On Friday, September 26th 2003 we arrived at Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport after more than 24 hours travel from Vienna via Frankfurt and Bangkok. What did not arrive was my backpack. The next five days we spent waiting and looking for the baggage. Besides giving the lady from Thai Air's lost luggage service a hard time, we took a cab to the airport every day hoping the luggage might have arrived with one of the daily flights from Bangkok and searched every single storage room and closet there. When it seemed all in vain we decided not to waste any more time but instead just buy and hire new clothes and gear and start trekking the next day. It was just when we came back from shopping that we received the message that the backpack had shown up. Enclosed we found the following letter:
I hope that everything of yours is present and intact. I retrieved your gear from a group of travelers that ended up with it by mistake. Their efforts to get it back to the airport and into your hands were half-hearted at best. As I am just now returning from the missions field, I have returned your belongings to the airport on my way back to the U.S. I'm sorry for the inconvenience this has obviously caused, but am trusting that it led to some otherwise missed opportunity
your friend, John Karriman
It took us more than 12 hours bus drive for the 117km from Kathmandu to Dhunche. Until Trisuli Bazaar the road is paved and only the numerous military road blocks hinder speedy progress. From here the road gets really bad and starts climbing up the mountains forcing the bus to slow down to walking speed. Only a few kilometers before Dhunche a severe landslide had completely destroyed the road. We had to walk for about one and a half hours through boulders and debris until we reached intact road again. The shuttle bus waiting there was also scheduled for passengers expected to arrive with another bus from Kathmandu.
It was already dark when we were ready to go and the bus originally designed for maybe 40 people, now had to carry more than 100 people and their luggage including canisters containing a few hundred liters of fuel being stored in the aisle of the passenger compartment. Most people were either sitting on top of their luggage on the roof or standing in the window openings holding on to the roof top gallery. Though only a few kilometers to go, it took us almost a 4 hours night drive along steep ravines until we finally reached Dhunche.
Map of Langtang Trek
Dhunche is the administrative headquarter of the region. We arrived at the first day of the 10-day lasting festival of Dasain when people celebrate the goddess Durga's victory over evil and the streets are filled with buffaloes, chicken and goats being sacrificed to her.
From Dhunche we followed the road to Thulo Bharkhu and then slowly ascended through pine and rhododendron forests to the small Tamang village of Brabal (2200m).
In this typical low mountain range the villages usually sit on ridges and though only a few kilometers apart, traveling to the neighbor village often involves elevation differences that almost match the air line distance. From here the trek enters the Langtang valley and we reached Thulo Syabru (2260m) a pleasant village of about 70 houses. It's also where the snowy peaks of Ganesh Himal (7406m) came into view for the very first time.
The trail follows the Langtang Khola river upstream alongside a series of impressive rapids formed by a jumble of house-sized boulders. In the dense and damp forest we found several groups of langur monkeys but also a lot of leeches. The trail made some steep climbs until we reached the houses of Changtang, popularly known as Lama Hotel (2470m), where we spent the night at the house of a very nice Tibetan family.
The following day the trek continued uphill and we passed through Ghora Tabela (2970m) a Nepal army and national park post. As the trail ascends gradually the valley widens and becomes a classic wide U-shaped glacial valley. From here the rain forest makes room for yak pastures and the route, now in open country, passed Mani stones and scattered Tamang villages until we finally reached the large settlement of Langtang (3430m).
It's only a few hours walk from Langtang to Kyanjin Gompa (3870m). But as we now were above 3500m we welcomed the easy day for acclimatization. The nice little village of Kyanjin Gompa is the last permanent settlement in the Langtang valley.
A famous Lama, who was expected to visit the gompa the following days, had attracted pilgrims from all over the region. The village was also occupied by a large herd of yaks, which were on the way to lower feeding grounds for the winter.
Another highlight of Kyanjin Gompa is the cheese factory founded by the Swiss Association for Technical Assistance in 1955. Barbara quickly became one of their best customers, as no day went by without her buying a large piece of delicious yak cheese.
We continued further up the Langtang valley. The pastures we passed were covered with blooming gentian and edelweiss. The massive peak of Gang Chhenpo (6388m) dominates the scene and builds the southern border of the Langtang valley. We had to cross a terminal moraine until we reached another yak pasture at Langshisha Kharka (4080m) where we pitched our tent near a single goth (cowshed) and prayer flags.
After returning to Kyanjin Gompa our next project was climbing Tsergo Ri. Tsergo Ri is one of the lower unglaciated peaks in the area. But with 4984m it is high enough for splendid panoramic views.
We started reasonably early with the first light and followed a clearly marked trail slowly climbing the south slope. The higher we climbed the more and more indistinct the path became and we followed a lot of useless yak trails. When we reached some abandoned goths at Yala Kharka we had finally lost the trail. After spending quite some time backtracking and searching we realized that there simply was no trail any further. So we continued on our own and reached the summit rather exhausted about two hours later. The panorama there is really superb with spectacular views of Langtang Lirung (7246m), Kinshung (6781), Pemthang Karpo Ri (6830m), Langshisha Ri (6370m), Dorje Lagpa (6966m) and Gangchhenpo (6388m).