Trek report: Langtang Valley

Langtang National Park wasn’t even on my radar for trekking in Nepal, however, within days of arriving in Kathmandu, a French guy had just returned from the Langtang Valley trek and single handedly convinced me to do it. It was the perfect introduction to trekking in Nepal and, even now having completed four treks across the country, the Tamang people of the Langtang region were the most hospitable and friendly I’ve come across and I’d go back in a heartbeat. It may not boast any of the top ten highest peaks in the world like Annapurna or Sagarmatha National Park, but what it lacks in height it makes up for with genuine down to earth people and a less commercialised feel.

I hiked the Langtang Valley at the beginning of March, which was just before the main trekking season and when it was still relatively quiet. Nepal had seen some of the heaviest snowfall in decades and Langtang was completely covered in snow, nothing like the pictures I had seen taken during a normal trekking season. It meant that it was extremely cold at night and required some trudging through snow on the trails, however, it also made the scenery extra beautiful and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Preparation

I ran around the day before leaving for the trek and managed to organise everything. Being based in Thamel makes preparing for treks incredibly easy, as most things are available within walking distance.

I hired a sleeping bag from Shona’s Alpine Rentals for 120 rupees per day (AUD$1.50). The shop makes their own sleeping bags and is very reasonably priced, although I had to leave an 8000 rupee deposit, which is pretty steep. The sleeping bag was extremely warm, even on the night that the water in my drink bottle froze!

I purchased a Langtang National Park map from one of the book shops in Thamel, just in case I needed it along the way as I wasn’t hiking with a guide or porter.

I walked to the Nepal Tourism Board office near Ratna Park to arrange my TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card. I simply had to fill a form out, hand over a few passport photos and pay 2000 rupees (AUD$25) and I was given a green card which I had to keep with me for checkpoints along the trek.

I was too late to pay the National Park fee in Kathmandu but I was told I could do that at the Park entrance, which I did with no hassles.

I bought a ticket for the bus leaving for Syabrubesi from the main counter across the Ring Rd from the new bus stand (it’s marked on Maps.me). There’s really only two companies there and I went with the first one, however, there is also the option to take a jeep although its more expensive. The ticket cost me around 600rupees (AUD$8) and left at 8am from the counter.

I managed to pack everything into my 30L daypack, just! I had to wear the same clothes and carry limited snacks but I didn’t want to hire a porter or carry extra weight myself and it was surprisingly sufficient.

Syabrubesi road
Syabrubesi Road

Getting there

I had read that the hardest part of the trek was the notorious bus ride to the starting point, north of Kathmandu. The road to Syabrubesi is a rough, dirt road that winds its way up towards the mountains and is constantly under reconstruction from landslides. The driver was a madman and I swear he’d made a bet with someone that he would make it to Syabrubesi first, as we overtook even the 4WD jeeps along the way.

It was extremely dusty and, as I was sitting in the front seat near the door, my bag on my lap was covered in a layer of brown dust. The 120km journey took 8 hours to cover (even though I was told to expect 10)! I emerged from the bus feeling as if I’d actually walked the distance rather than sat in a vehicle.

Syabrubesi

The trail head is a small, one street town that has a few hotels and some basic shops. Don’t expect anything like Namche in Sagarmatha National Park, although it’s still not a bad place to spend the night before and after trekking.

I stayed at Old Namaste Hotel. For 600 rupees (AUD$8) per night I got a bed with a private bathroom. The food there was also really good with intermittent WiFi. The lady who owns the hotel was lovely and I sat up with her for hours talking about everything from tourism, to government corruption to the impacts of the 2015 earthquake. The town was extremely quiet and I was the only one at the hotel for the night.

