Mar 3, 2012

Trek to Langtang: My Travelogue


Trek to Langtang which I undertook from 17th Feb to 20th Feb 2012 is one of my most wildest and eventful treks so far. Here is my travelogue of the trek.

Before we begin:

While flipping through this year calendar during the second week of February, I was pleasantly surprised to know that Shivaratri was on a Monday which meant if I took a day off on Sunday from my office, I would have three holidays on my hand which I could utilize for a trek or  something else. My pleasure knew no bounds when I came to know that the Sunday (19th ) was Democracy day- an optional holiday in my office. That meant I had three holidays on my hand already and could add a day more by taking leave. So, I had four days. Four days definitely called for a trek. The next question was- Which destination? A friend of mine had trekked to Langtang during last October- the exact date I was trekking to Tsho Rolpa. He had trekked Langtang in just four days although generally people take at least 5-6 days for the purpose. I called him for his opinion. He shared his team had been lucky enough to get a lift and had traveled till late in the evening to make it in four days. The had returned Kathmandu at about midnight on the fourth day. Not a pleasant scenario.

 “Do you think we can make it in four days too?”, I asked.
“Well, only if you guys are lucky. But err...as far as I know you are a pro hiker. I think you can easily make it to Kyanjin in a day. Yes, you can make it in four days,” he replied.

That's all I needed. The program was set now. I told Govinda (my favorite travel mate) about the plan. Unfortunately, he couldn't go this time due to his pressing engagements although he too was dying to go to Langtang. My excitement faded quickly. Without him, I had no wish to go on a trek but then again I didn't want such a rare combination of holidays go to waste. Half heartedly I asked Saurav if he wanted to go. 

The answer was an excited yes. So, the plan was rolling. Govinda suggested me to ask if Surya (a friend of ours and a novice hiker) if he would be interested to go. Surya too was excited about the plan. Then another friend Anil dropped by my office the next day and was very excited to know that we were going to Langtang and expressed his great desire to join the trek. Four participants were confirmed. I bought the tickets for four of us for 17th . 

At last hour, Bibhas also joined the team making the team 5-membered.

Day 1:Kathmandu-Syafru-Pairo

I was not sure if I could wake up early enough to reach Machhapokhari at 6:30 am to catch the bus so I had packed all my bags and had everything ready the previous day. Despite this, I had also set 3 alarms and had asked 3 people to wake me up early. I did woke up on my own earlier than my alarm time but was thankful for all the 3 people for calling early in the morning to make sure I didn't miss the bus. Excitedly I reached bus park at 6:30 to find rest of the four team members waiting for me in the park.

The bus departed at 7:10 am- 5 minutes later than mentioned departure time but still better than the general trend of Nepalese buses. Once out of the valley, the bus began to pass along the spiral roads from one to another hill while inside the bus our conversations hopped from one subject to another ranging from how langtang would look like to cycling to marijuana to music to Nuwakot Palace and Prithvi Narayan Shah. As waking up at around 5 was a bit unusual for me, I dozed off for a while to compensate my sleep while others kept chatting about various subjects. 

At about 9:30 I woke up to find the bus passing through a bridge and the beautiful Trisuli river flowing below. The large banks and the sparkling water made the river look so beautiful. The bus continued along for another half an hour to reach Dhunge where we were supposed to have our lunch. We looked around for a while for a nice place for food before finally settling for Lekali Hotel. The food was delicious. We definitely deserved self congratulations. After lunch, we hurried towards our bus and found it waiting. 

The journey now onwards was mostly uphill. The road got narrower and steeper and the bus struggled forward slowly. At a place called Kalikasthan, the bus was stopped for security checking. So, we got out for some fresh air and clicked some photographs at the same time. We took to the roofs after the checking was over as we wanted for sightseeing during the ride. From Kalikasthan onwards, however, the road became worse. The addition of new passengers to the already packed bus and poor condition of road significantly reduced our pace. There were numerous landslides which had destroyed the black topped road and all that was left was a improvised narrow road. Once in a while, the bus would tilt so heavily that we would be sure that it was going to fall off the cliffs. Luckily, we didn't.

