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