Part 2 of 3 series on Tang Valley Trek, Bhumthang, Bhutan
For part 1 : click here
Trudging through the furrows of paddy fields, the house of our host was left behind. The sky was clear and clouds were distant, hovering over on the other side of the valley. Our companion, the dog from our host family was still following us. It was not even 20 minutes, and we had entered the forest. Directions from our host were clear. We had to find a water stream and follow it eastwards.
I heard a water stream and we started approaching the sound. It was a rivulet hidden by thick foliage, we made our way in. Water level was less than knee length, we took off our shoes to cross it, only to find out a wooden bridge upstream, which we could have taken. Nice beginning! I thought. I did not expect the dog to cross the stream but the dog was smart, he took the bridge.
We crossed the stream but there was no path or a trail to follow. It was all thick green, shrubs intricately and complicatedly entangled, which were impossible to pierce through. We tried to make our way and it just went darker and thicker with no space to even stand straight. Wrong move! It cannot be the way! My partner was beginning to get tense. “We have just started”, I said. “We need to return, back to the stream”, he said. But wait!
What I just saw! A yellow jelly like lump vegetating on a stem of a tree, it seemed a variety of mushroom. I had spent my last night carefully studying the mushroom catalog that I found hanging on a wall of my host’s place. I had to click a picture of it. It could be a fun exercise, I thought. I decided, much to my partner’s dismay, that I would click on all different varieties of mushroom that I would come across, and later would catalog it. I took a picture, and we traversed our way back to the stream. We met our companion, the dog, waiting for us at the stream.
We kept walking, crossed mountains, passed through small wooden bridges with pristine water flowing under them. It was peaceful, the silence was broken by the sound of water streams, sometimes running alongside us and sometimes cutting our way. There was chirping of birds, occasionally. Sometimes, sunlight would sieve through the leaves of trees hugged by creepers. It was a clear day till now with no rain or fog. And we kept walking.
I collected more mushroom samples, most of which I had never seen in my life before.
Two hours had passed, we had not stopped. We had not talked. There were no landmarks, there was no way to ascertain our path. There had been no trails. For the first time, we considered the probability that we might be lost. None of us had the courage to say it out. “We are probably at the same place”, I finally blurted it out.
I looked for the dog, he was not around. We stood there looking for the dog. A part of me was astounded. We were looking for the dog to ascertain whether we were on the right track or not. We decided to keep walking as a last resort. There was no way we could go back. We simply did not know the way. We had walked for 15 minutes and there he was. Our dog was just waiting for us. We discussed that we would follow the dog.
We walked for another hour and here came the first landmark. There were trees which were cut down and there was a bench, a possible campsite. We were on the right track. Forest kept getting thicker, we kept climbing up the mountains, walked through the foliage and climb down. It started to rain. Our path was strewn with mud, sometimes boulders, sometimes water and sometimes all together. We became more instinctive. We started looking for the bovine waste to assess if our path was a possible trail or not. We looked out for the foot impressions of animals and made sure to follow that path.
Our climb kept getting steeper, which seemed to be a rivulet without water, strewn with boulders. It was the toughest part till now. We were drenched, slowly kept climbing up and finally, there was a confirmation. We had crossed the Phepe la pass at a height of 11,647 feet. It meant two things we WERE on the right track and half of our journey was done. It was all downhill from there, we were told.
Once again, we descended deep in the gorges of the forest, with mud, rain, and dog by our side. I was happy. And moreover I was sure. A journey of five hours taught me a lot about myself and what humans are made of when it comes to survival. We, humans, have the unfathomable courage and we can transcend our boundaries in moments like these.