My friends and I chose to go trekking in the Langtang region of Nepal, an area that was badly affected by the 2015 earthquake. After a significant reduction in visitor numbers in the season following the earthquake this seemed like a perfect area in which to give some tourist support rather than the over-subscribed Everest or Annapurna regions. Extensive rebuilding has taken place and many new “earthquake-proof” tea houses have popped up in what have been deemed as “safe zones”.
The trek started in Syabrubesi after an exhausting 8 hour drive from Kathmandu. Don’t get me wrong, I was just a passenger, but the atrocious road conditions (it is only 113km) and the three big nights out in Kathmandu made for a pretty tough ride. We were all hoping that the storm we drove through near our destination was not an indicator of the weather to come. Fortunately, it started to clear up, but this wasn’t the last of the hail we were to see (that’s another story).
Heading up through the woodlands of the Langtang Valley on the first day came the first poignant evidence of the human devastation that the earthquake brought. The spot is marked by prayer flags and a t-shirt with a tribute to an Israeli trekker whose body was found there. It was a stark reminder.
We found ourselves crossing the debris of more significant landslides as we headed further up the valley. Given the steep sides of the valley hemming us in it was no wonder that their stability in such a large magnitude earthquake was tested.
We made our way up to a bleak night’s sleep in Lama Hotel (read Clare’s account of it here) by which stage we had already lost one of our porters due to ‘leg pain’. It turned out he was our guide Ngima’s friend’s cousin from Kathmandu and it was his first time as a porter. The poor young lad had underestimated the challenge of carting 25 kilograms of luggage uphill strapped to his forehead. Ngima stepped in, swapping bags with the porter, reliving the experience of his younger days. At Lama Hotel a new porter was enrolled in the team having rapidly trotted his way down from his village of Langtang to join us that evening.
The next day we were all on our way to Langtang, a village that was destroyed by landslides due to the earthquake save for one, single house that was shielded by a cliff. Many of the villagers were buried under the rubble along with any evidence of the former village itself. Luckily as it was during the day several of the villagers were out working and were spared the same fate. Our new porter, Sanga, had lost his wife and children.
The path to Langtang took us through numerous areas where the wreckage of former buildings was evident, but then, as we looked towards Langtang the real devastation became apparent. The first thing we saw was the huge scar of fresh mountainside where the surface rocks had been shaken loose. As we approached we then saw the enormous ensuing swathe of landslide debris that had engulfed the village. It was on a different scale to what we had crossed before. It seemed so vast and it had happened so quickly. Nothing could have survived. Crossing the landslide, it’s in the back of my mind that there is nothing stopping it happening again.
The village has since been rebuilt on the far side of the debris on a patch of higher ground further from the steep valley edges and despite all that has befallen the locals there was always a welcoming reception. We found a friendly family ready to host us in their new lodge, which had just enough space for our group, although our guides and porters had to stay in the building next door. Two bowls of shyakpa (Sherpa stew), a couple of glasses of rum punch and another couple of glasses of roksi – all in aid of economic support of course – made for a solid night’s sleep.
The following day, a short walk took us to our furthest point up the valley at Kyanjin Gomba. We stopped to pay our respects at a memorial at the base of the village etched with the names of all the locals and foreigners that were killed in the area during the earthquake. We then found our lodge for the next two nights. It had a super-heated dining hall and a cosy, warm kitchen with the owner furious frying eggs for all the orders that suddenly poured in. There were several family photos on the wall of the dining hall draped with Buddhist scarves (khata). These were family members who were also victims of the earthquake – the owner’s husband, her sister, brother-in-law and their young child.
Kyanjin Gomba sits in a beautiful location near the head of the valley surrounded by huge snow-clad mountains and, due to recent storms, the low-lying peaks were all also beautifully covered in a dusting of new snow. A lazy afternoon and evening was spent enjoying our spectacular surroundings. The next day the views got even better as we climbed to the top of Kyanjin Ri. A couple of hours took us to the summit at 4400m (Kyanjin Gomba is at 3800m), which we had to ourselves. The weather was glorious, and the summit was completely sheltered from the winds. We spent a long time taking countless photos of mountain views with prayer flags in the foreground – an absolutely archetypal image of Nepal.
The only thing to do then was to retrace our steps down the valley to our turn off to Gosaikunda Lake. And find a different lodge to stay in at Lama Hotel.