Nuptsonapata Trek: Best Trekking Experience in HAA

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Background

Bhutan has almost everything that a wilderness enthusiast would look for; snow-capped mountains, virgin forests, hair raising gorges, stunning meadows and valleys, sparkling streams and rivers, cascading waterfalls, rare flora and fauna and a natural landscape that has little changed even over the millennia. Therefore, the kingdom of Bhutan proves a perfect getaway destination for people looking for adventure and to commune with nature.

Haa District is one of the smallest districts in Bhutan with 6 gewogs in the western part of Bhutan. Haa is popularly known for its food specialty called ‘Hontey’ (a kind of vegetable dumpling) when it’s commonly cooked during ‘Lomba’ (early celebration of the New Year) by locals.

Trekked to the lake with two nomads

From the tourism perspective, today Haa is home to the highest number of homestays in Bhutan. The first information service center in Bhutan was established in Haa just a few months ago and concerned stakeholders are working on developing various other tourism resources and products. Out of the many attractions of Haa, the numerous mountain ranges and pristine environment could possibly offer spectacular hiking and trekking experiences.

Into the Woods
Overlooking glorious Meri Phuentsum mountains

Haa is home to some of the most fascinating and sacred mountains and lakes. Meri Phuensum and Nuptsonapata are the two most popular hiking/trekking destinations in Haa. Last year around this year, I hiked to Meri Phuensum and this year I chose this trek to Nuptsonapata .

Trek to Nuptsonapata

On 13th July , despite the onset of monsoon, I decided to start my sojourn towards the mountains. Prior to my trek, I contacted a local guide to accompany me to the mountains, the same guide who I trekked with to Meri Phuensum exactly one year ago to the day. 

This time around too, we decided to trek together and explore Nubtsonapata, which is popularly known as the ‘The Great Lake of the West” in Haa.

Nuptsonapata; The Great Lake of West
Kencho offering incense sticks.

On the day of the trek, we were fortunate enough to meet up with a porter who was going up to the pastureland (where the lake is) whom we instantly befriended and bonded with. The porter appeared rather pleased or probably even more gratified that he would at least have company for the gruelling hard trek which he invariably makes on his own carrying essential commodities for the nomads to the mountains. Now it was the three of us hiking towards the mountains that I so longed to hike and explore for the past one-year or so.

The Ta Man

The Trekking Trail

Start/End Point : Janadingkha Lhakhang  

Bolero Ride to Janadingkha : Nu 1000/-

Note : There are several trekking routesto Nuptsonapatra. We took the trail commonly used by the local herders that starts from Janadingkha.

Janadingkha Lhakhang is located on top of the western hill of Haa Valley. It is approximately 6-7 KM away from Haa town and the nearest road head point for the trek to Nuptsonapata.

On the morning of 13th July, I took a Bolero ride to the end point of the road where my guide and porter was waiting for me.  Remember that during the monsoons, the farm road is accessible only by four-wheel drives.

Janadingkha Lhakhang

From the end point  of the road, we started to hike up crossing some of the alpine regions covered in dense forests. After hiking for 30 minutes, we reached the first resting point in Talikha where we stopped for tea and snacks. This is the trek  junction where the mule track forks off to both the Nuptsonapatra  and Meri Phuensum.

After tea, we proceeded with our hike crossing some of the most gorgeous and lush green alpine forest areas of western Haa. Although the Tourism Council of Bhutan has identified Nubtsonapata Trek in 2012, unlike Meri Phuesum hiking trail, which offers several resting areas and canopy infrastructures where one can take occasional breathers or rest your tired limbs not much development has been done on the trekking trail except a guesthouse around Nuptshonapata Area.

Trek to Nuptsonapata
Poter

Enroute to Nuptsonapata, we met a man with a fully laden horse with a few local pilgrims.  After 6 hours of hike, we arrived at  a place called ‘Tsho Tsho Kha’ where my yak herder friend, Kencho  was waiting for us.  Kencho greeted us with hot milk tea and after getting a fire going, he cooked a hot meal for us before calling it a night.

