Wednesday, August 9, 2017

8 - Day 3 Dung and Nga Tsho to Thimphu 22nd February, 2017

Janatenkha Monastery taken from some 2 hours hike above it.

7 hours hiked till Haa, then drove to the capital

A beautiful sunny day welcomed us all out of our tents effortlessly, although we slept very late. Looked at one another’s face, everyone was smiling and we know the reason. Did not spell it out for awhile but couldnot hold it any further, “Doc…torr.. Doctor… Ashim Dechen is sick la.” Everyone laughed out loud, imitating Kinzang. She was fine then. She had learnt a lesson but the hard way.

After a quick breakfast, ashim Chimi sat on a rock updating the route map on her diary, I was trying to help her too while ashim told me time and again, “Toilet tent is very important, we didn’t have it for a night and see everyone is hitting the bushes.” I raised my eye brows and yes, I saw our folks going behind the bushes. I was guilty too.

After breakfast readying to head home.

We set about the final leg at 8 AM. Sun was getting hotter, legs going stiffer and trail was no easy: steep. Slowly, but steadily we climbed. Finished the steep section in about an hour from there it was all an easy walk across the flank, looking back on the other side we could see Tsabjo La and far towards west mount Jomolhari was playing with thick white clouds on her head. Carried on walking for 2 hours till we reached the place where Ap Chundu a powerful local deity of Haa valley came over to compromise between the angry pursuing Tshonapatta and Pangbisa lama. There were three huge laptas, we tired looking for a huge stone from which the lake returned but could not see. We walked yet again for another hour to our lunch spot.

Acho S.T, acho Karma T. accompanied by our guide posing by the huge laptsas in Tshelumtsho 

Our last lunch in Nob Tshonapatta Trek on the horizon

Exactly at 12 noon we got to a beautiful mini plateau. Decided to lunch there sitting in a huge but not so accurate circle. Everyone was bit tired and hungry too, started digging into our bangchungs without any delay. We could see Haa valley far below. Acho Karma T. Dorji, began with his signature statement, "Since I am the eldest in the group..." and echoed words of appreciation and thanked everyone especially our two team leaders for organizing a fabulous trek; and then all the new trekkers who joined us on this wonderful and a memorable Nub Tshonaptta trek.  All of us cheered.

Haa Valley far below, taken from 2 hours hike above Jana Ten kha Goenpa

After lunch at 12.40 PM we said good bye to the mountains and thanked them deeply for allowing us to have a safe and an unforgettable trek. Janatenkha monastery wasn’t far enough. Picked up all the plastics bags and PET bottles we came across lying astray on the trail. Trekkers of the past hadn’t done much good to the mountains.

The sharp descend didn’t hurt our knees as expected because we were so engrossed in sweet nothings, so carried away to that point where by we didn’t even realize two of our new girls Dechen and Dawa  were left way behind. Thank goodness they called us or we might have had to climb back the entire stretch of thigh aching ascend.  Well, that was fine I will tell you what the duo had thought all about when Kinzang and I met them some 30 minutes way back upwards the lone bear vicinity. Like some pre primary scholars happy to see their parents who have come to pick them after school, so were Dechen and Dawa smiling at us with a long sigh of relieve.  “We, checked our bag there was a few biscuits, some sticks of match, half a bottle of water and….,” Dechen was running out of words, “… and… I thought we are going to make it through the night and tomorrow they will come looking for us by any means!” That was the first time she spoke to me at that length throughout the trek and, “It was almost a S.O.S.” I thought to myself jokingly. This short exercise not only made them aware to keep up with other trekking mates and call out immediately if s/he sees no one in front or to inform before going to the loo off the trail. But it also reassured them that one is going to be left behind. That’s Trekkers 360’.

Younger brother Kinzang Namgyel taking his new sister found in the mountains by her hand. 

