Guide to Trekking in Nepal: The Langtang Valley Trail

For the last of my time in Nepal, I wanted to make sure I checked off the pretty much biggest thing to do in this great country, which is trekking. Some people may not know this, but Nepal has a bunch of mountains, basically running it’s length, and they are somewhat scenic. Psst, I’m talking about trekking in the Himalayas! Off to the Langtang Valley Trek!!!!

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So most people hear Himalayas and think of summiting Everest. And then think of either death or insanity. Normally both, like an insane death perhaps. No? Maybe that’s just me. But there are actually many different regions that show you different landscapes, and trekking (in comparison to climbing) does not require crampons, grappling, or being rigged to a bunch of other equally altitude sickness ridden humans.

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Despite my affinity for adrenaline sports like jumping off bridges naked, falling into a crevasse and being one of the bodies frozen along the trail to the Everest summit is not on my Bucket List. Nor would my mother look too keenly upon the prospect.

I wanted to trek, so I needed a Himalayan trekking partner: Enter the lovely Jackie from Golden, British Columbia, who I met at Sadhana and who had already done some great trekking in Nepal so she knew the ropes. And I was pretty certain she wouldn’t whine too much. We all know how I feel about whiners…

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We picked the Langtang trekking region based on several factors: it was relatively close to Kathmandu, Jackie hadn’t trekked it yet, and it probably wouldn’t kill us. Good deal.

Transportation from Kathmandu to Langtang

The first issue with trekking in the Langtang region is getting to the Langtang Region. The ‘easy access from Kathmandu’ that is touted, is actually an 8 hour bus ride from hell that starts at 6am and takes you up and out of the valley, and then careens around corners high up on cliff sides until you think you will either perish of anxiety or vomiting. Now I’m definitely more of a mental illness kind of girl, consistently imagining the less than well maintained bus shooting straight off the cliffs that were the road, and the bus erupting into a fiery volcanic mess. Jackie is more a motion sickness kind of gal, so puking would have been her way to go.

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But we put our big girl panties on, shut our eyes, and hoped we would survive. Then the bus started to really over crowd, and people were basically sitting in our laps. Then some idiot got on with three full jerry cans of gas, which proceeded to leak. And the vivid image in my mind of a fiery blaze got even fierier. And oh the smell. It doesn’t help that Nepali road travel is known for pretty dicey situations, what with the combination of crappy vehicle upkeep, these harrowing roads, and dare I say that the drivers usually look to be pre-pubescent. No, I won’t say that, that would be ageist!

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We did make it to Syrubesi, the start of the Langtang trek, nobody puked (well, that’s not true, nobody in the Kydd-Ohnander Party of Two puked, many other people on the bus did), and my deathmares did not come to pass. Syrubesi is the village where one starts the Langtang Valley trek from. It’s a cute little mountain town, with about a million places to stay, but very few barking dogs, so win-win. We took a short walk to figure out where we would be going the next morning, watching a class of 4th graders play a game that looked very much like Thumbs-Up 7-Up, but in this game if you acted up the teacher hit you with a stick, yikes.

Interested in more Himalayan trekking opportunities? Check out Live, Travel, Teach’s experience trekking the Annapurna Circuit Chame-Manang!

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Trekking in Nepal: A guide for Beginners

Let me explain about trekking in Nepal. It’s great! It’s generally known as a lodge system, or teahouses, and you can hike from lodge to lodge along the route. Depending on the route, lodges can be every 15 minutes, or every 6 hours. The lodges are normally fairly basic, but they serve all kinds of different food (well they say they do, most of the food is an off shoot of each other, like veggie macaroni or veggie spaghetti… same same?), and have rooms with two twin beds in them.

The rooms are otherwise pretty spartan, but the mattresses are soft because they are blocks of foam, and sometimes you even have electricity! There is normally a common area/dining room, with a wood burning stove to hang out in once the sun goes down, as FYI, the sun not only gives light, but extreme warmth. The temperature in the Himalayas? Well it gets cold at night. Write that down!

So you basically hike between lodges, soft beds, and hot meals. Which is totally my style because then you’re not carrying tents, stoves, mattresses, or food (except for the many, many Snickers bars and sleeves of Oreos, which truly are gifts from the Gods).