The Next day, Kencho accompanied us to Nuptsonapata and as a local, he certainly knew the trail better than us. Nevertheless, to be doubly sure, I retrieved my Relive App to resume our onward hike.  From Tso Tso Kha (first base) to Nuptsonapata, we had to cover at least 13km in 6 hours.

Nomad Kencho and I

The second highest point of the trek is Regona located at an elevation of 4300 meter above sea level. At about this time of the year and at this altitude, we came across trees adorned with tiny pink and purple petaled flowers. We took a long rest there for tea and snacks. The viewpoint offers a panoramic view of some of the most spectacular mountains of Haa.

As we were about to proceed, a porter and a nomad with a fully laden horse who were returning from Haa Town with their essential commodities joined us. I volunteered to be the horsewoman for the lovely endearing horse (almost like a horse found in fairy tales) for almost an hour until I was distracted by a white poppy flower growing on one side of the lake stream for the first time since the journey.

NOTE: En-route to the Lake, you will come across several streams where, if you are lucky enough, you could stumble unto the rare white poppy flowers, notwithstanding the fact that the Blue Poppy is the national flower of Bhutan.

White Poppy
Blue Poppy

The weather started to worsen so we hurried along; we could not keep up pace with the horseman because he walked way too fast for us (perhaps partially attributing to the fact  that he was more familiar with the trekking trail which he uses on a regular basis and also probably much fitter than us!).

When I asked the nomads about the mountain trail, they told me (to my utter surprise) that they could easily do the trek from Haa to Nuptsonapata in a day or so. In fact in the olden times, the nomads would take only a day to visit the lake and return to Haa Valley!

Point where Mobile Network is Accessible
Enroute Tso Tso Kha (First base)

By the time we reached the highest peak at an elevation of 4400m, the weather got even worse. The continuous rainfall quickly drenched us to the skin but despite the treacherous paths strewn with stones, mud puddles and slush, like old stoics, we plodded and struggled on.

Personally, at one point of the trek, I could not help thinking that even a Mt. Everest expedition couldn’t get tougher than this!

Wet, tired and hungry we arrived at the nomads camp probably, by then, looking like drowning rats and as hungry as wolves after the grueling trek up the last leg of the rugged mountain terrain. There were only two herders living in the vicinity of the lake.

We wisely selected the yak herder’s hut that was at a higher elevation of the lake, should by any quirk of fate, the natural moraine of the lake burst! My friend Kencho being a friend of the new host also helped.

Our new host, although somewhat of an introvert and extremely shy also turned out to be a very good host,  cooking dinner and making a bed for us.

As a solo woman traveller, sharing a small cramped hut with 4 other men is not so uncommon for me. In fact, being the only woman around, I felt pampered with all their care and affection that only a queen deserves!

Great Lake of the West

Next morning when the weather got a little better, right after breakfast, we headed to the lake. With local experts and knowledge, we took the shortest route by first walking to the top of the lake.

Initially, it was a little cloudy but once we reached the area, the clouds cleared up briefly for a few minutes offering us a majestic view of the endless emerald lake. We burned incense sticks and meditated for a while before heading towards the base of the lake where pilgrims usually congregate and offer their prayers.

Best Crew Ever

The lake despite its expansiveness and depth was very calm and tranquil save for the fluttering prayer flags that seemed to release the powers of prayers into the wilderness and some birds chirping.

According to locals, the water level of the lake remains the same throughout the year. If you would like to offer butter lamps, there are several butter lamps left behind by some religious minded kind souls.

The significance of Nub Tso-na Pata (ནུབ་མཚོ་ན་པ་ཏྲ)

Nub Tso-na Pata (lake) falls under Uesu Gewog in Haa. There are several routes towards the lake via Jo-La (གྱོ་ལ), Tali-La (རྟ་ལི་ལ), Meri-puensum (མི་རི་སྤུན་གསུམ), Norbugang under Sama Gewog and Chuzang-Kha. It is a two days trek from any of these routes to reach the sacred lake.  

