Table of Contents
Langtang Valley #
“The name Langtang comes from the Tibetan language, where ‘Lang’ Yak and ‘Teng’ mean – to follow.”
The pandemic had struck hard at everyone, even the most introverted of us were eager to travel and explore. The burning fire of youth in us could only be quenched by a trek that demanded every last bit of effort from us.
In the back of my mind was the thought of having missed Langtang Trek, a few months ago due to the uncertainty of having practical classes in the middle of the vacation. So it was one of the first places I suggested and everyone went along without second thought.
With the destination decided, it was time to recruit. About seven of us were already on for it within a couple of days. Permissions and circumstances fluctuated the number often, but when it all settled, the company was just enough to field a football team.
The Start #
T- 20 hours: The bikers among us went to Machha Pokhari to get tickets to Syaphru Besi. We took the ticket for 6:20 in the morning but the announced time was 5:30, so that everyone would arrive on time.
T-12 hours: It was time to pack our bags with essentials. Groceries including peanut butter, chocolates, wafers, bhujiya, peanuts, dozens of orea and instant noodles. I also packed satu and bhuteko makai. We then went to a pharmacy to grab some glucose, jiwan jal, bandages, pain relief spray, paracetamol, painkillers, acetazolamide and sunscreen.
We started packing our bags and it was evident that we had bought too much food so had to leave some of our supplies to make our bags lighter.
Travel anxiety made sleep hard to come by as I slept only 4 hours.
T-2 hours: I woke up and started banging on everyone’s door urging them to get ready.
T-1 hour: We were ready, just as we were clicking some pictures of the start of our journey, early morning bird dropping greeted us on the way out of the campus premise, which is considered a good omen. A stroke of coincidence as a superstitious belief came true since we found a bus in the pitch black of morning with an unusual route that took us right to our destination
T-1 hour actually: I had lied about the time of departure to the guys so that they would arrive in time. We were an hour early and had time to break our fast on chickpeas and boiled eggs.
Reminiscing about the times of the most adventurous bus ride on the return from Sailung, we enjoyed the roads that took us to Nuwakot district then to Rasuwa. As the bus started to ascend towards the hilltops the road started showing its true colors. We knew we were in for a ride when we saw above us the winding road that overlooked a river. Riding on the edge of the cliff we discussed Yak delicacies that we would enjoy on the trip. The list included milk, ghee, curd, cheese and sukuti.
We climbed up to 2000m above the sea level at Dhunche, from where people going to Gosaikunda departed the bus and then we descended further on a curving snake like road down to 1450m.
Run Forest #
We got off at Syabru Besi and stretched ourselves for a moderate walk of 2 hours for the day. An itinerary map of what is to follow was displayed on a hoarding board, which we clicked for future references.
We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our trek. A beautiful suspension bridge awaited us as a portal to the majestic Langtang Valley. The day was gloomy with clouds all around or was it pollution, it was hard to tell. Nonetheless we followed the trail running uphill alongside the river. Once in a while we would walk into a lush forest with the river roaring in the background and in another instance crossing the river or following it upstream on its banks. We reached Doman in no time, a slap across the face as we were charged Rs.100 for a bottle of mineral water, the place wasn’t even far from a highway.
We entered the eternal forest of the damned. With hills whose scale could not be contemplated casting shadows on us we moved onwards. Talking to strangers returning from their journey gave us a good idea of the landscape and a rough sketch of itinerary we could complete. It was 5:30pm by the time we reached Bamboo(1970m). A little bit of adversarial game between two hotels landed us a good price on accommodations for the night.
The Advance #
We charged like a calvary early morning, satu and biscuits fueled us for the morning. Our goal was to reach Ghodatabela for lunch. Armed with chocolates and jiwan jal we started our journey at 6:30 in the morning. The scenery was the same as yesterday, lush forest, the river roaring louder as the climb got a bit steeper. Large precipices engulfed the thin trail that we followed. Chatting up with strangers sharing the same destination was a fun part of the journey. We encountered Greeks, Slovenian, French, and others mainly European tourists who loved to share their travel experiences. Trekking guides who shared their hectic schedules of Spring and their luxury during the off-season made you want to adopt the profession.
Fields of Rhododendron started entering the fray as we ascended, some hints of red on overhanging cliffs while white and pink dominated otherwise. Strong steel structure bridges cut across the river in several places. They facilitated travelers as well as Donkey’s carrying supplies to the upper parts of the valley.
We came across a Yak shed. Newborn Yaks sitting idly and shy made for some good photographs. A cup of fresh curd filled us with the energy to continue onwards.
One item on the list of delicacies ticked.
