The quest for yak curd – hiking up and down the wonderful Langtang valley in Nepal

Four and a half months after breaking my leg on my way down from the Everest Base Camp (blog still to be posted) I am again in Kathmandu. This time we plan to tour the Lanthang National Park.

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The Langtang valley is hardly 40 km from Kathmandu as the crow flies and 100+ km as the road goes. Thus no dubious flights in helicopters or in flimsy planes as required for the Everest Base Camp. The journey can however easily take ten hours and will put to shame the most frightening roller coaster ride. The road was partially washed away and the robust TATA bus had to dig its way through muddy paths hugging a landslide over unfathomable depths. A somewhat close encounter with a mirror of a lorry that penetrated my window showered me with glass.

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On the other hand bus rides in Nepal are an exciting and interesting experience not to be missed, a great opportunity to meet the kind locals, their cute babies as well as their goats.

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We started in a small village called Thulo Barko, this is not the typical starting point and the village has only a single hotel, which too was under renovations. We met Sonam our guide who is a local and has a sister in the village (and an uncle in every other village…). The highway, which runs through the village doubles as play ground for the many cute children.

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returning home from school

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Lollipop lollipop

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And some Chili

Day one took us up to Brabal and down to Thulo Syabro. The weather was magnificent and so were the flowers.

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En route we were ambushed  by bloodthirsty leaches.

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Turning a prayer wheel is an important ritual. In many villages these wheels are powered by water.

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For lunch we arrived in a tiny village named Brabal. We had steamed momos with vegtables

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and fried momos with sneakers as dessert. _MG_0422

The food in the tea-houses is excellent, always freshly cooked from local organic produce on a wooden fire .

I asked for Yak curd but was told that the Yak are high up during this time of the year.

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Each house has a small altar, in most cases with a picture of the Dalai Lama and seven cups of water.

We spent the night in Thulo Syabro in a nice tea-house that belongs to an uncle of Sonam our guide. We enjoyed an amazing apple pie with candle lights. The village gets normally electricity from a hydroelectric power plant however a landslide disconnected it from the grid.

The next morning we descended into the Langtang valley, which we followed up and down for the next few days.

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Once in the valley we soon met a large group of langur monkeys frolicking in the high branches of the jungle.

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Luckily Sonam spotted this little poisonous snake that decided to play dead on the path.

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Tonight we spent in Bamboo which is very close to the extremely loud river.. Our great guide Sonam left us and was replaced by his lovely younger brother Pramod.

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The third day started with a climb along the roaring river. All guesthouses get ready for the season. Here you can see two Indians who specialize in making thick and warm wool blankets.

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The forest is full of mushrooms.

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Some of them are edible and spread out to be dried at the Lama hotel.

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Lama hotel is a major stop as most hikers walk all the way from Syabru Besi on the road to this place. This is a pretty long way for a first day and it makes more sense to take it easier and not go that far (even if this will “cost” another day). This photo shows how seriously you can take the elevation data (compare both signs).

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After a great mushroom lunch (but no Yak curd) at Lama hotel we reached the small and idyllic River Side hotel.

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Here we had dinner prepared on this wood fired clay hearth.

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We saw many butterflies making love.

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As well as forest garlic

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and many other flowers..

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In the afternoon of the following day we reached Langtang village. New hotels are being built among the old wooden houses and the colorful gardens. Many signs advertising fresh Yak curd but still none for sale…

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It was still pre-season and most men had little to do and spent their time playing cards or this local game.

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The village had very long mani walls built of stone slabs with carved ritual inscriptions.The patina on the slabs indicates that these are rather old walls so that this village probably exists for hundreds of years. The Buddhist custom requires passing these walls on the left (so that there are paths on both sides, one for going up and one for down).

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The next morning we ascended the final part of the valley to Kenjin Gompa at 3900 m above sea level. The path went by large red buckwheat fields.

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The Tamang make flour from buckwheat.

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Once we felt adventurous and asked for some buckwheat bread for breakfast. Our good hostess worked for hours to grind the stuff and produced two greenish discs which were so bitter that we required a lot of honey and all our good manners to finish them. If there is something missing from the menu it seems to be missing for very good reason….

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And here we are almost at Kenjin Gompa. This is not a real village but rather a small cluster of Hotels and of course a gompa (monastery).

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Hurray – Yaks

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and Yak cheese and even CURD !!!!_MG_0807

In fact there is no Yak cheese like there is no Ox cheese. The cow of the Yak is called Na  so from now on say – Nak cheese (and Nak curd).

We started to suffer from some altitude related symptoms but diamox and a lot of sleep saved the (next) day.

There was nothing to see and do anyway as everything was shrouded in dense fog. In the middle of the night we woke up to a (partially) clear sky and a full moon. So this night photo is the only occasion we saw the mountains in Kenjin Gompa.

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The next day Pramod told us that an annual festival will take place “not far” and that we are invited to join. So we joined (as almost only foreigners) the festival of the full moon. I think it was also to celebrate the end of the monsoon (which did show no sign of ending and granted us the rainiest day we had during our entire trip).

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The entire valley gathered by a holy cave and danced all day around a huge pole. While were huffing and puffing at 4100 the locals were singing their lovely songs climbing up the steep trail.

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The women came through the mud with their finest dresses.

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Food was constantly prepared and served – sweet milk tea, salty Tibetan tea, potatoes with chill, Nak cheese and much more. This year the Lama did not allow hard drinks…The dishes were washed next to a huge “cake” of Yak dung (no ill effects were reported..).

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The ceremony took place in a big cave lit with butter candles with several Lamas chanting hymns.

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The day after the festival it was still too cloudy to go any further up so we started to retrace our way down. En route we met the organizing committee, which spent  the rainy night by the cave. In the big teapot they carry the wine they were not allowed to drink. Now on their way home they made some effort to finish it off and we were polite enough to help them out…Luckily it was not the horrible raksi they usually make but something slightly better tasting.

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The wine and the weather were an incentive for an early night in a spider cob covered hotel in Langtang village.

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The next day we passed Riverside _MG_0972

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And the night we spent in the Lama hotel.

Our original plan was to continue to the frozen lakes but as the weather in the mountains looked very cloudy and we didn’t fancy climbing up 3000 meters we decided to go for the Tamang Heritage trail. This was a brilliant choice and I will describe it in my next post.

Details of these trips can be found in the Lonely Planed guide to Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya. The Rough Guide to Nepal is a great guidebook that includes also excellent background on Nepal. Finally the Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, who sadly passed away in April,  is a wonderful travelogue that will deeply touch everybody who trekked in Nepal. All books can be obtained in the many brilliant bookshops in Kathmandu and I strongly urge you to buy them there (even if I get a few cents when you buy them from Amazon…). Organizing a trek in Nepal is very easy and safe. Mr Laxman from Swissa travel is extremely helpful and reliable.

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