We passed through small Tamang settlements along the way. Langtang Mountain peeked from shoulders of hills making us even more eager to get there faster. Another hour of rough ride gave way for a better conditioned road and we reached Dhunche at about about 2 pm. The bus was stopped for another security clearance as now we were within the premises of Langtang National Park. So, we climbed down for a stroll. A Sherpa wedding ceremony was going on in Dhunche at the time. As we were in the mood for some fun, just outside the house the wedding was taking place, we began dancing in the road. As we danced our jhyaure dance and shouted lhasso once in a while trying to mimic some steps of Sherpa dance, Anil suggested that we may come off as trying to tease them. We, definitely didn't want to anger anyone. So, we stopped our wonderful dance and strolled around taking pictures. Me, Anil and Saurav posed for photographs at the junction which separated the way for Langtang and Gosainkunda.

When the bus reached the place we were waiting and stopped so that we could board it, my eyes opened wide with surprise when I saw that people were racing and climbing to the roof of the bus. Despite of my so many travels, I had never seen such a scene. The scene reminded me of the “Liglig Race” scene in the movie “Seemarekha”. I gave up hopes of climbing to the roof and I squeezed myself inside the bus. Our seats had been taken already so we manged ourselves seats in the aisle of the bus. Thankfully, it wasn't any less comfortable.

The bus now passed through even more steep turnings. As one of the passenger in the bus informed us, the place is known as “Barha Ghumti” (Twelve turning) for the twelve turnings the place had. At around 4:30 pm we reached Syafru. We were overjoyed to have reached syafru so early. As per our initial estimates, we were supposed to spend the night in Syafru. But we had more than 2 hours before it got dark. 

“So, shall we stay here or what?”,I asked the group. 
“You think we came here to sit?”, someone retorted.
“That's awesome. Let's get moving then.” , I replied happily.

We continued along the way to find a swinging bridge. On asking for directions, we were directed to cross the bridge and continue along. We did as instructed. On the other side of a bridge, is a small settlement where we found a community bakery. The cakes looked and smelled delicious. So, we stopped for tea and ate the cakes served in the bakery. They tasted awesome. I would recommend anyone going there not to miss the cakes served there.

When we asked the person at the bakery, we were told that we could make it to Pairo by nightfall if we walked steadily. So, we resumed our trek. Within few minutes of walk, we met a woman who begged us to carry some of her bags. We said yes, albeit unwillingly. She informed us that she owned a lodge in Pairo and suggested we stay at her place. We agreed.

We trekked along the path that ran alongside the Langtang river-getting to bank at times and elevating at other times. Once in a while we had to stand at the edge of the trail to give way for the Khachchads that were coming downhill towards Syafru. Our conversations were excitements of seeing snow as well as apprehension of whether we would be able to make it in time. 

At around 6 pm, we reached Pairo and threw out bags once our rooms were confirmed and slumped on our beds. The sweet smell of Yak Sukuti that we had ordered compelled us to get up and hurriedly devour it. After resting for a while and freshening up, we had our dinner which was delicious. The lentils were especially yummy. It was very exciting to have our meal while listening to the roar of the river. We were happy to have the river roaring through out the night while we slept peacefully hoping to wake up early next morning and continue our journey.

Day 2: Pairo - Bamboo – Rimche - Lama Hotel – Riverside – Ghodatabela - Thang syap - Langtang Village

Next morning we woke at around 5:30 in the morning which wasn't hard as we had slept early the previous day. Hurriedly, we freshened up , did our daily chores, had a cup of tea each, paid our dues and started our journey at 6:50. We wanted to go as far as we could as time was short. As mornings are very good for photography and beautiful sceneries were in abundance,we couldn't help ourselves from delaying our trek by taking as many pictures as we could. But despite the distractions, we reached Bamboo in 40 minutes -20 minutes earlier than our estimated time. Reaching Bamboo the first that struck us was- Damn we should have walked more yesterday and stayed at this place instead. It was more beautiful than Pairo. A cup of tea each and dozens of photographs each, we once again resumed our trek. As we gained height, the mountain   appeared nearer encouraging us to keep walking and lush vegetation adorned our trail. 

