The Land of the Thunder Dragon part 2 - The treks

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emydura

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The best way to see Bhutan is to do some trekking in the mountains. I went on two treks while we were there. The first one was the Druk trek which is a five day walk between the two main cities Paro and Thimpu. I was joined by my family on this trek. My 8 year old daughter did very well considering the high altitudes (above 4000 metres). The second was the classic Jhomalari trek which I did on my own. This was an 8 day trek to the most sacred mountain in Bhutan (Jhomalari). The scenery in particular was incredible on this one.

Trekking in Bhutan is a bit different to that in Nepal. There are no tea houses or lodges in Bhutan. Everything has to be carried in and out. Tents are the only accommodation. In Nepal sherpas would carry all the gear, while in Bhutan this is done with horses and mules. It is much more of a wilderness experience in Bhutan. Unlike Nepal, you don’t come across a lot of local people or villages while you walk.



Druk Trek

A beautiful and popular trek between the two main cities of Bhutan. A really tough start where you have to immediately climb 1000m in altitude to get to the first campsite. That is a lot in one day and we all had mild headaches that night. After that we were fine with the altitude.

Unlike Nepal, horse and mules are used to transport your food and gear. We had 6 horses to carry our equipment as well as a team of 6 people.



The horses really make a mess of the track. I have never seen anything like this in Nepal.




At the campsite the horses are allowed to graze freely. At this campsite the horses wandered high up in the mountains. The horse man had to get up at 4 am to look for them. It took 6 hours to find them.



In the Himalayas I never seem to see the blazing sunrise/sunset colours I see in Australia. This sunrise wasn’t too bad though.






Jele Dzong




At the end of the Druk trek you get a great view of the capital city Thimpu.





We camped above Thimpu. I woke up early to catch the sunrise but the capital city was shrouded in cloud. Beautiful all the same.

 
Jhomalari Trek

Probably the most spectacular trek in Bhutan is the Jhomalari Trek. The first two days of the Jhomalari trek we walked along the beautiful Paro River until we got to base camp. Despite a significant increase in altitude I found the walk to base camp relatively gradual and hence pretty easy. On the return we climbed some high mountain passes which were a lot tougher. If you only do one trek in Bhutan this is the one you would do.

Some autumn colours on the Paro River





I loved these deciduous conifers that got yellower and yellower as you went up.



Just below base camp they turned orange.







We arrived at base camp late on the second day and the weather had turned bad. This is hail rather than snow.




The rain cleared overnight and when I got out of the tent I was greeted with the breathtaking sight of Jhomalari. Jhomalari is very sacred to the Bhutanese and climbing it has been banned since about 1970.








The mountain next to Jhomalari was even more spectacular to my eyes. It was called Jitchu Drake (6989m). The next two photos are taken from different angles.













Jhomalari was almost always covered in clouds which could be frustrating. It acted like a magnet. Still even with clouds it made for a nice photo.

jhomalari.jpg



The valley you can see going up through the middle of the photo is the route of the famous Snowman Trek, considered the world’s toughest and most spectacular trek. From here still another 20 or so days to go. Maybe next time for me. 




The stunning Tsho Phu lakes with Ditchu Drake in the background.


 
The highest pass on the trek was Bonte La Pass (4890 m). It was totally exhausting getting to the top but it was so spectacular.


panorama%20pass.jpg



After the pass it was all downhill to the next campsite. A really desolate area but stunning all the same. We were escorted down by a flock of vultures. Alas they all went hungry.





Here is a temporary lodging for the nomadic yak herders. They move up and down the mountains with the seasons. They would throw a tarp over this to form a tent.




Here am I inside a yak herders tent churning yak milk to make cheese. I had yak milk on my cereals one morning. Incredibly rich. I really liked it.




And here of course is a yak. These would have to be one of the toughest animals alive able to survive extreme cold. They cannot tolerate hot weather so they must move up to the high pastures in summer.




The last night of the trek. The sun was setting on the whole holiday in Bhutan. After this we were heading down to India and onto Nepal.





I’ll finish off with one of my favourites photos from the whole trip.


 
Thank you to share these splendid photographs. They are places with which I will be able to never reach but whom you allow me to see.
 
Wow, beyond words… How did you do with the altitude on your treks? That last shot is a screamer!

Thanks Tom. I'm pretty fine with high altitudes. I have trekked to Everest base camp before and had no trouble and I was above 5000m for more than a week there. The Bhutan treks I did were a little lower in altitude, camping at around 4200 with one 5000m pass. The only time I felt the altitude was on the first night of the Druk Trek. We commenced at Paro (2250 m) and camped at Jele Dzong which is 3500 m in altitude. That is an insane climb in altitude in one day. Ideally you should only sleep around 300m higher than the previous night. This was 4 times that. It was difficult to avoid though as the climb was steep and there was no where else to camp. We all got mild headaches on that first night but were fine after that. I was nervous how my 8 year old daughter would go with the altitude but she did fine. Jhomalari tended to have higher altitudes overall but I was pretty comfortable with it. The climb up Bonte La Pass (5000 m) was exhausting though. It was no more than a shuffle for what seemed like hours. Just one foot in front of the other. At about 5000m you have about 50% of the oxygen you would at sea level. So even tying up you shoe lace is hard work.

