Travelogue of a Trek Through the Himalaya Mountains
A trek into the Langtang region of the Himalayas in Nepal
What can I say about Katmandu? Is there anything I like about this place? Well, yes, but for the most part I did not enjoy my time in Katmandu. Lonely Planet describes it as an assault on the senses. It is that! But not in a pleasant way. Noisy. Smelly. Dirty. Absolutely no organization to the streets. Some take sudden left turns, others just end. They all look exactly alike – just one shop after another selling t-shirts, bronze incense holders, rugs, camping/hiking gear, water color drawings – an endless list. All the streets crowded with people, narrow, with cars, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and pedalled rickshaws – all honking and weaving their way thru the crowds. At night you can’t go five minutes without being offered hashish or opium. And at no time, day or night, can you go long without a beggar or peddler or shop keeper harping his goods to you. But the worst part is - it seems that all the Nepalese spit constantly, everywhere. And only after making the most awful of sounds – you must know what I mean. Ugh. These were my first impressions. It did get better. I'll come back to Katmandu after my trek into the Himalayas.
A ride on any of these streets is a bone jarring experience, they are so cratered.
Today, I visited the famous monkey temple, the Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath. Sure enough – it’s crawling with monkeys. Two young boys approached me and were giving me the explanation of it all. Boys in training to become guides as a way to make money. One of the boys had recently been bit by one of the monkeys and had scabs on the back of his neck that were supposed to be the proof.
I met the person that will be my guide for my trek into the Himalayas. Chudamani. He seems nice enough. Tomorrow I begin the trek. Also today I came down with a cold.
11-11-1999 Into the Himalayas
Dhunche is 120 km (approximately 75 miles) from Katmandu. The ride took 8 hours. Absolutely, the most amazing bus ride I’ve ever taken. This bus was so packed it took 10 minutes to load 2 more passengers at one point. The aisle was as packed as possible and there were riders also on the roof. And the road was so narrow and windy, most often along high cliffs and in such bad condition we rarely left second gear. It was truly a bruising trip. The seats so floppy the ones in front of mine would crush my knees, my elbows and shoulders constantly crashing against the wall. And bouncing. And smelly. I just prayed that the brakes and mechanics of the bus were in better shape than the interior. And constantly while looking out the windows down the cliffs at the road’s edge, I also prayed that the driver was happy in his love life.
11-12-1999 The trek begins
The lodge in Dhunche wasn’t too bad. The room had electric lights. The shower had solar heated warm water. The bathroom was the squat style with no toilet paper.
Here in Syabru, there is no electric lights in the room, but there is solar heated water for the shower. And the Asian style toilet.
In comparing this trip to Peru, it is to me like comparing the Grand Canyon to Zion. Peru and Zion is on a smaller scale – it’s possible to get closer to the scenery that you’re enjoying.
11-13-1999 On to Llama Hotel
After our long descent, we then started the long climb back up. I thought the downhill was tough, but the way back uphill was torturous. Brutal! It truly seemed relentless. And yet always there was the roaring Langtang at our side, beautifully rushing past. We are following the river up to its source. To the headwaters at Langtang Village. For many hours we walked uphill, yet the river was always at our side – which explains why it was always a roaring, beautiful cascade, rushing downhill to join with the Trisuli River.
Several times today we saw monkeys. For me, this was a real treat. The first sighting was in the morining at a teahouse we’d stopped at to rest and have a drink. They were Langur monkeys – very pretty – black faces surrounded by fluffy light fur. Later in the day there were separate spottings of some type of red-faced monkeys. The second spotting was of a very large group including a couple of babies – one hitch hiking a ride by clinging to its mother’s chest. This was so cool to see! We also saw a couple of deer today. And I’ve seen a couple of very pretty birds.
This morning before leaving Syabru, I almost fell in the ridiculous bathroom – squat toilets with slippery floor. Didn’t go down, but badly scraped the knuckles of one hand. Very painful.
At the afternoon teahouse stop I met a very cute Israeli girl, then later her two friends. I think both her and one of her friends were a little flirtatious.
So far on this trip, Israelis far outnumber any other national group of people I’ve encountered. Four of the seven on the bus ride to Dhunche were Israeli. Besides the two couples from Holland, I’ve also met a couple from Germany, and one man from New Hampshire.
After dinner tonight several Nepalese, including my guide sang songs – one played drums, while another did a Nepalese dance.
Supposedly, from our lowest point today to Llama Hotel we only climbed 600m. Tomorrow we climb 1000m more to Langtang. I could be in for a bigger challenge than I’d intended.
My cold has now moved to my throat. It is getting very sore.
The food leaves much to be desired. The menus are the same in every village. But I’ve been fortunate to not get sick yet. Have to look at the bright side.
