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Doche La is the high pass to Central Bhutan. It’s about 10,500 feet high and it takes about 45 minutes to get there from Thimphu.
On a clear day you can see the entire eastern range of the Bhutanese Himalayas. It was a bit smoky and cloudy for us, but still quite lovely. These 108 chortens or stupas have been installed on the top of the pass within the last decade.
We started our day hike right next the 108 stupas so we had to work our way through this tangle of prayer flags, always making sure to lift them up, rather than step over them. (That’s our guide, Norbu and Julie)
It took us about 2.5 hours to reach this temple perched on the edge of the world at about 11,800 feet. We shared the trail with some scout leaders ( both boy and girl scouts), but no tourists. We mostly hiked through a mature rhododendron (etho-metho) forest – many trees 100 feet high or more. The height dwindled as we went up.
We then took only about 1.5 hours to hike back down. We arrived at our hotel just below the pass and checked into this room.
The first picture is at arrival. The second picture is a bit later after the fire was lit and the third picture shows the view from our window including the balcony with the binoculars.
Just before sunset we went back up to the temple at the top of the pass. It was built at the same time as the chortens to commemorate the ending of a conflict with the separatists. Our guide stayed outside and we went in to look at the paintings and sit a bit. As we left, and we found this very odd, the lama sidled up to us and said “Give me money. I need a dollar.” We had already given our normal temple donation. Perhaps this was because the guide wasn’t there.
We returned to our hotel for a nice dinner and snug night under thick blankets. No altitude sickness today.. YEAH !!!
Before we went to our room we noticed this Drukpa Kenley item in the gift shop. Some of you have asked for photos.. you know who you are. We did not buy it.
Woke up to frost. Can’t imagine how cold it would have been at the original campsite which was more than 1000 feet higher and more exposed. In the light we could better see the auspicious prayer flags, and also the extreme drop for the next part of the trek out. ( Good thing we could stop here in our nighttime hike down the mountain.)
We broke camp at leisure and started down about 8:45 am. We walked down and down, often without a clear path. We passed a house alone in the woods with a few guard dogs and no people. We threw them a few West Coast Trail cookies (from Cafe 932 in Victoria) to pacify them. We forded a stream and hiked up a bit. And then all at the same time.. about 11 am – we found the end of the road, Tashi (carrying tea and sandwiches) caught up, the horses caught up and our car showed up.
We had a quick bite as they loaded our bags from the horses to the car. We tipped our wonderful crew with money and Canadian scarves and headed for Thimpu.
So I guess we did our Druk Trek in 2 nights and 2.5 days, although we did have an assist from modern transport.
We are now at the Hotel Migmar for a few days. We will have a revised itinerary soon. At the moment all we want is rest. Altitude sickness is , apparently, not finished with you immediately. There is lingering tiredness and loss of appetite. We already know Norbu has an easy day planned for us tomorrow.
We woke up to another beautiful day. Had bowls of hot water served to our tent so we could wash up and pack before breakfast and then off for a 10 km (6 mile) day. We started off at the Buddhist Temple just above our campsite. It had a wonderful statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. We made an offering for the temple and the lama knotted us a yellow necklace and let us light a butter lamp. We were also able to get in a lovely meditation there.
We continued on a beautiful ridge and saw some views of Jumolhari, the second highest peak in Bhutan at 7,200 meters ( 23,600 feet). It is the left most snow capped one and it looks a lot more impressive in person. We could also see some forest fires in the valley. (That’s the smoke on the left.)
We also saw some yaks this day ( pictures only on the other cameras). Beautiful all black, and some black and white. Very regal.
We continued through thick alpine forests above 12,000 feet and I began to fell really out of breath and a bit headachy and nauseous. I was going VERY slowly. As we FINALLY saw the camp ahead, Julie got the symptoms in a completely severe way and had to stop. Head pounding and ready to throw up. We limped into camp and took our Altititude Sickness pills and lay down.
About 2 – 2.5 hours later we got up. I was feeling not that much better but Julie was WORSE. By the way, extreme bitchiness is a symptom. I told the guide we needed another plan and he was already on it.
We packed up and started downhill immediately, horses and everything else following. We did about 1 hour in the twilight and 1 hour in darkness with headlamps ( thank god for headlamps !!) and eventually our lead guy, Tashi, with a gas lantern. (We had Tashi in front and our guide, Norbu in back). We felt better within 15 mintues. Within 2 hours we reached 11,000 feet and a nice little campsite. And there we stayed. We had a fire, a nice dinner ( we couldn’t eat much) and we slept the best we could.
It’s a beautiful day. We started from just above Paro Museum, heading up and up all day for about 8 km (almost 5 miles). On the way we see farmhouses, an archery contest and walked through rhodendron forests and pine forests.
The Druk Trek is the traditional path between Paro and Thimphu. Even the kings went this way before the highway was built. Our horseman could do the trek in 2 days. The army trains soldier by having them do it 1 day. There are many “shortcuts” ( steeper paths). The tourist way is 4 nights, 5 days. Here is near the start, looking back down into the Paro valley.
Our horses, cook, and horseman pass us early on, and make sure our campsite is set up before our arrival.
We are served tea and lunch on the way up. We share our tea with a fellow traveller at Long Chorten.
They put their all into our needs. Even the salad is a work of art.
Early to bed and very happy to have -20 degree C sleeping bags !!!!
WOW WOW WOW
Out at 8 am and and an hour later we are at 7000 feet (up from 4000 feet in Kathmandu) and looking at a breathtakingly beautiful line up of high peaks.
We then take off on a 12 km hike, up and down, but ending at about 5000 feet at the World Heritage site Changu Narayan.
Here we are at the start of the hike. You can just make out one of the over 8000 meter peaks behind us. Just let your imagination fill it in. It looked even better.
Our path lead through farms, often right through the front yards of the farmhouses , where we were typically greeted with Namaste Namaste. Lots of goats and chickens and carefully tended garden plots. At this farm our guide purchased some spinach for his wife from this farmer.
About 3:30 we reached Changu Narayan. It is on a mountain promontory that sticks out into the flat valley below. The temple is at the highest point, and is surrounded by a town. It reminder me a lot ( in feel) of Le Baux or even Mount St Michel (but smaller). The site dates from the 3rd Century and has many ancient carvings. Here is the main inner temple.
Back to Kathmandu tired but happy and plus a blister or two. Tomorrow morning early we fly to see Everest, then Baraktipur and a shorter hike with lunch at a farmhouse.