Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Chomolahari, Divine Mountain Goddess

Greetings All,
It is Day 4 of our trek.  We are trekking with a group of ten, 7 from the UK, 2 from the USA (us) and 1 from Australia.  There are 8 men and 2 women in our group.  We are supported by a Bhutanese guide, an assistant guide, a cook, 2 kitchen staff, 3 camp staff and 5 horse men.  All our gear, food, fuel, tents, trek bags, tables, chairs and kitchen gear is being carried by 38 pack ponies and mules.  It is quite an undertaken to bring 10 people on a 26 day trek into such remote areas.

Our Lead Pack Mule

We spent the first 2 days climbing through a cloud forest with massive pine trees draped in Spanish Moss, ferns and lichen.  

Spanish Moss or Old Man's Beard

The weather was not cooperative with cloudy skies and rain showers.  The trail climbed along the Paro River which we crossed on log bridges adorned with Buddhist prayer flags.  

Peggy on a Bridge Crossing the Paro River

 We hopped from rock to rock to avoid the worst of the thick mud.  We're currently camped at Jangothang at 13,200 feet.   

Breakfast at Jangothang

We were at this spot 21 years ago when we did the Chomolohari Trek!  The first 5 days of the Chomolarhari Trek coincide with the Snowman Trek which we are doing now.  A lot has changed in 21 years.  There are more people living in the valley, more trekkers and cell phone coverage at this camp!  This morning the weather finally cleared and we were treated to a view of the massive east face of Chomolohari (23,997 feet) Bhutan's sacred mountain. The peak straddles the Bhutan/ Tibet border and has been climbed only 6 times.  It is forbidden to climb Chomolohari from Bhutan as it is believed to be the abode of one of the female protector goddesses (Jomo) of Tibet and Bhutan.

East Face of Chomolohari, a ruined Fortress s in the foreground

In front of Chomolohari are the ruins of an ancient fortress.  Out guide Namgay told us the legend  behind the Dzong.  Long ago the king of this region ordered his subjects to remove the top of the ridge that was blocking the morning sun.  The people started this formidable task but soon revolted, killing the king.  The fortress was abandoned and fell into ruin.  

Today we did an acclimatization hike to prepare us for our first pass crossing tomorrow.  We hiked 1200 feet above camp to two lakes and an impressive view of Jitchu Drake.  From this angle the pyramidal shape of Jitchu Drake is unmistakable.

Marc and Peggy with Jitchu Drake in the Background
That's it for now.  Bandwidth is limited.  
We hope all is well back home.

Peggy and Marc 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Land of the Thunder Dragon

Greetings All,
Our next adventure has begun!  After flying nearly 22 hours (not all in one shot) we arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on September 30.  We visited Bangkok 22 years ago and ventured into the city to visit The Grand Palace to see how much it had changed.   I was shocked at the number of fellow tourists we encountered.   I remembered few visitors to this wildly ornate complex back in 1992.  Construction of a new palace and administrative offices began back in 1782 by King Rama I.  On the Upper Terrace are four main monuments including a large golden stupa on the near left, Phra Siratana Chedi.  Behind and to the right are Phra Mondop and The Royal Pantheon which contains statues of past kings.

Upper Terrace Monuments

Tall Guardian Statues stood by the entrance to the main gate.

Guardian Statue

The most famous temple is the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha.  The Emerald Buddha is in fact carved from a block of green jade and was first discovered in 1434 in a stupa in northern Thailand.  At that time the stature was covered in plaster.  An Abbott noticed that the plaster on the nose had flaked off revealing the green stone underneath which the Abbott thought was emerald.  Back in 1992 we could photograph the Emerald Buddha but not this time around.  You'll have to settle for a row of golden deities that line the exterior of the monastery.

Golden Deities

On the morning of October 2, we flew from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan.  The valley was shrouded in clouds and our pilot had to abort his attempt to land from the north.  The approach from the south had slightly more visibility and our pilot was able to thread through the mountains at the entrance to the valley and land safely, whew!

Flying in to Paro, Bhutan

We were saddened to learn that The National Museum had been severely damaged by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake in 2009 and is now closed.

Earthquake damage to the National Museum

We had visited this museum back in 1992 but fortunately a new building has been constructed to house Bhutan's artifacts.  We also visited the Paro Dzong or fortress/monastery built back in the 15th century.

Paro Dzong

Today we did our first hike of the trip to Taktsang or the Tiger's Nest.  This monastery was first built in 1692 on a set of cliffs high above the Paro Valley.

Taktsang or The Tiger's Nest

Legend has it that the site was selected because it was here that Guru Rinboche who brought Buddhism to Bhutan meditated in a cave for 3 years back in the 8th century.  The Guru flew to the site from Tibet on the back of a tigress, hence the name The Tiger's Nest.

Sadly, a fire destroyed the monastery back in 1998, 6 years after our first visit.  Fortunately, it has been rebuilt to its former glory.  This time we were able to go inside the monastery and visit a few of the temples.  Photography isn't allowed so we don't have any photos of the interior.

Us with Taktsang in the Background

Tomorrow we start our 26-day trek in Bhutan considered by some to be possibly the greatest trail on Earth.  The "Snowman Trek" follows the spine of the Himalaya between Bhutan and Tibet.  Here is a  map of our trek route.

Trek Route in Red

During our 26 days we will cross 11 passes over 15,000 feet 5 of which are over 16,000 feet..  We will visit the almost separate mountain kingdom of Lunana, one of the remotest inhabited valleys in the world.  Internet access will be limited but I will try to give a few updates over the course of our journey.

We hope all is well back home,  
Peggy and Marc