The Tamang Heritage Trail is located in the Langtang National Park in the northern Himalayas of Nepal, close to the Tibetan border. This means that much of the local culture is influenced from Tibet.
From choices of trekking to the popular Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna Circuit I selected this option with Intrepid Travel because it promised we would be “stepping off the tourist trail” experiencing something unique and exploring remote, culture rich villages. This was more appealing than joining masses of other trekkers wanting tick EBC or Annapurna off their bucket lists.
Day 2: Kathmandu to Syabrubesi
After breakfast, all ready with our kit the 4 of us met Hari in the reception of our Kathmandu hotel at 08:00 and organised the storage for our cases.
We were pleased to board a new and modern jeep but as we were settling in we found it had no seatbelts. We expressed our concern to Hari who then spent 2 hours re-organising our transport while the 4 of us had coffee in the garden of the Moonlight.
Eventually another jeep arrived but there was an issue with this too… after a bit of confusion the orange kit bags were loaded and secured on the roof and we eventually set off in our 3rd jeep, this time a bit of a banger but at least it had seatbelts!
The traffic was busy as we made our way through Kathmandu towards Syabrubesi, our gateway to the Tamang villages.
While busy the road out of Kathmandu was smooth within reason although declined as we left the valley and approached the mountains. We stopped to buy some bananas from a roadside vendor, and stopped again for lunch in a roadside restaurant. This was fairly pleasant as we sat outside in the garden eating vegetable fried rice and drinking Coke!
Shortly after lunch our journey became more eventful!
First we pulled into a garage as it had been decided the inner tube on spare wheel needed replacing, or so I understood to be the case.
We were then held up and had to wait for road works blocking road. After waiting for half an hour or so, we set off again, the road becoming more muddy, more bumpy and steeper.
We stopped at a checkpoint and by now the bone shaking narrow roads were getting really dodgy as they wound their way around the mountains with hairpin bends, thick mud especially around the waterfalls splashing onto the ‘road’, lorries squeezing past, rock falls to negotiate and steep drops hundreds of feet into the ravines below. We saw several diggers along the way, I think they are made available to clear the roads from rock falls.
With reference to road safety in Nepal, the UK Government’s FCO site states:
- Road conditions are poor especially in mountain regions
- General driving standards are poor
- Road users often ignore motorbikes and bikes
If this scary ride wasn’t enough as it was getting dark we had to stop as the road was blocked by an overturned lorry cab! We had no way of getting past but thankfully a couple of diggers arrived and after some careful and impressive manouvring, they shifted the lorry over and our jeep was able to squeeze through.
The distance between Kathmandu and Syabrubesi is only about 75 miles however the journey took us 9 hours! We arrived late at the Hotel Old Nameste where after a tasty vegetable curry for dinner we met Gorek our trekking guide and our porters Ram and Sanem for the first time.
As the two solo female travellers I shared a twin room with Rianne; the room was basic, had an en-suite and western style toilet but a cold ‘wet room’ shower. This was also the last place with any wifi or signal or online access to the outside world for the next 12 days or so…
Day 3: Syabrubesi to Gatlang (2238 m)
After a breakfast of toast and cheese omelette we left (semi) civilisation behind and took the first steps of our trek making our way up a steep trail through scented emerald green pine trees and out of Syabrubesi. The trail continued upwards as we climbed higher and higher, removing layers of clothing as we went.
Ram and Sanem, our porters soon overtook us. There is one porter for every two persons, each carries two of the large orange kit bags plus their own packs so around 25 kg each.
We reached the top of a ridge where we stopped in a delightful little shop for a tea break and had delicious tea and a snack.
We trekked on amidst impressive panoramic views of the valley and surrounding mountains before stopping at a village called Goljung for a leisurely vegetable chow mein lunch.
Each day lunch tended to be either veg chow mein, veg fried rice or fried potatoes with veg… tasty staples and loaded with white carbs for energy. For the entire trek there was very little, if any meat on the menu’s so ideal for vegetarians.
In the afternoon we made our way towards Gatlang passing several stupas (Buddhist monuments) and Tibetan prayer flags. As explained by Wikipedia, these are there to “bless the surrounding countryside”.
We had our first experience of a teahouse at Gatlang. Teahouses are basic wooden structures. Unusually this teahouse had en-suite facilities and as an extra room was available I paid a small supplement (around £3) and had my own room. When I say ‘en-suite’ this consisted of just a toilet behind a door at the back of the tiny wooden room. Not even a sink!
Once we had settled in, Gorek led a short uphill late afternoon walk, through Gatlang village and to a sacred lake. Chickens ran lose as we passed wooden houses and we walked past fields of vegetable crops which were bring tended to by hand.
The entrance and wall around the sacred lake were strewn with hundreds of prayer flags. Traditionally there are 5 colours and the flags are arranged in the order of blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Each colour symbolises an element as follows:
- Blue = the sky and space
- White = the air and wind
- Red = fire
- Green = water
- Yellow = earth
The Intrepid trip notes explained that this lake was discovered in ancient times by the King of Gatlang. These days women visit the lake for its alleged powers of fertility!
