Trekking in Bhutan: A Snapshot

3500m Thangthangka. <- 24th March

There were a few rocks today. Or it could be that I keep squatting like an Asian person… but my knees are kinda sore. And just because we’ve had good weather and no major problems- Blisters. Seriously? My boots are already 4 years old. I told my guide, Pema, that it’s because my socks are old… yet without holes in them, he didn’t exactly sympathise. My heels have soft skin. A head nod… an understanding? And when I was cleaning my feet to put plasters on…, “I clean my feet at night.” Good point.

Today was definitely one of the easier 22km I’ve walked, only gaining 500m-ish elevation. We followed River Pa Chuu. Although the trail is “maintained” (through it constant use), I have to admit that the Rubbish is diabolical. (Sorry Bhutan!)- plastic bottles, hundreds, everywhere. Puma said that there is a cleaning (once a year) but unfortunately the locals haven’t really changed old habits. There are wire cage bins everywhere but clearly the government should be writting in Dzongka (the local dialect) on them. Of course, you can’t light fires anywhere in the national park. (As a simple method of clearing rubbish).

I still find it ironic that books say the treks follow ‘old trek routes’. There’s nothing old about them! Our horseman goes regularly to Tibet “for business”. When I asked about the border, “he has good relationships”. His horses are fat so I’m not going to ask further.

Tonight’s campsite- although it has the dual-purpose of being field, is home to a local family, kitchen shelter (for the trekking groups) and flush toilets. like wtf? When Pema told me there were toilets here, I thought he meant a hole in the ground. Evendently tonight and tomorrow’s are so. People have been donating money to fund them in order to redue bush toilets, and pit toilets. In a passing note, the field/campsite that is now empty would easy overflow the toilets in high season. Festival toilets, anyone?

On the first full day of my Jomolhari trek, the 22km was covered in 6.5 hours. Going by the time of a later group (on our return journey) was 9 hours, I figured we started out alright. Shing Karap, our first campsite, was a small collection of dwellings and a small temple. We offered a small donation to the local deity within the building before starting out. The route was full of large, round rocks. As it hadn’t rained for a few weeks, the trail was surprisingly dry. Rock hopping passed the time but didn’t make for happy knees.

Although I hiked prominently with my alone with my guide, we did pass the occasional mule train. As there are still large communities weeks walk from the Paro Valley, the main transport of mules & donkeys are still used. With the higher elevations, usually over the 4500m mark, the communities will use yak (which are better acclimatised to higher elevations). Had I known better, later on, I would have seen that the Jomolhari Base Camp was empty of Yak, which typically would have been exchanged for the ponies to make the Bhonte La and Thombu Shong passes. With too much snow covering the passes, our trek was changed a little to accommodate the spring weather, and we visited the Soi Yaksa valley by backtracking to a river junction.

It was really interesting and exciting to the see the trails still holding a function outside tourism. At one point during our trek we actually passed a sign saying “Tibet”, and a trail splitting left. As many goods are imported from India, one of Bhutan’s most important economic partners, cheap goods from China are carried over through Tibet via the mule trains. Out of the main trekking season, this underground, over-mountain trade is vital for the livelihood of many of the horsemen and farmers.



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