At the end of November we travelled to Nepal and spent most of December there, returning to the U.K. for Christmas. The first couple of weeks we spent trekking in the Langtang region and this blog details how we walked from Langtang to Helambu (I’ve put a map here) across the Laurebina Pass (4610m). The information and prices here are correct as of December 2011 and is provided on a goodwill basis (i.e. use your own common sense, check nothing has changed and don’t blame us if it doesn’t go as planned!). The weather was warm and dry but did turn increasingly cold at night as we moved into mid December. There was a very small amount of ice on the trail but the route was easily done with normal trekking gear although the high altitude lodges were cold at night. This trek would become harder in January and February, once there is snow, without proper gear (crampons and an ice axe?). The variety of scenery and the comparative lack of other trekkers (although the time of year may well have been a factor here) made this one of our favourite treks in Nepal.
On arriving at Kathmandu we went to stay initially at a guest house in Thamel; The Sacred Valley Inn. The owners Ailsa and Ganga are old friends who we first got to know twelve or thirteen years or so ago when John used to bring trekking groups to the Annapurna region. This is without doubt probably the best value guest house in Kathmandu and unless you are a backpacker on a very tight budget or need unashamed international style luxury I doubt you will find better value. You may also note that Liz is the model on their website page as John took some photos for them when we stayed there there last year!
To do the trek from Langtang to Helambu you will need to reasonably fit and have some decent boots, rucksack, sleeping bag and warm clothing. Other than ‘broken in’ boots (which you need to bring with you) everything can be bought cheaply or hired in Kathmandu at a shop like Shona’s trekking shop (there is an interesting article on Andy the ‘Brummie’ who runs it with his wife here). The lodges will have extra blankets so you don’t need a fantastic sleeping bag. Take a water bottle (or Camelback) and some water purifying tablets to avoid having to pay for bottled water (and more importantly reduce the use of plastic in the Park).
Before you start you need a TIMS card and a park entrance permit. Both are probably just an excuse to extract money from tourists. Anyway you can get them from the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu (ask your hotel to direct you) for $20 per person for the TIMS and 1000 Nepalese Rupees for the trekking permit (the later can also be purchased at the park check point). In addition to obtain the TIMS you need to take along a copy of your passport and two passport-size photographs. Note that the Tourist Board office helpfully (Not) closes at 14.00 hrs so get there in good time before then.
So fully kitted out we set off to the starting point of Syabru Besi not far from the Tibet border. This is probably the most dangerous part of the trip (i.e. seven or eight hours on a Nepali bus). The bus is caught from the bus stand at Macha Pokhari (in Kathmandu – most taxi drivers should be able to take you there) and leaves at around 7.00 a.m. we got their at 6.30 and obtained seats OK, but in busy times you may need to book the day before. Seats at the back of the bus are not recommended as they get very bumpy and the ride is bad enough. By the way at the end of the journey I counted 14 people get out of the front 2 rows; in addition the bus will be loaded up with chickens, rice, vegetables and barrels of cooking oil. Many people choose to ride on the roof but the bus will stop before every check point to allow them to climb down and cram inside to satisfy the authorities. It will then stop half a mile later to allow them back up on the roof! Ensure that you have sufficient water and snacks for the journey although the bus will stop halfway for a food break. Eventually, the bus will reach Dhunche where you need to get out and complete the Langtang Park formalities (or get a Park Permit if you didn’t get one in Kathmandu). The bus will then travel on another hour or so to Syabru Besi.
Note that this road is being extended and improved by the Chinese all the way to the Tibet border. Once it does become sealed all the way the journey should improve dramatically but I fear that the unique character of this Tamang area will rapidly be changed forever.
At Syabru Besi there are a number of Guest Houses to choose from. We went to the Village View, a small guest house where we had stayed previously.
I asked the owner of the guest house if he knew a reliable local guide who could also carry up to around 15kg for us. I had hired a suitable 60 litre rucksack to hold our sleeping bags and waterproofs etc at Shona’s (50 Nepalese Rupees per day) back in Kathmandu.
The Lonely Planet suggested a rate of 1000 Nepalese Rupees per day for a local guide (most guides from Kathmandu start at 20$ per day). Here we met the lovely Tempa Tamang who became our guide and we agreed on 1300 NR per day with him carrying our bigger pack whilst we carried day packs with our personal gear and clothes etc. Tempa (pronounced more like Demba), although in his own words uneducated, proved to be a very reliable guide who spoke some English. Although not a professional registered guide he was excellent company and should you wish to seek him out ask for him at the Village View Lodge in Syabru Besi or try emailing his wife’s sister in Kathmandu -Starting at Syabru Besi there are a number of treks and combinations. The main ones are the Tamang Heritage trek to Gatlang, Tatopani, the Tibet border and finishing around Khanjim before returning. This trek is more home stay based than trekking lodges so has more potential for interaction.
Another option is to trek straight up to Langtang and Kyanjin Ghompa before returning much of the same way (perhaps coming back from Rimche to Khanjim). We had previously done this trek and it makes a nice short trek with some great views up at the highest points.
The third option is to trek to the sacred lakes of Gosainkunda then across the Laurebina Pass to Helambu and finish literally back on the outskirts of Kathmandu. This trek can be combined with either or both of the previous treks to make a longer trek. We decided on the last option with a slight detour at the start to take some photographs (we took last year) back to the villagers in Khanjim. In addition because of the altitude of the trek this gave us a couple of nights to acclimatise a little. Above 3000m it is advisable not to sleep more than 300m higher each day.
Our route was as follows and although we broke the 300m rule by sleeping at Laurebina we had no problems as we had had a couple of nights to acclimatise.
Day 1 Syabru Besi to Khanjim – half day trek. Good walkers could easily push on to Rimche.
Day 2 Khanjim to Rimche – an other easy walk; only half a day.
Day 3. Rimche to Thulo Syaphru
Day 4 Thulo Syapru to Shin Gompa
Day 5 Shin Gompa to Laurebina
Day 6 Laurebina to Phedi – A long day walk over the pass at 4610m.
Day 7 Phedi to Tharepati
Day 8 Tharepati to Kutumsang
Day 9 Kutumsang to Chisapani
Day 10 Chisapani to Sundarijal. Then return to Kathmandu by bus
We estimate (very roughly) the total distance to be around 95 kilometres. Trekking lodge room rates varied from 100 NR at Kanjim to 500 NR at the high lodges (around 80 pence to 4 pounds for 2 people). We probably spent between 600 and 800 NR each on food for a whole day.
At our guides village, Thulo Syapru, we spent the day at a Tamang wedding and the singing and dancing went on late into the night. The food was excellent and they had killed a buffalo especially for the occasion. It did come as quite a surprise though to see all the locals videoing the wedding on their latest ‘smartphones’!
At Chisapani you hit roads (or rather tracks) and I’m sure that you could negotiate a vehicle (not sure if local buses come this far) back to Kathmandu from here. We walked on to Sundarijal (probably another 5 hours from Chisapani) which is literally on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We then returned to Kathmandu from Sundarijal by bus (only about 40 minutes or so). As we had met a few other trekkers along the trail we negotiated a whole mini bus for 2000 NR to take all of us and the guides back into Thamel. Back in Kathmandu we had a welcome hot shower, a few beers and some respite from eggs for breakfast. We then went onto Bardia National Park in the south west of Nepal.