Trek in Nepal. To Everest or Anappurna?
Like most people around me, I knew of Nepal because of the highest mountain on the planet. Commonly known as Everest, its original names mean the “Goddess Mother of Earth”, Sagarmatha in Nepali, Chomolungma in Tibetan. So when a friend suggested going for a trek in Nepal, I agreed straight away. I was excited by the idea to see some of the world’s most famous mountains.
Unfortunately, my friend had to cancel his trip. Knowing nobody in the county, I didn’t want to stay too long in Kathmandu, and I planned to head for the mountains as soon as possible. My original idea was to “trek in Nepal” and see either Annapurna or Everest. Walking there alone was ok as I had read the treks are safe and visited. Reality had different plans. People from the guest house I stayed in suggested going to a more remote trail. They described it as more authentic as it had been accessible for only two years.
At first, I wasn’t particularly excited by the change of plans. I wouldn’t see any famous mountains, and I wouldn’t reach high altitudes. But, along with a more experienced visitor, Guillaume, I finally decided to follow their suggestions.
Guillaume had mountain experience from the Alps and long canyoning treks. He always took a local to walk with him, support one family and have company while walking. The monsoon season had not ended, but we took a bus to Dunche, joining Kesang.
Kesang was a 17-year-old local boy Guillaume had met there a couple of years before. He was not a guide or a porter, which is the case for many locals; he accompanied people to walk around the villages and helped them with the local language if necessary.
Change of plans, meeting with the Tamang
Our trek in Nepal brought us to the Tamang. These people have their language and live all around the Himalayas from Bhutan until India and have a particular outfit. One can recognise Tamang women from their hut and Tamang men by their knife belts. The trek turned into more of an inner peace experience than mountain-view holidays. For eleven days, we walked in the rain, mud, and leeches with cloudy skies. Although it may sound like a disaster for some, it was a dream coming true for me.
The area’s cultural and natural landscape was much purer than I had imagined. It was a paradise as I was taking my first steps in photography. People, oxen, yaks, monasteries, and villages appeared through the fog. Forests were wet jungles; the trails had sometimes turned to streams. The families of the guesthouses saw visitors every two, three or even more days, so they ate with us and treated us like guests.
Kesang took us to some guesthouses owned by his family members. Because of the rainfalls, we were walking for three to five hours a day only. It gave us the chance to spend a lot of time with each family. On the paths, we met only locals, apart from maybe 5-6 trekkers during all the 11 days. We had no mountains views, but there was no doubt that we were in the Himalayas.
One of the reasons the trek was starting to become famous was the thermal baths located in one of its villages. We arrived at Tatopani (tato = hot, pani = water) on our 3rd day. The baths were considered to be holy. The mist and the fog around the pools, along with the prayer flags hanging all over the trees, made it feel like a magical sacred place. However, being the only woman with two men, I did not take a bath then. Instead, I promised myself to return.
On the 5th day, we reached Naghtali. Naghtali is located close to the Tibetan borders and the Tibetan Plateau viewpoint. Unfortunately, we did not even try to reach the viewpoint because of the heavy rains. But on our 7th day, we got lucky. In Foprang Danda, we benefited from an opening in the sky and saw a vast mountain in the clouds. Ganesh Himal (7,422m) was the only actual Himal (= mountains) we saw – mountains below 4,000m are considered hills. Ganesh Himal took its name from the Hindu God Ganesh, who represents wisdom.
The mountain sits between the Langtang Lirung mountain range in the East and the Manaslu massif in the West. It is the natural border of Manaslu and Langtang National parks. I had never heard of its name before, yet it was meant to become the mountain that changed my life.
The rain was even heavier on the way back, so we decided to walk all day to finish the trek. Ironically, the weather improved last evening in Dunche (where we would get the bus back to Kathmandu). The sky opened up and revealed, far away, the mountains we were so close to for so many days.
More treks in Nepal
I went back for a trek in Nepal two more times and returned to the Langtang area in the autumn of 2019. I again skipped famous trekking routes as I had decided to follow the locals’ suggestions. Even if I want to see specific mountain massifs, bumping in hundreds of visitors is not my way of walking.
This time around, I had three main objectives.
First, I wanted to give printed copies of the photos I had taken to all the people I had photographed in 2011 – if I could somehow find them. The second was to take a bath in the holy spring. The third objective was to reach the viewpoint of the Tibetan Plateau.
Returning to Tamang trail, between shock and change
In Kathmandu, someone told us that during the big earthquake of 2015, the tectonics movement affected the water movements, and hot water was not coming out in Tatopani anymore. I was in shock. In 2011, I had lost a chance of a lifetime. It was also one of the main reasons visitors gradually abandoned the Tamang heritage trail. In any case, I had two more tasks. So together with two friends I was accompanying in their first visit to Nepali Himalaya, we met with Kesang in Kathmandu after eight years, and the four of us took a jeep to Dunche.
The second visit to the area was a new experience as the weather was clear, and the mountain views were perfect.
On our first day in Gatlang, the first village we passed by, I experienced one of the most decisive moments of my life as I found one of the women I had photographed eight years ago. After that, we gradually found most of the women, men, and children I had photographed along the trek in 2011. We also found most of the guesthouses and families that had hosted us.
The village of Naghtali, 3,300m, was a completely different place. It was almost empty while in 2011 it was hosting a festival. The houses were surrounded by mountains that I had not seen because of the bad weather. We reached the viewpoint at 3,600m. The view of the Tibetan plateau and the mountains all around us was worth the 8-year wait. If you happen to be in the area, I suggest reaching the Naghtali viewpoint for sunset or sunrise. The same day we descended at 1,600m, which was quite an effort for our knees. We then crossed the Bhote Koshi river overnight to Lingling (1,730m).
Gosaikunda, the next stop of our trek in Nepal
The next kilometres of our scheduled trek went by quickly. However, since we had more days in Nepal, we decided to extend our stay for three additional days and enter the Gosaikunda lake trail.
Laurebina site, at 3,920m, is a fantastic place to camp and stay overnight before reaching the lake. On the way to Gosaikunda, the colours shift to yellow, brown and grey, and the landscape is getting harsher. Seeing the holy lake of Shiva, at 4,210m, in foggy weather, is a pretty impressive experience.
The legend says that Shiva thrust his trident into the mountain and sleeps under the lake. All this contributes to adding to the already incredible ambience. During the Janai Purnima festival, the area attracts thousands of pilgrims. It is more crowded than any other place in Nepal during this period, maybe even across the entire Himalayan range.
The way back is always sad as you know you might not return to those mountains. When we returned to Kathmandu and eventually to Greece, I was happy and fulfilled. When I was thinking about my next trip there, I did not know where to head to. A famous mountain or another remote area? I always end up with the same answer; a good trek mainly depends on the mood, the weather and the company.