At 3.30 PM there we were in Janatenkha monastery, reunited! So kind of the lama there, refreshment was most appropriate. Hung around the temple for an hour enjoying the panoramic view of Haa valley down below, whilst trying to engrave fresh memories of wonderful Nob Tshonapatta trek deep in our hearts, looking high up in the mountains. It gave us a deep sense of satisfaction for having done it successfully - thanks our two team leaders and to all the mates - and enormous appreciation of how pristine everything was up there.  I wish if every trekkers respect the Mother Nature and her wonderful vicinity then it’s likely she will grant us some perennial rivers and bountiful harvest for decades.

Happy BOOTS!

4.30 PM on the clock and we bid good bye to porter ponies and the lama there. Left Janatenkha on the hill, passed through Haa valley and zoomed off to Thimphu. Gem Tshering was the pilot, and he lived up to his reputation of driving swift no matter the road condition: narrow or wide, he simply zoomed. I pretended to be brave. Mr. DrukAir got numerous calls which made him a little irritated, “Agrrr, firstly they compromise on price and secondly they want work to be done instantly!”  Dolma sang some lovely songs while snacking on packets of chips, did I eat too?

A shop in Bali, Haa

After 3 ½ hours of driving we were finally at DE, Thimphu, underneath the walnut tree.  Everybody was, “Yaayyy, we made it!!” Menda  was there sharing our success too. As always dinner was served on the house, so sweet of ashim Chimi. Had a yummy dinner at DE but our trek didn’t end there, hot stone bath and tongba got onto our list ad hoc. Eight of us were in for it, we drove to Babesa. “Oh, my,” soaking in the wooden bath tub after a week-long trekking is the best feeling you can ever feel, tongba in between simply complemented. Two hours of therapy had us smiling like a full moon with red cheeks. We had to take some photos in the dark to freeze the memory, glad we did that. All the while time kept running and so we were calling it, “a very successful and a memorable Nob Tshonapatta trek” we departed smiling with cheeks still red!

Us, red red cheeks with Tongba. :D :D 

 Nob Tshonapatta trek was one of the most difficult treks, and yet the best trek so far!!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

7- Day 3 NobTshonapatta to Dung and Nga Tsho, Third night halt 21st February, 2017

Cutting right through the breast of Tshejay La 4600 meters, acho Penjor found new trail for sweepers
in the interest of time. It was wonderful though. 

5 hrs 20 minutes hiked 

The more we explored that much mesmerized we were, weather for a moment was just too perfect that she granted us not only the view but also allowed to amble on her. May be she knew we came from afar just to see and pay respect to her or maybe it was the outcome of our positive energy and yes we came with so much of positive energies since day one. We thanked her for being so generous with us.

Yet, nothing lasts forever, when it is time even the mighty lion goes back home and so we were readying to head back now. Although, as per our itinerary we were supposed to halt two nights at Tshonapatta campsite, do some cleaning campaigns and return the next day then head straight to Thimphu. But, we couldn’t count on the instant changing winter weather. So, after hanging around for about an hour we bid farewell to the revered Nob Tshonapatta and began hitting the trail towards Tsejay La 4600 meters at 9 AM.

Quite a way to pose as a background for the tam leader  acho Penjor 

We were back on the track once again, the mountain lovers. Slowly we climbed leaving the lake far below, a few steps up and she vanished from our sight completely. Took in some deep breaths and kept on walking up, up and up. Reached the first laptsa in 40 minutes, weather was just fine, and everybody was lying around enjoying the view of mountain ranges far and wide.  We took some random pictures then got back to walking. 10 minutes and we reached to another laptsa, but it was fully cover in thick ice form one side, you can just imagine at what speed wind blows at this height.

First laptsa 

Second laptsa with iced-snow all blown to one side by the speeding wind. 

Far below dark clouds engulfed Tshonapatta already and it was coming up. Icy wind started howling biting our little bared skins. The sky now roared above our heads and within no time it started throwing ice pellets on our heads. I looked up, my folks were hiking in a long chain against the white-mountain and when they climbed farther up they appeared like an army of ants marching into the blackish clouds. Looked back, Dechen Lhamu was having a real tough time, she was not only trying her best to keep walking but also get everything captured in her phone. Kinzang Namgyal was holding her by her left hand supporting and Ogyen held Kinzang’s hand form other, the cute trio portrayed a good brother-sister-hood.

