844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Helambu-Gosainkund-Langtang (Langtang National Park, Nepal)

December 13th, 2009 - Another ten days in the shadow of the Himalaya. Richie likey. This time around I took no guide, unless you count the Lonely Planet: Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya. I considered the implications of going solo for a while and decided in the end that going rogue would provide maximum enjoyment. Guides and agencies are prone to schedules and like to stick to specific tea houses and hotels. I wanted no such hindrance.

For example, the trip I just completed would have required 16 days or so with one of these tour agencies. I did it in 11 and that included spending a couple extra night in places where I felt compelled to do so. I also saved a rather substantial sum. Frugal and intrepid. I am going to have t-shirts made.

I began my journey in the ‘wrong direction’. My area of operation included the Helambu/Gosainkund/Langtang Valley region. I began in lower Helambu and made my way north. The drawback with this route stems from a mandatory ascent greater than 1000m (3300 ft) in a short period of time. According to the guidelines this can be potentially dangerous and result in acute mountain sickness (AMS). Nobody wants that. After considering my options I chose this route because I am the very epitome of awesomeness. Not exactly. Firstly, I had been at altitude before and believed I would be ok. Second, going the other way required a nine hour ride on a local bus at the onset. I wanted to get moving so I opted for the route less traveled. I knew that Diamox and a quick descent could quickly reverse the effects of altitude sickness but still….Best laid plans of mice and assholes...


Although I was traveling alone there were villages and other tourists along the way. However, I did see far less of the latter than I had presupposed. This gave the journey a much more solitary quality, which I liked, but made the solo nature of my sojourn a bit more precarious, which concerned me a teensy bit.

The first couple days were fairly uneventful. On one fine morning I encountered two local women grunting loudly while catapulting rocks into the forest. Yes, you could say I was bewildered, until I realized they were attempting to keep the monkeys away…..from something. I also had another go at yak butter tea. This time around there was actually some Tibetan tea in it, which was lovely. You may remember my first experience was like swallowing liquefied butter. Not so yummy.

My first day took me from Sundarijal to Golpu Bhanjyang followed by a trot from Golpu to Tharepati the next. The third day involved the arduous potentially AMS-inducing climb that started in Tharepati and ended in Gosainkund. And arduous it was. I somehow managed to do it in seven and a half hours stopping no more than 15 minutes at a time. I’ve found the use of small microbreaks useful when pushing thyself. Stuffing yourself with granola and candy bars is also a useful precaution against energy loss.












The higher I ascended the more beautiful the landscape became until all the trees disappeared and I was left with nothing but a rocky, shrub-strewn expanse spotted with snow and ice. By the time I reached Laurebina La Pass (4610 m, 15213 ft) I was exhausted although quite exhilarated as well. Alone in a moonscape with a cold wind in my face. The Gosainkund region is known for its frozen lakes and desolate beauty. Standing there by myself with the sound of the wind threshing through my ears enchanted me and almost made me feel as if I were being haunted, although by what or by whom who I cannot say. Had I not had another hour or so ahead of me I may have lingered a bit longer. As it was I was dreaming of a pot of hot chocolate that I could no doubt acquire at the tea house where I would be staying. So I pressed on.



The 'village' of Gosainkund is nothing more than a few tea houses set up for the benefit of trekkers alongside one of those lakes I mentioned. The lakes are sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. During the August full moon around 20,000 Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in the surrounding lakes for the festival of Janai Purnima. And the rock cairns lining the lake shores are a testament to the importance of the area to Buddhists.





And the altitude? Well, for some reason I barely felt the effects (headache, rapid pulse, shortness of breath, etc.). That is not to say that it was not strenuous only that I felt much better than I anticipated. Yippee.

While at a tea house in Tharepati (previous evening) I met a guide who told me that a jaunt up Suriya Peak near Gosainkund would be rewarded with amazing views. I was intrigued, especially since this peak was not mentioned in the guidebook. Imagine that? When I reached Gosainkund I encountered a few more guides who also mentioned the small peak. I was told that the trail was fairly easy to follow and marked by stone cairns all the way up. All I had to do was go back towards the pass from whence I came the previous day and hang a left. A glance at the map confirmed this. I was as giddy as a school girl with a new box of crayons.

Had I been smart I would have followed a group going that way the following morning and had a Nepali guide point me in the right direction. However, as I believed it a bit difficult to miss a 5145 m (16, 978 ft) peak I slept in a bit.

