If somebody from the future had told me that I’d be willing to pay good money to lug a backpack around and not shower for seven days I’d be sceptical to say the least. However, when the nearest beach is further away than the nearest mountain you have to make a choice.
The trek I chose to do is in ‘Langtang ‘ which, for those who aced geography, is right next to the Nepal/Tibet border (north of Kathmandu).
For those who aren’t good at geography here is a map:
Nepal – the meat in the China/India sandwich
For those of you who want to get up close and personal, here is a more detailed sketch of the area:
Langtang trek –Syabrubesi to Kyanjen Gomba
Although my method of estimation is rather crude, from all accounts the trek I had planned was 20km and went from Syabrubesi (1,550m above sea level) to Kyanjin Gompa (which was around 3800m above sea level).
As an additional point of reference, ducks have three eyelids. So I’m 33% duck.
Day 1 – Kathmandu (1,300m above sea level)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nepal, the main expression you need to know is ‘geez there are a lot of mountains out here’.
The country is home to 8 of 10 of the world’s tallest mountains, and if I had to do an interpretive dance for Kathmandu I’d try to look like this:
Unfortunately, I’m not very good at interpretive dance, , unless what I’m trying to communicate is ‘the sprinkler’.
But my point here is that Kathmandu is surrounded by mountains, meaning that getting out of the city can take some time. In fact, for me, it took something like 5 hrs to travel 145km which although might suggest we were driving at a leisurely pace of 30km/h, was actually more like this:
In any case the drive was much better than riding on the top of a jeepney and in any case, I made it to my first stop:
Syabrubesi (1,550m/5,100ft above sea level)
Syrabrubesi (Seera-broo-bessy) is a common stop-off-town for those doing the Langtang trek or crossing (more rarely) over to Tibet.
The town is of a moderate size and stocks a whole range of modern necessities like coca cola and oreas. Although I wouldn’t suggest you rely on it for any of your trekking supplies, it is a safe place to pick up snacks and some minor woolly items (such as beanies and the like).
It’s also overrun by chickens, which are my favourite animal (no really).
Syabrubesi – the township
The river next to the town
The hill is prime real-estate
Day 2: Trek to River Side Lodge 2,769m above sea level (seal level?)
Now call me superstitious and all, but around six people have gone missing on the Langtang trail over the last couple of years and none of them had a guide. Obviously I have no proof that there is a correlation between having a guide and whether a person gets lost, but who wants to take chances? I had a guide and I’m alive. Coincidence? I think not! Actually, on a serious note after the last person went missing the Nepali government has imposed a ban on trekking without a guide.
Anyway, much of the first hour of the trek is pretty straight-forward with nothing more complicated than the occasional wire bridge, steep hill and pit of snakes. But probably the best thing about this first hour is that it gives you a chance to whet your appetite before having to climb near-vertical inclines for 6hrs.
The first bridge on the way to Langtang
“Get out of my way fatty”
Okay so I might be exaggerating, those donkeys look like they’re having a leisurely stroll more than scaling a cliff. But it was an ordeal, I can assure you.
Although there are significant portions of steep inclines they’re predominantly in the shade, meaning you aren’t being simultaneously roasted by the sun while putting your legs through their paces and it makes it all the more enjoyable when you arrive.
River Side Lodge (our first place to stay)
Now I’m not usually one to parade pictures of my accommodation all around the internets. After all who really cares what my bed looked like?
But this time I’m making an exception as a lot of people expect they’ll be sleeping on an icicle with three other people, wrapped in penguins. Fact is I only had to do that once, and that was because I couldn’t work the temperature control on the spa.
For those of you from a temperate climate I would suggest three things to help make you more comfortable:
- Bring a sleeping bag;
- Check with the owners of the lodge whether you can hire a blanket for the night; and
- ‘borrow’ one of the chickens wandering around to use as a hot water bottle (and an alarm clock if it’s a rooster).
Although I don’t know exactly how cold it gets at night, it definitely drops to the negatives.
Photos of my room, complete with that teenage heartthrob Buddha
The view from our guest house
Day 3: Langtang village 3,430m
Now, although any time is a good time to talk about breakfast, this is a particularly good one. So you know what to expect breakfast is usually pretty basic, insofar as there is no Pop Tarts or French toast. Maybe there weren’t enough USB ports to plug in this baby over there. But the Nepalese have their own local substitute: porridge and Tibetan bread.
