We are back in Nepal! After flying here from Bangkok we spent a few days in Kathmandu to arrange our trekking permits for Lang Tang. We had to get a TIMS card as well as pay for the National Park fee. All together it was right around 50 USD per person. From Kathmandu you can take a bus or a sumo jeep to Syabrubesi. The transit is right around 6 to 7 hours unless there is delays because of road conditions. Syabrubesi is the trailhead point for hiking the Lang Tang Valley.
Trekking in Nepal takes you through beautiful national parks, but it’s no walk in the park. It sounds like hiking but is a more physically demanding activity. Trails are carved out of mountain sides and hills weaving through and above the valleys. You’ll cross rivers over suspension bridges strung with prayer flags by locals and visitors alike. As you gain altitude the views become more surreal. It can also be a very dangerous activity if you’re not familiar with symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness, otherwise known as altitude sickness.
It’s a little up and a little down and when you’re getting tired of trudging higher or descending at length, you’ll find yourself wishing for the other. Be careful what you wish for. Especially when you are your own porter.
If you came along with us on our blog for the Annapurna Circuit last winter, you got a taste for what trekking is like. Put simply, trekking in Nepal is an exhilarating multiday/week hike through a Himalayan region of your choice. The trails are constantly evolving because of landscape, erosion, weather and/or landslides. They will always persist though, as they have connected the rural areas and small villages of Nepal for hundreds if not thousands of years.
There are many treks of various length and levels of difficulty to choose from. Most of them require a guide and it’s also recommended to hire a porter. A porter is of great value if you wish to have an easier time trekking and not carry more than a day bag. Hiring guides and porters is generally what most people do as it simplifies trekking and you are also providing jobs for local people. It’s a win win for your body and that little philanthropic monkey on your back. BONUS: It’s also a form of cheap insurance if you are traveling solo.
We should also mention, if you injure yourself and it isn’t life threatening, there are horses for hire through most of the tea house trekking regions. They cost about $100/day as opposed to a helicopter ride that can run you around $4000 for a rescue pick up.
The Annapurna Circuit, Lantang, and Everest Base Camp, or EBC as it’s known, are three major teahouse treks that you can do as an individual, with or without a guide. If you can read a map and have a gps of some sort you would be perfectly able to do without a guide. Many people hire guides because they are valuable for translating if you happen upon a guesthouse owner who isn’t a fluent English speaker. We would not recommend trekking 100% solo, especially if you have zero experience with altitude.
The first trek I did, we saw someone almost die who didn’t take the proper precautions prior to their trek. This man took zero acclimation days as he continued to go beyond 3000 meters. He didn’t acknowledge his AMS symptoms leading up to the days before crossing the mountain pass. By doing so he jeopardized his safety as well as the safety of other groups crossing the pass that day by pushing his itinerary so hard.
Luckily, we were amongst great samaritans who were strong trekkers and were able to help the unfortunate person back down to a lower altitude. There his symptoms began to subside and he ended up being okay. Not everyone who miscalculates is as lucky. That being said, a guide is an excellent resource and cheap insurance should something go wrong on the trail and you are a solo traveler.
If you didn’t catch the vibe that we don’t recommend trekking completely solo, we don’t. There are usually many other trekkers out on the trails in high season (March, April, October, November) that you will end up meeting people along the way from stop to stop each day. If hiking in the winter during off season, it is wise to have a trekking buddy or guide in case something goes awry.
It has been 11 years since Matt initially hiked the Lang Tang Valley. The area was one of the hardest hit during the 2015 earthquake. It took several months before they were able to reopen the first trails. Several villages were completely leveled in the earthquake. More than 200 people lost their lives, twenty five of which were foreigners.
The villages that are in these rural areas are small. For an entire valley, 10-12 villages, to lose 175 people is like losing close to 1/5 of the population. Wives lost husbands, husbands lost wives, parents lost children and so on. For those who survived, they’ve had to find a way to rebuild despite the now serious lack of man power and resources. If Lang Tang needs anything, it’s a revival in numbers of trekkers to the area since the earthquake. The trails are open and in good shape. People here are also ready to welcome and host visitors to the point you’d think they were family you hadn’t seen in years. It’s a very different vibe from the Annapurna Circuit or EBC.