Encounter with langoors (monkeys) compelled us to click some more pictures. Our pace slowed as we were faced with steeper uphill climb but we kept walking. Bibhas and Anil with their fast paced hiking weren't to be seen anywhere whereas Saurav and Surya was far behind with Saurav assisting Surya with his loads and taking pictures along the way. So, left to myself ( that's something I welcome during treks) I kept trekking in a steady pace wondering if I could conjure up a poem about the journey. 

Another two hours of walk that left me gasping for breath brought me to Lama Hotel. Anil and Bibhas were already at the place and were waiting for the rest of us. We asked the Sherpini dd to prepare lunch for us, drank a cup of tea each and began exploring around. After waiting for another 20 minutes or so, we could finally see overjoyed Saurav and exhausted and sweaty Surya appear at the turn. Saurav having found some marijuana in the jungle was excited to try it out which we did while the food was being prepared.

The food was good enough but the pickle was remarkable. I have never tasted so hot achaar in my entire life. In fact, very few of us had tasted so piro achaar before in life. Made entirely out of chillies (akbare khurshanis), even a piece of that achar can shake your brains. A must try if you love hot n spicy achaars.

At 11:40 we resumed our trek. We were behind our intended schedule so I urged everyone to walk faster and steadily now onwards. As before, within few minutes, Anil and Bibhas disappeared with their fast pace. Saurav and Surya, stoned and clicking pictures were left far behind. So , I was in the middle walking alone. 

After walking for another hour or so, the trail passed through the river bank where we rested for a while, played with the water and resumed our walk. Surya was very apprehensive about getting exhausted and not being able to walk anymore. We tried to alleviate his fears by telling that his speed was fine with us and he could do it.

Another two hours of hike brought us to a place called Riverside. The scenery was getting more and more beautiful with cool breeze blowing past and we could see the mountains nearer and nearer. What more could we ask for? Except some sweets and dried fruits of course. Saurav was happy to have his load taken off and we enjoyed some chocolates and dried fruits and resumed our journey.

We reached Ghoda Tabela , a small settlement next. There, we rested for a while and resumed our journey. We couldn't afford to waste too much of our time as we hope to reach Kyanjin Gumba by nightfall. We reached an army check post next where we were asked to record our names in the register. In case we were to be lost, our contact details would be used for our rescue.  When we told the army personnel their that we had hiked from Pairo, it was evident that he was finding it hard to believe. Though he was surprised that we had hiked so much, he said it would be next to impossible for us to reach Kyanjin the same day. We refused to take his advice seriously and geared up to resume our hike and tried to accelerate our pace.

We passed through another settlement called Thang Syap but didn't stop there. After hiking for some more time, at about 5 pm, we reached Langtang Village. Kyanjin Gumba was supposed to be two hours walk away from here. I turned around to ask if we should continue along but stopped myself when I saw how tired and exhausted Surya and everyone else was. So we decided to spend the night at Langtang Village and go to Kyanjin early next morning.

We stayed at a lodge called Tibetan Guest House which was recently built and had more faciities compared to other lodges around. After settling our bags and luggages we ordered tea. Luckily, Tibetan tea which we were eagerly looking forward to-was being prepared. After enjoying the Tibetan tea we went on a stroll to see if we could find something interesting. We were told there was a cheese factory but it was too far away and was likely to be closed at this time. So we walked around. 

Suddenly, we noticed a bright white foam like substance at the roadside. “Snow!!” someone exclaimed. Everyone rushed to see it. And then looking higher we noticed to our happiness the roads were full of snow. We had wished to touch the snow and here we were having to walk through roads filled with knee-deep snow. What could we have asked for more?

 “My God, it was worth all the trouble”, Surya exclaimed with joy. Our efforts had paid off and we were yet to see Kyangin Gumba. What a bliss!

