So, the original intended post was lost in a freak Windows incident. Well! can’t only blame those guys. I should have used a better editor than notepad. Anyways! I was wiser the second time. So here goes!!
This is a big year. I am planning to climb Nun, the roof of Zanskar. All the groundwork is in place. The flipside is that there is still some time; until September, to be precise, and the “get out, get going” bug just wouldn’t let me BE. I figured, if I had to go out, I might as well go out and train to stay conditioned for the climb. I considered trekking in Sikkim and Uttaranchal, but with the onset of the monsoons I skipped the idea. Although the monsoons are usually severe in Nepal too, the worst months are usually July and August. That, and the fact that I’ve never been there, were reason enough for me to consider high altitude trekking in Nepal. Most companies sell the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit Treks to clients for whatever reasons. I however chose the Langtang Trek. The flights were dirt cheap and I managed to book a hotel online, who were able to get the required trekking permit (called TIMS) as well.
The flight to Kathmandu involved a horrendous 5 hour layover at New Delhi. Anyways, I made it to Kathmandu on a gloomy, rainy day. To call Tribhuvan Airport, International, would be pushing it; but it serves the purpose I suppose. Kathmandu on the other hand is a fantastic town. Narrow lanes, dirty streets, minimal infrastructure and traffic sense next to nothing; but all this seems to work FOR Kathmandu rather than against it. The town seems to have a mind of its own. Its hard to hate the town and I cannot explain why.
I spent the next couple of hours browsing in the Hotel Lobby and chatting with my trekking guide, Tilak (provided by the Hotel). Tilak didn’t speak a word of Hindi and his kind of English might make you weep tears of blood. At times during our conversation I would wonder if I was better off without him. After our chat, I headed out to explore the town. Thamel in particular. The lanes, all narrow, and all of them looked almost alike. Eateries, cafes, book shops, and shops selling trekking and mountaineering gear punctuated the town pretty well. I visited a few shops just to check the kind of stuff they had. I was not going to buy anything before returning from the trek, but I needed to have an idea of what was out there, so it would be easy to pick stuff when I was back from the trek. As it turned out, any mountaineer or serious adventurer is better off without the down clothing being sold in the thousands of shops in Kathmandu. Even other apparel like shell layers, fleece, mittens etc are all cheap knock offs. STAY AWAY FROM THESE. Hardware on the other hand is hard to imitate. So by all means, if you get a good deal; GO FOR IT. I would recommend the exclusive retail outlets of Mountain Hardwear, TNF, Salewa and Marmut all on the same street, within meters of each other.
There are two kinds of buses to wherever you need to go. There is the state run express bus (which is basic at best) and then there is the local bus (terrible). AVOID the local bus at all costs. The state run express bus, though basic, has very few stops and only lets as many passengers equal to the number of seats in the bus. On the local however, you will find people on the seats, over your shoulder, on the roof, on the footboard, on the ladder; am I missing any spot? Just avoid the local. We made it to Dhunche (our road head; there is a town further down the road called Shyafru Besi which is the actual road head to the Langtang National Park) by 1500. Because of the arduous bus ride, I didn’t eat much en route. So it was Fried Chicken Momo’s for me for lunch. Tasty stuff. After lunch, I headed out to explore Dhunche. It is a small town about 1000m long with shanty huts, shops and guest houses either side of the road. I think I had chicken fried rice for supper before hitting the sack.
The plan was to start early. But it had rained overnight. So we had to wait till the heavens showed signs of easing off. I had Tibetan Bread with omelette for breakfast. The moment the rains turned into a sort of drizzle, we headed out. Destination Thulashyafru. We traced the tarmac that leads to Shyafru Besi for an hour may be 90 minutes. This is when we reached a little village called Thulabharkhu. From here we veered off towards Thulashyafru. The first 45 minutes was a really steep trail leading to a somewhat gentle slope for the next hour or so. The trail is pretty well laid out and I suppose a guide is not really mandatory. Too bad for me I was stuck with one. The trek from Thulabharkhu to Thulashyafru was about 3 to 4 hours long with varying degrees of difficulty, mostly manageable. You will come across a few villages or hamlets all referring to themselves as a “Model Village”. We started at about 0615 in the morning and by 1200 may be 1230 we reached Thulashyafru. It’s a village alright, but definitely bigger than all the other villages en route. We stayed at the very first guest house (right at the entrance to the village). I must say, I was actually lured by the smile of a 12 year old kid called Rashmi, who worked at the guest house.
Cant remember what I had for lunch. Was it chow mein, or fried rice? Whatever it was, it was very delicious. I headed out to explore the village after lunch. The village school, which was closed due to vacations looked good. Thulashyafru offered a nice view of the route to Pairo (a little hamlet en route Lama Hotel, our next halt the following day). The village also had a lot of guest houses offering fantastic views of the hills around Thulashyafru. I believe the main profession of the people in this village is step farming and the main crop is probably potatoes and other vegetables. After lazing around the village for a few hours I returned into the restaurant belonging to the guest house where I was staying. Had mashed potatoes for dinner which is when Rashmi showed me some of her pictures. I also made acquaintance with the cook, Karma. He told me that Rashmi doesn’t go to school because she has to work in order to provide for her family. A lot of kids her age have a similar tale in this part of the world. By 2200 I retired into my room. The day to follow was supposed to be a really hectic one.
