Friday, July 25, 2014

The Langtang Valley Trek Nov 30th - Dec 8th 2014

Amongst the three major trekking areas in Nepal, namely, Everest, Annapurna and Langtang, the Langtang valley is the most under trekked. Most of the big name peaks are in the Everest and Annapurna regions, so Langtang has always come third when selecting a trekking destination. In many ways this is real pity because Langtang offers pristine forests, rich bird life, monastic culture and above all some spectacular mountain views of the Langtang Himal topped by the shapely Langtang Lirung.  The cost of the trek is Rs 45,000/  per person for Kathmandu to Kathmandu (9 days) for SAARC citizens and USD 1000 for foreigners as per the itinerary below. Exclusions apply. For a detailed trek pdf do e-mail me at

 Day 01 Kathmandu to Syabrubesi (1470m) by road   
The journey should take 6 to 8 hours depending on traffic and mode of transport.

Day 02 Syabrubesi to Lama Hotel  (2470m)  1070m ascent  7 to 8 hours
From Syabrubesi walk up the main road and then take the right hand fork and descend to the river. Before the bridge you come to a check post where the permits are verified. Cross the bridge and climb up to a small village. Walk through the village for about five minutes and then come to another bridge. Do not cross this bridge and carry on along the same bank of the river. After about an hour or so, you will reach the New Bridge Ayusiddhi Lodge at Tiwari. Cross this bridge and walk upstream through a very pleasant forested track. In about two hours from Syabrubesi you will come to Doman next to a huge waterfall. From Doman climb uphill and then downhill and in about 30-40 minutes reach the lodges of Pairo. From Pairo the trail is through the forest  and in about 90-100 minutes reached Bamboo which is the first day’s lunch stop.  Leave Bamboo after lunch and continue to climb through the forest past waterfalls. About an hour from Bamboo the trail crosses another bridge with “Welcome to Langtang” signposted on top. There is a small tea house across the bridge.  The trail then begins to climb steadily for about an hour to Lower Rimche. Upper Rimche is about 20 minutes away with two lodges and lovely sunset views. If you are continuing to Lama Hotel for the night stop it is about 20 minutes from Rimche. This can be quite a long day and if you are not sure, it is suggested to stop at Bamboo.  
Syabrubesi to Doman – 2 hrs; Doman to Pairo 40 min; Pairo to Bamboo 1 hr 15 min; Bamboo to Lower Rimche 1hr 30 min; Lower Rimche to Upper Rimche 20 min. Upper Rimche to Lama Hotel 20 min.

Day 03 Lama Hotel  to Ghora Tabela (2970 metres) to Langtang Village (3430 metres) 980m ascent 7 to 8 hours   
Leaving Lama Hotel the trail winds through oak and rhododendron forests. Keep a look out for birds, I spotted a Khalij pheasant here! Within forty minutes the Langtang peaks come into view framed by the trees. The pleasant stop of Riverside is reached in about 90 to 100 minutes. 20 minutes away from
Riverside is Woodlands. From Woodlands the trail climbs uphill once again and in about an hour or so reaches Ghora Tabela. Ghora Tabela is a good tea stop in the sunshine. The Army check post is just beyond Ghora Tabela  where the permits are checked once again. The trail again climbs from the Army check post and crosses a forested patch after which it reaches Thangsyap in about 75-90 minutes.  Thangsyap is a good stop for lunch and there are a number of lodges here. Ahead of Thangsyap the valley begins to broaden and in  around 20 minutes Chamki village is reached. The lodges here specialize in yak curd and Hotel Peaceful  offers this to all trekkers. Try to have the yak curd with honey!  From Chamki, the lodges of Langtang village look tantalizingly close but they are still 90 minutes away. The trail climbs to a hill top crosses Gomba village and then descends to a long suspension bridge. Cross the bridge and then climb up to Langtang village.
Lama Hotel to Riverside 1 hr 15 min; Riverside to Woodlands 20 min; Woodlands to Ghora Tabela 1 hr.Ghora Tabela to Thangysyap 1 hr 15 min; Thangsyap to Chamki 30 min; Chamki to Langtang Village 1 hr 30 min.

Day 05 Rest and Acclimatization day at Langtang Village (3430 metres)
We are now at 11,000 feet plus so a rest day for acclimatization is recommended.

Day 06 Langtang Village to Kyanjin Gompa (3860m) 460m ascent (3 to 4 hours) The trail climbs through Langtang village pass some marshy flats which could be iced over in late autumn/winter. It then ascends in a series of zig zags to Mundu village (30 to 40 min). From Mundu reach Sedum in around 20 min. The valley now begins to open up and Gina Chhenpo presents a dress circle view at the head.  From Sindum the trail follows the river uphill and reaches the “Big Rock CafĂ©” in around 40 minutes. Stop for a cup of tea here – Kyanjin is still an hour away. The trail descends to the river and in the distance a white chorten can be seen – the entrance of Kyanjin. From the river it is about thirty minutes to the chorten. Cross the bridge over the fast flowing Langtang Khola and meander over flats climbing gently until Kyanjin Gompa is reached.    
Langtang to Mundu 35 min;  Mundu to Sindum 30 min; Sindum to Kyanjin Gompa 2 hrs.

