In April of 2015, Nepal made headlines when it was struck with a devastating earthquake. Nearly ten-thousand people were killed in the quake and the chaotic aftermath. Whole villages and regions were destroyed, and the Nepali people were left to the mercy of a disorganized corrupt government.
Langtang National Park, in particular Langtang village, in northern Nepal was one of those areas. Almost eighteen months later, the devastating effects of the earthquake are still quite raw. In spite of this, the Langtang region is safely open for trekking and they are desperately in need of trekking income! So please visit!
It was my last trek in Nepal, and by far, my favorite. I will always hold Langtang in a special place in my heart, and hope to return in the coming years.
Checking in with the KEEP (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project http://keepnepal.org/) office, I was warned that they weren’t quite sure if the trail was clear. I did my own research and found some bloggers that had visited recently and encouraged people to go, the same as I am now. Luckily, I attended the Introduction to Buddhism course at the beautiful Kopan Monastery where I met three others who wanted to come along.
We acquired permits and the TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System http://www.timsnepal.com/) registration at the tourist information center in Kathmandu the day before. From there, we found the local bus tickets to Syrabrubesi. The bus ride from Kathmandu to Syrabrubesi was terrifying. I thought I was prepared after three months of local bus rides, but I don’t think even the most seasoned tourist could refrain from closing their eyes in prayer when the bus tires got stuck in the mud on the edge of a cliff. The ride was about 7 hours long, so we allotted two extra days for travel in our hiking itinerary, arrival and departure respectively.
The Langtang Valley trek can easily be completed in 7 days, including the two for transportation. However, most people, us included, use the last village, Kanjin Gumba, as a home base for day trekking. The real mountaineers stock up at Kanjin Gumba before heading on to peak climbing at Yala or Nayakanga nearby, or through the Ganja-la pass. In the winter months, Kanjin Gumba is the home of extreme heli-skiiers, though heli-skiing in the Langtang area has fallen off significantly since the earthquake.
The first day of our trek was a grueling walk from Syrabrubesi to Rimche. Syrabrubesi sits at 1,400 meters, slightly lower than Kathmandu. The walk starts along the river until Bamboo, where it is a steady incline until reaching Rimche, which sits at about 2,400 meters, making day one a gain of about 1,000 meters.
From there, most people continue on to Langtang Village and stay night two in Langtang Village. Then make the two hour journey to Kanjin Gumba the next morning.
We were advised to skip staying overnight in Langtang Village and opt for Thulo Syabru, the village before Langtang, making for two short trekking days in a row. So, from Rimche, day two, we left around 8 AM making it to Thulo for a late afternoon lunch and giving ourselves the rest of the day to relax.
Day two is where we started to see some of the earthquakes effects. There were entire sections (a few hundred meters) that were just meter wide paths cleared from rock slide zones. It started to drizzle at one point and we went through as quickly as possible.
But, that was nothing until day 3, when we arrived at Langtang Village, or what Langtang Village used to be.
What used to be Langtang Village is now a field of rock. Nothing is left standing. All that remains of old Langtang Village are a few scattered white prayer flags, left by survivors to commemorate their lost loved ones. Just on the other side of the wreckage, past the gravel, homes and teahouses alike, are in the process of being re-built. Mostly out of necessity. Most of the Langtang residents made their living from lodging and feeding trekkers, and only know just that. Everywhere was reconstruction. The structures that were standing were a year old, at most. Most of the projects are funded by international NGO’s or charity organizations, who were the first ones to actually arrive in person with physical help at the time when it was needed most and the government was MIA.
With the tents between building sites, garbage from the previously standing structures, and not a power tool to be seen, it was a moving sight. Overwhelmingly sad, but strangely, without despair. Everyone we met had lost someone; a brother, mother, husband,sister, uncle, a child. Seeing the memorial, with the name of every person in the village who died (including visiting foreigners), was a more emotional moment than I expected. Stepping into the circle of prayer flags, I was immediately overcome with a sense of loss for people that I had never known, and a place that I had never seen.
Especially after meeting “Nathan” (whose name has been changed). We met Nathan in Rimche, the guesthouse we stayed at was owned by his aunt. We were playing doomble (Nepalese card game) in the dinning hall and asked him and his young cousins to play with us. We got to talking, and learned he was heading to Kanjin Gumba where he was from, and his parents owned a guesthouse. He was working in Kathmandu and coming home to help his mother for the busy season. We invited him to come along with us, and we traveled together for the rest of the trek. Through Nathan, we met a lot of people along the way.
He knew every porter, every guide, so we had a lot of different trekking buddies each day. In Thulo we stayed at his friends guesthouse, in Langtang we stopped for lunch at his cousins’ teahouse, and in Kanjin we stayed at his parents place for three nights. Nathan was college-educated, fluent in three languages (Nepali,Tibetan, and English), charismatic, and one of the most driven people I’ve ever met. The second day we were with him, the day we passed through Langtang, he told us his story. His sister, only a few years older than himself, and her family (her husband and two children, one five-year-old and one just starting to walk) had a teahouse in Langtang village. The teahouse was lost in the earthquake killing the entire family. There was nothing left of the house, and they never found the bodies. Everything was buried in rock and ice. They placed a white prayer flag where her house used to stand, and that is all that remains. We stopped for a moment of silence and to hang up our own flags at her memorial site. The pain on his face walking through the remains of Langtang village was impossible to disguise.
That was only one story, out of hundreds. People that live in these high mountain villages, from Langtang to Solo Khumbu, to the far western regions, have a hard life. It is constant manual labor, in harsh conditions, with limited resources. While staying in Kanjin Gumba at Nathans’ parents house, his mother worked constantly, cleaning or fixing or preparing. When we thought we were freezing huddled around the wood stove in the afternoons, his mother was out chopping wood or collecting yak patties to burn to keep us warm. When we woke up for our day trips, she was up even earlier to make us breakfast. When the solar panels didn’t generate any energy, she boiled a bucket of water for us to shower.
It is a hard life, and when disaster strikes there is little protection. The only option is to rebuild and carry on. The resilience and perseverance of the high mountain people struck me over and over again. And then there were people like Nathan who are determined to provide an easier life for their own children and know they will have to work ten times as hard as their parents generation to break out of the lifestyle they were born into. It was humbling and inspiring. Not only did it make me feel grateful for everything I have and have had my entire life, but, it made me realize that I could not go back to living a life of privilege with eyes closed.
We stayed in Kanjin (3800 meters) for three nights. The first full day we hiked up to Tsero Ri (4,700 meters) a small peak just next to the village.
The second day we walked down the valley itself along the river, getting a brilliant view of the Nayakanga range, Yala peak and the surrounding mountains.
After three days we were sad to leave, and reluctantly said goodbye to Nathan and his family. We worked our way back down to Sebryubesi in two days, and obtained seats in a jeep for our return journey to Kathmandu.
It felt more like an emotional journey than a physical one. I am a staunch believer in energy generated by people and places, and the energy I felt while in Langtang National Park, was like no other place I have ever been. Making it my favorite and most memorable trek in Nepal, possibly anywhere.
So, visit Langtang National Park! It is open, it is safe, and it is badly in need of trekking revenue. If you need any further details regarding accommodation along the way or anything else, please, do not hesitate to contact me!