Trekking in the Himalayas was an old dream. The moment I hopped on that flight destination Kathmandu, I didn't realize what we were in for yet. Seven fantastic days trekking on the roof of the world. And so many surprises that will soon make us fall in love with Nepal.
Langtang is a magnificent region of the Nepalese Himalayas bordering Tibet. In April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the country. While images of the devastation in Kathmandu were broadcast around the world, little was heard from the Langtang Valley. As the glaciers hurtled down, they shattered and then picked up snow and debris. What the earthquake didn’t destroy in the valley, the avalanche did. Langtang Village has been destroyed so hard that it ceased to exist altogether.
We went trekking in Langtang Valley in November 2014, before the disaster. It took me years to take out my travel notebooks and read my notes -with all the anecdotes about the locals, the kids, that wonderful happy place we discovered and loved so much.
Today communities are slowly rebuilding their livelihoods, charm has survived and trekking in Langtang Valley is possible again.
Trail routes are open and tea houses awaits for trekkers to come. And that's a wonderful news!
Trekking in the himalayas:
Itinerary of our 7 days trek in Langtang valley
Day one: on the road to the Himalayas : Kathmandu to Syabrubesi
6:00 am, our bags are packed, and our guide Beck is waiting for us downstairs in a taxi. On our way to the bus station, we discover the effervescence of Kathmandu in early morning. It's colorful, thrilling, dazzling. The taxi stops in a middle of a busy intersection -apparently, that's the bus station. Beck throws our backpacks on the roof of the bus, negotiates our seats and off we go, destination the Himalayas! Or so we think... Twenty minutes later, the bus starts, off we go! A hundred meters later, we stop to take some other passengers. And so on and so on.
The road to Syabrubesi can take from 7 to 12 hours. Obviously, we didn't take the fastest way to get there -but we're doing it like the locals! How can it take up to 12 hours to drive 75 kms? Simple: take a very, very old bus. Overload it with lots of people sitting on the roof. As long as there are clients, there's space! Then add some vertiginous mountain roads, a couple of punctures and many, many check points -because we're at the border between Nepal and Tibet. For the ambiance, imagine a bus as packed as it can be with people sitting on each other, and a very, very loud nepalese music. For 11 hours.
At the beginning, we're just excited to go on this new adventure. Everything here is so different -it's a whole new world! At least is was exciting -until we arrived on craggy roads, the bus leaning dangerously toward a deep precipice. Terrifying.
Eleven unending hours later, we arrive in our guest house in Syabrubesi, to realize we had reasons to be scared -a guide tells us that last week, a bus fell into the precipice, killing fifty people. It's routine, around here. We enjoy a delicious Nepalese dinner with these momos I love so much, a cold shower, then we're off to sleep. Tomorrow is a big day!
Day two: First steps in the himalayas, up to Lama Hotel
We pack again, grab a bowl of muesli, then there we are, the three of us, carrying 9kg of gear on our backs, off for 3h30 hiking through the forest. It's beautiful. We cross suspension bridges, picturesque little villages, spot a cannabis bush (!), lots of cactus, walk along a torrent... We reach Bamboo village for lunch. Time for a break with a view, by the river. First surprise of this trek in the Himalayas: the food. It's diverse, good and generous!
Then it's time to go. We still have 3 hours trek to get to Lama Hotel, our stop for the night. Time to climb now, things are getting serious! It's hot, the terrain is abrupt, it's grueling. At some point, we even ask ourselves why, WHY so much violence when we could be on a dream beach somewhere in Asia? Beck reassures us -first day is always the hardest, it will get better. On the road, we observe a family of big monkeys playing in a waterfall. We might be tired, but we couldn't be happier to be here.
In the beginning of the afternoon, after a arduous ascent, we finally get to Lama Hotel. We did it! It feels so good to put our backpacks down. We have time for a shower (it's cold, it's dirty, but there's water so we're HAPPY), laundry in the river, some stretching, a hot chocolate and a nap before dinner. Life is pretty good in the Himalayas!
Day 3: trekking up To langtang + a few yacks on the road
We wake up feeling tired, sore and achey. Pick up our laundry that dried during the night, roll our sleeping bags, get a quick breakfast and we're on our way to Langtang village. The trail is less steep than yesterday, which is not a bad thing considering our suffering legs.
