Posted on October 11, 2012 by Margot
Our next walk was along what was described to us as an “ancient trail”. Ancient these trails may be, in the sense that they were in use centuries ago – but, in this country, it is not that many decades since these ancient paths were in fact the only way to get from place to place, and in many parts of the country this is still the case. On a later occasion Pat told us about one of her friends that we had actually met earlier in the day and who had planned to join us on a walk along another ancient trail. He had to cancel coming with us as he was required to go to the northern border (China/Tibet) to sort out some issues and it was going to take him six days to walk there!
Anyway the ancient path that we tackled this day was a corker. It started from a high point on the road which leads to the town of Trongsa – but on the other side of a steep ravine.
So it was down, down, down – once again through beautiful jungley sort of rain forest, with plenty of opportunities to try out the newly re-discovered macro setting on my camera.
At the bottom of the ravine we crossed the river on a covered suspension bridge fluttering with a myriad prayer flags.
Then it was up, up, up on the other side, eventually reaching the ancient point of entry through the massive gateway of the Trongsa Dzong. The governor of Trongsa had the game sewn up. All movement through this strategic north-south trade and travel route had to pass through this formidable fortress – and of course all travellers had to pay dearly for the privilege.
Nowadays it is only the odd tourists like ourselves, with a bit of time and a reserve of energy, who re-trace the footsteps of the ancients on this once busy pathway through the mountains of Bhutan. Apart from the King, who made the trek when he was the Penlop or governor of Trongsa prior to becoming king -a traditional post that all future kings must hold. Apparently he did it in double quick time putting to shame all the other governors who accompanied him!!
Our walk the following day along the Gangtay Nature trail in the beautiful Phobjika Valley was considerably less arduous, even though it started at almost 3000 metres. We walked gently downhill almost the whole way, passing lots of examples of the drystone walling which abounds in this country.
The fields of ripening buckwheat lent a lovely pinkish hue to the otherwise predominantly green landscape. We passed by a number of farmhouses and then, having stepped our way elegantly across a stream in a marshy patch of the valley floor, we were motioned to go inside one and climb the ladder/stair above the storage area into the family living rooms.
Well, what a treat that was. We inspected the family altar room, which boasted not only the usual carvings, statues, thankas and murals but also a number of stuffed animals hanging from the roof
And then it was into the kitchen for a demo of making traditional butter tea which we got to sample along with a trio of traditional snacks to accompany home made spirit known as ara, which I smelled but could go no further. The snacks were good though!
Having made our way back down the perilously steep stairs – some of us finding them even more perilous than others due to the consumption of the aforementioned ara, we were greeted by the two children of the house, newly arrived home from school. They smiled and nodded for a bit, then got down to the serious business of kicking a ball around.
The little girl was a real hoot, lining up the ball very seriously then spitting on her hands before she took aim and launched an almighty kick. She was very warmly applauded by all the women watching!!
We completed the final leg of our walk crossing the valley floor and were picked up by our mini bus which drove us on to the Black Necked Crane information centre, where we met the Director of the Centre, a young woman who had been working there for 8 years and was absolutely passionate about the centre and the work it does in monitoring these very rare birds which come to this valley every winter from Tibet.
We heard some lovely stories about the interrelationship between the birds and the farmers and the monks in the monastery at the head of the valley. The monastery is very old and is headed up by a highly regarded lama who has established links with Russia of all places.
But the significant thing for this story is that the cranes are incorporated into the mythology of the place. It is said – and seen – that when they return and when they leave the valley each year, they circle around the monastery to receive a blessing (and indeed they do circle around as they gain or lose height depending whether they are coming or going). So it was interesting to see that these birds have found their place in the carvings at the entrance to this very special temple.