As I gaze out the plane window of our brief 25-minute flight from Bumthang to Paro, I can’t help but be hypnotized by the high Himalayan peaks that separate Bhutan from Tibet. After a 10-day excursion to the dzongkhag, or district, of Bumthang and the previous location of our SFS Center at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research, I am reflecting upon the whirlwind of adventure that our group of 24 students and I just experienced. From being caught in the rain walking between some of Bhutan’s most sacred llhakangs, or temples, to being granted the most perfect weather for our 4-day backpacking trek, it is safe to say that our student group managed to soak up everything that the cultural heartland of Bhutan had to offer.
For many students, the Bumthang Cultural Trek is replete with indelible memories. Each day of the trek offered a completely different experience than the last; we hiked through meadows being lazily grazed by horses and mules, climbed up into lush, stream-strewn forests populated by a unique combination of conifers and bamboo, and meandered down into the expansive and bucolic Tang Valley where each farmhouse that we passed seemed to have somebody waiting to ebulliently greet us with a “Kuzu zangpo la!”. The tranquil nights on the trail, however, offered something a bit different. As the sun went down, so too did the temperature, and evenings were consistently spent huddled around a campfire exchanging stories and songs over hot milk tea and biscuits. After making the ever-difficult decision to leave the fire for the warmth of a sleeping bag, I’m sure that each of us took a moment (or many) to be pleasantly distracted by the hazy ribbon of stars that make up the Milky Way before calling it a night.
The mornings came with frost blanketing every exposed surface and through our breath and with chilled fingers, we each managed to pack our gear for the day, eagerly awaiting that day’s adventure.
Though I am excited to settle back into our Center in Paro, I can say with certainty that I am already looking forward to revisiting Bumthang with the next group of students in the spring!
Students make their way to Kurjey Llhakang, a pilgrimage site once visited by Guru Rinpoche, the 8th century Buddhist Master commonly referred to as the Second Buddha and responsible for introducing Buddhism to Bhutan
Not even two hours into the trek, the group found their way through a series of meadows on the way to the first campsite
Having completed mid-term exams prior to the trek, students take full advantage of the time to relax and enjoy themselves
Our resident bird expert, knowledgeable guide, and SFS staff member, Rinchen Singye has completed the trek close to 20 times, if not more!
After a climb over Phe Phe La Pass at 11,500 feet, the group dropped down into the vast Tang Valley