language and traditions. Many of the older people in the valley do not speak Nepali, but fortunately for tourists, most households have someone who is fluent in English.
As the trail exits Old Syabru Besi, it becomes a small footpath surrounded by nature. Bumpy and winding, it begins following the Langtang river upstream and soon enough even sounds of civilization have been left behind. As a foreshadowing of ascents to come, the path is stubbornly not-level, but rather keeps going up and (to the frustration of all trekkers) down. Despite this the beginning is fairly easy as the path gently takes on altitude. This is where you’re most likely to see others who started the same morning – Nepali and foreign trekkers with their guides and porters, but also locals bringing home goods and the occasional porter caravan on its way to resupply villages up the valley.
It takes about 2 hours to reach the first larger rest point – Pahare hot springs. Pahare itself was not so much a village, but rather a cluster of 3-4 guesthouses situated next to each other at a scenic viewpoint. Surprisingly it also sported posters offering horse rides to tourists. Upon closer inspection the possibility of riding a horse up the trail was entirely possible, but only near the village of Langtang, much higher up where the valley widens up and begins levelling out.
At this point the valley was still deep and narrowing, limiting your vision to the mountainsides and and little else. The trail had already had its first steep sections, climbing up the side of the slope but then returning down to the bottom of the valley. We had also crossed the river via what appeared to be a rather recently built narrow suspension bridge. The crossing offered unobstructed views on the river that was turning increasingly violent – it felt like the mountains were closing in on us as the path was becoming steeper and steeper. With increased steepness, there came an abundance of small streams that had either turned the path into a muddy sludge or washed it out altogether. The increased humidity gave the the place a jungle-like appearance and, fortunately for us, provided a welcome relief from the sun that had begun to bore down into the valley.
The next rest point, Bamboo, was perhaps named for the virgin grove behind it, as it did somewhat resemble a bamboo forest. We took a break there to enjoy a cup of tea and give our legs some relief. Bamboo was sitting at 1970m a.s.l. – 500m higher Syabru Besi. The next leg, to the overlook of Rimché, would see us ascend another 500m but over much rougher and steeper terrain. Hoping to get as far as possible on the first day, we continued on our way.
Not far after Bamboo I accidentally spotted motion on the cliffside across the valley. At first it was simply a small patch of bushes (growing precariously in a vertical crack) that seemed to be moving, shaking against the wind. I was not expecting to find any animals on the steep sheer cliffs opposite, when suddenly a single large white monkey appeared. It was a grey langur, traversing the slippery slope like an expert mountaineer. It was moving calmly, lazily even, finding cracks and ledges to support itself. I stopped and changed to a telephoto lens. For the next 15 minutes or so, the langur had my undivided attention.
The ascent to Rimché was tough. Steep loose uphills alternated with knobbly uneven makeshift stairs. We crossed the raging river via another suspension bridge – the roar of the rapids had engulfed all other sounds. At one point the path had been completely washed out by a massive landslide and a makeshift path had been traced into the loose soil. Any larger stone set rolling over there would not have stopped before hitting the torrents of the river below. Even local porters and guides traversed that section with extra care, single file. The mountain is not to be taken lightly.
Reaching Rimché, perched high above the valley, was a relief. Finally the view back towards Syabru Besi was open to us. Though clouds had begun coming in, the sight was spectacular. I sat down on the small terrace overlooking the valley and treated myself to a snickers and a leg-rub – a good enough reward for climbing 1km, don’t you think? The view kept me in Rimché for longer than intended, but it was well worth it. Just 10 minutes away was the next village, Lama Temple, the first day destination for most people walking the trail.