The region north of Kathmandu offers a multitude of trekking destinations, all accessible without flights. The three major areas are Langtang, Gosainkund and Helambu, which can be combined in many different ways to make treks from seven to 16 days long. Langtang is a narrow valley that lies just south of the Tibetan border. It is sandwiched between the main Himalayan range to the north and a slightly lower range of snowy peaks to the south. Langtang Lirung (7246 metres) dominates the valley to the north; Gang Chhenpo (6388 metres) and Naya Kangri (5846 metres) lie to the south; and Dorje Lakpa (6966 metres) protects the east end of the valley. The area was designated Nepal's first Himalayan national park in 1971.
This high and isolated region is inhabited by Tamangs whose religious practices, language and dress are much more similar to those of Tibet than to the traditions of their cousins in the Middle Hills. A visit to the Langtang Valley offers an opportunity to explore villages, to climb small peaks and to visit glaciers at a comfortably low elevation. According to legend, a lama following a runaway yak discovered the valley. Hence the name - lang is Tibetan for "yak" and teng (more correctly dhang) means "to follow". Yaks still live in the valley, but they now share it with trekkers who make a seven to 11-day round trip from Kathmandu. Because there are good opportunities for moderate climbing excursions here, you should allow a few extra days for exploration of the extensive glacier system.
You can vary the trek to Langtang by returning to Kathmandu via the holy lakes of Gosainkund at 4300 metres, or you can make a short trek from Dhunche to Gosainkund. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit the lakes during a full moon festival in August. The lake is also sacred to Buddhists.
Helambu, about 75 km north of Kathmandu, is an area inhabited by Sherpas. You can include Helambu in a Langtang trek, either via Gosainkund or across the 5106-metre Ganja La. In winter, both of the high routes from Langtang are usually snow- covered and dangerous, difficult or impossible. The Helambu trek is popular because it is short, stays below 3500 metres and is feasible all winter. It is an easy trek to organise because transport from Kathmandu to Sundarijal, the starting point of the trek, is readily available and inexpensive.
The language, culture and dress of the Helambu Sherpas are very different from the Solu Khumbu Sherpas. The accessibility of Helambu has created an influx of tourists who have encouraged begging, the sale of "genuine antiques" aged over the family fireplace, and several incidents of thievery. It takes eight days to trek from Kathmandu to Helambu and back, or 12 to 14 days to include both Langtang and Helambu in a single trek without any backtracking.