Sangay Khandu showing his thumb before he set forth to join the trekkers  climbing up like ants .

Real challenge was the climb from there to Tsejay La. Route all up in the blizzard, none stop hail stone hitting hard own our heads, speeding icy cold wind biting our almost frozen cheeks, very low visibility slowing down our already tired legs, and very low oxygen trying to knock us  down with every step en route the giant pass. However, we were trekkers and nothing was going to hold us down. We were aware of all these, and with due respect to Mother Nature; it was just a matter of whether she will test us or not. With a mindset like this nothing was stopping us, we didn’t blame on anything also. We simply embraced the seasons of Mother Nature whole heartedly.  

Acho Penjor was almost frozen waiting for the last group in the snow. He found a new route, quite risky cutting directly from the breast of the great Tsejay La, but in the interest of time he had to do it and we obliged. Felt kind of sorry for the new comers though, but we were trekkers and we must be in position to adapt to any change in plans in accordance to weather, place and time. So we did cut through descended for 15 minutes, we were already at Gongche La and 3 minutes walk down all our folks were waiting for us: first tea break after walking for one and a half hours in the harsh weather. Quite a relieve it was, finally to be reunited and getting back to our old route. We agreed, Menda made a good decision of not coming this time!

Tea time below Gongche La after an exhausting and challenging climb in the blizzard  

 Tied up our shoes laces, beat the last dust off our bums and descended to Wangthangji in 30 minutes we were there, and then climbed up for an hour to Tsabjo La. Weather got better within an instant. Sat there for a while and I heard them say we are to climb up rather than going down, so I climbed up about fifty meters. Wind started picking up, I saw my folks going sideways and then descended, although not following yesterday’s route. I thought they are going to climb anyway and I kept going up. I didn’t hear them calling me. Climbed about hundred meters and then knew I was going the wrong route. Ran down like a blue sheep over rocky trail, only then did I realize we changed the route and going to Dung tsho (trumpet lake) and Nga tsho (drum lake) where we will camp for the night. 

Steep up, sharp drop, again up and down through the coppice towards meadow we walked. Thirty meters past lied beautiful Nga Tsho and far below was Dung Tsho. These lakes were two artifacts Pangbisa lama threw to distract the pursuing Tshonapatta. Acho Karma T., Sangay Khandu and I went around taking pictures while a few of fellow trekkers went circumambulating. Ripples danced in the wind as we drank her water. Sun high in the sky played hide and seek seldom throwing a few rays upon us. Behind the lakes huge mountains stood a guard keeping an eye on them. Dusk was around the corner so we paid our respects to the duo and walked a hundred meters below them to set our camps. It was 3.20 PM.

Dungtsho, shot from the back of the lake
Sonam Wangchuk and Thinley Bidha coming down towards Dungtsho
as Kinley penjor enjoys the view climbing on a rock

As always Gem and I headed north to set toilet tent. Earth was too hard for our little chisel that she belt on us time and again, Kinley Penjor’s foldable shovel did his part to some extent. Dug half a foot and couldn’t dig any deeper. We gave up, but did put the toilet tent. Below us folks were done with sleeping and dining tents. Tea was ready, so was the wind to exhibit her anger. No sooner did we have tea than the sky started to rumble, dusk set in and our tents started fluttering like prayer flags put on top of the hill. In the torment, our toilet tent was beaten black and blue from all angles by the ragging wind. Other tents won’t stop from fluttering unless we weighed them down with huge rocks. They were unhooked so many times yet they fought well and stood their position.