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Hiking the Langtang Valley Trail in Nepal

Day 1 of the Langtang Trek took us through various kinds of forests, including pine, birch, and rhododendron, until we arrived at a hillside lodge in Rimche. The first night we stayed in a small spot called Rimche, which is a bit before the typical day one lodging point, but we had walked far enough and the girl who worked there really sold it. The sun shone on the property until legitimate sunset, and our room had a poster of the Dalai Lama in it.

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Day two of the Langtang starts with a bit more of the same, trekking through forests, until about mid-morning when you get above the tree line and supposedly the views open up and you can see all the merriment of the Himalayan Valley that you are trekking through. And I’m sure it is magnificent, but the day we did it, it was completely socked in and we couldn’t really see much. But we imagined it was amazing.

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We got to Langtang Village, which sits at about 3600m, that afternoon and stayed in a little lodge where we were basically just sleeping in the house with the couple who ran it. We sat in the kitchen keeping warm with them for a while, and then once our fire was going, moved in there with our books. While wearing every article of clothing that wasn’t sweaty. And in sleeping bags. It was slightly chilly.

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Tibetan Food in Nepal

We ate the best Tibetan food imaginable, local curries, soups and cheese, just amazing. The only thing to make it better would have been the mucho advertised fresh yak curd. We really wanted to try yogurt made from yak goodies, but apparently it is only actually made from October to December. Dang Langtang, you should take down the MANY signs you have up promoting this magical curd and therefore preventing the heartbreak of the many food obsessed Canadian trekkers.

Hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal

Day 3 we awoke to a gorgeous sunshiney day, with incredible views of the mountains, the river valley, and basically everything around us. We were so happy!

The route between Langtang village and Kyangin Gompa, the last official stop on the route is amazing, with breath-taking vistas looking up to both of your sides, and ahead at the mountains that make a cul-de-sac around the back of Kyangin Gompa.

We passed many Tibetan mani stones, which are long piles of carved stones with mantras etched into them, as well as a few stupas to really feature in the pictures. I mean, mountains on their own just get so dull, am I right? Other bits of Tibetan Buddhism along the way are prayer wheel houses that have been built on top of mountain run off streams. Inside the little house is a large prayer wheel or two, anchored to a water wheel, which in theory, will be pushed by the flowing water, keeping the prayer wheel turning infinitely.

We arrived at Kyangin Gompa, found a lodge that had an upstairs balcony in the sun, and checked in. I do love a patio with a view! And we had one, since Kyangin Gompa is a small village surrounded with a 360degree mountain view. After we ate lunch, and I had what could only be called a Tibetan grilled cheese sandwich, we set off on an afternoon side hike, which turned out to be a bit longer than we thought it would be…classic.

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Climb to Kyangin Ri in Langtang Valley Nepal

So we set off to climb to Kyangin Ri, and we figured that was the peak directly overlooking the village. Well that is a Kyangin Ri. But the Kyangin Ri we ended up going to was “second top”, which sits at 4773m and the way to the top of it is around the back of the ‘first top’, up a valley a bit, and then basically crossing a snow field diagonally. Now, I’m not a big fan of snow in general, I’m from Vancouver, so we don’t really do snow, and I really refuse to deal with it. But there we were tromping through the snow, uphill, windy, and not entirely sure where we were going to end up.

Thankfully, I had Jackie with me, who is a snow bunny and is much better in it than I am, and tromped ahead of me breaking through the covered footprints we were following. She’s also taller than me so her lithe legs were more conducive to such activity. My stumps would have had us back at the bottom in no time!

When we did reach what was a top, which you know by the cacophony of prayer flags, the view was insane. Like, in such a way that you actually feel like you were helicoptered in and just left on the top of a mountain. I briefly had fears of how the hell we were going to get back down again. But lets not think about that for a minute!

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The view was total 360 and we are pretty sure we saw Tibet through the glaciers!  The icy peaks, and the snowfields that were immediately, and gigantically, right in front of us felt immense. It’s actually hard to describe how immense the Himalayas really are, they are right there, in your face, and despite the theory that There Ain’t No Mountain High enough, pretty sure these were more than adequate.

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With being at 4773 metres in the winter in Nepal, comes ravaging winds, so we very quickly put on more clothing, me donning my much loved plaid lumberjack toque with furry lining and ear flaps that buckle under the chin. Also climbing up that high makes you hungry. So we very quickly ate some Oreos, which I had secretly packed in the day-pack knowing they would be orgasmic at the top. They were.

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After we reveled in the glory of our summit Oreos, we worried about the impending sunset and the knowledge that we absolutely did not want to go down the path we had just come up.

