The bus ran along the route between Kathmandu and Syabru Besi, the starting point for several treks in the Langtang region. I could see bottomless ravines that opened deep down the valley, while the rudimentary coach we were traveling in slowly braved the tight bends of the road. At one point, people from the bus started to scream and pointed to something out the window. The coach stopped right away, and Rishi (my guide-come-porter) jumped out and scooped up my small backpack. It had slipped off the luggage rack due to the repeated shaking of the coach on the bumpy road, and rolled fifty metres down a steep slope. I clutched my retrieved backpack tightly and the bus carried on.
Once we arrived in Syabru Besi, we started the preparations for the Tamang Heritage Trail, a trek that lasts five-six days. Close to the famous Langtang Valley, this trek is a lesser travelled one in Nepal and, as its name suggests, passes through ethnic Tamang villages high up in the mountains. The villages are lively and have distinct lifestyles, and can only be reached on foot.
The trek was initiated as a way of improving local lives through tourism. Most inhabitants of this region are agriculturalists. Unfortunately, the villages along the trek were severely affected by the 2015 earthquake. Some had been rebuilt, while in others the people still lived in military tents, a year and a half later. As these villages aren’t located on a popular trail, few tourists trek here, meaning the villages have had a harder time rebuilding.
On the first day of the trek, we left the small town of Syabru Besi and started the ascent to the Bahun Danda Pass. Two young boys, Rohan and Nima, were going up to a neighbouring hamlet and joined us. Rohan wore sneakers, Nima beach slippers, while I had my high-performance mountain boots. They spoke little English, and Rishi translated for me. They didn’t know anything about my country, Romania, but Europe was easier for them to locate on the map. They wanted to know the caste I belonged to, and wondered when I said there’s no such social system in my country.
At Bahun Danda Pass we ate traditional dal bhat for lunch, then hiked down a dirt road until we passed the Goljung Valley. We descended along a contour line to Gotlang village, where we stopped overnight.
On the second day, we left the village of Gotlang and, for a while, followed an line of chortens (stone pyramids with mantras) along the Bamdang Khola Valley. After we reached Chilime village, we started an abrupt ascent toward Cherka and Gonggang villages. As we were slowly hiking up the steep slope, a local man smiled and joined us. Hari had worked in Malaysia and was coming back home to his wife and son after thirteen years. He hadn’t seen his family in Gonggang in all this time, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry. He was happy to have someone to talk to on his way home. He carried only one bag on his shoulder, and we left him behind when he met an old friend and stopped for another chat.
In the evening, we stayed overnight in Tatopani village, where I made my first trekker friends, Matt and Heather from the United States. They waved at me as I hiked the last hundred meters up to the Eco Guesthouse. They said I was the first tourist they had seen in the two days they had been trekking. After completing the Tamang Heritage Trail, they intended to continue with the Langtang Trek, and afterwards the Gosaikunda Trek.
On the third day, we climbed from Tatopani to Nagthali Ghyang village, located at the highest point of the trail (3165 metres). When we left Tatopani, the children laughed and ran after me. They held their small hands together and greeted me with their traditional namaste. Matt and Heather hiked behind us, and we met again on the plateau on top of the mountain. After lunch, all three of us froze on a ground pad and waited in vain for the great Himalayan peaks to be released from a thick layer of cloud. Matt sketched the landscape—or as much of it as he could see—and Heather and I discussed the cultural differences between our countries, Romania and the USA.
On the fourth day, I took a day off to rest at Nagthali Ghyang, but the following day we went down to Thuman village. From there, we abruptly descended through a forest and crossed a suspension bridge across the Bhotekoshi Nadi Valley. When we hiked up to Lingling, children from the village came to greet us and laughed behind me. Only a little girl dared to come and sit next to me at the lodge when we stopped for lunch. All the other children watched me and chuckled from the gate. The little girl studied my white face and shyly began to look through my notebook. Then she saw my camera and started studying it, too. I kept the strap in one hand, in case she dropped it. She brushed my hand away, and I had no choice but to trust her with my camera. She pressed a button and the flash popped up, scaring her a little, but continued to press all the other buttons. She pretended to be a great photographer, even though I kept the camera switched off.
The morning of the sixth day of the trek (and the last one), I walked through the village of Briddim, where we had stayed overnight. I heard Tibetan music from the courtyard of the Lhasa Homestay, situated near the village monastery. I entered the courtyard, hypnotized by the harmonious melody of the mantras, and sat next to a smiling Tibetan woman. Her daughter, Karmo, offered me a cup of tea on the house and told me her father was the lama of the nearby monastery. She worked at a shop in Kathmandu but came to help her mother in the tourist season. Her mother didn’t speak English at all, but she accompanied me into a room full of handmade objects: woollen bags, bracelets, scarves, and hats, knitted or worked on the looms, which they sold to supplement their income.
From Briddhim, we had to descend parallel to the Bhotekoshi Nadi Valley, back to where we had started, Syabru Besi. On the dirt road from Briddhim, we met an old Tibetan woman who wore a traditional guni (striped apron) and a syadi (beret), as well as colourful earrings and beads. The old lady kept whispering mantras while she counted beads along rosary. She held a wooden walking stick in her right hand and wanted to see the pictures I had just taken of her. When she saw herself on the display of my camera, she made a face meaning that she considered herself old and not beautiful anymore.
The last night in Syabru Besi, a group of trekkers from our guesthouse organized a card game. They invited me to join in, which was a good excuse to get to know new people. They explained the rules of the game to me, but it became clear that we were more eager to share our experiences from trekking in the Himalayas.
Some of us had climbed snowy ridges, others had hunted panoramic views of the great peaks, while I had hiked through local villages, Buddhist stupas and chortens. I found out that I had already become known in the whole Langtang area as ‘the one whose backpack flew out the bus door’. That moment, I realized that besides walking a trail among unique, natural beauty, a trek is equally about people who talk and share experiences.
Tips for hiking the Tamang Heritage Trail:
The normal duration of the trek is five days: Syabru Besi-Gotlang / Gotlang-Tatopani / Tatopani-Thuman / Thuman-Briddhim / Briddhim-Syabru Besi. If you want to include a visit to the border with Tibet, add another day.
Add another two days for the return trip to Kathmandu. The Langtang area is only 200 km from Kathmandu, but the busy, bumpy, winding road takes about 9 hours by bus.
This trek can be combined with the Langtang Valley Trek. They both start at Syabru Besi.
You’re unlikely to have acclimatisation problems while trekking the Tamang Heritage Trail, as the highest point reached is 3165m, at Nagthali Ghyang.
Good physical condition is required to hike up and down steep slopes every day, sometimes with a difference in altitude of up to 1000m/day.
This article and photos originally appeared in Issue 6 of Inside Himalayas magazine.