Those with whom I spoke made it sound as if this would be a fairly leisurely 6-7 hour trot up a nearby peak. Nuh-uh. And the path was not as clearly marked as I had hoped. Before I set out on what I thought was the trail I mentioned to a couple of French woman headed down the valley from where I came the day before that my name was Richard from America just in case. Melodramatic? Perhaps. However, they were French and cute so I thought spraying a little testosterone around was warranted.

Although I did eventually find the piles of stone cairns marking the ‘trail’ the closer I came to the summit the more difficult it was to spot the trail markers. Imagine looking for a small pile of stones in the middle of a big pile of stones. I of course lost the actual way and ended up ascending a much steeper area of the mountain. I do not deserve much sympathy as it is pretty clear that the idea is to ascend to a nearby ridge to the west and subsequently follow a much more gentle incline to the top. Ignorant.

I am not going to lie. It was a bit dodgy. Unstable tire-sized rocks, loose scree, and a fairly precipitous climb made for a slightly stressful morning. Luckily, I had a pair of trekking poles given to me free of charge back in Kathmandu by some departing tourists. They proved to be invaluable and most likely prevented more than one untimely spill, although I bent and twisted them until they were no longer adjustable. Super. Being alone was not exactly a bonus. Way to think it through. Had I had a better idea of what was involved I may have thought twice about the climb.....and then forged ahead anyway.

But oh, what a view! Although having a companion to share the experience with had its benefits, being alone surrounded by such magnificence was like having an existential orgasm. I felt free. I felt alive. At that moment where else would I have wanted to be?

When I reached the summit the view was exquisite, the wind calm, the sun bright, and the vibe solemn. Awesome. I even took a few moments to commune with nature and engage in a bit of meditation. It just felt like the thing to do. When in Rome. I lingered at the top for close to an hour before my making my descent. I could have been the only person on the planet at that point. It is the kind of place that makes you dream of sprouting wings and flinging yourself off the side of the mountain. I refrained. My wings are on back order. You know you are in the Himalaya when climbing to the summit of a near 17, 000 ft peak is merely a causal undertaking, a paltry hill surrounded by ‘real’ mountains. A ‘pussy’ hill if you will.



















The descent was no less harrowing. Actually, due to the rather fatigued state of my legs I’d say it was even more challenging. And just to ensure the challenge I went down the same ill-advised way I approached. (It was not until the way down that I spotted the cairns leading up the aforementioned ridge. Ignorant.)

Six and a half hours later I returned to my tea house in Gosainkund for a rest and a vat of hot chocolate followed by a leisurely stroll on the shore of the nearby lake to take a few more pics. I'm sure I've had better days but for the moment I cannot recall one.



After Gosainkund I made my way down into the valley until I reached the village of Thulo Syabru. Along the way more spectacular scenery, rhododendron forests, and delicious solitude. It bordered on a spiritual journey and I was savoring the moments as they unfolded. I was now entering Red Panda country but my hopes of seeing this endangered denizen of the local forest were dashed. Elusive little bastards.









My right knee was not as enthralled with the journey as the rest of me was and we started to have a severe disagreement, especially on the declines. When I reached Thulo Syabru I thought I might be in trouble in the upcoming days. Luckily, I reached the village before 2 pm so I had some time to rest. It was also here that I met a rather fetching Israeli woman with a piercing, if not a bit mesmerizing, stare. As it turned out we had a lot in common and shared an evening engaged in stimulating conversation around the wood stove. Although I believe the spark was there nothing extracurricular occurred (get your mind out of the gutter) although I definitely saw the potential. Oh the vicissitudes of travel! In one evening I was presented with reasons for and against a peripatetic lifestyle. Had it not been for my trip I would not have met her but as a result of our separate journeys no further exploration was possible. Mystery. Longing. Intrigue. Possibility. Desire. Impossibility. It is experiences like this that make life pulse with that primordial electricity.

The next two days were spent moving east into Langtang Valley with a stop at Lama Hotel (that is actually the name of the village, not of a particular establishment) on my way to Kyanjin Gompa. Although my knee was holding up it was still not particularly pleased with my choice of activity. Fortunately, it continued to soldier on. I believe Tramadol and an anti-inflammatory assisted my plight.

