Langtang National Park
23 May 2008
|For detail of the bus journey to the Langtank trek start point of Syubru Besi re-read the entry for the bus trip from Karkavitta to Kathmandu except the following changes... Remove three screaming kids and replace with a baby, change the shoulder-sleeper to a Nepali and add fights over knee space, adding the fact that he was wearing a peaked cap that continued to bash me on the shoulder, change bumpy road to a not even fit for most jeeps road with terrifying drop-offs down to the valley floor - STG1.80 for the best roller-coaster you are ever likely to ride, no safety net included. At the lunch stop I watched another bus come into town from the opposite direction and unload a compliment of walking wounded and stretcher cases to the nearby health clinic. I don't know what that bus had been doing but I was glad that I wasn't on it. Half an hour out of town the story was told as we passed the wreck of another bus on it's side in a paddy field with the roof cut off and the army still pulling bodies out, still alive I hope. My bus made it in one piece and earlier than I'd expected, I had another bruised shoulder (actually the same one rebruised) and a different bump on the side of my head. They may as well have dragged my pack along behind on a piece of rope rather than keep it in the hold, it couldn't have been any more covered in dust and mud. The early arrival allowed me to have an evening stroll up the valley stopping just short of the park entry point before returning for my first of a series of nightly dal bhats and a relatively early night.
I was forced out of bed at 7am by the incessant horn of the bus about to make it's return to Kathmandu. Breakfast was a wonderful omelet, I ordered a plain omelet, I got a 'salt and hair omelet', at least the tea was drinkable. Eventually I dragged myself off to do some walking, I'm never a great starter and the first hour every day is usually a drag until I get myself warmed up and in the groove. Syabru Besi is at the junction of two rivers and the main town is departed over one bridge to another section of the town in the angle of the 'Y', this section of town is older and can be difficult to navigate to the second bridge. I had a decision at the second bridge, there is a trail up either side of the river, my map had the left near bank as the main trail but the map in the village marked the opposite bank as the preferred route. I figured that the village map would be kept more up to date so crossed the second bridge and took the left bank. At first I thought I'd made a good choice as my path was relatively flat and I could see the other one head up over a landslide. But then it changed, I could see the other side gently follow the river while I was forced to climb over landslides, rock outcrops and cliffs, often ending up over 100 metres above the river only to descend back to river level and start all over again. I should have realised when I saw that the porters were taking the other side, those guys always know the best route.
Eventually a wooden bridge brought the main trail and porters back over to my side and the steady climb up to Bamboo Lodge. The river is fairly violent and loud at this point, far too steep for rafting, passing up through forest of various trees and large stands of bamboo (hence the lodge name) and vast growths of marijuana that would have many of you drooling. I stopped for tea and lunch, noodle soup, at Bamboo Lodge. Further climbing brought up another suspension bridge taking the route back to the west of the river. I caught and passed a Czech couple only to hit my scheduled cigarette break and let them back through. It didn't take long to overhaul them again and reach the days final destination of Lama Hotel before 1pm, two hours up on plan. I had tea and a rest before wandering down to the river where I was very proud of my nine stone cairn construction
and then wandered up river to do a bit of jungle bird spotting. The second dal bhat of the trip was very nice, I'm not sure what was in it, either some kind of meat or mushroom/quorn substance but I didn't want to ask and find out that it was chicken offal or worse.
It had been misty and cloudy for most of the first day and not long after sunset the rain came, on and off it rained for most of the night with the odd distant rumble of thunder. It was still very overcast when I got out of bed and wandered down to the restaurant for my Tsampa porridge and tea fix. The first hours walk, again mainly uphill, was made in constant drizzle of the English variety, I could have been on a days stroll in the Lake District. Just after the hour it started to rain heavily, fortunately this coincided with the first scheduled nicotine break and passing a small tea shack with a plastic awning outside. I stayed there for 25 minutes while the heavier shower passed over. It's never easy to judge the weather in such mountainous regions, I could have sat there all day in rain while 10 minutes walk could have taken me above the cloud or into a sheltered valley. When it resumed the previous drizzle I moved on, the next two hours walking, in continuous mizzle, followed the river through one of the most beautiful parts of the trek, dense forests of furry trees, mossy stones, birds singing (when they weren't drowned out by the roaring river.
