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Friday, January 3, 2014

Langtang Valley Trek : Desolate and Stunning Landscapes


Langtang Trek, Nepal
beautiful landscape and peaks of the Langtang region


LANGTANG VALLEY

The Langtang region lies 130 km north of Kathmandu and is close to the border with Tibet. Unlike Annapurna and Everest, the region sees fewer trekkers. Another highlight of the trek to this region is the chance to see and observe the unique culture of the Tamang people. Several Himalayan peaks can be seen in the trek, along with glaciers and lakes.

Langtang Trek, Nepal
Trekking in Langtang during winter, with clear blue skies and dry stunning landscape


Langtang Himalayan PeaksLangtang peaks, view during the bus ride from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi

Day 1 : Kathmandu to Syabrubesi (1470 m)

The next day we rode a mini-bus going to Syabrubesi. I’ve heard and read a lot of people complain about this bus ride. Most people can’t figure out why it takes 10 hours to cover 130 kilometers, and because of the scary cliff-side road going there.

The bus ride wasn’t as bad as I expected. It took only 7 hours and it would have probably been less if not for the many military checkpoints we had to stop at. But the road was definitely scary. Most of the time it seemed like a one-way road, with vehicles having to stop and reverse to let the incoming pass, or honking loudly before turning a curve. There were also landslide areas as we got nearer our destination. But our young bus driver seemed like an expert and was very calm during the whole ride. But it was the scenic view that relaxed me. Low-lying clouds engulfed the valley below, and the different Himalayan Langtang peaks can already be seen throughout the ride.

Syabrubesi was just a small cluster of houses, hotels, and shops. Nestled between two mountains, the sun only hits it late in the morning until around 4pm. It was cold up there. At the garden of our hotel, some of the guests and owners were laying on the grass and moving almost every hour following the sun.

Day 2 : Syabrubesi (1470m) to Lama Hotel (2480 m)

This was the start of our trek in and it was the hardest for me. Unlike the more developed Annapurna region where the trail is made up of steps, the trail in Langtang is made up of uneven stones and small boulders. The trail was dusty, making some of the stones and boulders quite slippery. A few hours into the trek and as we were starting to make our 1000 meters ascent for the day, I realized how heavy my bag was, like I haven’t learned my lesson yet during the Annapurna trek.

Langtang Trek, Nepali love Himalayan mornings like this :)

The trail goes deeper into the mountains, following the river of Langtang Khola. For almost half of the day, the sun never hits the trail, making the trek really cold.

Langtang Trek, Nepallunch by the river in Bamboo

We stopped in the village of Bamboo for lunch, with the river beside it and a view of some of the Himalayan peaks. The rest of the day was hiking steep trails and spotting snow monkeys in the forest, until we made it to Lama Hotel where we spent the night.

Day 3 : Lama Hotel (2480 m) to Langtang (3430 m)

I was so tired the previous day that I slept right away. I decided to leave some things, including my pack of cigarettes, in the hotel in Lama then pick it up again on our way back to Syabrubesi. It was an easier day, I had a lighter bag and the trail was a gradual ascent. But I still took my time since it was another 1000m ascent, but this time to an elevation where symptoms of altitude mountain sickness start to occur.

Langtang Trek, Nepal

The landscape was different. Vegetation was sparse and the trail opened up to a wide area of dry and deserted grassland, with big black rocks scattered around. Yaks were also seen along the trail. My guide told me that the landscape and culture are similar to the Everest region. We also encountered the Tamang people with their yaks going up to Langtang village.

Langtang Trek, Nepal

Langtang Trek, Nepal

Ghora Tabela, Langtang Trek, Nepal lunch at Ghora Tabela

We stopped in Ghora Tabela for lunch. From this village, one can see the stunning view of some of the Langtang peaks.

Langtang Trek, Nepal loved looking back to this view during breaks

The trail after that got more scenic, with the peaks of Tsergo Ri and Gang Chhenpo slowly presenting themselves.

