AsiaBhutanJakar

Trekking in Bumthang

Jakar Travel Blog

 › entry 17 of 58 › view all entries
Our Tent and 2st night campsite

5/5/07
Well today is the anniversary of quitting my job at i2 and what better way to celebrate a year off than to go for a trek in the beautiful Bumthang Valley of Eastern Bhutan. After breakfast at the Swiss Guest House and a brief but weird discussion about a 1,500 Rupee Hot Stone Bath thing that has us rather confused  (we think we are paying for it whether we like it or not…), we headed out with Kemcho and a local kid from the guest house.   We walked out the back of the property and started up through some very picturesque cow pastures and headed into the pine forest.  The trail was pretty good and a bit steep, certainly better marked than Tashi’s “shortcut” in Punakha the other day, and we slowly climbed to the pass where we paused for lunch.

Our roaring fire on the trek
  The pass was pretty with prayer flags and a view down to our first night’s camp below and across the valley.  After lunch, everyone took an hour power nap before heading down through the bamboo and pine tree forest.  That part of the trail was pretty steep and uneven and my knees were very happy they had the company of my new, favorite trekking poles (thanks REI..)

When we got to camp everything was all set up by the local guides who would be accompanying us on the next day.  The site was situated on a little plateau at about 3,000 meters overlooking the valley with the village where the guides lived and was really nice.  Rain started rolling in so we retired to our tent which luckily had an excellent rain tarp and listened to our latest audio book, Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen who is a hilarious writer from Florida.

Horse Hair Prayer wheels at small monastery

Eventually the rain cleared and we all set about to lighting a increasingly large and hot bon fire while dinner was being prepared.  Kemcho brought out our bottle of Special Courier  whiskey that was noticeably less full than when I put it away last night and said that he and the boys had “put a bit in their tea“, but not to worry because there would be plenty of Ara tomorrow night.  We had a warm-up cocktail and then dinner and then sat around the fire with the boys hearing stories about “Night hunting” which is a euphemism for teenage sex.  Since many of them live in small, common room houses, the boys ask the girls which bed they sleep in so as to not confuse them with a sister or mother.  Apparently this leads to pranks where the girls fib and the boys end up fondling the wrong woman…

5/6/07
We woke up early this morning and luckily, Cindy didn’t freeze her ass off last night like she did back on our Machu Picchu trek last June so she was happy.

The "Elder" man who trekked with us the second day (who is 6 years younger than me...)
  The cook’s made us tea and breakfast at our little fold out table and we watched the sun come up over the valley.  After a bit, a family showed up with a bunch of horses and donkeys that we guessed were going to accompany us for the rest of the trek.  As the guys were breaking down the camp, two very confused and/or liberal horses and one donkey started getting amorous.  Even the horse men and their wives and kids were kind of giggling as one horse mounted the other from behind (not that I think there is probably any other way that horses could do it…) and the donkey (who was the most confused and definitely bi-curious of all) orally participated from underneath.  This turned into a XXX show that had everyone laughing and embarrassed.  Then they did it again.  Let’s just say that there is a reason for the term “hung like a horse”….
The old couple's kitchen where we drank too much Ara

Once packed up, we hiked up quite a steep incline for about an hour to the local little Monastery where a young monk let us in to show us the holy footprint of a Lama.  Supposedly, he was the reincarnation of one of the very holy historical Lamas (sorry, I forgot which one) and proved that he was his reincarnation by several miraculous feats including stamping his foot into this rock (about the size of a large watermelon - the rock, not the foot which was tiny, probably size 5 men’s…) as well as cramming his finger into the rock, thereby creating a hole for holy water to flow from.  All the boys (including me) stuck there finger in the hole and rubbed the holy water on our heads.  At one point, Kemcho and our new guide (the “elder” guy in the picture) and the monk climbed a steep ladder up to a special room that we were not allowed into since we are “impure” and the monk didn’t want to get in trouble if there was a bad harvest next year (which of course would be blamed on us seeing whatever was in that room).

Cindy in our second night's camp
I took the picture of the prayer wheels from the monastery mostly because I like prayer wheels but also to show that the old ones are made from horse hide wrapped around the drum and then often painted.  If you look closely at the one on the left, you can see the horse hair, the one in the middle, you can see the seam and the one on the right, the typical Bhutanese/Tibetan/Sanskrit text of a mantra.