Both are highly recommended on account of them not being frozen, and because they’re reasonably tasty substitutes for French toast. In fact if you look at the photo below you should be able to see a plate with the Tibetan bread on it. Essentially it looks like a pancake but tastes like not a pancake.
An oven in one of the kitchens in Langtang
An icy waterfall -You cold bro?
The yak equivalent to ‘come at me bro!’
Now I have it on good authority that I didn’t see that guy (the yak) after I saw the icy waterfall. But let’s face it, Yaks are the main reason (after the mountains) people come to Nepal. This one was no exception. As you can see from the photo he is filled with hate. He is pretty much the hitler of the yak world. But I came prepared with my puffy jacket which makes me look 3 times bigger (and squishier) than I actually am.
Those photos above are also just after I had escaped the clutches of the forest part of the trek (which is pretty much the first day and a half of the trek)Although I won’t claim that it’s an easy walk, you’re likely to face at most a moderate incline. The views are also, as you can see, spectacular.
The disadvantage of wide open spaces is how small you feel, particularly relative to the trek you’re doing. This is also around the time you have to start thinking about altitude sickness, as the sign below clearly indicates. The rule is basically once you get over 3000 metres you should only increase your altitude by 300 metres per day (to allow acclimatisation).
Things just got real…
A lightly frosted prayer wheel
Prayer wheels are reasonably rare things to find, but there were at least two that I saw while doing the trek.
As you hopefully can see from the picture above there is a brass cylinder inside a stone box. The one above is also suspended above a (currently frozen) river, which typically will turn the wheel. Although the pattern on the wheel might vary, typically they have in Sanskrit the prayer ‘Om-Ma-Ni-Pad-Me-Hum’ which I’m reliably informed is a prayer or mantra which means ‘Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Diligence, Renunciation and Wisdom’.
As far as I’m concerned having nature doing the praying for you is clever. I wish Catholicism would have caught onto this so that I didn’t have to do this prayer thing manually.
For an idea of what one of these looks like in action have a look here.
Again, although I was nowhere near basecamp altitude, I did start to feel impacts of altitude as the trek progressed. For me this essentially involved feeling short of breath and having moments of what, at the time, I would have described as lucidity.
My favourite moment of lucidity was in my dream. Essentially this involved my uncle, Rowan Atkinson, showing me around New York City. Rowan Atkinson is not my uncle for the record and I remember he looked like a hobo. Still I didn’t call him on it as I wanted to know more about New York.
I suspect this was painted thousands of years ago with dye made from the tears of mountain lions. Only science knows for sure.
Kyanjin Gompa (3,870m/12,697ft)
Our final stop was a place called ‘Kyanjin Gompa’. Although I am informed that this is a Buddhist temple, I personally saw nothing which looked like a temple while there.
I did, however, see the hill ‘Kyanjin Rr’.
Kyanjin Ri (4779 metres)
Kyanjin Ri, as it’s called is what I (as an Australian) would say is a mountain. Unfortunately when I used this term with my guide it was lost in translation as he claimed it was a ‘hill’.
Whatever it was, it was intimidating. Particularly after I had been walking up a slight incline like Neil Armstrong. But it seemed unlikely I’d have another shot at this, so I gave it all I had.
About half way up the epic hill
Now while my guide pretty much ran up the hill (mountain) I took plenty of time to take in the scenery. As you can see from the photo above, the view was amazing. There were also ‘cairns’ (stone stacks) right up to the summit.
Now I’ve done a lot of googling and haven’t found what I’d consider an authoritative guide on their meaning, but from my guide and the interweb I know that they are stacked to bring luck. In some ways the higher they are, the more ‘lucky’ they can be, as individual stones may represent an individual wish.
Mind you, they’re also fun to make (I made a couple) and help mark out the trail for other travellers. So like most things the etymology is probably more grey than black and white.
Anyway, the trek up that hill was epic for all except my guide, who had been power-walking the entire way, and ended in the view below.
Langtang Lirung Glacier
So there you have it. A brief overview of the langtang trek, complete with an evil yak and crash course on why people are stacking stones everywhere.
One thing I didn’t talk about much was just how good our guide and porter were. Besides being tough as nails they were friendly, patient and extremely knowledgeable. So if you’re planning a trek in Nepal I would highly recommend you contact Shanta.
EDIT: Shanta, my wonderful guide from this trip has recently launched a website with more details about the services he offers as a guide:
This photo of a chicken was intentional. It’s an intentional chicken.