The lodges are not heated. However, some have solar heated hot water for showers. Tonight my guide had stopped at a lodge with no shower and I asked him about it, so we went to another where I had a hot shower. It felt sooooo good. And it was badly needed. My shirt and pants are still wet and heavy with sweat.
The rooms are very stark. A bare room with no electricity. Two cot-sized wooden structures with a 2” pad on top for a mattress. At this lodge, the toilet is in an outhouse, as is the shower. I still wonder where the toilets drain to.
The nights have been very cold, but the down sleeping bag I’ve been using has kept me warm – thank goodness – while sleeping in socks, long-johns, and fleece sweater. Tonight I think will be the coldest so far. But I’m sure it will be colder as we climb in altitude. The fleece sleeping bag I brought to use is woefully inadequate. It was a good thing I asked First Environmental if they could provide me with a real sleeping bag. Last night, I loaned it to Chudamani to use in conjunction with the blankets that the lodgekeepers provide the guides. Chudamani says he might want to buy it from me – and I’ll be glad to sell it to him. I’m glad to not be carrying it anymore. With the difficulty of the trek, I’d like to jettison several more pounds.
11-14-1999 Llama Hotel to Langtang
The hike today seemed so much easier than yesterdays, but the constant uphill hke, though not as steep as yesterdays seemingly relentless climb, gradually took its toll. I am now bone-tired and aching. We climbed 1000m in elevation today.
No sign of interesting wildlife today, but as we entered Langtang, I saw my first Yaks. Langtang is by far the most interesting village I’ve seen on the trek. It is clear that these people have a life outside of providing for trekkers. All the village buildings are spread wide apart on this mountain’s gentle slope, as opposed to stretching across a thin crease of mountain crest. Yaks and goats graze in the open areas here between the buildings. We arrived too late to explore the village but I will tomorrow. When we arrived, Langtang was engulfed in a cloud. We are at 3500m elevation now and the elevation is now noticeable even while at rest. Occasionally, I find myself needing to catch my breath.
11-15-1999 Langtang to Kyangjin Gompa
The common rooms of the teahouses are all similar to one another. A wood stove sits in the middle of the room and it is around this that most everyone sits. Further from the stove are the tables for eating. Most of these rooms are adjacent to a very crude kitchen and sometimes living quarters for the lodge owner and his family.
Kyangjin Gompa is at 3800m. It was a relatively easy 3-4 hour walk here with many nice views. This village is the last (i.e. highest elevation) of the year-round inhabited villages in this part of the Himalayas – near the border of Tibet.
So far, we have stayed at lodges that have had solar powered heated water for showers. In Llama Hotel, I had to insist on a different lodge than my guide preferred, just I could have a hot shower. Th shower facilities are all quite similar also. A four walled shack built of stone with a hose coming into it from the water tank on the roof. Never electricity for light.
Some of these villages do have electricity – though only enough for a little lighting – and I mean a little. Each village has a small hydro generator at a waterfall in an adjoining mountain. This is true at least for Langtang and Kyangjin Gompa. Syabru and Llama Hotel had no electricity. I would like to have seen these electric generators but didn’t.
Throughout the trek, menus have had items that include Yak cheese that has come from Kyangjin Gompa’s cheese “factory”. Today I got to see this factory. It is only one small room with a couple of kettles. Unfortunately, cheese was not being made while I was there because there is not enough Yak milk right now, though I wasn’t able to find out why.
Today on our hike, we passed many gompas and prayer walls. The prayer walls are built of stones that have Buddhist inscriptions engraved in them. Many of the walls are very long with probably thousands of such stones.
11-17-1999 Back to Langtang
The first night at Kyangjin Gompa I stayed in the Nemaste Hotel and the second night in Yala Peak. All of the teahouses thoughout this hike had similar names – Langtang view, Yak this or that…Yala Peak was cleaner and looked very nice from the outside, but the food was better at the Nemaste.
Some random facts: There is no mail service at any of these villages. To send mail, it must be carried all the way to Dhunche. This part of Nepal is inhabited by Tibetan people and Sherpas, Lamang, and Bhotas.
I spent a little time talking with Michal, the attractive Israeli girl I’d met earlier in the trek. She told me that in Israel, women are required to serve one year and nine months in the military, unless they have religious or conscientious reasons against it. In such cases, they must do some type of community service. Michal served in the army teaching the troops the history of Israel and the reasons they must serve. She and her friends will travel for several months in Nepal and India. She will then begin university, studying psychology. Apparently, it is a kind of Israeli tradition for young people to go off on world tours after completing their military service.
The cook here at the Village View Hotel in Langtang is quite a character – a very likeable guy by the name of Uday. He is 24 years old and told me that he has a son that is 10 years old back in his home village. When I first arrived in Langtang a few days ago, I entered the common room of the lodge when he was just starting the fire in the stove. Yak dung is used as fuel and he was chucking some into the stove. At that time, little did I know that he was also the cook and server.