It was lunchtime, as planned when we reached Ghodatabela. Dal bhat, Kingly Beans, Cabbage and Mango pickle were served. After about an hour or so of lunchtime and rest we continued our advance, pushing for Kyanjing Valley.
We had entered a separate terrain. The lush forests had fiddled out into short bushy trees and thin vegetation of rhododendron and sea thorn plants as we continued upstream. The valley was caving in from both sides with monumental hills.
At about 6:00pm we reached a misty Kyanjin Ghompa. We were running on fumes by the time we got there. Little drizzle on the way had made our clothes wet. Finally the contents of the heavy bag were put to use with a change of clothes. We sat round the heater to warm ourselves whilst enjoying another delicacy from the list, Yak sukuti .Due to religious reasons fresh Yak meat is not available in this trekking route. However, Yaks that are too old and deceased are cut for meat, and dry-aged. For this reason the sukuti was dry and demanded some strength from our facial muscles.
There were two peaks that we wanted to scale, Kyanjin Ri and Tserko Ri. After discussion we reached a conclusion to decide our peak in the morning based on weather to make sure the views from the top weren’t obstructed.
The Climb #
The Circle of Life played and I opened my eyes without much excitement. The 12 hour walk yesterday had robbed me of my strength. Hoping that the day was misty so that I could get away with a moderate climb to ‘Kyanjin Ri’ for the day, I half-heartedly shifted the curtains just enough to have a peek outside.
My sleepy eyes jerked open at the sight of Langtang Lirung.
I literally jumped off my bed and enunciated loudly the beauty of the Langtang Lirung as I rushed outside. I went from 0 to 100 in a fraction of a second.
He’s gone mad. Punpun exclaimed in a sleepy voice from his bed. He was not wrong. I had gone berserk, waking everyone up and disturbing every living creature that could hear.
I dragged him off his bed to the hotel porch.
Who’s the madman now?
He staggered back and went through the phases that I had just been through. Slowly everyone was up and howling at the scenery.
We had Tibetian bread and curry for breakfast and on for the climb to ‘Tserko Ri’.
None of us asked for directions, nor knew which one among all those enormous peaks was ‘Tserko Ri’. But we just bodged through the trails, believing it would lead to our destination. After an hour or so of walking we came across a board that confirmed our hunch.
My running playlist, Cloves and Timur acted as doping agents as we mounted one hilltop after another. We would stop here and there to appreciate the panorama of mountains and get a boost of energy through jiwanjal and glucose. Chocolates were also of great help to the empty stomach on the way up.
As the Oxygen level goes down, your brain finds it is much easier to sit than walk up the steep hills and play tricks to make you stop every time you see a spot. I decided not to sit before I reached the top, just stand still to catch my breath once in a while.
The climb had begun with a steep climb to a hillock. We continued on to another hillock and then another.
Amidst the climb of hillock we spotted Danphe and the Alpine Clough flying effortlessly. Extended wings gliding in them around the windy mountains. Sometimes they would just stay still in the air with wings wide apart. Magical.
Some patches of cloud began to appear at a distance, rising from the valley, chasing us. Thus began the race to the top, shady clouds vs us. We had a good headstart but the race by no means was fair, the clouds soared while we clambered on all fours with slippery gravel giving way under our feet. We were lucky that the clouds didn’t know where to stop and we reached a clear top with the clouds having raced somewhere else.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”
Crystal clear glaciers just shy of the highest bare hills, glorious mountains with their heads held high, almost 360 degree in view, almost, because a thin slice of the view was that of the river basin extending to the Langtang valley and beyond.
I roamed around at the windy top, shouted my love towards the mountains and they echoed back. The summit was not sparse in personnel count as many enthusiasts had made their way to the top. I tried to make smalltalk with a man who was engrossed in the majesty of the shiny peaks.
‘No English seul Francias.’ I recognized that he didn’t understand English.
‘C’est magnifique.’ I cleared out my petit French vocabulary.
“C’est magnifique.”, he nodded in agreement with a broad smile across his face.
Snack and nap time. Oreos, some chocolates, electrolytes, glucose and moong ko dal were even more satisfying when followed by a nap. The playlist changed to ‘slow and feel good’. I took a relaxing nap at 5000m above sea level.
It was time to descend. Re-energized, we decided to follow an alternative path that was “easier” to descend. A few paces ahead and we were lost as the trail dwindled down and all we could see were the trails left by wild goats. After an hour of descent we realized we neither had descended as much as we should have nor were moving in the right direction. Hunger, thirst and tiredness factored in and everyone grew irritable and started taking a direct route downhill, steepish and ungroomed. Fueled by frustration we started jumping off rocks and sliding down the dry straw. We reached the valley in no time.
