The Himalayan Traveller: ‘Trek Reports’ 4 – Helambu & Langtang 1999

I had not intended to return to Nepal so soon after this trip, but the suggestion was made that I put a ‘Reunion’ trip together for the 1992 ‘Everest’ team. Where to go? Not back to Khumbu, nor really the Annapurna. That left one fairly obvious possibility – a springtime trek into the Helambu, for the rhododendrons. Unfortunately none of the Everest gang wanted to come, but that didn’t stop a group of four ‘young in heart’ (you can’t really say ‘Middle Aged’) bachelors gathering in Kathmandu in March of 1999.

The Helambu offers a good nine day trek, following ridges to the north of Kathmandu and which is not as easy as the guide books might imply. The lodges are not as sophisticated as those in the Annapurna region, but are adequate and, we found, friendly. Dendi was to be guide, with a couple of lads as porters and with his cousin Maia acting as ‘Sherpani’. Every time I do the slide presentation from the 1999 treks I find myself saying that ‘There are few photographs from that day…’

Day one was hot and uphill, all the way to Chisapani (7,150′) but it became apparent that we were going to have troubles with a very dirty haze. Day two, through Pati Bhanjyang, and Chipling to Gul Bhanjyang (7,100′) was better, with some superb terracing, and the first rhododendrons. (Don’t be fooled by the starting and finishing altitudes – there’s a lot of climbing in this day).

Day three, climbing up through Kutumsang to Mangengoth (10,500′) has few photographs – it was uphill.

The next morning’s walk took us three hours to do what we might have done in ninety minutes, but we had climbed out of the haze and there were rank upon rank of ridges and snow mountains to look at. Rhododendrons, too, and primulas, wild strawberries and butterflies. Why hurry? We stopped in the lodge at Tharepati (11,800′) that night – a very homely place and fortunately it didn’t go up in flames, otherwise I don’t think I’d be writing this. The next day was a glorious romp downhill through a resin scented pine and rhododendron forest, with trees hung with lichen and covered with fungi, to Melamchigaon (8,400′).

We continued down to the Melamchi Khola and then up to Tarke Ghyang (8,400′) – again there are few photographs from a day where we dropped 2000′, and climbed it again.. The next day the two older members of the group decided to study the local economy and wildlife from comfortable seats in the lodge garden, whilst the two youngsters, no more fit really than their seniors, took Dendi to the summit of the nearby Yangri Danda (12,372′).

From here it was downhill nearly all the way – a gradual contouring through forest to Shermathang (8,500′), and then a longer and steeper day dropping out of the forest and down to Melamchi Pul Bazaar (2,800′), where transport waited to take us back to Kathmandu.

To Kathmandu, yes, but on the way back we stopped at Bhatgaon and walked through the ‘old town’. My first memories of the place were of a dirty, medieval city, with sewage flowing down the middle of the streets… The city has now been ‘restored’, with much time and effort put into making it a more attractive place to visit. Try and arrive at the east entrance and, allowing yourself plenty of time, walk through the city to Durbar Square and out and onwards. I found this an extremely rewarding experience, both personally and photographically, and one that I would recommend.

For reasons which I don’t understand, I found myself returning to Nepal that autumn of 1999, to trek in the secretive Langtang valley. This is an idea introduction to trekking for those who haven’t much time, but who desire to see the mountains close to.

The failing of the trek is the long journey by road from Kathmandu. Although the road to Trisuli Bazaar is reasonable, and through interesting foothill country the second section to Dhunche (6,400′) is (or was, in 1999) unsurfaced and not good. It is a road on which the first time traveller to Nepal might feel nervous.

After an interesting day’s journey to Dhunche by bus we started our walk the next morning, following the dusty Syabrubensi road out to Bharkhu. Here we headed off through the trees and over the ridge to Syabru. At Syabru (7,220′) there was to be one of those meetings that ‘happen’ – the first time we were meet Maren and Harald – two unconnected Germans trekking in Nepal for the first (but not the last) time. We were to see them almost daily on this trek, and the friendship has continued since. The walk through the woods to Lama Hotel (8,100′) may have been good, but I was not going well, and there was far too much ‘up and down’ for my liking.

The next day’s walk on to Langtang (11,400′) was one of those walks to be savoured, as is much of the Langtang trek. We walked at first through forests, and then we climbed to the village through birch scrub. Langtang village is, I suppose, fairly typical of villages in the trekking regions of Nepal – an interesting old village and a grotty new one. Once the early morning wind had dropped there were photographs everywhere – a low sun, and smoke rising from the houses made for good pictures. That morning we walked to Kyangjin Gompa (12,800′) – walking slower as the altitude took some effect.

Regrettably we could only spend one night at Kyangjin Gompa, and after a morning’s local exploration we retraced our steps. That morning Dendi and I had followed the Langtang glen beyond the summer grazing yersa of Yathang and towards Numbathang. This walk was idyllic and it was with great sorrow that we had to return to Kyangjin and drop down to Langtang. Certainly there was a lost opportunity to explore this valley.

From Langtang we retraced our steps to Lama Hotel and then took the contouring path that eventually drops to Syabrubensi (4,800′). Unfortunately here you are back in ‘modern’ Nepal – the end of the road, with bus horns sounding at 6.30am, and the only way back to Dhunche (mainly) along the road.