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Travel assessment – Langtang


Langtang’s whereabouts, one of the famous trekking routes in Nepal, was still a mystery after the April earthquake wiped out one of its village clusters into dust. Well, not now, as it has just been 5 days I’ve been back from there. Our route was through Syarbu Besi, where we would access the Langtang Valley from the south and trek to the top of Kyanjin Ri overlooking the mountain.

When I was offered a visit to Langtang for its assessment a month ago from Himalayan Glacier, I was pretty excited. Our team included three HGT staff and one foreign national (Connor, U.S.A). In a week’s journey (5 days trek and 2 days bus ride), we discovered something worth sharing to the travel community, and here I am trying to include everything in writing.

Our journey started on Saturday, 13th of February from Kathmandu. We got on a Deluxe Express Bus in Kathmandu at around 8.30 am. The ride was 7 hours long to Syarbu Besi (Rasuwa) from where we would start the real trekking. On the way the bus stopped twice, once for a short break and once for lunch. There were also security checks from Police and Army personnel at three points after we approached Rasuwa District. The bus journey was cozy, with occasional bumps, which is pretty normal in the country.

Reaching Syarbu Besi at around 3.30 pm, we rested for a while in a local hotel. As we still had some time till dusk, we decided to trek uphill. A little walk along the highway brought us to a bridge, which we crossed, and climbed the hill for 2 hours to reach Khangjim, where we decided to call off the day in Small Star Guest House.

Our Sherpa host (woman on the left) preparing meals for us in Khangjim Village
Our Sherpa host (woman on the left) preparing meals for us in Khangjim Village

An old Tamang lady prepared our meals as we stayed in the fireplace talking to her. After eating we went to bed. Next morning was a treat watching the sunrise on Shanjim Mountain. After breakfast, we inquired some of other hotels in the cluster to see which was safe enough for people to stay. Sukra Hotel & Restaurant was a very nice tea-house a few steps further. It had bigger rooms, a big front yard and panoramic view of the hills.

See what we are giving back: Langtang Valley Trek with 2 days School Volunteering.

Our trip plan for the day was quite easy with a lot of rest along the way. We started our walk towards Sherpa Village at around 8 am. After a while, dense branches started to appear resembling our entry to the forest area. Once in a while we would end up head-on with lines of donkeys passing through. Coniferous trees were growing more in numbers with our every ascending step. The weather was fine and I enjoyed the walk a lot. We reached the Sherpa Village at around 11.30 am and had lunch (dal bhat). We also took an hour long break in the village. Talking with the host, a Sherpa woman, we came to know that the number of trekkers in the area had only recently started to rise. I ended up wondering why- the trail looked pretty normal except some cracked tea-houses.

Donkeys descending towards town
Donkeys descending towards town

Back to the trails again, we were off to Rimche, the next camp of our journey. The trip was only two hours long and treated us with panorama of hills and mountains along with some more donkeys and tradesmen.  Our guide, Mr. Ashish was now explaining why it was necessary to shorten the trip for the first few days. We were acclimatizing. Starting from the height of 1,400 meters / 4,600 feet (Kathmandu), we were now at upper Rimche (2,450 m / 8,038 ft). We needed to rest. Raz, one of our group members, wanted to have some fun with the water. Langtang River was flowing right beneath us. So we headed down to the river. In the evening, our whole team was sitting on a bench and watching the sun as it dipped down a nearby mountain. We also happened to meet Jeremy on the lodge whom we had met two days before on the bus to Langtang. He was a French guy and was doing the trek on his own.

Next day we woke up pretty early as per the instruction of our guide. Ashish had big plans for us. After breakfast, we left Rimche. We were not sure where we would camp that day, as Ashish was told that most of the tea-house clusters on the valley ahead were abandoned. So we hiked. It was 7.20 am when we started. Porridge with Muesli was a great breakfast. Lama Hotel, a famous spot among trekkers, was abandoned.

Until now we had not come up with direct effects of the earthquake except some broken trees on the way. The devastation of the earthquake now materialized right in front of us. The abandoned cluster screamed of the awful experience it had had. Connor and I quickly took notes.

Every step we were taking, took us higher. I could feel the air getting thinner, and colder. We were headed to the origin of the Langtang River alongside which the whole trek would revolve. Shy mountains were peeking out and disappearing beyond the hills. Rhododendron tree-lines were now standing out, coniferous trees were gone. I noticed exactly three spots with landslide effects. Big stones or trees were lying on the hillside. As I watched, I was grateful they stopped without ever reaching the bottom.