Langtang Trek, Nepal Tsergo Ri at 4984 m (left) and Gang Chhenpo at 6387 m (right)

We ended the day at Langtang village. This time my guide decided to stay at a hotel where there were other trekkers to meet. It was true what my friend Katie said – there are far less trekkers in the Langtang region, even more since it was the winter season. Because of this, I got closer to the other trekkers/guides/porters more because there were only a few of us on the trail. I met two Dutch women, a Spaniard who told me great stories about South America, a family from Malaysia who understood how uncomfortable the cold was because we're Asians (haha), and two French guys who were on a gap year. And there were also the guides and porters who were funny and very helpful. At night, we’d all be in the dining area and I’ll find them seated around the heater, and it never fails that they reserve or offer a chair for me. This camaraderie shared by everyone in the trek is one of the things I love about teahouse trekking in Nepal.

Langtang Trek, Nepal thick fog slowly engulfing Langtang village right after sunset

Day 4 : Langtang (3430 m) to Kyanjing Gompa (3860 m)

Sleeping in Langtang village wasn’t that easy, it was quite a struggle keeping warm even with my -5C sleeping bag. But I was excited to start walking again to reach Kyanjing Gompa. It was a freezing glorious morning. We passed by frozen puddles of water on our way out the village, but the snow-capped mountains were a sight to behold.

Langtang Trek, Nepal beautiful morning in Langtang village

Langtang Trek, Nepal 
frozen puddles of water

Langtang Trek, Nepal frozen waterfalls as the sun never hits this part of the mountain

Small walls of mani stones, carved with Tibetan mantras, lined our path going to Kyanjing Gompa. Tibetan Buddhist stupas with prayer flags can also be seen on different parts of the trail.

Langtang Trek, Nepal walls of mani stones outlined the path

Langtang Trek, Nepal Tibetan Buddhist stupas can be found along the trail

The small teahouses along the way were closed for the winter giving the trek that morning a desolate feeling. The cold wind was harsh, but the surrounding Himalayan peaks were pushing me. On our left, one of the glaciers in Langtang can be seen. On our right were snow-capped Himalayan peaks. And right in front of us was a fuller view of Tsergo Ri.

Langtang Trek, Nepal
getting nearer Kyanjing Gompa

Langtang Trek, Nepal
one of the glaciers in Langtang

Langtang Trek, Nepal

We arrived in Kyanjing Gompa right before lunch. At 3860 m, the village sits on a valley surrounded by Himalayan peaks and glaciers.

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal Kyanjing Gompa at 3860 m

Eating lunch was quite a struggle for me but I knew I had to finish it. I knew my body needed all the energy it can get to last a day in the village. I could feel my lungs and heart making extra effort to keep my body to function properly. To acclimatize, I decided to walk around the village.

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal

I passed by different teahouses until I found a wide open space where I saw the mountains closer. It was a little after noon and the sun was shining bright, and the blue sky so clear. Wind was picking up from time to time, but the weather was perfect. And I don’t know, I just felt so happy that time. I wrote about it here.

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal sat near the edge of the valley to enjoy this view

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal Kyanjing Gompa towered over by Lantang Lirung (7227 m), with its peak partly-covered by clouds

I went back to our hotel and hanged out with the other trekkers, guides and porters. We played cards and talked about the short climbs we could do the next day. There are two mountain peaks in Kyanjing Gompa that can be climbed without mountaineering gear/experience. There’s Kyanjing Ri at 4600m and Tsergo Ri at 4984m. You can also go down to the glaciers, which I regret not doing because the French had really cool photos from that place. In my itinerary, I was supposed to and I really wanted to hike Tsergo Ri. But my guide said that it wouldn’t be advisable since there was already snow on the peak. The Spaniard went up Kyanjing Ri that afternoon and said that it wasn’t that hard except for the slight headache he had going down. This made him decide to not climb Tsergo Ri anymore. The French decided to climb Tsergo Ri and in their running shoes, they’re a funny duo and definitely risk-takers.

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal the steep climb to the top of Kyanjing Ri

Day 5 : Kyanjing Ri to Lama Hotel

It was another sleepless night, because it was freezing and it was a little bit hard to breathe. I slept at 10pm and woke up past 11pm to the sound of foil being rustled. I turned on my headlamp and saw that a portion of the chocolate bar in the side pocket of my bag was eaten by a rat. This went on until 3am when the rat decided to leave my room. I only had four hours of sleep in total and the next day I saw that the rat also ate a portion of the yak cheese I bought. Damn rat, didn’t know they existed even in high elevation.