Following a traditional dinner of lentil dal bhat, cooked on an open fire I was in bed at 20.45 reading my book.
Day 4: Gatlang to Tatopani (2607 m)
We had by now settled into the following routine:
- Evening before: choose breakfast (for me this was either apple pancake with honey or Tibetan bread with cheese omelette and washed down with a black coffee each day)
- 06:15 alarm, get dressed, pack kit and leave kit bag outside room door
- 07:15 breakfast and have water bottles topped up
- 08:00 leave teahouse and back on the trail
This morning we headed down a steep wooded path into the valley, cool in the shade and warmed up in the glinting sun at each small clearing. We stopped outside a small wooden shop for a lemon tea and snicker bar just before starting a steep climb to the lunch restaurant.
We sat in the sun in the garden of the Cherka Hotel and watched as kids went backwards and forwards to the gardens as they picked the ingredients to cook. Sometimes we had to wait a while for lunch but it was always very fresh.
We walked along a track for much of the afternoon which had spectacular views of the valley. Other than the peace being interrupted by the occasional moped, we enjoyed the solitude.
The Tatopani teahouse was one of the best! Rianne and I shared a large wooden room with 3 beds and splendid views. We were also treated to a warm bucket shower in the communal bathroom, so I was able to wash my hair 🙂
Mr and Mrs X, Rianne and I discovered apple pie on the menu and as this particular one tasted awesome, this soon became a daily addition. We sampled several throughout the trip and gave each a rating! The daily trekking was intense and as we were burning hundreds of calories the apple pies with honey drizzled on the top were easily justified!
Day 5: Tatopani to Thuman (2338 m)
As we left Tatopani at 08:00 we walked past the original hot springs of the village. Sadly the structure was destroyed by the 2015 earthquake which left large cracks.
We soon entered a rhododendron forest which would be quite spectacular in the spring time.
Throughout the entire trek the local people were very friendly and usually didn’t mind having their photograph taken. We were always greeted with a cheerful “Nameste” by everyone we passed. Even young children would shout “Nameste” at the top of their little voices. Nameste is a customary Hindu greeting.
As we climbed higher and higher throughout the morning we were rewarded with incredible views at every turn.
We reached a height of 3210 m where we had lunch. Having been around 2500 m for a few days, the average height at which people might start to get symptoms of altitude sickness, I was thankful that I felt fine as we got a little higher.
For lunch on this day I had vegetable thukpa, a noodle based regional dish made with fresh vegetables. We had lunch inside the teahouse on this occasion as at 3200 m it was quite chilly!
From our lunch base we had panoramic views and could see the mountains of Tibet in the distance. We descended to the sound of yak bells and through a forest of autumn colours towards Thuman.
We arrived in Thuman village and I had a refreshing cup of honey, lemon and fresh ginger tea, which along with fresh mint tea had become another regular feature throughout the day on this trip.
After drinking the tea we were taken through the village to Thuman monestry which is currently being rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake. Huge piles of rubble still remain alongside.
Thuman cheese factory sells cheese to hotels in Kathmandu at a cost of 1800 rupees per 1 kg of cheese (about £12.50).
Day 6: Thuman to Briddim (2339 m)
The morning involved a long and steep downhill trek towards the bottom of the valley through pine forests to a suspension bridge.
Once we had crossed the bridge we walked up to the Ling Ling teahouse for our morning tea break before continuing uphill to Briddim, taking Gorek’s shortcuts! Rather than walking around the hairpin bend track, we scrambled straight up narrow vegetation covered footpaths!
The facing building in the middle of the picture is the dining area and the buildings to the right are the rooms. The showers are run by solar power. Unusually this teahouse had a TV which was showing a football match!
We had arrived at Briddim at lunchtime and as we had the rest of the afternoon free, I decided to do some washing! I was provided with a metal bowl and shown to the back of the teahouse where a plastic pipe was connected directly to a nearby stream for me to fill my washing bowl! While it was sunny, the washing didn’t quite dry properly so I finished it off by hanging it overnight in the teahouse around the fire, which meant it smelt smoky! Never mind at least it was a clean smoky smell!
I also took the opportunity for a luke warm bucket shower 🙂
Our teahouse was located next to an elaborate Buddhist monestary; our guide obtained the key and we removed our shoes and had a look inside.
This evening we sampled another apple pie for dessert and played cards. Mrs X had brought a random set of playing cards… sections of 2 packs which had got mixed up! There was about 67 cards with no Jacks, duplications and various others missing. However, this didn’t deter us! We played a made up version of Contract Whist which was fun.
Briddim marks the end of Tamang Heritage Trail; the following day we set off towards the Lama Hotel, deep in the heart of Langtang Valley. This will be covered in the next blog post.