Our third night camp site, 100 meters below Nga tsho

 Wind blew extra ordinarily harsh that night. We had to dine early fearing dining tent might either collapse on us or get blown away. The night crawled in inviting hail stone from up above, the starting slapping on our already sun brunt cheeks while heavy wind fanned dead woods burning all over in our small fire place. So thoughtful of junior team leader Kinley Penjor, he snuck out a bottle of whiskey – none of us drink, not in the mountains - opened up, stuck a small patch of butter on the mouth of the newly opened bottle making sure they met - which is the way it should be according to our tradition – and together with other folks offered a Changphey (alcohol/wine an offering) to the local deity. He said, “When the wind is harsh and sky stones on you in the mountains, it means you have trespassed someone else’s territory, and she or he is not happy with it.” I have heard it from elders too, and to appease them we need to offer Changphey. Within minutes hail stone stopped and the wind subsided. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in it or not, but if you want to have a quiet and calm weather, then respecting serenity and tranquility of the place is the utmost thing every enthusiast trekker or hiker should bear in mind: all the time.

Our favourite cook preparing curry for our dinner at Nga tsho campe site. He is one of the finest trekking cooks everyone should look for, incase you plan on going for treks. He will make your tummy happy throughout the trek. 

From that point night was all ours. Tomorrow we don’t have to hike much that we know, so we stayed late by the fire. Spoke on so many topics mostly they had no meanings but we laughed hard on them. A few of them started gulping whiskey. It was winter and real cold that night, I completely understand the urge to give some shots. But, I had a terrible experience, of how I drank on the mountains and how it tortured me the whole night.  Since then I have learnt: mountain and alcohol don’t go well. I shared my experience, junior team leader agreed. Dechen and Dawa were a little too excited of the first yet a wonderful trek, so they gulped to it. I had a little doubt. Took another shot. I was starting to get worried. Took third shot, and I thought somebody better be alert the whole night through. “Yaya, good night!” Trekkers went to crash.

Kinzang Namgyal the youngest trekker in Nub Tshonapatta Trek he shared tent with his two cousin brothers in the first night, but from the second night on senior acho Penjor’s recommendation Dechen and Dawa invited him to crash in their tent. The concept was simple: more folks in the tent that much heat it will generate. Since then he put up with them.

“Doctor, doctor, doctorrrrr?” A school boy reported to the principal. “Acho S.T, acho S.T?” Sounded familiar but we are in no school. “Yes, yes,” reply came in from another tent. I knew it was still in my dream. “Doctorrr.. Doctorr… ashim Dechen is sick la!”  That woke me up completely. “What happened to her?” “Doctorrr, she has headache la. She has fever sir, vomiting also la.” “Did she drink?” “Yes, la, sir.” Everybody was up listening the whole time and judging the severity of it. Glad we had a doctor in the team, he understood the situation and we could rest assured, of course concerned we were. He gave a few medicines and she could go back to sleep shortly. I know what went through Dechen’s mind.

To know more about mountain sickness and its risks or treatment kindly read /check the following  link:

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Story of Nob Tshonapatta

The revered Nob Tshonapatta (just half in the pic) completely frozen.
20th February, 2017. 4129.3 meters above the sea level

It is believed at the bottom of this giant and calm Nob Tshonapatta lied so many ter (treasures) enough to feed the entire country for years and so many sacred religious articles, mostly to do with Buddhism. But, those ter or articles cannot be seen or retrieved or revealed by anyone except for those prophesied beings known as Tertons, the treasure retriever or revealer. Only he or she (as of now in the history there never was a female prophesied tertons. I hope a time will come whereby there will be a female treasure revealer and she will reveal so many sacred ters. And I look forward to that day) can collect and use it for the promotion of Buddhism and peace in the entire world. It of course will bless us too.

One of those prophesied tertons was Terton Sherab Mebar a young and handsome Tibetan lama, who lived some 200 years before Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal – the unifier of Bhutan. He came to Bhutan from Kham via Jomolhari to Haa on the process revealing some ter and headed to Bumthang via Wangduephodrang. There he was forced to reveal some ter from Mebar Tsho, he obliged but took back since it wasn’t his time. Rest is the story of Mebar Tsho you read in our Bhutan history in school. He even tired to reveal some in Pasakha, Chukha, but he could not complete his discovery; again it was not his ripen time. Then he travelled to Pangbisa in Paro, as per his prophecy and this is where the actual story of revered Nob Tshonapatta all started from.

