Monday, July 31, 2017

4 - Day 1 The trek begins : Jana Tenkha Goenpa to Tshokam, first night halt, 19th February

We were way behind the advance team, yet folks wont mind posing cos they knew advance team waits!

7 ½  hours hiked

Through the heart of Haa town up the rough road we reached Janatenkha Goenpa at about 7.40 AM. Straight away headed to the kitchen and packed our lunches. Junior team leader had already consulted lama there and he offered some prayers and black tea offering for our safe passage besides inviting all of us in the chapel. Our mind was at peace and energy all boosted for the trek ahead. Acho Karma T. already briefed us last night about the lone bear that one should not tear off the group, and about an hour or so up the trail we will come across no tree line which is prone to altitude sickness. To avoid from falling sick our mouths to be remained covered until we passed that zone. Everything noted, without wasting much time ponies were all loaded and we begun at 8.30 AM, the trek to famed NobTshonapatta.  

Jana Ten Kha Goenpa

The trail led us with a gentle ascend and then it started picking up. Slow and steady, one step at a time up we climbed allowing ourselves to warm up. Reached the dry lake, saw some camera traps put up on the trunks for educational purposes by researchers which also reminded us “we have entered the lone bear zone!” 

Camera traps 

Past that trail was all steep but beautiful too with thick snow on the ground. It was up to us whether to kick the snow and play around or save energy and keep climbing. But, we were trekkers after all so we kicked, rolled in the snow, snapped some pictures and got back to the trail.

First tea break and the sweepers :P :P 
Just warming up, not at all tired!!

In the snow, one photo it is a must :D :D 
Yea, we did pose again, in the snow!!!

Whose snowman was it that I dont remeber, but I certainly loved it!

I looked far-up in front but our advance team led by ashim Chimi accompanied by aue Lhamu and others were nowhere to be seen, they were long gone. Turned my glance back, our two new girls from Phuntsholing - 290 meters above the sea level - and Wangchuk were having a little hard time but they kept their pace, us the old trekkers we did not hurry either.

Slowly but steady and continues we kept our pace. Saw far below?

Walking at our own tempo we took almost 3 plus hours to get to the no tree line. Our advance team was already there some 30 to 40 minutes ago almost falling asleep, it was past noon. I thought their body and muscles might have all gone cold and stiff from waiting for us too long. No tree line was end of the climb most probably or at least for some hours, because as long as our sight could travel far into the distance, we could see our-would-be trail very gentle with mild ascends at a few intervals. Everyone thought the same. Sitting in a circle we lunched there, hoisted strings of Lungtas (prayers riding on the horses of wind) for positive energy and safe passage, then climbed the mini peak nearby to sneak peak Haa valley far below. Our two brother leaders were lenient with us and didn’t push us much, photo shoot was a must.

The full circle. Lunch break.
Advance team were about to doze off waiting for the us and the sweeper!!!

Taking our grandfather’s time at 1.15 PM, slowly we began to shunt ourselves. We were walking on the edge of the wide mountain that connected and introduced us to another couple of wide mountains, exhibiting some of the best views of Haa dzongkhag hidden high up in the mountains. I could never stop saying to myself, “Wow, what a trail, what a view, one could never stop falling in love with it.”  Our advance team would leave us on one occasion, then wait and hike together most of the time for ashim Ching Ching was like, “It is boring to go way ahead and feel like sleeping waiting.”  Ashim Chimi and Lhamu were reassuring Mr. DrukAir, “Lapchi mayna, next trek dhi easy wong say?”  We had an arduous  trek to Laya some months earlier.

Late but still taking our grandfather's time to walk and tak pictures :D :D 

Picture here, posing there. Resting hither, jumping thither. Drinking tea gulping water; to hurry was not in our dictionary, not today. Time was our slave, but were we really its master? We did not realize time was half past 3 PM and we still got more than 5 hours length of hike to our first camp site Wangjithang that lied at the altitude of 3688 meters. But, before that we have to cross two high passes Chozu La and Tsabjo La lying at the altitude of 4117 meters and 4194 meters above the sea level. Just then wind started to pick up. Dark clouds congregated above our heads. Two brothers after consulting our guides called on to camp over night in a place called Tshokam, we will reach there after hiking for another hour. We are not going to the actual camp site. We are not going to make it.

