Thursday, February 17, 2011

Buddha Statue At Kuenselphodrang

Today I was supposed to be already in Gasa on my way to Laya and Masagang Basecamp. But Dochu-La pass was closed this morning due to heavy snow yesterday night. So I had to postpone my trip to tomorrow.
The following photo of the Buddha statue at Kuenselphodrang was photographed this morning. The image was shrouded in the early morning mist rising from the valley below - making the image look even more serene and compassionate.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Magical Lingzhi Dzong

For the past three decades since I first saw a photograph of Bhutan’s remotest Dzong, its mystic and allure remained unabated in my heart. To me, Lingzhi Dzong was something out of a fable - mysterious, unattainable, hidden somewhere in the cradle of the insurmountable mighty Himalayas.
But early this month, I had the opportunity to sift through myth and fantasy and experience the real deal. I finally made it to Lingzhi! In two days, I photographed the Dzong and the surrounding areas like a man possessed. I climbed all the surrounding ridges so that I can photograph the Dzong from all sides and angles. Like I said to my camera assistant while returning from an early jaunt, if the Dzong were wearing a panty, I have photographed it with its panty down.
Built on a hillock that rises steeply out of the centre of the narrow valley, the Dzong is flanked on two sides by the villages of Zombuthang and Misayue. To the North-West of the Dzong rises the twin peaks of Jichu Drake and Tserim Gung. Viewed from Lingzhi, it is as if Jichu Drake had morphed into something else - it looses its conical shape and assumes a form that looks more like Mount Fujiyama of Japan.
The Dzong’s design is unique in that it does not look anything like other Dzongs around the country. It is obvious that the Dzong is constantly battered by strong winds - the Dzong’s torn and tattered roof bear testimony to it. A substantial number of the roof’s wooden shingles at the fringes seems to have gone missing, making the Dzong’s roof look ragged and unkept. But the Dzong still looks majestic and imposing against the backdrop of the alpine barrenness that surrounds it. Framed against the distant snow-capped mountains and the cascading Himalayan ranges that envelope it, the image is breath-taking and makes for a captivating photographic subject of mythical proportions.
Lingzhi is beyond Shangri-La - it is pure heaven. Those who seek to experience pure wilderness in its wildest form should visit Lingzhi. No other place in Bhutan can match it. The experience starts from the time you enter Jangothang (Jumolhari Base camp) and traverse the terrifying Ngele-La Pass. The beautiful Jichu Drake looms large on your left and keeps you company all the way to Lingzhi. The vast, treeless alpine meadows are crisscrossed with rivers of ice that sparkle and shine in the morning sun. As you climb higher, curiously gazing groups of Blue Sheep that number close to a hundred graze on the mountain sides.
No where else was I so completely boxed in by plunging precipices and enormous mountains that looked like they were going to crush me to death any minute - and yet, gave me a feeling of space, freedom and a sense of goodliness and contentment - as did the isolated but magical valley of Lingzhi.
For those of you who may never make it to Lingzhi in this life time, I post the following two photos so that you too may feel the magic. Over time, if I have the time, I will try and post some more - but I leave for Laya on the 17th so it is unlikely.

If ever someone should ask me if there is something that I want to do before I die, my answer would be: I want to go back to Lingzhi once again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Dreaded Bonte-La Ice Patch

My last attempt during end of December, 2010 to cross over into the desolate but beautiful valleys of Lingzhi and Soe-Yaktsa was thwarted by the dreaded ice patches on the trails leading up to the Bonte-La (4,900 Meters) and Ngele-La (4,704 Meters) passes. The passes were then closed to both ponies as well as humans. So I had to abandon my trip to Lingzhi and Soe-Yaktsa.
I came back from the trip defeated but more determined to make another attempt at it. I simply could not pass up the photo opportunities presented by the sparkling weather conditions of the winter months. But first, I had to be better prepared to take on the ice that was causing all the trouble. The problem was not, unlike in earlier years, snow on the passes - but ice on the roads. The paths were caked with mounds of ice that caused humans and ponies to slip and fall. A peculiar condition this year was that while there was very less snow than usual, the temperatures were lot colder thereby causing frigid conditions.
In preparation of my second attempt, I bought 2 hand axes from Sherub Enterprises at Changlam Plaza and began to build a sturdy handle each for them. These axes will come handy in breaking the ice on the road so that the ponies can safely tread over the roughened ice. I then ordered 4 pairs of ice cleats and a crampon for myself and my assistants. These will help me and my assistants tread over the ice safely and without slipping - hopefully!
My second attempt started on the 30th January, 2011. This time, I and my team managed to cross over into the beautiful valley of Lingzhi. We had to break ice at about 5 places - but the ponies could pass over the Ngele-La safely and we were into Lingzhi and from there on to Chebesa village - a day’s journey further away. It was a worthwhile effort and in due course I will post some photos of the Lingzhi Dzong and the valleys surrounding it.
The Ngele-La pass has got to be Bhutan’s most unique pass. At 4,704 Meters (15,433 feet), this pass has neither a speck of snow or ice on it nor a blade of grass growing on it - a condition I found to be truly amazing! Much later I understood why - perhaps I will come around to telling you why - if I get the time.
Upon return from Lingzhi, I and two of my assistants managed to cross the Bonte-La pass (4,900 Meters). This time sadly, the ponies still couldn’t make it over the pass because the ice patches on the road leading upto Bonte-La was too thick and heavy. One has to see the ice fields to believe it! While we crossed over into Soe-Yaktsa, our ponies and the pony man took the direct road to Thangthangka. We rendezvoused the following day at a place called Tongsathangkha - just above Shana.
The photo below was shot at the base of Bonte-La pass on our way to Soe-Yaktsa. As you can see, the entire area is covered in a thick layer of ice. In the photo, you will see my assistants posing for me - on the ground is my camera tripod. The inset photo shows the ice cleats worn over the boot by one of my assistants. The peak in the background is the beautiful Jichu Drake.

The ice cleats worked like a charm! We could walk over the hardened ice without a problem. Talking of which I need to go and wash and clean the steel studs of the cleats. I will provably need to use them during my up-coming trip to Laya in about a week’s time.