After around two hours though, we came across a diversion on the tracks. It was an arrow on the ground, made up of pebbles. It told us to leave the old tracks, cross a bridge, and continue-an offer we couldn’t resist. This diversion was right after Riverside Inn cluster (2,769 m/9,084 ft), which was abandoned too. A wooden bridge (with prayer flags) diverted us to the other side of the river. The diversion cost us about half an hour more trekking than the original one. There were fallen trees, which looked intentional for the development of the route.

Fresh cut wood smells proved our theory. The best thing about this route was a meadow, which was stretched about a kilometer. At one of the spots where Langtang view was great, we stopped to rest. We lied on the grass and sunbathed for a while. Another diversion a while later and we were back on the original track.

A security check point, which looked abandoned as well, was labeled Ghoda Tabela. It literally translates to Horse Stable, meaning the tea-house cluster was famous for horses. We came across some horses only a few moments later though. Talking about abandoned clusters, Thangsyap really caught my eyes. There was a modern menu lying on the floor. Ironically, most of the houses looked damaged, and there was no one to wait the menu. The third day had become our day of realization. We had realized how much the valley had suffered, along with other places in Nepal.

Moving on, yaks (mountain oxen) started to appear on hills. On the other side of the river, tree-lines were showing a different pattern. It looked as though there was an upward landslide.

Yak grazing
Yak grazing

We are fundraising for a local school in Langtang. You can check out the details here.

“Was it a strong wind?” Conner asked.

“I don’t think it’s the wind- must be water.” I replied.

“But that’s impossible, man”, Conner said.

Our concern was obvious, but even our guide had no clue what had happened. It was his first Langtang trek after the earthquake. We were to find later.

At one point, our guide pointed us to a wild boar. Connor was very fast to see it. We were coming across various birds species on the way but boar was the one that grabbed my attention, and of course the yaks.

“Where are we eating lunch?” I asked out of hunger.

“Do you see the stone glacier?” Ashish pointed out on the horizon. It looked forever away.

“Oh, yes I do” Raz replied.

 There was a village somewhere beyond that point, where we were finally getting some food to eat. I had already been halfway through my lunch box. I had carried some chocolates and nuts, but they were not enough to replenish the hunger of a heavy meal.

As we approached the stones, Ashish said, “This used to be Langtang village”. We were shocked. The upward torn trees on the other side of the river started to make sense. There was an avalanche! 400 people had died there. As we descended to cross the rocky landscape, it was impossible to imagine a village there. Now there were just stones. It was heartbreaking. Hunger had vanished, for a while.

Langtang Village
Earthquake triggered avalanche remains (stones), stretched for about half a kilometer over the trekking route. Langtang Village was flooded along with 400 people

Uphill again- everyone was exhausted. Our resting breaks were getting bigger. We approached the long stone walls around 4 ft high, rocky in color, and harmonizing with the rest of the landscape. On the southern side of the walls was snow, probably due to the shade all day long. There were inscriptions on the wall, in Tibetan and Sherpa language. I found out they were prayers. Some more walking and we reached Mundu (3,000 m/9,842 ft), where we found remedy to our hunger with noodles. For the sake of the readers, there are 8 beds in Mundu where you can spend the night, the last camp available before upper Langtang village. I took note of that since it’s the first lodge we came across after nearly a day’s walk. From there it took us around 2 more hours to complete the day’s journey.

Mundu awaits visitors exhausted with a long day's trek on the lap of Langtang
Mundu awaits visitors exhausted with a long day’s trek on the lap of Langtang

We had reached Sindhum (3,555 m/11,663 ft), around one and a half hour away from upper Langtang. When I was done climbing the last hill overlooking the village, I saw Raz waiting for me. Connor and Ashish were far across the village. I have to admit I was slowing down the whole group. But now I had a pretty full stomach. Snow started to appear more frequently, and the temperature was falling with the sun. As Raz and I walked past the Langtang Village, I took a video of the village, which was abandoned too. Lucky we found two places where we could stay. Raz and I were invited by an old Sherpa woman to stay. We stayed in another house where we had very basic food (dal bhat with egg) for which we were more than glad. The lady, our host, struggled through her tiny two-roomed hut as she prepared us beds on the floor. We were too tired to care about comfort – we’d trekked for 10 hours!

trek“Plans for tomorrow”, Ashish exclaimed, “We wake up at 5, and climb Kyanjin Ri“. “That way, we get to see the sun-rise.” After watching the Milky-way and the full moon lighting up the mountains, we went to sleep. Kyanjin Ri was a hill overlooking Langtang and nearby mountain ranges. Next morning, we were all gearing up with whatever best clothes we had for the ultimate climb. Previously planned for about 1.5 hours, Raz and I took around 2 hours to ascend. Half of the climb was very cold. In fact, our water bottles were frozen. I wondered how those Yaks climbed up the mountain that early, that high- or did they spend the nights on the hill too? It was a steep climb. I stopped once in a while to look back! A rocky mountain behind us-as majestic as rocks could be. The higher I climbed, the better the view became. On the way we spotted some pheasants, hawks, and of course, more Yaks.