Day 6 Rest Day at Kyanjin Gompa The rest day at Kyanjin Gompa can be used to walk up the valley part of the way to the grazing grounds of Langshisha Kharka surrounded by glaciers. Alternatively it is possible to climb the peak of Kyanjin Ri (4600m) with a fine view over the entire Langtang valley.  There is a lower Kyanjin Ri viewpoint which is visible just above Kyanjin Gompa with the prayer flags and this is around 4400 metres and  takes about two hours to climb! The harder climb is Tsergo Ri (4984m) which would take around four hours up and three hours down. There can be snow and ice near the top.

Day 7 Kyanjin Gompa to Lama Hotel (2480m)  6  to 7 hours

 It is a fairly long haul down to Lama Hotel and perhaps it is easier to return to Langtang village in the evening from Kyanjin Gompa and then go down to Lama Hotel the next day. This is what we did. It is a 1300 metre descent down the valley to Lama Hotel passing Langtang village (2-3 hours), Ghora Tabela (3-4 hours) and finally Lama Hotel ( 6-7 hours).  We usually stop for lunch at Ghora Tabela.
We continue down to Syabrubesi where we started our trek.

Day 8 Lama Hotel to Syabrubesi   5 to 6 hours

Day 9 Syabrubesi to Kathmandu by  vehicle 

For more photographs of the Langtang trek do visit 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sleeping Bags for Backpacking : How to Choose

One of the most important items of equipment to consider before going on  a trek or a climb is  a sleeping bag. A good sleeping bag can make or mar a trek - if it is not warm enough, you will spend the whole night cold and shivering and will be tired the next morning for the day's walk. So how do we choose the right sleeping bag? Here are some pointers to be taken into consideration:

All good sleeping bags are temperature rated. The top of the line bags from companies like Marmot, Western Mountaineering, North Face etc. will also have the EN rating which is most accurate. Normally summer sleeping bags will be rated 0 to +10 Celsius, three season sleeping bags will be -10 to 0 Celsius, four season or winter bags will be -20 to -10 Celsius. The rating given by the company is supposed to be the lowest temperature which will keep an average sleeper warm. However, there are warm sleepers and cold sleepers so depending on the sort of sleeper you are, you may need to choose your bag. As a thumb rule, buy a sleeping bag five degrees Celsius below the lowest temperature you plan to encounter. So if you plan to be in -5 Celsius buy a -10 Celsius bag! A sleeping bag's temperature rating can be extended by using a liner inside but that would add to some additional weight to the bag.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of insulation - synthetic and down. Synthetic is usually cheaper and comes under a lot of names - Primaloft, Polaguard, Thinsulate etc. Down can also of various ratings like 600 fill, 700 fill, 800 fill etc. In a nutshell, a down bag will usually be lighter and pack smaller than a synthetic bag of the same rating.  It will also usually be more expensive than it's synthetic counterpart. However, down has a  major drawback, if the bag gets wet then it is useless - it loses its insulating properties. So if you are going on a trek and expect lots of rain and snow, down may not be the best choice. Recently, a new type of down has been introduced called  "Dri Down" which is supposed to insulate even when damp or wet!

Broadly speaking they would be rectangular and mummy. The rectangular bags would have more room inside to toss and turn but usually the mummy bags would be warmer for the same weight and are preferable for high altitude treks.There are also bags with full zips and half-zips. The half zip ones would be lighter, but may be difficult to get in and out of!

If you are carrying your own backpack, then weight is very important. The lighter sleeping bags will usually  be more expensive  than the heavier ones for the same temperature rating. I would suggest not to go beyond 3 lb in weight for a three season bag - in fact some of the good bags would range well below 3 lb.

Packed Size
Most sleeping bags will give you a packed size e.g. 7" x 13" and so on. The  larger sizes e.g. 13 " x 20" would be very bulky and difficult to pack in a backpack. On one of our South Col treks, I saw a client's sleeping bag which took almost half the space in a 50 litre duffel and left very little room for anything else! So check the packed size before you buy. Generally down bags will pack smaller than synthetic bags because they are easier to compress.

Some of the great sleeping bags which I have used in the last thirty years in the mountains:

 The North Face Blue Kazoo - almost a legendary bag, North Face has been manufacturing this bag for more than fifteen  years now  keeping the price and weigh more or less constant! It is often available on sale for less than US $ 200! Highly recommended for a good three season bag and if properly cared for can last a lifetime! 

The Marmot Pinnacle
I am presently using this bag for the last couple of years - excellent loft, warmth to weight ratio and super light and compressible - it is filled with 800 fill power down. A highly rated bag though a bit on the expensive side! Marmot have stopped production of this bag which is a pity! The Meteor looks like the replacement for the Pinnacle!

