Monday, January 24, 2011

The Face Of A Young Weaver From The East

The girl below was 16 years old when I photographed her on 27th February, 2009 at Trashi Yangtse. She told me she was a weaver at Trashigang. I love her face - she exudes confidence and easy grace.
But every time I look at her face, I get this nagging feeling that she is of mixed parentage. Take a look at those hypnotic eyes. Do they belong to a pure breed Sharchop? I don’t think so.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frozen Boots and Ema Datsi

After reading my comments on the frozen water bottle and stiff trekking boots, a friend from the US writes as follows:
Dear Yeshey,

"........Second other thing... I just read your blog posts about the Druk Path trek. Man, see why I worry about you? :( The photos are lovely but your health is more important. I have done many weeks of canoeing and trekking in temps and storm conditions like those. The boot issue is important. I tried once to thaw mine out by putting them near the fire, and they burned and became hard as rocks. Finally I just began sleeping with them in the bottom of my sleeping bag on the worst nights, along with my socks for morning and underwear all tucked into the bottom of the bag so it wasn't damp or cold when I needed to put them on. That takes out too much of your body heat just to warm the base layers. The other thing that helps is to warm rocks on the fire, and warm it long enough that it is warm all the way through, not just the surface, and put a rock into each boot. Or a piece of soapstone or whatever you want. I had two bricks of soapstone that were my favorite for that. They radiate out heat for a long time, good for drying out boots or for keeping them from freezing through the night. Good for mittens and other things too.
Are you wearing a good warm wool hat to bed? That's crucial. And keeping your neck and the small of your back and your belly warm are super important. You're going to love the Ugg boots. Wish I could send you Ugg overalls hahaha ... Seriously, stay warm, drink lots of warm/hot liquids up there, lots of fat in your diet while you trek. It's cold and you can't generate enough heat yourself to warm your body; you need to rely on a lot of warm drinks and hot soups and fat in the food to keep your metabolism going. Spicy chillies make you sweat and take the heat to the outside of you instead of to the inside, so they aren't the best choice; they're warm initially but ultimately will cool you off. Just lots and lots of hot liquids and substantial foods, soups with meat, warm curries. I remember how fast the food turns cold on those fast!!

Last but not least, go get the cordyceps and begin taking that now. It would be good for you to take right through until spring/summer warms you up. Take it for a week before you start your next trek and keep taking it as you go. Don't overdose yourself though. Take enough that your breathing improves and you feel like you had a nice cup of tea, but not so much that you are jittery or feel hyper or like you could leap over the mountains instead of just walk more easily. A little is good and a lot is harmful. A little more while you are trekking, less while you are in Thimphu. My sister-in-law loved it! She ran like a deer even while sick".
NOTE: The reference to chillies is because the friend knows of our penchant for ema datsi! Apparently, Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals (Indigenous Hospital in Kawajangtsa) manufactures some pills prepared out of Cordyceps sinensis called CordyPLUS and CordyACTIVE. The friend swears that they are magic for energy and stamina. I am doing pretty OK without them - so I am not sure that I will try them out - not just as yet anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Latest Trek

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.
Some pictures below will show you what you are missing.

Jambeyang Lhakhang in the morning sun:

Prayer Flags at the Dupchu-La, Phajoding:

Sunrise at Phajoding:

View of Thimphu City as seen in morning from Phajoding:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Here is wishing all the visitors to my Blog:

Below is a photo of Mt. Jichu Drake (6,900 Mtrs.). In front is one of the twin lakes called “Tsophu” which, as you see, has been frozen over. These lakes are located about one hour’s trek from Jumolhari base camp en-route to Bonte-La Pass (4,980 Mtrs.) which you need to cross to reach the beautiful village of Soe-Yaktsa.

I took the photo on the 24th December, 2010. Most people who knew I was headed for this trek to Lingzhi and Soe-Yaktsa agreed that I was totally mad to undertake this trek at this time of the year. But I suspected that if I were to get great, clear photos of the high mountain peaks, winter was the time to get them. And I was right! The weather was stunning and the peaks stood out against the clear blue skies like I have never seen before. This is my third trip to the base camp.
Sadly, I couldn’t make it to Lingzhi and Soe-Yaktsa. The passes were covered with ice and the ponies couldn’t tread over them. Even for humans, it was perilous to attempt to walk over the iced path - one could slip and drop off into the wilderness. But I am going back again - in February. By then I hope to be prepared to tackle the ice - with axes and cleats and crampons!
One word of caution: if you are going to Jumolhari during winter, make sure you take sun shades - the atmosphere is so pristine that the lighting is sparkling and so crystal clear that your eyes hurt. Also, make sure that you take lots of warm clothing - it is so cold that at one point icicles had formed on my hair which had become wet from sweating - while trudging up the ridges to get closer to the peaks.