Lantang Valley Festival, Nepal

On April 25, 2015 Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake. The Lantang valley is located in the north of Nepal, close to the border with Tibet, and was one of the worst affected regions. Tremors caused initial damage, but more devastating were the avalanches that followed the earthquake and buried much of Lantang Village. Parts of the hanging glaciers on the steep flanks of the Langtang Lirung and Langtang II peaks broke loose, and slipped down the mountain sides. Over 300 people were killed and around one hundred never found.

Outside magazine published an article in 2015 by Anna Callaghan and Rabi Thapi about the destructive impact of the earthquake in Lantang valley. This touching article can be found online and has stories by survivors and image material.

I visited the Lantang Valley in September 2011 when hiking from Syabrubesi (1,462m) near Dunche (1,950m) along the Lantang River into Lantang National Park. When I entered Lantang one of the main annual festivals occurred in the valley.

Dunche can be reached by bus or shared jeeps from Kathmandu. On my way back I returned on foot via the sacred Gosaikunda lakes (4,381m) where I crossed the Lauribinayak pass (4,610m) and connected to the Helambu trekking route. This is a beautiful alternative route to walk all the way back to Sundarijal (1,300m) at the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. It passes many small villages and farmed hillsides. At the end of my return route via Sundarijal I also easily found a local bus back to Kathmandu (1,350m). Many hikers also undertake this trek in the opposite way, and start in Kathmandu to go via Helambu to Gosaikunda, before entering Lantang.

Because the festival occurred when passing through Lantang, I was incredibly lucky to experience the beauty and serenity of the valley, its lively communities and traditions. People from the villages in the valley walk during the festival week in small groups up to Lantang village and beyond to a sacred site. The festival is a wonderful expression of intangible heritage in Nepal.

I tried to capture the feeling of the valley during this festival by compiling a couple of the video clips that were made in 2011. I opted for a contemplative mood in the video, to reflect on the contrast between the sadness of the earthquake, with the beauty and tranquility in the valley, and the living traditions of its inhabitants.

The people walk for several days through the valley passed Lantang village (3,500m) and to Kyanjing Gompa (3,800m). It is a magic scenery as you are surrounded by steep mountain flanks with the highest peaks of the Lantang Himal going up to 7,234 m (23,734 ft).In the video the flags on the summit of Tsergo Ri (5,088 m) are shown, with cloudy views to nearby peaks. The peak can be reached in a from Kyanjing Gompa. In the lower areas of the valley the vegetation is still lush and you pass beautiful forested areas. As you ascend the landscape becomes more open.

Every day the locals walk from village to village, with more and more people joining the groups. They sing, dance, celebrate, eat and drink, as they make their way up the valley. There were only around ten foreign visitors in the valley that week, as it was still the last weeks of the monsoon period, and limited number of foreigners explore such trekking routes during the monsoon months.

When the villagers finally arrive at Kyanjing Gompa, after a few days walking, they celebrate and dance all afternoon and evening. The next day in the early morning the hundreds of people make together their way up to the end of the valley to Langshisa Kharka at about 4,080 m altitude. People arrive around mid-day at Langshisa Kharka and the rest of the day celebrations take place.

At Langshisa Kharka a large sacred rock sits on the edge of the river, and everyone climbs the rock as part of the celebrations. The party continues throughout the night with plenty alcohol consumed to keep everyone warm. People spend the night under a large temporary shelter, crowding closely together to keep warm. The next morning everyone slowly starts on their return journey down the valley and back to their homes and villages.

Lantang Valley has slowly started to recover from the destruction caused by the 2015 earthquake, and visitors are again starting to undertake treks into the valley. Many of the facilities and accommodations were damaged or destroyed, but when you have the chance, do go to Lantang Valley, as the place and amazing people will not disappoint you, and they can use all the possible support from visitors to slowly rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

Text, video and photography by Jan Haenraets

Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada

After the Earthquake, Gorkha, Nepal

The Gorkha District in Nepal is located to the east of Kathmandu and historically is most important within the context of the creation of modern Nepal. It is here that the Shah Dynasty had its Royal stronghold and Palace and from where Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775), King of the Gurkha Kingdom, created a unified Nepal, becoming its first King.

The old royal palace, locally referred to as the Gorkha Durbar, is located in the town of Gorkha on top of the hill behind the town. It takes about 1,600-1,700 steps to climb from the town’s Bazaar to the Durbar, which is located at about 1,000 meter altitude (3281 ft.).

The view from the Gorkha Durbar is spectacular on clear days, and overlooks the town of Gorkha and adjacent valley and hills, and towards the other side of the ridge, to the Manaslu mountain range. Manasalu Himal (Mount Manasalu, or ‘mountain of the spirit) is with its 8,163 metres (26,781 ft) the eight highest mountain in the world. To its west views can extend to the Dhaulagiri (8,167 m, 26,795 ft) and Annapurna (8,091 m, 26,545 ft), and to the east to the Lantang Himal (highest peak 7,234 m, 23,734 ft).

