I woke up to the alarm and it was raining in Thimpu. That wasn’t looking good for the trek that was planned for the day. As I did some running around to get some photocopies, I could feel that I was getting tired faster as compared to my normal fitness levels. I understood that my body was not acclimatized to the altitudes. Thimpu stands at 2400m above MSL. Though it is far lower than that of Ladakh, here, the effect is evident when you exert yourself. I just hoped things wouldn’t be bad for the trek. I planned this trek on the third day of arriving in Thimpu but due to the delay enroute, we had to do it within just 12hrs at this altitude, which was not enough for the body to adjust to the new altitude.
We had a light breakfast of toasted bread with jam along with a drink called ‘Suja’. It is Bhutanese tea mixed with butter and salt. It was surely a different experience. We then got to the bus stand to find a bus to Paro, which was our destination for the day. We found that the bus to Paro was only at 2pm. So we tried to get a shared taxi. We got one for 150Nu per head and we moved on. We were happy that the rain finally stopped now. Paro had the country’s sole airport and was around 1.5hrs from Thimpu. The road to Paro was beautiful with a river flowing by the side and the hills at the backdrop. As we neared the airport, there was a roadblock. After 5min, an aircraft took off and the traffic was now moving! As we went a little further, I saw a signboard, ‘aircraft taking off. Please wait’!! What was that?, I wondered. But unfortunately, I could not manage to click that signboard. The airport was quite small and the road was very close to the runway. Maybe that is the reason they stop the traffic.
As we reached Paro, we hired the same taxi to take us to the base of Takshang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) from where our trek starts. This trek is listed in the ‘1000 places to see before you die’, a best selling travel book by Patricia Schultz. So I desperately wanted to do this trek. Finding that we may not get a taxi to get back to Paro, we asked the driver to come back after sometime to take us back. He told that the trek would take 5hrs. 3hrs up and 2hrs down. And this surprised me as I was expecting a 3hr trek. It was already 12:30pm now and we were here with a light breakfast, no packed lunch, 500ml of water, a packet of glucose and some light snacks. And to top it all, we did not have a guide and neither of us knew the route!
We pushed on. We were happy that we could see a trail. And so, we followed the trail. We saw a group of foreigners, sorry, non-Indian foreigners who had a guide with them ahead. So I decided to keep up with them to get an idea of the route. Just 10min into the trek, Ravi asked me whether I as feeling anything odd with my breathing and that he was surprised that he is getting tired so fast. I smiled and told him that it is quite normal to feel that way as we are trekking in high altitudes where the oxygen content in the atmosphere is comparatively low. We pushed on. The view was breathtaking and I kept on clicking photographs. Half an hour into the trek, Ravi asked me to move ahead as he was feeling extremely tired. I was in a dilemma as to what to do but decided to move on alone as pushing a person beyond his limits is the last thing I would do or advice. I gave him the packet of glucose and asked him to take it often as I have found this to be particularly useful to ward off high altitude related tiredness in Ladakh. I also gave him the only bottle of water and also the long umbrella that I bought earlier in the day to use as a trekking pole. Finally, before parting, I shared some ground rules as to if I were to find a trail that splits at any place, I would make a clear marking on the ground, with my hiking boots, indicating the path that am taking.
So now, I was trekking alone, without water, glucose or food. I just searched my bag and found a poppins candy inside. Candy means sugar and sugar means a quick source of energy that requires lower amount of oxygen for breakdown. I happily took a few. I also had to conserve water in my body as I was sweating profusely, though the temperature was around 22 degrees. There were a few things that I knew would be effective to conserve water in the body and I was following them judiciously. As I trekked up, there was a small reservoir where pure spring water was available. I took a couple of gulps and pushed on. The climb was moderate to strenuous and I had to take a break for every 50-100m of Trek to get back my breath. Some tourists who were using horses or ponies to make this climb, passed by me. At times, the trail split into two, one was tough to climb but shorter, and the other, was relatively easier but longer trail, which was used by the ponies. Such a split and merger was common in the trail. So I decided not to mark the path any more as the trail was quite clear.
I then reached a place where there were prayer wheels and also a small cafeteria. I clicked a few pictures here and again pushed on. After this point, the climb became comparatively easier as the gradient was not as steep as before. Though tiring, I was completely enjoying the trek given the beautiful sceneries around. I could see a few tourists returning from the trek. I did not ask them how much of a distance was to be covered as I knew it was a wrong question to ask in such a trek. I have always observed that 80% of the time, the answer would be ‘a long way ahead, mate’ which would be disappointing. I would occasionally observe the Monastery where am heading to and would be satisfied with the progress that I was making. I kept on clicking pictures and I just loved the views that I was now having. Though I always say that there is no camera like the human eye, I tried best to capture as much as I could in my digital camera to recollect those moments. Just before the Monastery, there was a waterfall, which was quite high. At the base of the fall, there was a prayer wheel. The specialty of this prayer wheel is that it uses the hydel energy of the flowing water to rotate on its own. I crossed the small wooden bridge to get to the Tiger’s Nest. I fully agreed that the trek was rightly classified as a place to see before you die. I reached the top in 2hrs. I went into the monastery and saw Buddhist sculptures and paintings as I moved inside.
I then came out and was about to leave when I saw Ravi! I was very surprised. That is the kind of spirit and attitude I admire in a person. I have always seen that it is not the physical fitness or abilities that make a person do great things but the attitude and temperament. And Ravi, did fight the odds to climb the full distance completely.
The climb down, as always, was easy, as one needs to just keep his balance and watch the steps. We reached down by 5pm to find our taxi waiting for us at the base.
It was one amazing day that I have had in this country. Both of us agreed that this was one trek that was worth much more than the entire effort that went into planning and executing this travel, this summer. With a sense of fulfillment, we turned back.
Location: Paro, Bhutan
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