Tamang Heritage Trail
The Tamang Heritage Trail is a trekking route that consists of a loop on the western edge of Langtang National Park. The route passes through Tamang villages where one has the opportunity to see and experience Tamang village life as well as enjoy the views of surrounding mountains like Langtang Lirung and Ganesh Himal. The Tamang people are mainly buddhist and many residents in the region are of Tibetan descent. The region was severely affected by the earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 and some villages still suffer from the consequences. To the current day, the Tamang Heritage Trail experiences much less tourists compared to the years before 2015, mainly attributed to the fact that the hot springs in Tatopani- a former site of pilgrimage- were destroyed. Many villagers that used to run guesthouses or worked as guides or porters are now workless and still struggling to rebuild their homes. Please keep the local villagers' situation in mind when deciding to hike the Tamang Heritage Trail and don't be tempted to compare it to the nearby Langtang Trek that saw thousands of tourists return since 2015.
1. TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management Systems)
Everyone who wants to go trekking in Nepal is legally subjected to obtain a TIMS card- whether you're intending to travel in a group or individually. Although it is (at least theoretically) possible to organise your TIMS card once you get to the entrance of the Tamang Heritage Trail, it is highly advisable to get it before heading into the region. As you are most likely to travel to the Langtang Area from Kathmandu, the Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu would be the easiest place for getting it. It comes at the cost of 2000 Nepalese Rupees and you'll require your passport and two spare passport photos to apply for it. TIMS cards are checked frequently- at least twice during your trip: When entering and leaving Shyabru Besi, if taking the bus past Dhunche, you will encounter another checkpoint there- so it is not advisable to try and save money on this permit (not to mention that it is intended to increase trekkers' safety).
Although the Tamang Heritage Trail is inside of the Langtang (Trekking) Area (an informal term that basically refers to all treks in the region), it is not exactly inside of the Langtang National Park (not completely, at least). Depending on your individual itinerary, it is most likely that you will require a permit for the Langtang National Park which (since October 2018) comes at the cost of 3000 Nepalese Rupees. As with the TIMS card, whether you get it beforehand or when reaching the region should theoretically make no difference, but organising everything in Kathmandu is the preferable option. The only way you could be getting around this is to finish your trek after descending from Thuman, following the main road from Tibet back to Shyabru. By doing so, you would miss out on some beautiful villages and views as well as a rather flat connection to the Langtang Trek but see itinerary below for more details.
Money is a matter that should be planned ahead on this trek, as the last option to withdrawal any from an ATM is at Syabrubesi. Depending on how many tea breaks and meals per day you are planning, daily cost can vary greatly between trekkers. 1500+ Nepalese Rupees per day should be your absolute minimum when opting for three meals per day. Unlike on the nearby Langtang Trek, asking for a free room in return for eating at least two meals at the guesthouse should only be practiced when on a really tight budget, as villages along the Tamang Heritage Trail often see no more than 2-5 trekkers per day and are still recovering from the earthquake. Room prices usually range from 200 to 500 NR for a double room and can be generally labelled as fair. Use common sense and try not to take advantage of the local people that were struck by destiny in 2015.
Finding your way on the Tamang Heritage Trail is generally a doable task if owning an appropriate map and willing to ask locals every now and then (or accepting a detour of uncertain length). Nonetheless, it can often be helpful to go with someone actually KNOWING the way, especially if unaccustomed to treks of this kind and intensity. Guides and porters to help out in situations like this can be hired from almost everwhere (your desk at home to every single village on the trek)- depending on your trust, budget and willingness to support local communities. In general, it can be said that services hired through agencies in Kathmandu or booked and prepaid from websites tend to work with staff which they bring into the trekking area from the city their office is in (there are some exceptions, of course). This mode of hire is understandably popular among travelers from foreign countries, as it offers the chance to personally get to know your guide before signing up to trek with him for about a week (or more) and payments can often be handled by credit card conveniently, but it leaves many local guides jobless.
Already by choosing to trek the Tamang Heritage Trail you support people from the area you are visiting, but if you want to increase your impact on their difficult financial situation, consider going with local guides and porters. There are already many independent guides offering their services on self-made websites in English, so if you are willing to organize everything by email and pay cash at the end of your trip, you can have an authentic guiding experience with someone who was actually born and raised in the Langtang area at comparable or lower cost to the bigger agencies in Kathmandu. All it takes is a little well-spent trust.
