Combining the Gosainkunda and Helambu Treks
A beautiful thing about the Himalaya in Nepal is that you can walk anywhere. There are villages scattered all over the mountains and people just walk from one place to another. Therefore, while there are a few well-established hiking routes that are starting to be saturated with tourists, there are many other less-walked paths in areas that are just as beautiful. While many people flock to do the Everest Base Camp trek, Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp and Poon Hill, a few venture to Mardi Himal and Langtang, and even fewer to the Gosainkunda and Helambu treks.
One drawback of trekking in some parts of the Himalaya is the lack of infrastructure. The roads are washed out regularly by landslides and the buses are a hazard. Traffic is slow. Besides, some regions don’t have teahouses/guesthouses. However, I feel that some areas don’t receive enough tourists simply because there is not enough marketing of them. People simply don’t know about these places and why they should go there.
One such place is Gosaikunda, one of the few places where I met more local people trekking than tourists. In the same area, and so close to Kathmandu, it is the Helambu trek. For this trek you can actually just walk out of Kathmandu and return again on foot. You can start/end in Sundarijal (just a short local bus ride outside of Kathmandu) or Nagarkot.
For people who like to walk at lower altitudes, who don’t want to spend hours on buses, and who are more keen to see how people live in the mountains, this is an ideal trek. It can be done as a circular route with more options, depending on the number of days you want to trek for. There is a really small loop, from Sundarijal via Melamchi Gaon, and then down to either Sankhu or Nagarkot. However, the full loop takes between seven and twelve days. It goes up to Thade Pati (at a little over 4,000m), through Melamchi Gaon to Tarke Gyang and then back down to Kathmandu.
That being said, because I love culture, forests and high mountains, I found a different route that offered all these things and was still not crowded with tourists.
You should plan for around a week’s trek. The starting point is Dhunche, which can be reached via a very bumpy eight hour bus ride from Kathmandu. The same day, start the ascent and sleep at Deurali (or a little further), or alternatively you can rest after the bus trip and start afresh the next day. I would advise starting immediately, to shake off the stiffness of the bus ride and have a good sleep in the mountains, in lovely tea houses.
From here, it really depends on your fitness level, time or capacity to acclimate. Know that Chandanbari has a cheese factory from where you can purchase delicious yak cheese and tour the little place. Then higher up, at Lauribina, you have some amazing views over the mountains, especially at sunset and sunrise. Find your own pace and enjoy the path that goes steadily uphill. You will have stunning views over the high Himalaya (the Langtang massif) while going through picturesque villages where people are busy in the fields or around the house. It is an important pilgrimage route, leading to Gosainkunda, so you might meet local people walking to bathe in the waters of the holy lake.
From Laurebina to Gosainkunda, a difficult portion is up to the gompa above Laurebina. However, on a clear day there are spectacular views. From this point, getting to Gosainkunda is easy. The path doesn’t climb much and follows the side of a cliff. Several lakes are visible below Gosainkunda. You should spend at least one day here, going up to the viewpoint and circling the lake, truly enjoying this sacred place that it said to have been created by Lord Shiva.
While most people go back the same route, you can also continue on over Lauribina Pass (4,600m) where you will see more lakes, mostly frozen. Once you cross the pass, the scenery changes. On this side of the mountain, the villages are scarce, small, and not as green as before. You will not see people working the land. Here it is steeper and covered with dense forest. A good place to start overnight is Thadepati, where there are three teahouses. From here, you descend very steeply through rhododendron forests to either Melamchi Gaon or Magingoth (depending on which descent route you choose through the Helambu region and on to Kathmandu).
If you are short on time, know that you can take a bus from Melamchi Gaon too, but it would be a pity not to continue on food through these lower parts of Helambu. You will again see villages where people’s main activity is agriculture and, more recently, tourism. The temperatures are higher and now you might be wearing a t-shirt, while up at the Lauribina Pass it might have snowed.
Whichever route you choose, you can reach Kathmandu in three to four days, or decide to spend a few extra days in villages. Teahouses are everywhere, every two to three hours’ walk. Take the time to observe the life of people and talk to them. If you have a guide with you, ask him about the local way of life, traditions and culture.
Back in Kathmandu, treat yourself to a hot shower and a meal of something other than dal bhat! You will feel like you had an authentic Nepali experience, more so than if you had walked on one of the famous trekking routes.
Top image: Rick McCharles / Flickr