Nepali Times
Beyond Langtang


Taking the path less trodden sometimes means coming to the point where the average tourist stops, and venturing beyond. Langtang\'s L-shaped valley is just 40 km due north of Kathmandu, but it is so wild that it may as well be 4.000 km away.

Most trekkers get up to Langtang Village or Kyangjin Gompa and, struck by the views all around, stop. Not that it is not a beautiful place to take a break: the views are out of this world, the shingle-roofed wooden houses are almost Alpine in looks. But after a day or two, you itch to move on to see what is around the bend in the valley beyond the airstrip. You also want to get away from the blue seracs of the Lirung Glacier that loom menacingly above Langtang village. Not a very safe spot to locate, you think, but the locals probably know better.

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 so spectacular that they seem to have been chiselled in heaven by the Gods. The fluted summit ridge of Gang Chenpo is one such exquisite piece of ice sculpture.

It exudes its various moods throughout the day-from the moment it is silhouetted against the dawn sky, past noon as the sun glints off the ice melting on its flanks, in the afternoon when the clouds veil the ridge on a backdrop of pure blue and finally the grand finale: the crimson giving way to pastel pink as the sun sets and the shadows of Naya Kanga steal up its side. Up here in Langshisha valley, the spectacle does not end with the close of day. There are other heavenly bodies, the moon and stars that rise soon after. By lunar light, the peaks guarding Langtang Glacier come out like ghosts of our rinpoche ancestors and they stand like silent sentinels in a skyful of stars. The silence is total, especially if it is one of those windless pre-monsoon nights. The only interruption comes from the Langtang Glacier grinding its teeth in its sleep, or an avalanche thundering down from the snowfields of Pemthang Karpo-Ri. The booming sound reverberates, and when it dies down it only accentuates the silence. A meteor pierces noiselessly across the sky, heading north towards Tibet.

In the early morning at Morimoto Peak Base Camp, you realise how far up you have come by how disfigured Gang Chenpo looks from this angle. We are now in the rainshadow and the half-hearted clouds that do venture up here just leave a few drizzles. But this is enough to make the moraines bloom with flowers. Chukor pheasants are the only birds around, a flock of them pecking on the wild berries and clucking contentedly.

Above this point, the glacier gets more dangerous and is used by mountaineering schools for training in crevasse rescue, rock climbing and ice work. Climbing up one of the eastern spurs of Morimoto Peak, the brooding presence of the vast South Face of Xixa Pangma rears up in Tibet from behind Hagen\'s Col. This awesome wall of rock has a magnetic presence, it seems to look down on all the smaller summits around to show them who\'s boss. As you hurry down towards camp, racing the descending darkness, the presence of the mountains doesn\'t leave you. It leaves a mark on your soul forever.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)