Langtang, Nepal. It’s piqued your interest, hey? Planning a trek there is part adventure, part humanitarian effort knowing your touristy funds will help rebuild this Himalayan region to the north of the Kathmandu Valley near Tibet. Yep, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck there in 2015. Moments later came the icy avalanche that took out Langang Village in a matter of seconds. The wind gust alone from that avalanche flattened every tree for many kilometres downstream on the opposite side of the valley. The death toll was 9,000. Yes, the Langtang Valley was devastated … physically and mentally. Ugh. Since then, the floods and monsoons have hit severely damaging trekking routes. This region would be unrecognisable for pre-2015 trekkers. It’s getting rebuilt as The Guardian’s photoessay from December 2016 shows. Check out the international relief organisation, Samaritan’s Purse, story and vid on the rebuilding too – they’re rebuilding hundreds of homes there. Do your bit for adventure trekking – hire a porter, spend up big at teahouses and share your stories when you return home.
So, trekking Langtang means tapping into up-to-date info. Save these names into your browser: the official tourism website, Discover Nepal, its Facebook page, Nepal Now (for official updates and real-time stories but not as updated as we’d like, sorry), and the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP). Why not keep an eye on the Weather Network, the government’s weather site and Langtang satellite, too?
12-Day Langtang Tamang Heritage Trail Trek
from US$ 833 per traveller
by Rajendra Man D.
14-Day Langtang Gosaikunda Trek
from US$ 1,494 per traveller
by Sangita B.
18-Day Langtang Gosai Kunda Trek
from US$ 1,819 per traveller
by Hari B.
Nepal in a nutshell
But first, let’s pan out to Nepal as a country where two-thirds of the land is mountainous. Only since the 1949 has it been open to tourists en masse. It’s among the world’s poorest country, so aid and tourism are Nepal’s lifeblood, although there is a small film industry known as Kollywood. Nepal spans just over 147,181 square kilometres – about the size of New York State. The country is home to 31 million people and the main religions are Hinduism and Buddhism. Life expectancy for men is 68 and women, 70. In the Langtang region, where we’re focusing, the staple foods are wheat, maize, potato, soya bean and millet. Get more riveting statistics here.
Dreaming of the valley
About 30km north of Kathmandu (population 1.5m), you’ll find the Langtang Valley (Langtang Village is 65km). The valley runs east to west and is framed by snow-capped peaks soaring 6,000m to 7,000m. The northern border features the main crest of the Himalayas with the Langtang Lirung, at 7,245m, the highest peak there.
By road, Langtang Valley is up to six hours’ drive from Kathmandu or up to five if you decide to trek through Helambu’s forested hills. Langtang’s the place to trek if you want a short trip with “all the excitement of the Himalayas”, says the Nepal tourism office. It says the area is one of the most accessible trekking areas near the Kathmandu Valley offering short day hikes or week-long (or more) treks into the lake district. You’re up for 70 glaciers and high altitude lakes such as Gosainkunda, Parvatikunda, Bhairavkunda and Dudhkunda. Yak and sheepherders abound.
The Langtang region ranked number 43 on the New York Times list of places to visit in 2017. What nudged it there was no doubt the “alpine terrain, verdant midlands, rustic villages and monasteries”. To that we add dense bamboo, rhododendron forests, terraced farms and waterfalls. A highlight is the newly opened part of the Langtang National Park – Tamang Heritage Trail – as a way to meet the original Tibetan horse traders, the Tamang people.
Trekking Langtang is cheap, not that remote, but it’s still a challenge that’s ranked accessible to moderate difficulty (depends on the trail you take). Despite this, the track can be a bit ‘samey’. Do a dress rehearsal: We found this oft-shared YouTube vid from June 2017 that takes you by the hand, only you don’t leave home to do it. Not too polished with varying audio levels, so chances are you’re seeing it like it is. They’ve crammed only the highlights into 25 mins. No time for that? Let these reflections wash over you: the valley and national park offer superb views and a range of landscapes. You’ll trek through and over boulders, gravel paths, snow, rain, rivers and villages and see yaks, donkeys, horses, mules, goats, and the Nepal Gray Langur Monkey.
A ‘nice to know’ is that trekking Langtang region including in the national parks and conservation areas, there’ll be lodges for you to rest up, feast and meet other trekkers as well as locals.
Adventures you probably weren’t expecting
This is where we give you the lowdown on transport and more. Avoid travelling on roads at night, particularly in rural areas and between cities. As for public buses and vans, they’ll be overcrowded, not well maintained and downright dangerous as frequent accidents demonstrate. Taxi drivers often ditch the meter and charge tourists like a wounded horse (you won’t need to tip). Not worth making a fuss about it as they’ve been known to threaten passengers. That’s if you find a taxi – there may be few due to fuel shortages. Oh, and locals consider the traffic laws optional. So, you think taking a flight puts you up a notch? Actually, no. Flight delays and cancellations happen in inclement weather. You might find yourself stranded for up to 10 days in particular locations.
Governments across the globe advise you keep a ‘high level of caution’ when visiting Nepal. As a tourist, you’re at risk of theft, assault, the usual. Don’t be in a (social) media blackout while there – you need to know the risks as things can change quickly. The official advice is not to trek alone – use reputable agencies instead. Another reason you’ll need to keep your ear to the ground is that roadworks continue to disrupt roads throughout the country not to mention demonstrations and strikes the crop up at short notice. Construction is kicking up a lot of dust, which does nothing for air pollution quality. And speaking of dust, there are landmines and improvised explosive devices in many parts of Nepal including some trekking areas. Stick to the clearly identified tracks and look out for signs.
