Trekking in Bumthang
Jakar Travel Blog› entry 17 of 58 › view all entries
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.
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
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…
We woke up early this morning and luckily, Cindy didn’t freeze her ass off last night like she did back on our
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Hard as you try, it is difficult to sleep in when you are camping in rural
Kemcho said that, once it warmed up, they would be fine, so we hopped in the
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