Returning from the stroll, we shared boiled potatoes with piro achaar with the guides and then went to our beds to give our tired bodies a break. The dinner at the lodge was good but pale compared to our earlier meals. But we were too tired to bother so we went to sleep early as we had to wake up early next morning and head for Kyanjin Gumba. We didn't until then but we were in for a surprise!

A fierce wind blew through out the whole night shaking out tin rooftop. It felt as if the wind was going to blow us away. Anil and Surya weren't able to fall asleep. Rest of us fell asleep quickly as we were too tired to bother the storm as well.

Day 3: Langtang village- Kyanjin Gumba-Pairo

Next morning we woke up at around 5. The water was icy cold and prevented some of us from fulfilling our daily chores. After some breakfast, we set out for Kyanjin Gumba. Last night's storm has left behind even more snow in the roads. We were amused to see roads fully covered by snow making it difficult for people to figure out the right trail and some ponds had frozen making platform for us to walk over them. At one frozen pond, we tried walking over and standing straight without slipping. Our endeavors turned into break dance. It was so fun. Of the 2100 plus photos that were taken during the trek, majority of them were taken during our trek from Langtang to Kyanjin Gumba.

Down on the right side of the trail Langtang river was flowing but all its vicinities were covered by snow. The overall scenario made us believe that we were in the middle of wilderness though we were not. The mountains looked so close that one could almost touch them. The cold breeze from the mountains refreshed us once in a while. We could see small houses fully covered with snow. We even found some waterfalls frozen in the air. In an overall, it was a heavenly experience.

After walking for two and a half hours, we finally reached Kyanjin Gumba. My heart leapt with joy to see a beautiful settlement covered all around with snow. We started taking pictures ferociously. Saurav was especially happy to have a chance of on-the-job training for photography.

After taking photographs to our hearts' fill, we walked to a nearby lodge. On asking if they had anything “Langtang Special” to serve us, we were offered “Phapar ko roti” which we happily accepted. We had a hard time eating the rotis with just achar  so we asked for some honey. With honey, the rotis were delicious. After the lunch, we were mulling over spending some more time at the place. The guy at the lodge warned us, however, that spending too much time outdoor without sunglasses was detrimental to eyes since the bright reflections from snow all around would harm eyes. So, we decided to start our return journey. 

We took some more photographs and bid adjeau to Kyanjin and started the downhill trek. In about 2 hours, we reached back at Langtang where we paid our bills, got our bags and headed towards Syafru. The downhill trek was faster but not less painful for legs, especially the heels and calves.

This time, there were no photos to be taken. 2100 photos were enough for us, so we walked without distraction. Walking for a an hour or so, we reached Ghoda Tabela where had an awesome Thukpa, rested for about 10 minutes and resumed our journey. Walking or another few hours, we reached Lama Hotel where had tea and some snacks. At Rimche, we met crowds of college students on their way up. From their faces, it was evident that this was the trek was a tough call for them. They happened to be from Ace College and no wonder someone cried out “Surath Dai”. It was Ayush, an arthalaya graduate. It pleases to meet acquaintances in most unusual places. 

It was already evening and the sun was about to set when we reached Bamboo. Should we spend the night here or walk further to Pairo? Was the question on everyone's mind. Today was the most strenuous day of the trek as we had been walking since the morning. But if we stayed at Bamboo there was a greater chance that we would miss the bus tomorrow and be stranded in Syafru which we didn't want. So, we decided to keep walking. The sun had already set and it was getting dark. We had one more hour to walk. Soon, it became too dark to see. We took out our torches and started walking closer to each other. Thinking about the situation brought a smile on my face. Almost on every trek I have embarked on so far, there have instances where I had to walk with the torch and in the dark. It usually is fun but walking from Na Gaon to Beding last October had been real scary.

Finally, to our relief , at about 7:30 we reached Pairo. We asked the Sauni to boil some hot water so we could relax our tired poor feet. To congratulate ourselves, we had a plate of Yak Sukuti each as well. After eating a heavy dinner, we settled in the same room we had stayed earlier. Though tired, everyone has elated to have made it.

