Langtang-Helambu: A Long Walk Home

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Sun setting over Gosainkunda

Nepal’s bustling capital has it all and you can easily have fun squeezing through the hectic streets and enjoying some of the delectable street eats or the plentiful little restaurants, visiting the temples (including the Monkey temple, complete with manic macaques), and, in our case visit a Kathmandu (the outdoor brand) production house. But, after 4 days we were itching to get out and see Nepal for what it’s really known for: its nature, and in particular, the Himalayas. So after getting a few admin items off the list, we’d narrowed it down to the Gokyo Lakes trek that we wanted to walk – only it wasn’t the one we ended up on. 

Flights to Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport are a bit of a leap of faith at the best of times. Built under the supervision of THAT Hillary in 1964 it is the most dangerous airport in the world and there were flight cancellations due to unpredictable winds. So, without wanting to get a jeep in and tack an extra 8 days of trekking time to our original choice, it was back to the drawing board. Luckily an Aussie had just arrived back from Langtang, and with one photo of the view from the top, we were in a bus the next day.

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The trek takes you trough lush forest

Bus rides are a real Nepali experience. The bouncing and winding roads wouldn’t be an issue if they were made wide enough for the vehicles they service. Little more than a car and a half wide, there is nothing like staring down a 1000m ravine as your bus reverses 20cm from the crumbly dirt road’s edge to allow an elaborately decorated Nepali truck passage to let you know you’re alive. After a while, you just look away every time you hear a blast of the cheery musical horn that lets you know a truck or bus is coming from the opposite direction. If it’s not the other vehicles it’s the landslides, and we were forced to walk the final couple of kilometers to Shyabru-Besi due to one, we were adamant we didn’t want to go through that again so we decided we’d be walking the 70-80km back to Kathmandu.

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It’s fair to say this bridge had seen better days

Starting the trek took us from 1550m through sub-tropical vegetation and offered a chance to spot families of Langur Monkeys hopping around in the tree tops. We saw one sunning itself on some rocks but the rest of them proved elusive to catch more than a glimpse of. Heading along the treks, there is ample opportunity to eat and sleep at the many tea houses that dot the path. One of the more impressive sights is witnessing the porters as they lug up to 70-80kgs up the steep path! All of this of course at a rapid pace, in a humble pair of flip-flops or sports shoes. The Langtang region was one of the worst hit areas in the 2015 earthquake, with Langtang village itself being completely wiped off the map, bar one house, and 243 tragically killed. The crowds that used to flock here have thinned out significantly since, and despite Langtang village being rebuilt, tourism still hasn’t recovered. This is a depressing fate for the people here but you wouldn’t know it with incandescent smiles, offers of tea and a friendly “Namastee” greeting at every turn, at every stair case, and from each donkey convoy all the way up the slippery path to the top village of Kyanjin Gompa at 3870m.

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The Panorama from Tsergo Ri
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Top of Tsergo Ri

From Kyanjin Gompa, we headed out in the faint light of early morning to make an ascent of Tsergo Ri peak. It took a good 4 hours of hard slog zig-zagging up the steep slopes and clambering over rocky outcrops to reach the peak. Reaching the summit was more than an ample reward, with 360 degree panoramas of the surrounding 6/7000m+ peaks. It was truly moving as we were the only people at the top in breathless calm taking in the immense beauty of the Himalayas, with  views that no picture could possibly do justice. The descent however was a different story as it took every ounce of energy to not make it our last, Mark making particularly hard work of it with his gangley frame proving difficult to make a graceful dismount.

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One of the Gosainkunda freshwater lakes

The next few days we made our way down the Langtang valley rehashing the same route down and dropping in on new friends for tea and momos, pushing ourselves hard to make it nearly 3km in vertical altitude in 2 days through rain, hail and snow and bone chilling cold to reach the Gosainkunda Lakes at 4380m. Upon arrival, we couldn’t see the lakes for the fog, but after an afternoon of huddling around a barley functioning fire, nature gave us a sight of the freshwater alpine lakes flanked by snow draped hills, along with an amazing sunset. The morning couldn’t have been more different to tackle crossing Laurebina pass (4610m) under crisp blue skies. It’s hard once again to find a descriptor adequate for the outlook. The view encompassing the lakes framed by the peaks in the forefront with a snowy backdrop of the Himalayas, including Annapurna 1 and Manaslu, both a lazy 8000+m. It was so clear it seemed possible to reach out and touch them.

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View of the Himalayas from the top of Laurebina Pass

Over the pass we entered an up and down phase as one punishing set of stairs inevitably followed another. We initially planned a 3 night decent, but, as one evening the guesthouses of one town were surprising full, we were forced to race sunlight on the ankle breakingly rocky paths as well as over landslides to reach the next village. Feeling buoyed by our fortitude and lured by the choice of more than Dal Baaht and Chowmein  we pushed the next day as well to make it a day ahead of our descent schedule, a full 3 days ahead of our initial planned reentry to civilization.  So after 10 days of walking we had covered 130km, and with all the ups and downs managed a total climb of 8300m and a total decent of 8000m, not bad for a week and a half’s work.

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Now it’s time to start looking forward to a real journey into the unknown, Bangladesh.

Thanks for reading, and until next time @catchustravelling on Instagram.

M&M

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