Saturday, 21 December 2013

Torrock to Langtang

The soft, tiny feet caressed my forehead briefly, causing me a minor discomfort, like a fleeting spider's web. In my sleep I reached out with my right hand to remove the obstruction. My fingers encountered furry flesh mounted on four legs planted squarely on my face. I opened my eyes and found a healthy rodent staring unblinkingly at me, its stiff wiry tail quivering slightly.

I must have uttered some kind of a sound for in a flash it sprinted across the supine forms of Mohan, Pawan, Pravin, Margaret, Violet and Franklyn who lay slumbering in their sleeping bags. I watched the rat disappear at one end of the mud hut on the floor of which we lay like parallel mummies. I decided this was as good a wake-up alarm as any and squirmed out of the folds of my sleeping bag to confront Day Three of our trek into the Langtang valley, north of Kathmandu. Our sleeping quarters comprised of one section of the tea shop in Dhunche where we had eaten our dinner the night before.

Mohan walks the plank to Dhunche!
Three years had elapsed since my last visit to Nepal ( see   ) and visions of its towering mountains and enchanted valleys had sustained my soul while I juggled the mundane tasks required to eke out a living. Finally, the day had arrived in October of 1983 when my wife Margaret and I stood on the railway platform at Bombay waving a brief farewell to Violet, Franklyn and Pravin as they squeezed themselves into the train bound for Patna in Bihar from where they would board the Indian Airlines flight to Kathmandu.

The rest of us would use our airline employee privileges to fly to Delhi and on to Kathmandu. Thirty years ago, the price of air travel was prohibitive, so our friends had chosen the cheapest sector (Patna - Kathmandu) to fly into the magic kingdom of Nepal.

Two days later we all regrouped at Kathmandu airport and bundled our luggage into two taxis.

"Where to, sir?" the driver wanted to know.

"Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel," I replied.

The driver looked at me, looked at my skin to make sure it was still brown, then said confidently,"They don't take Indians in that hotel". (This confirms my theory that the Nepalese invented racial profiling a full 18 years before Homeland Security in the USA!)

"They'd better take in these Indians," I told him. We had confirmed reservations which had arrived via old fashioned snail mail a couple of weeks before our departure for Kathmandu.

Thamel in 1983 was still hung over with the effects of the heady hippie days of the late sixties and early seventies and provided us with some interesting cuisine, including Buff (for buffalo) Steak at the Govinda cafe. Mohan, Pawan and Pravin rented Alpine Lowe backpacks from one of the many trekking goods suppliers in the market. Subsequently they would spend many happy hours during the trek packing and unpacking their voluminous sacks. Their probing fingers would produce a crackling, grating sound as they explored the remote corners of the huge plastic bags in which their sleeping bags and underwear had been packed. Underwear plays a significant part in this story, as you will see.

Our little shopping forays in the Thamel market were conducted in the company of our guide Bajraman Tamang whose next task was to arrange the transport to the small settlement of Trisuli Bazaar. He came in beaming one morning while we were enjoying the excellent breakfast of porridge and eggs in the homely courtyard of the Guest House.

"The torrock (truck) will be ready to leave tomorrow from the bus stand", he told us.

The journey to Trisuli Bazaar was delayed when a lorry spilled its cargo of grains and potatoes right across the road. We waited a long time for the obstruction to be cleared. We were understandably ravenous when the torrock halted at a roadside eatery at Ranipahwa where the humble fare comprised of freshly made rice and a spicy chicken curry. Inexplicably, the taste and memory of that meal still lingers in my memory after three decades!

The route from Dhunche to Lama Lodge
Our truck deposited us a little beyond Trisuli Bazaar where the road ended then. While the seven of us strapped on our rucksacks, our porters shouldered their loads and with Bajraman in the lead we crossed the little suspension bridge to where the trail to Langtang began. There was a check post at the end of the bridge and a friendly face popped out of a window.

"Indian?" the face asked. "Yes, yes, Indian," we all chorused as we waved cheerfully. With our nationality confirmed, we would not require a trekking permit; racial profiling sometimes works in your favour. Appearances, however, could be misleading. As Margaret passed under the window of the check post, her face was flushed red : the combined effect of the sun and a little uphill walk to the bridge. She is less brown than the rest of us and this made the guard suspicious.

"She is not Indian!" he yelled. "She is American, where is the trekking permit?"

Bajraman came to the rescue. He assured his compatriot that we were all bonafide citizens of India, whatever the appearances might suggest.