The story of revered Nob Tshonapatta goes like this: in Pangbisa the locals heard a lot about this young and handsome lama who came from Tibet and that he is prophesied to go to Nob Tshonapatta seven times and reveal numerous religious articles plus wealth for the entire country. They started pressuring him to go and bring them. They were so impatient, firstly to check if he really was the said terton and secondly to have all the wealth revealed from the lake. Locals forced him again and again but he said it was not the right time. They thought he was a liar.

After much pushing he agreed, took 32 strong men comprised of carpenters and workers from the village, then headed to Nob Tshonapatta to retrieve a few treasures together with a golden pillar for Paro Dzong. He instructed his men to cut the golden pillar from 1 foot in length as it appears at the bottom of the lake, when he will divinely scoop the entire lake water into his mouth. As a token for helping him they can keep the fragments of gold falling off on the impact of their axes.

Having instructed Terton Sherab Mebar started to divinely scoop whole water in the lake into his mouth, and then workers went ahead hitting with their axes. But they grew greedy in between and started chopping out huge gold fragments from the golden pillar. Terton gestured not to chop into chunks, but they would not heed. So, finally he had to let go of lake water from his mouth to shout at them but the lake water drowned all 32 of them to death. The deity of Nob Tshonapatta became so furious for trying to take the ter from lake before his time, and started to chase him vigorously. The lake chased him on and on, along the way to distract the deity terton threw a handful of ter retrieved from the lake here and there. Places where he threw dung (trumpet) ter, Nga (drum) ter, drum stick and rim (cymbal) ter later formed into lakes.

Dung tsho (Trumpet lake)
Nga tsho (Drum lake)

The lake chased him till Laptsa of Tshelumtsho (this laptsa is also know by the name Tego La, I believe)  where ap Chungdue, local deity and protector of Haa appeared in real to negotiate between terton and pursuing lake. It is said from this point Nob Tshonapatta retreated with a condition that the terton and his followers from Pangbisa will not set a foot in Haa Shogona. From that day on inhabitants of Pangbisa never kept any relation with the people of Shogona.

Laptsa Tshelumtsho / Tego La 

There is a story where a guy from Shogona got married to a girl in Pangbisa. They had a child, paid not much heed to the story of the peaceful agreement and set forth to husband’s village. While crossing the bridge over a river, the child's wrapper untied by itself letting child fall straight into the river and drowned instantly. It is believed the deity of Nob tshonapatta did it.

The only ter terton Sherab Mebar could retrieve from Nob Tshonapatta was a single cymbal, which is now one of the sacred relics in Paro Dzong and it is displayed on the first day of Paro Tshechu annually.

Terton Sherb Mebar also known as Pangbi lama, since he resided there, died at a very early age. It is again believed he died in early 30s; probably because he didn’t adhere to his prophesy much. It is said before going to Nob Tshonapatta to reveal and retrieve ter, he was to attain an age of 25 years and that too ap Chungdu the protector of Haa was to accompany him to Nob Tshonapatta.

Center for Bhutan Studies, JBS

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

6 - Day 3 NobTshonapatta 4129.3 meters 21st February, 2017

The revered Nob Tshonapatta as seen from our campsite, a very small ordinary lake. 

“Che. Che, wake up, wake up. Sun is going to be out soon.” Acho Karma T., Penjor and S.T were readying camera gears to take some sun rise shots. “Laa, aachoo, yes acho, I am coming la,” got up promptly, grabbed hold of my camera and unzipped the icy hard tent flaps. Gush of cold wind brushed my sleepy cheeks, waking me up completely out of my daze, as I put on my trekking boots. Outside everything was covered in white blanket of snow and they looked pretty. It was 6 AM in the morning.  

Woke early setting up the camera for the king of the sky to rise, and he wont bless us in the morning!

With our gears in standby facing west, we waited for the sun to rise. Clock ticked by and there was no sign of the sun, far below we saw a small frozen lake. Waited again but it was 7 AM already, sun shone bright lighting everything up. Quite unhappy for not being able to capture the reflection of the early sun rays touching those western peaks over Nathula pass on the Indian Bhutan border, a few of our folks saw trucks moving too through binoculars, we took pictures of ourselves. But, what made us smile was the beauty of the place when it glowed in sun light.