For anyone planning to trek in Nepal or places similar, here is my advice. Trekking at high altitudes can be dangerous so you need to be very careful. I have seen so many people get high altitude sickness when I have been trekking. I saw one on the Jhomalari trek in Bhutan. I have seen numerous on the Everest trek. One person died on the Everest trek when I was there. I have been told so many stories of trekkers dying, especially amongst Japanese trekkers. High altitude sickness is dependent on your physiology rather than your fitness. So you could be a tri althlete and still suffer from it. You won't know until you start trekking how you will cope. So you need to be cautious and look for the signs. If you start getting headaches you need to go back down to a lower altitude, acclimatize and then go back up. You should only climb about 300m in altitude per day so that your body can slowly acclimatize. It is best to have a flexible schedule so you can stop and acclimatize longer if you need to. It is best not to go with large expensive trekking companies. They tend to have large numbers of trekkers and hence a tight schedule with no flexibility. The result is even if you feel unwell you push on because you have to keep up with the rest of the party. I saw this happen to an Australian who kept walking and ended up having to be carried down to safety. He stayed in the lodge for two weeks waiting for the other trekkers to return. You are much better hiring a porter and going yourself. It is way cheaper and you have the freedom to choose where you stop.
 
That last shot is amazing! Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences.

I had a chance to visit Bhutan last year, but it was a short trip, so more similar to your first post. Definitely think I need to go back and do these hikes. Did you manage to see any blue poppies while trekking?
 
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Thanks a bunch for sharing these beautiful photos of your incredible adventure. You must be proud of your daughter making the trip! She'll remember that one for sure.
 
That last shot is amazing! Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences.

I had a chance to visit Bhutan last year, but it was a short trip, so more similar to your first post. Definitely think I need to go back and do these hikes. Did you manage to see any blue poppies while trekking?

Thanks. I might print out that last photo and hang it on the wall. My mum would like a big print of it.

Unfortunately I didn't see the Blue Poppy.

Which parts of Bhutan did you get to see?

Thanks a bunch for sharing these beautiful photos of your incredible adventure. You must be proud of your daughter making the trip! She'll remember that one for sure.

Thanks. Yes, I was happy with how she went. The trekking company was a bit nervous about her coming along but in the end they needn't be. There were a few trekking parties and we were always the first to camp, so she didn't slow us down. She was the only child I saw on the trek. A funny story, the trekking company offered to include a horse for my daughter for $50 extra, which we agreed. So we arrived and asked where is the horse. They said here he is. It was a young man who was barely bigger than my daughter. He would carry her whenever she got tired. My daughter said there is no way he is going to carry me. So we paid Sangye $50 to walk along with us. He was a nice guy so no complaints.
 
Thanks. I might print out that last photo and hang it on the wall. My mum would like a big print of it.

Unfortunately I didn't see the Blue Poppy.

Which parts of Bhutan did you get to see?

We only did Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. All the temples and dzongs were great, but when we were stuck just before Dochula Pass for a few hours on the way back to Paro, the guides actually let me hike up to the pass on my own (not sure if they were supposed to do that..). Even though it was on the dirt road, it was a nice 6 mi hike and I saw a lot of birds (not a bird person, but wished I was), crazy huge rhododendrons, dogwoods and ate some wild strawberries. Couldn't get close enough to the tress to see orchids :/

Thanks. Yes, I was happy with how she went. The trekking company was a bit nervous about her coming along but in the end they needn't be. There were a few trekking parties and we were always the first to camp, so she didn't slow us down. She was the only child I saw on the trek. A funny story, the trekking company offered to include a horse for my daughter for $50 extra, which we agreed. So we arrived and asked where is the horse. They said here he is. It was a young man who was barely bigger than my daughter. He would carry her whenever she got tired. My daughter said there is no way he is going to carry me. So we paid Sangye $50 to walk along with us. He was a nice guy so no complaints.

We had Sangye and Tenzin as guides : ) I'm glad everyone had a good time on the hike.
 
Incredible.
I can feel the vibes from the last image. But my favorite is the one before it. Dreamy sunset.

David, when one does a 30 day trip, how much memory did you bring?
Did you back up images with external hard drive while there?
I know what camera you have, are you using 64gb card?
As for the lenses, please tell what you brought, and what you used the most.

Thanks David.
Killer thread.
 

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