Day 4: Pairo-Syafru-Kathmandu

Earlier next morning we rushed to Syafru to catch the last bus to Kathmandu. The bus was supposed to leave at 9. With our rush we reached Syafru at about 8. We didn't forget to have the ultra delicious cakes from the community bakery though. To our surprise, when we reached the bazaar, we found two of the bus which were supposed to have left already still in Syafru. What's going on? I thought confusedly.

On being asked, a local replied. “Due to Shivaratri and the excessive road blocks demanding donations on the occasion, no buses will run today!”

“What the f**K?. Now how are we supposed to go to Kathmandu” . All of our extra walking to return to Kathmandu in four days seemed to have gone in vain. Dejectedly, we began to look around for other alternatives. There were none. No one was willing to go. “Damn this culture of ours that encourages people to extort money in the name of festival and hamper the daily lives of everyone else”, I thought to myself.

A man informed us that he had a truck coming to Syafru with his chickens and it could take us upto Trishuli if it decided to return today. There were rays of hope and our spirits lifted a little. Suddenly, we saw a jeep speeding towards us. Expecting a lift, we stopped it. The guy agreed to take us but they were going upto Dhunche only. We agreed and climbed at the back. Something is always better than nothing and it feels good to be at least some kilometers nearer to home, doesn't it?

The driver who turned out to be learning to drive nearly drove us off a cliff once when he stopped the jeep without using the handbrake and began searching for his records. As the jeep began to slip without notice to the driver, we were at the back ready to jump. But then, his friend who was more experienced driver noticed the slip and immediately applied the hand brakes. We breathed loud sighs of relief.

They left us at Dhunche, which too didn't have any buses or any other vehicles leaving for the day. So, we decided to help ourselves and started trekking once again. A couple of times we were stopped by the children asking for money. We were too angry to give them anything. “It's because of you idiots that we are having to walk”, we shouted. Some took it with calmness but some of them shouted back. It was fun quarreling with the children.

We had walked for almost an hour when we finally saw the blue truck that was returning after delivering chickens to Syafru appear at a turn. We had seen the truck go to Syafru but had been unable to stop it. But now we were well prepared. As the truck came closer all of us waving our hands vigorously. The driver stopped the vehicle. They agreed to take us upto wherever they would be going but it would cost us a bit. We were not in the mood to haggle over money, so we agreed and climbed the back of the truck. 

It was one hell o a bumpy ride but we enjoyed it. We were stopped more than,I guess 300 times along the way by children and sometime even adults who had erected barricades in the road on the occasion of Shivaratri demanding money. We gave money to about 10 of those groups. For the rest, we made our way by either threatening them, cajoling them or simply driving through their barricades. The most effective trick that worked was telling them with a sense of urgency that we had a patient in the vehicle and were taking him to hospital and promising them that we would give them money on our way back.

On reaching Kalikasthan, the driver told us to wait for a while as he had some work there. So we decided to have lunch while waiting. The food at Kalikasthan was also delicious. Anil had been asking for ghee at every place we ate food. Most of the times he had been disappointed. But not this time. When asked for ghee, the Sauni brought a bowl of melted ghee and poured over our rice. We all laughed at this. Anil was finally going to eat ghee to his fill. The ghee induced us to have a little more food that we generally had. So, after the lunch, we were sluggish and sleepy. 

Another 2 hours of ride and countless negotiations with the road blockers, we finally reached Trishuli. And by the way, we were more than happy to par our fares which turned out to be Rs. 100 each which was lower than we had expected. In Trishuli, we found a micro van who agreed to take us to Kathmandu if we would pay then Rs. 250 each (Rs. 100 higher than normal day's fare). We agreed and in a while we were on our way back to Kathmandu. Hurray!!

Epilogue:

We reached Kathmandu before the sun had set. So we had some time for Shivaratri celebrations too. Langtang Trek was one of my most wildest walkings ever and is one of the most memorable trek so far. For a day or two, I had a difficult time walking but it was pleasant experience as it reminded me of Langtang and the great time we had there. As I finish writing this travelogue, I have almost finalized our next trekking destination and I am eagerly looking forward to it. Life is just wonderful!