Generally for spring and autumn trekking in the Himalaya a three season bag is usually fine. If you are planning to trek in winter, e.g. Chadar trek, then you need to have a four season bag.

Sleeping Bag Resources
How to Care for a Sleeping Bag
Some top Sleeping Bags
Down vs Synthetic Sleeping Bags
How to wash a down sleeping bag in a washing machine?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flowers of the Yumthang-Yume Samdong Valley, North Sikkim

In June 2014, I returned to Sikkim after many years. The purpose of my visit was to make the preliminary arrangements for a  South Col trek to Green Lakes in October 2014,  but after that I spent three days in North Sikkim photographing the flora of the Lachung valley. It was mid June and the monsoon had just started. The lower valley from Lachung to Yumtang which is between 9,000 and 11,000 feet had completed flowering but the upper valley especially near the meadows of Yume Samdong were spectacular. Here are some images from this visit - I am not too sure of the names so if there are any botanists they can correct me if I am wrong!

Rhododendron campanulatum var - aeroginosum  

The scenic Yumthang valley

Rhododendron campylocarpum flowers near a stream

Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis Horridula

Meconopsis Regia?
Rhododendron campanulatum

Rhododendrons in bud

Primula Denticulata

For more photos of Sikkim flora please do visit 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tenzing Norgay Birth Centenary Commemorative Lecture with The Himalayan Club

On 27th June 2014 at the Rotary Sadan, Kolkata I delivered the Tenzing Norgay Birth Centenary Commemorative Lecture organised by The Himalayan Club - Kolkata Section. A review of the evening was given in The Telegraph Kolkata Metro edition on June 30th 2014.

Little-known facts about the humble man of the hills — who, with Edmund Hillary, was the first to set foot on the world’s highest peak — tumbled out at a presentation by freelance photojournalist Sujoy Das before the city’s climbing enthusiasts.

The presentation, which combined black-and-white pictures, maps and anecdotes to bring Tenzing’s epic journey back to life, was organised on Friday by The Himalayan Club to pay homage to the sherpa on his birth centenary.
Tenzing was born Namgyal Wangdi. The lama of Tibet’s Rongbuk Monastery, Dzadrul Rimpoche, said he was the reincarnate of a wealthy man and changed his name to Norgay, which means “fortunate” in Tibetan. Tenzing, part of the lama’s original name, was added to it.

Das’s presentation harped on a couple of key moments in Tenzing’s life. The first was an epidemic in Tibet, which killed all the yaks of Tenzing’s father Ghang La Mingma.

This necessitated a teenaged Tenzing and Dawa Thondup, seven years his senior and member of the historic 1953 Everest climb, to make a trip to Nepal’s Kumbhu region on foot and eventually to Darjeeling, where foreign expedition teams hired sherpas.

“Had it not been for the epidemic, Tenzing would probably have been happy tending to his father’s yaks and wouldn’t have made history,” said Das.

Tenzing was rejected many times as sherpa before his “grin rather than his experience” impressed British expedition leader Eric Shipton in 1935. The youth from Tibet set off “learning by looking” and soon made a name for himself.

By this time he had married his teenage sweetheart Dawa Phuti, the first of his three marriages. Phuti died at a young age leaving behind two daughters.

Das pointed out that European climbers, especially “class conscious” Britons finally accepted Tenzing as one of their own.

“After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, the approach to Everest through the north closed down and a southern route was explored. It was found to be easier (than the northern route) if one could handle a tricky ice fall, which claimed the lives of 16 sherpas this April,” said Das.

By the early 1950s, it became evident that conquering Everest was a matter of time and Tenzing was caught in a tug-of-war between Swiss and British teams. 

Tenzing by then demanded that he be given the status of a climber rather than a sirdar — or leader of sherpas and manager of supplies — by a British team led by John Hunt and was granted his wish. A member of Hunt’s team was Edmund Hillary from New Zealand.

In fact, at their final camp at 27,640ft, a record at the time, Tenzing had spent an extremely cold night in the same camp as Hillary, sharing supplies.

The next morning, they made the first successful climb to the top of the world.

Funnily, when Tenzing went to meet his mother in Thami on the way down and told her of his feat, she was elated but only because “you will not have to climb mountains any more”.

After the expedition, Hillary and Hunt were knighted but Tenzing was conferred a much less prestigious George Medal. He, however, went to London and accepted it.

When the queen asked Ang Lahmu, his second wife, what she gifted Tenzing after he came down from Everest, she replied a “big tin of condensed milk”.

“He could use it. He was fatigued after the climb,” quipped Das.

Years later, when his son Jamling wanted to start Himalayan expeditions, Tenzing had put his foot down saying he had climbed himself so that his son would not have to. 

A slide showed the famous words of his father: “You can’t see the entire world from the top of Everest, Jamling”.
Jamling, however, could not ignore the call of the mountains and climbed Everest in 1996. He returned to Everest in 2002, but only till the base camp, when he and Hillary’s son Peter were invited to be part of an expedition to mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent.


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