Part 2: Langtang Valley
The Langtang trail is an easy teahouse trek, an in-and-out one (which means you go and come back the same way) and only takes 7 to 9 days. The altitude gain is not that high, and though there are a few steep stretches, the trail is one where you can amble along and appreciate the scenery without sweating buckets. The mountain scenery is gorgeous, and the final destination–Kyanjin–is a teahouse village nestled in the middle of an incredible panoramic setting.
If you are looking for cultural experiences, though, this is not the trek for you: Langtang village is the only settlement on the trail that has permanent local residents.
Day 5: Sherpagaon to Chamki
5 hrs 30 mins; 108m down, 775 m up; 13 km/8 mi
As if to atone for putting me through hell earlier, the trail took it easy (on me, at least) today as we merged from the Tamang Heritage trail to the Langtang Valley trail at Upper Rimche.
It was a pleasant walk, following the roaring Langtang Khola, through a dense, sun-dappled forest of cedars, pines, oaks and rhododendrons. The trail was mostly what they call ‘Nepali flat’, meaning no serious climbs, only a series of short ups and downs over a moderate incline.
Soup for lunch at a gorgeous meadow in between high vales, fittingly named Ghora Tabela (horse pasture in Nepalese). A waterfall cascaded all the way down to the river from the snow capped peak opposite us, and the blooming rhododendrons added blush to the dense green landscape.
We stopped in Chamki only because we didn’t want to walk all the way to Langtang and have nothing to do tomorrow.
Staying at the lodge turned out to be an adventure in itself. With no running water and not even a toilet, it was just like roughing it. Once I learned we’d have to do the bucket shower in the confines of the animal pen down below the dining room, I chose to abstain for the second night in a row. No biggie, I said. Didn’t feel the need to dabble that far into village life.
While we were hanging out in the dining room, Dawa the chef came in with an armful of horse dung, to stoke the fire. She smiled at me as she slammed the grille shut. “Better, yea?”
And then she walked back into the kitchen next door, which didn’t have running water. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes before she arrived with our food. Just like camping, I declared to Fabian and Xiker, while shoveling veg fried chow mein in my mouth.
Day 6: Chamki to Kyanjin
3 hrs 30 minutesi; 630 m ascended; 11 km/7.5 m
Took us just inside an hour to reach Langtang, so we stood around discussing what to do. In the end, Xiker and I decided to risk the altitude gain and go all the way to Kyanjin. Fabi stayed in Langtang and paid a visit to the cheese factory.
We were in Kyanjin by 12; it was an easy and quick walk, especially with the mountains on the horizon beckoning us to come closer.
But once in Kyanjin it was difficult for us to settle on a lodge: people were desperate for customers. Some people were waiting by the trail, just before the town, and gabbed endlessly in an attempt to bait us. They all offered free rooms and steep discounts on the menu, and one lodge even free unlimited tea. The Langtang Valley hasn’t seen much business in the last few years and it is painfully obvious by the way locals beg and cajole people, all along the trail, into parting with their rupees.
In the end we chose a lodge that was empty, and settled for a 35% discount on our meals. Wasn’t the best lodge of the lot, but at least we were spreading the cash flow.
Despite the uncomfortable reality of tourist-dependent settlements, we reveled in the beauty of Kyanjin’s location. Hemmed in by towering snow-capped peaks, the teahouse settlement is a gorgeous beyul (a Tibetan idea of natural sanctuaries hidden away from the outside world).
Day 7: KyanjinRi
3.5 hrs; 913m ascended
I woke up around 5:30am, as I seem to do every morning we are at a high altitude. The bonus side of getting up early, though, is that you see some pretty amazing light play.
After breakfast, we climbed to the top of KyanjinRi, a minor peak towering over the town, because it’d offer great views, a 360 degree panorama of the valley, including the Lirung amphitheatre. The amphitheatre was cleft by enormous earthbound floes of ice–the Lirung glacier and the Kimshung Icefall– that have receded into what looks like waterfalls frozen just before they were about to plunge into the moraine.
And now, the panoramas! (Click to enlarge)
During the hour we spent on the top, Xiker noticed an alternate route for us to go back down. It wouldn’t be back the way we came up, but down into the amphitheatre. Alas, early on we came across a section of the trail covered in a thick layer of wet snow, so we decided to just tramp down the steep hill of brambles straight to the river.
But at the river, the brambles grew taller and we couldn’t find the trail, so we had to negotiate a long, wide swath of loosely piled stones and ankle-scraping brambles. I nearly crushed my feet several times and once almost pinned my left leg under a huge rock that had dislodged from its resting place as I stepped on top of it. I was swearing like a sailor, with each close call, until we found the trail 10 minutes later.
From there on it was mostly a stratch-free walk back down to Kyanjin with close up views of the ice fall and glacier.
I did, however, just barely dodge a yak attack!
I think it was because I didn’t ask for permission before taking photos.
He was glaring at me as I snapped photos, but I didn’t quite register his offended air until too late. As I started backing away, he tossed his head and sorta crouched down.
I’d seen enough bulls on TV to know when one was about to attack so I lifted my hands in surrender and started walking faster towards the rock pile.
But he must have smelled my terror, because he lowered his head and pointed his horns at me–I started running–and took a tiny leap before he went at me.
I shrieked, “oh shiii–” as I took off, and just before I was about to clamber onto a rock, I noticed he’d stopped and was now snorting in my direction (later I found out Xiker clacked our poles together to distract the yak but of course I didn’t hear it).
I didn’t stop, though, and just kept running until I was out of sight.
My heart was thumping and adrenaline was coursing through my veins as I waited for Xiker to catch up. Part of me was expecting the yak to come bounding after me, but no, it was only Xiker (who was laughing fit to beat the band).
Day 8: Kyanjin to Bamboo
7 hours; 1890m descended; 26km/16mi
What a marathon. We wanted to get a head start on our climb to Gosainkunda, so we had to get as close to the trailhead (Doman) as possible.
With Fabi again making our group a trio, we left Kyanjin at 8:50–breakfast was served an hour late. But a hour-thirty later, we were already stopping at the nak cheese factory in Langtang for a morning snack. Absolutely yummy, and I was given a free hunk of cheese to take away because one of the worker’s daughters was deaf also (away attending school in Kathmandu).
Retraced our steps today all the way down through the sunny forest, stopping only for a quick lunch of still-warm fresh bread and cheese in Gumnachowk.
The weather was nice and warm but this also served to heat up every single pile of dung on the trail (cursed mule trains), and our heads swam in noxious fumes half of the day.
We continued past Lama Hotel, as it was only 3pm, and didn’t stop for another hour and half, until we were at the next town.
Bamboo is a lovely place to spend the night, a narrow cluster of lodges in the throat of the Langtang valley, next to the roaring river. We speculated about the possibility of building a road. Xiker ended the discussion: how can they build a road if they can’t even get electricity up here?
********To read about our climb to Gosainkund and beyond, click here: GOSAINKUND