The yak trail to Tibet

When I first learned that there was no tourist bus to Langtang, and instead only public transportation  which took approximately ten hours to reach the base of our trekking adventure, there should have been a few doubts in my mind. Images of the public bus we take to work everyday should have immediately jumped into my head. The buses here are extended passenger vans which comfortably seat about twelve people but cram fourty-five. Nothing starts off your day quite like a sweaty mosh pit of strangers in the blistering heat that is Nepal. A smart man would have heard “public transportation” and said no thankyou. An even smarter man would have looked up the distance this ten hour bus ride traversed – a mere 115 kms – and considered walking, biking or any other means of transportation. Colin Taylor on the other hand stupidly smiled and said “sign me up!”
     The bus turned out to be a step up from those taken to work everyday, as we had assigned seats and therefore retained some of our personal space (a concept which fails to exist in Nepal). That being said, make no mistake  the bus was always well past what we would consider “capacity”. People crammed into the aisles and onto the roof, and bags and supplies were stacked wall to wall. At one point we had a woman with a child in one arm and a rooster under the other squeezed into the mix. Myself, I was wedged between sacs of potatoes and garlic and was only a few drops of sweat shy of a Colin stew. It was at that point , the point when I feared that a few more degrees celsius and some salt and pepper and travelers would be coming towards me at the back of the bus, ladle in hand, wondering what that formidable scent was, that I decided the roof of the bus seemed like a good idea. 
     Riding on the roof was exhilarating, and it answered the question, how can it take ten hours to drive 115 Kms? Besides the numerous stops, the answer to that question was the road. We meandered along a single laned, dirt road using the bus horn at each bend to announce our presence to oncoming vehicles. If we did meet a bus coming in the other direction, one of the vehicles would have to reverse to a point where the other could pass. At points the road was no more than six inches wider than the bus on which we sat atop, laughing and taking pictures and videos of the view.  I gotta say I never expected potatoes to save my life. But as we rounded 90 degree turns looking down at nothing but a thousand foot drop, I was certainly glad I had twenty pound sacs of tatters to cling to. 
     Hours later we arrived in Sering Busey (not spelled even remotely right but I can’t locate the correct spelling) where we grabbed a bite, found a room, battled a few spiders and crashed for the night, ready to take on the Himalayas come sunrise. 
In the morning we registered at the army post on our way into the mountains, snapped a few pics of our smiling, nieve selves and crossed the 100 foot suspension bridge which marked the start of our trek. That was the last point of the day of which we were on the correct trail. 
After about twenty minutes we were surprised by the difficulty of the trail. It was, to put it nicely, hell. The route consisted of a pine-needle covered rocky ninety degree razorback, a zig zag of unyielding  hills. After each “zig” we prayed we would take a turn and see a “zag” of even remotely level land, but we were instead always confronted with a natural, dream-crushing staircase of rocks. Why would someone other than a masochist attempt such a feat? The short answer – they don’t. We were on the wrong trail. In fact, we were on a yak trail to Tibet.  Somehow we had immediately gone in the wrong direction and only decided to consult the map and guidebook after a few hours of hell and the realization that we had not heard or seen another soul in the entire duration of the trek.  The guide book described the first few  hours of the trek as an “enjoyable, scenic stroll past frolicking monkeys as the sounds of numerous local birds floods your ears.” Unless this was a typo and by “frolicking monkeys” they meant you will lose the will to move and by “sound of numerous local birds” they meant you will hear only your own ragged breaths and gentle sobs as you dodge yak faeces, then we were not on the right track. I always loved the idea laid out by Robert frost to “take the path less traveled”. I could be wrong, but I bet ol’ Rob probably wasn’t referring to the ninety degree death march towards Tibet that would have made lance Armstrong say “no thanks, I’m good,” when he wrote that poetic gem. Of course I exaggerate, but not by much.  Our first day on the Langtang trek- – well, just off the Langtang trek I should say –was by far the most physical exertion my body has ever endured. Yes, I am currently out of shape, and perhaps eating little more than Nepali “momo’s” (similar to dumplings) and popping Imodium like tic -tacs for the week before the trek may not have provided me with the precise energy balanced diet required for such a journey, I still maintain the trek was hell. When we came across a small village after eight hours of climbing we were so exhausted we had to collapse onto the stony mountain face just minutes from the village. Chests’ heaving, hearts’ pounding, wise cracks long gone for the day we laid on the face of the rocky outcrop for about twenty minutes before gathering enough morale and energy to make the last steps into the village where we were welcomed into the home of what I can only believe was in angel. Keep in mind that at that altitude this is not too unlikely.
We were fed some incredible Sherpa stew and provided with a warm bed to sleep in and I could not have been more grateful. It wouldn’t be the last  time a Nepali family saved our lives on this trek, but that story is for another time. That night, with food in our stomachs and clear minds we were able to locate our position and figure out how to meet up with the proper trail. From then on the trekking was everything I hoped for – -unbelievably scenic, challenging but doable and just an overall cool experience. Personally, I loved when the trekking was done for the day and I got to sit outside a small teahouse in the middle of the Himalayan mountains drinking tea and reading a book or just taking it all in. 
     During our trekking I found there were two main types of people on the trail (with our trio of two chain smoking, yet outdoorsy Americans and the out of shape Canadian as a stark exception.) The first of the two character types to which I am referring was the fourty-year-old, trekking gear clad woman carrying little more than a purse and a vitamin supplemented water who strolls by at a brisk pace stating a pleasant “Namaste” as two sweat and dirt covered porters lag along behind carrying packs stuffed so full they must contain what I can only imagine is her living couch  and bedroom suite. The second prominent character type I discovered on the trail (and my personal favourite) was the dude (and I choose this term appropriately) who never left the seventies. He would stroll up to you with his smile as wide as his pony tail was long and ask how much you were loving life. He wore round glasses and  a tight t-shirt and acted as though any question he could answer of yours was the sole reason for his existence. I loved running into this type of person and was always happy to hear his (or sometimes her) unbelievably positive outlook on travel and on life in general. It is a pretty cliche and obvious statement, but it is the people that make travel so worthwhile, so enjoyable and o so memorable.  So far, there has been no shortage of that in Nepal. From the employees and volunteers at the Kat center to the crazy Himilayan mountain folk who have been oxygen deprived too long and just look at you smile, stick out their tongue and spit, I have met some truly extraordinary people, and my adventure here has just begun. 
For those of you looking through my Facebook photos, waiting to see the  very top, looking for that picture of me standing on the snowy peak, smiling down at the world, it isn’t there. Our journey ended just three hours shy of the top. It is not my place to describe online why we stopped short. I will say that there is a remarkable and heroic family that lives in the mountains at Langtang, and if  anyone ever plans on trekking there please contact me for their information.  But that story is an  adventure all to itself.

 Cheers for now,
 Colin

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little  corner of the earth for all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain

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