Langtang Valley trek

Day One: Syabrubesi to lama hotel

After crossing the suspension bridge to the old part of town the trail became more obvious. I could already see the snow capped mountains through the valley and I was excited to think that it wouldn’t take me long to be completely amongst them. The trail mostly climbed up through forest, following the fluorescent blue river below. I arrived at a small cluster of lodges called Bamboo at 11.15am and I was already hungry for lunch. I stopped for fried rice and some tea and then continued on upwards.

The rocky trail continued to climb, considering I hadn’t done any proper exercise in months I knew this would really test me. I passed quite a few people on the trail, more than I thought I would. Despite leaving after 8am that morning, I managed to arrive at Lama Hotel (the name for the first major village where most people stop for the night) at 2pm, well before most people. The man at the first lodge greeted me and I decided to stay there.

I sat outside in the sun sipping a cup of tea and soon the lodge was full and the owner was turning people away to the next place. As the sun set, the temperature plummeted and everyone huddled inside the dining room where there was a wood fired heater going. It was my first experience of the social teahouse dining rooms where trekkers from all different countries sit around and chat without the distractions of phones and internet, what travel was like decades ago. Not long after finishing my dal bhat though I was in bed asleep, recovering for the next day’s climb.

Distance: 10km Time: 6 hours Ascended: 1100m

Langtang

Day Two: Lama hotel to mundu

I decided not to hurry in the morning and didn’t leave until 9am. The trail continued to climb, relatively ruthlessly with a skinny, rocky trail in some sections. There was less forest coverage as the vegetation started to thin out, a hallmark that I was getting higher. I stopped for lunch early again in a newly built restaurant which had beautiful views of the valley I was walking through.

There were quite a few trekkers on the trail, most with porters and guides. I noticed so many of them had fully packed 70L backpacks with them which had me baffled. What could you possibly need for a one week trek? It made my 30L bag look like a small handbag in comparison.

After my lunch stop, the trail continued on its pursuit upwards, however, the views suddenly improved. The mountains on either side of the valley now had snow cascading down them all the way to the river below. Still, with the clear skies and strong sun, I was still relatively warm when I was moving. However, with such incredible views around me I found myself stopping much more often to take photos.

I started to see some of the remains from the devastating earthquake of 2015. Lodges, homes, farming sheds, all destroyed and left in rubble. Most of the lodges have now been rebuilt or moved, but seeing some of the remains that had been left behind was devastating. I couldn’t help but get a little emotional. One village had been completely flattened and abandoned, looking up I could still see the landslide that had seemingly came crashing down in April 2015 to bury the structures below. It was hard to comprehend, the scenery around me was so beautiful yet on the other hand, it was obvious that mother nature could also be destructive when it wanted to be.

Just before Langtang village (where most people stop for their second day) I met a lady who had a small shop and lodge. I decided to try the local seabuckthorn juice, a local berry that is incredibly high in vitamins. A couple more trekkers saw me there and also stopped to try the famous juice. As I got up to leave the lady hugged me and said, “Thank you for bringing business here”. It must be tough to rely on tourism and trekkers for a living, particularly when life in the mountains is so unpredictable with the risk of earthquakes and long, cold winters.

I arrived in Langtang, a village that had been completely wiped off the valley and rebuilt since 2015. A small memorial was near the trail to mark the victims of the earthquake, which also included many foreign trekkers and their guides. I decided to keep pushing on to the next village which was just another 20mins up the trail called Mundu.

It was much less commercialised than Langtang and didn’t boast Wi-Fi and hot showers, but that was okay with me. I saw the Spanish guy who had caught the same bus as me to Syabrubesi and we stayed at the same lodge for the night. The owners were beautiful people and while the wife cooked us dal bhat, her husband sat at the fire and told us about life in the Himalayas, including their experience during the earthquake. He had lost a devastating 26 family members down in Langtang village, however, in Mundu just 20mins further away they themselves had come away unscathed. They spent three months in Kathmandu before they could return to Langtang Valley and start the process of rebuilding, which took them nearly two years.