After a light breakfast, We headed out towards the suspension bridge which connects the two hills one hosting Thulashyafru and the other where a little village called Pairo is nestled. It takes about half an hour from Thulashyafru to get to the bridge. From here it is a downhill trail for about half an hour may be 45 minutes to get right down to the Langtang river. Once you hit the river bank, its back to uphill trail. Pairo is situated about 10 minutes from the river bank if you go uphill. If you go downhill along the river; that’s the way to get to Shyafrubesi. (We chose to go to Shyafru Besi on our way back instead of Dhunche- lets go uphill for now). Everytime Tilak came across a village, he would stop for Tea or some sort of refreshment. There were two hotels in Pairo and we stopped at the very first. After a 10 minute halt, we hit the trail again. After Pairo, the trail begins to get steep. It took us a couple of hours to reach another village called Bamboo (or something along those lines). The best way to hike for me is to halt for a few minutes and then get going. Unfortunately for me, Tilak didn’t share the same views. For some reason he just had to stop at each village that came our way. At Bamboo his excuse for a halt was to do lunch out there. I decided to stay in the sun for the 15 odd minutes he was in a restaurant there. Lo and behold! After 15 minutes he shows up, rubbing his tummy and a grin on his face. We hit the trail once more. Bamboo was at 1950m I think. If the route from Pairo to Bamboo was steep, it got steeper after Bamboo. In about 30 minutes we reached a tea hut situated by a bridge across the river. The sign on the bridge said “Welcome To Langtang National Park”. We had to cross the river at this point in order to get to Lama Hotel, our destination for the day. The waters were pretty turbulent at this point and the noise was deafening. I just had to halt for some snaps here. About 30 minutes from the bridge we reached another tea hut. The owner had an interesting way of cooling his beverages; he had placed all his drinks in a stream, so they were perpetually cold. This technique seemed to work since the the Sprite that I ordered was nice and cold. After the refreshing drink, it was one final brisk uphill hike for about 45 minutes or so. We crossed another village en route before reaching Lama Hotel. Its right at the entrance to the village, and another little girl named Chomo (I think the owners daughter) invited us to stay at their place. The hotel looked neat so I was glad to retire at Lama Hotel for the day.
I checked the menu, and there was no fowl or meat on it. Tilak explained that since they were Tibetans they respected all life forms. Another explanation was that higher up on the mountains, shedding blood of ‘innocent’ animals was not considered good. This explanation to me sounded especially ludicrous, when I saw some dried brown stuff hanging over the fire place. When I enquired about it, Chomo told me that it was Buff meat (I presume Yak meat – since I never saw Buffaloes or any cattle for that matter beyond Dhunche). So I reasoned, that Tibetans loved all life forms “on paper”, so they wouldn’t offer meat on menu, but it is there to be had none the less. You Just have to look over the fireplace for some dried meat. Anyways, since I was starving, I didn’t want to waste much time. I asked Chomo’s dad to wash the meat, and prepare some Spicy Buff Thukpa. It was delicious. After the meal I had a nice shower and headed out to explore the village. The village is about 200 meters in length and never more than 100 meters broad. There were a number of guest houses and apparently the village folk loved playing cards. Of course, the off season didn’t help much either. The river was just a 100 or so meters from the village on the right. I was not going to miss being so close to the river. It was actually a confluence where a waterfall was meeting with the Langtang River. Terrific place for some snaps. While I was busy taking pictures, I met with a couple of Afghan university professors. They taught Hydrology and were on their way back from Kyangin. They had tried in vain to locate the Langtang glacier. I didn’t see why it should be so difficult. You just have to track the river to its source. I presumed they had only a few days and just gave up, since they were running out of time.
After about an hour or so by the river, I returned to the guest house. There was a dutch guy who was staying at the same hotel. He seemed really keen and in no time we struck a conversation. We shared anecdotes and spoke about cars, bikes, women, yoga, mountaineering, politics, army etc etc. Somewhere between during our conversation we managed supper as well. Dal bhat for the dutch guy and beef (or was it buff) fried rice for me. Our conversation continued from the Garden (where we had supper), to the Kitchen, to the dining room (where he had a couple of beers). At 11, we decided to hit the sack. The dutch guy was heading back to Shyafru Besi, but for us it was a long arduous trek to Langtang village the following day, and I’d like to start early.
An early breakfast, is almost ritualistic for me. Start out early and get done with the days work as soon as is possible is my way to do stuff on the trail. Today was no different. An omelette wrapped with Tibetan bread was tasty. We said our goodbyes to the folks at Lama Hotel and hit the trail. Lama Hotel was at 2400m or so. Langtang was supposedly at 3400m. So we would be gaining almost 1000m today, which was exciting.The gradient was ok to begin with, but slowly got steeper. We reached a little place called Riverside (2720m) in about an hour. Hung around for a few minutes before setting off again. Another hour or so, and we reached a place called Ghoda Tabela (2950m). There were a couple of guest houses here and even a police check point. We got our TIMS cards checked and proceeded onwards. Langtang village was visible from Ghoda Tabela and it was encouraging, since we had gained about 550m today with just about 400+ more to go. We halted midway between Ghoda Tabela and Langtang village at a guest house in a small hamlet to have Lunch. I met with a local casual labour who was s