In terms of its environments, Bhutan is a kingdom of contrasts. The massive glaciers that crown its high peaks, and its lowland rivers on the border with India, are separated by only about 150 km, or 90 mi apart in straight-line distance. Yet, to cover a similar breadth of habitats purely in the lowlands of Asia, one would have to travel from northern Siberia to Vietnam (over 6,500 km; 4,000 mi).
This morning, I hiked up to see the sun rise from a high ridge that looks over UWICE campus and the Bumthang Valley, and looks up at the Bhutan Himalaya. Even though the coldest days of the Bhutanese winter are still more than a month from now, there was a truly amazing quantity of frost covering everything and my feet are rather cold. The grasses and herbs here have died back to their roots, which are protected underground and remain dormant until spring. The leaves of the rhododendron plants have dried out and curled. At first glance they appear to be dead or drying– but this process actually prevents freeze damage to the plants and allows them to keep their tough, hardy leaves for several seasons.
Gangkhar Puensum, Bhutan’s highest peak (7,570 m; 24,836 ft), reflecting the colors of sunrise
I take a drink from my water bottle, which now has ice floating in it that I didn’t put there. It is hard to imagine that over the ridge to my south lies warm forests teeming with tropical birds, butterflies, and monkeys. One ridge south of that, there are even warmer forests with elephants. Sounds pretty good right now.
Prayer flags and frost-covered alpine vegetation above UWICE