Tea House Trekking in Nepal
Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu
We landed in Kathmandu at 10:30pm. I was feeling slightly apprehensive after being told a brief set of instructions for when we exited the airport. ‘Don’t speak to anyone. Hold onto your bags tightly. Head straight for the exit.’ Hugging my duffel bag tight to my body and keeping my head down, I made my way outside. Crowds of locals and queues of taxis were waiting on the airport’s doorstep. They all wanted to help out the newly arrived tourists. Several men offered to assist me in carrying my bag – for a price of course. I couldn’t take a lot in from the drive to our hotel, my brain was too jet-lagged and could only properly grasp the presence of the thick atmosphere. Situated in a bowl-shaped valley which prevents the escape of the fumes, Kathmandu holds the unfortunate title of being the world’s third most polluted city. And you can feel it in the air.
Kathmandu to Dhunche
The hotel we spent our first night in boasted authentic Nepalese architecture which made it look like a Hindu temple. The gardens were my favourite part – outside you could truly appreciate the enchanting tranquillity cast over the place. I would have happily sat out there all day but instead, would be spending the next 7 hours being bounced around in a mini bus and praying not to throw up. Nepal isn’t the easiest place to get around on your own, so we opted for hiring a minibus to take us to Dhunche, instead of braving the infamously crowded public transport. My boyfriend has the extremely irritating talent of being able to fall asleep anywhere and in any situation. Incredibly he slept the whole time our bus precariously made its way along questionable roads for hours on end, whilst I kept my face outside the window in an effort to keep my breakfast down.
In spite of the considerable discomfort, I thoroughly enjoyed driving through Nepal. We drove through countless towns and villages as well as miles upon miles of countryside. It was my first glimpse of the country – passing by homes made from corrugated iron and tarpaulin to its countless rice paddies, and by the end of the day, I was to have filled my phone memory with photos and videos of the journey. It was the early evening when we reached our destination. Dhunche sits on a hillside at the edge of the Langtang National Park, at an altitude of 2030m. We were already higher than the summit of Ben Nevis.
Dhunche to Singh Gumba
It was raining when we set off on our first day of actual trekking. The weather may not have been desirable but the rain had caused the air to clear. Where the day before we could only see cloud and mist, we were now able to catch a glimpse of a distant snow-capped peak. Our first sneak peak of the views to come.
It was a long and tough day, consisting of uphill stretch after uphill stretch. I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but at some point, the rain changed to snow. On our arrival at Singh Gumba, it was falling heavily. It was crazy – just a few days ago I had been sat having breakfast at a hawker stall in Kuala Lumpur in 35-degree heat and now I was 3584m high in the Himalayas sat by a stove with a fleece on and a blanket over me, sipping on a cup of masala chai for warmth.
Spending the night at Singh Gumba may have been desperately cold but it allowed me to witness the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. The whole landscape had been dipped in white, even the sky had taken on the colour, apart from the rose gold light which was fading fast behind a distant peak.
Singh Gumba to Gosaikund
The snow was several inches thick already and today we would be ascending further. I had foolishly thought I wouldn’t be needing any gloves for the trek and was lucky to be able to buy a pair from the tea house – which had been made for a person who apparently had two left hands. It was another long day of trekking. A gradual uphill hike, which was extra drawn out by the effects of increasing altitude. I was breathless and my limbs felt heavy for the majority of the day.
The views brought a whole new definition to the word picturesque. We had seen so little for the first couple of days but now we could see the country at its fullest. We had broken through the cloud of pollution hanging over Kathmandu valley, revealing the majestic beauty of the Himalayas. We were pleasantly greeted by a view of Manaslu, the Annapurnas and Ganesh Himal, as well as distant peaks rooted in Tibet. It was breath-taking.
The steep climb evened out into a slender ridge walk, not even wide enough for two people to walk side by side. In the distance, we could see the tea house, perched at the end of the curving ribbon of path, overlooking the sacred and completely frozen – Gosaikunda Lake. It would be hours before we reached it. I could barely find the energy to keep going for ten minutes at a time. Another group of trekkers were walking along the ridge at the same time and both our group and theirs spent the next couple of hours leapfrogging past one another. They passed us when we sat down, only for us to then do the same when they did so. Later we would all be sat huddled around a stove with these same strangers in the comforts of the tea house, each of us readily equipped with thick woollen blankets and steaming mugs of tea.
I had done some research into tea house trekking before my venture to Nepal. I was aware of the lack of running water, electricity and flushable toilets. One article I had read offered a series of tips and tricks, and one I stand by is the use of ear plugs, this night in particular as the tea house was full of trekkers, and several of them were snorers. As well as this, it was built from slats of wood and every step someone took echoed. A person making their way to the bathroom was signalled by a series of bangs. But, ear plugs in meant world out. Bliss.