Barring this little hiccup, our walk up the Bhote Kosi river to Ramche and then to Dhunche was made pleasant by friendly folk living in a semi tropical terrain with only a distant hint of the high Himalaya whenever the snows of the Ganesh Himal were glimpsed briefly when the clouds parted.

We maintained our strict regimen of stopping at all the tea shops along the trail to imbibe the "cup that cheers but does not inebriate". We also stopped to bathe in gushing mountain streams, chat to locals and take many, many pictures.

Leaving the main valley of the Bhote Kosi after Dhunche, we descended steeply to cross the Trisuli Khola on a rickety bridge and walked for hours on end in a fine misty drizzle to finally spend the night in the village of Syabru. The next day's descent to the Langtang Khola finally plonked us firmly in the direction we were headed, which was east to Ghora Tabela and the higher ground beyond.

Route from Lama Lodge to Kyangjin

Lunch break for this couple.
At Ghora Tabela, we accompanied the innkeeper to his vegetable patch across the river where he harvested the biggest cabbage he could find for our dinner. Ghora Tabela is perched on the very edge of the upper Langtang, as the river plummets to the gorge below. One finally gets a sense of being in the vicinity of the high snows and glaciers after 2 days of trudging through damp forests where the probability of a leech attaching itself to one's anatomy must always elicit a cautionary response. This instinct must have induced Pawan to dry his underwear overnight on a rudimentary clothesline strung up between two trees at the Lama Hotel lodge. In the morning, when he was retrieving it, the cook's helper cast a covetous glance at the garment and made hand signs to Pavan indicating that he would be pleased accept it as a gift! The previous night this man had ladled out helpings of dal (lentil) from a bucket as we sat down for dinner: he was a cheerful soul, but clearly displaying signs of being the village idiot.

The one who coveted Pawan's underwear..
The vistas opened up beyond Ghora Tabela and fields of cultivation suddenly appeared as we approached the village of Langtang, dominated by the impressive backdrop of a hanging glacier suspended at the edge of a sweeping cliff of black rock. The fields were littered with sections of roof plucked off some of the houses by the wind which had recently swept through the village like a hurricane as a large section of glacier broke off and thundered down the vertical cliffs.

Langshisha Lodge in Langtang village

First view of the Lirung massif from Langtang
We spent a couple of nights at Kyangjin where the subject of underwear surfaced again, surreptitiously. A very large person slept next to us in the wooden lodge which housed trekkers from all over the world. This person was from Alaska but appeared to be of indeterminate sex.

"She is a woman!" Mohan announced triumphantly the next day.

"How can you be so sure?"

"I saw her drying her frilly undergarments outside."

If you are saying to yourself, "I thought people went to the mountains to meditate on the loftier things in life!" you'd be dead wrong. A lot of the conversation centres around the most basic functions of homo sapiens, very few of whom actually aspire to a higher plane of existence just because they happen to be at 15,000 feet!

Kyangjin Kharka to Yala Kharka
Our final goal was to reach Yala Peak, a splendid viewpoint at a little over 18,000 feet, promoted as a trekking destination. When we eventually camped near the yak herders' stone shelters at Yala Kharka below the peak, outerwear overtook underwear on our priority list as it began to snow. When the skies cleared a day later the views extended all the way east to the border with Tibet and one of the peaks in that great jumble of summits was the 8027 meter Gosainthan (also known as Shishapangma).

The torrock that had brought us on the first stage of our trip to the Langtang valley could wait.

Bajraman Tamang trudges up to Yala Peak ( 5520 m)

Dorje Lakhpa - 6973 m
Langtang Lirung - 7234 m
The glaciers around Langtang Lirung

Gangchenpo - 6387 m

Naya Kanga (5846 m) from Yala Kharka

Stone shelters at Yala Kharka

Tsergo Ri ( 4984m ), left, and Gangchenpo ( 6387m ) right, dominate the approach to Kyangjin


  1. Thanks Aloke, for my walk down memory lane :) Those were such good times with Ajay, Marga, Sanal and Akshay.
    The mountains beckon again, and I'm off on another trek- to Gokyo lakes in September!

    1. Hey Anonymous! I'm glad I could help....but you need to jog my memory and tell me who you are! And good luck and fair weather for your Gokyo Lake trek in September!

  2. it is really historical Blog Mr. Aloke i did read and see very Nice but in this moment almost all destroyed by earthquake i hope it will be recover soon