All the meals are served in metal dishes, the tea in metal cups. Presumably to prevent breakage. But it’s a challenge to the lips and fingers to drink hot tea from a metal cup.
Living in these parts of Nepal is like camping out – except that people, trekkers included, have shacks instead of tents. Cooking is done over an open fire. There is no heat, except by fire. This means that fuel (or the collection of it) is a central part of daily life. Woman and men, but mostly women, are seen carrying heavy loads of wood upon their backs into the village. Sometimes it’s a large basket strapped to their back full of yak dung.
11-18-1999 Back to Llama Hotel
Today, I checked out the solar hot water system and discovered it is not solar electric, but simply solar absorption – the simpler and less high tech solution, which doesn’t surprise me.
Along with the importance of fuel is the importance of food. On the trail, it is not uncommon to pass porters carrying large loads of food up the mountain. Today, we passed one man carrying an enormous load while walking barefoot. Barefoot! And my boots testify to the beating my feet have taken on this trail. I cannot imagine doing it barefoot even with no load on my back. Broken and bloodied toes would be inevitable. But this is the only method of supplying the villages with food and supplies. There are no roads, only walking trails interconnecting all of these Himalayan villages.
My cold is now lodged in my chest. I can hardly breathe without coughing. I think maybe its my second cold overlapping with the first. So many trekkers have had colds and coughs – I don’t think it’s coincidence. The hygiene here is worse than anywhere I’ve ever been. The spitting I mentioned early on has not stopped. People even do it indoors here. Totally disgusting!
I cannot stand the thought of putting my head on the pillows in these lodges. I put my fleece top on top of them. They are so lousy looking I’m afraid of catching something.
11-19-1999 A Different Route Back to Syabru
At our first stop in the morning, we were told that the buses were not running between Dhunche and Katmandu. After discussion, we planned to just hike the mountain roads from Dhunche toward Katmandu. The only other alternative is to hike to Gosainkund through Hilambu, approximately a 5 to 6 day hike. But I’ve already decided against Gosainkund. However, when we arrived in Syabru, we were told the problem with the buses had been resolved. Apparently, the bus operators had gone on strike because the government had raised the cost of diesel fuel by 48%.
We did briefly see a peacock on the trail today.
I am dead tired after today’s trekking. I estimate that we climbed 700m, descended that, then climbed another 700m. Grueling. Syabru stretches down a mountainside, so arrival at the village doesn’t mean the end of the climb. And for that matter, the town stretches up a crest of a mountain and the buildings are built up the face, so there’s a climb even after entering the teahouse! The final insult after a long hard hike.
The teahouse is the Langtang View. We stayed here on our way up also. At that time, I thought the shower was pretty backward. I now know it is very modern by Langtang standards. It actually has a tile floor and sink. Still, there is no electricity here for light, so it’s a shave in the dark. My room is also nice by standards to which I’ve become accustomed. The bed is maybe 36” wide – wider than the others. And this room has some sort of printed material covering the floor rather than rough hewn timbers.
11-20-1999 Syabru to Dhunche
I asked Chudamani why women were not in the temple worshipping with the men. His reply was that women are only allowed to enter the temple and bow briefly, then leave.
Along the trail back, we encountered the Israeli girls again. Their guide had stopped to have “tharu” being prepared by some local Nepalese women. Tharu (if I’ve spelled this word correctly) is a tradional nepalese food. It consists of a doughy substance made from millet and a very deep green colored sauce made from a plant that is poisonous to the touch, but considered a herbal medicine for tuberculosis and the common cold. We joined them in having some of this food – a treat for me to try something new, though not very good tasting.
On the trail we saw a large group of Langur monkeys.
Then there was the interesting bus ride back to Katmandu.
11-22-1999 Back in Katmandu
Near the temple there are holy men with their faces painted and wearing brightly covered clothes. There are also snake charmers with baskets full of cobras, the charmers coaxing them to stand out of the basket with their necks flared, seemingly ready to strike.
11-23-1999 On to Bakhtapur
A guide there showed me around much of the city. Most of the city was built in the 1400's. The Buddhist temples are filled with prayer wheels containing Tibetan prayer books. The buildings here have very interesting window frames and wooden beams that have engravings of many things - some very erotic.
The mayor of Bakhtapur is a communist. There is a fee for non-residents to enter the city (300 rupees) which is being used for renovations to the city. Taxis, buses, and non-resident motorbikes are banned from the city. This makes Bakhtapur a much quieter place than Katmandu. And seemingly less crowded. It is also much cleaner. (68 rupees = \\$1US).
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