Sunday, 22 June 2014

Druk Path Trek Bhutan

 Beyond its toy-like cities of Thimphu and Paro, beyond the touristy calling of Tiger Nest; I had a yearning to traverse through Bhutan. Through the interiors of the land, through its paths covered with fresh blossoms; this is an account of a trek of my dreams – The Druk Path Trek.

A height of 13,000 feet, a 10kg backpack, an up-hill 28 day climb; I trudged along a path as part of a group of amateur mountaineers in the Himalayas. This goes back to 2006 during a course at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. 

Somewhere along the path we met a lone Rhododendron tree. It was plump with fresh blossoms heavier still with the morning dew. Its flowers a dreamy shade of lilac and with the mist all around us, not to mention our travel weary minds, it seemed more like a vision than reality. 

What transpired beyond that trek is for another story but the vision of that lone tree is what was the inspiration to this trek.  

A calling to Bhutan has been strong for a while and when I heard of forests and gardens ripe with rhododendrons enroute a trek, it triggered memories of that Rhododendron tree. I thought this would be the perfect introduction to the countryside, giving me a window into Bhutan’s untouched locales which not many reach out to beyond the allure of Tiger Nest Monastery and the uber progressive capital Thimphu city. Moreover I was sold with the thought that I would have forests, gardens and pathways full of those blossoms for company on each day of the trek.  

The Route
The Druk Path trek is a 60 kms route winding through mountains between Bhutan’s largest cities Paro and Thimphu.

Just before beginning the trek, my guide Lal points to a tiny black speck in the middle of dense conifers that seem eons away and says, “You see that black spot there, it is a fort 10 kms from where we are now, that is where we will camp this evening.” Even though I have been on a fare share of treks yet anxiety strikes! The thought of the distance, the steep ascent overwhelms me and I try to take my mind off this. 

The mountains have a way of intimidating you in the beginning, making things seem tougher than they actually are and then saying, “Ah I was just kidding.” 

It took us five days to traverse through the trek route that begins from the National Museum in Paro. Beginning with an intense uphill climb we set up camp on day one in an open pasture near an old fort called Jili Dzong, perched on top of the hill and surrounded by tall prayer flags on poles all around us. Thick stone walls white washed with deep red and gold accents and trimmings. With the fragrance of incense thick in the air and monks in deep red robes going about their daily rituals we entered the Dzong to be greeted by statues of Buddha’s past, present and future.
Day 2 3770 m to Tsokam the path disappears into a forest. Here is where the Rhododendron trail truly begins. Pleasure red mud like a Persian rug, dominated by rhododendrons of deep red to pure while. Mostly thick forest, was wearing tinted glasses made the colours seem richer like walking through a HD/ 3D movie; only this was for real. Leisure walk, trek through forests, meadows and open pastures

Day 3 4235 m pass called Lavana Day 4 Change in landscape yet again. Trees changed to shrubs as we climbed higher and reached a height of 4000 meters.

The gorgeous scenery, clean air egged me on and after a while my mind calmed down and we set a rhythm in my stride. After trekking for 5 hours and traversing across a couple of mountains we reached the fort Jili Dzong perched on top of the hill and surrounded by tall prayer flags on poles all around the we saw monks. The smell of incense reaches you even before you enter the tall white washed stone structure with trimmings of deep red and gold. We payed our respect to the trinity of towering Buddha’s stationed in the temple inside the fort - representing the past, present and future. 

We moved on from here to Tsokam at which point the open meadows disappear into dense forests heavy with the fragrance of moisture and fresh flowers. From this moment on I was lucky to witness Rhododendrons in every hue and colour beginning from a bright pink, turning deep red, shades of vermilion, yellow onward to my favourite misty lilac and pure white, in all I was told there were at least 54 varieties of Rhododendrons. Landscapes changed from dense forests to open meadows but the trail of Rhododendrons, even at the highest point on the trek at 4235 meters at  the Lavana pass followed us until the last day of the trek. 

Being the only trekkers on the route it felt like we were the sole being on the planet for those 5 days, it was calming in a way, away from all the clutter. It was the ideal time to visit as day time temperatures were calm and nights were just a little chilly as opposed to doing the trek in later months of September, October when temperatures can dip below -10 degrees. But the highlights of the trek were the trail of Rhododendrons, I was lucky to visit in the right months (April-May) and setting up camp and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee by a lake. 

Hits and misses
None really. Only they have a lot of chilly and cheese in their food, so if you cant take the heat or are lactose intolerant then mention the same before the trek. With clear views of the snow capped eastern Himalayas, a trail of Rhododendrons, a leisurely pace and amazing food (fresh fern, asparagus, krowbik sabzi) and great stories by our guide Lal for company; I was in heaven.

- A cushion helps. 
- Carry long socks, don't make the mistake of taking ankle length ones. 
- Head lamp/ torch Good day pack – for water, snacks, specks, cap, windcheater/ light weight wind breaker, windproof, quick dry pants 
- Carrying slippers or light weight sandals are a good idea to slip into after each day's trek
- garbage bags as backpack liners, zip lock bags 
- White tape and cloth bandages to wrap toes in to avoid blisters 
- Carry fruits on trek,instead of chips and biscuits (no garbage) good idea. 

Would I do it again?
Yes maybe in Winter, but then I am tempted to ditch it for other winter treks in Bhutan – to Jhomulhari’s base camp or better yet the Snowman’s trek – the toughest trek in the world. When ever Bhutan calls me back next, I will be only too willing.

My guide told me that I was the first Indian on a trek with him in Bhutan and on finding out further I was told that Indian travellers don't opt for trekking here. During the R&D phase for this trip I spoke with 13 people ( 3 agents in India and 10 people who have visited Bhutan over the years) the agents went on their first trip this year to test the turf for treks for next year. Ten tourists did not know about trekking options available in Bhutan. So I am guessing most Indians will opt for treks in Bhutan next year.

Random Musings During the Trek:

A good way to gauge distance: When you can see forests of conifers in front of you you clearly have a lot to cover. When trunks of the same conifers star you in the face, you know you are nearer now.

(This was an independent trip. Bhutan tourism was kind enough to connect me with a few travel agents who helped in booking the appropriate flight connections and other logistics. I have shared coordinates for the same below)

1) Bhutan Yarden Tours & Treks
Mr. Karma Wangdi
Managing Director
Tel: 00975 (0) 2 334818
Mob: 00975 17604549
2) Bhutan Dhenzang Travel
Mr. Karma Letho
Managing Director
Tel: 00975 2 340100
Mob: 00975 17118668
3) Excursion To Himalayas - Bhutan Travel
Mr. Mindu Dorji
Tel: 00975 2 331423
Mob: 00975 17140505

1 comment:

Razzaq Siddiqui said...

That was a nice post! Quite informative! Specifically the Tips section.
I am doing the Druk path trek next month ie in April.
Can you help me with one thing? How cold will it be there in the mountains? Also will there be snow anywhere there?