Langtang is one of the most unspoiled national parks of Nepal. Situated North of Kathmandu, it is the most easily accessible highland sanctuary from the capital. Langtang covers 1,710 sq. km. forming the upper catchment areas of two of Nepal's largest river systems - the Trishuli and Koshi. There is great latitudinal variation, starting at 1,500 m. and ascending to the top of Mt. Langtang Lirung at 7,234 m. As a result the park has immense ecological diversity. Some of the most attractive areas of the park include the Langtang Valley, the holy lakes at Gosainkunda, and the forested hillsides above the village of Helambu.
The deep gorges of Bhote Koshi and Langtang Khola are thickly forested with rhododendron, oak, maple and alder. The stretch of forest around Ghoda Tabela in the lower Langtang Valley and below Gosainkunda is inhabited by the red panda, a rare and threatened symbol of a healthy Himalayan ecosystem. Other animals, common to these forests are wild boar, Himalayan black bear, ghoral, grey langur monkey and leopard. The rare Himalayan hony guide has been sighted here and the park is also the home for Impeyan, Tragopan and kalij pheasants among others. Larch, a rare deciduous conifer, is also found in the forest of lower Langtang Valley. Further up, Himalayan tahr, musk deer and snow leopard can be found. The upper Langtang Valley is one of he few known breeding grounds of the ibils bills besides the Tibetan snow cock and snow partridge.
Like other Himalayan nature parks, Langtang has to be explored on foot. There are several possible trails to choose from depending on preference and time available. The langtang Valley is easily approached from Dhunche town and park office, which is a day's drive from Kathmandu. The upper reaches of Langtang can be reached in four days of easy walking, however, it is advisable to spend a few days around the forest at Ghoda Tabela to watch for the red panda. Once above Langtang village and the monastery at Kyangin, visitors can explore the high valley of Langshisa Yala peak and Tsero, Ri. These and other villages of upper Langtang are inhabited by people of Tibetan descent whereas the villagers of Dhunche, Bharkhu and Syabru further down are home to the Tamangs of Nepal's middle hills.
LNP represents some of the best examples of graded climatic conditions in the central Himalaya. Elevational gradients (ranging from mid-hills to alpine) coupled with complex topography and geology have produced a rich biodiversity.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Sub-tropical vegetation characterized by Sal (Shorea robusta) forest in the southern section of the park is gradually taken over by hill forest (2000-2600m) consisting of Chirpine, Rhododendron, and Nepalese alder. The temperate zone (2600-3000m) is covered mainly by oak forest fading to old growth forest of silver fir, hemlock, and larch in the lower sub-alpine zone (3000-3600m). The Nepalese larch (Larix nepalensis), the only deciduous conifer in the region, is found in this park and few places elsewhere. Throughout these zones different species of Rhododendron such as R. arboretum, R. barbatum, R. campanulatum, and R. lepidotum (scrubs) to name a few, form a colorful under story. Tree species such as birch, silver fir, Sorbus microphyla and twisted Rhododendron campanulatum are found near the tree line. It is here at 4000m Juniper and Rhododendron shrubs (R. anthopogon) slowly dissolve into expansive alpine grassland meadows.
Langtang's expansive high meadows provide summer habitat for numerous ungulate species such as musk deer and Himalayan tahr. The park is also well known for its populations of red panda, Himalayan black bear, snow leopard, wild dog, ghoral, serow and more than 250 species of birds.
The park also offers a rich cultural diversity. The three main ethnic groups in LNP are the Tamang, Yolmo, and Bhotia. Each thought to have originated from Tibet. The cultures are discernible by language, house style, dress ornaments, and customs. The tamangs are traditional framers and cattle herders of the region. Their religion is related to the Bon and pre Buddhists doctrines of Tibet. While the people of langtang valley are mostly bhotias with recent Tibetan origin. Many have intermingled with local tamangs. The yolmo people of the Helambu region are often referred to as “ Sherpa”. However, their language and socio-cultural set up donot resemble the Solukhumbu Sherpa. They are rather more akin to Langtang Bhotias and may also have migrated from the Kyirung area of Tibet. Other hill tribes and castes such as Brahmins, chhetri, newar and gurung inhabit the lower elevational range along the edges of the park.
September through May offers a variety of natural splendors, from lush temperate river valleys with screeching langur to spectacular old growth forest and glacial-craved cliffs rimmed by snow-covered peaks. The weather is also relatively dry except January-February when one may come across snow. Autumn is the best time to visit the Park. By April bursts of red, pink, and while rhododendrons stretch into towering canopies of fir and oak forests. Advent of warm weather makes the Yak and Chauri herds ascend to higher elevation, making occasional camps in the pasturelands, to follow years of tradition. From June to August, skies are heavy with monsoon rains. During August, a lively festival at Gosaikunda Lake attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims and September witnesses spectacular display of wild flowers, while livestock herds, once again, return to lower pastures.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Three main trek routes; 1) Langtang Valley, 2) Helambu and 3) Gosaikunda Lake cover much of the Langtang National park and the southern Helambu region. Langtang and Helambu regions are connected through Lauribina La. All routes have the facilities of locally operated hotel/lodge, teahouse, and campgrounds for groups. The park offers a choice of moderate to more difficult hiking with duration ranging from 3 days to 3 weeks. Lodges operate year round except during the peak winter when the trails are blocked.
Trekkers who take extra time to explore trailside wilderness (e.g. near Ghora Tabela and Kyanjin) hill top view point (Kyanjin), and cultural sites (notably in Langtang village and Melamchighyang. Tarkeghayang and Shemathang) will be well rewarded. One has to be self sustaining to venture remote areas of the Park such as Panch Pokhari (five lakes), east of Helambu, the toe of Langshisa glacier, and upper level valley from Kyanjin: and over the challenging Ganja La pass in upper Langtang Valley.
ACCLIMATIZATION AND SAFETY
High altitude Sickness (HAS) can be life threatening if elevation is gained too rapidly without proper acclimatization. Medical doctors advise against ascending more than 400m a day once above 3000m elevations. Alternatively, one can spend an extra night at 3000m and 3500m before ascending higher.
Over exertion and dehydration contribute to HAS. Drink at least 3-4 litters of water everyday besides tea and coffee which act as diuretics. Watch the health of your companions and porters. Symptoms of HAS are headache, dizziness, trouble in breathing and sleeping, loss of appetite, nausea and general fatigue. If someone develops HAS symptoms, take the person to lower elevation immediately.
The Langtang-Helambu trails are rocky and slippery after rain or frost. Watch out for falling rocks while crossing landslides but do not stop. Never hike alone. Hiring local guides is strongly recommended on Ganja La (5120m) trek and on Lauribina La (4600m) during winter. Carrying a comprehensive first-aid kit is advisable as there are no medical facilities out of Dhunche. Telephone facilities are available at Singh Gompa and at major settlements in Helambu.