8-14 November 2013 #680

Longing for Langtang

The closest wilderness to Kathmandu got a record number of trekkers this season

Normally, Langtang National Park gets 13,000 visitors every year. But this autumn alone there were more than 10,000 trekkers hiking in the wilderness area closest to Kathmandu Valley.

At the park entrance in Dhunche, more than 500 entry permits had been sold one day alone last month. Yet there could be many more tourists visiting Langtang if the infrastructure was better and the destination was properly marketed both for Nepalis as well as foreign nature lovers.

PICS: DINESH SHRESTHA

Langtang Valley is a treasure trove of biodiversity because of its altitude and climate variation from the sub-tropical banks of the Bhote Kosi to fast-flowing streams roaring through dense coniferous forests and alpine meadows to the glaciers below Mt Langtang (7,227m). It is difficult to imagine that you are only 35km horizontally and two km vertically from Kathmandu.

Langtang National Park is home to 250 bird species and 32 species of mammals including wild dogs, thar, ghorals, serows, musk deer, red pandas, black bears, and snow leopards. The red panda is the iconic species of Langtang and the canopy of trees along Lama Hotel is alive with them. Although poaching and habitat destruction had reduced the numbers of these animals, they have recently seen a comeback. There has also been an increase in the numbers of blue sheep and mountain goats in the past few years.

Kyangjin in 1974.

Kyangjin today has grown into a base camp for trekkers exploring Upper Langtang.

This lake on Langtang Lirung glacier does not exist in trekking maps from 20 years ago and shows the dramatic effects of global warming.

To protect this biodiversity and ensure that the community is involved in environmental protection, this 1,710 sq km area directly north of Kathmandu Valley was designated a national park in 1976. The park has 54,000 inhabitants within a 420 sq km buffer zone established in 1998.

The national park and the region surrounding it are also the areas where the Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Project (TRPAP) is trying to establish a model for direct income generation from trekking through home stay at Tamang homes, promotion of local produce, hot springs, and cultural programs.

Already the boom in trekking has spiked prices. Locals need to budget Rs 2,000 a day for stay and food, while foreigners need to pay a Rs 3,000 national park entry fee, $20 for the TIMS card, and Rs 4,000 a day for food and lodging. More of this money is now going to local families, but the poor state of the trails shows that the national park’s revenue is not being put to good use.

There is a surprising growth in the number of Nepali trekkers and this number would probably grow if tourism was also promoted domestically. A drawback is that locals are reluctant to rent out rooms to Nepali hikers even when rooms are available and word of this gets around.

Langtang is now fairly easy to reach since one can get a bus or jeep right up to Syabru. The first night’s halt at Lama Hotel is by the noisy Langtang River, next day it is Langtang village with the glacier seracs hanging menacingly above, and the third day the Valley opens up at Kyangjin. This can be a base camp to explore side valleys and climb Kyangjin Ri (4774m) or Cherko Ri (4984). The delicate beauty of the fluted west face of Gang Chhenpo is a constant friend.

As you swing past Kyangjin and Langshisha Kharka, you start getting an indication of what a high-altitude Himalayan hike is all about: 360 degrees of mountain views.

The more adventurous can return to Kathmandu via the famous, but treacherous, Ganja La (5,130), the pass directly south of Langtang Valley.

See also:

Springtime in Langtang beyul

Nearly heaven

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