It begins in Kathmandu

In the end of September Nepal celebrates the Dashain festival, which provided the opportunity of leaving Kathmandu for 6 full days. In other words – an opportunity to leave behind the paltry 3000m peaks around me and venture to the tall peaks of real Himal-alayas – the place where snow lives. The destination for this trip is Kyanjin Gumba – a small village at the end of the trail that runs into the heart of Langtang National Park. …and if the gods of the mountain approve, this might even culminate with a summit.

Before you can start hiking, you have to get to the trailhead – for Langtang NP, it is the village of Old Syabru Besi. The initial plan was simple: load out a small Kia with backpacks, food, supplies and take a (relatively) leisurely drive there, complete with stops on the way for pictures, snacks and anything else that might spark my curiosity. What better way to improve a hiking holiday, than add to it a roadtrip through Nepal – at least so I thought. So imagine my surprise when on the evening before, my travel companion found out that the drive might not be as leisurely as imagined.…

The Mountain Roads

I switched my seat, leaving behind the aromatic onions and instead settling on the engine cover right next to the driver. The location was luxurious: forced to face the rear of the bus I had my legs squeezed into a gap between the gearbox and a makeshift wooden plank that served as seating for two more people as the engine kept radiating heat, in particular when the monster-bus tackled narrow uphills. In order to avoid hitting my head against the broken TV-set (which I failed at every time the bus rushed through a larger pothole) I had to slouch down and twist myself onto my elbow.  This was peanuts however – behind me was the best view in the bus.

 The path out of Kathmandu was ominously terrible – a slow grind through deep wet mud with an occasional boulder thrown in just for the fun of it. I was immediately glad to have ditched the car-plan. Dashain traffic made the drive a slow slog of navigating reckless taxis, skittish pedestrians, suicidal scooters and the most placid cows who were determined to ignore all the fuss going on around them.

 My initial observations of the bus driver had marked him as an experienced older man, calm and in control of his situation.…

The Narrow Valley

 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.…

of Donkeys and Landslides

 After the views from Rimché, Lama Temple didn’t even make me slow my pace. The scraggy hillside climb turned into a more gentle forest ascent once again. Soon enough the river caught up to us and with the sound of water, the walk through tall trees and greenery felt a little bit magical. I was reminded of the forests of Norway and the trolls therein. With tired legs the going was steady but slow. After an hour I was expecting the next teahouse to come up, this time a a single shack standing in solitude at a bend in the river. Soon enough the contours of a building started appearing through the trees ahead. Reaching it, the “house” turned out to be a gigantic house size boulder. The mountainside across the river had recently given way and the results were strewn all over the valley floor – massive rocks and tree trunks. It is difficult to imagine the event that had stripped bare the entire slope and the forest underneath – a good reminder of the forces at play in rugged places like these.

The Riverside Lodge did eventually turn up and proved to be a lovely spot for hot masala tea.…

of Yaks and Naks

I woke up just after sunrise, got dressed and went out to stretch. The moment I got out, plans changed.

Ghoda Tabela sits on the ledge of upper Langtang valley, none of which was visible when we arrived in the dark.  But by morning the clouds had cleared up and in the distance, towering over the valley in resolute majesty, was Langtang Peak – 7227m tall and bathed in golden morning sunlight. From the guesthouse one could see the valley gradually rise higher and curve east, with small villages dotting its floor. At the very farthest corner, you could see the houses on Langtang – our destination for the day. That is, if we didn’t decide to continue straight to Kyanjin Gumba.

 Shower, packing, breakfast omelette was the morning routine, this time regularly interrupted by photographing the view. We made acquaintances with the “sister” running the guesthouse and after she heard we’re heading all the way to Kyanjin Gumba, she requested us to deliver a parcel. Before we had a chance to say anything she had already disappeared to the kitchen and soon emerged with a cluster of mint – to be sent to her sister in Kyanjin Gumba (“you can’t miss her, looks exactly like me”) who also runs a guesthouse there.…

and a Summit

 The alarm went off before sunrise, the weather outside was unchanged. Silently cursing our luck I took another cold shower and packed the bag for a daytrip. I had hoped to ascend Tserko Ri, but in this weather the trail was nowhere to be seen. Only faintly could you make out the glow of the moon in the sky. The backup plan was Kyanjin Ri – the peak above the village and easier to find: go straight up.

We found a trail behind the village that was heading in the right direction and chose to follow it. Soon enough we had no vision of the valley, or the sky. Nevertheless, despite the gloomy start I had hope. Mountain weather is tricky – usually mornings are clear as the winds and low temperatures eliminate excess humidity, and then clouds arrive later as sun heats air and melts snow. This regularity, however, is not that regular – less of a rule, more of a guideline. The rule in mountains is to be ready for anything – weather can change at the flip of a coin and clear skies turn to thunderstorm before you have the chance to reach shelter. I was hoping that this day the sun would disperse the current clouds before making new ones.…

Descent from Altitude

On the way down our pace slowed – by now, our legs were very tired from the long days of walking and my partner’s sore throat had gotten worse. Nevertheless we were in good spirits once we reached the village, as it was still light outside. Surprisingly we met up with the Nepali doctor from Lapli guesthouse and together with their guide went to visit a Yak Karka. 

 Karka roughly translates to “farmstead” and it is the place where yak’s return to before nightfall to be milked. From a distance you might even miss the place: the Karka we visited consisted of four tiny huts, all made of shoulder-height walls of loose stones with a plastic tarp for a roof. Inside was for sleeping and cooking only, though sometimes newborn yaks would be sheltered there for a while. The Karka we visited was run by the mother of the guesthouse sisters. As we arrived, she was briskly walking the steep slopes (at 74 years of age!) bringing yaks home for milking.

The Nepali couple’s guide had delivered some stocks from the guesthouse and shared news from the village as best he could in his broken Tamang – the old lady spoke no Nepali (there are over 100 languages native to  the various ethnicities of Nepal, most now on the verge of extinction as many have no written form and schooling takes place only in official Nepali Bhasa).…

Map and photos of the trail

It took us 6 days to trek to trek to Kyanjin Ri and back. For a more pleasant adventure, I’d recommend to take 8-9 days to do more hiking around Kyanjin Gompa and to have more time for comfortable acclimatization. For the more adventurous, it is possible to hike straight back to Kathmandu, over the Kangja La pass (5106m), but as there are no teahouses on this path, carrying your own shelter would be necessary.

This is our path on the map:

All pictures posted here were taken by me. These and other photos I took on this trip can be found here in full quality: http://madexplorer.smugmug.com/Langtang/

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this.


Decending Kyanjin Ri