Our first night camp site at Tsho Kam 3536 meters above the sea level.
Look at the toilet tent standing, aint it wonderful?
Donated by ashim Chimi and acho Karma T. Dorji for Trekkers360'

We camped at Tshokam 3536 meters. Tents of different shades looked beautiful but of all toilet tent stood up. Standing 6 feet tall, easy to fold, carry and pitch but served a very great purpose. Trekkers didn’t have to go looking for bushes to answer nature’s call and pollute the environment. Above all ladies felt so safe, secure and comfortable to answer the call. Gem and I dug a cat hole of 2 feet deep. For 25 heads for a night it’s more than enough, and whoever got in covers up the human waste after her or his call.

Tea and snacks were served followed by an early dinner. After dinner we were back in a circle by the fire singing. I overheard ashim Yangchen got a little headache, acho S.T was making her drink some solutions. She got better. It was windy and cold, drizzling at times making us quite worrisome since we got a long hike and four high passes to climb tomorrow.  However, we were too positive and that didn’t stop us from keep singing that we ran out of songs and had to call in cooks to join us. The truth they sang better than us.    

Our first day trek was moderate, everyone was as fine as the fiddle although a few of us experienced dizziness for sometime because of the thin air, but we got acclimatized the moment later. We wished Menda to have joined us. 12 AM we crashed in our tents. Mr. DrukAir, Ogyen and I, there of us were in the same tent.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

3- Haa to Jana Tenkha Goenpa 19th February

7.15 Am, loading our iron horses and preparing to head Jana Tenkha Goenpa.
In the hind, our host's and others huge traditional Bhutanese houses in Haa.

Upstairs there were three rooms of which two had wooden floors, partitioning one another with mud plastered walls that had bamboo skeletons inside with ample glassed windows on either room. Door was huge wooden planks put together and quite heavy too; it gave an ancient squeaking sound as though a signature to say one is entering into a traditional house built with basic raw materials without using a single iron nail. What a house, what a feeling, just majestic.   

Sangay Khandu a.k.a Mr. DrukAir the name he got after his trekking to Laya with Trekkers 360 degree earlier that year for always passionately carrying and displaying his DrukAir stuffs high in the mountains; slept with me in the middle room. Four of them, two team leaders their younger brother Kinzang Namgyal who was a grade 10 graduate also the youngest trekker in our group, and their friend Ogyen Jigme a RTC student took the first room. Before sleep took over everyone was cross checking on their alarms: 6 AM……………… It was 12.40 am, we crashed.

At a first glace one would forsake and lose the beauty embedded in this wonderful piece of art.
Throughout the night I was thinking of all the labor and passion they had put to come up with this lovely
piece of art work: reusing every piece of cloths.
It not only gives you a peaceful sleep, but it is also very good for your back since it allows you to bring
your head at par your body on the floor while sleeping, which is how one should be sleeping
for the health of ones back.

“Tashi! …. Tashi, where are you? Tandin, let’s go. Come on, let’s go up.” I pretended I didn’t hear him. A pause and he called out, “Pema, don’t this to me let’s go for a movie!” I seriously didn’t hear this time so I did not pay much heed. A moment of silence and again came in, “Waiiiiiiiiii, Tandinnnnnnnnnn!”  Now this time I couldn’t help but laugh out so loud, “Hahahahaha…Hahahaha.” Everyone was in fact laughing way before me, “Hahahahahahha.” Our youngest trekker had the funniest dream with his school friends apparently going somewhere.  I recalled and laughed again, “Hahahahaha!”

It was 5.30 AM in the morning bit cold Kinzang woke us with his dream and our laughter woke folks below. We told them the dreamy episode and they laughed louder than us.  Glad he woke us early a few minutes past 6 AM and everyone was geared up. 

Pagoda of plates

Had a quick but very succulent breakfast, then without wasting much time thanked our host for their generous hospitality; bid farewell and off we drove to Janatenkha Goenpa (Monastery) above Haa valley. 

Lob birds basking in the early sun 
Dr. Sonam Tobgay aka acho S.T., with such a smile in Haa town.