Jackie scouted around a bit, and found a ridge trail that actually led us to the Kyangin Ri ‘first top’ (the one you can see from the village and the one we thought we were going to). Once we made it there we were less worried about the tragic possibility of spending the night freezing to death on a mountain after night fall.  We slowly worked our way back down the side of the hill to town.

As the sun went down.

We got back to the lodge about 10 minutes from pitch darkness. Timing is everything as they say! Then we ate more Oreos.

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Trekking through the Langtang Valley in the Himalayas

The next morning we left Kyangin Gompa and headed back down the Langtang Valley. We wanted to get as far as we could as we were going to connect with the Gosainkund Trek, which runs parallel to the valley trek but higher. We backtracked all the way to Rimche, which was our first night’s stop.

We had gorgeous views on this day as well, as everything was totally clear and warm, and when we dragged ourselves into Rimche, after 7 hours of walking downhill, probably about 18km down, our knees and toes were fried and we were glad to do some ‘yoga’. We talked about doing yoga everyday while on the trail, but inevitably ended up arriving exhausted to the lodge of the night, doing a few stretches, and then just settling our weary bodies into child’s pose.

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Hiking from Langtang to the Godainkund Trek

The next morning we woke up to the sounds of other trekkers on either side of our room having conversations and giggling. Most of the lodges are literally made out of plywood and the gaps in the walls don’t just let wind through, they also leak noise at 6am. After we got over ourselves and ate breakfast, (food so often does help a foul mood, especially when you laugh at yourselves about said mood over sugary porridge and tea) we set off for the destination of Thyulo Syabru, a village off of the Langtang that would connect us with the Gosainkund Trek.

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After walking for an hour of so, we came upon a big group of trekkers, which is my worst nightmare, trekking with a ton of people of different ages and capacities for whining.

This group peaked our interest though as there were a couple of very attractive gentlemen in the ranks and despite the incredible natural scenery all around us, Jack and I were noticeably starved for true eye candy.

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After eating a Twix each and thoroughly objectifying a few innocent souls (one stud did give me the eyebrow raise, which made us giggle, and we then proceeded to refer to him as my boyfriend for the rest of the trek), we set off, up, for Thyulo. Up is the operative word. But since we had spent the whole day previous coming down, we were a lot lower altitude wise, and it was actually less painful to go up due to the sore ‘down’ muscles. It’s all a balancing act exactly how sore specific muscles can be when doing specific directions.

We arrived in Thylo and found a lodge that was someone’s house. Where we showered. In a warm shower. For the first time in days. It was pretty great. We then spent the afternoon on a sundrenched rooftop, ate a delicious dinner squatting in the kitchen with the couple huddled around the fire, and then settled in for a much warmer night than previous ones because we were so much lower.

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Hiking to Gosainkund in Nepal

Our hike to the Gusainkund the next morning was helped by this family, as they had an uncle (of course, everybody is related!) who owned a lodge at the village of Cholopati, where we were headed to, and he led the way and opened the lodge for us to stay in.

Which was a great deal for two reasons: one because the path wasn’t totally clear for the first bit so a guide was useful; and two, no other lodge would have been open because of being off-season and we would have been SOL.

Our guide found great joy in us, especially laughing at us for falling down. The trail between Thyulo and Cholopati is a ‘short cut’, and is infrequently used, especially in the winter. That means this trail was in kind of rough shape, and we spent a good portion of the day climbing uphill in luscious mud sprinkled with a bit of snow. And even with walking sticks, if you step down on some mud that doesn’t feel like staying in place, you yourself are not going to stay in place.

I definitely went down a few times, and one time went down on one knee, couldn’t feel any feasible way to get back up on my feet, so just put the other knee down and crawled to safety. It was pretty pathetic and Jackie laughed at me. Once we arrived to Cholopati, I rinsed out my pants to try and be not so caked in mud the next day, and settled in for another night around the fire, reading.

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Our morning in Cholopati started early, as the plan was an ambitious one. To hike from Cholopati all the way to Gusainkund Lakes, which are the real gems of this trek, and then back down to Laurebina, a village between the lakes and Cholopati. This would probably have been about 6.5 hours of walking mainly uphill as the lakes sat at about 4400m and Cholopati sat at 3600m. Well we were primed for it, but then the weather came in, and after walking uphill for about an hour, being more and more shrouded in mist, snow, and flat out dreariness, Jack and I looked at each other and made the swift call to get out of dodge. Why walk uphill for 4 hours to not see anything due to snow clouds?! That’s irrational. Especially when we could be lower, warmer, and potentially drinking beer.

