Above this village, we encounter fine broad-leaved forest with numerous species of trees, such as oak, maple, and the large Rhododendron arboreum, which is the national plant of Nepal, called lali guras (‘red rhododendron’). In the forest, we cross several clearings – the remains of former fields, which were abandoned when the national park was established, allowing the forest to regenerate.
A couple of hours later, we reach the top of a small pass, Burlung Bhanjyang (2438 m), from where the trail leads down through forest and scrubland with a rich vegetation, comprising various bushes, including the beautiful Osbeckia nutans, of the family Melastomataceae, fragrant wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima), displaying an abundance of sweet-smelling white flowers, and thickets of Rubus hoffmeisterianus, which has red berries, resembling raspberries, but with a slightly acid taste. Herbs include the beautiful Chirita urticifolia, of the gloxinia family (Gesneriaceae), and two species of begonia, B. picta and B. rubella.
Beyond the village of Pati Bhanjyang, at 1750 m, the trail ascends steeply through fields to Chipling, situated on a ridge, from where we have a fine view over the valley.
On our way, we often encounter leeches, which are a nuisance during the wet season. When a leech senses the carbon dioxide, expired by a warm-blooded animal, it will stretch out and try to attach itself to the skin of the animal. If undisturbed, the leech sucks blood for several hours and grows to several times its original size. It will then release its grip, fall to the ground, and wander off to lay eggs in the forest. The wound from a leech bite bleeds copiously for some time, but, apart from itching irritatingly, the bite is harmless to people.
Until this point, we have only occasionally been bothered by rain, but now it starts pouring, so we take shelter in the first small hotel we encounter along the trail, in the hamlet Thodung Betini. As it turns out, the house owners are out working in their fields, but while we wait for them to return, their three sweet little daughters make tea for us. As it continues to rain for the rest of the day, we spend the night with this sympathetic family.
Above Kutumsang, we pass the entrance to Langtang National Park, whereupon the trail climbs steeply up through forest of oak and rhododendron to a hamlet, Sanu Gopte, across kharkas (grazing grounds in the forest) and a couple of small passes, down to the village of Magingoth, altitude 3200 m, which is surrounded by beautiful forest of Himalayan silver fir (Abies spectabilis).
Continuing towards Tharepati, the trail leads through a lovely forest with a rich birdlife, among others black-faced laughing-thrush (Garrulax affinis), the diminutive, wren-like scaly-breasted wren-babbler (Pnoepyga albiventer), and the verdigris-green fire-tailed myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura), which was formerly placed in the babbler family (Timaliidae). However, recent DNA research has shown that it is closer related to warblers (Sylviidae) – a large family, which has recently been split into many families, some of which, incidentally, are not closely related.
We also observe a small flock of the beautiful blood pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus), named after the red tear-shaped streaks on the breast of the male. From the hotels in Tharepati, situated on a ridge at an altitude of 3600 m, we have a gorgeous view towards mountains in Tibet, among these Shishapangma, or Gosainthan (8013 m) – the highest mountain, which is situated entirely within Chinese territory.
On our way towards the pass, we are surprised by a sudden snowfall, leaving a layer of slushy snow, which is far from pleasant to trudge through. The trail continues along three lakes, Surya Kund, Ganesh Kund, and Bhairab Kund, all named after Hindu deities. The Gosainkund area contains a total of 54 lakes, which are all sacred to Hindus, and every year, during the July or August full moon, thousands of pilgrims undertake the strenuous hike to this area to bathe ritually in these lakes. Devout Hindus wish to bathe in all 54 of them. An interesting legend, relating the origin of these lakes, may be found on the page Countries and places: Sacred lakes of Shiva.
From the pass, we descend to Gosain Kund (4400 m) – the lake, which has given name to the entire area, named after the god Shiva, who is also called Gosain. Near the lake is a small group of hotels, of which only a single one is open at this time of the year. The caretaker is a sympathetic Tibetan woman, whose only company is a cook. She has just been paid a visit by a group of Israelis, who cheated her by paying for less that they had consumed – an act, which does not surprise me, as Israeli backpackers are notorious for their miserliness. ”Israeli people no good!” says the woman.