Above 3000m the track leveled out onto a gently rising plateau where I passed through an army check post to be told that I was the first person through today. The vegetation began to thin out and the river disappeared down in the valley below. At the far edge of this plateau there was a very steep 20 minute climb upto a village, I stopped for a tea break but it started raining heavily again so I decided to take lunch there too. Suddenly the clouds broke and the sun came out producing instant steam from the soaked wooden tables outside. I expected the next section to Langtang Village to take 2 hours and hoped to do it in 1:40 to be there by 2pm. It wasn't a difficult section, a winding path round the valley edge and over a couple of pointless bridges, (they couldn't have saved more than 5 minutes from the old trails fording the river and given the natural dip of the suspension bridges probably had similar profiles), over a ridge and I was in Kanchin Gompa in only an hour.
When I walked into the village a Canadian guy (Tom) I'd very briefly spoken too was just checking into a lodge, I decided to look there as I'd have someone to chat with an it's more environmentally friendly to have more than one meal cooked at a time. It was a wet afternoon the first part of which I spent in the kitchen of the lodge with the slightly strange female Tibetan owner. I've never been a big fan of 5S but this kitchen needed it terribly, I don't think I've ever seen such a messy, disorganised room in all my life and wasn't looking forward to eating the fruits of it, I just hoped that the rotting vegetables in baskets weren't going to feature. I went off for a cold siesta and read for a bit then woke up just before sunset. The clouds had cleared and we had real mountain views all around until the sun went down and the mist rolled back up the valley. The evenings dal bhat was a bit dubious but more for the fact that I think like many Tibetans she just couldn't cook, the dal was watery with a strange unidentifiable taste, the subji (vegetable dish) contained overcooked potato and undercooked carrot and lots of the local green vegetable which is a sort of nettle come cabbage affair. I chatted with Tom for a while and the strange woman kept sort of staring/leering and then trying to sell something whether it was her knitted hats and gloves or more tea. Eventually it got dark and cold so I took a blanket and headed to bed.
On a bad day it should only be a 2 hour walk from Langtang to Kanchin so I was preparing to have a lie-in when I turned over in bed and saw incredibly blue sky outside as I'd left the curtains open. I got up, it was only 6:20 but it was worth it for the great views all around. Tom, a bird-spotter and early bird was just heading off. Breakfast was awful, heavy Tibetan bread and two boiled eggs which were stone cold so I don't know when they were boiled and how long she'd been saving them. I got the mountain views all along the route to Kanchin which is now all alpine meadow with many many mani walls along the way. The mad host from Langtang wanted to walk with me to show me to her niece's guest house in Kanchin, I told her not to, that I like to walk alone, I didn't say that if she had any part in her niece's culinary training that I didn't want to stay there. Halfway there I stopped for the obligatory cigarette break (altitude training) and as I suspected she was following me, she continued on but I soon found her waiting at the next tea shack. We then had a bit of cat and mouse, I walked far too fast for her to keep up although I knew she was still behind. Then I took a wrong turn, I realised within 30 or 40 metres that I'd gone the wrong way but she spotted her opportunity and was hurrying to intercept. I literally jogged back to the intersection to stay ahead but now I could hear her wheezing and panting behind as I crossed the final ridge into Kanchin Gompa. Before she caught up I'd booked into a completely random lodge. I don't think she was too happy but I did her a service, she was overweight and got a good day's exercise out of it.
