I guess that hiking really can become addictive. Having survived the trail to Sakteng, we thought we would make the most of our newfound confidence and fitness and try our luck on another long if somewhat easier hike.
The public holiday for the First Sermon of Lord Buddha, gave us a long weekend break and we devised a plan to spend the night in Bartsham and then hike back to Rangjung. This we imagined would be an easy downhill walk and BCF Becky who was present when we first discussed it was keen to be included. In our enthusiasm, we failed to predict the amount of damage that the monsoon rains and newly excavated roads can cause.
We fondly remembered Bartsham from our only other visit there last year and although there were no blue skies this time round, it is still a stunningly beautiful place. The lone temple standing like a sentinel overlooking the valley and mountains opposite it, with clear views to several of the villages from which my students hail, has an alluring charm and having used a photo taken last time as the desktop on my computer for some months, I was keen to see it again.
Becky and Tim were both up for the visit when we arrived, with our now trusted friend and driver Lobzang, in Trashigang and we all set off in high spirits armed with a few treats. Luckily for us, the monastery has a few guest rooms, which we are able to utilize. Linda the resident Brit who teaches the monks English, was more than hospitable providing many cups of tea and a delicious dinner too. She insisted that the monks would not allow us to “lift a finger” so were treated like royalty for our brief stay. In return we tried to shower her with such luxuries as apple juice, almonds, cashews, raisins and banana cake, which we knew would not be available locally.
Once again the rain only started after we had settled into our new surroundings and taken a walk down to the village to revisit known haunts and take in the changes and developments. The clouds literally descended on the valley and settled like a blanket over the whole monastery compound and then slowly enveloped the entire village below, as we sat and watched from the comfort of a sofa in the guest living room. There is really something stunning about watching the vista disappear before your very eyes leaving you feeling as if you are sitting in the clouds.
It was a cool night and the rain, wind and much lower temperatures were a welcome relief for us after months of stifling heat but soon enough it was again time to don the hiking boots, take up the sticks, say goodbye to the indefatigable and according to Linda, somewhat bipolar “Cow Dog” and brave the mud on the road to Bidung. Tim opted to turn to Tsenkharla in a taxi and we took to the road. We had the relatively easy task of splashing through the puddles and skirting the mud on the wide and gently sloping road for the first 9kms. Linda decided to accompany us part of the way despite her aversion to hiking in the monsoon, but when we parted ways at a water-powered prayer wheel, the road was virtually ours and ours alone as we encountered only one vehicle, an elderly couple carrying their grandchild and a small group of girls. They cheerfully called “Au revoir” so we were in no doubt that they were JD’s students.
As expected we arrived in Bidung to find JD engaged with his students and giving up his free time to ensure that they were entertained and amused over the break. We admired his garden and chatted over a cup of tea briefly before setting off once again.
This time we confidently took the track out of town passing by our favourite stand of giant prayer flags, soon after exiting the village. The next known landmark, a lovely wall chorten was bathed in soft light and glowing with red flowers as we passed it and although the path was certainly more overgrown and slippery it didn’t look too treacherous. JD had warned us about both snakes and the cuttings for the new road but the latter didn’t really register until sometime later.
We crossed the road several times and spotted the new road from various points always descending on a known trail until one final wrong turn. At that point we “bush bashed” our way through denser and denser undergrowth becoming less and less certain that we were on the right trail. Finally we emerged without a clue where we were and proceeded along the road for a few meters in search of another track. That looked even less familiar and landed us in the middle of some unplanted paddy fields. A couple of disjointed conversations with locals got us back on track. Ian spoke in English and locals responded in Sharshopka gesticulating wildly and we continued in the direction they pointed basically. We were never too perturbed about our exact location as my school remained in sight and we were definitely heading in the right direction but the next time we hit the road nothing at all was recognisable and there was evidence of landslides everywhere.
Scouting around for a path to take we finally spotted Joyce’s Chorten and knew that there was no way would get lost from there. As we approached our beloved picnic ground and very, very familiar territory there was an incredible explosion and I immediately thought that they were blasting on the road we were headed for but no. Within seconds we spotted a huge fire in one of the houses in a village, in clear view from our trail but on the facing mountain. From the walks we have done with students who love to point out their own villages I was pretty convinced that it was in Galing and there was no hope of saving the house.
There was one final obstacle on the homeward stretch when Ian took off down a bit of a scree slope leading to the new road and it started giving away underneath him. Becky inched passed and I took to the edge and slid along on my backside hoping the whole cliff would fall from under me.
Soon enough we were scurrying towards our house pleased as punch with ourselves for having made it home without sighting a single snake or causing any major mudslides. Excavating roads in or before the monsoon season really does seem to double the destruction to say nothing of rendering the likes of us incapable of recognising our local landmarks.