During dinner, we crossed off another item from our list of delicacies. The ghee was potent. A small scoop was enough to give delightful aroma in my hands.
The climb had taken a toll on everyone and no one had energy nor zeal left to summit the two peaks that we had initially planned. Even though the Kyanjin Ri I and II were not as demanding as Tserko Ri, moral licensing had come into effect and everyone wished to sleep rather than summit.
The Obsession #
At the end of our discussion it was only me who was adamant at climbing Kyanjin Ri. But my good friends were even more stubborn at not letting me go solo, so an obsessive trio was ready to depart in the morning for Kyanjin Ri.
Kyanjin Ri was moderately easy compared to the behemoth Tserko Ri, even though the way to the top wasn’t any less steeper. Oh and I almost forgot to mention that it had been 12 all along to the top of Tserko Ri, a beautiful Himalayan Sheepdog had followed us all the way and was now backready to follow us through our journey to Kyanjin Ri.
“These stupid hoomans are surprisingly slow and must wait or they might get lost.” - doggo
The top of Kyanjin Ri I, was just as beautiful with the full glory of Langtang Lirung on display and a gorge leading to a small lake whose water was led to a micro hydropower plant.
No time to waste as we pushed up the hill for Kyanjin Ri II. A mere 200m increase in elevation, puf.. easy peasy, but mother nature has her with overconfident crooks. The most frightening of all the trails arrived with a thin trail and on either side the stairway to heaven. Not for the faint of heart.
The elevation of the slope might just as well have been above 80 degrees.
The top of Kyanjin II was worth it though. The rusty glacier as seen from Tserko Ri now looked pristine. You could see the vivid patterns of sharp clear icicles on the other side of the gorge and it felt like you could almost reach out and touch it.
I reached out and it touched my soul.
With a peaceful stay at the top, the journey was almost over, there were no more peaks to summit. We had left no peaks unsummited(at least the planned ones). A deep feeling of satisfaction ran through my veins as I crossed off the peaks from my list.
A thunderous roar echoed across the mountains though the skies were dressed in blue. We turned our heads around puzzled. A snow-white cloud was falling from one of the slopes of Langtang Lirung. An Avalanche. Mother nature flexing again, we stood there and watched as the thick mop of white cloud shrinked into a thin flowing silver and the cloud flowed along down to the lake.
The Night Walkers #
The boys were just waking up when we reached the hotel. A light breakfast and we left with the intention to reach Lama Hotel.
“Descend is not for one with weak knees” - Mahatma Gandhi
Some of us raced, some lingered while others dragged themselves downhill with multiple sticks supporting their weak knees. A 75kg man fully leaning on a hollow steel stick decided the fate of a beloved comrade.
RIP Trekking stick.
The sun peeked from the hills, rose high then started sinking and disappeared all the while we were walking downhill. The day soon lost its light but still ‘Lama Hotel’ was nowhere in sight. Wild bears and other unknowns in the jungle started nagging us with fear. We shouted and howled trying to scare off anything lurking in the dark. We started singing our lungs out like we wouldn’t see tomorrow. The atmosphere would switch from sad to aggressive and back to sad through every switch of the song. With lights flashing through our dim phone torches we started rocking the wild to our tune. The rain added more noise to our concert.
With our throats sore from the jungle concert we arrived at Lama Hotel expecting some warm shelter and food. What awaited us was disappointment. The large number of travelers had overwhelmed every hotel in the area and now we were to push to Rimche through the dark of night. Another concert ensued on sore throats late night through the middle of the jungle.
Tired to our bones, a descent from 4500m to 2450m had our knees shaking. We had supper and rested for a while calling our families informing them that we would be home tomorrow.
We laid down watching the stars dance in the night sky. You could join these infinite dots to draw any contour you could imagine. The glowing faces of your loved ones, stick men figures fighting in slow motion, your favorite ‘Atari’ game, the possibilities are endless. The Lyrid meteor shower drew bright streaks across the sky as Nandemonaiya played on my phone.
Part of the journey is the end. We woke up early in the morning thinking of home and the stories we would tell upon our return. We were to catch the bus at 9 from Doman. The silhouette of mountains receded as we walked under the canopy of hills covered in Rhododendron. We flowed down with the Langtang river exploring any corner we might have missed on our ascend. Our conquest came to an end as we prepared ourselves for a ride back home.
At Syabrubesi we had breakfast and looked for souvenirs Yak cheese, ghee and churpi among our prime targets. Alas, Syabru was out of stock and we had to plan a stop at Dhunche for supplies. We returned in a jam-packed bus swaying back and forth with the winding roads that led us back to the Kathmandu valley.