Alarm screamed out loud at 6 am waking us up with stiff neck and swollen eyes. Couldn’t help laughing at one another, but they looked like pregnant leeches. I really don’t know what made it swell, fart -less possible, fatigue –more possible. We had breakfast at 6.30 am, that could be the earliest breakfast on our entire trek to and fro Laya, and started repacking our loads into fifteen kilos each for ponies. They can carry two of those on either sides. We got ten ponies’ load but to be on the safer side kept all fifteen and when we were done with repacking, to our shock the loads stacked up for seventeen ponies.
|Ponies getteing loaded|
|She is ready to hi the road|
On fifteen ponies loads were already mounted and secured too but, what about another sixty kilos of load? Where do we get two more ponies from? There is no way we can carry, requested the pony owners to do something, “Ponies will die, if we over load them,” that’s how they reply. We were in dilemma, should we leave those not so necessary ones and request the pony coordinator to send us later or we will look for porters?
Luck was on our favor may be, or maybe it is how one approach another, the way one communicates can make things possible. After about half an hour of requesting they agreed to arrange amongst fifteen ponies and the two of them, they will carry too. In relief we bought them beers in place of morning tea, they were more pleased. It took one and half an hour to exactly repack, mount and remount. At 8 am under the golden rays twenty one of us, fifteen ponies, two owners and four of us began our trek to Laya.
|So we began our trek|
Ponies went ahead of us as we watched them cross about two hundred meters of knee deep dangerous muddy trail. That stretch was so scary and life threatening, suppose he skidded and it will throw him off the trail causing death. Some of the ponies won’t at all go out of fear, their masters had to catch them by the rein and lead slowly until the end of the dangerous trail. That way all got through safe. From there trail was all down until Koina.
Sometimes we would lead, most of the time ponies would leave us way behind. Ran down, rested not at all, sun was getting hotter. We welcomed it after days of heavy downpour and the mud. I would ask of our fatty just to find out if he was honest and to my amazement, the pony guys seemed to know him. They would talk of his stories, since then I kind of started to believe in whatever Jigme spoke of in the pickup truck, while coming from Thimphu.
An hour seemed like a few minutes, crossed a bridge after taking some pictures, we saw ata Singye under a canopy in front of a small house, it was Koina. Oh, our Koina! Koina is a resting place of Zhabdrung Rinpoche enroute Gasa, when he came to Bhutan form Tibet. There is a rock throne beside mochu just behind the house and it is said Zhabdrung Rinpoche sat there. It is indeed a very holy place.
|The Koina and the lone house|
|At koina our pony that lagged behind had a broken pony-shoe. After changing|
he led the team
|The love birds Gem Tsheirng and Dolma, Koina|
Our advance team had gone already, except ata Singye but, we didn’t expect him either. He didn’t say a word until we were done with tea and snacks. After it was over then he began in his soft spoken tone, “We got two more huge bags for the ponies and the egg!” Four of us know ponies are overloaded except four two-legged ponies. Just then saw some empty ponies and they were willing to carry our load. “Problem is solved one pony is all we need after all!” I thought, but glad we didn’t lay back easy and started to get going, then did we realize those ponies were actually heading Gasa. “What a bad joke asha bjoba!” He didn’t hear me. I admired our team spirit (because I had a bitter experience in my previous treks) we divided the load in accordance to our strength and stamina. Ata Singye and Dorji took the lion’s share, Gem and I took our shares; Sonam Dolma was the judge. From Koina the trek was all up and along the rapid Mochu. We trekked slow and easy but didn’t stop much. We kept our pace eating kapche along the way sometime and taking a few pictures too.
|Dorji, Dolma and ata Singye, past Koina|
|Kapchi, the energy booster|
|Inspecting my wet shoes|
Ata Singye shared a story from what he had heard last night in Koina, of a bear who died drinking beer. The lone bear used be a frequent visitor to the lone house in Koina and that night he stole beer from the window and never returned, ever. Later they found not very far from the house beer bottles broken from the neck and more of assumed, he stole beer but since he didn’t know how to open them, broke it from the neck and consumed broken pieces of glass together with beer. Those might have probably killed the bear. It was a sad story. Gem spoke of me, when we went looking for ponies in Ponjugang, that he could see things at a distance very clearly and although I am not myopic, I failed to see. So, he joked, “If there is a sniper, he could kill you easily. You are going to walk straight to him and you won’t see him. ”
|My eyes swollen alike pregnant leeches|
|We met some trekkers coming down from Laya|
|And she poses for a picture with 50 kgs on her back|
|She posed too|
A little up and then we descended close to Mochu, that is going to be our trekking route till last army base camp. Such a beautiful trail and Dolma was like, “Doesn’t it look like Pattaya beach in Thailand? So beautiful ni?” I have never been there so, I quickly tried to gather some memories of it from whatever I have seen on the TV, “Yes, it is!”… But, that stretch of hike really was beautiful, walking by the bluish Mochu following the sandy trail cutting Mochu three times within a span of ten minutes hike. Thanks to army for constructing three temporary wooden bridges in just three days that we could cover the distance in just ten minutes, which otherwise takes three hours.
