Bhutan came on our radar when we were living in New Zealand a few years ago. Sarah came home talking about it. One of the other American doctors working with her there had traveled to the country and said it was his favorite place in the entire world to hike. Well we like hiking and the description he painted was a little too wonderful to not look into visiting. Then more recently Sarah worked with someone else who had been to Bhutan and this person also described a place we just had to visit. So the wheels began to turn more intentionally and we began to figure out how to make our way to this mountain country on the other side of the world.
It is not super easy to get to Bhutan. For one, they only let so many tourists visit every year and they charge a decent per day fee for anyone who wants to come. Fortunately this does not apply to volunteers - sweet. Sarah is volunteering in the hospital and I am working out the details of where I will be spending my time, which I should have figured out soon. I had hoped it might be arranged for me but I'll figure it! Stay tuned.
|(Sarah's first walk to the hospital)|
Well wouldn't you know it, our second day here we had a note on our door from some volunteers from New Zealand asking us to dinner. So we joined them in their apartment before heading out. As we talked they began to mention a weekend trip they were planning to go hike up into the mountains and then down to the Tiger's Nest. One of them mentions they had a person on their trip cancel and maybe we could join them! A few texts and telephone calls later, we were on for trying to join them in the morning for an overnight hike up into the mountains and then down to the most infamous monastery in Bhutan. We packed our bags, laid out our hiking outfits, and went to sleep with the excitement of our first excursion only two days into our stay.
And it was amazing! Challenging to say the least, especially in our acclimation attempts of getting used to the mountain living here (mostly just not used to hiking up such steep grades). And boy were our legs sore upon finishing but it was so worth it. Our hike started at a monastery in the hills outside of Paro where we were able to visit and tour the site. After some pictures and thanking the monks for letting us walk around their monastery we began our trek into the surrounding mountains. I knew it was going to be one heck of a hike when our guide pointed out our lunch spot. It was not close. But off we went and immediately the scenery shifted around us dramatically. There had been a forest fire (only three months before we were told) and the landscape was completely torched. Trees were darkened with ash. Undergrowth had only recently began to spring back to life. And where there would normally be plenty of shade there were just pitiful looking barren tree tops. It made for a strange but intriguing beginning. There was still a beauty to the forest as it willed itself back to life, though it will still be sometime before the trees can burst back to life.
As we worked our way up, always up, through the fire torn landscape, it was fascinating to see that in such a short amount of time the sacred prayer flags had already been hung back up, especially in the holy areas. Our group of seven folks slowly made our way steadily higher until finally we made it above where the fires had reached, and everywhere around us the forest was alive and bursting with floral decorations. Sarah kept stopping to look at all of the various kinds of flowers along the way - blues, crimsons, yellows, whites, and all other colors to greet us as we hiked. As we curled our way up the mountain, Paro kept sprawling out below us as it grew more distant. The view that was most interesting was that of the airport. Labeled one of the most dangerous international airports in the world for planes to land in, it was easier to see why as we hiked higher. There was simply not much room for a plane to maneuver in through the mountains before having to straighten up for what looked to me to be a relatively short runway.
And up we went, pausing for breaks, photos, and conversation. What a beautiful country. We were quite fortunate with the weather. As summer begins in Bhutan it brings with it a lot of rain, even described at times as monsoon. But we spent our entire first day climbing in some of the most picturesque weather imaginable. Then we finally made it to our lunch stop. That far off hill our guide had pointed to when we were beginning. Chicken, rice, a mango juice box, and our choice of coffee or tea - wonderful. We sat and ate our food with some of the best views a person could ask for during a meal, worrying only about whether or not we had put on enough sunscreen. And what a view it was! Eventually we had to get started again, but not without first thoroughly enjoying the wonderful vistas our lunch spot offered. This was glamping at it's best. We did not even have to carry or prepare our own food. Luxurious, goodness.
With our minds steeled toward the remaining few hours of our hike left, we left our lunch spot and headed further up the mountain. Fortunately the remaining part of the hike was easy in comparison to the first few hours. Having not known this ahead of time it gave us some nice hiking. When you're prepared for something tougher then what you get, sometimes you can enjoy it more. This does not mean our legs were not already somewhat spent from the first part of the hike. We certainly took advantage of all nice spots for a rest (as seen in the photo when we came upon a nice field in the middle of our forest trek), and the undulating hills were nice compared to the steep climbs we made earlier. Still part of our discussion revolved around whether or not we would do a two hour extension at the end of our day for some higher and nicer views. Our evaluation would have to wait for the end.