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So decision made, we turned around, and booked it all the way down the Gusainkund trail to Dhunche, a roadside village that leaves much to be desired. We still walked for about 5 hours, but downhill, and we did get snowed on, but there was beer at the end of that tunnel and more chocolate. And did not regret the decision to avoid a mountain top blizzard one bit.

The problem with Dhunche is that is sucks. It’s a terrible town, and admittedly we walked into it exhausted and hungry, we were displeased with it in general and spent some moments using really foul language to describe our time spent there. We agreed our favorite thing about Dhunche was leaving Dhunche. And the attractive army man that Jackie saw.

Dhunche to Kathmandu

After our night in Dhunche, we caught the bus back down to Kathmandu, a repeat of the bus trip to Langtang. This time Jackie popped two Gravol right at the start of the trip and I made a mental agreement with myself to be a beacon of mental stability and not spend the next 8-hours imagining my flaming demise. This turned out to be a pretty successful agreement, probably made more successful due to the driver being a decent one and after the first hour of responsibly navigating hairpin turns I decided to trust him. Even though he was wearing a purple shirt and I was once told by a very wise professor to never trust a man who wears purple shirts.

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When we arrived back in Kathmandu, alive, and again without vomiting, we were very glad to be back, mainly for the hot showers that awaited us.

Travel Blog from Nepal’s Langtang Valley Trek…

A Yak is a boy yak, and a Nak is a girl yak. So really, the yak curd should be called NAK curd.

Halfway through the hike my sunglasses snapped. But have no fear, I am my father’s daughter, and when eyewear starts misbehaving we quickly and agilely fix said miscreant with a determined form of adhesive, in this case, duct tape. So in most of the photos of me on this trek, I have duct tape on my glasses. That combined with the lumberjack toque, I was a Langtang sex machine.

The night in Kyangin Gompa was our coldest, as we were the highest, sleeping in the highest Langtang village at 3800m’ish. After dinner when we left the warmth of the dining room, we were in such panics to get into our sleeping bags and warm our bodies with flailing friction, we left trekking paraphernalia everywhere, did not think through our clothes for the next day (eg. I always put my shirt and sports bra at the foot of my sleeping bag so they are warm the next morning, nothing worse than putting on a frozen bra), and ‘brushed’ our teeth with Oreos (surprisingly effective for sending you off to dreamland, though I’m sure a dental hygienist would disagree). Mistakes were made.

Trekking in offseason has its advantages. One being that the lodges generally let you stay there for free, as long as you eat your meals there. Which isn’t tough, because there are no other places to go.

For the entire trek I was reading Gone with the Wind. There were many moments that Scarlett O’Hara would absolutely NOT have approved of. But, oh Rhett.

For parts of the Langtang trek, we were in red panda country. Red pandas are super cute, and super endangered, there are like 200 living in the wild or something equally small. We were well on the lookout for them, but I’m pretty sure our loud voices and general lack of tranquility probably discouraged them from sticking around too much. We were also in snow leopard country. I was fine with scaring them off. We did see a few monkeys, but they stayed well away, good riddance.

I managed to not get sunburned this trek, which means that maybe I have learned a thing or two since getting absolutely torched trekking in Peru.

Yaks are everywhere on the Langtang trail. And sometimes they are on narrow bits of the trail, and standing completely blocking the path. Yaks can have some pretty serious, and pointy, horns. So you don’t want to get too close to the head. But then you also do not want to walk right behind them, what with the possibility of a swift boot. It really is Sophie’s Choice whether you try to pass them by their front ends or back ends.

Being trekking partners with someone means you get really close really fast. Especially in developing countries with potentially dodgy food and limited bathroom facilities. I won’t get into the details, but Jackie and I were super tight after this trek.

****** Update: Regretfully, the Langtang Valley was horrifically devastated by the Nepal earthquake in April 2015.  My heart broke when I saw the footage of the villages where a mere year earlier Jackie and I had walked through, experienced amazing hospitality in the homes of Nepali people, and were awestruck by the beauty of this incredible valley. There is a heart-wrenching video of the valley after the devastation of the earthquake, link HERE.  Please remember, regardless of the amount of time that passes after these events, the lives of those affected will never be the same and to keep them in your thoughts. Love to Langtang. xo.

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