My most recent trek was an extended version of what is popularly known as the “Druk Path I” among the tourism circle. The trek started from Motithang over the Dupchu-La Pass above Phajoding at 4,083 Mtrs. I followed the route: Motithang-Phajoding-Simkota-Jangchulakha-Langripang-Jele Dzong-Boemri-Dongkala-Drakarpo-Shaba. The trek was covered in 6 days with a halt at Langripang which was needed to visit Jemilang-Tso. I had to camp and halt at Langripang because at this time of the year, Jemilang-Tso was out of bounds for ponies - due to ice. It is a 2 hours trek uphill to the lake.
The highest altitude on the entire route was recorded at Lava-La: 4,296 Mtrs. But the most treacherous route was the descend from Simkota to Jagne-Tso where the path was covered in ice.
One of the things I learnt on this trek is that if you expect to be treading in snow and ice all day long, you need to carry along 2 pairs of trekking boots. Even if the boot is waterproof, the leather uppers outside gets wet during the day which in turn turns into ice during the night. Try pulling on a boot that has turned as hard and as cold as the blacksmith’s anvil! The stiffness of the boot not only hurts your feet, it also freezes your feet thereby making walking a near impossiblility the next day - unless you wait for the sun to thaw the boots. That will loose you precious hours and, as a photographer who is perpetually chasing the first rays of the sun at wee hours of the morning, that is a NO NO NO!
The other thing I learned is that if you have the habit of waking up in the middle of the night to drink water, you had better learn to take the water bottle to bed with you! The night temperature freezes the water bottle into a chunk of ice and you will not be able to squeeze a drop of water out of the frozen bottle. In fact the standard instruction I give my camp assistants is that they bring two large pots of water to a boil and leave them on the gas stove before they go to bed. This way, we have two pots full of water in the morning - to make tea and cook breakfast. The water stored in the jerrican would have been frozen stiff.
I am glad that I have discovered the joy and beauty of trekking in the winter months. I have never before seen the alpine region with such clarity and starkness. As I climb higher and higher into the alpine regions, the frozen lakes and dripping icicles and the mighty mountains paint such a breathtaking picture that I wonder if the smog laden, mobile-crazed Thimphu is the right place to be in.