My favourite pony throughout the trek Nob Tshonapatta : Ta Norbu (Horse Jewel)
Yea, the two brothers! 
Oh, yes, sister-in-law got in too facing my shooting camera :D
Ashim Yangchen, does not she look like a girl from Alaska in one of those old American cowboy movies?
Oh, I caught them playing around like kids filled with the sense of happiness and accomplishment,
for having made to Nob Tshonapatta successfully.
Aint this pic lovely? Ugyen, Dolma and Dechen ... 
A semi group photo
Ponies basking in the early morning sun. 
Acho Penjor and I enacting some of the peaceful diplomats in the world agreeing to uphold
and maintain peace throughout the globe, forever. Nob Tshonapatta in the background. 
Acho S.T and I enacting some of the peaceful diplomats agreeing to uphold
and maintain peace throughout the globe, forever - part 2. Nob Tshonapatta in the hind.
It is really cold up there, how do you know? Snow? No. Look at Thinley's hairy hat :D :D
Yeayyy, my camera caught them kissing in the snow @ Nob Tshonapatta 4129.3 meters above the sea level
Here comes Sangay Khandu, Mr DrukAir
Semi group photo part - 2

Folks came out of their tents with a huge, “Wow!” followed by, “so beautiful, worth all the hardship!”  Ran here and there, threw snow balls at one another and then took so many pictures. Ashim chimi wrote in the snow “MISS YOU MENDA” we still thought she should have come. It was sunny and a warm morning, we had breakfast and packed our lunches as our guides un-pitched and loaded the ponies. We are walking down about 10 minutes to see the famed NobTshonapatta.  We saw it was just a small lake from our camp site.

A lovely message for a lovely daughter from a lovely mother... Just wonderful!!!

Ten minutes walk down in the snow and there it was the revered Tshonapatta, a huge lake completely frozen with thick ice, and an inch of snow on top making wholly white and more glamorous. Almost the size of one and a half football grounds in length, hidden at the base of Tsejay La 4600 meters, exposing only a little more than the quarter of its original size. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked around and they radiated the sense of accomplishment. Trekkers ran down smiling like happy little babies going to mama.

Team leaders offering prayers on the frozen Nob Tshonapatta

Acho Penjor checked around before folks could walk on her. It was safe!
Then trekkers hopped on. 
Circumnavigating and going for rounds.     
After a few minutes on the frozen  Nob Tshonapatta two ashims retreated. Sat on a
 rock listening to music and sang along. 

Our yoga master, Dolma trying out some yoga.
Soon to be married, the wonderful couple stood firm on their decision.  I guess the revered Nob Tshonapatta
saw it too, and blessed them because the weather stood by our side throughout morning.
Which could be read as a good luck sign.
I wish Sonam and Thinley  all the happiness and love in the universe.  

I did offer my share of simple prayer too. 

Team leaders checked the strength of the ice on the lake so we can walk in the middle to offer prayers and also to say, “Thank you,” for leading us here all safe and sound. In a minute all of us were on the lake praying. Ashim Yangchen and Lhamu led by acho S.T. went around circumambulating the revered lake. Acho Karma T and I were clicking. Wangchuk carried his fiancĂ© Thinley and posed for the camera. Dolma and Gem were trying out some yoga postures. Sangay and Dechen Lhamu were doing some ramp walks. Ogyen and Kinzang wrote messages on the lake in the snow. Dawa Lhamo was far off at the mouth of the lake. Ashim Chimi and Ching ching walked back and sat on a rock listening to their favorite songs. Did the two ashims go sentimental?........ Well, all of us were. We don’t know if we can ever come back to this revered tsho and even if we ever did would it be as beautiful as it was today? There is no guarantee, yet all we can do is hope. Yes, we should always hope!  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