Buses to the area run from Machha Pokhari bus stop in Kathmandu (5-10 minutes drive to the North-West of Thamel) in the early morning at 5:30 and 6:30 and 7:00. The bus costs 600 NPR (as of April/2019) and no matter which option (Tourist bus or local bus) you choose, your trip will take around 7 hours, including a lunch break near Trishuli about mid way. Jeeps can be hired for a substantially higher price but can bring your trip down to 5 hours.
As always, there are multiple options for doing this Trek. The following itinerary is a typical example a tour guide would recommend to ensure a doable pace as well as some spare time in the afternoon to explore the villages every day. After all, this trek is not only about the views, but also a lot about the cultural richness of the area.
The Trek starts with a rather long and steep ascent up a ridge from Syabrubesi. From the top of the ridge there is the option of taking a side trip to a fairly new and therefore still very colourful Stupa with views of the nearby Langtang Lirung (plan 30 minutes return, leave your backpacks at the foot of the little hill). After a short descent into the village of Goljung (a good spot for a lunch break), the rest of the walk to Gatlang is rather flat. Gatlang is a typical Tamang village set high on a hillside overlooking terraced fields, but it was severely damaged during the 2015 earthquake and a lot of traditional architecture was replaced by modern means of construction like tin roofing. Although Gatlang might no longer be the most beautiful village along this trek due to this fact, one can still visit a Tamang traditional monastery and the Parvatikunda Lake at Gatlang.
From Gatlang you first make your way downhill and past some stupas made of grey rock until you rejoin the river at the bottom of the valley. From Chilime you will start another long and steady ascent with possible views of the Langtang Range and Ganesh Himal along the way. Tatopani literally translates into ‘hot water’, but since the April 2015 earthquake the hot springs in Tatopani are no longer accessible. Due to this fact, the entire Tamang Heritage Trail stayed rather quiet since the earthquake and many villagers of the region are still facing problems with rebuilding their homes, while their neighbours along the nearby Langtang Trek experienced a new rise in numbers of tourists visiting over the past years. Tatopani is a very small village compared to Gatlang.
This day starts with about one and a half hours of ascent to Nagthali via Bimthang. On the route, you can encounter animals like monkeys and deer if you are lucky. Nagthali is the start of a popular side trip to a panoramic view point of the peaks of Langtang Lirung, Kerung and Ganesh Himal. It is also the highest village along the trek consisting of only a few houses. It is advisable to leave your backpacks in Nagthali when going higher up to the view point and consider having lunch there before descending to Thuman. The descent is steep but short (in time) and Thuman is one of the most beautiful traditional Tamang villages along this trek. Damages from the earthquake were mostly rebuilt according to the traditional architecture and the villages' narrow lanes invite for some evening exploration. Thuman is also popular for its Shamanic performances and beautiful views of the mountains from (nearly) every house.
This day starts with another fairly steep descent through a rhododendron forest down to the highway connecting Kathmandu to Tibet. The highway is currently under construction and will soon be a major factor for business between Nepal and China, making the entire area more accessible (it is supposed to shorten the bus trip from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi by at least two hours, too). The Tamang Heritage Trail used to take a loop to Timure from Thuman, bringing you fairly close to the border with China (many maps still show this loop as a part of the main trail, so don't be mistaken)- according to locals, pressure from Chinese authorities led to a change of the trail in recent years. From Lingling stone steps will take you back up to Briddim past many traditional houses. Briddim is a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist village that is much smaller than Thuman, but quite comparable when it comes to efforts undertaken to rebuild damaged structures according to old plans. Most of the houses are made up of stone and have roofs of splitshake. Briddhim features some water driven prayer wheels and is starting point for some short side trips to mountain view points. Ask locals for directions.
The first part of the trail offers nice panoramic views and shade from surrounding trees. The path is broad and remains gradually downhill until Kanjhim. From there it is a short but steep descent down to Syabrubesi (1600m).
Hiking the Tamang Heritage Trail first is a great option to experience some Tamang culture and acclimatise for the ascent to Kyanjin Gumba. After walking to Kanjhim, the trail along the mountain ridge continues for about two and a half hours to Sherpagaon, the first village with guest houses on the Langtang Trek. Continue for as long as you want, acclimatisation should no longer be a problem on this trek.
These same rules as on almost all other treks in Nepal apply: