Friday, 17 February 2017

Bhutan #1: Acclimatisation

Finally some photos of Bhutan! In September/October 2016 we joined a group tour to Bhutan to hike the Lunana Snowman Trek through the Bhutanese Himalayas. The trek was expertly organised and led by The Mountain Company. The kingdom of Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon and the gross national happiness, is an amazing country, both in terms of culture and nature, and it was a privilege to be able to spend 5 weeks here, of which 4 weeks hiking through the remote parts in the north. We will certainly come back to explore more of this beautiful country and its friendly people.

The first 4 days in Bhutan were used to acclimatise to the altitude, as the main trek would bring us to camp at 4000 m within 2 days, which would otherwise be too fast. The first morning we walked up to the number 1 tourist attraction in Bhutan, the iconic Taktsang monastery or Tiger's Nest high above the Paro valley. It is 1.5-2 hours walk up to the monastery which is perched on a cliff at ca 3120 m. It was quite foggy when we walked up through the forest with moss and lichen covered trees, but every now and again it cleared up and we would get a glimpse of this beautiful monastery. As we had started early, we had the monastery for ourselves and our knowledgeable guide Tshering showed us around. Like most monasteries and temples in Bhutan, it is not allowed to take any photos inside. Walking down we met many tourists struggling their way up, it is pretty tough for those not used to hiking in the mountains.

Landing at Paro airport

First glimpse of Taktsang monastery high up the cliff

Yellow-billed blue magpie

Opening in the mist: Taktsang monastery

In the afternoon we drove across the Chele La pass to the Haa valley, where we would stay for 2 nights. This valley is at ca 2700 m, 400 m higher than Paro and therefore better for acclimatisation. We stayed in the comfortable Lechuna Heritage Lodge, a renovated farmhouse, and made a day walk around the valley through forest and farmland. The second day, we stopped on the top of the ca 3800 m Chele La pass on our way to the start of the Snowman trek back in the Paro valley, and walked along the ridge. Again foggy, unfortunately, so we didn't get to see the great views to the snowy peak of Mt Chomolhari, but we enjoyed photographing the many wildflowers that were still flowering.


Lechuna Heritage Lodge

Haa valley

Chele La pass with prayer flags. The poles with the long white flags are erected to honour deceased family members and guide them to their next life.


After a buffet lunch in Paro we drove to the end of the road in Paro Valley where the trekking staff and the horsemen were already waiting. The road was just a narrow rough farm track, but the capable driver managed to drive the small bus to the end without too much problem. At the end of the road there were 2 small shops, a simple guesthouse and a busstop. From here all freight is by horseback (at higher altitudes also yaks) and people walk.

First camp in a muddy field at the end of the road

End of the road, start of the trek. Two small shops and a busstop

Drying chillies; chillies are an important ingredient in the Bhutanese cuisine

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