Kyanjin Gompa refers specifically to the monastery nestled in this small mountain enclave and also to the collection of guesthouses established for trekkers. As it was the slow season I went with the Yala Peak Guesthouse, one of the few open year round. Cosy with good food. What else could I ask for?

So I stayed three nights and spent my days exploring the area. The day after I arrived I went for a stroll in Lirung Valley behind the monastery. Of course, I went a little off track but this is just part of my modus operandi. And as usual this was a solo jaunt. And again, the farther I went the more it felt like I was approaching the boundary of the earthly realm. I was so close to Langtang Lirung and Kimshung peaks that I could practically reach out and dry hump them. This goes double for the Kimshung Glacier whose internal rumblings were letting me know that its stalwart facade belies its turbulent interior.

After eight days of fairly strenuous trekking the strain was finally starting to catch up with me, both physically and mentally. I just did not have the ‘get up and go’ attitude on this day. So I took it slow and simply marveled at the intrinsic beauty surrounding me. I also stood, watched, and listened. Maybe a snow leopard was watching me? Or even a yeti perhaps? You never know. If only I could just get a glimpse of those furry bastards.

Remarkably my knee was starting to feel a bit better (I guess I just needed to pound it into submission). I had considered packing it in and heading down after my little dalliance behind the gompa but my knee seemed to be doing well so the next day I ventured farther up the valley, to an area known as Langshisha Kharka. Beyond Kyanjin Gompa there are no facilities, only a stone hut here and there for those tending to their yak herds. For this trip I had some company, a Canadian gentleman and his guide. It felt good to break the isolation a bit and have a chat.

After lunch my companion and his guide headed back. I decided to trudge on to Langshisha. The name ‘Langtang’ comes from the Tibetan words lang for ‘yak’ and tang for ‘to follow’. The legend has it that a lama (Buddhist holy man) discovered the valley after chasing his runaway yak into the region. He finally caught up with it in Langshisha. Strangely enough when I arrived there was a solitary yak lazying away the day in the grass basking in the sun. Coincidence? It turns out that Mr. Yak was a bit of a renegade like myself. On my return I encountered two locals searching for the lost beast.

Once again I was presented with a breathtaking scene of postcard perfection. And, as always, I found myself the victim of that natural awe indicative of a Himalayan visit. I suppose my descriptions are becoming a bit trite. What can I do? It really is that beautiful. Sue me.




















What can't you do with shit?

After a brief spell absorbing it all and being treated to a small avalanche sideshow I headed back to Kyanjin Gompa. After one more night nestled in my sleeping bag I began my trip back to Kathmandu. The next day I engaged in an eight hour mini-marathon from Kyanjin Gompa to Syabrubesi where I was to catch a public bus back to Kat. Luckily, my knee held and I stumbled into Sya around 3 pm. My bus left at 7 am the next morning and it was everything you would expect a Nepali public bus to be: cramped, smelly (wet dog to be precise), bumpy, and all things chaotic. Folks were constantly embarking and disembarking while uploading and downloading jugs of water, huge sacks of whatever, goats, so on and so forth. Actually, they put the live goat on top along with those brave souls wanting to live on the edge. This included such daredevils as school children on their way to Dhunche.

Being tall is a real bonus on these contraptions. I would not assign an A+ for road quality either as for much of the ride there was no pavement to be found. If that was not enough it was not uncommon to be skirting a rather precipitous drop as we chugged along. Bone crushing delightfulness and the constant threat of tumbling over a roadside cliff made for a real joy ride. Once again, Valium to the rescue.



I Ride Off
by
Nathan C. Richards

I ride off, and I am free
Embrace oblivion, no longer me
I ride off, the sky is clear
My soul released, there is no fear
I ride off, no one may follow
One way road, empty hollow
I ride off, my Solitaire
Edward’s abbey, O sweet despair
I ride off, leave no trace
The gentle calm, divine embrace
I ride off, no looking back
Unknown highway, one way track
I ride off, sweet lullaby
Touch the void, kiss the sky
I ride off, unmarked trail
Find myself, pierce the veil
And I ride off……
So I ride off……
I ride off……

2 comments:

  1. Wow,seems thrilling and mindblowing experience!i m planning to go gosaikunda alone soon.can u tell me is there any risk of being lost? How are the trails?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The trail seemed pretty straight forward when I was there in Dec '09 but a Japanese had a problem in the area in June of '10. See here

    ReplyDelete

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