Waste management isn’t handled the way you’re probably used to at home, so don’t add to the plastic litter you’ll see in the Langtang Valley. As well, keep on your radar the risk of major infectious diseases is high in Nepal. They include food or waterborne disease such as diarrhoea, hepatitis A and E, Typhoid fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria and Dengue Fever.
Apart from those dangers, climate change has increased the frequency of natural disasters, boosted temperatures, changed rainfall patterns and shifted the tree lines. So, just in case something goes wrong for you on your trek, play it safe and organise an emergency beacon aka personal locator beacon. Here’s some info on those, plus another site, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And carry spare batteries for your devices, too because there’s an acute electricity shortage and the higher-altitude teahouses will dock you extra for charging devices.
Map out your trek and route
Most trekkers can easily do the Langtang Valley trek in a week – that includes a couple of days transport, too. The last village, Kanjin Gumba, is handy as your home base for day treks and also where you can hobnob with heli skiers but they’re not in numbers like pre-earthquake times.
To get you started, here’s a basic free map showing the popular treks, here’s one from enviro group WWF showing the national park and land use including the glaciers, snow line and barren areas. Shows you what you’re up against. When you want info overwhelm, check out the array here. You can get a free map from the Nepal Tourism Board, too.
You’ll want to have the 1,710 square kilometre Langtang National Park on your itinerary. Nepal’s two largest rivers systems, the Trisuli and Koshi, course through this park. Aiming to tackle a mountain? Tserko Peak at 4,984 should fit the bill.
Here’s a camp trek you could do comfortably in about nine days but give yourself an extra four for transportation. The moderately difficult trek starts at Kathmandu, drive to Dhunche (2,030m) and bunk down in a guest house. Your trek begins with Thulo Shyabru Gaon (2,210m) you day’s destination, then Lama, Langtang Village and Kyangjing Gompa (3,730m) the next three days’ goals. This is where you hike up to the Tsergo Peak or the lower Kyanjing Ri (4,500m) and stay there overnight. Track back to Lama, Shyabru, for two nights respectively, then drive back to Kathmandu.
Another option is the easier Langtang Helambu Trek (give yourself about five to eight days), which attracts fewer trekkers than Annapurna or parts of Everest. You’ll still see diverse cultures and awesome scenery. This trek ranges between 800m and climbs Kala Patar (5,555m), a great spot to take in the sunset over Mt Everest.
Best time to travel
Given the 2015 experience, avoid monsoon season from June to September, so that means the best time to visit is either March to May or October-November. That’s when landslides, particularly near major roads and in all trekking areas, are more likely. Did we mention earthquakes are common in Nepal?
Our research shows you can do a nine-day Langtang Valley trek for about US$600 for a week edging up to about $1000 for two weeks. There’s a huge range so do a deep dive into the fine detail to save disappointment. If you’re comfy travelling solo, you’ll be in good company, pardon the pun, particularly if you don’t mind other trekkers befriending you.
Are you up to it?
You’ll need an average level of fitness to tackle the tracks, particularly as you’ll be walking in a higher altitude than where you probably live. For some people ‘high’ altitude could be as low as 2,134m. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, lack of appetite, faster heart rate, trouble sleeping and more. Giving yourself time to acclimatize to the hypoxic environment is the key. And if you invest in a porter to carry your baggage, that’s good insurance against issues too.
Get the right gear, either from home or buy/rent in Nepal. Your basic checklist includes hiking boots, wool socks, campground shoes, thermal layers, windbreaker and a waterproof jacket, hiking pants, a snuggly down vest or jacket, thermal gloves/hat, UV-protection sunglasses and headlamp.
Got some extra time?
Airbnb has come to Nepal and shows amazing bargains such as US$10 per night for an entire farmhouse with two beds or even US$25 per night for a peaceful “cottage” with 16 beds. Definitely worth lingering at those prices. Your options to get around include local buses, battery-run three-wheelers, ponies and bullock-carts but to speed it up, go for the rickshaw. So where to go? From Langtang you can explore Bhaktapur (64km), Patan (70km), Pokhara (184km) and Ghandruk (204km) to name a few.
Permits – you’ll need them
Check in with your nearest Embassy or Consulate of Nepal for a visa and they may also have an online smart traveller registration portal for you to lodge your trip details. Once you have your Nepal visa, then to trek Langtang you’ll need your trekking permit plus registration- the TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System http://www.timsnepal.com/). Try your luck and get your TIMS from the tourist information office in Kathmandu the day before you start your trek. By why live that dangerously? Plan ahead with some wriggle room. Buy your TIMS card from an authorised trekking company, TAAN offices in Kathmandu or Pokhara or the Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu. Trekkers in groups will pay about US$10 and individual trekkers about US$20 for their permits. There will also be a National Park Conservation fee.
Time to brag
Real-time bragging, blogging, boasting are easier done with cell phone reception (byo solar charger, by the way), so if patchy reception annoys you, invest in a satellite phone, or turn your regular iPhone into one with a Thuraya SatSleeve.
Back home though, once you’ve ‘done’ Langtang, you haven’t ‘done’ much Nepal – you’ll be wanting more. Consider writing your own blog about your treks and sharing it here. If vlogging’s your thing, get inspiration on crafting your content here (and get a peek at your next adventure).