Bhutan Day 2

Today is the first day of truth. Truth about our fitness. Our endurance.

After a very restful night, we had to get up at 7 am. Luckily the acclimatisation was easy and I did not suffer from the headache, due to the thin air, as many others did.
The sun is already burning, despite the early morning. A thin cloud cover melts away under the intense rays.

Today we start trekking. First however we have to get into the town to do some shopping.

Paro is still a very traditional town with low buildings many old-fashioned features, such as exposed timber beams, and timber frontages.
But even here, technology has entered and the odd video and mobile phone sellers are around. Of course at this time, we could not even imagine how the smartphone would change all of this, even in this remote country.

Many buildings are adorned with the traditional phallus symbol, often featured in travel guides and books. Sometimes, instead of the phallus symbol a tiger is featured.

(Phallus paintings in Bhutan are esoteric symbols, which have their origins in the Chimi Lhakhangmonastery near Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan. These explicit paintings have become embarrassing to many of the countries’ urbanites, and this form of folk culture is informally discouraged in urban centers as modern western Abrahamic cultural norms of shaming the human body and sexuality have spread in Bhutan’s urban centers. Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.
Source Wikipedia)

In the bottle shop we see our first prayer wheels. But instead of being hand driven, the proprietor designed a small contraption and ran the wheels with the aid of a fan.
The shopping for provisions to be consumed on the track is completed quickly and
after about 30 minutes we assemble at our meeting point near the National Museum, which is closed due to an holiday.

From here we have a good view over the township and the airport to the left.

At our assembly point, horses and porters are milling around and our backpacks and some suitcases are being carefully strapped on to the horses.

These are smaller and very sturdy looking horses. In addition to our belongings, they are packed with tents, cooking utensils, tables and chairs plus food to be carried up the mountains.

Finally, around midmorning, we set off. First the walk is easy on a gravel and dirt track, winding up the hillside.

The track first winds between building sites for wealthy Bhutanese, which want to enjoy a great view over the valley. As almost everywhere in Asia, traditional building materials and methods are being replaced by bricks and concrete.

Leaving the building sites behind, the path meanders through farmland and orchards.
Apples grow well here and are exported to India.
We are tasting some, but they are, for our past and experience, are stangely tasteless and very dry.

Soon we reach a pine forests and the walk gets a great deal steeper.

A farmer is descending down the hill with his packhorse. Children from small farming buildings observe our progress. It looks rather idyllic and innocent. I have to think about the street kids I have seen in Bangkok, swimming in polluted, black water creeks. These children here have no idea how lucky they are to be born in this country.
But unfortunately, many like them, as they grow older, will, as many of their contemporaries in other parts of the world, seek a ‘better’ life with fortune and processions. But for now, they can enjoy they childhood innocence.

We gradually reach 2700-meter altitude. Breathing gets harder and we need many more rest stops. The many surplus pounds one carries around the belly and other parts of the body now taking its toll.

Finally, lunch! We drop literally to the ground.

It is a lovely location with a view over gentle meadows and a prayer wall. Apart from the payer wall, one could think to be in Austria or Switzerland or other similar parts of the world.

Our guide adds nice touches to the walk by bringing some German Harribo Gummibaerchen. While very common in Germany, in the mid-2000, these sweets still have to make their way into the convenient stores of Asia.

After lunch the going is getting very tough. Steep paths, crossed by small streams, make the walk difficult. These streams are not deep and can be waded easily without taking the shoes off, but all the tiny, smooth stones in the riverbed keep rolling under the feet.

Slowly we make our way through dense forest. It is frustrating, as we climb and climb, but cannot see any progress, because there is now view over the countryside. Just forest.

But finally, we reach a clearing. We see the pass ahead we have to reach at 3490 meter. A last push of our tired muscles. A blue sky above us and our lungs heaving in the thin air. Finally we made it. Yes, up to the pass, but not to the camp. That is down on the over side in a secluded place. It is already prepared, with the tents set-up and smoke coming from the cooking tent.

So, we renewed energy, the goal in sight, we stumble down the path. The sun is sinking behind the crest of the mountains and we sink into our tents, exhausted.

But not for long. Our porters have already prepared refreshments, coffee and tea and soon we gather in the dining tent to exchange impressions of the first day.

Dinner at the camp is very comprehensive with chicken, meat, potato, rice and soup. Our spirits are high. But soon the exhaustion of the day is felt and we crawl, already in darkness, through dew covered grass, into our tents and the sleeping bag and despite the unfamiliar setting, fall into a deep sleep, aided by clean, fresh mountain air.

to be continued

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