When we finally came around a bend and through a break in the canopy we could see our destination! So close. It is always nice to be close to the end of a long hike. The last little bit was more open as we made our way up a few more hills. A field of blue flowers, the view of a vast valley to our left opening up as we climbed, and more importantly a super amazing looking monastery looming in the distance - and just below that the tents we would be sleeping in that night. Yes, we paid a little bit extra for this trip to stay in tents already set up, which oddly enough had full sized beds in them! What? I'm talking wooden bed frames and everything. Quite comfortable and a little unnecessarily so, but I still enjoyed the comfort that night for certain. And what a fun little camp, which we made our way into and took a quick rest stop in some proper chairs.
Once we had rested a few minutes some of our group decided to make the additional hike up. How could we not when we were told it was called the "sky warrior" trek. Supposedly a two hour round trip, we were encouraged that we could see the top of this venture. As this can obviously this can sometimes be misleading at times, it was still a boost to our morale to clearly see our goal in sight and to know it was not round some never ending bend of climbing. Being promised the views were well worth the extra trip, and of course wanting to claim the title of trek, we started off on the last burst of the day in the hopes of beating what looked like rain on the horizon.
The hike up is splattered with prayer flags. From almost every hill to tree to rock there is some string of red, white, yellow and green flying about. Our guide took us on what seemed like a less used route and we made our way up isolated from all other hikers. It seemed we were the only ones on the mountain, which was a nice feel. This last climb of the day was rather tiring but it was completely worth the extra amount of effort it required. The views were stunning. Not only could we look back down towards the valley we had spent our day climbing out of, but we could now see out and into the further peaks on every side of us. Again we were lucky with the weather and our view was mostly unobstructed, outside of a few clouds that shrouded nearby peaks making them look mysteriously dangerous and appealing at the same time. We could just disappear in the clouds if we hike up one more ridge line.
Camp was fantastic. Tea and cookies. Khuru. A tasty dinner prepared for us. Those beds! Warm tents. Views that went long into the night. A libation Dave brought and shared with the group. Horses wandering around. A few wonderful dogs. And rest, oh the rest was nice. REST.
Ok, Khuru. Khuru is a game of giant scary darts. They are thrown around what seems to be around 35 to 40 feet away at a wooden post that is only around two feet high and about six inches wide. If a person is able to hit this wooden plank, which I depressingly missed in spite of trying a number of times, dancing is expected and follows. Between the few of us who tried non of us ever hit the mark, though we did come close a few times. The worst part was getting close only to miss by a vast distance on the very next throw. Progress was difficult. The game, though we had no idea how to play or score it, was fun to try. Sarah and I already discussed how much fun it would be to have it in a yard we might one day own to put it in. Bring home the Khuru darts! First get a yard. Second make sure it's a yard big enough to safely play the game of Khuru.
Well we played Khuru until it was really getting unsafe, though safe is not a word that really should be used to describe the game ever. Then we retired for discussion, dinner, some mafia (I fell asleep right as everyone was ready to play and I slept through the whole game), and then we all went to sleep. A nice rain lightly pelted the roof of the tent most of the night as we slept a well earned rest. I probably dreamed of becoming an expert Khuru player, though all I remember was instantly falling asleep with very few disturbances throughout the night and waking in the morning feeling very refreshed.
We woke to a beautiful morning and a most gracious rain that stopped as soon as we were supposed to be getting ready for breakfast - quite nice of the rain to be so polite really. We packed our bags and prepared for a day of hiking and then walked over to the dining tent for breakfast. Quite a nice layout of food to prepare us for a long day of going back down the mountain. Oh ya, down the mountain. Once you climb up one you have to go back down. Where are all the two mile long zip lines to transport a person from place to place? Several times during our hike down I wondered this as I could easily see where we wanted to go but could not easily get there. Nevertheless, we filled our water bottles, grabbed our packs and then made one important stop before heading down - the Bumdra monastery. We had slept under it's view all night long and it was now time to visit.
|(The Bumdra Monastery is up on the left behind us. Also our Goodr sunglasses have been working well over here in the high altitude. Can't wait to go for a run in them soon! Thanks +Breakawayrunning for helping connect us.)|
|(Looking back up at the Bumdra Monastery)|
|(Prayer wheel powered by water from the stream|
coming down the mountain. Pretty cool)
|(There it is!)|
|(Pausing to take a photo in front of the Tiger's Nest)|
|(Wind powered prayer wheels made out of old|
gatorade bottles - not bad)
|(You can see the Tiger's Nest far up behind us)|
|(The local dog and I enjoy the last few views of|
the mountains before we lose all light for the
night. What sights we have seen!)
Mountain flowers. They were everywhere and demanded our attention. Sarah marveled over them quite a bit and I think you can see why.
I do not know his name but this is the pooch with whom I shared the best views of the night with before the sun vanished for the day. Such a fluffy delight.
One last pic of flowers before the next post. Till next time, go off and enjoy some nature!