Note: since 2019 there is a race along part of this route!! See Gosaikunda to Helambu Trail Race for map and GPS tracks.
Our decision to walk from Dhunche to Kathmandu over the Tihar weekend was based partly on aesthetics and partly on pragmatism. Aside from the undeniable beauty of the Gosaikunda lakes and the spectacular views of Langtang the route has various logistical advantages. For one it is accessible within a four-hour drive from Kathmandu which is always useful when most domestic flights are being cancelled. For another it is doable in 3-4 days (at a brisk walk) and so can be fitted into a long weekend. The following is brief account of our trip which might be of use to anyone wanting up to date information on the route to do a fastpack run or a hike as we did.
Day 1 (Thursday): Breakfast in KTM. Drove in a jeep to Dhunche (please don’t ask how much we had to pay for a jeep). Arrived 3pm and started walking. Initially we intended to walk for a couple of hours in order to help with acclimatising and time us more of a time cushion. We were soon regretting this idea when both Deurali and Dimsa proved to be unoccupied (there were some lodges standing but none were open). After a couple of hours of walking in the dark and some disconcerting animal noises, just when had resigned ourselves to a very cold night in a cow shed, we stumbled upon the Red Panda lodge in Shin Gompa. Never has the cocktail of a smoky fire, hot dahl bhat and soft bed seems so appealing.
Day 2 (Friday): Early start with lots of climbing. By lunchtime we were over the first pass at 4165m. Rather unhelpfully Map House had marked the Gosaikunda lakes at 3480 (instead of 4380) which meant we were falsely anticipating an additional 1000m of descent and ascent between the passes. I was persuaded to join some Germans in one of the coldest swims of my life after which we recovered by having a scenic lunch by the lake. After that we were quickly over the 4610m Laurebina pass. We had optimistically anticipated picking up the pace on the descent but the terrain proved challenging (and our legs were pretty shakey) so we opted to stop in Phedi.
Day 3 (Saturday): There had been clear evidence of earthquake damage throughout the route but from Phedi this became much starker. Most settlements were largely destroyed with just the occasional tea house that had been rebuilt. The trail too was badly affected with several major, yet not insurmountable landslides. In most cases previous guides had generously marked out the most accessible routes. A short distance after Thadepathi the route had detoured over (rather than around) a small hill due to a massive landslide although this too was fortunately well marked. Another 8-9 hour day took us to Kutumsang where there were 2 or 3 lodges in various states of reconstruction.
Day 4 (Sunday): Needing to be in KTM by mid-afternoon we set off early. The route actually became slightly harder to follow and we entered more populated areas. Each village seemed more damaged than the last as we made our way through Chipling and down to Chisapani. The final push was over Borlang Bhanyang and then down the never ending steps to Sundarijal. We were relieved to find a half empty bus heading for KTM. After 1 hour, 5km and about 60 people perching on the bus our relief turned to frustration and then abject terror (at several points I was convinced we were about to tip).
As anyone who has ever been lucky enough to walk it can testify this is a stunning route. The great views north into Langtang and beautiful lakes are hard to beat and it benefits from the ease of access. Although some guides will list it as a 6-7 day walk it can be done in 3-5 and doesn’t require long drives or flights. Due to what looks like some hard work by locals the trail is definitely walkable (although obviously requires the usual care and precautions). There are certainly fewer occupied villages and tea-houses/lodges along the way but there are still enough to be comfortable. Many locals complained about the dearth of visitors and the Spring season is likely to be crucial in determining how much reinvestment returns to the region.