2015 an earthslide buried the village of Langtang, killing over 200 locals and tourists. Four years later the village has been rebuild, and people are desperate for the tourists to come back. A visit there showed us, why this trek is well worth the tired legs.
Langtang Valley is a serene place. You pass through lush jungles, roaring wild rivers, up a narrow valley, towards the towering white mountain peaks. The fairly easy trekking allows you to fully take in the stunning scenerey, to get mesmerised by the sounds and the smells and colours, that change with every step, as you make your way up, up, up the trail.
The worst part of trekking in Langtang Valley is getting there. Siabrubesi, the starting point for most trekking activities, is only a 120km outside of Kathmandu. Yet it takes a jeep six to eight hours to get there, so bad are the roads. Especially if you attempt to trek in early september when the roads are still damaged and flooded from monsoon rains.
After an adventures jeep ride to Siabrubesi it is all uphill from there. Trekking season was just about to begin when we arrived there in late September and the trail wasn’t to busy yet. The sun was shining brightly, chillies were lain out before the houses to dry, monkeys played in the trees a little further down the path. Only the red panda, the elusive and endangered animal in Langtang Nationalpark, made itself rare. Little does one realise here at the beginning of the five-day-trek that this idyllic area has been badly affected by the earthquake of 2015 that has led to devastation all through Nepal. In Langtang Valley a landslide has buried the entire village of Langtang, killing some 200 people, locals and tourists, and leaving a further 400 people homeless. And what added to the damage: With most of the trekking infrastructure destroyed the valleys only means of income was lost. Tourists stayed away.
A porter per western-style toilet
Rebuilding did take time in Langtang as it did everywhere in Nepal and it is still on-going. This is partially due to the government not having the constitutional and bureaucratic means to distribute the aid money at a reasonable pace, but it is also due to the logistics of getting goods up to remote corners of the mountains: On the trek we saw just what exactly this means: heavily packed mules and porters carrying the goods for rebuilding on their backs: bags of sand, pipes, metal poles were among them, but also windows, bulky rolls of carpet and western style toilets. But persistency and patience have payed off: Lodges and guesthouses are now mostly repaired and new ones popped up all along the trail, more than before and with better infrastructure, such as solar showers and en-suite bathrooms. Even more are still being constructed. Langtang valley is ready to cater to an even bigger mass of eager trekkers, that appreciate the valley for its beautiful mountain scenery and its comparably easy trekking level and what so far were fewer tourists than to popular trekking regions of Everest and Annapurna.
After a first day of some five hours of hiking, we spent thefirst night at the cosy little guesthouse “Ganesh View” (close to Lama Hotel). The guesthouse is overlooking the deep valley and steep cliffs with their wild bee hives, a perfect place to rest and enjoy the jungle views, whilst munching on some freshly prepared veggie momos.
We approached the scene of the landslide on our second hiking day. The fist thing I saw were the dead trees. Broken stumps that looked fragile like matches, torn to pieces by the shock wave of a nearby landslide that buried a whole village and destroyed the livelihood of an entire valley community. Around the next corner we saw that big mess of mud and rubble and we felt strange, when the trail led us straight over this mound and what was buried underneath it: homes, animals, humans. Yet just a little further up the valley the village has been rebuilt, in full view of the remains of the tragedy.
We spent our second trekking night in a nice guesthouse just before the scene of the landslide. It was a newly built business with clean rooms and a very enthusiastic host, a shy hostess, an herd of yak kept in the adjoining corral and a flock of cheeky chickens roaming about. Just as the last guesthouse, this one too had a large terrace with great views – this time of the upper Langtang valley and its impressive mountain peaks.
Homestay with a salty twist
In Kyanjin Gompa, the village at the end of the trek and the goal of our third trekking day, also many houses were damaged by the earthquake and the town has been busy rebuilding during the past three years. The town nestled below impressive Langtang Lirung (7227m) has become a hub of guesthouses, some up to four storeys high catering to large trekking groups. Others are smaller and still have an atmosphere of an informal homestay about them.
We settled for a smaller guesthouse called Ganchempo, that was recommended to us for its good food. The lady who runs it lost her son and her husband in the earthquake and relies now solely on the income from the guesthouse – a story I heard in similar variations many times: Nearly every family in the valley lost someone on that day. The welcome we got at Ganchempo was despite the sad background one of the warmest we received in Nepal. We were shown how Buddhist altar candles were poured and invited to a glass of raki, a home-made schnapps in the evening. This was after a delicious meal of Nepal’s signature dish Dal Bhat (Rice with lentil soup) and an equally delicious garlic-vegetable soup, that is supposed to help with acclimatisation.
Encouraged by the tasty dinner we took a leap of faith in the morning in ordering the traditional Tibetan tea. What we did not remember then: Tibetan tea is a salted green tea, cooked with a lot of butter. We tried my best, yet We had to give in. Our stomachs wouldn’t take the strange flavour this early in the day and we had to humbly ask for a cup of coffee instead, leading to a lot of amusement by our hostesses. Re-fueled by coffeine and many kind words we were ready to make our way back down into the valley, leaving behind busy construction sites, solemn ancient prayer walls, and serene 7000er-peaks, glistening in the morning light and wholly unmoved by whatever busy events of the day were unfolding beneath them.
If you have more time, there are great options for day hikes starting from Kyanjin Gompa, the little town at an altitude of 3800 marking the end-point of the trek. You could follow the river further upstream, hike to the foot of Langtang glacier or climb nearby peak Tsergo-Ri. With 4984 meters of altitude it can be climbed via a technically easy, but due to the altitude gain rather exhausting trail in approximately four hours. It is a strenuous hike, but well worth it. The view from up there is amazing! And fueling up at Dorje’s Bakery on the finest sandwiches and apple-pie in possibly all of Nepal will be even sweeter.
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