Sunday, November 03, 2013

Jazzercising all the way to Sephu

Greetings All,
Clear skies greeting us the next morning and Namgay made the decision to keep to our orginal route and cross the Jaze La!  The French group we had met up with in Laya had already decided to go this route so we would not be the first to go over since the cyclone.

Throughout our trek we noticed that the villages were undergoing a housing boom.  Where was the money coming from to finance all these new houses?  The answer is surprising and totally unexpected, caterpillars, that's right caterpillars!  Every June/July, the people of the highlands harvest a caterpillar that has been parasitized by a fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis).  The fungus eats the caterpillar from the inside out and the corpse is prized by Chinese and Tibetan herbalists.    It is used as an aphrodisiac and treatment for fatigue and cancer.  A kilo of caterpillars is worth about $1200!

Namgay holding a Caterpillar Fungus

We headed up the Lunana valley towards the village of Thanza.  Just shy of Thanza we crossed the river on a wooden bridge and entered Thanza's sister village Thoencha.  A group of women were taking a break from threshing barley and were enjoying a cup of tea.  One woman was wearing the traditional black wool hat of the upper Lunana valley.

Thoencha Woman

We climbed steeply out of the valley with a stupendous view of Table Mountain.  After the Queen of Bhutan visited the area she renamed the peak Singye Kang after her husband, the fourth king of Bhutan.

Table Mountain Looms over the Lunana Valley

We encountered two women returning to Lunana with their yaks, a good sign as it meant that the Jaze La was passable.

Women Herding Yaks, Jejegangphu is in the Background

Further up the valley it appeared that the number 101 was etched on the hillside.  Namgay confirmed that indeed it was the number 101, our address and surely an auspicious sign.

101, Our Address etched on the Hillside

The following day we reached the top of the Jaze La, our 8th pass crossing.  Surely, nothing would stand in our way of reaching the end of the trek at Sephu now!

Us on the Jaze La, our 8th Pass Crossing 

We spent a cold night at 16,600 feet.  The staff started to clear snow in order to pitch our tents but we insisted that we could camp on snow.  We each had two sleeping pads and a ground sheet to insulate us from the cold.

Tsochena, the only Camp we had to Sleep on Snow

The next day we crossed another pass and a high plateau now covered in snow on our way to the Rinchen Zoe La, the highest pass of the trek.

Crossing the glacial Valley 

On day 23 of our trek, we reached the highest point, the Rinchen Zoe La at 17,400 feet.

Us on the Rinchen Zoe La, the 10th and highest Pass

We thought it would be smooth sailing from here but we still had one more pass to go over.  The night before our final pass crossing it snowed and snowed.  When we awoke there was 6 inches of new snow!

Marc peering out of our tent at Tampe Tsho
We would have to break trail over our final pass the Tampe La.  Namgay led the way but near the top lost the trail.  The wind was howling at 30-40 mph covering all tracks with the fresh snow.  We pressed on discovering that we were only 5 minutes from the summit.  It was too cold and windy to stop on the top for very long.  Graham snapped a quick photo of us and we headed down.

Us on the Tampe La, our 11th and Final Pass

On the way down we encountered a yak train coming up.  They packed the snow making the descent much easier.

Yaks to the rescue, clearing a path on the  Tampe La

This time of year the people from Lunana have to make the arduous 5-day journey to Sephu to pick up supplies for the long winter.  The yaks were laden with rice, powdered milk, distilled water for solar panels, kerosene, gas stoves, corrugated metal for roofs, wood for altars and some even carried wood stoves.  We were trekking for fun but for the people of Lunana it was a matter of life or death.  It certainly gave new meaning to "honey can you go to the store and get me some chocolate?"

The last day of our trek was long and challenging.  We had to negotiate 9 miles of dumpers, a mix of mud, yak and pony poo.  I was too tired to avoid the dumpers and ended up just plowing through them.

Peggy plowing through a Dumper

Finally, the village of Sephu came into view.  Hooray, we made it!!  We were greeted by reps of the local tour company and adorned with white scarfs, a sign of respect in Bhutan.

Group Photo at Trek's End 

A celebratory lunch followed with plenty of Druk 11000, a strong local beer, to go around.

A Toast to Completing the Snowman Trek

Now for some R&R before our next trek.

We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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