After the monastery visit, as Kemcho said, we were going to walk “slideways” thru pine and juniper forests for the rest of the day with what he called “The Elder Man” (the man in the picture with the peaked, bamboo hat) our new trek leader.  He had called him elder several times and I finally said that I thought I was probably older than him so Kemcho asked how old he was - 41 years old - Kemcho said he would stop calling him “Elder” at that point.

Prayer Flags and blue skies

After lunch on a nice vista overlooking the valley and our descent path, we ended up stopping at a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere where we ended up drinking Ara with an old couple in their very basic and smoky little kitchen house (see the picture).  They were really friendly and absolutely insisted that Kemcho, The Elder Man, Cindy and I all have three glasses of Ara which is home distilled wheat liquor that is kind of like sake.  Of course, I had to finish most of Cindy’s which made the rest of the trek a bit challenging.

We finished the day with a steep incline down to a rock road where we hooked up with the cook guys and a big, old truck that thankfully bounced us for thirty minutes down the road, avoiding a long, dusty, hot hike.

Stone path up to the monastery/museum
  We ended up at a really nice camp site right along the river amidst prayer flags, lots of cows and lots of dogs.  Cindy soaked her feet and I did the head plunge into a fairly icy cold river to freshen up and then Kemcho and the boy’s started the fire pit filled with large river boulders for the “hot stone bath”.  Cindy again asked why she needed to spend $40 for a warm bath in a wooden tub when we have a Jacuzzi tub at home, but at that point, we were apparently committed (and still somewhat confused as to how this was going to work.)

After a tea and a bit of a rest, Kemcho, Cindy and I went for the hike to Ugyenchholing Dzong somewhere across the river and up the hill.  Kemcho said boots weren’t necessary and the flip-flops we were wearing were fine (this was not exactly the case we soon found out).

Cute Kids outside the Monastery
We started up through pretty rice and wheat fields along a stone path, eventually crossing through fields and streams and past cool prayer wheel houses until we made it up to the village, probably about an hour‘s walk, a bit further than we counted on based on our footwear.  About that time, the rain started and a small group of curious kids started following us around - we liked the little girl and her brother with the red boots in the picture. Then we entered the Dzong which has been converted into a nice museum and saw a lot of displays about traditional Bhutanese life, dances, armor, masks, etc. Most interesting was the tiny bed for the King and his wive(s) - we aren’t sure how they fit in there…

When we got back to camp at dusk, the cooks who had been heating the stones for the hot tub thing told me it was time to get ready so I donned shorts and wandered over to a semi-enclosed bamboo fence thing surrounding a wooden tub (see the picture if you dare) next to the river.

Masks in the museum
  At this point, Cindy was getting pissed about the whole mandatory hot tub thing but I figured that we were roped in and might as well enjoy it.  The guys started throwing hot stones from the fire into the tub which ended up making for a somewhat dirty and ashy bath.  I really didn’t think that they had enough stones to get it hot.  Kemcho told me to get in as the cooks were busy gathering herbs to throw into the mix riverside.  I climbed in to lukewarm water and prepared for the worse.  Well as they added more stones, the temperature soared dramatically, and soon I had them bringing glacial water from the stream to cool things off.  The herbs smelled nice and Kemcho assured me that this would be good for my aching knees.  Cindy was less than impressed.  If only I had a big cigar and a bottle of whiskey like in the old 60’s TV show “The Wild, Wild West”.
Hot Stone Bath after trekking
  All in all, it was relaxing if a bit less than hygienic and was pretty fun.  Cindy was not convinced to join me, even with the bamboo privacy wall erected…

Next on the agenda was dinner and Kemcho had told us that he was going to gather some village girls to dance for us for “only 100 rupees each” which was beginning to feel a bit to touristy.  We thought that we had escaped as night had fallen, dinner was done and there were no cocktails in sight, when Kemcho showed up with a bottle of Ara and said that only a couple of them would show up. Soon, several girls and lots of local spectators showed up and started singing traditional songs and dancing.  The fire was roaring and it was actually pretty fun, especially after Kemcho brought a special bottle of Ara.