It gets colder as we're gaining altitude. After a couple of hours hiking, at last, we can see the high summits, with some 7.000m peaks, covered with snow. THE HIMALAYAS. Here we are.
Then the landscape gets truly majestic. We are surrounded by the high peaks of the Himalayas. On the road, a few tea houses, more suspension bridges, forests, prairies, horses, prayer flags, locals kids with their cheeks reddened by the sun. It's indescribable. Something you have to see. To live.
The more we walk, the better it gets. We stop for lunch in a beautiful Tibetan house. The kitchen is picturesque -we couldn't ask for more authenticity. Tibet is just 15 kms from here. Most people living in Langtang Valley are Tibetans. A picture of his holiness the Dalai Lama throne in the living room. It's a dream coming true being here.
Our day stops in Langtang Village, after 5 hours trekking through the most stunning sceneries. Beck booked us a guest house freshly renovated in a bright orange house. We meet the owners, an adorable couple who prepares us a bowl of popcorn, that we'll share with their cute baby girl. And the surprise of the chef, today: we've got western toilets -woo-hoooo!
Langtang Village is spread out on the valley with beautiful wood and stone houses. We explore around, to discover locals wearing traditional dresses, kids playing, horses and... YACKS! Our first yacks! Hard to believe it's real, with this atmosphere (and these yacks!!), I feel like we're in an old movie set.
Our night in Langtang will be the best of the trek. Comfy, cosy and very relaxing.
Day four: all the way up to Kyanjin gompa
Today is our last day of ascension. What a strange feeling, we feel nostalgic already! It will be a very short day trekking, 3 hours only. We have to pace ourselves to avoid altitude sickness as much as possible. The trail is stunning. With this blue sky, colors are brighter than ever. The prairies, the stream, the prayer wheels, the stupas... Sensational.
On a little hill, a bright white stupa stands out. Stately. The wind blows on the prayer flags. A stream flows besides. One the background, the mighty peaks of the Himalayas. SPECTACULAR. An hour later, we arrive in Kyanjin Gompa, a small village with colorful houses, at 3.700m altitude. The view is magnificent. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I'd be here one day. I'm overwhelmed with emotions.
The owner of our tea house prepared us some delicious momos and some mac & cheese for lunch (mac'n cheese at 3.700m altitude in the Himalayas, how COOL is that?!). Afterwards, we go on a hike up the mountain with Beck, in an attempt to make me feel better. I've been having migraines for hours now, due to high altitude. We walk up for hours. It's beautiful but I'm in pain. It feels like someone is banging nails in my head.
The climb is very steep. And here it is: 4.000M ALTITUDE. We broke our record!
The emotions takes the step on pain. Whoo-hoooo! This is unbelievable. Sublime! All this beauty, just for us. Nobody on sight.
We get down for a snack in the village -homemade chocolate cake in the middle of the Himalayas, can you believe it?!-, hopping the descent will help me get better. Nope. I'll spend the rest of the day in my bed, feeling like a vise tightens around my head. I can't breathe, I panic, and apparently, I'm even having deliriums. I manage to eat a small dinner and get a shower, take an altitude sickness pill from Beck, and get back to bed. Tomorrow, we'll wake up at 5:00 am to climb up the summit. Thus, it's 6:00pm, and we're in bed -trying to sleep.
I'm freezing. Anxious. Sick. Living in ultimate hell. G tries to calm me, in vain. The headache is unbearable. In my delirium during the night, I ask G to call an helicopter to fly me back to Kathmandu. RIGHT NOW. Next thing, I tell him no need, I'm gonna die here anyway. Against Beck's recommendations and desperate to feel better, I take an Ibuprofen. An hour later, I sleep like a baby.
Day five: to the top And down to Sterkeri
4:45 am, alarm. G made his peace with the idea of climbing up the summit, knowing how sick I've been all night. The plan was more an emergency hike down before his wife's brain explode. Surprise: I feel GOOD! The Ibuprofen worked its magic. A 5am, we're ready to climb that peak. The starry night is stunning. It's minus 5°C. We are wearing pretty much all our clothes on us.
The sun soon rises and warms us up. We're alone on the trail, the village is asleep. We feel privileged to be here. The ascension will be slow and careful. The sky slowly goes from deep dark to pink and purple, revealing the shape of the high peaks around. The Moon is shining. It's magnificent. Once again, we are at a loss of words.
