The past week was a holiday (Dasain) all over Nepal, so NGOs, schools, offices, government (what government there is), were all closed, and people left the valley for their villages. To give a sense of how many people are on the buses out, around seven million people live in the Kathmandu valley, and nearly three to four million of those leave for the holiday to go home to their villages.
They leave on motorbikes and scooters, piled two or three deep per vehicle. They leave on minibuses with kids on laps crushed to the windows. And they leave on big buses making their way out from the center of the city along the windy mountain roads that are sometimes paved, sometimes not. The lucky ones who get tickets sit on the seats inside the buses painted every color of the rainbow, covered in pictures and designs with slogans on the front like “DRIVE SLOW LIVE LONG”, “SPEED LIMIT”, or “ROAD KING”. And the ones without tickets? They ride on the top. There are at least thirty guys sitting on the top of each bus, most inside the luggage rack, their legs hanging off of the edge of the roof, others kneeling on the edge, holding on to the railing that lines the roof of the bus. I pray these guys don’t fall off.
As for us? We were big spenders and sprung for a jeep, since our travel dates coincided exactly with when everyone was flooding out or back into the city. The jeep ride took around seven hours to go approximately 100 kilometers as the crow flies, averaging fifteen miles per hour on the precarious mountain roads.
The first few days were pretty rainy. Because of the cyclone in India, even though the monsoon season has passed, Nepal got hit with rain for a few days, which meant that we were hiking in the pouring rain for the first few days of the trek. According to our guide, Ganesh, this was the worst weather that he has had to guide in! The streams that we needed to cross turned to rivers, the trails turned into mud pits and waterfalls. Everything was soaked. We were cold and wet and, after hiking for seven hours, got to the village we were staying in. We got some soup, sat by the stove in the common room of the guest house, and slept, very wet, and very cold.
The next day it took a while, but we finally rallied and hiked the last three hours up to the top village, Kyanjin Gompa. Here, the clouds finally started to let up and we could (finally) see the mountains and the snow peaks that we had been waiting for! The morning when we woke up and saw the peaks out of our window was probably my favorite of the trip: we had finally made it to the top village at 3,800 m (12,500 ft)! The sky was clear, wispy clouds creeping in from below the valley, but for the time being the air was clear, the sky was opened up, and the peaks around us towered up to 7,000 m into the sky.
That day we went on a day hike up towards the Ganja La pass. We weren’t planning on hiking over the pass mainly because of money: to do it we would need to hire a more expensive climbing guide, as well as porters with tents and food, because for three days around the pass there wouldn’t be any tea houses to stay at. So, instead, we decided to hike up as high as we could. For this hike we weren’t following an actual trail, but, as our guide explained, just the trail that the yaks use to get over the mountain. We climbed as high as we possibly could, getting up into the snow at the top of the mountains, close to 4,800 m (15,750 ft). At that point it started raining/sleeting, so we turned around (but not before having a brief snowball fight), and headed back towards the town, our rooms, and a big pot of Sherpa stew that they had waiting for us as a belated lunch.
The next day we hiked up to the peak, Kyanjin Ri, which stands at 4,779 m (15,679 ft) above the town of Kyanjin Gompa. The peak is covered in prayer flags raised up above the rocks, and around us we could see everything: peaks, valleys, and the town way below us, nestled on a little plateau between the ranges of mountains. Below the town the Lang Tang river flows back towards where we started from, back south towards Kathmandu. We had a picnic there of this amazing brown bread that is made in the town (more on that later), and yak cheese made one town over, in Lang Tang Village!
After that we headed down to Kyanjin Gompa, and then another three hours down to spend the night. The next day we (stupidly) decided to go really far, and ended up hiking ten hours straight and making it back to the original town, Syrambu Besi in one day! We hurt (a LOT) after that, but it meant that the following morning we could hire a jeep heading back to Kathmandu, and get back home two days early!