Local dancers on Bumthang Trek
  The older man in the pictures did several hilarious semi-inebriated dances before the girls and guys came back.  By the end of the evening, everyone was happily buzzed and dancing around the fire, yours truly included (which must show to those of you who know me that I had the lion’s share of the Ara.) Eventually, the locals wandered off and we headed to a cold tent for the evening.

5/7/07
Hard as you try, it is difficult to sleep in when you are camping in rural Bhutan and we woke early but hung in the tent hoping it would warm up soon.  Eventually we got up and had tea and breakfast in the mist and went for a walk around the campground and river.

Drunken dancing man
  After a bit, Kemcho climbed out of his tent (I think a bit hung over) and told me that Tashi was on his way.  We had thought that we had a bit more trekking to do, but that was really the hike up to the monastery that we did yesterday, so we were pretty much done and wondering what we were going to do for the rest of the day besides drive back to the Swiss Guest House.  Tashi actually showed up on time (not necessarily a normal event).  There was some issue with the big old truck that the cooks had driven us here in and Kemcho, Tashi and I and the cook guys tried to push start a large, old diesel truck, pushing it between the prayer flags with dogs chasing and barking at us to no avail.

Kemcho said that, once it warmed up, they would be fine, so we hopped in the Toyota and headed off for a long drive on a pretty bad road.  En route to the guest house, we stopped off briefly at Membertsho Lake  which is supposed to be a “Lake of Fire” thing (really a river with a lot of bugs) where Terton Pemalingpa is supposed to have discovered a bunch of treasures that Guru Rimpoche hid there in the twelfth century.  Rumor has it that he dove into the lake with butter lamps and illuminated the top secret hiding spot of various treasures that Guru Rimpoche had stashed there making him a rich man who ended up funding lots of temples and other monuments.

After the fire lake, it was back to the Swiss Guest House for an exciting afternoon of showering and laundry.  Cindy was in the shower and yelled for my attention asking what something on her thigh was.  Indeed there was something dark and menacing there and, even without my recently acquired and much despised reading glasses, I could see that it looked like a very large and menacing bug of some sort.  I ran to grab the tweezers from the medical kit and ineptly plucked at it, eventually dislodging it from her tender skin.  It looked like a very squat and fat tick, about twice the size of a lady bug and was quite feisty and difficult to pull off.  Unfortunately for her, what pulled off was only most of the creature and we spent the next thirty minutes with heated needle, tweezers and reading glasses and a somewhat compromising position on her part, trying to ensure that all tick parts were permanently removed.  In the end, we were successful although I don’t think my medical career will skyrocket anytime soon.

A nice lunch and a drive into town with Tashi for replenishment of necessities (this time we thought we would try the Coronation Whiskey - a more traditional, Jack Daniel-esque approach to drink) summed up the afternoon.  Our last dinner at the Swiss Guest House was thankfully not Raclette this time, but Bhutanese fare and several beers with the boys.  Kemcho was particularly talkative tonight and eventually headed off to hang with the locals.  Tomorrow we drive over the pass again through Trongsa and on to Phobjikha before heading back to Thimphu for the end of our Bhutanese adventures.

halilee says:
LOL what an adventure!! Looks like you had a pretty full couple of days! Poor Cindy with the bug though, I woulda freaked as well!
Posted on: Mar 21, 2013
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Our Tent and 2st night campsite
Our Tent and 2st night campsite
Our roaring fire on the trek
Our roaring fire on the trek
Horse Hair Prayer wheels at small …
Horse Hair Prayer wheels at small…
The Elder man who trekked with u…
The "Elder" man who trekked with …
The old couples kitchen where we …
The old couple's kitchen where we…
Cindy in our second nights camp
Cindy in our second night's camp
Prayer Flags and blue skies
Prayer Flags and blue skies
Stone path up to the monastery/mus…
Stone path up to the monastery/mu…
Cute Kids outside the Monastery
Cute Kids outside the Monastery
Masks in the museum
Masks in the museum
Hot Stone Bath after trekking
Hot Stone Bath after trekking
Local dancers on Bumthang Trek
Local dancers on Bumthang Trek
Drunken dancing man
Drunken dancing man
Jakar
photo by: lrecht