Distance: 13km Time: 6.5 hours Ascended: 1070m

Langtang trail
Earthquake damage in Langtang Valley
Earthquake damage

Day Three: Mundu to Kyanjin gompa

From Mundu it was a short couple of hours to my final destination, Kyanjin Gompa. There was a lot of snow around and the trail had recently been cleared through it. I passed some other trekkers coming back and they were raving about the view from Kyanjin Ri, still on a high, which made me even more eager to get there.

The valley opened up and there was just a complete blanket of white with soaring mountains towering above in every direction. I climbed up to a newly built hydropower station and crossed a suspension bridge which had amazing views of the valley below and the glacier behind me. Just 10 minutes later I walked up and over a small hill and the village of Kyanjin Gompa was spread out before me in the valley floor.

A trekker I had passed told me of a lodge that he’d stayed in, a large three storey place with WiFi and showers. As I was heading towards it, a lady stopped and begged me to have a look at her lodge, so I obliged. It was a tiny place with just three rooms and squashed between other surrounding lodges. I decided to stay, I try to avoid the overly commercialised lodges and it turned out to be a great decision.

I decided to try and hike to the glacier viewpoint passed the small monastery. Using the Maps.me app on my phone I tried to find the trail but there was so much snow it wasn’t visible. I attempted to just trudge through the snow in the direction my phone was telling me but I kept falling through, once up to my waist and so I gave up. I found a protruding rock and sat to just admire the incredible view of the valley.

I relaxed for the afternoon, trying to keep my fluids up considering I was sitting at 3870m after just three days of hiking. A Dutch girl was also staying at the same place and together we had a great time. The couple who owned the lodge were beautiful people and we had a fun night laughing and talking, trying to learn the Tibetan language and traditional dances. It was experiences like that which made the Langtang Valley trek so memorable.

Distance: 5km Time: 2 hours Ascended: 315m

Kyanjin Gompa
Kyanjin Gompa

Day Four: Kyanjin gompa up to kyanjin ri and then down to Langtang

I left just after 8am for Kyanjin Ri, the highpoint of the whole trek. The trail started directly from the village and switchbacked steeply for just over an hour to the first viewpoint at 4300m. I was in absolute awe of the view around me but I was concentrating heavily on breathing, sipping water and taking small steps forward. Many people were sitting at the lower viewpoint, content with the view all the way back through the valley we’d all come. I looked up to Kyanjin Ri, another 400m in elevation in just 900m of hiking. I could just make out a couple of people almost at the top and I thought, ‘I’ve gotta have a crack!’.

I pushed on slowly, but surely, stopping every 10 steps or so to let my heart rate settle and my lungs capture more oxygen. The trail was slippery with snow covering much of it and I had to be careful where I placed my foot each time. I kept looking up to see how long I had to go, but progress was slow. Having lost my headphones on the first day (typical me) I had to have my music playing from the speaker on my phone. I couldn’t make it without music to keep me going. As the people I’d seen close to the top were just on their way down, I was almost there myself. The last few steps were sweet, I had made it when I seriously thought I wasn’t going to. I felt a wave of relief and triumph wash over me. I had the peak to myself and the moment I stopped on the very top and did a 360 degree turn around, I had tears in my eyes. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

I stayed nearly an hour, soaking in the view and taking photos. I didn’t want to ever leave. However, at over 4700m and with no water left in my bottle I knew I needed to get down to get some fluids into my body.

It was more slippery going down but I was still much quicker, not having to stop to catch my breath anymore. I made it back to the lodge at 1pm, in time for a much needed lunch.

Distance: 2km Time: 2 hours 20mins (one way) Ascended: 720m

I had contemplated staying another night, however, with many of the other side trips from Kyanjin Gompa closed due to too much snow I decided there was no reason to hang around. So after lunch I took off and headed back as far as I could walk.

I managed to get back to Langtang village in two hours and although I wanted to keep walking, it was after 4pm and so I decided to stop for the night.