As a boy I would always pray and wish for a smiling doctor every time I went 
to the hospital to get injections on various occasions, so that those T.T injections
wont hurt me. But, at all times doctors were furious one after the other,
that I would cry looking at their faces and not with the injections.
I am cent percent sure patients might be rushing or wanting to go
to the hospital where acho S.T practices :D :D

P.S. ashim Yangchen no angry, no angry :P :P hahaha 

Taxi in Haa

Friday, July 28, 2017

2 - Thimphu to Haa, 18th February

A group photo before we set for Haa, underneath the Walnut tree
A few missing in the picture, though.

It was almost noon our team leaders were already there by the time I reached and as always tea was served. Slowly folks started coming in one by one with huge back packs but heavier were smiles on their faces. Once again trekkers flooded the ambiance of the Walnut Tree. Our two new girls from Phuntsholing Dechen and Dawa just arrived.  With them everyone was in and ready to load up except for acho karma T. and ashim Chimi they were caught up in meetings. As we waited for the duo I went around trying to get to know the new comers so as to make the trek easy and comfortable, not for me but for them. Within a few kicks of chungkee (bunch of thin rubber bands tied together in a bounce able size) we got along quite well, instantly I knew it is this same feeling and love for the mountains or eagerness to experience mountains that bonded us invisibly.

A quick chungkee break and time to pose 

 The late winter sun started leaning to west when we were done with loading our stuffs, bid farewell to Thimphu and departed for Haa 112km away, where we are going to crash for a night prior to our big event, the NobTshonapatta trek. After three and a half hours of cruising through Paro valley to the highest motor able pass in the country - Chelela at 3988 meters above the sea level - down the narrow and steep highway through thick jungle past the highest pass we reached Haa. It was already dark and cold outside but soon we were ushered to our team leaders’ aunt’s home.  Yes, our team leaders are cousins.

The black insulting cushion was laid across the wide wooden floor retaining every heat our body produced and there was a huge Bhutanese wood-fed heating stove in the center; all of us - not tired at all, or maybe holding back and not letting it show on our faces for from next day it will be a real test ­- we sat in a big full circle. The stove was burning and it was so warm and cozy inside the huge traditional house, our host served hot tea and honteys (delicacy famous in Haa and Paro, made out of buckwheat with turnip fillings inside. It comes in the size of momo.) but acho Karma T. and Kinely Penjor left for Janatenkha to drop our kitchen stuffs and tents, so our cook and other guys will have our breakfast and pack lunch ready the next morning. All the while we chit chatted on numerous topics sitting in full circle by the stove waiting for them to come back for dinner.  

At Haa sitting around Bhutanese wood-fed heating stove feasting on Hontey

Azey, chilly paste that makes a perfect combo with Hontey

When they got back and dinner was done, the watch on my wrist read 11.50 PM. Except for couples and girls rest we were to go upstairs to crash. Team leaders announced, “Everyone, be ready to depart by 7 AM tomorrow!” Bid sweet dreams and up we climbed the steep and narrow but strong traditional wooden ladder to crash.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trek to NobTshonapatta - 1 - the planning:- Thimphu

The Revered Nob Tshonapatta (The treasure lake)
lying at 4,129.3 meters above the sea level, completely frozen.
Taken on 20th February 2017

“Acho, I am late to confirm?” I messaged. “No, no. One or two can be adjusted even at the last minute!” “Wow, good, good. Then, acho, will you please add my name too?” “Okay, okay, right away!” Acho Penjor Gyeltshen responded promptly reassuring my confirmation as timely. It was quite a relieve to finally confirm my participation for the impending trek, firstly I am going to formally trek as one of the newest members of Trekkers 360 degree amongst other senior Trekkers 360 degreeians; and secondly because we are going to NobTshonapatta, the treasure lake, that lies at 4,129.3 meters above the sea level. It has a mystical story dating way early which is very much alive even today.

