Bhutan’s Druk Path Trek…in Two Days
We were short on time.
“It says here that most people do the Druk Path in six days.”
“Well, in four days I have to leave the country. In three days, you have to leave the country. So we better do it in two.”
It was reluctantly decided.
My friends had come to visit me for the last few weeks that I was living in Bhutan. We wanted to get out into the high peaks, a place that I hadn’t spent any real time in yet. The Druk Path, the most popular trek in Bhutan, conveniently began just outside of Paro and would take us back to the capital, Thimphu, in time to see my friends off.
Horie-sensei, who had just arrived from Japan the day before, was the most skeptical. Coming from sea level, the altitude adjustment would be hardest on him. I was hesitant because I was technically responsible for the group’s welfare. Normally tourists must be accompanied by a guide in Bhutan, but since I was there on a work visa and my friends were my guests, we didn’t need one. However, my local status wouldn’t change the fact that I didn’t know anything about the trek other than that it was between fifty and sixty kilometers (depending on who you asked) and that we needed to get it done in two days. Vishal, the third in our group, was all-in though, prepared with downloaded maps linked to his GPS and detailed trail descriptions. He had only been in Bhutan for two weeks and he already knew more about it than I did.
Horie-seinsei’s worries were justified. The first five kilometers ascended steeply, ushering us through verdant and thick pine and juniper forests and into thinner air. Right away his pace was sluggish, and I had second thoughts about the plan. By 10am we arrived to Jili Dzong, a small 16th century fortress used when the trek was a trade route for yak herders and pilgrims. Its white walls and maroon band across the top stood out prominently on the golden pastures above timberline. On a normal itinerary, we would stop there and camp for the night, but our plan left us with another twenty kilometers still to cover, and seven hundred more meters to ascend.
Once past Jili Dzong, the trek more-or-less followed a ridgeline northeast, sometimes dipping into the dwarf rhododendron forests, and other times rising above the vegetation to take in the breathtaking views. At our first four thousand-meter pass, the white leviathan of Mt. Jomolhari came clearly into view, unobstructed by any clouds on that crystal clear afternoon. Horie-sensei was moving slowly, but determinedly. We rested at the pass and he huffed and puffed, but was ready to move on quickly.
From the pass we made a steep descent toward the icy Jimilangtsho Lake, our camp for the night. We sidled up to its bank and could see that there was Bhutanese currency frozen into the water, an offering made to the lake deity from previous passersby. Night arrived just as we did, and the cold set in. We knew then why we had not seen any other parties on the way – December did not produce the best temperatures for trekking in the Himalayas of Bhutan!
The next day we had to again rise to an adjacent ridge, again climb to four thousand meters, this time heading southeast. The glaciated peaks of Tibet stood out like sentinels in the distance. We meandered between black rock faces and small alpine lakes and the ruins of yak herding camps. Vishal, always knowledgeable, pointed out old sky-burial sites which made the landscape more ominous to me, more mystical, but still beautiful. Horie-sensei had adapted well at this point, but after walking fifteen kilometers and knowing we still had fifteen more to go (at least), we all rested more.
At Phume La pass we were welcomed by prayer flags, a white-washed, towering cairn, and an expansive view of Thimphu in the distance. It seemed so close. We descended past the Phajoding Monastery, where we first came across other people, monks and day-hikers going for blessings at the holy site. The final stretch dropped us onto a path that had been rutted out by centuries of horses bringing supplies up to the monastery.
Our feet burned as we arrived at the road. Mercifully, we found a bus heading into the city. We hopped aboard and were whisked off, back to civilization. Though we could now rest our feet, all of us felt a little regret. It would have been nice to be up there for a week, to have taken the Druk Path slowly, imbibed that thin alpine air for just a bit longer. But, had we missed it entirely, that would have been a much bigger regret.
Inspired to visit Bhutan? Have a look at similar trips Royal Mountain Travel can offer in this tiny Himalayan kingdom: