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Langtang Region & Helambu Trek - All You Need to Know

  • Author: Stuart Butler
  • Posted on: Mon Aug 17, 2020
Langtang Region

Langtang Region is one of the nearest trekking destinations from Kathmandu. The Langtang and Helambu region is a tight knot of dramatic 6000-7000m high mountains (the highest peak is Langtang Lirung at 7234m), beautiful Alpine valleys and neatly terraced foothills just to the north of the Kathmandu Valley.

Very popular with independent trekkers, the Langtang Himalaya is one of Nepal’s main trekking regions and is perhaps the most accessible trekking area in Nepal: you could literally start walking from your Kathmandu guesthouse straight into the foothills of the Helambu region and then on up into the Langtang Himalaya (though because of traffic congestion and pollution very few people do this nowadays).

There are good trekking lodges throughout most of the range, the trails are simple to navigate and there are extraordinary scenic and cultural variety. All of this has meant that the Langtang region and the Helambu area have always been, alongside Everest and Annapurna, one of the big three independent trekking areas in Nepal.

In April 2015 though, a disastrous earthquake struck the Langtang Valley and surrounding areas and caused massive damage and loss of life, with the once beautiful stone wall village of Langtang itself being completely and utterly buried under a huge avalanche. Today all the trekking trails are fully repaired, trekking lodges are open and – in many ways – things are back to normal.

Despite a few reminders of the devastation wrought on that April day, this is a wonderful area to trek with stirring, up-close mountain views, yak pastures, rewarding side-trips, Holy lakes, cultural interactions, easy and cheap access with no internal flights needed (or possible!) and, compared to the main Annapurna and Everest trails, relatively few other foreign trekkers.

The Langtang Himalaya and Helambu region is also an ideal trekking area for those with limited time, with the shortest routes taking just a week (or even slightly less) including travel time from Kathmandu. There are also innumerable ways of combining treks in order to cobble together exciting walks lasting several weeks.

Best Time to visit Langtang Region

Best Time to Visit Langtang Region

The weather patterns in the Langtang Himalaya region and Helambu follow the classic Nepalese pattern with the dry season running from roughly early-October to late-May and the wet season (a bad time to trek) from June to September. Accordingly, the best time to trek any of the trails around the Langtang Himalaya is between October and April. But within this time frame there is a little seasonal variation.

Overall, October to November and also March and April are the prime months. October and November offer the ideal combination of crystal clear skies, reasonable temperatures and little chance of unexpected rain or snow. But, it’s also the busiest period. In April flowering rhododendrons add a palette of red and orange to the slopes, but the heat is really building up at lower elevations and the air is increasingly hazy. It can get very cold in December and January but it remains dry and the air clear and lodges remain open and the trails are quiet.

If you’re equipped for the cold and have a few spare days up your sleeve in case of paths being blocked by snow then this is a good time to trek as well. Few people trek here in the monsoon and in general we wouldn’t suggest you try. However, if your interest is more cultural than scenic then during the Janai Purnima festival held during the August full moon thousands of Hindu pilgrims make their way to the holy Gosainkunda lakes to bathe.

Recommended Read: Best Time To Visit Nepal 

How Should I Trek in the Langtang Himalaya?

The Langtang Valley, Helambu and Gosainkunda are some of the best places for independent travellers. Trail heads are cheap and easy to get too. The trails are generally clear and easy to follow. There’s plentiful cheap accommodation and places to eat and there’s just enough fellow trekkers to mean you’ll never walk alone. And because the area is so well set up for independent trekkers that is indeed how almost everyone goes.

But, there are advantages to going on at least a semi-organized trek. The most important point is that you can explore further and higher up the Langtang Valley than a trekker reliant on a trekking lodge ever could and so you discover some genuinely wild corners. But there are also other advantages to an organized trek.

You don’t have to worry about finding all rooms at the inn taken and having to sleep on the floor of the dining room (this happens quite frequently), you’ll have a permanent translator on hand and, importantly, someone who knows the trail and approaching weather conditions.

Another nice plus is that you’ll have a porter or two and so won’t have to carry that overly heavy bag yourself! If you’re walking the Tamang Heritage trail then a more organized tour is a good idea and at the least, you should have a local guide.

Trekking Permit for Langtang and Helambu Trek

As with all Nepalese treks you will require a TIMS Card. The Langtang, Gosainkunda, Ganj La and Helambu treks all enter the Langtang National Park for which there is a NRs 3000 entry charge.

The Helambu trek also enters the Shivapuri National Park for which there is a NRs 1000 entry fee.

No restricted area permits are required for any of the treks in the Langtang Region and, unlike in some parts of Nepal, you don’t have to trek in an organised group. 

Is the Langtang Region and Helambu a Dangerous Area To Trek?

As with all Nepal’s main trekking regions for the most part the Langtang and Helambu area trails are a very safe area to trek. But, there are some important exceptions and points to keep in mind.

  • The high, remote and rarely trodden Ganj-La pass that links the upper Langtang Valley with the Helambu region is dangerous and should only be attempted by highly experienced trekkers with some mountaineering experience, a knowledgeable guide and good equipment (ropes, crampons, ice-axe).
  • Altitude related problems are common on the walk to the Gosainkunda Lakes. This is especially the case if you start your trek from Dhunche (rather than walk the Langtang Valley first and then cut across to this trek; as most people do) where the altitude gains are just too significant to be considered safe.

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How Do I Get To The Trail Heads?

Access to this area from Kathmandu couldn’t be easier. Simply hop on a bus in central Kathmandu and by the end of the day you’ll be in Syabrubesi  (trail head for the Langtang Valley Trek and the Tamang Heritage Trail). If you’re only going to do the Gosainkunda Lakes trek then jump down at Dhunche. If you don’t fancy the bus then tour companies can organize a transfer in a comfortable 4x4 jeep and this would also allow you to make a short diversion of a couple of hours to pretty hilltop village of Nuwakot. For the Helambu trek you can just hop in a taxi in Kathmandu for the short ride out of the city to the trail head at the entrance to the Shivapuri Nagarjaun National Park.  There are no flights to any of the trail heads.

5 Best Things about Langtang Region Trekking

suspensen bridge in langtang region

Although overshadowed by more famous trekking areas such as Everest and Annapurna, the Langtang range has a lot to recommend it. Here’s why we think you should march towards Langtang.

Variety

The Langtang and Helambu area really does it have all: traditional mountain villages, flower meadows, red pandas dozing in pine trees, rushing rivers, snowbound passes, delightful homestays, pretty farming country and, not least, the chance to stand atop the frozen summit of a minor Himalayan peak.

Kanjin Gompa day trips

The small village of Kanjin Gompa (3860m), at the head of the Langtang valley, might be the ‘official’ end point of the Langtang valley trek but in truth this is where the fun really starts. Numerous day and overnight trips fan out along trails from Kanjin Gompa. You can make the almost obligatory hike up to the Kyanjin Ri viewpoint (4600m) for sensational views, or a rollicking day-long adventure to the glaciers and yak pastures of the Lirung valley. A bigger challenge is the long and exhausting day trip to the Tsergo Ri viewpoint, which at 4,984m is just a smidgen under the magical 5000m mark.

Gosainkunda Lakes

The eerie holy lake of Gosainkunda (4400m) has a black rock sticking out of the middle of it that Hindus believe is the head of Shiva and the lake attracts scores of Hindu pilgrims (particularly over the August full moon). Like any good pilgrimage, the trek to Gosainkunda is a challenging one involving a high pass crossing and memorable scenery. Once at the lake there are a number of side trips to other lakes and high viewpoints.

Local Life

Helambu and the Tamang Heritage trail offer a delightful combination of mountain views, pretty villages and, on the Tamang Heritage Trail in particular, a real insight into local life thanks to an exciting community tourism-based initiative that see’s trekkers staying as guests in village houses and traditional dances and events being laid on. Both these treks are (for the Himalaya) a fairly low level with little AMS risk. The Tamang Heritage Trail is an especially good family trek.

Exploration

It would be a mistake to think that just because the Langtang region has been a popular trekking area for decades that there’s no adventure left. Grab some tents and a guide and walk for a day or so further up the Langtang valley towards the Langtang glacier and you’ll feel as if you have the Himalaya all to yourself.

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Top 5 Treks in Langtang Region

Langtang Valley Trek

Langtang Valley Nepal

Langtang Valley Trek one of the most rewarding short treks in Nepal. The simple, up and down romp along the Langtang Valley takes the lucky trekker steeply upwards through deciduous and then conifer forests before emerging onto flatter ground around the edge of the tree line where the valley opens up into vast yak pastures that end in a wall of rock and glacier. The mountains here might not touch the 8000m mark but the base to peak rises are as impressive as almost anywhere else in the Himalaya and once you reach the last village of the valley, Kanjin Gompa, you really feel in the heart of the great mountains.

Kanjin Gompa makes a wonderful base for a number of thrilling day and overnight treks. Saunter to the summit of Kyanjin Ri (4600m) from which it feels like you could just lean out across the valley and touch the snows of giant Langtang Lirung. For an even higher thrill make the long day to Tsergo Ri (4984m) or explore the remote upper reaches of the Lirung Valley. Old folk in these parts still tell stories about how the uninhabited upper valley used to be home to a number of yetis! Just maybe you’ll spot a fleeting glimpse of one! For a real ‘life experience’ organize a good guide, pack some ropes, crampons and ice-axes and tackle Yala Peak (5520m) and feel as if you’re atop the world.

The valley suffered terribly in the 2015 earthquake and the entire village of Langtang vanished under a huge avalanche. Today, reminders of the earthquake are still visible. Not least the mountain slopes blasted clear of forest cover and the disturbing experience of crossing the rock fields that buried Langtang village. Local people though are resilient and pleased to once again be receiving international trekkers.

The basic trek takes eight days including travel time from Kathmandu, but only a fool wouldn’t add in another couple of days for side-trips from Kanjin Gompa. Afterward, most people return back the way they came, but for those with more time it’s possible to link up with the Gosainkunda and Helambu treks.

This is a very good first-time Himalayan trek.

  • Difficulty: Moderate. The trail climbs quite rapidly so there is a risk of AMS.
  • Trek Duration: 6 days from Syabrubesi but allow another 2-3 days for side trips from Kanjin Gompa.
  • Max. Elevation: 3860m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges. Camping required for any overnight trips beyond Kanjin Gompa.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi

Gosainkunda Trek

The most popular add on to a Langtang valley trek, and a fantastic short trek in its own right. This trek hauls up sharply through pine forests where red pandas are known to live (but are very rarely seen) to the holy Hindu lakes of Gosainkunda. Although you don’t come face to face with the high mountains in the same way that you do on the Langtang trek, you do get grandstand views of the Langtang and Ganesh ranges and you have the excitement of crossing the often snow bound and quite challenging Laurebina La (4610m).

There are a number of different approach routes to Gosainkunda but for reasons of acclimatization it’s best to do the Langtang valley trek first, then from close to the teahouses of Doman (on the Langtang valley trek) cut across to Gosainkunda and descend back to Kathmandu via the Helambu Circuit. Some people go directly to Gosainkunda from Dhunche but the elevation gain is great and many people get altitude sickness. Starting from Helambu and walking to Gosainkunda is a long uphill drag that also invites altitude problems.

  • Difficulty: Moderate. The trail climbs quite rapidly so there is a risk of AMS.
  • Trek Duration: Minimum eight days depending on route options.
  • Max. Elevation: 4610m
  • Accommodation: Fairly simple trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi/Dhunche or Sundarijal

Helambu Trek

Helambu Trek

The closest trek to Kathmandu (it starts literally from the northern outskirts) takes walkers on a fairly gentle amble through terraced fields, wild forests, flower meadows and through lots of little villages with views of the mountains never far away. Despite proximity to Kathmandu, the heyday of this once very popular trek seems to have passed and today the trails of Helambu are fairly quiet. Although you can make an enjoyable week long circuit (a good option for those with little time and/or trekking experience) most people chose to use Helambu either as a walk in or out route to Gosainkunda and the Langtang valley. The highest point reached on this trek is 3640m so it can be done as a mid-winter trek when higher routes might be snowed in.

  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.
  • Trek Duration: Seven days but a growing network of roads means you can cut the trek short at a number of points and bus back to Kathmandu.
  • Max. Elevation: 3640m
  • Accommodation: Fairly simple trekking lodges.

Tamang Heritage Trail

The Tamang Heritage Trail is a bit different to most other Nepalese mountain treks. The route has been designed as much to highlight the culture of the Tamang people who live in this region than for mountain scenery. It’s a real community project with money generated from trekkers going into local development projects and trekkers being hosted at night by local families in village houses. It’s quite likely that at some point along the trail you will be entertained with traditional dance, local food and lots of talking story. The trail starts from Syabrubesi and is a five to six-day loop to the northwest of the town close to the border of Tibet.  Aside from the pleasure of the homestay experience, the highlights are the pretty Tamang village of Gatlang, the hot springs at Tatopani and the fine mountain views over the Ganesh and Langtang range from Nagthali Ghyang. The highest altitude reached is 3300m so this is a good mid-winter trek when higher routes might be snowed in and it suits those with limited time.

The Tamang Heritage Trail is very easily combined with the classic Langtang Valley trek and for those with more time, it’s possible to add in Gosainkunda and the Helambu treks to make for a truly rewarding three weeks hiking.

The Tamang Heritage Trail is better done with a local guide as part of an at least semi-organized trek (in other words with the guide and a porter or two).

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
  • Trek Duration: Five to six days.
  • Max. Elevation: 3300m
  • Accommodation: Homestays.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi

Ganj La Trek

The most challenging, and dangerous, trek by far in the Langtang region is the crossing of the high (5106m) Ganj La pass which links Kyanjin Gompa at the head of the Langtang valley with Tarke Ghyang on the Helambu Circuit. This is not a trek to be taken lightly and it should only be attempted by very experienced trekkers with mountaineering experience and a good support team. You will need camping equipment, a guide who knows the route well, ropes, ice-axes and crampons. There are no facilities along the route. Note that the pass is, at best, only open between October and November and March-May but even during these months it’s more often than not snow-bound and impassable. Make sure you have a back-up plan in-case the pass is closed. Avalanches are a very serious risk on the approach to and from the pass. Trekkers have died attempting this route in the past and today it’s very rarely tackled.

  • Difficulty: Very strenuous and dangerous.
  • Trek Duration: Four days from Kyanjin Gompa.
  • Max. Elevation: 5106m
  • Accommodation: Camping only.
  • Start/End Point: Kyanjin Gompa/Tarke Ghyang

  • Author: Stuart Butler
  • Posted on: Monday Aug 17, 2020
Stuart

About Author - Stuart Butler

Stuart Butler is a writer, photographer and guidebook author who has been travelling in and writing about the Himalaya for over twenty-five years. He is the author of the Lonely Planet guidebook: Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, as well as both the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide Nepal guidebooks. He’s also written an online guidebook to trekking in Nepal for Horizon Guides. Elsewhere in the Himalayan regions he’s written guidebooks to Tibetan regions for both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, has updated the Bradt Guidebook to Ladakh & Kashmir and is the author of the forthcoming Bradt Guidebook to Bhutan.

Alongside guidebook work he writes about the Himalaya for an array of international publications including Geographical magazine, I newspaper (UK), National newspaper (UAE)Sierra magazine (USA), and various in-flight magazines. His stories have covered everything from the yarsagumba trade to the environmental policies of Bhutan, trekking in Nepal and searching for yetis in Tibet.

His other region of speciality is East Africa where he has worked on projects with numerous conservation and safari groups. When not in the Himalaya, Stuart is based at the foot of the gorgeous Pyrenees mountains in southwest France with his wife and two young children. His website is www.stuartbutlerjournalist.com.

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