The Langtang Trek in northern Nepal offers an incredible opportunity to live among Tibetan refugees and spot red panda and snow leopard (though reports of sightings were infrequent and dubious) in the foothills of the Himalaya. Unfortunately, getting to the start of the trek can be a bit of an…adventure:
Despite the thirteen (!) hour bus ride that involved getting stuck in a landslide inches from certain doom, countless delays at military checkpoints and every kind of weather, we made it to Syabru Besi and the start of the trek. Phew.
Day 1: Syabru Besi (1300m) to Lama Hotel (2300m)
Day 2: Lama Hotel (2300m) to Langtang (3300m)
Day 3: Langtang (3300m) to Kyanjin Gompa (3800m)
Day 4: Rest day in Kyanjin Gompa
Day 5: Descend to Lama Hotel
Day 6: Descend to Syabru Besi
The first two days of this trek came as advertised, with two kilometers vertical gain they were challenging but possible for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Things were made worse for us by persistent rain and fog, and an equally persistent illness that we both contracted on the aforementioned bus ride from hell. So we were rewarded with exactly zero mountain views for our entire ascent up the valley, but isn’t hiking long distances about delaying gratification anyway?
We’d scheduled a rest day in Kyanjin Gompa, which wasn’t entirely necessary for resting purposes but provided an opportunity to explore this mountain village and its surrounding peaks. Tired of walking and both still feeling a bit under the weather (pun very much intended), we chose to take a pony ride! After inquiring with our host (who advertised “HORSE RIDING AVAILABLE”) he responded,”You want horse ride?” with some surprise, then “Ok, I go catch horses” [emphasis added].
After the initial embarrassment of trotting around awkwardly on a horse that felt too small to carry my weight I realized “Hey self, you’re riding a horse in the Himalayas. Enjoy it!” And then I did. When I learned my horse (I dubbed him Joey Chestnutt and Christina’s Poopeater) was nearly as old as I am I felt better about trusting him not to fall off narrow mountain pathways with me teetering on his back. I hope he enjoyed his well-earned reward of cabbage afterward. Ya done good, Joey.
If we were feeling better we would have climbed one of the smaller peaks around the village, like Kyanjin Ri (4200m) or Tsergo Ri (4800m), but instead we played cards, drank tea, and visited the local yak cheese factory and Buddhist monastery. For a town that’s a three day walk from any kind of road, there’s kind of an amazing amount of things to do. I almost expected a movie theater or mini-golf course to pop up around the next corner.
During one of our many tea stops we met a Kiwi dude named Warren who was planning on staying up in Kyanjin Gompa and living amongst the yaks for a week. He was taking his time to do all the day hikes in the area (some more than once!) and relax in his mountain retreat. This was something we wished we’d thought of before shoehorning this trek into the last week on our Nepali visa. Food was only slightly more expensive than Kathmandu and accommodation was actually cheaper. We would have enjoyed the opportunity to unplug, unwind, and soak in the local culture for a few more precious days.
The walk down was painful on the knees and feet, but not physically challenging. Some real warriors tried to descend from Kyanjin Gompa to Syabru Besi in one day, but that felt excessive and punishing on these old bones. We split it up into two days and were grateful.
Needless to say, we took alternate transportation back to Kathmandu. The knock-off Indian Landcruiser driven by an eighteen-year-old and packed with eleven people felt positively secure, and a bargain at $6, compared to the rickety old bus on one-lane mountain roads.
If you’ve only got time and effort to spare for a short, easier trek in Nepal, Langtang is a good choice. Immerse yourself in the Tibetan culture and mountain wildlife, and leave a little extra time for relaxing in the Himalaya. If we could do it again, we would’ve stayed a few more days in Kyanjin Gompa, and maybe linked this trek with the Gosainkunda Trek, which over an additional three or four days walking takes you back to within an hour drive of Kathmandu.