ONLY 34 MILES north of Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu lies Langtang Valley, the first region Westerners explored beyond the Kathmandu Valley, in 1949, the same year the Nepali government loosened its strict isolationist policies that had left the country virtually untouched. The expedition was led by British mountaineer and explorer HW (Bill) Tilman, accompanied by a botanist and a geologist as well as Tenzing Norgay, the man who would summit Mount Everest one year later with Sir Edmund Hillary.
Tilman wrote of Langtang in his book Nepal Himalaya and called it a “fine, open valley, rich in flowers and grass, and flanked by great mountains…” More than 50 years later, the valley maintains its allure, in part because it’s a less-traveled destination than the Annapurna and Everest regions.
The peaks of Langtang are visible from Kathmandu on a clear day, and after months of staring at them from an office in the noisy, chaotic city, I could no longer resist the magnetism of the snowy cathedrals. With two friends who were visiting from home, I boarded a bus that slowly began to pick its way along the twisting roads out of the Kathmandu Valley. The bus was filled with locals making their way back to villages — their goats shoved, bleating, onto the roof — and it sported a red, velvet-lined interior bedazzled with shiny metal hearts on the ceiling. A sticker of Che was plastered to a front panel of the inside of the bus; the revolutionary stared moodily at the passengers as Nepali and Hindi love songs wafted through the cabin.
Over the course of the journey, the bus acquired a flat tire and performed some dubious but impressive cliffside off-roading in places where landslides had pushed away previous roads. Nearly 10 hours after departure, we had safely reached Syabrubesi, the traditional starting point for journeys up into the Langtang Valley.