4/2/2010 to 4/8/2010 | Nepal

Langtang: a bus ride from hell & a trek to heaven

Sarah had wanted to do some trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.  Given the limited amount of time I decided to take her to Langtang, which in my opinion is one of the best short treks in Nepal.  In at as little as three days from Kathmandu you can be at the base of a 7000+ meter mountain without taking a flight.  As short a distance Dhunche, one of the starting points of the trek, is from Kathmandu the bus ride to get there is one of the most punishing in Nepal.  Matters were not helped when bought tickets the morning of our journey. We snagged the last two seats in the very last row of the bus, where every bump in the road (and there were many) was amplified by the mechanical advantage created by the pivot of the bus’ wheel base.  The 102 km (64 miles) ride to Dhunche manages to take nearly 8 hours; yes that is about 8 mph on average.  The tantalizing proximity of the destination is almost as painful as the repeated smacks to the derrière.  The reward for these eight hours spent in purgatory is the scenic Langtang Valley.  Last time I was in Langtang I had started from Syabrubesi, to give my self a bit of a change of scenery and to avoid another hour spent on the bus we started our trek from Dhunche.  It’s a nice section of trail that skirts the ridge before a steep descent to join the trail from Syabrubesi.  The other benefit to repeating this trek on my part was that the weather on this occasion was far better than on my previous trek in the region the year before.  With a trekking companion the pace was a bit slower than when I was on my own allowing me to relax a bit a and enjoy the scenery, at least when I wasn’t pulling porter duties carrying an additional bag.

While the scenery was as fantastic as I remembered and the weather even better, I was disappointed with the Langtang area’s new lodge mafia.  Granted the area had a huge over supply of lodges (and last year I was routinely getting free rooms and discounted food) but under the new policy essentially only a few of the big lodges operated.  The village Langtang was the worst offender; only two big lodges were open forcing everyone to stay in these two crowded and impersonal lodges.  I usually prefer the smaller lodges which often offer a friendlier experience if not the same level of comfort.  From what I could gather if you had a lodge open you had to set fixed rates and pay a fixed sum of money to the cartel.  This basically pushed smaller lodges out of business since it was better to keep their lodges closed and collect a cut of the fees than pay the money to stay open.  I was bemoaning this fact to one of the locals when he offered to put us up in his home for about the same price I we were paying for lodges further down the valley and less than we would have paid in Langtang.  An offer I quickly accepted the offer and we slept with him and his family in their intimate one-room house. It was certainly not as comfortable as the lodge, but a far better experience which provided fascinating insight into the daily life of a local family.

The upper Langtang valley is beautiful and there are ample day hikes from the lodges at Kyanjin Gompa to occupy at least few days, one of the reasons I give the Langtang trek a slight edge over the Annapurna sanctuary trek.  Despite the streams of trekkers passed on the way up, on most of the day hikes from Kyanjin Gompa we encountered only one or two other trekkers.

The bus ride back to Kathmandu was little better than the ride from, though the comfort was greatly improved by our seats near the front of the bus, purchased astutely early the day before departure.  The Nepali guys running the bus were not the sharpest knives in the box, to use apt but perhaps tiresome cliché.  A patron was attempting to bring several gallons of poorly packed honey to Kathmandu.  The petrol jugs full of honey were carelessly placed in the aisle.  It was not long before a bump sent several gallons of honey across the floor drenching one foreign trekker’s expensive backpack in the sticky sweet substance.  Fortunately my bag was out of the way of the flow, and spared all but a few splashes. Nevertheless I wasn’t particularly pleased with the incompetence and having to ride another 6 hours in a sticky mess. Ah, the joys of Nepali public transportation.

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