Yaks, yes they are aggressive but I just wanted a picture. I was nearly at the top of the hill. If Ashish hadn’t seen a Yak charging at my back, and chased it away with a stone, it would have been a very unlucky experience for me. For future trek enthusiasts, know before you go.

Stones were clustered at various points to mark the “Don’t cross this line” zone. It was a cliff we were standing on, and the other side was very steep. You don’t want to fall over there. “It’s crazy, and I’m sure it will be pretty cold until you wait for the rescue. Better to be patient” Ashish said. I nodded with utmost belief. We were on top of Kyanjin Ri at 4,773 meters / 15660 feet.

Our guide Ashish (Left) and Connors celebrate success hoisting the flag of HGT.
Our guide Ashish (Left) and Connors celebrate success hoisting the flag of HGT.

On the north, the mighty Langtang itself! It was as close as one could get without climbing. Snow as far as you can see, cold as much as you want to get- that was the Langtang feeling for me. Stepping on the snow and feeling the crush on the shoes- that was something! The moment was right there. Was it worth it? Oh yes!

8.30 am and not an inch of determination was weak. “So, let’s make it back to Rimche”, Raz said. “We will have nothing to do all day if we decide to stay overnight here”, he added. “Well then, first we needed to complete the downhill trek back to the village then”, Ashish said.

Off we went. Downhill- Dal bhat-Mundu-glaciers-rivers-horses-Yaks- like everything was reversing. At least we knew where we were camping then. But we had little time. So we walked hard. We had to reach Rimche before sunset, if possible.

We ditched the diversion as we saw some local people opting for it which I strongly DO NOT recommend for anyone until the tracks are restored safely. It is wise to follow the diversion. We found that out after we took the old route. There were round stones upon which we had to walk. I felt a very high risk of disaster anytime in that trek- even with small aftershocks or rain. Great to follow the rules on this one!

At Ghoda Tabela, some horses joined us while we were resting with soar feet, or maybe we joined them. May be they mistook us for their owners, but not for long. They neighed boringly reflecting their lack of interest towards us.

Langoors (white haired and long tailed monkeys), were a treat to watch too, as they jumped from and to branches. After a long walk, swollen feet and hard attitude, we were at Rimche. It was the same hotel where we had stayed on the way to Langtang. There were around 6 trekkers getting ready to leave the next day. As the night fell, we exchanged our experiences and they presented their enthusiasm for the trek. I grabbed a bottle of beer as I no longer had to hold on to the ascending and acclimatization requirements.

Next day, we would trek back to Sherpa Village, Khangjim and Syarbu Besi. It was nearly over.

The hotel/tea-house in Syarbu Besi had hot shower, and wide range of menus, for both of which we were glad. Before dinner, three of us (Raz, me and Connor) took a walk (without our trekking bags!) around the town. Pointing at a hill, I asked them “For how many dollars would you climb that hill right now?” Connor would do it for 1,000 dollars. Raz would do it for 2,000.

We found Chang, a journalist from Singapore-who was here to meet Langtang after the earthquake. He said he loved the trail very much, and this was his third time. Then we talked about social media, photography, life, work, attitudes and even exchanged our contact information. Then I remember we were talking about our next travel plan as we gulped down the dinner. Connor would go back to the States. Raz would like to go to Mustang. I would love to visit Lumbini.

After a while though, we would just go back to our beds and sleep – as we had to wake up early the next day to ride the bus back to Kathmandu.

 Langtang Field Team. From left, Ashish (Guide), Connors (Visiting Staff), Raz & Me (HGT staff).
Langtang Field Team. From left, Ashish (Guide), Connors (Visiting Staff), Raz & Me (HGT staff).
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Deepesh Dhakal

Deepesh Dhakal

I believe travel is the best remedy that separates us from the materialistic world. When I don't get to go around, I love writing, playing guitar or just getting lost inside an awesome novel.
Deepesh Dhakal