Langtang Valley Trek Part I - The Low Country

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
Trip End Jun 11, 2014

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Flag of Nepal  , Central Region,
Monday, March 3, 2014

I planned my Asia trip around two Dragoman trips I wanted to do which coincided with prime times of year to go on them – the winter months for the three month loop of India and May into June for Tibet to China. In between the two I wanted to do the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal and also see several other South Asian countries (while I was in the neighborhood). With that in mind I booked two trips with a British tour company named Explore for March into early April, one for 12 days in Bangladesh and one for three weeks in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

About the middle of January I got word from Explore that they were forced to cancel the Bangladesh trip due to a foreign service warning against travel there because of post-election violence and strikes. I'd receive a full refund for the tour. That created a dilemma. Do I go to Bangladesh anyway and attempt to travel around on my own? Do I just fly to another country I haven’t been to during those two weeks? Cambodia seemed like an interesting possibility because I haven’t been there and it’s visa-on-arrival so easy bureaucratically in a way some other Asian countries are not.

I decided to spend the time in early March in Nepal instead and do a practice trek in the Langtang Valley in preparation for my longer and higher altitude Annapurna Circuit trek in April. I talked Tim, my tour leader through India, into joining me for the trek during his time off between tours, but he had to cancel at last minute because of issues with getting truck parts through customs in Kathmandu.

The Langtang Valley is the trekking region nearest to Kathmandu. It is directly to the north of Kathmandu so doesn’t require long distance travel east or west in the country to get there. Langtang is the third most popular trekking area in Nepal after the Everest and Annapurna regions. It is possible in warmer trekking months like April, May, and October to trek more widely in the region, but passes were still snowbound in early March, so my trek would have to be an in-and-out one up and down the valley rather than a loop of some sort.

My trek in Langtang lasted 8 days. I am breaking the trek up into three blog entries for lower, middle, and upper parts of the valley. The scenery was stunning, so I had great difficulty paring down the photographs I chose to include in the blog. Hence, there are lots of pictures.

I spent a few days in Kathmandu relaxing and getting my trekking permits in order and also acquiring necessary gear such as warm gloves, trekking poles, and a winter coat to replace the one that disintegrated on me before I left for Asia. I decided to take the public bus to the start of the trek despite warnings against doing so. Yes, the bumpy seven-hour journey (including stops for lunch and trekking permit and national park checkpoints) was every bit as terrifying as I was warned about with a maniac of a bus driver who honked his horn at blind curves rather than slowing down and a long stretch of cliffside gravel road on which the bus swayed wildly from side to side. I’m glad I wasn’t one of the locals sitting on the roof for the ride. Incidentally, I managed to avoid the bus on the way back a week later by reserving a place in a shared Jeep for only about $2 more than the public bus.

The trek began at the end of the bus line in a busy town named Syabubresi, a mostly Tamang village. While the area to the north and west of the town is mostly ethnic Tamang, where a culturally-oriented trek called the Tamang Heritage Trail can be done, the 1,000 or so residents lightly populated Langtang Valley are almost entirely of Tibetan ethnicity. Despite the massive ups and downs on the bus trip, Syabrubesi is only slightly higher in elevation than Kathmandu and actually lower than my home city of Denver, Colorado.

On the bus I met an Australian photojournalist named Jo who asked to trek with me, and we decided to forge ahead for a couple hours after getting off the bus in mid-afternoon rather than waiting until morning. Jo quickly got bored of my slow pace and went ahead. We decided to meet up in the evening, though, at a place called Pairo, a small settlement of a few guesthouses. At dinner Jo’s interest in trekking with me despite her apparently very independent nature became clear. I had not heard about any incidents in Langtang Valley, but several people have apparently gone missing in recent years in the valley. I am glad I didn’t know the details until I Googled them when I got back to Kathmandu after the trek, but one was a young Belgian woman whose body was found decapitated and mutilated, another a University of Colorado student who was never found.

The thick moss covered forests of the lower Langtang Valley do at times have a bit of an eerie feel. The lower part of the valley below about 10,000 feet or so appears to have not been glaciated so has a narrow V-shape to it and is in shadow of the mountains for much of the day. I got an early start on my second day, Jo passing me after about an hour or so, for the long steady climb up the valley. Our lunch stop was at Lama Village for some delicious Sherpa stew and evening at a small clearing named Ghora Tavola with two guesthouses.

Ghora Tavola is at about 10,000 feet, so I hiked up well over 4,000 feet that day and was thoroughly exhausted. The night was the first of several bitterly cold ones in unheated guesthouses, in contrast to the relatively balmy first night in Pairo. Light snow started falling during dinner with about two inches by morning to create a winter wonderland environment to set off on the trail.
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