Two amazing and talented brothers acho Penjor Gyeltshen (senior team leader for this trek) and Kinley Penjor (junior team leader) visited 2017’s calendar about three months ahead, and after calculating all the government holidays falling at least five or six days together in a stretch, they planned for a trek to NobTshonapatta accordingly. Since then they created a poll on Trekkers 360 degree’s Facebook page and started counting heads. I saw it too. Below, it showed viewed by me as well. But, sadly I could neither click on “going” nor “not going” since my heart longed to go and at the same time I cannot leave work, for my office is usually active on weekends and government holidays. Acho Penjor sensed it and joked, “Some folks are wishing, if I had only added a ‘may be’ radio button on the poll.” Of all he spoke my mind, and to me that was like a display of a good leadership quality in some ways, coming straight to the point.

I could not confirm for some weeks although our would-be team leaders insisted on confirming at the earliest, so they can start arranging all the necessary gears and goods consequently.  “Are you really not going?” Senior team leader texted me, “Your early confirmation would allow us to get tents and ponies ready before hand!” “Acho, I will confirm next week after consulting my colleagues if there is anything happening during the holidays and if they at all require me only then I can say for sure, is it okay la?” “Fine, until last week of January is perfect, but don’t delay!” “Ya, ya acho!” And before December aged I could confirm. Since then I started looking for my trekking gears, although it was almost one and a half month due; I already finished washing and packing everything in my yellow-black rug sack, ready to take on mountains anytime. Weeks rolled very slowly since then!

On 11th February a week prior to the big event our team leaders called on us underneath the Walnut Tree to discuss the itinerary and also do the headcount. Came in all Trekkers 360 degrees high spirited as always and a few new faces too. Since it was windy outside we had to settle inside Dorji Elements (DE), the discussion went on for about an hour while some of us were trying to motivate and persuade new comers to join us, at the same time minding the number for if it crosses 20+ heads then the management and trekking becomes a little difficult. But, this time we had only 10 Trekkers 360 folks confirmed, so there was enough room. Acho Karma T. desperately wanted to join but he had some pain lingering on his left knee and Dr. Sonam Tobgay who is also a Major in the military, to whom I call Acho S.T with respect, were unsure. Five out of six new comers confirmed while Yangchen regretted for not being able to join, Thinley Bidha motivated Sonam Wangchuk her fiancé to come and he was half hearted.

The wind outside was getting harsh and cold, sipped in cups of hot tea served by our one and only favorite host DE as always. Coincidently it happened to be Menda’s birthday too, the youngest member of Trekkers 360 degree. Wished her a happy birthday and had her birthday cake too, except she is not going with us this time. Before we called it a meeting, team leaders gave us a paper each with itinerary on it. “Arrangements and shopping on 17th” it was written on the paper. I volunteered to come for tent pre checking.

An early chilly morning of Friday I headed Chorten for some rounds. After 30 minutes before heading DE I offered some prayers for a safe trek on behalf of all my fellow trekkers. The clouds above parted slowly making way for the king of the sky to rise. Mountains above Phajoding and afar reflected golden rays warming Thimphu valley down below in the chilly morning.  It was 9 AM I did final round and so I walked down. Acho Penjor with our cook, guide and other guys were sipping on their hot cups of masala tea underneath the Walnut Tree. Acho Penjor did the introduction and they were already preparing to leave for shopping.

Yet, again I was all by myself underneath the walnut tree looking after the goods and often sipping on a hot cup of masala tea. Wind was getting warmer and sun swum very slowly across the ocean of puffy white clouds as I flipped a page of positive notes onto another. Gentle dzongkha music played in the background. A few dried leaves danced in the gentle wind. My thoughts were all subsided. What an ambiance, I thought to myself this is the moment, a perfect moment to feel myself and share the feeling. The page on the book read, “Happiness only real, when shared,” said by the late adventurer Christopher McCandless who passed away alone somewhere in Alaska out of starvation after going around United States for about two years leaving everything behind. Just then I received a call from one of my friends that his family was blessed with a handsome boy. A perfect timing to share positive energy, I wished him and his family a big Tashi Delek.

Acho Penjor and his team were real busy with shopping, and Kinley Penjor our junior team leader would drop by often but too occupied arranging things for the big event. Just then Dr. S.T and Wangchuk confirmed their names, acho Karma T. was already in making our number to 18 a wonderful number for a group to trek. My tummy was grumbling inside it was 12 noon and I took leave after Kinley Penjor said, "Everything is done." 

We were to gather tomorrow and part for Haa.