Distance: 6.5km Time: 2 hours Descended: 400m

Day Five: Langtang to syabrubesi

Having made it to Langtang, I realised I could potentially get all the way back to Syabrubesi in one day, finishing the trek in just 5 days. I set off at 8am and moved pretty fast, my legs had quickly become conditioned to the movement and the trail over the previous few days. I made it back to Lama Hotel in no time but made myself stop in the next village called RImche for some lunch just after 12pm. I was feeling tired and the sun was hot, the steep downhills had me hiking quickly but it was tough on my legs.

The local boys at the lodge in Rimche told me they were surveying the area for a potential road construction project in the future. I couldn’t believe it. It would ruin the whole landscape of the valley if a motorable road was ever built, but the boys looked excited. “It’s just a dream,” they told me. Of course, for the locals it meant better access to the outside world.

I kept pushing on, passed Bamboo where I’d stopped for lunch on the first day, over the rocky stairs where I’m sure I lost my headphones on the first day too. The music playing from the speaker on my phone was keeping me going as I tried to ignore my tired legs and feet.

I finally hit the dirt road again and I knew I had just one more hour to get back to Syabrubesi. I was almost limping by this point, dragging my walking pole behind me, absolutely exhausted. I was almost losing the sun behind the valley as I made it to the suspension bridge which took me into town. I took one last glance back through the valley at the snow capped peaks in the distance, I couldn’t believe I’d been completely amongst them just yesterday.

I arrived at the same hotel I’d stayed before and the lady told me that there was a political strike planned for the next day and so no transport would likely run. So after all that, I’d pushed my body for 8.5 hours for nothing!

Distance: 22km Time: 8.5 hours Descended: 2020m

Almost at the top

Getting back

I ended up having to wait another day in Syabrubesi due to the political strike and then caught the bus the day after back to Kathmandu. There are bus and jeep ticket counters in the main street of town and the bus leaves from there every morning. It took almost 10 hours on the way back and was just as torturous.

Accommodation

Most trekking lodges have been either repaired or completely rebuilt since the earthquake in 2015, and there are plenty of options to choose from, including smaller villages in between the popular night stops. I was always offered a free room (a few even with a private bathroom) as long as I ate dinner and breakfast there, which is kind of a given anyway. A simple bed with 1-2 blankets and a pillow is usually all that was in the room, but the beds were always comfortable from my experience.

The Tamang people are great at marketing and almost every lodge I stayed at passed me a business card of a family member who owned a lodge in the next village. Similarly, many of the locals I passed on the trail would also stop and ask me where I was heading and then proceed to hand me a business card of a cousin, sister or friend of a friend. I actually rarely even bothered to go to one of those recommended lodges as whenever I arrived I found it best to just walk around and have a look myself.

Food

The menus were almost all identical with the standard trekking meals on offer: fried rice, chow mien, fried potatoes, spaghetti, momos and the ubiquitous dal bhat (similar to an Indian thali, rice with lentil soup and a veg curry, and unlimited refills). My meals were pretty repetitive and most days I ate exactly the same things; I had porridge for breakfast, fried rice for lunch (it was usually the quickest meal for them to make) and dal bhat for dinner.

Trail navigation

The trail has all been repaired since the earthquake and is well maintained. It’s relatively obvious with few if any junctions where it might be confusing, however, with the heavy snowfall some parts of the trail closer to Kyanjin Gompa were covered in snow. Still, I had no problems navigating my way.

Cost

The one thing everyone wants to know; how much does everything cost.

Permit and park fees: 5000 rupees (AUD$65)

Sleeping bag rental: 950 rupees (AUD$12)

Snacks: 1500 rupees (AUD$20)

Meals (accommodation included): 11,600 rupees (AUD$150)

Transport: 1200 rupees (AUD$16)

Total: AUD$263 for 8 nights (5 trekking, 3 in Syabrubesi)

Langtang Valley trek
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