Blessed, packed up, and ready for adventure, we drove off into the mountains on a road that wound up over a high pass, strewn with prayer flags and chortens. Bhutanese hospitality is everywhere, even on the roadside, where we met 2 truckloads of monks at the pass. They spoke some English and offered all of us traditional butter tea while they told us about the 5-foot-tall statues strapped in the back of their trucks for transport to a far temple.
Fortified with tea, we descended through a hot, flat, flowering valley to Bhutan’s most ornate and majestic dzong before rising again on a twisting road that tightly hugged the mountains. The road turned to dirt, narrowed, and finally we stopped for the night in a small village.
Camped on the edge of town, we shifted to 4WD jeeps in the morning as the road turned rougher. The precarious road has been newly carved between a sheer mountain wall on one side and a sheer drop down to the river on the other. The jeeps drove until we literally reached the end of the road. From there, our team of 18 people and 30+ pack horses cut down over loose and uneven terrain to meet the main trail which comes from Tibet and was followed by Bhutan’s unifier and visionary monk, the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 16th century. This land abounds with stories and history.
Pine, larch, and orchids growing in the trees formed a gentle forest where we climbed lightly and steadily up the valley, while the river rose to meet us. Our campsite was on the edge of a glacially cold river, at the bottom of a gorge. It was the first of many beautiful campsites we would enjoy along cold rivers. It was also the first of many days where the clear morning clouded over by early afternoon, then turned into precipitation. The afternoons varied from a light drizzle, to rain, to hail, and a few days even to snow. We quickly fell into a rhythm of enjoying early mornings outdoors, eating lunch before the rain, and at some point pausing on the trail for the whole group to suit up in colorful rain jackets. Although hiking in the rain is never ideal, it has its own beauty—clouds and mist shifting around rocky peaks, bright flowers abundantly blooming in a monochrome landscape, a heavy blanket of moisture dampening sounds and tuning one’s attention inward. Weather is one of the things beyond our control, so all we can do is let go, stay dry, and enjoy the earth in its many incarnations.