Reflections and images from my travels

Bhutan Trek- Day 1

I am finally back from Annapurna base camp. I had no Internet connection for the last 12 days so I apologize for the paucity of posts. I have a free day today in Kathmandu before I head off tomorrow for Everest base camp. Today is laundry day plus blog day.

Our Bhutan trek actually began on October 24, 2011 after departing from our Thimphu residence we visited the Takin National Preserve. The Takin is Bhutan’s national animal and is a very bizarre one at that.  It is a protected animal in Bhutan. It is so bizarre it apparently has its own taxonomy classification. We were also able to observe some barking deer which have beautiful colorful coats. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of a barking deer.

The interesting Takin

Takin Preserve

After this we went back into Thimphu where we picked up some of Bhutan’s beautiful stamps in order to send postcards back home. They are very colorful and ornate. Some of our group also had personalized customized stamps made up depicting themselves as the royal couple. They are valid for usage for postage. Very humorous.

We then proceeded to drive back to the confluence and began the long and curvaceous drive up towards the village of Haa at 2900 m. The drive was spectacular with precipitous drops and beautiful mountainous scenery. On the way we passed a monastic school which was previously a high-security prison and also stopped to watch the local construction of a house which was of great interest to our custom home builder Gerry. One has to be careful driving on these roads for the trucks barreling down in the opposite direction. One really does require nerves of steel to drive on these narrow roads. We were also able to see some local farmers manually thrashing buckwheat in the fields with beautiful lighting.

Farmers thrashing buckwheat

Just prior to Haa, we turned off onto an unpaved bumpy road to descend to a stream.  Along the way we had to pass a broken down kerosene-fueled truck; this is a common occurrence and often these vehicles are repaired right on the road by the drivers. At this point we got out of the van and decided to hike up to the village of Dorikha (the home village of Tsewang Nidup and Phuntsho). We had been driving all day and really required the exercise in preparation for our upcoming trek. As we approached the village we heard some monks chanting in a residence wishing good luck to the entire valley. We then proceeded to our place of residence for the evening which was the family home of our guide Phuntsho. His family was extremely gracious in hosting us. We were also entertained by the family feline family consisting of mother, father and kitten. The kitten was particularly entertaining. We were able to meet Phuntsho’s elderly father (he fathered 12 children) and had a wonderful dinner prepared for us right on a small metal stove. We all wondered why we have such complicated stoves at home. All of the food was delicious but my particular favourite was the spiced stuffed turnip greens buckwheat dumplings. I do not think I will ever find the recipe but Lord knows I will try. We all then descended into a peaceful slumber in a communal room except for Dave and Bev who had the honeymoon-suite room. This would be our last sleep with a constructed roof over our heads.

Phuntsho's family farmhouse

The next morning we were awoken with a Bhutanese alarm clock which is simply smoking incense. I’m sure Terry who has asthma appreciated this. After a wonderful breakfast including buckwheat pancakes we proceeded to hike up to the home of Tsewang Nidup where monks were holding death rituals for his mother who had passed away the previous spring.  Again we were welcomed graciously into the home and given milk tea but in addition a few of us braved a taste of butter tea which is extremely salty but according to Dave was the best he has ever had. Apparently previously in Nepal he had had a similar beverage with rancid butter. I was able to record some of the monks chanting during the death ritual.

Ornate façade

Buckwheat pancakes hot on the grill

Basic stove cooking

Very playful kitten

Phuntsho's father

Butter tea a cooking

Tsewang's sister

Finally, after saying our thanks we were all packed into two 4x4s to continue a 13 km drive up a very rough road just past Tego La Pass at 3740 m. The drive again was spectacular with wonderful views but as we ascended dense cloud and fog started to surround us. The temperature also dropped. This was a harbinger of things to come. The driver of the 4×4 that I was in was the administrator responsible for the construction of this particular road. He went into great detail about the construction and the surrounding forest reserve. The whole purpose of this road was to create an access point for the trek that we were going to undertake and also would eventually connect some villages that are very remote on an opposite ridge. Tsewang worked diligently in order to get this trek approved by the tourism board which would provide financial support for his home village. How would we cope with this very new and remote trek with the incoming colder weather?  Stay tuned to find out.

Ghostly image on the way to Tego La Pass

Our 4x4 driver and road builder

Tego La Pass 3740m

Foul weather approaching

Prayer flag village view

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