The Bumthang Cultural Trek
After three packed weeks of class and a location change to Punakha (a long 12hr drive away from our home at UWICE), the Bumthang Cultural Trek feels like a lifetime ago. Class and papers and fighting with the wifi has pretty much dominated my free time, meaning that writing blog posts about the things we’ve been up to has been low on the to-do list. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been doing super cool, blog-worthy things, because let me tell you: we have. Running through a fire arch under the full moon to purify our sins, hiking past car-sized yaks to catch a view of the snowcapped Himalayas, and soaking in high altitude hot springs. All just part of life here in Bhutan.
But that’s a story for another post. This post is about the three nights and four days we spent trekking through Bumthang’s valleys, possibly the most plushy supported trip I’ve been on. We carried only our daypacks, while our awesome kitchen staff drove to meet us with our bags, tents, and food. As we started down a dusty road away from our bus on the first day, it began to settle in that we would have no classes, no finishing assignments after breakfast for awhile. A few days to worry only about the next hill on the horizon. A short three hours of walking in the forest along the churning turquoise waters of a river and we found ourselves in the incredible green valley we would spend the night in. It was about the time that we walked up to see a tent with milk tea and snacks laid out for us that we realized we were not exactly going to be roughin’ in.
After a quick afternoon hike up to the ruins of an old Dzong (the buildings that serve as the religious, governmental and social centers of their districts) with panoramic view of the valley and our little campsite, we settled in by the roaring bonfire made for us. As it got darker, books and cards were abandoned for stargazing- you could see the milky way stretching above the mountains from horizon to horizon. Time was already starting to pass too quickly. We spent the next day walking through hauntingly serene bamboo and rhododendron forests, over the Febila mountain pass, and into the quiet valley of Tang – all the while passing farms and homes. Along the way, we’d stop in idyllic fields for lunch and wait for the sound of our Bhutanese pack horses catching up to us, carrying with them our five-dish lunch. The next few days we walked through towns and villages, waving at school children and collecting a rotating cast of local dogs that would walk with us for hours, sometimes entire days. Taking breaks from walking, we visited lhakhangs (temples) and other important historical buddhist sights as we went.
On our last morning, as we reluctantly stuffed sleeping bags in sacks and prepared for our last day of walking, a herd of cows was prodded by their owner into our little campsite, which was apparently not so much a campsite as a grazing field we were borrowing for the night. As they tried to chew on our duffel bags and left cow pies in our breakfast area, it was impossible not to laugh and think about what a different world we have landed in.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”