The following morning, I go on a botanical exploration trip along the lake shore. Many beautiful flowers grow here, among these Cyananthus lobatus and Codonopsis thalictrifolia, both belonging to the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), a gentian, Gentiana ornata, an edelweiss, Leontopodium jacotianum, and a lush bistort, Polygonum vacciniifolium.
From Gosain Kund, a rather easy trail leads through rocky terrain, passing two more lakes, Nag Kund and Saraswati Kund. Later, we pass through low, dense thickets of sun pathi – the Nepalese name of a dwarf shrub, Rhododendron anthopogon, whose leaves are dried and utilized as tea, while the twigs are burned as incense on house altars.
A couple of hotels are situated at Laurebinayak (Binayak is yet another name of Shiva), and around Cholang Pati (3600 m), situated on a ridge, we encounter two entirely different types of vegetation. While the dry southern side only has scattered juniper bushes, the sheltered north side is covered in a lush forest of old silver firs.
Around the village of Sing Gompa, named after a Tibetan Buddhist monastery (gompa), I notice many blackened tree stumps, which bear witness to a huge forest fire in the past. In this village, cheese is produced from milk, stemming from naks (female yaks), which graze here during the summer months. The yak is described in detail on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
The trail down to the valley leads through terraced fields and forest. After a landslide we arrive at a couple of hotels at Pairo, popularly called ’Landslide’, as one took place here some years ago. These hotels are situated at an altitude of only 1650 m, and it is steaming hot. Birdlife comprises subtropical species such as black bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus) and blue-throated barbet (Psilopogon asiaticus). Shortly after the hotels, black bee nests are hanging on the rock face, and I am lucky enough to observe two yellow-throated martens (Martes flavigula), running along the rock wall. As opposed to the lush forest on the southern side of the river, the northern side is very dry, facing the sun, the rocks covered in grass, mixed with numerous candelabra spurges of the species Euphorbia royleana.
A couple of hours later, we arrive at Bamboo Lodge, where two hotels were washed away by a stone- and mudslide in 2000. They have since been rebuilt, blending into the harsh landslide in a charming way. In the landslide, Nepalese alder (Alnus nepalensis) have been planted – a true pioneer tree, which readily grows in landslides and other eroded areas.
As its name implies, the brown dipper (Cinclus pallasii) is a uniform brown, as opposed to the Eurasian species (C. cinclus), which has a white breast. Dippers mainly eats caddis fly larvae, catching them beneath the surface and extracting them from their ‘house’ on the river bank. The blue whistling-thrush (Myophonus caeruleus) is a little larger than a European blackbird (Turdus merula), named after its beautiful song, which contains clear whistling sounds.
From the river, the trail climbs steeply through old landslides. After the villages of Rimche and Changdam (Lama Hotel), we pass through lovely forest of Himalayan hemlocks (Tsuga dumosa), whose enormous trunks are covered in mosses. At Ghora Tabela (’Horse Stables’), at 2950 m, the valley widens, and the forest is replaced by thickets of barberry (Berberis), roses, and other prickly bushes, indicating that many goats and yaks are grazing here.
While we are enjoying the marvellous view towards the mountains, a huge lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) zooms by, looking for carcasses. After passing a couple of small villages, the trail leads over several moraine ridges, winding here and there between large boulders. Behind the last ridge, at 3900 m, is Kyanjin Gompa, surrounded by a number of hotels. From here, there is a fantastic view towards the highest mountain in the national park, Langtang Lirung (7245 m), and two glaciers, Lirung and Kyimshung.
In Kyanjin Gompa, Tanka and I await the arrival of two porters, Raju and Tanka. As it turns out, the latter is a large man, whom I dub ‘Big Tanka’ to avoid confusion. After their arrival, we continue up towards the end of the valley, where we camp a few days at Langshisa, near several large boulders, adorned with countless prayer flags.
