Like a typical winter morning in Thimphu, at 8.05 am, the natural setting vindicates the month of January, the wind carries chill, with layer of translucent fog enveloping the lower level of Thimphu valley and lazy sun slowly waking up at far eastern mountain and gradual warmth making its way into the fog.
From Phuentsholing sale office, I (Anand Thapa) joined the bandwagon from the Thimphu operational office with 8 guides, 4 drivers and managing partner Rinzin and Jambay, sale director, for an odyssey to heartland of Bhutan, Bumthang – at the heart of winter on 14.01.14 for a weeklong tour.
It was 8.15 am as we left Thimphu; the traffic was minimum and the road happy, as we mounted up to Dochula pass, like a kaleidoscope of color, the vegetation gradually changed into confers and green and through apple orchard with the imposing Simtokha Dzong (Fortress) virtually at backdrop till we reached Dochula pass standing tall and lofty at 3140 m from sea level.
By then, the sun was at its full glory, playing in blue sky without the wisp of cloud, bringing comfort and warmth to the chill and most significantly providing the grand vista of far eastern Himalaya range as if it’s in our own backyard – a photographer delight.
Much to our chagrin, 108 chortens was free from the white blanket of snow, which is an unusual sight at January.
Our carriage moved forward but the downhill with change in vegetation with sub-tropical trees rampant at both sides till we reached Lobesa 1300 m for the light snack, what could I have asked more than a cup of hot coffee with the freshly fried local fish and the most delicious aspect of it was Mr. Rinzin footed the bill.
From there we could visibly see the Chimmi Lhakhang (Dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kinley, the patron saint of fertility) built in 1499, standing at the top of the ridge.
From there through the winding road we stopped for lunch at Chagzam (Nikachu), a typical Bhutanese dishes were laid out and everybody lunched with relish.
The journey began again, till we stopped at view point for the photograph of Trongsa Dzong and the museum.
Bumthang did not look too far from Tronsga as we start the journey till we stopped at Chumey, one of the four valleys that comprise Bumthang districts for early dinner in his farm houses. It was an invitation from one of guide Chencho, who joined the journey from there. It was a bit inside from the main road with the typical village flavor adding to it.
It was Bumthang special, a thick pancake with cheese and chilly curry with thick butter tea. It was wholesome and concrete till the breakfast the next day.
We finally reached Bumthang at 8.30 pm at Mountain Lodge Hotel. We retired to bed early as daylong journey made us quite worn
out into the cozy warmth of hotel room with the occasional murmur of fire from wooden heater breaking the stillness of night.
Early night make way for early rise. After breakfast, it was time to go to promise land- Tang Valley or to be precise Wobthang, where our Ranch and Riding Club is located. We leased 10 acres of luscious land from Tang community. Our ranch is located inside of Wobthang dairy farm, which was given as grant by His Majesty the fourth king for the sustainable developments of Tang community.
We reached the Ranch at around 11 am and horses were as footloose and fancy free as before and looking even more beautiful. After few hours of playing with horses and caressing it, we started to clear the trail bushes and outgrowth that were hampering the horses and rider alike.
As evening approached, few of us found the accommodating farm house, located a kilometer further up from the ranch at approx. 3000m attitude. The night was cold but made insignificant difference with the warm heater besides our bed.
To wake up at 3000 m greeted by bird chirping was a magical experience. I could clearly see the moon at 8 am with its silvery light being overshadowed by the sun. Breakfast is always an easy affair as by 8.30 everyone was raring to go. A hike down to the Ranch arena, where horses welcomed us with ever friendliness, the routine started with sharing moments with horses and once again clearing the outgrowth.
In evening,the results were blisters and rashes in hands due to lack of practice of movements but what motivate and make them rise to the occasion was the horse ride and practice session the next day.
The evening was even more tight and productive as the interactive session with the guide was fruitful as we could pass on the message of company philosophy and ideal that governs our set up. We talked at length about how to enhance our guest’s experiences. Many ideas flew in, many were accommodate but the cold night and hard day’s work gave into early night.
Not to my surprise, all were ready, and on their toe for the horse riding practice the next morning. The art of horse riding and safety measures were
imparted by our trainer and guide Sonam Loday, who trained under one Italian trainer and accomplished English equestrian, Krystal Kelly. And our own horsemen Pema, a Brokpa, from far eastern Bhutan – Merak, a born horsemen, where horses are the only means of transport and an important part in their daily life.
We ( Me & Jambay) being a little experience in term of riding lesson as we did it before in the ranch. We ventured out on the half day excursion to Ugencholing, a manor converted into museum and the home stay. The trail leads to downhill and into scenic Tang valley and gradual rise to the top of the ridge to reach the Manor. The manor completely submerged in the history and the villages covered with houses in traditional architecture which lend typical picture of rural Bhutanese village.
After conducting affair at Manor, the other way, we rode downhill through feeder roads with majestic valley at the fore front, till we stopped at the shop to replenish our food and toiletries. As we headed up, we saw the guys; they were brimming with excitement and for the lesson learnt.
The evening was a noisy affair as the talked mostly centered at the horses. The curtain finally fell down for the evening with the
fun, frolic and songs. The morning was beautiful so was the surrounding as we hike down to Horse Ranch. The day spell the exploration of the one whole day horse tour following old trail, till we stopped at Kizom, in Tang valley. My horse name is Norbu, a half Linga breed, unusually big than the local breed, black and majestic.
The lunch was simple with quick snack.
The trail that followed after lunch was simply breathtaking, at the same time clearing the trail’s outgrowth and in one place wooden log across the stream was placed. The trail was weather beaten, untamed and scenic as one of the guides quoted Louis Lamour “Its a kind of the land where a man has to boil his own coffee and saddle his own horse”. Till we halted for the night, a camping just below Kunzangdra, a monastery precariously placed in rocky cliff like Taksang in Paro.
Tiredness got better of us so retired to bed early,The next morning I volunteered to take the bus to Jakar town so that one of the drivers gets opportunity to ride the horse.
The next day horse trail headed toward the Jakar town where we rendezvous at Mountain Lodge hotel in Bumthang town. Due to lack of enough time, otherwise this Horse trek could have been elaborated to join with the Bumthang cultural trek and Bumthang Owl trek which can stretch for 5 night and 6 days.
The next day the ride back to Thimphu is always long and tiresome affair, which covers around 258 kms approximate but the stories and lighter moments shared by guides made it feel very less. It was almost 8 pm when we reached Thimphu. The long ride and exhaustion spell early retirement to bed. Not before falling into steady sleep, a smile surfaced on my face because of an idea of tour being fruitful, development of sense of camaraderie among us all, along with my horse NORBU and our team spirit being as high as Mount Jomolari itself.