Saturday, October 30, 2010

Langtanging

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An earthquake, plenty of smelly toilets, thousands of metres of altitude, some phenomenal scenery and some really fun people - 4 Norwegians, a Canadian, a Dutch/American and 5 Aussies, all living and working in Nepal - a memorable 11 days! WARNING: words such as awesome, spectacular, incredible and other insufficient adjectives may be overused in the following text.

The spectacular 100km, 10 hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Syrabru Besi was all it was cracked up to be – and more. It was a dusty work out, and I may have the endless hours of continuous and extreme bumpiness to thank for my lack of back problems during the rest of the trek. Probably the most exciting moment for me was when Andy and I, with a bunch of locals, attempted to assist a van that had lost it’s brakes roll down the road without rolling off the cliff. It turns out the van DID have brakes. Sometimes I think that even if we knew the language, communication wouldn’t always be much clearer. Anyway – an interesting way to spend my birthday.

First night’s accommodation in Syabru was pretty ordinary – but a good warm up to typical trekking accommodation. i.e. not that great. Di and I were glad we bought some lightweight satin sheets in Thamel before we left to cover the mattresses! Now I’m sounding soft, I know.

Day 1 started us off up the Langtang valley – initially narrow and rainforesty, with a glacial white water torrent running down the middle and the mountains steep and disappearing above. We had our first taste of the annoying tendency of trails to go up, leading you to think you are gaining altitude, only to head back down again.

The next 2 days saw us continuing up the valley. The further we went, the higher we got and the valley opened out onto beautiful vistas. The buffalo cheese factory at Langtang was a particular treat. Grilled cheese and tomato on bread was a wonderful break from trekking food – normally dhal baat or some bland noodles.

As we forged our way up the valley, the other thing that changed was the price of stuff. A Snickers, the basis of the internationally recognised trekking pricing index, while around 60 rupees at the beginning of the trek, climbed to around 180 rupees by Kyanjin Gompa, 3 days up the valley. Andy and I discussed porter wages and worked out that the price increase was definitely not proportional to what the porters are paid to carry the chocolate. When it’s 2 or 3 days walk to a cheaper shop, these places can charge what they want I guess!

4am on Day 4 saw us rising at 4am to catch the sunrise from Kyanjin Ri – a mountain a few hundred metres above the village of Kyanjin Gompa. Climbing that mountain in the pre-dawn, almost freezing, 4000m plus altitude air was one of the hardest parts of the trek for me. I resorted to the 10 steps and then rest option, and Jai and Andy joined me. We were trekking with some FIT girls though – they powered on up ahead of us… impressive. The views from the top were surreal, as light gradually increased, clouds came and went, as did glaciers, ice falls (what’s the difference!?) and jagged snowy peaks. It’s amazing when a part of the sky you thought was just that – sky – turns out to be the side of a Himalaya who’s peak you never get to see.

A side note – I need to state that the relationship one develops with one’s down jacket is more intimate and special in many ways than the relationship one has with one’s significant other.

Early morning on Day 5, I woke to find the building rocking and shaking. “Earthquake!” was the first thought that entered my head, followed by “or maybe it’s someone running to the toilet in this rickety old building” after which, I fell back asleep and didn’t remember it again until someone asked at breakfast whether I had felt the quake. Funny thing was, it could have been ‘the big one’ in Kathmandu and we would have had no way of knowing. Not funny at all I guess. It turns out it was a 4.9 somewhere nearby.

Day 5 was also time for the gang to part ways. Those who couldn’t afford the time for the longer trek carried on down the valley, while Svien, Freya, Kieh, Diana and I tackled the valley wall. After descending around 1000m, we had to climb around 1400m to Sing Gompa at about 3900m. It was tough and we went to bed early that night.

Day 6 was the final climb to the holy lakes of Gosaikund. There was some tough sections here too – especially for Diana, who was suffering from various trekking afflictions (general sickness) by this point. It was really starting to feel like high altitude by this point. We snuck the occasional phenomenal views of Himalayas, but the clouds were never far away. We also said goodbye to Kieh along the way, who decided to hang out in Laurebina Yak, with the promise of panoramic views in the morning, and the possibility that she could go home a different way and make it back to Kathmandu for a party on Friday night. So then there were 4.

Gosaikund was magical. It’s a major pilgrimage site at particular times of the year, but only one Sadhu, living in a hole, remained at this point. We arrived early enough to walk around the main lake and really take in the amazing scenery there.

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Our guide, Sonam, said we couldn’t stay at the lodge we chose, because the ‘cook was drunk’ – we could see him, motionless under a doona on the bench. We finally worked out that we could stay, but would have to eat Dhaal Bhat. It was only after the meal that Sonam proudly told us that actually, he cooked the meal that night. It was the best Dhaal Bhat of the trek in our opinion.

Day 7, clear and beautiful, and we climbed out of Gosaikund through the highest pass of the Trek – Laurebina Pass at 4610m. Then it was a steep, cloudy descent (with more than enough ascents as well), across a mountainside whose steepness was only revealed the next morning when the clouds had cleared. There was also snow on the pass we had walked through the day before. Just missed it! (Photo below shows the new snow and the ridge we traversed)

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The next few days involved more descending (again, with plenty of ascents) down ridge after ridge back towards the Kathmandu Valley. On Day 9, when we reached a village where a bus could be caught, we lost Svien, whose feet were looking scary and red. But by this point, we also had a new gang – two French Canadian guys trekking together and two French girls trekking together. We all ended up in the same lodges – great to have a bit of a gang again.

A highlight I must say was walking back into mobile coverage just in time on Mabel’s 2nd birthday to give her a call before she went to bed in Brisbane.

On Day 10, that first view of the Kathmandu Valley was something. It was beautiful, as it was the end of the walk, but the smog and buildings/traffic also contrasted painfully with the beauty we had just come through. I was feeling great by this point. It may just have been the lower altitudes, but my pack felt good on my back, my legs felt strong and my mind was used to the daily hours of trail. Pity we had to stop!

More photos here…
Langtanging
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