In this valley, I study the rich vegetation, comprising shrubs of the spiny Tibetan sea-buckthorn (Hippophae tibetana), and a large number of herbs, including a marsh felwort, Lomatogonium carinthiacum, a star gentian, Swertia racemosa, a larkspur, Delphinium glaciale, and Himalayan may-apple (Sinopodophyllum hexandrum), the latter with attractive red fruits. This species, which belongs to the barberry family (Berberidaceae), is much utilized in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, and it is severely threatened by excessive collecting. You may read more about it on the page Traditional medicine.
Soon we enter an open, grass-clad area, called Ngegang Kharka, which displays a rich flora, among others a lousewort, Pedicularis scullyana, a monkshood, Aconitum gammiei, and another species of star gentian, Swertia cuneata. At an altitude of about 4700 m, I encounter an extremely hairy composite, Saussurea gossypiphora – an adaptation to protect the plant against cold and drought. Although it is still early in the day, we make camp here, as it is wise to cross the snow-clad Ganja La early in the morning, when the snow is firm, making it easier to walk on.
The following morning, we start out at five o’clock, and the initial part of the climb is easy enough. But then the troubles start. As the morning sun begins to melt the snow, we sink into it at every step. Besides, a landslide has destroyed the old trail, and, as it turns out, the new one is fairly precarious, the last part of it, just beneath the top of the pass, being a narrow shelf, on which you have to cling to the perpendicular rock wall. However, we all manage to reach the top without mishap. The weather is fine, sunshine and wandering clouds, and the views are wonderful.
The descent is also far from easy. The sun is baking, and as Raju, Big Tanka, and the local porter didn’t bring sunglasses, they begin to suffer from snow blindness. I’m lagging a bit behind, when, to my horror, I see the local porter fall off the trail, beginning to slide down a steep snow drift, in which rocks protrude here and there. As he has tied his burden to his shoulders with rope, he is not able to extract himself, sliding helplessly down the drift. On his way, he hits a rock, luckily with his body, after which his speed subsides, and he comes to a stop. Sasha, who is ahead of us, hurry along to help the porter, who, to my intense relief, has only had a few scratches and a couple of bent ribs.
Now it is Raju’s turn. He stumbles, causing his basket to fall off and disappear into a crevasse, surrounded by a huge snow drift. It is impossible to get hold of the basket again, which, unfortunately, contains most of our food. As the local porter cannot carry now because of his bent ribs, Raju takes over most of his load, but some of it we have to leave behind in the snow.
Late in the afternoon, we are beginning to lose courage, and Raju, Big Tanka, and our local porter are now so snow blind that they can hardly see anything. Then, to our immense relief, we observe smoke rising from a goth, which, as it turns out, houses a beautiful Tamang woman and her small son. (Her husband has gone into the valley to buy supplies.) She receives us very courteously, and we are allowed to make camp near her hut. We are also able to buy rice and a few mustard leaves from her, making it possible for us to cook a simple meal. The woman also makes tea for us, with lovely, fresh yak milk – a heavenly drink in our miserable condition!
The following morning, after yet another lovely cup of tea, we continue our journey downwards. Our three snow blind porters have spent a sleepless night in their tents, but are in a slightly better condition than the previous day. We descend quickly, and in the afternoon, we meet another herder, who has remained in the grazing grounds. It is considerably warmer here, with shrubs of rhododendron and other bushes. The herbal flora is also different, comprising species like Anemone obtusiloba, fine-leaved groundsel (Senecio graciliflorus), and crested latesummer-mint (Elsholtzia ciliata).
We get permission to camp near the herder’s large tent, in which we spend the evening. Obviously, he is happy to have company, as being a herder is often a very lonely job. In the morning, we watch him milking his dzopkios – a cross between cattle and yak, which thrives at lower altitudes than the yak, and also yields more milk. After enjoying a cup of tea, we set out towards the village of Tharke Ghyang, reaching it in the late afternoon.