5 - Day 2 Tshokam to NobTshonapatta, second night halt, 20th February, 2017

Our group photo at Chozu La  4117

8 hrs 20 minutes hiked

I heard some footsteps near our tents. It subsided and again got louder, went past my tent far to the left, gave out some faint coughs and it persisted. My watch read 3 AM, I wondered who could it be and got a little suspicious of wild animals too. When you are high up in the mountains you don’t know what will show up anytime out of the blue. Gathered myself up, slowly unzipped the tent, popped out my head like a baby kangaroo from its mother’s pouch and far to the left saw a dark shadow of someone standing in the thick fog. My head grew bigger, but I will have to go and check. Walked slowly, trying to figure out the red light going out and coming back on every interval from the tip of that dark shadow.  Oh, gosh, got up at 3 AM in the cold, foggy and drizzling early morning just to find out it was acho Penjor our senior team leader smoking. He just slept for about 3 hours and he is already done with his sleep for the night. That’s really surprising……. I went back to sleep!

Trekkers woke up to a foggy chilly morning. Expected some rain but it didn’t. It was 6 AM.  Breakfast was served, repacked everything, loaded the ponies and up we started to ascend at 8 AM. In 45 minutes we were at Chozu La 4117 meters above the sea level, we were told we can see Mount Jomolhari from here but the weather didn’t allow us. It was an easy hike though. We had some the best group photo shoots.

Chilly foggy morning at Tshokam 

Standing by the fire  in a group to fight cold!

From Chozu La it was all down, down and down. Through the rocky trail, slippery path one step miss means you are going to go way down. Sometimes when we looked down the length hurt our knees, but looking back at the distance covered it motivated us to keep going. Down the grove, over some dead logs in 1 hour 9 minutes we reached a temporary shed used by highlanders to camp when they migrate in winter and summer.  We took a 10 minutes tea break to boost our energy because from there it was all up till Tsabjo La.

March pass in the groove. Look at the drill master? :D :D
Tea break by the temporary highlanders' shelter

Crossed a small wooden bridge covered in Lungtas. A few minutes up and there was no trail to be seen for about 20 meters, completely hidden by black ice - that’s how locals used to describe for its risk and danger. We could cross it catching hold of thickets around but our ponies won’t budge. I knew it is going to be a challenge before we could get them back on the track moving. Experience comes in handy in a situation like this. The horseman pulled his leading pony up and stopped him at the threshold of the black ice. Took out his big knife and started chopping huge chunks of ice off the trail, put dry soil over it for grip and repeated throughout. He inspected once again and then slowly escorted his ponies one by one to the other side. After 28 minutes all the ponies were back on the track. And so we continued to hike up yet again setting eyes on Tsabjo La.  

The black ice being take care of by experienced squad. 
Folks can wait and rest while they make revamp the trail for ponies. 

The mild climb helped us keep our pace because we know today it cannot be like yesterday, we should walk fast. We got passes to conquer, distance to cover and the revered lake to reach. Our first day trek was a warm up, since we had some new trekkers with us and nobody seemed to mind too. But today we really got to stick to our plan if we are to make to Nob Tshonapatta, for as of now we still haven’t reached the place where as per our plan should have been our first night camp site.

Snow on our way welcomed us to Tsabjo La 4194 meters after walking for 2 hours 10 minutes from the point where our ponies got stuck. It had snow on just one side of the face telling us wind is quite naughty up here. Yet, it didn’t deter us from jumping, sleeping and running in the snow taking numerous pictures. Of all acho Penjor was the photo bomb, a clear sign he is full of energy. Acho Karma T’s knee caused him some pain but acho S.T was there with medicines. Down I looked saw Dolma and Gem climbing slowing followed by Kinley Penjor and Dawa far below, latter had a little hard time because of the thin air but she kept her pace.

Second pass on our trek to Nob Tshonapatta, Tsabjo La 

Yes, conquered Tsabjo 4194 meter!

I can do a little posing too, at Tsabjo 4194 meters

Going down, and down to Wangjithang.

34 minutes steep down again where Dechen Lhamo almost skidded more than five times because she was wearing a pair of sneakers plus she had height phobia which of course I am not really sure because I heard from other fellow trekkers later that she does fear height, and that gave her some hard times on the trail. All of our folks were waiting for us far below to lunch. After 4 hours 18 minutes of climbing up and down two passes we reached Wangjithang narrow valley 3688 meters which was supposed to be our first campsite, we had lunch there.  Some of the best lunches are those lunches you have high up in the mountains after trekking for hours. Be it good, bad or even icy cold, everything tastes delicious.  