The Nepal earthquake of 25 April 2015 (11:56 Nepal Standard Time) had its epicentre in the town of Barpak in the Gorkha District, about 45 km (28 mi) away from Gorkha Bazaar, and 65 km (40 mi) east of Kathmandu. The villages in the Gorkha District were badly damaged by the earthquake, with huge loss of lives. Many aid organisations continue to be active in the region, with the rebuilding of facilities, livelihoods and communities taking many more years.

 

The village of Gorkha already had many newer buildings and as a result the earthquake damage was somewhat restricted. Damaged structures and buildings can still be spotted in the town, including at the Gorkha Durbar on the hill, where in 2016 still major conservation repairs and rebuilding works were ongoing.

In the more remote villages around Gorkha and in the wider District, the earthquake caused more destruction. Photographs of Barpak village before and after the earthquake went around the world, and showed how almost the whole village was levelled. In small villages near the town of Gorkha, such as in Nareswor village, the ruined structures can still be observed, with many collapsed and abandoned houses, and temporary shelters being erected.

One year after the earthquake, at the start of the monsoon rain season, the villagers were hard at work with the planting of the rice paddies. The preparation of the fields, and the planting of the rice, on the steep rice terraces here in the Himalayas, is very hard labour. After all the setbacks of the past year, it is inspiring to see the togetherness of these communities while planting the rice paddies and repairing the hydrology systems for these fields.

Life somehow has to go on. Generation after generation they have planted these fields. There is no alternative. The fresh green of the recently planted rice paddies is one of the most beautiful colours there is to me. It is a colour of rebirth, a colour of hope. The hope for a good produce. The hope for a better and easier year.

Nature has not been kind on these communities this past year. It felt like a lesson in gratitude to see the smiles on the faces of the people of the Gorkha District, as they were working from sunrise to sunset during this planting season. Was it the happiness in their hearts, the happiness to be able to live, to survive, to breath the air of this stupendesly beautiful environment?

Nature takes, and nature gives. In Gorkha it has been a year of extreme taking and giving.

Text and  photography by Jan Haenraets

Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada

 

Winter in the Forest: Boulder Park in Chester-Blandford State Park, MA, USA

I stumbled upon this hidden treasure after one of the first snowy days of the winter in Eastern Massachusetts. Boulder Park is a small easily accessible early twentieth century recreational park. It is located in the Chester-Blandford State Forest, in the scenic Berkshire Hills of New England, USA.

In this beautiful forested landscape the mystical Boulder Park offers glacial history together with a fine example of 1930s Park Rustic recreational facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). On this cold day it allowed for a scenic, icy and educational moment, with a couple of contemplative photo opportunities.

The  Chester-Blandford State Forest is located along the historic Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway (US Rte. 20) in the eastern Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The Berkshires is a mountain range that falls within Massachusetts and Connecticut. They sit within the Northeastern Appalachian mountains (“The Appalachians”).

Many of the  features in the Chester-Blandford State Forest were created by the CCC during the early twentieth century Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed Boulder Park from 1934 to 1936 as a day-use facility. Built features were constructed in the Park Rustic style of the  National Park Service, which is a style that was developed in the 1920s by the landscape architect Daniel Ray Hull. For Park Rustic structures local materials were used, with the intention to retain the natural scenic qualities of the diverse parks.

At Boulder Park the Park Rustic features and structures were built in the 1930s with the intent to facilitate day-use recreation. Main structures include: a pavilion, stone walls and stone stairs, a system of stream, two pedestrian bridges,  and a wellhead. At one end of the recreational area, at the upper trail, the CCC built an earthen dam to create an outdoor swimming pond. The pond now has evolved into a charming naturalised feature.

Nearby the swimming pond the CCC also constructed a rustic gazebo and a bathhouse. The gazebo appeared to have collapsed (if this indeed was the former gazebo). The bathhouse used to function as changing rooms and now also was in disuse and poorly maintained. Hopefully these features will receive appropriate preservation attention in due course.

Boulder Park is located close to the small town of Chester, which once was known for small mines that produced mica, emery and corundum. Boulder Park derives its name from the glacial rock drifts that can be found here. These scenic rock drifts were deposited by glaciers around 15,000 to 18,000 years ago. The Boulder Park Trails allow visitors to take a short walk along this geological phenomena. The large boulders, which include beautiful white marble ones, are called “erratics”, and can be found in this woodland of  Eastern Hemlocks.

Glacial erratics are rocks that are different in size and type from the local native rocks found in an area. They may have drifted along in glaciers for hundreds of kilometers. These erratics are fascinating as they can help establish the paths of these glaciers. At Boulder Park there are interpretative sign that briefly illustrate and explain the history of the park and the geology. Various photographs of Boulder Park and its historic features, in better weather circumstances, can also be found on LocationReservoir.

For those interested in hiking, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the famous “A.T.“,  crosses Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway near the town of Lee. This is some miles further west from Boulder Park. At this time of year the A.T. seems abandoned in these cold hills, and the wildlife takes over, with only their footsteps marking the path of the A.T. trail.

Text and  photography by Jan Haenraets

 Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada

 

Useful Information, maps and reference sources:

The  Chester-Blandford State Forest – Massachusetts Government

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Work in Massachusetts Forests and Parks – Massachusetts Government

Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy

The Appalachian Trail – National Park Service

The Appalachian Trail Map – Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation