Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for November, 2011

Bhutan Trek- Day 3

October 26, 2011 we awoke and we actually had sunshine for which we were very grateful. It would not last however. In the morning after another delicious breakfast we were surprised when Lorraine pulled out two 1 kg bags of ground coffee from home, to be specific, Kicking Horse coffee. She had an amazingly simple setup to brew fresh coffee. This was very much appreciated and enjoyed by all. The Bhutanese are not very keen on coffee and much prefer tea.

Today’s trek was quite challenging with at least three passes and lots of climbing. The total distance traveled would be approximately 12 km and would take approximately 7 hours. Bhutan is all about big elevation gains and losses with steeply carved valleys. It sounds like you should cover a longer distance in the time frame mentioned however topography is everything. The trail gradually ascended to Bjisuma 4066 m and then descended until Yajethang 3900 m. Apparently blue sheep can sometimes be seen around the cliff side however we were never fortunate enough to see these animals. We definitely saw many birds. The trail also gradually ascended towards Loo-nge la 4150 m and then descended passing the meadow of Tsho kam which contained a proliferation of rhododendron bushes. I cannot believe how many rhododendrons were found on these rocky slopes. It must be a thing of utter beauty in spring when they bloom in colours of white, pink, red and multicolor. It would certainly be worthwhile to come back in February or March just to see this. I believe this is where this country got the reputation of being Shangri-La. The trail became gradual at this point until Thujimi Tsawa at 3975 m. The trail then climbed again up to Benjay Bja 4210 m on a very steep slope. After this steep climb a gradual path led to campsite 2 Tshelu Tshokha Ya la at 4250 m. Along the way we were able to view the distant white-capped Himalayan mountains when the weather opened up as well as seeing the yak-herders huts which are very basic and made from local resources like stone. Apparently when the herders come up they cover these basic stone structures with yak hair to create a roof. Amazing. One of the yak-herders huts was built into a cave like structure on the side of a steep side slope. I believe being a yak-herder would be a very difficult job considering the location of many of the structures. It was another gorgeous location for a campsite. However, upon our arrival thick fog and ice crystals began to envelop the camp. I think the staff realized this was a pretty hard day so they served a hot vegetable soup early which made such a difference to how we all felt considering the cold weather.

As we were getting ready to fall asleep, a sudden and fierce gale blew in causing the dining tent to billow and almost blow away. The camp staff responded urgently with extra tie downs for the dining tent and then they went around to each of our tents to better secure the ties and also to place extra stones on our ground sheets to make sure we were not blown away like prayers from prayer flags down the valley. What service! The temperature was bitterly cold and most of them did not have gloves or our fancy four season gear. Would this weather continue to affect the remainder of our trek?

Bhutan Trek- Day 2

Day 2 of our Bhutan trek actually started mid-morning October 25, 2011. As I mentioned previously, colder weather with fog and the potential for rain greeted us as we started the formal trek. We were dropped off past Tego La Pass with a very rough trail that ascended a side slope which apparently was an old cattle trail leading up to Laptsa Teng Lagkha at approximately 4003 m. There was the option to climb Laptsa Teng Gang to 4200 m as this would potentially provide a view of Mount Kanchen Jonga 8586 m and Mount Jumolhari 7314 m. However, the weather made any potential views of these mountains unlikely so we passsed on this. We continued to hike to our lunch spot which was very cold -2 C. We were introduced to the setup for all of our future lunches on the trail. Hot tea in a large thermos and a very interesting vacuum sealed thermos containing three different hot lunch dishes was provided and eagerly consumed. Phuntsho and Ugyen would always serve us first and would not eat until we had completed our meal. Red rice was always in abundance as well as deliciously prepared curries, vegetables and meat dishes. Very appetizing. There was always a lot of food left for our guides.

The next portion of the trail was one of the most dramatic with surrounding fog and a lateral traverse on a steep, rocky side slope with precipitous drops looking down into a valley. Above us were monolithic and gothic rock formations. Amazing. The trail passed through Doongshi Nyelsa Lakha and after a short uphill climb over a pass we ended up at our first campsite at Lao Karmo at 4025 m. The trek took approximately 5 hours. We camped on a grassy plateau alongside grazing mules and were provided with relatively small, lightweight tents that were set up for us. We simply had to put our gear in and set up our own beds each evening. With the subsequent weather that we had we did feel proper 4 season, larger tents would have been nice. Upon our arrival and after our bed set up we usually had hot tea to warm up.  This particular evening Lorraine Croft led us in some seated yoga stretches to recover from our hike. A separate dining tent was set up for our dinner later in the evening. We also had a separate outhouse tent with a small dug ditch for the unmentionable necessities. The dinners were uniformly excellent. We usually had steaming hot soup to start and an amazing variety of different vegetable and meat dishes for dinner. The trekking was usually quite vigorous and tiring so we usually retired to our tents by 730 or 8 PM at the latest. Our sleep time was usually at least 10 and up to 12 hours. Not always uninterrupted mind you. The first night the mules were busy munching grass that was kept warm by the ground sheets of our tents. Several of us were awakened at least 5 to 6 times due to this carnivorous behavior. We mentioned this in passing the next morning and noted that subsequent nights the mules were allowed to graze away from us in order to not disturb us. Our guide really did everything to make sure we were as comfortable as possible. We were all glad we brought down sleeping pads (sorry Terry and Richard) and -15 to -20 C sleeping bags. They were certainly required. Would the weather improve? We certainly hoped so. Soon after arriving at camp 1 a rainstorm with ice crystals started up. We fell asleep wishing for a warmer and sunnier weather the next day.

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

The Crew

Hello again. Our tour was through Bhutan Expeditions based out of Thimphu, Bhutan and run by Tsewang Nidup. He is a very interesting and spiritual fellow whom we had the pleasure of meeting just prior to our trek as well as his lovely wife Ugyen. He would not join us on the trek but left us in the capable hands of Phuntsho our superb guide. Our driver Krishna was very safe and capable and we all felt very well taken care of. The crew on the trek consisted of an assistant guide Ugyen, a cook Legola, his helper Somna, two horsemen and 14 mules to transport all of the gear. The mules deserve so much credit as they worked tirelessly to haul all of the gear on at times treacherous trails. We had tents to sleep in at night and boiled water was provided. We were all amazed at the variety and quality of the meals provided in such primitive conditions. We were able to mainly focus on the trekking and the spectacular scenery…perfect.

I have included a few pictures of the people mentioned and note the traditional gho worn by the men and the kera by the women. Very practical and stylish.

Bhutan Group Participants

Hello everyone. I am back after not posting for awhile. I am actually posting from Kathmandu where I arrived today from Bhutan. I will just make a quick post tonight to let you know that we did it and we are all okay with no altitude illness or any need to have the Indian Army fly us out! We completed the Bhutan Trek with aplomb if I do say so myself so I will. It was gruelling, cold and very challenging but my was it amazing. I simply cannot cover the whole trek in one post so I will start by introducing you to the “Snowman Trek Lite” group as we came to call ourselves. All of our group are amazing people. There were eight of us in total of varied backgrounds but we all had one thing in common and that was to share in Jill Teschke’s dream of trekking in Bhutan.

The trek was a mystery to us as we could not find much information about it on the internet-we wanted a remote location far away from the tourist trekking crowd and boy was that achieved. In a later post I will outline a bit more about the actual trek. For tonight enjoy the pictures of the participants who upon completion were included in a select group of only 25 people who have ever trekked this area of Bhutan!

Please keep checking the blog over the next few days for updates as I try to catch up before I am off trekking to Everest Base Camp November 3 2011. Tashi Delek (Google it). Ha!

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