Trailing to the Popular Trekking Trails amid COVID19 and Conquering the Two Highest Passes.
Journeys that spark the imagination can lead you to a realm of happiness and often change your life forever. A few months ago I Laced up my boots and ventured beyond traditional trekking into Bhutan’s iconic Jomolhari-Lingzhi Trek through scenic Himalayan mountains, stunning landscapes, pristine forests, and mirror lakes and that very trek fulfilled my trekking goals in 2020 amid the pandemic.
COVID-19 in Bhutan
After the COVID-19 pandemic first exploded across the globe, Bhutan decided to close its international borders. Bhutan finalized this decision after a visiting American tourist tested positive for the virus. After banning tourism, Bhutan’s government also issued a mandatory three-week quarantine for any residents returning from abroad. These limitations initially worked for the country. By the end of the summer, Bhutan had approximately 100 confirmed cases and no fatalities, making it the safest country in Southeast Asia in terms of case totals.
Despite these efforts, the government decided to initiate its first national lockdown after a new internal case had appeared which was one day later after I got back to the bustling Thimphu from the Druk path Trail.
Druk Path Trek Highlight
Druk Path Trek was one of the best experiences in the year 2020 because I went on the trek along with two wonderful ladies and the team of BTCL. I invited these two wonderful women and mother because I knew they loved nature but never hit the mountains for a longer duration. They were none other than the versatile and best award-winning actress Tandin Bidha and the other one being Choni Seldon, yet another popular TV anchor in Bhutan.
As I am penning down this experience snacking on spicy corn snacks and sipping Druk Lager in between at this crazy lockdown midnight, it makes me smile like a fool reminiscing how Choni slipped into the lake and got wet. Being a woman ourselves we shared about how essential it is for women have to balance between their professional and personal life and how mothers deserved ‘me time’ like trekking/hiking into the woods away from home once in a while to reboot, refresh and energize for yet another errand back at home.
As someone who loves mountains, I was aww inspired by the stories about Dagala- the land of thousand Lakes. The route took trekkers through Yak herder’s camps, villages, monasteries, and countless lakes. The trek also traverses the largest grazing land for the yaks in Bhutan. Many recommended me to trek in the spring season to get the best view of glacier mountains and the emerald lakes.
Rightly so, this time a virtual friend of mine another mountain lover man nicknamed panda, and his friends were planning to trek to Dagala and asked me if I would be interested. Undoubtedly I said yes and headed towards Genekha with the strangers who, I befriended later on and in some of them I found ‘friendship’.
The best of this trek was the trekking mates, they were crazy, loud, and single just like me. I enjoyed their company. The landscape of Dagala left me fascinated. Once you get to the main basecamp the tour around the lakes, my god! It was truly stunning and mesmerizing. The silk and emerald green lakes glittered as if the mermaid teased the visitors. The giant glacier mountains yet so shy left me in tears of how they were melting. Though there were no hundreds of lakes to be seen like the name of the place reckons, the walk on top of the hill surrounded by snowcapped mountains and mirror lakes keeps me calling back their home.
COVID19 taking its Troll
As COVID 19 takes its troll around the world, In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the tourism sector remained among the hardest hit. The temporary restriction on tourism with the closing of international border closure has affected the livelihoods of some 50,000 Bhutanese workings in the sector, including hoteliers, travel agents, and tour guides. Under the dynamic and compassionate leadership of His Majesty the king, many of the people affected by COVID19 were granted, Kidu Fund. However, in this light, many local Bhutanese tour operators started to promote domestic tourism because Bhutanese were looking forward to traveling and the people were looking for an alternate source of income.
Now, where would aspiring travelers travel?
Rightly so, many Bhutanese started to go on for pilgrimage and off to the mountains- trekking. Some tour operators, guide, chefs and hoteliers catered to these domestic travelers helping to earn an alternative source of income. This time to contribute to the local economy, I bought the trekking package that cost me Nu 8500 to Jomolhari-Lingzhi (4 nights, 5 days).
Jomolhari-Lingzhi Trek is the most popular trek in Bhutan. With altitude differences of 2,500m and nearly 5,000m (lowest and highest point of the route), it offers a wide range of landscape, fauna, and flora. The highlight of this trek is the spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari from Jomolhari Basecamp, Jangothang. Nearly the whole trek goes through a small part of the Jigme Singye National Park, passing a few of the Yak herder’s settlement and the remotest region of Lingzhi.
This year it was my second time trekking to the glories of Mt. Jomolhari. Ever since I have trekked to Jomolhari I committed that I would trek to Jomolhari at least once a year because I am spiritually married to Mt Jomo. This time was special because I was going beyond Jomolhari towards Lingzhi passing the two highest passes of Snowman Trek- the most grueling and challenging trek in Bhutan.
The Laya-Gasa Trek is considered one of the most scenic treks in Bhutan, offering amazing views of some of the most pristine and unspoiled landscapes in Bhutan. The highest point on this trek is Neyle La Pass (4,890 m). Another pass to be crossed is Yele La Pass (4,820 m). This trek also allows you to experience the original Bhutanese village lifestyle. You can also experience the remote wilderness with abundant wildlife. An exceptional view of Mt. Jomolhari, Mt. Jichu Drake, and Mt. Tsherimgang is the reward of this trek.
I do not even have words to explain Neyle la Pass. I have never seen a landscape as surreal as the Neyle la Pass. To the left are the barren mountains composed of massive rock soil and rocky cliffs, right under your nose at the right you see a completely different scene. The snowcapped mountain and the glance of snow goat racing towards the almost dried up lake for water. Trailing in between completely different landscapes, once we got on the top of the pass, there was the loudest cheer “LHA GYALO (3 times)”! to commemorate our victory of conquering the highest pass of our lives.
I silently went atop near the signage and cried. “ Yes, I did it,” I said and reminded myself that as I climb to the taller mountain I ought to keep my voice low because wise men keep it low as they grow. The day I stepped my foot at the highest Pass of Jomo-Lingzi Trek was the day I rated myself as a Class II Hiker. I stood as proud as a peacock and declared that hence I shall conquer the mountains only higher than this.
Neyle la Pass is 4877 masl and considered one of the highest passes in the snowman trek itinerary. If you ask pro hikers/trekking guides in Bhutan to name one of the most beautiful passes, they will name Neyle la Pass.
Yakley la Pass
Yet another milestone covered in the 2020 mountain journal was conquering Yakley la Pass the highest pass with 4942 masl. “It was difficult, that first climb. But I’ve kept the feeling of accomplishment and personal satisfaction long afterward. The feeling at the top is, to say the least, magnificent. The climb included much planning so the feeling at the end was better because of fulfilling the goal.
This was my highest climb so far, it took me almost 2 hours to reach the top from the base of the mountain on a snow spread trail. I also consider that climb as the most demanding one but I learned that any challenge can help you to find focus in your life. By giving you something to strive for, a goal to achieve, mountain climbing can bring about a more balanced and considered approach to life in general.
Being an avid trekker and someone who has trekked in almost all the popular trekking trails in the western and northern part of Bhutan, I must say every mountain teaches us something new. Whether it’s something monumental like improving our self-confidence, or simply something as basic as the importance of maintaining dry footwear when hiking, every peak has a lesson in store for those who take on its challenging summit.
This is my Epic mountain stories from the year 2020. I can’t wait to climb other mountains especially bound in Central and Eastern Bhutan.
2021 waits ……