I sat around outside the lodge and had a walk around the viewpoints of the village admiring and photographing the views. kanchin Ri, the hill overlooking the village looked very inviting with not a cloud anywhere near it but I thought I'd wait until the next day to climb it as I'd probably gained enough altitude in the last 3 days to be safe. I tried to order boiled potatoes with butter and cheese for lunch but they were out of cheese. I later found out that the whole valley was out of cheese, even the factory couldn't sell me any as all stock was gone until the next batch ripened. I settled for just boiled potatoes and the new hostess disappeared and returned five minutes later with a bowl of raw spuds. I thought that maybe she had gone off to the garden to dig them up, very fresh and organic. When I got them after their boiling they looked exactly the same, eyes, shoots, cuts, dirt and all
, I think maybe she'd stolen them from the horses. Why can't Tibetans cook? Why do the British get such a bad press for our food, while Tibetans, Bolivians and especially Mongolians walk the earth we won't be the worst. I ate what I could of them and after watching a few people climbing the peak through my binoculars and recognising some of them as people I'd been on the same schedule as I decided to take advantage of the good weather which wasn't showing any signs of deteriorating.
I've climbed this hill before, it was actually my first 4000m summit and I remembered that the best approach was from the rear so I headed off on the trail behind the hill. Although this was a good track it became obvious that it wasn't going to go to the top as it continued between this and the next hill up the valley floor between them. I logged the point where I left the trail on my GPS and then headed off freestyle, basically straight up. I soon hit a few faint goat tracks and stuck to these for a while before veering straight up again until I hit the ridge to the summit. At the top I logged the height and found that it was only 4330m, I always thought it was 4773m as the peak on the map but with the clear views I now realise that the genuine Kanchin Ri at 4773m is a further peak behind this one. 11 years ago we climbed in mist and could easily have missed the fact that there was a higher top behind. The Japanese group were up on that summit but after climbing 1000m+ per day for the last three days I thought that the altitude gain was too much to follow them, weather depending I could take that one and maybe Yala peak at 5500 the next day.
After a good few hours of uninterrupted sunshine I thought it would be a good time to take a shower (solar) when I got back to the ground. The woman from the lodge showed me where it was and turned the hot water on, I went off to get my towel and toiletries then got ready for a nice muscle relaxing hot wash. The water was barely a dribble and luke warm, my hair wasn't even fully wet when the flow stopped completely. I was fuming and redressed ready to go and make my complaint, when I passed the water tank I noticed that she'd turned it off again. I reopened the cock and headed back for a second attempt. This time I was more successful, it was very warm and there was a reasonable flow. I heard someone come into the building where the shower was and then leave and the next thing I knew as I was having a final rinse was that the water flow stopped again. I just got rid of the last soap suds with the dribbles left in the pipework. I noticed when I headed back that the main tap had been turned off once more, it wasn't as if I'd been in there a long time, 5 minutes tops.
I wasn't looking forward to my evening dal bhat, who knew what I was going to get, especially after my sarcastic outburst on returning from the shower. Once more the weather changed with the sunset, clouds rolled up the valley like a river in reverse and then the heavens opened for a few hours. The evening meal was a good one, however, the 'wild mushrooms' worried me but after surviving for more than an hour unharmed I guessed that she hadn't poisoned me. For an altitude of nearly 4000m it was a surprisingly mild night, I managed to leave my sleeping bag packed away and slept with just a blanket. Yet again I woke up early to see incredible blue sky, there is nothing to compare with the blue of the sky at altitude and once more I was up and about and taking photographs by 6:20am. This trekking business isn't good for my health, I get up too early, take too much excercise, don't drink and even smoke less.
I played it safe with another breakfast of boiled eggs and tea, I've no idea how she made the tea grey but it tasted fine. It was very tempting to spend the day up there enjoying the fine weather and taking advantage of the views for more photo taking but I decided that if I decided to descend then that I would probably get most of the way dry and get to see some of the views that I'd passed in cloud and rain earlier on the trek. It turned out to be a fantastic walk but no where near as quick as I expected as I kept stopping to take photographs, I took more in this one day than I had in the previous three combined. Once I'd started walking and got into a rhythm I couldn't stop, I passed straight through the places I'd planned to stop for tea and lunch. If the vistas on the way up were beautiful they were almost unsurpassible on the way down. I passed through Langtang Village after just over an hour and after two and a half hours I passed out of the alpine scrub and back into the forests. Wow, I liked them in the rain but in sunshine they were magical, birds singing everywhere, dense patches of mossy trees and bamboo dappled with beams of light, bright open glades with foraging chickens, chomping cows and yaks, giraffes, herds of wildebeest, dozing lions and a pair of unicorns. Ok, I'm getting a bit carried away, stop at the yaks.
