One path, many journeys

Bhutan is a country with a thousand facets, which allows an adventurous trip in the nature and a special voyage within yourself finding happiness. This is my experience.

The irregular, moss covered stones of the serpentine footpath are the same ones that George Boyle and Samuel Taylor walked on their missions to Tibet of 1774 and 1783, “cascades of water issuing from the bosoms of the lofty mountains, clothed in noble trees, and hiding their heads in the clouds: abrupt precipices, deep dells, and the river dashing its waters with astonishing rapidity, over the huge stones and broken rocks below, composed the sublime and variegated picture”.

I am walking the Snowman Trek. Eleven high altitude Himalayan passes in the remoteness and unpredictable weather of northern Bhutan. A clearing in the blue pine forest reveals a cluster of colourful prayer flags on the ridge up to the valley’s steep slope. I venture off-trail to reach the propitious point, trying to make my life easier by following ascending wildlife paths through the undergrowth and the bushes over the tree line.

The journey into nature

After the long ascent, the trail levels as it enters a desolated flat valley with steep ridges capped by rocky and iced peaks. They call this place Dupchu-na, sacred waters, for a landslide buried a rock painting of Guru Rimpoche and water now surfaces. I stop and sit here before the final push to Sinche-La, the 5000m pass that leads to the remote village of Laya. Impressed by the landscape I ask myself what is it to like about Nature.
The mountains are bare, littered with rocks of inharmonious forms. This is not a place for men to live. Yet it is attractive in its grandiosity. Does the landscape give hope that we all can be beautiful in our own way? Then there is the silence of the valley which brings me a state of pleasurable tranquillity.  

The inner journey toward happiness

To acclimatise to the high altitude passes ahead, I rest today at the base camp of Mt Jomolhari, contemplating the landscape dominated by the 7326m peak. Everything in the natural world seems to have no problem in being what they are. There are no crises of identity. Today in the Himalayas simply “being” is enough. The high-trail between Lingshi and Chebisa runs steady at 4,000m amongst hillsides covered with medicinal plants. Halfway is Gangyul, a small village of 25 households dominated by a massive, vertical rock face whose abstract grain patterns are mesmerising and seclude the 16th century Bja-Ghi Dzong to the eye. A group of young novices is reading aloud the sacred scriptures, led by Lam Jamtsho who sits cross-legged at the end of the room. He waits that I bow in front of the altar and make an offering before inviting me to sit next to him. A monk brings butter tea and biscuits. He suggests that I leave the Snowman trail and venture up the valley towards the mountain Takaphu. There, on the rock-face, beneath a hanging glacier, are the hermitages and a Gompa. In the monastery, an old Lama welcomes me with a broad smile, shows me the altar and offers holy water. I wonder, half-jokingly, if I just broke his ascetic isolation, only a few months before he completes his 10 years vows of solitude, and now he has to start over.

Suggested literature:

  • Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon: A Journey Through Bhutan, by Katie Hickman, 1987.
  • The High Road to China, by Kate Teltscher, 2006 .
  • Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, by Jamie Zeppa, 1999.
  • A portrait of Bhutan, by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, 2006