“Nature’s beauty is a gift that cultivates appreciation and gratitude” – Louie Schwartzberg
The Druk Path is a 35 mile ancient trading route connecting Paro and Thimphu Valleys. The trail passes through rhododendron forests, alpine yak pastures and lakes, with views of the Himalayas from higher elevations. Mount Jomolhari, “the bride of Kanchenjunga” towers at 24,035 ft in the distance at during most days on the trek. Our visit to Bhutan was nearing the end of the tourist season as the weather was growing cold at the start of winter. This meant that Brian and I were the last trekkers of 2017 on the Druk Path and the first of 2018 with no one due to return until March.
We had planned to walk the trail over 5 days, making each day’s walk not only manageable, but far too short for our preferences. Due to ice that didn’t allow our mules to continue the length the trek, we rearranged our nightly camping itinerary to complete the trek in 4 days. Getting back to the mules…yes we had several mules and a team of people serving as porters, camp set crew, and meal preparation. It is way over the top, especially for people used to backpacking, but the industry provides much needed jobs and we loved sharing the trail with a group of locals.
The first day we trekked through Damchena village to camp near Jele Dzong, a small remote monastery. There was a single monk living, praying, and caring for the monastery. Notice that Jo-Jo had to join us.
Time at the camp usually just involved several rounds of tea drinking and gathering at the campfire for dinner each night.
The morning brought a beautiful sunrise over our camp here.
Breakfast of rice, egg, and chillies came with an assortment of Royal Bhutan accompaniments.
The following day led us through more forested trails, occasionally along exposed sections that offered views of Paro Valley and Mount Jomolhari.
This was both our warmest day and warmest night at a highly protected campsite at a yak herding pasture Jangchulakha (12,401 ft). I was already starting to get some serious camp hair only day two.
The remaining two days were our absolute favorite, climbing to elevations over 14,000 ft over rougher terrain with views adorned by prayer flags. The elevation change brought new forest species comprised of mainly juniper trees and dwarf rhododendrons. The views of the mountain valleys of Thimphu and Paro were sensational.
Near the end of the day we descended to a pair of lakes, Jimilangtsho Lake (12,729 ft) and Janetsho Lake (13,484 ft). The later, which served as our campsite, has spiritual significance. Many make this hike to give offerings and it is believed that a mermaid lives within.
We rang in the New Year that evening with our Bhutanese family. Despite cake not being a part of their diet, they made a special one just for us for New Years. We toasted cheap peach wine over a warm meal in a frigid tent…it was perfection.
Day 4 – our last
We said goodbye to most of our crew today as the mules were unable to complete the remaining section to Thimphu Valley due to the ice. This section contains several climbs and descents with views of Mount Gangkar Puensum (24,836 ft), Bhutan’s highest peak.
The final climb is over Phum La Pass (13,812 ft) which is adorned with endless prayer flags and our first view of Thimphu Valley, the end of our journey.
It was a bittersweet end to the Druk Path. We had to say goodbye to our sweet Jo-Jo. He was happy to take a long nap after a long day hiking and I cried as we left him with his doggie friends in Sangaygang.