Posted: March 30, 2018
Hello everyone! Here in Bhutan we are now back in Paro after our 11 day trip to Bumthang (pronounced BOOM-tahng). Bumthang was amazing!! We had originally planned to take the 20 minute flight from Paro to Bumthang, but because of some complications with the Bumthang airport, we had to drive 15 hours on windy roads through the mountains and valleys. This program has really taught us to always be flexible! We set off Sunday morning and stopped only for lunch and bio-breaks until we got to our campground. The night was chilly even with a bonfire, and some of us were a little worried for how cold the trek’s nights would be. The next day we drove several more hours, eventually arriving at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research Center (UWICER) in Chamkhar town in Bumthang! We had a relaxed evening on the UWICER campus, settling in for the next few days of guest lectures and activities.
Our first day there we had a couple interesting guest lectures and then went to the Bumthang Swiss guest house. The guest house’s owner, Fritz Maurer, has lived in Bumthang since 1971 and basically brought beekeeping to Bhutan. Listening to him tell his stories and then chatting with him after over samples of his fresh beer and apple juice reminded a lot of us of spending time with our own grandparents. The next day we walked a pilgrimage path to three temples, or lhakhangs. I wore my kira and continue to be impressed by the Bhutanese women who wear the jacket and mildly cumbersome long skirt every day. The third Lhakhang had incredible Buddhist wall paintings dating back to the 14th century!! The next day (Thursday), we had another guest lecture in the morning and a nature walk in the afternoon. After the nature walk, SFS affiliated people (students and interns) played UWICER staff in very fun games of volleyball and basketball. I opted for basketball because I find volleyball games very painful on the forearms.
Students absorbed in the intricate details and vibrant colors of a wall painting at Trongsa Dzong. All photos courtesy of Greg Francois
On Friday morning, we left for the trek!!! The first day was an easy one consisting of only a few hours of walking/hiking to our first campsite. We of course had a bonfire and late at night after the rain had let up, the stars were incredible. The second day was a doozy. We left shortly after breakfast and hiked up to what Rinchen (our cultural and spiritual guide and one of the most accomplished birders in Bhutan) calls “the ugliest pass in Bhutan.” It isn’t actually ugly. It just is below the tree line so you can’t see very far. By lunchtime at the top, my heels were crying out from the blisters that had developed on the way up, but I did my best to keep complaining to a minimum. The way down to the next campsite was beautiful, and we were all very relieved to arrive after many hours of hiking. By the way, we were by no means roughing it; our Paro kitchen staff was waiting for us at every campsite with tea and delicious meals that were all very much appreciated. On the morning of the third day, we went to a heritage museum in the mansion of a former ruler of Bumthang. It was interesting to read about and see how a traditional Bhutanese household was run, ranging from where grain stores and fine china were kept to having a family member whose sole job was to make sure there was always enough rice wine in the house. The afternoon was a gradual descent to the next and final campsite, and I passed the time by chatting about favorite paintings and artists. On the next and final day of the trek, we walked several ups and downs and finally arrived at our lunch spot on a beautiful lookout point. I never fail to be awed by the beauty of the quilted, terraced, mountainous landscapes we see here. After lunch, we walked to Membar Tsho, the Burning Lake. There, it is fabled that treasure discoverer Terton Pema Lingpa dove into the water to find a treasure hidden by Buddhist master Guru Rinpoche, his search aided by a torch that didn’t go out! At this site, it was easy to see how the lake worked its way into Bhutanese folklore; it was quite magnificent. After we paid our respects at the Burning Lake, we got on our Coaster and went back to UWICER. That evening we relished our warm showers and relaxed in advance of the two-day journey back to Paro.
Students walk through a remote village in the Tang Valley towards the end of the second day of the trek in Bumthang
Shira, Rachel, and Bridger soaking in the view of the Choekhor Valley from the 400 year-old Drapham Dzong ruins on the first night of the trek. Interestingly enough, Drapham Dzong is the previous site of an archaeological dig led by SFS’s very own, Dr. Kuenga Wangmo
The bus ride was beautiful as usual. On the first day of the ride we were held up construction several cars in front of us. With all the road-widening and paving projects going on, it was a miracle we weren’t held up earlier! A few of us stood and watched the excavator push huge rocks off the sheer cliff (don’t worry mom, from a safe distance) until the road was passable again. That night we camped at the same campground as the drive to Bumthang, making a nice bookend to our version of a spring break. The next day after several more hours of driving, we were all very glad to be back at our center here in Paro.
Lucky for us, the Paro Tshechu is now in full swing! Today, our first day back from Bumthang, we got all dressed up in our ghos and kiras and went into town for the district festival. There were lots of people, all dressed in their best traditional clothing. I love to look at all the beautiful clothes people bring out for tshechus, the fabrics are all so incredibly intricate and colorful. After walking around in town for a while, we’re now back at the center for the evening and ready to resume regular classes tomorrow.
Thanks for reading, and tashi delek!
After a brisk night of camping, the group poses for a photo in front of Chendebji Chorten, built in the style of Kathmandu’s famous Swayambhunath Stupa