Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Trekking in the himalayas 1

Himalayas with Tibetan prayer flags

We always walked clockwise when passing any religious site

Water powered praying wheels

We are just back from the Himalayas and I am left speechless by the beauty of the mountains and in particular the Langtan National Park.

This is my account of what is, so far, the most exciting and life changing part of my trip.

The road up to the Langtan National Park is probably the scariest, hariest road I have ever been on. Eight hours in total of which five were on a dirt track that was more like a cliff with a sheer drop of hundreds of metres on one side.

The road zig zags the steep slopes, still partly blocked by the landslides from last year's monsoon. In places the rocks have been moved just enough to let buses pass. Nonetheless, once we reached our destination, Syabrubesi, it was all worth it. Syabrubesi is a little town nestled among mountains and is the main gateway to the National Park. Even there, at a lower altitude, the scenery is stunning.

After a short stop for lunch we decided to walk for a couple of hours. By the time we reached a tiny spot called Landslide it was getting dark so we could not go any further.

By the end of the fisrt day, I was sure that Ignasi had decided to kill me. I had never trekked before in mountains and, in particular, I had never done it with a 15 kilos rucksack on my back. After two hours I was certain I was going to die, breathless, with my heart racing faster than ever. To ascend 100 metres you had to go up 300 and then down 200. I know now that God must have missed the Sesame Street episode about up and down. In Nepal you don't just go up, it is up and down, then down, and up again, in an ever so steep path.......

Certain that I was going to die before we reached our final target, I had decided that this trip was a mistake. After a quick dinner I collapsed in bed and slept through the night like a small child.

Our second day was definitely much better. One mistake I had made the day before was to try to race to the top but, by the second day, I had learnt that in mountain trekking you need to find your own pace, and I did, extra slow. I slowed down to a tortoise pace but started to enjoy the landscape and I let Ignasi cruise ahead of me.

The best thing about Langtan is that as you go up from such a low base in terms of altitude the landscape changes at an amazing pace.

Leaving our guest house the forest was thick and humid and we even saw a group of Long Hair Languns, white haired monkeys with black faces. The tree cover gave us relief against the sun and cooled us down. Beautiful birds were flying around, some velvet blue and bright orange, others emerald green with long tails.

By the afternoon, we had left the tropics behind and moved into decidious forest where moss covered the trees. As I walked on my own I found one of the most beautiful places ever, a clearing in the forest where birds were singing, and I thought about Arthur and the Round Table because somehow it reminded me of England.......

To ensure that we acclimatised properly, and to avoid altitude sickness, we decided to sleep at 2800 metres.

By then I had got used to carrying my bag, I had found my pace and, most importantly, I had decided that this had been the best idea in the world.

On our second night we met a guy called Simon. The poor lad had forgotten his book in the previous guest house. I had seen it, and caried it for him, so he joined us for dinner. Nice Swiss guy, trekking in Nepal for three months, proof that he must be absolutely bonkers......

Nights at this altitude get really cold, but under a yak wool blanket they are warm and long. Long as we went to bed at 8pm, there's nothing to do in the mountains, and, as you don't want to waste the batteries of your light, you don't even read much.

Working on some yak wool

By the third day things got a lot easier. I started really early and was out walking at 7. Ignasi takes time to wake up so I decided to take off on my own as it wouldn't take him and Simon long to catch up with me.

The valley opened up a little and the path followed the river in a more straight direction, a gentle pace upwards, the river no longer cutting into rock. At this time of the year the Rhododendrons are flowering with pinks, whites and blood reds carpetting the path.

The tree cover got thinner, turned from conifers to shrubs and then dissolved into alpine grassland meadows where yaks come to feed when snow covers the grasslands at higher altitudes.

We had breakfast in Langtan, in a little cheese factory where we had yak cheese on Tibetean bread and delicious yak butter cookies.

The locals, mostly of Tibetean origin with pronounced mongolian features, live off subsistence agriculture and the money that tourists might leave behind. This money is probably not a lot, before the Maoist insurgency only 3100 foreigners visited the park and numbers have probably dwindled since then.

We eventually reached Kyanjin Gompa at 3870 metres, which would be our base camp for a couple of days. It was situated under the majestic shadow of Langtan Lirung that stood 7420 metres over us.

Will write about this tomorrow and how I climbed to almost 5000 meters.....


  1. wow.

    love the king arthur picture...stunning!

  2. thank you cat, that is one of my best memories from the whole trip