By eleven thirty on Thursday morning all of us were bursting with anticipation. It was the start of our four-day cultural trek through our home district of Bumthang. When the bus engine finally kicked on, it was met with a collective hoot of joy, followed by our excited chatter. After a quick and scenic drive we reached the start of the trail. Sunbeams were shining down, tanning our faces as we began our hike.
The first day’s hike rambled in and out of tall, shaded forests, over rushing mountain streams, and finally through a cool, green valley. We made it to our campsite well before dinner, and many of us were tempted by stories of ruins on a nearby hill. When we reached the top of the hill we found that they were ruins of an ancient dzong, built there to defend against Tibetan attack. On returning to our camp, we were met by Tashi and his three pack horses. Each student bid the horses a friendly hello, as they would be carrying our food during tomorrow’s hike.
Exploring the ruins of a dzong
The next day our journey was long and steep. We spent our morning trekking upwards under the cover of the pine forest to a ridge line which seemed to exist just below the clouds. The trees were thick and old, and thin shoots of bamboo filled in the spots where tired trees had fallen. After coming over the ridge we hiked down into the valley, all the while spoiled by picturesque views of gorgeous mountain villages bordered by content, grazing cows. That night we camped by a river. Each of us lay cozy in our tents, dozing off to the tinkling of horse bells.
For the next two days our trail led us through the tiny villages of Tang Valley. Bhutanese farmers gave us a warm wave as we passed by their fields and children ran behind us, shouting any English words they could remember. Often we walked along the river, realizing that its constant rushing made the perfect background music for our thoughts. Dogs from the places we passed trotted along with us, enjoying our easy companionship.
Always remember to pass holy structures to your right!
Our trek concluded at Mebar Tsho, the Burning Lake. This is regarded as a holy place in Bhutan. Terton Pema Lingpa, the only successful Bhutanese treasure-seeker, is said to have dove into this lake, lantern in hand. When he resurfaced, not only had he found ancient Buddhist treasures, but his lantern’s flame was still burning. Today the site is adorned with countless prayer flags and butter candles. Both foreigners and Bhutanese visit the Lake, as it is just as beautiful as it is holy. We sat together on the rocks above the water, listening to the Buddhist chanting of the site’s caretaker.
Despite the lure of hot showers and delicious momos, everyone was slow to board the bus which would take us back to campus. Our trek had been a perfect way to explore more of Bumthang – what better way to experience a place than to simply walk through it?
Prayer flags at the Burning Lake