Ok, only two more of Bhutan, I promise!
It’s my second day in Bhumthang and I suddenly decide that today, I need to see EVERYTHING. I make sure I get up early and start walking north towards two monasteries: the Jambey Lakhang and the Kurjey Lakhang.
About halfway to the first monastery I manage to hitch a ride with a farmer going up the road. He dropped me off about a kilometer away. Jambey Lakhang is on the outskirts of a village with no proper path to it. It’s all mud roads. But once you step inside the monastery it is a quaint and pretty little place. There are no monks inhabiting it and that day there was no one around except for the caretaker.
I pushed on to the Kurjey Lakhang which is a trek along the river, over a little creek and through some paddy fields where my shoes got soaked. This monastery, unlike the previous one, is filled with monks, old and young. Some of them took me around the whole place to see it. It is set right on the bank of the river and one can practically see the entire valley from the highest floor!
I then followed the monks’ instructions down to a swaying footbridge that crossed the river (can’t see this on google maps btw).
I was trying to make an entire circuit to get to this place called the Swiss Guest House, because I’d read online that you could trek up to a place on top of the mountain called Pedtsheling Goenka, and the trek would start from there. After briefly going around another Tamshing Lakhang I headed there. I’d walked about 6 km by now and it was only 10 o’ clock in the morning! It was raining too. I hitched a ride down the road to the guesthouse, which I found was completely devoid of any guests (off-season sucks). I went up to the lady, who was sitting outside the kitchen and asked her if I could wait there until the rain stopped and then start on the trek.
She was really nice. She opened up the dining hall and gave me some coffee to warm up while I waited. We got to talking and she was one of the most amazing people I’d meet on my trip. Her husband was Swiss and she was Bhutanese. She’d gone to study in Germany after that come home, married and opened the guesthouse! She had these two adorable dogs, whom I was just fawning over for the greater part of an hour. I honestly didn’t even notice time just pass by.
By around 12, the rain had stop so I thanked her and asked her to point me in the right direction. She sent her brother along with me up to the starting point of the trek. Now he didn’t speak English very well so once we got there, he was explaining the directions and turns I would have to take and I mostly didn’t understand anything. But I was really excited so I started off without trying to understand further. And guess what? The dogs followed! I called back to him to ask him what to do about them and he said they knew the whole mountain. They’d come back if they wanted to, on their own!
So now I had company. The first hour of the trek was great! I got some great views of the valley below. My dogs were running around, chasing things and having a ton of fun. After this is where my troubles started. I reached a fork in the path and, not having understood his directions properly, I took the right fork. Now that I look back, I remember the dogs trying to get me to follow them the other way, but I insisted, so they ended up following me instead. I reached a forest and I could still make out a path through the trees, though now the climb was extremely steep. I pressed on. The dogs would randomly disappear for minutes at an end, off to chase something they saw or heard nearby, but they always came back. Three hours in, I was seriously tired.
Suddenly I realised, I’d lost the path! I was on the side of a mountain, in the middle of the forest with no idea where to go. I pulled out my phone and saw that I was getting a weak signal. After waiting for almost 10 minutes, my GPS dot came up on google maps. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to download the satellite version of the area prior to starting the trek. I remember texting my friends back home in Bangalore, India telling them that if they didn’t hear from me by 8:00 pm that evening, they should organise some sort of search for me because I’d definitely be lost 😛
Anyway, I found that I was only about half an hour away from the top of the mountain, if I cut a straight path through the trees. My dogs stuck with me even though all of us were extremely lost, but didn’t seem to mind so much. After some hard trekking I made it to the top of the mountain and at that exact moment the clouds around us cleared away. From this point, I saw some of the most gorgeous sights in the world. I could see all three of Bhumthang’s valleys spread out before me. I sort of collapsed onto my butt and just sat there with my mouth gaping for a while.
But I wasn’t done yet. I had to get back down or I’d freeze once it became dark. Looking at the map I decided to follow the crest of the mountain. I realised I’d come out almost 4 km away from my actual destination, which was also on the crest, but of the next mountain! So I started again. Another hour or so in I found a radar transmitter which was for the airport, barely visible, down in the valley. At just that moment a small Cessna happened to take off from there. It looked tiny, almost ant-like!
Eventually I did reach Pedtsheling Goenka. It’s a building that houses only young monks and some of their teachers. One moment there was nothing, and the next it was right there! It sort of opened out from inside a cloud as I was walking towards it. The whole place was misty. There were a few kids playing around in the distance and a monk was sitting on some steps nearby staring me. I can’t imagine what must’ve been going through his head: a dirty, muddy and sweaty Indian teenager, walking into his monastery with two dogs. I took my dogs to nearby a hand pump and gave them some water after which I filled up my bottle too and drank noisily, just like them. I just sat for a while recovering from the fatigue. My poor dogs were exhausted too. They just flopped down next to me.
It was going to be dark in two hours and I had to get down soon, so I asked the monk there if he knew an easier way down. He pointed me to a shortcut that they usually took down to the nearest village for supplies. He said that would put me on the path that I was originally meant to take, which would then take me back to the Swiss Guest House. I set off, down some very steep steps cut into the side of the mountain. Progress was slow, because my dogs were finding it difficult on all fours. But we eventually reached the village and got back to the path we were supposed to be on. From here the dogs perked up again. I took this to mean they knew the way back, so every fork we hit on the road I simply followed them without hesitation. Once, we even went completely off the main path but I still stuck to my dogs. And bless them, they even made sure I was keeping up with them. I was nervous about where we were but fortunately, we found some woodcutters to ask for directions and they confirmed we were headed the right way.
Eight hours later, on what was supposed to be a four-hour trek, I limped back into the Swiss Guest House. The lady on seeing me again, immediately pulled me into the kitchen (despite me protesting that I was filthy and still had wet mud on my boots), sat me down, and gave me some hot tea with home-made cheese and biscuits. There are these people you meet while travelling sometimes, that you never ever forget. Two years later, I remember her with the same fondness. Her dogs, even more so. They never left me once through that entire madness of a trek. I like to think I took them for a really extreme walk.
She was hosting a travelling monk at the same time who offered to take me to the nearby monastery, through a shorter path back to the village I was staying at. I hugged her in thanks, hugged and kissed each of my doggies goodbye and went along with the monk. He took me to see the evening prayers in session with over a thousand monks chanting and meditating together. Around 9 we parted ways and I headed down to the village.
My day wasn’t done yet though. I headed straight to the bus station. My feet were killing me by this point and each step hurt. Like the last time I was hoping to get an empty seat on the bus onto Mongar and if possible to Trashigang. I reach there and find that all the three buses coming there had been delayed by landslides and were expected to come in only around 2 am. So I headed back to the hotel, filled a bucket with hot water and just soaked my feet for an hour. At 10:00 pm I headed to a restaurant next to the bus station, ate a big dinner and camped there till the buses came. At midnight, closing time, the owner kicked me out and I just sat there freezing my ass off for another two hours. Why do this, you ask? The thing is, there were many people who were looking to get onto those buses. And obviously, that would mean that if seats were available it would be first-come-first serve. So just in case the buses came in early, I had to get to the driver first.
Two hours later the buses came in, looking just as pathetic as I did after my trek. There were 5 available seats over all three buses that night. I got the last one.
My Bhutan trip up till this point.