LANGTANG HELAMBU TREKKING

HELAMBU (or Helmu) is great for short treks: access from Kathmandu is easy, and an extensive trail network enables you to tailor a circuit to your schedule. The area spans a wide elevation range – there’s a lot of up-and-down – but the highest point reached is only 2700–3200m (depending on route), so acclimatization is rarely a problem. Winter treks are particularly feasible. The peaks of Langtang Himal are often visible, but the views aren’t as close-up as in other areas.
 
Helambu was once considered a hidden, sacred domain, and its misty ridges and fertile valleys are still comparatively isolated; relatively few people trek here, and with so many trails to choose from, those that do tend to spread themselves out. Helambu’s people call themselves Sherpa, although they’re only distant cousins of the Solu-Khumbu stock. Tamangs are also numerous, while the valley bottoms are farmed mainly by caste Hindus.
 
Sundarijal, a taxi or local bus ride from Kathmandu, is the most common starting point, but alternative trailheads include Sankhu, Kakani and Nagarkot. To get deeper into the hills faster, take the Arniko Highway to Banepa or Dhulikhel, and change to one of the fairly frequent buses for Melamchi Bazaar; rough roads head up from here towards both Thimbu and Sermathang, but are frequently blocked, so transport all the way is not assured.
 
Most trekkers make a five- to seven-day, typically clockwise loop around two main ridges on either side of the Melamchi Khola, staying high – and avoiding the mega water-diversion Melamchi Project under construction in the valley. The walk in follows the Gosainkund trek, rising and falling from Sundarijal through the Shivapuri National Park to Chisapani, then climbing to Khutumsang and Tharepati. From here, the circuit breaks east, taking in the fine villages of Melamchigaon, Tarkeghyang and Sermathang. The walk between the latter two is somewhat shadowed by a new, rough road, but is otherwise very rewarding, passing picturesque monasteries and contouring through forests of oak, rhododendron and lokta, whose bark is used to make traditional paper. From Sermathang, you can continue down the ridge towards Melamchi Bazaar, though jeeps (and soon, buses) are available. From Tarkheghyang, the faster alternative is to take a side trail down to the Melamchi Khola and Melamchi road at Thimbu (or, failing that, an hour or so below Thimbu) where you can pick up a jeep down to Melamchi Bazaar. Countless other trails strike west and east to villages that see few trekkers.
 
Gosainkund can be reached from Helambu by a long, high, rugged route from Tharepati, via the Laurabina La. The higher, still tougher alternative route to Langtang heads north from Tarkeghyang over the Kangja La (5130m), a serious three-day traverse for which you’ll need a tent, food, crampons and ice axe (it may be impassable between Dec and March). From Tarkeghyang, lesser trails cut across the Indrawati basin and over to Panch Pokahri (3800m), a set of lakes two or three days to the east, and from there you could continue south to the Chautara road, which joins the Arniko Highway just above Dolalghat.