|Our Pattaya and the mochu|
|By the mochu river, we did pose|
|The bridge over mochu saved three hours of tiring trek|
|ahem ... the poser|
At 1.30 pm, we reached Thongchudrak the second meal stall quite hungry and tired, three hours after we started from Koina. Showed our tags as any hungry kid would do, and the food is cooking. We didn’t mind, went to Mochu threw some stones, washed our hands and sat by the fireplace drinking tea. My thoughts drifted, “Had our mates reached here yesterday, it would have been a disaster; the pony team can never make up this far with loads within the calculated time. However, if they were here and we got the ponies, be it late, we were to come. Them stopping at Koina saved us all, no wonder the place was blessed by Zhabdrung Rinpoche, so were we blessed that night.”
|Food just getting ready|
Food was ready. Ate our fill and off we set, as always slow and steady. On our way up about an hour or so we stopped for a while to gather up some strength and stamina, when a pony collapsed right in front of us. He was so tired, and for about a week almost all of the ponies were carrying loads Ponjugang to Laya without a break. We felt so sorry, at the same time thought he was going to die. But, the owner got schedule to catch and loads to deliver, so he pulled the pony by the rein and made him walk. I prayed deep inside for him and all the ponies, “In next life, let not you born as a pony. You have done your share more than enough!”
|Pony was having a tough time|
On our way up, all the people we met coming down they would tell us, “Laya is just above the army base camp. You are about to reach the camp.” We thought it was right there, but it took us two and half an hour to reach the army camp. They irksomely motivated us, thanks for that anyways, it helped us. Past the camp, we met a teacher from New Zealand, who is currently teaching in Royal Thimphu College (RTC). He was having a tough time walking, I asked him, “Sir, what was the highest altitude you had trekked, in your life?” “Oh, this is the highest of all the climbs I did. I did hiking back in New Zealand once, and the altitude was 200 meters above the sea level.” “That’s lower than Phuntsholing, which is 290 meters,” I was amazed by his zest and determination. He told me before, that he had been to forty plus countries and still counting. He hadn’t given up I met him in Laya, later.
|At the Taktsi army base camp|
|A group photo|
It was 6 pm and really dark, thank goodness we had torches. We kept walking a step at a time following the torch light and gasping for air at the same time, it was getting thinner and thinner. Echoing the highlander’s yell, “Aaawwwww,” often to keep wild animals at bay and also to notify mates of our coming. Dolma would laugh at my, “Aaawww.” Thirty or forty minutes up the trail we heard a familiar “Aaawww,” it was our team leader. The three of them: team leader himself, ashim Chimi and Menda went the wrong way and they were returning. Menda didn’t sound so happy; I could feel her frustration, the onerous trek got her. Ashim Chimi like any other mother would do motivated Menda and Dolma was encouraging her all the way up.
Finally at 7.30pm we made it to Laya. Everyone cheered, “Yaay, welcome to Laya!” We were last to reach.It was all dark and could not see Laya. Quickly we started pitching tents, acho Penjor showed his magic with tent pitching. Folks started setting up things for dinner, but our head cook was missing. One of our folks saw him drinking in the first house as he entered Laya, the highlander guy nick named Parasite, nephew of the house owner in whose garden we camped the first night seemed to know the house. He and I went back looking for him. Yes, he was in the first house drinking because he crashed there only. He was in a sound sleep I didn’t wake him, but took his bag and the quarter empty bottle of brandy. I informed the lady of the house to tell him to come to Gup’s house when he wakes up, that’s where we are camping. We headed back, notified the team leader and the folks too. Found the fatty but, we had lost a baggage along the way. How and where no one has a clue. Had dinner and we called it a day.