Though there are several lakes in the vicinal, Nub Tso-na Pata is the main lake. As per oral lore, Tertön Sherab Mebar who hailed from Kham in Tibet extracted treasures from the lake and when he was pursued by the wrathful local guardian deity, he unsuspectingly dropped a few of them while he hurriedly scampered away.

So, it’s believed that wherever a treasure was dropped, a lake was mysteriously formed (perhaps to hide the treasure). Hence, Ser-Tso (Gold Lake), Ngyul-TSo (Silver Lake), Yue-Tso (Turquoise Lake), Dung-Tso (Horn Lake), Nga-Tso (Drum Lake), Neytok-Tso (Drum-stick Lake) and Dungkar-Tso (Conch Lake) were apparently formed and each lake acquired the respective names accordingly.

As per another folklore, Tertön Sherab Mebar extracted the treasures from Roelgo-Tso (Cymbal Lake). So, when he was hunted by the Nymph who is one of the protecting deities of the lake, a lake was formed each time he dropped the treasures.

At last, when the Nymph nabbed the Tertön, apparently, Ap Chundue, the Haa diety intervened and resolved the dispute agreeing that the Tertön’s descendants shall not travel through the place ever again and that the Nymph shall not cause any harm to anyone from henceforth.

However, another folklore interprets that the Lho-ye Choejung, while Tertön Sherab Mebar was extracting treasures from Nub Tso-na Pata, he was struck by a bad omen, following which the Tertön and his entourage fled. But subsequently took an oath with the treasure guard Chung-Lek Tsel (ཁྱུང་ལེགས་རྩལ). Apparently, a cymbal extracted from the lake now lies in Paro Rinpung Dzong.

Nub Tso-na Pata is apparently vast because a Nymph (མཚོ་སྨནམོ) from Tibet carrying milk in a wooden container arrived at the current location of the lake to inhabit there. However, the place was pasturage and the resident owner refused to vacate despite her instruction.

She then affirmed that she would occupy wherever milk spilled, which consequently covered a  vast area; Consequently, Nub Tso-Na Pata emanated from where Rheum Nobile bloomed and ended at where fir sprouted.

(མཚོ་མགུ་ཆུ་དཀར་སྐྱེ་ས་དང་མཚོ་མཇུག་གདུང་ཤིང་སྐྱེ་ས).

Subsequently, the pasturage was submerged underneath the lake and to this day, it is believed that the lake bestows a distinct shape of a cattle. More so, the end of the lake is said to be stretched till Sangbey-Kha valley in lower Haa and this is the reason that the place is known for Nub-Lang (bull) breed.

As per another folklore, the lake decamped from Tabji (སྟབས་སྦྱིས) in Sangbey-Kha as a dry lake can be seen to this very day.

Source: ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SACRED SITES, Volume IX, Phendey Lekshay WangchukLho-ye Choejung, 69th Je-Khenpo, Gendun Rinchen

Where to stay in Nuptsonapata

  1. Guesthouse
  2. Tent
  3. Nomads Hut

Things to Take

Firewood, Gas, Food, Butter lamps (or buy butter from local nomads), Powerbank, Torch, Sleeping bag, Warm Blanket, Fleece wears.

Caution

If you are hiking solo, be very careful of wild animals. Take a whistle to blow or make plenty of noise whenever crossing thick forest areas to scare away unsuspecting wild animals on the prowl. It’s not uncommon to encounter wild animals in the wild because we also saw a bear about 1 km away from one of our trekking trails during our hike.

Thinking about that encounter even now sends a chill down my spine thinking as to what that magnificent and cuddly bear would have done to me if I suddenly bumped into him on a curb!

He’d have rag dolled me into oblivion or even suffered a worse fate with the skin of my face ripped off right from the scalp down to my neck!!! Well, imagine that!

This Trip has been in collaboration with DrukAsia . Plan your Bhutan Getway with DrukAsia

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