We walk all the way up, then we follow a small ridge, to finally get to Kyanjin Ri, at 4.850m altitude. The ascension is steep and exhausting. G leaves me the pleasure to be the first on the summit -knowing that I almost died last night, he takes a pretty good care of me today. The prayer flags are dancing with the wind. Mountains are colored with the sunrise. It's one of the most fabulous thing I have ever seen. Standing in front of us, Tsergo Ri, at more than 5.000m altitude. Behind it, another peak, 7.000m altitude. We are so small! We dominate the valley, but the mountains dominate us. We are in the heart of the Himalayas. Far from the crowds of tourists and trekkers. And I just realized my oldest dream.
The descent back to the village is slow and pleasant. We feel so light and happy -WE DID IT! In our tea house, breakfast is ready -life really is amazing trekking in the Himalayas.
We'll hike down during the rest of the day, all the way down the valley. It feels good to walk without any efforts -or pain! We cross lovely Langtang Village and say goodbye to our hosts from the night before, enjoy the views one more time, trying to take mental pictures of them. At the end of the afternoon, our knees start to hurt. We stop in a tea house for the night. And for the first time in a week, we have the luxury of a HOT SHOWER. Yay!
Day six: this is the end, down to Syabrubesi
6:15am, time to wake up. Today is gonna be a long day, climbing down all the way to Syabrubesi. The descent hurts our knees, we're tired and we can't help but think about the cold beer we'll drink once we arrive in the village!
The Himalayas' nature is gorgeous. After six hours trekking, we see them: the big monkeys playing on the waterfalls! It means we're almost there -whoo-hooo! Then here it is. Syabrubesi! We did it, we did it, WE DID IT! We throw our bags on the terrace of the guest house and order a round of Everest beers. Oh, these beers... Probably the best we've had. After effort comes comfort!
Day seven: Syabrubesi to kathmandu, back to reality
Today, we decide to make sur our chances to stay alive are as good as possible, so we cancel the bus and book a 4x4 to get back to Kathmandu. The road is much faster, comfortable and reassuring -even though the precipice still terrifies us.
A cyclone approaches. We finish the road under pouring rain, making the adventure even more... adventurous (scary!). Once in Kathmandu, we get stuck in traffic due to flooding, but at 2 pm, we finally make it to our hotel. We are happy, happy, HAPPY!
trekking guide or not?
The initial plan was to go without a guide, as the trail is pretty straight forward and even though it's not very touristic, we wouldn't be the only trekkers. Once we arrived in Kathmandu, we met Beck, who sold us the idea of trekking with a guide pretty well: no need to worry about having a room left in a guesthouse, no need to check the maps, no worry about getting lost, getting to know more about the culture and the nature... We could have gone without him, but we really appreciated having him with us -especially since he was a very fun guy!
We went with MOUNT FUJI ADVENTURE(P)LTD, located in Kathmandu. They offer all kind of options for a trek in the Himalayas.
It cost us a total of 640US$ (63.280Rs) for two people, for a 7 days and 6 night trip, including a guide, food, accommodation, transportation, trekking permits, TIMS card, first aid kit, insurance service and rescue service help and government taxes.
Smart tips - before you go trekking in the Himalayas...
- Pack LIGHT! I mean, REALLY light. We thought we did, and after a day hiking uphill with 9kg on our backs, we realized we had a lot of useless stuff, and left them in a tea house, to get them on our way back
- Take some altitude sickness pill and some Ibuprofen (it saved my trip!)
- Water purification tablets AND hydration powder to put in the water
- AT LEAST one roll of toilet paper in your bag
- Tiger balm is a must
- Flip flops to avoid being stuck in your hiking shoes when you're on a break
- Finish your plate! Tibetan people take it as an offense if you don't finish your meal
- Refrain from drinking alcohol when on high altitude, you'll drink when you arrive down the mountain, to celebrate!
how to get TO SYABRUBESI ?
By bus: The good thing when you hire a guide, is that he takes care of everything. We had the best seat in the bus, in the first row, with a view. It was fun to go "like a local" even though it was exhausting and dreadful. It took us 11 hours to do 75km, from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi.
By 4x4: Don't get your hope so high, it is still slow and scary. But at least the car is lighter, and you have a whole seat for yourself. It took us only 8 hours to get back to the city.