Gosaikund to Ghopte Odar
Summit day. Well, the day we reached the highest point of our trek at least. After a cold and early start, involving rapidly jumping out of sleeping bags and into walking trousers and a fleece, we set off. It was an arduous walk, taking a long time and covering very little distance, to reach our highest point. I was feeling very tired on reaching the top, flopping myself onto a seat of rock to catch my breath whilst listening to the flapping of the hundreds of prayer flags behind me.
Several team photos later, we began the long jolting descent down the rocky and unstable paths to the next tea house. Last night was our first night with no hot running water available, now to be the case for the duration of the trek. Due to the plummeting temperatures of the night before, I had opted for a wet wipe shower. Now that we had lost some altitude, logic told me it would be warmer on this night. I braved the bucket shower. The only place available for washing was the toilet – a wooden outhouse attached to the tea house with a hole in the ground. Needless to say, I was astonishingly cold. My body shivered uncontrollably until I was, once again, seated next to the stove with some hot tea.
Ghopte Odar to Melamchi Gaun
It was another knee-wobbling day of hiking down to Melamchi Gaun. We shakily made our way down through rhododendron forests. Completely surrounding us were hundreds of trees, whose tops were stretching far out of sight into the distance. It was only when we broke out of the forest, however, that the landscape really opened up to us. The hillside was ablaze with the deep red of the rhododendron blossoms. Splashes of red amongst an abundance of greenery was then contrasted with the cutting white peaks which were sharply prominent against the backdrop of this gorgeous canvas.
Melamchi Gaun to Tharke Ghyang
We had to cross a valley to reach Tharke Ghyang. A stumbling walk down the hillside brought us to a river, over which we must cross before a climb up to the village. The bridge was long and unstable. It clung precariously to the ground on each side, swaying slightly over the vicious water that thrashed between the huge boulders just a short drop below. We crossed one at a time. It was probably the most nervous I felt during the trip.
I was excited to get to Tharke Ghyang. We had been told it was one of the most attractive villages in the area, the central point of interest being a small monastery, full of character. But when we reached Tharke Ghyang, all that was left of the monastery was a pile of stone bricks. The roof had remained almost entirely intact and sat on top of the ruin. The earthquake which struck Nepal in April 2015 had left its mark across the whole country. We had witnessed damage throughout the trek, but from this point onwards in our adventure, we would see the severity of the disaster, a year after its occurrence.
There was only one tea house in the village and this was the one we were supposed to be staying at. When we walked around the corner to the location, we were met with a sight that made my stomach drop. The tea house had also been completely flattened and left in devastation. The family had erected a small wooden structure containing a few beds which allowed them to host guests. We all tumbled into the one room, but we felt incredibly lucky to have somewhere to stay. My heart reached out to the family that were trying to rebuild their lives. They were as hospitable as ever.
Tharke Ghyang to Serma Thang
The ridge walk round to Serma Thang was expected to present extensive views which stretched into India. Unfortunately, this privilege would not be available to us. A dense wall of cloud had descended, blocking our view of everything but a few feet ahead. This brought with it a new sense of uneasiness as one of the Sherpas told us that just a few weeks before when he was leading another trekking group along this exact path, a tiger stepped out directly in front of them.
When we reached the tea house at Serma Thang I was bubbling with excitement to see what felt like an elaborate and luxurious establishment, with several floors and balconies. Compared with the wood and tarpaulin buildings we had been staying in, this was The Ritz. It was very early in the day when we arrived, too early to even have lunch. My boyfriend and I spent the rest of the day sat in the communal area playing endless games of Rummy, until going to bed at 7:30pm.
Serma Thang to Kathmandu
On this morning we were supposed to trek into Kakani for our last night on the road but we decided to cut the trip a day short and head back to Kathmandu a day early. This also meant we would have an extra day in the capital. I was pretty excited for a hot shower and to wear some nicer clothes than hiking gear.
We rapidly lost a lot of altitude this day, stumbling down paths that led us through several villages. The difference in the settlements as we made our way down was staggering. Higher in the mountains there were a mere two or three houses together, whereas down below there were entire villages and we passed by several schools. The heat was another key factor of the change; we were in the high 20s now.
It was evening by the time we got to Kathmandu. It felt slightly strange for it to be warm after sundown. We were back in the comforting grasps of running water and electricity, meaning Wi-Fi and a hot shower for me. Despite my bucket showers on the trek, it felt as though I was washing a week’s worth of grime from my hair and body. It felt refreshingly good, but there was a bitter aftertaste. There’s no denying that blissful return to the comforts of modern life after a period time away from it all, but even so, I felt sad to be closing my tea house trekking chapter. I had seen so many beautiful sights and my only regret is that I was unable to see more. We ended the trek back in the tranquil gardens of our hotel, accompanied by a victory bottle of Everest beer.
And so my adventure was drawing to a close. For now, at least. My advice to anyone considering a trip to Nepal – do it. If unparalleled views of an incredible landscape and unabated kindness from locals are your things, go to Nepal.