I’m back! Quite literally back at UWICE after a four day trek (three nights camping) in Bumthang. We walked many miles, over mountains and ridges, through fields and meadows and villages, and many days accompanied by dogs who had stayed at our campsite the night before.
We just got back a few hours ago, and I haven’t uploaded my photos yet, but I will soon and publish them in a separate post. So here I’ll give you a written overview of what each day was like.
Overall, it was more “glamping” than camping. Meaning – those who couldn’t hike because of injuries still joined us by driving in the van with Lobsang, and met up with us every night at the campsite. We were also joined by some of the kitchen staff, who helped set up tents and prepared delicious food for us, which was such a luxury. Most of us had already done some kind of camping/trekking/backpacking before, and this was way more glamorous than any of us were used to or expecting. We were very spoiled! The walking was still hard, but that was pretty much our only job, which felt weird to some of us. But it was a really fantastic experience. We slept in beautiful places, under the stars, and drank hot chocolate and milk tea around a roaring bonfire every night.
Here it goes –
Day 1: An easy day of hiking – no elevation climb, and it only took about three hours to get from the drop-off point to our campsite. We camped at a flat spot which was completely surrounded by tall, steep peaks. From my journal: “A bunch of us love Lord of the Rings and we’re joking that we’re in Middle Earth – it makes the trek so much more epic! We’ve decided that right now we’re at Weathertop because near the campsite there’s a hill with some ruins from a battle between Bhutanese and Tibetan warriors. We’ve also decided that pretending to be in Middle Earth makes everything seem easier because we’re never being chased by/chasing orcs, and we’re not dealing with Gollum, intense forest elves, or Frodo struggling with the ring.”
Day 2: It was a very long day, but exhilarating. We hiked up a ridge and down into Tang valley (from Jakar valley) and had lunch near the top in a fantastically sunny field filled with bugs who were happy to share our lunch with us. We then hiked through meadows filled with tall grasses and charismatic cows, a picturesque village where people spoke Bumthap to us, and along a dirt road that brought us to our campsite. From my journal: “I think I went through every trick and thought possible to keep me going, especially while pulling myself up the mountain. Sometimes I walked in a group and played 20 Questions (that sometimes turned into Unlimited Questions), and other times I walked by myself, which turned out to be better during the really hard parts, like when we were hiking straight up a stream bed. I also found that picturing myself in movies was inspiring and helpful. LOTR was one of those movies, of course, and we pretended we were hiking through the Misty Mountains. I also imagined I was in Jurassic Park sometimes, which felt really cool. Finally, when nothing else was helping, I realized I felt a lot like Alan Rabinowitz, trekking through Bhutan in search of tigers in my Panthera hat. That was closest to home, obviously, and actually the most exciting!
Day 3: We got a late start (10am) and walked through Tang valley and up one of the ridges to get to Ashi Kunzang Choden‘s house, who is the mother of our Culture of Bhutan professor and the first female Bhutanese novelist to be published! She is a very inspiring women, who showed us around her manor house (the family is religious nobility, descended from Dorji Lingpa, son of Pema Lingpa), which they have turned into a museum (which is AWESOME, and feels so immediate and evocative of rural Bhutanese life). She also gave us a lecture on the role of women in Bhutan, which was fascinating.
Day 4: Today we walked many miles through Tang valley, along gravel roads and forest paths. We ended our trek at Burning Lake, where, in the 15th century, the Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa discovered Buddhist treasures put there by Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century. We then returned to UWICE, where we all thoroughly enjoyed hot showers. Dinner soon!
On Sunday, October 4th most of us went on a hike to Tharpaling Monastery, which is on the ridge right behind the UWICE campus. It was a beautiful day for it – not too hot and not raining. We climbed straight up the mountain for about 2.5-3 hours (depending on how fast your particular group walked, as we were all spread out), through many vegetation zones, including rhododendron and dwarf bamboo. Eventually we reached the ridge, which was covered in prayer flags. Some people climbed up to the real peak, which was fairly close to the ridge, but a steep climb, some went downhill to a statue of Buddha, and others climbed down the other side of the ridge to the monastery itself.
On the ridge, we ate our snacks of Thai tomato/potato chips, Cadbury chocolate, and an apple with a view of two valleys, Jakar and Chummey. Everyone agreed that the view made the hike well worth it.
From Thursday to Sunday of this week we will all be going on a trek through the cultural sites of Bumthang. Everyone is very excited about it, and there are sure to be lots of campfires, 10-mile hikes, layers of clothing, and card games at night. But for now, enjoy the photos from our hike yesterday!