Sunday, March 18, 2012

“Legs Paining”

We cringe every time we hear “paining” and I have lost count of how many times I have tried to explain that it is a noun and cannot be used like that. BUT at 5pm today when Ian told our neighbour “Legs paining, Sir,” it did seem exactly the right phrase.

Having made 2 trips to Trashigang recently we managed to purchase a few of the items we were not able to find there when Becky and Martha were with us, so a flurry of phone calls to them from the very shops that had been closed on our earlier visit together, resulted in a few purchases for them too. This inspired us to book a taxi to take us up to Phongmey today to meet up with the girls again. The plan to walk back seemed like the perfect way to go.

We planned the a long walk back when we actually bought the goods and even checked that today would suit the girls then, while we were deciding on what to buy in the shops. Since it was Ian’s school rimdro last night and as we were sitting on the basketball court eating dinner and drinking warm beer at 9pm, we were glad that we hadn’t booked for an early start. Spot on 9am we took off from Rangjung and we earned ourselves some merit along the way by collecting two nuns, who were standing on the roadside with their goods and chattels just outside of Rangjung and we dropped them off at the gates to the nunnery just passed Rahdi and about half way to our destination.

We planned to spend half the day there and knew that we would have to take off before 2pm to get back before dark.

As mentioned when we drove up once before, there is a tricky section of road where Becky and Martha and everyone else too for that matter, basically had to wade through water to get past, so we checked out that section of road very carefully as we drove through on the way up. Armed with the girls’ advice and a strategy from their trip down we carried plastic shoes for that.  We were also dying to photograph it this time. There is also a funny little flying fox box-car arrangement which they use when that section of the road washes out in the monsoon. I would NOT like to have to try that!!

Not for me that's for sure

Spring has definitely sprung here and the blossom decorating the sparse trees standing in the barren, dry fields is gorgeous. 

The flashes of colour added by the birds, attracted to the blossom and other creatures coming to life as well as the blossom itself certainly contributed to the stark beauty of the landscape and lifted my spirits. We are pretty certain we saw a juvenile White-rumped Vulture today while walking back (though it may have been Himalayan Griffin) It was gigantic. There were also some very colourful and active smaller finch type birds who just would not remain stationary long enough for me to capture them so we could identify them later. They were enjoying the sun and whistling their beaks off in the trees near Phongmey, while the Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, which was very well camouflaged in the dry grass at the roadside scratched around for a while before taking flight. Just getting away even for a few hours is a definite tonic for the spirit, I think but the sightings of these amazing birds, does your soul good.

juvenile White-rumped Vulture

Check out that long tail.

We are trying to do at least one decent walk month in preparation for a serious hike in the summer. We want to go to the remote region, which adjoins Tibet and has 2 major towns (Merak and Sakteng) and is only accessible on foot. We didn’t join the adventure with last year's BCFers thinking our fitness and skils weren’t up to it so we are now determined to make sure we are up for it this year.

Though today we did see the new Sakteng highway, as our driver called it, there is strenuous hiking involved even from that newer road junction when it is complete. Highway it is not. It is a dirt road like the one we were on, but on the opposite side of the river and it is still being carved and blasted out of the cliff-face! It will go only half way there but that will reduce the hiking time and give us a better chance of making it.

I teach several kids from that region and would love to see the pristine hamlets in which they live; most of which still don't have electricity I am told. They are great students and incredibly hard workers as well as looking so totally robust and healthy. They actually remind me of the Amish community we saw in a market in Philadelphia. They are known as highlanders here, and they are very unique and turning into a real tourist attraction as the trails open up and the road access improves.  

I couldn’t resist photographing those we saw in Phongmey today, though my favourite images are of them performing in the Dzong at Tchechu last year. I love to see them and we often do but never in the numbers we saw today. They walk into towns to trade or get supplies and I guess that Phongmey must be one of the closest points for them. Even if it is not the best supplied, it certainly has all the basics. They use oxen, cows, horses, mules and even yaks to cart the supplies back up to their homes and though we didn’t see any yaks today we saw all manner of other animals being put the good use as pack mules while wandering or I should say “roaming” around with Becky before lunch!

Today’s walk was supposed to be a nice easy one going down on the dirt farm road and not even attempting shortcuts. I was not looking forward to swallowing dust with every car that passed but as it turned out in 4 hours, only 13 vehicles passed us heading up and only 6 were going down or in our direction. The great majority of those were in the last 30 minutes when Rangjung was clearly in sight and we weren’t giving up on our mission for anything at that point. They included huge Tata trucks and a backhoe but were all travelling very slowly and some of the taxis even slowed to see if we wanted a ride. Downhill it might have been but 17kms is still a fair haul and a lot of pressure on the knees on those rough uneven surfaces with the dust flying. We were definitely “paining” in both the feet and leg departments by the time we stumbled back to Rangjung.

I have been too sick to do much walking for the past 2 weeks. Along with about half of RHSS, I have been coughing and spluttering with that oh so common ailment in these parts at this time of year, “cough and cold.” The unseasonably cold and dry weather has about half my classes suffering and most of the boarders just keep coming to class so eventually we all have it! I am just about 100% now and I was delighted to be out breathing the fresh air, getting in some training for the summer expedition we have our hearts set on doing and taking in the glorious springing to life of nature.

Highlanders at Tschechu

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