For us, coming to Nepal meant one thing – trekking; but with only 2 weeks, in a country containing an 800km stretch of the Himalayas, it was difficult to narrow down the vast number of available options.
It is common amongst trekkers in Nepal to hire guides, who navigate and organise accommodation, and porters who carry gear. We were keen to avoid the use of a guide, and as they are a requirement in the Everest and Annapurna regions this meant we immediately reduced our search field.
Following some research at the KEEP (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project), a charity which alongside organising conservation projects around Nepal also has a catalogue of route log books, we settled on an 8-10 day trek north of Kathmandu in the Langtang region.
The Langtang trek, aptly named after the region, starts in a small town called Syaphru Besi. Daily buses make the 150km, bone shaking ride on dirt tracks that zigzag along the sides of steep valleys. The views to be had on the way are spectacular, but the sheer drops are at times unnerving.
Many people choose to avoid the buses and instead hire a jeep, but considering their lack of maintenance, in particular the thread bare tyres, coupled with tales of hair raising over-takes, we decided that this probably wasn’t any safer (and much more expensive!). After weighing up the options we decided to do what the locals do and take the bus. It turned out we weren’t alone and in fact most seats were occupied by like minded tourists.
Whilst waiting for the bus to Syaphru Besi we befriended a group of 3 other trekkers who had a similar itinerary to us. As much as Luke and I enjoy each other’s company, we thought a bigger group would make for a more interesting experience and so at 7am the following morning, armed with a local map, the 5 of us set off.
We spent the first couple of days climbing up through a steep sided gorge shrouded in pine forest, which by day 3 opened up into a U-shaped glacial valley – prime yak pasture. The path then meanders up to the final accommodation stop, Kyanjin Gumba, a small town made up of hotels and bakeries. Here we spent 3 days further exploring the upper valley and enjoying the variety of cake on offer, before retracing our steps back to Syaphru Besi.
The Langtang region borders Tibet and as a result the majority of the valleys settlements are made up of exiled Tibetans. Along the trail most of the accommodation is provided by family communities, which allowed us an intriguing insight into a dying culture. We also learnt, rather quickly, that there is a certain etiquette to be followed when staying in trekking guesthouses. The majority of guesthouses provide free rooms so long as you eat all your meals in house. This rule is strictly enforced and even the friendliest of lodges can become hostile if you are caught sampling another establishments goods.
As you gain height food quality generally decreases; staples such as porridge are made less with milk and more with water, and Daal Bhat (the standard Nepali fare of daal and rice) loses its variety of vegetables. So when presented with bakeries offering delicious cakes and pastries, clandestine missions become a must.
For us trekking independently was the right thing to do, providing both freedom and flexibility. We were able to move at our own pace, stop when and where we wanted, and make decisions about extra day trips. Unless exploring the more esoteric routes, having a guide isn’t really necessary; the majority of trails are so well trodden that route finding is relatively easy.
On the other hand, porters are an important part of the Himalayan economy and don’t detract from the freedom of trekking independently. We decided that we weren’t carrying enough gear to warrant a porter, but this isn’t to say you shouldn’t.
Our initial expectations of trekking in Nepal were of commercial, busy routes, regularly punctuated with trekking lodges offering mainly western menus. In reality, for the Langtang region at least, this was not the case; the trail was reasonably quiet and most of the lodges were family run, offering basic accommodation and simple food. We have arrived back in Kathmandu, after another exhilarating bus ride, with nothing but praise for the Langtang region and would definitely recommend it to future visitors.
Back in the city we have a couple of days before heading out to Burma, on the worlds most indirect flight (a 24 hour stopover in Qatar – twice the distance from Nepal, in the wrong direction!).