In the entry for November 4th you saw Bhutan’s border with China, here is a look at the border with India. The photo was taken from one of the two Drukair jet planes, an Airbus A319. As of 2009 buying the two airplanes was the biggest transaction Bhutan had ever made.
Remember we set off to take a look at the highest unclimbed mountain of the world? Turns it out we got the best look at Gangkhar Puensum (7570 m) through the giant Nikon telescope donated by the Japanese expedition that was disallowed to climb it but managed to conquer Liangkang Kangri next to it instead. The telescope is installed near the Dochu La pass at about 3000 m.
What if your 4th generation king decided it was time you participated in the selection of your government? The first general election in Bhutan was held in 2008, the constitution now defines it as a democratic constitutional monarchy.
As we follow the river to lower altitudes the air warms and the vegetation changes from dominant conifers to bamboo jungle.
Mercifully the rains didn’t start until today. What falls as rain down here is snow just a hundred meters above, we were more than a thousand meters higher just yesterday.
As we cross the highest pass on our route we encounter groups of yak herders moving to lower altitudes. Unlike horses, the yaks have no trouble finding the hidden trail, acting as bovine snow plows. The herders make an offering of booze to appease the mountain spirits and ensure safe travel. The maps have located the pass between 4500 and 4900 meter so we make a guess based on our barometric altimeter.
Getting up before 5 am every day really hasn’t been a problem. When you carefully take a peek through the little breathing hole in your sleeping bag it is a relief to see the light of dawn because it can only mean that the temperature will rise. The – 30° C rating on the Northfake sleeping bag can only have been sewed on by a cruel jester. Who really takes the sting out of the brisk mornings is our hearty cook Sonam, as he has been handing in two cups of steaming hot coffee into the tent.
The self-declared keeper of the Dur Tsachu hot springs now lives on the west side of river. Sangay Tenzin was sent here on a military expedition by a prior King some 25 years ago or was it 40? The 67 year old remembers the unsuccessful expeditions to Gangkhar Puensum well. He accompanied the climbers with his yaks and has held his post as a hermit at the hot springs since. He moved to the Wangdi side of the river a couple of years ago because his Bumthang native neighbors thought his yaks were damaging the springs. These days the best preserved hot tubs are right by his hut at the river and he will show you with a wry smile how to disrobe and make proper use of them.
He tells his story over a kindly prepared cup of what was to be Katja’s first and last yak butter tea.
We really haven’t found any decent maps for the region. The altitude of mountains varies by 500 meters depending on which map you look at. Word is that there are some decent Russian topographical maps out there but we have yet to see them. If only the Federal Office of Topography swisstopo would donate their time. They could even use the same grid as the countries are roughly the same size and the terrain has the same complexity.
As the horseman Tenzin lights a fire, Cranky gets his hope up for thawing his feet at their campsite at 3870 meters. The air temperature measures – 4°C but feels much colder due to a light breeze blowing from the glacier above.