Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bhutan's Druk Path Trek. Day 1

After that grueling hike to Tiger's Nest the day before we were 'warmed up' for the first day of our Druk Path Trek. 'Druk' means 'Dragon' in Tzongkha,the most spoken Bhutanese language. Druk Path is one of the most popular treks of the country as it is short and offers wonderful views. As I mentioned in my Prologue post, I chose Bhutan and the Druk path trek after a lot of research. The definite highlights of the trek to which I was looking forward to were the chance to spot Gangkhar Puensum,the highest unclimbed mountain in the world and Chomolhari, the second highest peak of Bhutan.

On our first day of the trek we had a hearty breakfast in our hotel and then we started off in our coaster for the trek's starting point.We bid goodbye to the staff of the hotel as this was the end of our stay in Paro and we were to finish our trek in Thimphu,the capital of Bhutan. The starting point of the trek is near the National Museum which lies on the outskirts of Paro. We reached the starting point after 30 mins.Our support team was already waiting for us. There were 3 porters and a few horses. All the equipment and food stuff was packed and ready.As soon as we reached, after a brief round of introductions, whoever had opted to give his rucksack for the horses to carry, gave away their bags. Only Satya, Ishita didi and myself carried our bags.Our starting elevation was 2540MSL and the time was 0840Hrs. We started off, six of us, with our bags and sticks.There comes a phase 15 to 20 minutes after a trek starts when you feel that this is a lot harder than you thought than it would be.The bag feels heavier and your lungs cry for rest but as time passes these feelings fade away.This happened to me on every trek.
A farmhouse

Initially,the trail is wide and passes by a few picturesque farmhouses with apple orchards but we couldn't spot any apples.We passed by a small dwelling where an adorable toddler was playing around in the veranda. We stopped here for a bit and enjoyed the little kid's antics. We scampered off when we heard Durgaji calling out for us.

The surroundings at the beginning of the trek were a bit dry. There were few trees scattered around and far away we could spot the rugged mountains.Everything was deathly quiet with only our chatter breaking the silence now and then.At one point the silence was broken by a roar of the engines of a plane which slowly came into our view as it took off from the Paro Airport.It took a sharp turn as we were looking.We stood there watching the plane make its turn and slowly disappear into the crystal blue skies. With it was gone the roar of the engines and once again we were immersed in the silence.
Mani wall

We were gradually gaining elevation and Slowly the dry barren landscape turned into a green one and we were beginning to get enveloped by the trees.After an hour we reached a wall.This is called the mani wall.The altitude here is 2860MSL. Satya was using the google tracks application to measure our distance and till that point we had covered 3km. This mani wall marked the end of our gradual ascent and from here onwards the trail took a sharp ascent through a dense forest.There was not much change in the scenery for the next couple of hours as we trudged along the leaves covered path.

At around 12 noon it was decided to have lunch. We all sat down under the shade of a few trees. The sun was warm and the shade offered a welcome respite from its heat. The lunch itself was nothing much.A mashed potato,a banana, a sandwich and a tetra pack of fruti. Food was one of the major disappointments of the trek agency we employed.

After lunch we resumed walking and an hour later we as we were walking up over a particularly steep section we could see a Monastery far away. This was the Jele Dzong Monastery mentioned in the trek schedule.(The time was 1205Hrs, the altitude was 3400MSL at that Point and the distance covered was 6.42km.)

The monastery was still faraway and the path was uphill but Sangayji encouraged us by saying that our camp lay downhill.We finally reached our camps at around 1pm. Our campsite lay at 3360MSL and we had covered a distance of 6.75Km from our starting point to our campsite.The tents were already set up by our support team who had overtaken us during the trek. There in between the tents a sheet was laid out on which were placed some of our bags. I walked over to this sheet and flinging over my bag on it sat down myself.The camp site was beautiful.Located at the foot of a hill on which stood that Monastery,the campsite was surrounded by shrubs and bushes for the most part with trees jutting here and there.Far away we could see mountains but for the most part we couldn't see any snow covered peaks because of the hazy weather.

Pushing aside my bag I laid down there on the sheet, under the open sun. The sun shone warmly on my closed eyelids as my chest heaved up and down taking in the air.It felt wonderful after that tiring trek. A few others joined in too. Seeing this Durgaji cautioned us not to fall asleep as it may lead to loss of sleep in the night disrupting our body's time table. He was right and it is always better not to fall asleep in the afternoons there. Since the Campsite lay at an altitude of 3450 MSL, a high altitude zone,we started to feel the effects of the altitude. I was having a mild headache and some uneasiness.

Ravi and myself chose a tent for ourselves and took our things in. I unpacked my sleeping bag and got in to take some rest. Inspite of our guides warning not to take any medicines I took my migraine pill and syrup because as I like to say to myself, I know my body best.After 30 minutes I was slipping into an uneasy sleep. As I was teetering between sleep and being awake I was woken up by satya calling me out for a walk to the Monastery.
Our campsite 

I woke up rather reluctantly and with a lot of persuasion. I in turn woke up Ravi and together we got out. The others except were already ready and we all walked off in the direction of the Monastery.It was another uphill climb and with a lot of whining we reached the top. The Monastery lay at the top of the hill with a winding path approaching it on the other side. As we approached it I could make out that it was damaged in many parts and looked a bit worn down. From the path we took from campsite we emerged to the side of the actual entrance and here and there I could make out patches of wall broken.

The Jele Dzong Monastery
Sangayji went inside first to ask for permission.He came out with a young monk following him. The monk was a sprightly lad of eleven years.We followed him and entered from another entrance. He took us over creaky stairs and past dust filled walls to a huge hall. This hall was dominated by a massive statute in the middle. This was spectacular. Out in the hills, miles away from anywhere,in the middle of nowhere,inside this ancient monastery, was this huge statue.I was overawed by it. The walls were lined with shelves containing books and other stuff. We asked the monk about the history of the place. He didn't say much but quietly went away and brought with him a sheet of paper which he handed over to us. There was a brief history about the place written on the sheet. We sat down on the wooden floor and read it.There wasn't much written there which I didn't already know. After spending some time there we moved out. It was a pity pictures aren't allowed.That massive statute sitting in that hall was a sight to behold.

After a bit of casual strolling around the perimeters of the Monastery we made our way back to the campsite. We spent the time till dinner with casual banter. Dinner was served around 7 30 pm in the Dining Tent. I don't remember what was served on that day but during the whole trek the standard fare consisted of different combinations of rice,dal,rotis,soup and a couple of vegetable curries.
After dinner we had nothing to do and the cold was creeping in, so we decided to call it a day and tucked into our sleeping bags. Of course another hour passed with talking from tent to tent and then finally we slept.

Quick Facts
Starting Point- Near National Musuem (2540MSL)
End Point - Near Jele Dzong (3360MSL)
Total Distance - 6.75Km
Total Time- 4 Hrs 25 mins
Mid Point- Mani Wall (2860MSL)

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