I hoped to reach Lama Hotel by midday and would definitely stop there for lunch as I promised that I would at least pop in for a mug of tea on the return trip. I ran out of water an hour before Lama so I stopped for my first tea break after walking non-stop for three and a half hours where I also filled my water bottle. I didn't quite make it to Lama to plan, getting there at two minutes past. Actually I didn't but I'll get to that later.
I had some veg fried potato for lunch and not only was it a huge portion but it was well presented and tasty, this was one of the few Tibetan women I've met that can cook, maybe she's a fake. True to her word she game me a free mug of tea too. I rested there for an hour before hitting the trail again and checking that my cairn by the river was still there. As I descended further now the heat really started to build up as the altitude dropped away. The trail became more up and down than just down and I could feel the sweat itching my forehead until too late I realised that it was actually sunburn. Saying that, some of the descents seemed infinitely longer and steeper than I remembered them being on the way up. If I'd gone down first I don't think I would have attempted the up. I think the secret of this trek is that all the hard ascents are hidden trails where you can only see the next 50m or so and think the top will be just around the next corner. Getting to Bamboo Lodge took far longer than expected, my general rule of half the time taken for the ascent to do the descent wasn't working and I was getting increasingly tired.
I could have stayed at Bamboo, it was one of my plans to stay there and then take a side trail over to the Gossaikund Lake trek the following morning but the thought of climbing back to 4000m to cross the pass wasn't pleasant. I had a tea and refilled my water bottle adding some Pineapple Tang once the hydrogen peroxide had had time to work. By now I was getting through a litre of water per hour and having to search out water sources on route. The stage from Bamboo to Syubru Besi was a stage too far really, I was suffering from serious jelly legs although thankfully my knees were holding out. I followed a group of unloaded porters for about an hour until they stopped at a tea shop where i just filled my bottle and carried on. If there was one thing I was sure of it was that I was going to cross to the other side of the river when the bridge came. Then all of a sudden there was a mountainous detour over a landslide in front of me, how the Dickens did I miss that bridge? There was no point going back, I might miss it again, it wasn't exactly Sydney Harbour Bridge nor even the Tyne Bridge just a few logs over a narrow point of the river. For all I knew it could have washed away after one of the rainstorms. Nothing for it but to grit my teeth and climb over, job done another level track, the cannabis one, and then rearing up like an Inca staircase into the mountain another. In total I had to pass over four major climbs that I could have done without, all the time looking down on the nice riverside stroll on the opposite bank. At the top of the final one I could see the end, Syubru Besi was straight ahead, only two bridges and a final climb from the last one up to the village and I was done. 51,800 steps in one day and only five miles short of a full marathon.
I took the same room in the same hotel, had a shower and then went for a wobbly walk to buy my bus ticket back to Kathmandu for the following morning. I then lay down to rest my weary body and decided to look through the days photographs, reflecting on where I had been when. I noticed that my camera was still set on Indian time so reset it to Kathmandu but then realised that it was now 15 minutes ahead of my watch which couldn't be right. Then it dawned on me, my watch had reset itself to 12:01 on 01/01/01 during the mornings walk, when I stopped for the first cup of tea of the day I reset it to the time on my GPS. This is just about the most accurate clock you can get as it takes the GMT from the satellites but it doesn't have 15 minute time-zones so was still on Indian time. If I hadn't noticed I would have set my alarm 15 minutes late and possibly missed the bus in the morning.