For me and my fellow students, wireless internet is practically considered a human right. Now, as our journey continues from the capital of Thimpu to the rural town of Jakar, however, we find ourselves further and further off “the grid.” Just as we got settled into our dorm rooms at UWICE and figured out the classroom WiFi password, it was time to set out on a 3-day trek through the Himalaya!

The route included most of the Bumthang Cultural Trek, beginning about half an hour’s drive from campus. With enough rain gear to face a hurricane and plenty of Bhutanese trail snacks in tow, our 22-student group followed Matt Branch and his technicolor umbrella. What followed over the next three days was the most breathtaking form of group bonding I’ve ever experienced.

Program Director, Matt Branch, and his technicolor umbrella

Day one familiarized us with the two modes of the Himalayan monsoon season: Raining, or about to rain. Not shy about our brightly colored rain jackets, we were all in high spirits when we arrived at our first campsite. With plenty of afternoon to spare, Lindsay conducted a field exercise on Hybrid Landscapes. With such a vast mountain landscape spread before us, it was easy to assume we were totally and undeniably off the grid. However, with Lindsay’s guidance and through careful observation, we were able to see that even this “untouched wilderness” was, in fact, a hybrid of pristine nature and human culture. Barely within view of our campsite/classroom were the ruins of a Dzong, or Bhutanese fortress. Before the evening rain rolled in, we got the chance to make the steep hike to the ruins – an experience none of us will soon forget.

Day two was a true test of both our rain gear and our group determination. This incredible group of students kept each other going for seven hours through towering pine forests, wide open valleys, and across roaring rivers…all in the rain. If there’s one thing this trip has taught me, it’s that with the right people by your side, you can make it through anything. Straight uphill on day three? You bet we made the most of it.

→ Himalayan Studies in Bhutan