Lunching at Wangjithang 3688 meters above the sea level

Revitalized, ponies and guides together with ashim Ching ching, Thinley and ashim Chimi they started ahead us to maintain the pace, everyone tired but couldn’t walk much since it was up again to the second highest pass of Nob Tshonapatta trek the Gongche La 4307 meters above the sea level. I know exactly how they might have felt looking back at us climbing slowing so out of breath still then walking one step at time, because I had walked way ahead of the rest then sat on a huge rock and took numerous pictures observing my fellow trekkers climbing from a distance. What ran through my mind was, “These folks really are passionate of mountains!”      

Resting on the rocks; on the way to Gongche La

45 minutes of walking, resting and motivating one another, up we reached Gongche pass. However, with due respect; she didn’t seem to be too happy to have visitors in her locale and appeared quite annoyed to have trespassed her tranquility. The weather changed drastically, although it is expected in the mountains, looking at the way she didn’t allow us to take rest even for a minute and how she engulfed us completely by dark fog mixed with heavy hail stones, she seemed really angry. Not really sure who made her angry, for we came with a very clean conscience and intended to end in same.

Gongche La - 4307 meters - welcomed us with  fog and hail stone. 
Weather changed instantly. Acho Karma T. having a tough time covering his face in the hail stone and harsh wind.

Visibility dropped to a few meters, wind picked up and hail stones hit us real hard. We had to wear goggles to protect our eyes from the thorny wind. Ashim Lhamu was laughing to ashim Yangchen, “Yalama, the wind broke my goggles, haha!” She did not hear her, wind was too loud. Our Phuntsholing girls were really trying to keep up with the rest. Dolma wasn’t feeling well she had a terrible stomach ache and that really slowed her down, Gem tired his best to motivate and I carried her bag. But acho Karma T’s leg was quite better and he did good. 23 minutes down the Gongche La it was the frozen lake. Past this we walked up slowly together in groups fearing we might lose our way in the foggy hail-stony weather through Tsholumpa. 

Tsholumpa where red and yellow puppies are normally ample in its season.

It was only later as I was gathering some data from different sources to write this blog, I have learnt that we can see ample of red and yellow puppies in a perfect season in this locale. 27 minutes up from frozen lake our trail was through ankle length snow and it did start to snow making our visibility very poor. I caught up Wangchuk and he was quite tired but the simple yet profound trekking technique “walk 10 steps, take in 3 deep breaths and take another 10 steps” kept him walking to Thinley who was waiting for him in the snow some 30 minutes away. From there on we were walking on the base of Tsejay La. 

Snow was really ankle or knee deep? Sonam Wangchuk knows :D
Yes, we waited for the sweeper, acho Penjor in this case today!

What came in as a news of relieve was when one of our guides waiting for us said, “Nob Tshonapatta is now just 10 minutes walk down from here!” I ran down like a little boy who is happy to go home after hours of walking in the rain. Exactly at 4.20 PM there we were at the Nob Tshonapatta camp site. Everyone was inside - the small wooden house - cold and cuddling by LPG gas stoves, because the fire was hard to build. However, our experienced guides and cooks built one within no time and served tea also.  Gentlemen went out to pitch tents, and before the dark fell they were all up. Dinner was served early. It rained and wind howled. Fire didn’t burn well. Cold started biting our tired bodies. Trekkers went to crash early that night. Ogyen was quite upset our tent was pitched at the end, he felt left out which made Sangay and I laughed out loud like a donkey. Sangay Khandu and Ogyen came with an idea - may be heard from other trekking mates - to use blankets used on the backs of ponies. Those blankets saved the three of us. It snowed throughout the night.   

Pitching tents in the snow near Nob Tshonapatta. The wooden house in the hind is where our the
remaining folks cuddled around the LPG gas when fire was hard to build.