The trek was so much more personal to us. We found the AC and EBC to be beautiful and our hosts/hostesses accommodating, but there wasn’t as much of a personal touch. While trekking Lang Tang we had the privilege to visit with the guesthouse owners and their families and hear what life has been like since the earthquake.
After getting cleaned up at the end of the day, we’d come into the dining room to have dinner. Everyone would gather around the fire afterward and we’d hear very personal stories, sit in on grandmas evening pujas(prayers), and share some of our stories as well. Those were intimate moments, more so than many of the moments I’ve experienced in the last year in my home country.
Matt had even printed off some photos from his trip eleven years ago before we left America. He had stayed with a family in a village called Rimche in the Lang Tang Valley. While there he had taken some photos of the family, their kids, and the guesthouse with the intent to send them the photos after coming back to the U.S. The photos were discovered last year, ten years later, as he and I were sifting through some old CDs and doing some storage updates. We decided to print them and bring them along, hoping that the family survived the 2015 earthquake.
The day we planned to hike to Rimche was an extra long and strenuous day. We knew it would be tough going into it. After about 7.5 hours of descending with a laughable granola snack break, we kept going past a popular stopping point to get to the guest house Matt stayed in on his last visit. We got to the bottom of this several hundred meter hill and there it was. The shell of what had been the guesthouse Matt stayed at 11 years ago. A landslide of giant boulders had swept through the place and it was leveled. I could feel the sadness emanating from Matt. We were both exhausted, and this was our “Hail Mary”. We had put so much faith in the fact that we wanted to see this place still standing. It was supposed to be our stopping point for the night.
My heart was heavy, and my legs were ready to quit for the day at the top of the 300 meter hill we just descended. We then realized, on top of the immense heartbreak, we’d have to hike another mile and a half before the next guesthouse. I tried to be strong and remind him we didn’t know the outcome for the family. So we pushed on further toward Bamboo. A half kilometer before bamboo there was a tea stand, but no guesthouse, so we purchased a $2.00 Snickers bar to share and kept going for that final push.
After what seemed like the biggest ups and downs in landscape and mental stamina of our day, we arrived to the Bamboo guesthouse just before sun down. We were dirty, deflated, but so relieved to arrive. I joked about my memoir being based on the Snickers Bar that saved our lives.
The woman who greeted us was warm and friendly. The hot shower we were presented, upon agreeing to stay, I will equate to a steamy baptism of physical and spiritual relief. It may have been the most magical cement and tarp walled room I have ever experienced. I suppose not showering for four days and hiking one’s face off may have that effect. Delusions of grandeur, I think they call it.
The owner’s young son was quick to assist in the kitchen as well as anticipate our every need before, during, and after dinner (even the ones we had no idea we had). After talking with the husband we learned they lost their daughter, a nurse, in the earthquake.
Matt decided to show him the pictures we brought of the family. He thought maybe because they were the next village over he might know something. The man told us he knew the family and they all survived and were now living in Sherpagaon, the first village we stayed in.
It was like the weight of the immense day we had was lifted! Just knowing those people were alive and okay made every pain in my body seem insignificant. What a relief and such wonderful news to hear. We gave him the photos to pass along to the family the next time he was in Sherpagaon. The children are in their early 20’s now with young kids of their own. We figured even if they didn’t remember who took their photos that they’d appreciate having the memory to look back on and photos of their family guesthouse before the quake.
I’m reluctant to say it takes tragedy for people to find connection because it hasn’t always been that way for me. Maybe it’s that we wanted to find it badly enough, in each other. When you feel like all is lost, whatever the circumstance, you’re beyond ecstatic to see that little glowing ember that is left in the fireplace.
Us, in the form of visitors returning to the valley, and them showing us that the human spirit is tenacious, grateful and stronger than we know. The experiences of that trek were ones that will stay with me forever. For being only a week long, it was one of the more memorable stretches of this journey.