Saturday, 29 October 2011

The people of the Langtang Valley

An unexpected but fascinating aspect of the Langtang and Gosainkund trek was the opportunity to meet some of the people who forge a life in the Himalayas. Tourism has brought great opportunities for employment where before there was only limited subsistence farming, but many people seem to continue to live much as they always have, growing their own vegetables on small plots of land and keeping a few yaks and chickens. The village of Langtang exists above and beyond providing services to trekkers and we felt privileged to have an opportunity just to walk through this traditional Tibetan village at about 3500 metres.
Langtang Village
The stone houses have intricately carved wooden doors (however hard life may be, there always seems to be time to make things look pretty!) and the meadows were full of women and children gathering hay. Yaks are used for ploughing, and Dyzopkus (yak-cow crosses) are kept for milk, butter and cheese. There is even a high altitude cheese factory set up with Swiss assistance that exports 7000 kg of yak cheese a year to Kathmandu!
The village of Langtang is entirely Tibetan although most people have never had the opportunity to visit Tibet. The Tibetan border is in sight- it follows the summits of the mountains at the head of the valley. The people here are 1 or 2 generations separated from Tibetan exiles from the Chinese invasion of the 50's. The Tibetan religion, dress and way of life are for the most part preserved here. Paths are lined with water powered prayer wheels, every pass is draped in colourful prayer flags and there are buddhist stone carvings, monuments and monasteries.
Kyanjin Gompa- monastery in the Langtang Valley
It is only in the younger generation (who mostly study in Kathmandu) that the Tibetan culture has started to be diluted with western clothes and tastes- one young girl we met only speaks Tibetan to her parents, loves the X men and Justin Bieber and wants to be a businesswoman when she grows up. 
Langtang village is over 2 days walk from the nearest road- and it's not an easy walk with over 2500 metres to climb! Everything that cannot be produced is brought in by porters. The loads we saw being carried in varied from 2 sacks of rice weighing 60kg, to a mattress or even a single large plank of wood. Unfortunately a lot of completely unnecessary things are also carried in for the benefit of trekkers- like glass bottles of beer, plastic bottles of water, tins of fruit cocktail, snickers bars and pringles. Porters are not paid to carry rubbish back out so there are lots of environmental issues with this- but that's for a different post!
There are of course very limited medical facilities up in the valley- it's a long walk to a hospital. While we were staying a 20 day old baby was brought back home after being born in the lowlands. She was bundled up in a basket on the back of a mule for the journey.
Another issue is education. Most of the people we met have managed to establish international sponsors who help pay for boarding school fees for their children in Kathmandu. Although this splits up families it gives much greater opportunites, and if the fees can't be paid then education is extremely limited. One lodge owner we met is desperate to find a sponsor so he can send his son to school- if anyone is interested in helping then get in touch with us! The fees are about 800 Euro a year.
This boy wants to go to school!
As we descended from the high mountain valleys to the foothills the culture changed from Tibetan Buddhists to Nepalese Hindus, and it was really interesting to see the transition in the villages we walked through on our return to Kathmandu.

Nepali girl

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