The last time I went on a trek I was too young to understand the magnificence and privilege it brought with it. I loved the peaks in their powder white perfection and the adventure of being higher than anyone else…the Tent Chronicles and loo sagas, the campfires and ghost tales. But the significance, I suspect escaped me. Ever since, aware of the missed moment, I have attempted so often to recreate the situation, but have found myself on road trips to the foothills or a similar sort of visit instead. This year as cruel December crept in, I finally, eight years later, had my chance to redeem that gift voucher from the gods.
The Lang Tang Valley lies in North Nepal, one range shy of Tibet. I’d never heard the name up until Sujoy Das of South Col. Expeditions sent out a group mail suggesting a trek to the area. Sick of having to cancel various treks over the years due to work, illness, bereavements and so forth, I signed up, paid, and swore to myself I would go no matter what. And voila! I did. It’s an attractive trek…only eight days long, not too ungentle on the knees, and full of glorious sights involving very little boot-in-snow action. You’re essentially walking the entire valley alongside the river, which changes from gentle stream to fierce gushing ice water as you traverse up the valley, closer and closer to the source. The trek allows you such varied views of the landscape, you’ll find it hard to believe your Day 4 and Day 1 images were taken only half a week apart.
When you begin walking from start point Syabrubesi (it’s a tongue twister that’ll be rolling out your mouth neatly by the last day), it’s through forests sporting tall bamboo, leafy green plants, trees on the edge of autumn and the obvious evergreens, strong gentlemen, the army men of the forest. The enchanted woods are full of birch and blossoms, pale minute blue butterflies and shaded areas. Everything is magic and you can almost hear the fairies shake webs of their wings and giggle behind berries. There are places you stop on the mossy path and imagine Aragorn riding down on one of the many fluffy white mares you’ve walked past, catching the sun in their manes like warmth saved up for later. Then you begin walking upward…and mind you upward really is upward (Days 1 and 2 are serious gluteus-maximus improvement).
As you walk, the terrain begins its gradual transition from forested to fall. You’re so close to Tibet you can taste the culture changing. In the faces you pass, the languages you hear, the religious relics you walk past…and all of it is heartening. The tiny paths that weave through the valley become strewn with the crunch of auburn leaves. Everything is copper tinted and dry and looks like it may catch fire if left in the sunset too long. But night falls too fast each day, and as the clouds rise like ghosts over the valley we watch the moon as it rises crisp on the other side, over the peaks, waxing as we walk further and further up paths that have succumbed to no vehicle. That’s the really magical thing about trekking…that there’s a point where you pause and look around and you are exhausted and your feet ache and your back hurts and you can’t recall what a cappuccino tastes like or if you’ve ever really had one at all, and you wonder when you’ll be able to wash your hair again, but you also take note of the fact that it was nothing but your feet that brought you thus far. Your feet propelled by your spirit. And nothing else could have done that. No bicycle could mount those ancient steps of stone, no car so slim has been invented for those edges. Your pocket couldn’t afford the helicopter and your boyfriend’s big bike would be rendered useless by this cold. Nothing but your feet could have brought you here, and when you marvel at that fact, the two tiny captains wiggle proudly in their bruised and dusty trekking shoes and no longer feel any pain. And at night you lie there in your sleeping bag, temporarily a caterpillar, and you listen to the sound in the far off distance and think “Gosh that highway sounds awfully close…” until you realize it’s the waterfall and you can hear it so loud and clear because you are one of only twenty people for as far as you can walk.
The “hardships” of trekking are only as troublesome as you are troubled. Yes it’s December and it’s cold and the wind will shred tiny cuts in your lips and the sun will love you so hard you will burn, but for every frozen over water pipe and lamp-less shared toilet there’s a Tibetan boy’s guitar lying idle in a corner…a peak that turns rose tinted just before dark and a chocolate pancake you could have sworn was made in France. These moments, they’re what you come back with…not the bedbugs and sweat nor the blisters and broken nails, but the memory of sitting out on a makeshift bench, the wind whipping the little parts of you you’ve left exposed, your eyes glued to the dark silhouette of a mountain, an almost-alien glow growing stronger by the minute behind it. And then there she is…the first shard of moonlight explodes upon the valley and the goddess rises, full, illuminating everything within and without. In her glory the peaks shine silver and your heart turns to gold.
It’s humbling, to say the least. To remember your own smallness, in the face of such greatness. Those mountains that have sat from the beginning of time sit serene and somber, and you feel almost doubtlessly that they’re the abode of the gods. It’s no surprise then why over the centuries god-men have turned to the mountains and the mountains have turned ordinary men to God. Because trekking and spirituality aren’t that different. Technically, you leave behind your materialistic desires and take nothing with you save the clothes on your back. Whatever food you receive you are grateful for, and you spend up to nine hours a day in silence, often alone, focusing on nothing but the next step and the vastness of the universe. There’s no other place on the planet where I, a one-time cynic, have felt the presence of a higher governing force more. So very close to the stars, there’s little else that seems important enough to ponder. Lost in the Himalayas is where I’ve had the most peaceful thought of my life….that if I should go now, I would go happy. And therein for me lies proof that those mountains are the closest to Heaven we’ll get on this Earth.
Schedule for the LT Valley Trek:
Day 1: Kathmandu to Syabrubesi by bus
Day 2: Syabrubesi to Lama Hotel Village
Day 3: Lama Hotel Village to Lang Tang Village
Day 4: Trek to the Lang Tang Monastery and back to the village
Day 5: Lang Tang Village to Kyanjin Gompa + summit Kyanjin Ri for views of the entire Lang Tang Range behind which lies Tibet
Day 6: Kyanjin Gompa to Lang Tang Village
Day 7: Lang Tang Village to Upper Rimchhe
Day 8: Rimchhe to Syabrubesi
Day 9: Drive back to Kathmandu
-Choose a good time of the year. Everyone balked at my December plans but the skies were so blue I’ve had to actually de-saturate some photos to make them more convincing! December is dry, clear skied and relatively empty as trekking season is technically over. Only drawback is finding places to stay and food options.
-Carry sunblock and drink enough water. Altitude sickness is a very real thing that affects almost everyone if the right care isn’t taken.
-Carry enough snacks of your own. Nuts, fruit, chocolate, energy bars.
-Carry as little as possible. You’ll find one t shirt easily lasts you three days on a trek.
-If you take sherpas or porters with you, don’t treat them as your servants for chrissake.
-And finally, go with a company and group that do treks well. The experience is easily ruined if you’re trekking with folk who aren’t similar minded or if you’re with a group that chooses to cuts corners on small but essential things. I used South Col. Expeditions and was overjoyed with the results to the point where I’ve pretty much put my name down for treks with them up until November 2016! You can check them out here – www.southcol.com