Langtang Valley Trek Part II - Central Valley

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

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Flag of Nepal  , Himalayan Region,
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Day 3 of my trek started out cold and sunny with two inches of snow on the ground and snow blowing off peaks glimmering in the sunshine. From Ghora Taveola onwards the valley opened up to the U-shape typical of places that have been glaciated – wide relatively flat valley floors with vertical cliff sides. The hike still had its steep parts, but the blue skies and snow on the trees made it magical. I started out a little before Jo again, but it didn't take long before she passed me, since there were still some quite steep parts during the first few hours.

One feature of the Langtang Valley which differs from most of the Annapurna Trek I would do the following month is that there is no road into the valley. That means that everything has to be portered in, either on mule trains or on the backs of humans. Nepal is one of the only places I’ve been where humans appear to be the primary beasts of burden. Yes, in Africa you’ll see women carrying large loads on their heads, but most still goes on the backs of various pack animals. Nepalese, though, are like ants – small but seemingly able to carry several times their body weight on their backs steadied by a rope around their foreheads. The fact that things have to be carried in makes weighty things like beer, bottled water, and soft drinks especially expensive in Langtang, prices rising consistently with distance from the bottom of the valley.

My pace slowed as my emotions rose as the vistas became ever more beautiful. By late morning I was within a mile or so of Langtang and ran into Jo at a group of guesthouses making up a settlement named Ghomba. She was excited about the Losar (Tibetan New Year) celebrations going on, but by the time I got arrived the ceremonies were mostly over and the drinking was well under way. She found the man with the key to the Gompa (monastery) up on the hill, and we followed him for a personal tour. The dude just pointed at things and then held out his hand for a tip as we finished, but it was still a pretty special experience.

Jo continued onwards intending to reach Kyanjin Ghompa, the highest settlement in the valley by late afternoon. I was bushed, mostly from the big altitude gain the day before, and wished her well – axe murderers in the valley or not, I would not be able to make it that far. I settled in for lunch with the folks enjoying chang and rakshi for Losar and partook of some myself. Chang (not sure about spelling) is the local brew made from fermented barley or rice and served warm. It’s passable. Rakshi is described as rice wine, but it’s total fire water and clearly a distilled spirit. Feeling good after lunch and chang and rakshi I decided to stay the evening at the guesthouse rather than continue on twenty minutes or so to busier Langtang village.

As I was the only guest at the guesthouse that night I ate dinner with the family. One thing I discovered in Langtang was that people there were quite beggarly in a way I rarely encountered elsewhere. The manager and his wife (who spoke a bit of English) told me about their eldest daughter in Kathmandu who was in school in Kathmandu, sponsored by a German tourist. The schools in Langtang are poor – would I like to sponsor their son for 100,000 rupees (about $1,000) per year to go to school in Kathmandu? "Sorry, but I’ll have another beer to help support the fund….Thank you!" As I left after breakfast in the morning they insisted on their nephew accompanying me to Kyanjin Gompa..clearly so he’d steer me to their relative’s guesthouse there. I almost had to throw stones at him to leave me alone and let me walk by myself in the morning. The desperation of the people in Langtang is probably related to the loss of business from word getting out about the women trekkers gone missing in the valley, but it was still very annoying.

Langtang village is home of almost all of the valley’s 1,000 or so residents when they aren’t serving tourists at guesthouses higher or lower. It’s not very big, but had a real medieval feel about it as I walked through. Beyond Langtang the valley opened up further, snow-capped peaks and glaciers all around. Along the trail were chortens and incredible mani walls. What’s a mani wall? Well, it’s a pile of stones that forms a long wall that separates directions on a thoroughfare. In Tibetan Buddhism one must always circumnavigate such religious shrines towards the left (clockwise direction) for good karma. The walls are covered with flat stones into which prayers are carved. The amount of work that must have gone into carving prayers onto these stones covering the mile long wall absolutely boggles the mind.

Above Langtang the valley broadened further and flattended out for a beautiful walk at 12,000-plus feet in brilliant sunshine.  My approach to Kyanjin Gompa I’m including in my next entry, but I should mention something about my return trip. I was all alone as I was walking back down valley on another brilliant morning. A local Tibetan man came running towards me. He approached me and begged and pointed and made weird sounds. He pointed toward my backpack. “No, you can’t have what’s in it.” He started yelling “socks” and pointed downwards to his feet. “No, I don’t have socks”. He came closer. I started freaking out and snarling at him to go away in the throatiest voice I could muster and making aggressive fist and punching gestures towards him. “Is this the Langtang Valley murderer,” I wondered, “or am I just being an jerk to a desperate local”. Anyway, he wandered off and I continued onwards without turning my back towards him.

I mentioned the story to people later on in my trek. “Are you sure he was saying 'socks’ and not ‘sex’ they all asked when I described the situation. It had not occurred to me at all that that was what he might have been seeking, but it seemed like a real possibility when others suggested it.

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