With only four hours of sleep, we started our climb up to Kyanjing Ri (a 700m steep ascent) at around 7am with one of the Dutch women and their guide. It was quite a challenge going up, more because of the cold and the thin air. The trail was very narrow and quite slippery since parts of it were loose soil. It didn’t help that we saw a rescue helicopter flying in and out of Kyanjing Gompa to the higher parts of the snow-capped mountains. We learned afterwards that some trekkers had to be rescued from the high pass due to altitude sickness.

After almost 2 hours, we finally made it to the peak. Colorful Tibetan prayer flags covered it. From there was a great view of Langtang Lirung, Kimshung, the glacier, the Tibetan side of the Himalayas, frozen lakes, and the mountain range of snow-capped Himalayan peaks. I saw another trail we can climb closer to the Tibetan side, but my guide said that it was Yala Peak. We felt so happy and accomplished for making it to Kyanjing Ri. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it.

Tibetan Prayer Flags on Kyanjing Ri, Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal
colorful Tibetan prayer flags

Langtang Glacier, Langtang Trek, Nepal
Langtang glacier

Langtang Glacier, Langtang Trek, Nepal


Kyanjing Ri, Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal trail going closer to the Tibetan side of the Himalayas

Kyanjing Ri, Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal view from the top

Tibetan Prayer Flags on Kyanjing Ri, Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal

Tibetan Prayer Flags on Kyanjing Ri, Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal


Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal
Kyanjing Gompa as seen from the top

Kyanjing Gompa, Langtang Trek, Nepal

As we made our way back to the village, I started to have a headache. So I told my guide that I prefer to go down to Langtang and sleep there. Even without proper sleep and no proper food intake, I rushed going down. I felt like a drunk person keeping it together just to find a place to sleep in. A bar of Snickers was my only source of energy that time. After less than two hours, we made it to Langtang. We decided to stay in a teahouse with hot shower. This and a power nap made everything better. As we waited for the sunset, I saw the French guys going down. We were so happy to see each other and felt so proud that we all made it to the mountain peaks we wanted to climb. Too bad they couldn’t stay with us because their guide already made reservations in another hotel.

IMG_1866

But we found new friends that night. The Tamang old woman working in the hotel invited us for post-dinner card games along with her cook and a nurse who worked at the clinic. It was so much fun, with the old woman being so competitive. My guide was always winning the game. So after some time, she told him that they have to exchange places. My guide didn't have a choice. But yes, she started winning after that. We were the only guests that night and it somehow felt like a home-stay experience.

Day 6 : Langtang to Syabrubesi

The winter cold was starting to take a toll on me. I had small wounds inside my nose that were starting to bleed, and I also thought that going back to Kathmandu as soon as possible would give me more time to go to Pokhara and do paragliding. I asked my guide if we can make it back to Syabrubesi in a day. Normally, it takes two days. He said that we could do it as long as I go down with the same pace I had the previous day.

We started the day early, stopping only for short water breaks. The French were also doing the same, since they wanted to spend more time in Kathmandu before leaving Nepal. The trek was relatively easy except for the streams with melted ice, the steep descents, and the mule traffic.

We walked for almost 7 hours to Syabrubesi. And it was beyond exhausting. But I was just relieved to know that I’ll be going back to Kathmandu and then to Pokhara, and I knew that I was going to be able to eat and sleep properly after the trek. This is no joke, but I lost 3 kilos just from that 7-day trek. Normally, I’d be happy with a weight loss that quick. But I was just really hungry after that trek, and realized how lucky I am to be living in a tropical sea-level country conducive to proper eating and good sleep. haha

Langtang Trek, Nepal

It was my second trek in Nepal and this time it offered a different landscape and a glimpse of another culture different from the Annapurnas. I know now that I’ll be going back to Nepal again in a few years and probably do a trek in the more remote regions of the Himalayas, or maybe cross a pass the next time around. It’s only the start of my Himalayan adventures in Nepal :)