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Into the Himalayas I.

Langtang Valley - all alone in Himalayas, Tibetans and yaks,no Yeti spotted, getting high literally and metaphorically. AND BEING FREAKING HAPPY!

On 23.3.2013 I finally raised an anchor from Kathmandu and took bus to Shyaphrubesi, a trailhead for Langtang Valley trek. 170km in 8,5 hours - last few kilometers were practically without any road, just a mud trail over an incredibly deep valley. Pretty scary ride that was but the vistas were amazing. Himalaya in the background.

On 24.3. I hiked from Syaphrubesi (~ 1470 meters above sea level) up Langtang River valley to Lama Hotel (~ 2450m), which is actually not a hotel but a collection of simple guesthouses. Only very partial views over the mountains yet - the trek followed deep narrow valley. At the beginning of the trek I met a Carsten from Denmark, who runs a trekking company in Kathmandu and served 22 years in Danish army (serving in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars) and with whom I trekked first half of that day’s trek (he was much lighter packed and stronger hiker, so he was faster then me). When I arrived to Lama Hotel, it turned out that all rooms were full, and there was only one bed in one double room available and it turned out that the other occupant of that room was Carsten, so I shared the room with him. When I arrived there, he was lying in his bed, obviously completely stoned, baked and blasted out, and could hardly speak. (I didn’t know it yet, but in one week, I would be in the same condition, due to the same reason, only in one accommodation higher). When he sobered a little bit, he admitted that he had just smoked pretty strong hashish that he had bought here (you cannot escape hashish dealers even 2400m above sea level, I also got offer from the local guy…).

Next day I started pretty early at 6:00, made it to the next couple of guesthouses 400m higher until 7:00, had breakfast and then continued to hike first with Johannes and Maria, a couple from Bavaria, in their late 60’s at least. Johannes had ZZ Top-like beard, unshaved for decades and Maria had truly Bavarian pigtails, they were farmers somewhere south of Munich, and 3 years ago they did Annapurna Trek, last year they wanted to do Everest Base Camp but had to cancel it because of monsoon and this year they do Langtang Valley. And they carried their backpacks themselves, no porters! Age is obviously no obstacle for Himalayan trekking. Later I would continue with high school trip from Vancouver. High school trip! Hell, how come that we never went for a high school trip to Nepal!? :-) Unlike grandpa and grandma from Bavaria, the group of 30 teenagers paid porters to carry their bags. There’s no pride in today’s youth.

By the way, absolute majority of trekkers hired porters, only few of us carried our own bags, and even fewer were trekking solo like me. Except Carsten I met only 1 or 2 other guys hiking on their own like me.

Do you know how you find out that you’re old? When you meet high school trip, and you spend all the time talking to the teachers who are well over 40 instead of talking to the students :-)

Anyway, second day of the trek brought from the forest and the deep valley into a wide open glacier-shaped alpine valley in midst of 5000m, 6000m and 7000m peaks and to Langtang Village (~ 3400m) the only real village on the trek (all other settlements are only groups of guesthouses). WOW! I could stay here for months! The beauty of the place and its silence are astonishing. 2 days from the nearest road and the nearest real village. The valley is inhabited by Tamang people, who are basically Tibetans, who crossed mountain passes from Tibet to Nepal. All men work as porters/guides and all women run guesthouses. One family is usually spread across the valley, so that one sister runs guesthouse in Lama Hotel, one sister in Langtang and one in Kyanjin Gumpu (the uppermost settlement of the trek). Women all dress semi-traditionally (i.e. Adidas T-shirt under the traditional dress) and NEVER cut their hair, and even prolong their hair by add-ons from yak wool, so their yak-wool-prolonged-pony-tails hang down to their knees.
All people were very nice, and the feeling of traditional lifestyle resembled that of Vanuatu.

It’s easy to get too romantic about the life here, just by looking at the mountains and the surrounding peace, but in reality their life is pretty tough. Winters are cruel here (even now it freezes every night) and anything they might need, including most basic doctor care is at least 2 days of walking away. The only other mode of transport here is helicopter transfer. This ain’t no life of “Hey hon’, we ran out of beer, go and get some in the store downstairs!”. But it would be a perfect refuge for a writer, this place. Since Langtang is real village, apart from porters and guesthouse owners you could see men and women plowing their humble fields and herds of yaks, grazing on hopeless bits of green vegetation (this place will turn green only after monsoon in May/June/July).

On 26.3. I hiked up the last section from Langtang Village to Kyanjim Gumpa (~ 3 800m), the last settlement of the valley and folks, this was probably the happiest day of my life. I walked in the afternoon (this last stretch of the trek only took 3 hours) and the sun was shining warm yellow light upon the surrounding peaks. It was so BEAUTIFUL that I simply laughed aloud during most of the time! HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!

The good thing about Langtang Trek is that there are far fewer tourists here than in the more popular treks of Annapurna and Everest Base Camp, so the trail is not crowded. Approximately every half an hour I would meet somebody, and half of these somebodies were locals anyway.

I was marched into a guesthouse in Kyanjin Gumpa by an old Tibetan woman, which hooked me some 1,5 hours before Kyanjin Gumpa and all the way walked just behind or before me and insisted that I would stay in place belonging to her family. The competition between the lodges is fierce, the season is not yet fully on and so capacities of the guesthouses outnumber the trekkers at least tenfold (with exception of Lama Hotel, where obviously there was lack of beds, mostly due to two large organized parties – 39 Canadians and 20 Danes).

