Part 1 of 3 Series on Tang Valley trek, Bhutan
It was 8:30 am. I had my breakfast consisting of an omelet and a glass of milk. I was prepared. It was cloudy but unlikely that It would rain. I was heading from Jakar to Ngang Lhakhang, a 16th-century private monastery, also our first stop of Tang Valley Trek.
It is approximately 15 KMs from Jakar and is on the other side of the Bhumthang Chu. It was our second trek after Tiger Nest. I love to walk especially when the weather is mildly cold and there is greenery all around. If you have read about ‘flow’ (an autotelic experience, a concept given by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), I was experiencing that. There was serenity, I met kids on the road, in groups, playing and kidding with each other, and I thought this is the way to live a life. A happy life!
We did not have the address; we still found Ngang Lakhang
We had been walking for three hours now, we were walking by the side of a river on a trodden path. At some point, we would cross the river to go to the other side but that was far. I was joyous but I wanted more. In my head, I thought, this trek would involve more beauty, more nature. I did not fancy walking on a cemented path which was also the only road. I insisted to take a deviation which took us to a village. It was quiet, there were small houses flanked by farms. We walked for another one hour on paths strewn with pebbles and mud. We would meet taxis occasionally, ferrying people to the other side of the river, to Jakar, which is the only town in Bhumthang.
It was 1 pm already and we were mildly tired. We thought it would be a better idea if we could get a taxi. I waved at a taxi and it stopped. As luck would have it, the taxi was crossing Ngang Lakhang and could drop us near it. We hopped in. It would take us another 40 minutes of walking to reach the monastery. We had booked a home-stay for a night. Next day would mark the start of Tang valley trek.
The host’s family lives in a house opposite the monastery and shares the same compound. Their house was a typical Bhutanese house. The ground floor was a store and the first floor was the living area. It was already 3 pm and we were hungry. The host had expected us to reach by 5 pm and we were two hours early, thanks to that taxi driver. The lady of the house gave us a tour and asked if we were hungry. I think our faces told her that we were and she prepared rice, datchi with eze, while we acquainted ourselves with wine distillery in the house. I was told that women in Bhutan can make the local alcoholic drink at home and can sell it to Government. I had seen such a set up for the first time and it just amused me. She explained how it worked and made us taste it.
We went out for a stroll. This family has two dogs and one of them started following us. I was uncomfortable, but how do you tell a dog to stop stalking you? OK, pun intended!
We sat down to look around. There were farms, mountains, clouds playing hide and seek with the sun and different shades of green. I do not remember seeing anything else. The sun pierced the clouds and shone over a piece of land, dulling the rest. I thought to myself who would not want to be here.
We met our host and their kids, three sons and a nephew. The youngest one was a year old and would start crying at my sight. All my efforts to calm him down or even go near him were futile. I gave in.
We had a delicious spread of dinner. Over dinner, our conversations ranged from discussing China, India, life in Bhutan, caterpillar fungus to edible, psychedelic and poisonous mushrooms. Caterpillar fungus is one of the most sought after by Chinese companies. It has medicinal properties so locals in Bhutan get government permits to go to the mountains during peak season to collect these mushrooms. People stay in the mountains for days so that they could collect a sizable amount. Kids also join them and they recognize the herbs. He showed several kinds of herbs which they had collected to sell to the government.
He shared anecdotes on ancient routes connecting Tibet and Bhutan. Local people still cross these passes to go to Tibet. I felt child-like excitement and curiosity in me listening to his stories.
After dinner, we discussed our Tang Valley Trek and our next stop at Ugyen Choling palace. He asked if we had a guide. We were planning to do the trek by ourselves so we never thought of hiring a guide. Partly, I thought it would take my freedom away. Tourists always go with guides, we were told by the host. His directions were clear. Follow the water stream. We asked if there were any landmarks we should look for. There were two; ruins of an old monastery and yak herders. We had downloaded the map. He told us that if we could start at 8 am, we would reach by 3 pm. However, he forgot to mention that it would not apply to us, we were not from the mountains (which is partly false in my case). We should not have given in to thinking that we would also reach by 3 pm.
Next day, after a heavy breakfast, we said goodbye. We are all stories. Travel lets you connect to these stories. It lets you explore and be surprised and humbled with what you find out. It lets you count your privileges and be grateful, and I was that day.
P.S. That dog was still following me.