Note to new subscribers: This is the third part of a series about my recent month long trip to Bhutan. You may be interested in the beginning of the series at this link: Thunder Dragon Part I.
Michael, a Canadian real estate developer, was camping next to me at the base of Mt. Chomolhari. He turned 52 on the fifth day of our walk so I sang him the happy tune through the frost covered tent walls. I unzipped the flap and was staring at a the crystal blue sky behind the 24K foot snow capped mountain. Breakfast tea was served tent side by Ishay and another glorious Himalayan day was underway.
Anna Marie, our friend from Holland, was battling a form of bronchitis. We woke up at 13K feet and would be crossing our first major pass today at 16K feet. This is the point of no return because once the top is crossed, the only way out is to cross high passes. She made the very difficult decision to turn around and go back to Paro. I think she could have made the trek, but for the good of the group she decided to sacrifice her journey. A selfless lady! After breakfast, the group headed north while Anna, one guide, and several horses headed south. A somber cloud added weight to the heavy morning.
The guide advised us to take our time and not to “push” the 3K foot ascent. Stressing the body is a sure way to inflame any altitude sickness. I have never walked slower, taken smaller smaller steps, and felt so winded. The summit seemed like an eternity and would require some inspirational help from my music player. Prince, Macklemore, Citizen Cope, and Pink all played a big roll is my snail’s pace to the top. At the summit, we hung some prayer flags to honor Anna Marie’s recently deceased mother. Tears flowed prior the the descent.
Dzongs are distinctive buildings with fortress style walls. There are 20 regions in Bhutan and each has one of these structures. They serve as the center for local government and as religious monasteries. The division reflects the idealized duality of power in Bhutan. Our camp for the night was at the base of a hill topped with a Dzong that was constructed in 1222. On the morning of the 6th day, we toured the ancient building.
I felt like I was walking in all four seasons. Fall was evident by the changing leaves, winter from the snow capped mountains, spring by the raging rivers, and summer by the warm sunshine. I live in Idaho and have never seen anything that resembles the beauty of the grand Himalayan mountains. I looked ahead and saw one mountain covered in rhododendrons, one covered in crumbling rock, a third in fall colors, and the background was a towering snow covered summit.
At one point in the day, I was walking alone and a bit frustrated with being able to enjoy the day and keep up with the group. I was walking in relentless wind, having trouble putting on my jacket, and had a minor meltdown. The fine people that own the trekking company make me a custom walking stick as a welcome gift. I named her Amber and she has a long blue strap. In the midst of my “pity party” the perfect wind current whipped the blue strap across my face with a Himalayan force. It was a nice wake up call to get me back on track.
The next several days were very similar with huge mountain passes followed by steep descents while being surrounded with stunning mountains. On the ninth day of the walk, while sitting around the campfire, the entire group sang a happy birthday to my 79 year old mom in Boise, Idaho. I do not think she will ever have such a diverse and international choir. On the tenth day, we had our first real need for gaiters. Rain soaked the trail and we were trudging though a thick stew of mud. The day ended in a village named Laya.
Laya was our first taste of “civilization” on the trek. The town had several temples, a school, and a few stores. My first experience with commerce was to pay about five bucks for a bucket of hot water. Standing in a horse trough and separated from the world by a thin sheet of blue visqueen, I had my first “ladle shower” in ten days. Total heaven!
Day number eleven was a rest day that began at the local school. October 15 is international hand washing day and we watched the local leaders teaching the elementary students the finer points of soap and water. After school, I took a stroll to the local store and bought a round of beer for the four local men hanging by the front door. I spent the next four hours learning about the local community and the individuals that inhabit this village. There are 200 homes and 153 students. Most of them leave the town for winter, but at least one person stays at each household. The homes were rather nice and could be purchased for $11,000. My new friends decided must be the tallest man in America and likely a wrestler.
To be completed next week……