The following 3 days I made 3 epic side trips from the “base camp” - Kyanjin Gumpa, so I no longer had to carry my fat big heavy backpack (despite the fact that I left most of my stuff at Cecile’s place in Kathmandu, my backpack was still pretty heavy, because I carried a sleeping bag, mat, extra pair of shoes – just in case that the fake trekking shoes which I had bought in Darjeeling would turn out to be crap and break), camera equipment and so on. So lightly day-packed I made 3 trips from Kyanjin Gumpa:
27.3.2013 – Hike to base of glacier, ~ 4400m
28.3.2013 – Hike to top of Kyanjin Ri peak, ~ 4650m
29.3.2013 – Hike deeper into Langtang Valley, past Kyanjim Gumpa towards Mt. Larshika Ri, ~4400m

Against all recommendations, I did all these hikes solo and as I said, Langtang Trek is not very frequented, so I spent always 6-8 hours completely alone in mountains. WOOOOOOW! I’m not sure if you can imagine the spiritual up-lift of being completely alone in Himalayas. When the wind ceased, the ultimate silence ruled (“Mozete ho, ziskat len pod rukou, naaaaadhernneeee ticho hor!”) and the vistas over the peaks (the highest one being Langtang Lirung, 7270m) were simply amazing.

During the first hike I literally haven’t met anyone except 2 yaks and 1 condor (plus I saw few other yaks grazing deep down below me on their alpine pastures). Now that is what I call solitude!

During the second hike I climbed a peak to which there is no proper trail (I simply walked straightforward the mountain) and from there I walked on the ridge to 4 more interconnected peaks, one of them being top of Kyanjin Ri, where I reached my lifetime altitude record of around 4650m. At first sight this hike seemed quite irresponsible, because I was climbing a snow covered peaks and walked on narrow ridges all alone, but in reality the route was not dangerous, I had to cross snow fields only few times and the snow was frozen just the right amount to hold my weight (well, after sinking knees deep into the snow) but without being slippery or icy, and plus I could see some other people on other ridges, who could in turn see me, and if anything happened they would easily see and hear me. Kubo, thanks for the plastic 3D-printed whistle, I carried it with me all the time, as my life-saving insurance, should I need it.

During both these hikes I continued to laugh all the time, due to the beauty of the mountains and the indescribable feeling of solitude and remoteness in the magnitude of the Himalayan mountains. The third hike, turned out not to be as happy as the previous ones, despite the fact that it should have been the easiest one – no climbing to glacier or peaks, just long walk deeper into the valley. Although I didn’t feel any symptoms of altitude sickness during the whole trip (acclimatization in Lama Hotel and Langtang worked pretty well), during the third trek I didn’t feel very well, probably just being too exhausted by the days of hikes in high altitude. Plus this time I ventured far far away from the Kyanjin Gumpa and if something happened to me, it would take long time to find me – if anyone would search for me at all. Also, my motto was “If yaks can make it, I can make it!” because the whole valley is practically one big yak pasture and those beasts roam around everywhere, but on this trek I found a rotting corpse of dead yak, and so I started to doubt if I can make it :-)
By the way, as Lonely Planet says: “According to early Himalayan explorer H. W. Tilman from 1940’s , upper Langtant Valley is prime Yeti area, with yak-herds reporting many spotting of both small and tall Yetis.” So I kept a close watch over the mountains if one of them bloody beasts would appear, but I haven’t spotted any. But I’m pretty sure that one of those bastards must have killed that yak, there’s no way that yak would die on his own!!!

I was the only guest staying in “my” guesthouse, and so instead of eating in the designated dining hall, I always joined the guesthouse owner and her family in their tiny dark kitchen, with mud-made oven where they cooked the meals on wood and eat with them. The guesthouse owner was a Tibetan women, maybe 38 years old (it’s difficult to guess age of these people, because of the hardship of their lifestyle they all look much older that they are) and 2 out of her 5 kids and her younger sister (25 years old?) stayed with her. The youngest kid – called Pindzinkoshqche or something like that - was around 36 months old, and during the cooking and eating she would always breastfeed him, not minding my company at all. Each dinner was a little cultural show, with the kids running around, making mess, breastfeeding, three boys - the youngest one being just 10 years old - coming nightly to drink homemade rice-alcohol (I tasted as well, it was pretty weird but a bit better than the grain-made beer which I had in Pelling).
One day, when her younger sister wasn’t around, the guesthouse owner tried to persuade me to marry her younger sister: “You young, she young – marry!”, “You no children, we many children!”. She was quite serious about it and only gave it up after 20 minutes of trying to steer me into Tibetan marriage.

After the 3 side trips I went down to place called Riverside, about 1 hour before Lama Hotel, where I met 2 Spanish girls and 2 German guys. Late in the evening the Germans rolled hashish joints and I smoked some of it, and well, I got completely fucked up :-) I very occasionally smoke marihuana (which has, sadly, almost none effect on me) but never hashish. I don’t know if it’s the difference between weed and hash, or it was caused by the altitude (almost 3000m), but I got completely stoned and higher than Mt. Everest and after a while I realized I cannot walk straight anymore, and after few more minutes I realized than in 3 minutes I will not be able to walk at all, and so I sinusoid-ically hurried to my bed, because if I stayed outside for 3 more minutes I would have to crawl there. Trying to fall asleep while being stoned like the Sphinx produced some truly weird mental states and movies running in front of my eyes. Kids don’t take drugs!

Last day of the hike I opted for alternative trail, which I deeply regretted, because instead of relaxed walk down along the river, after descending to Lama Hotel I had to climb up and up again and at the end make a brutal descend of 1200m in 2,5 hours and in rain, true delight for one’s knees.

Except for the last few hours, I totally loved this trek. The mountain scape was splendid, the solitute absolute and the high mountain feeling (and now I’m not talking about the hashish) overpowering. I felt like being in “Into the Wild”.

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak