Friday, 3 January 2014

Best Views of Jhomolhari: A Day Hike Above Cheli La

Jhomolhari 7314m (left), Jhomolhari 2 6942m (middle) and Jichu Drakye 6989m (right)
On a typically beautiful, clear winter day, we headed up to Cheli La from Paro with my visiting brother and sister in law on the way to Haa for New Year's Eve. Fears of ice on the road had our driver feeling a little reluctant to take the Cheli La road, but despite a few thin icy patches the road was fine when driven carefully. Our friend Heather Robertson had told about a great hike up the northern ridge line from Cheli La and on such a clear and sunny day, we were keen to check it out. Luckily Heather passed on great details of her trip so we knew where we were going. You can see her account here.  

Manidhar prayer flags carry prayers for Chenresig, Boddhisattva of Compassion
From the pass at 3810m, we headed up the northern ridge beyond a large gathering of white manidhar prayer flags and dwarf rhododendrons burnt limp by the frost. We continued climbing for three km or so to the radio tower at 4144m, about one hour from the pass. The views of Jhomolhari and Jichu Drakye were so spectacular that I think we managed about 200m for every photo stop. I don't know whether it was a combination of the altitude, wind, cool air or spectacular scenery, but in my exhilarated state, every new angle presented a unique photography opportunity that needed to be taken. 

Chris and Amy get their mountain pose on

From the radio tower a path continues along the northern ridgeline towards a sky burial site and onwards to the beautiful Kila Nunnery (just visible in the bottom right hand corner of the photo below). Friends who have walked to the nunnery say that it is about a six hour walk from Cheli La to the nunnery and then back to the Paro-Cheli La road - including lunch and plenty of photo stops. You can see Brick's account of this trip here.

Kila Nunnery (bottom right) seen from the ridge above Cheli La. Jhomolhari and Jichu Drakye are in the distance.

The sky burial site is one of the few I have heard about in Western Bhutan, another being on the plateau above Takshang. Although relatively rare in Bhutan where cremation is the norm, sky burial was commonly practiced on the Tibetan Plateau and steppes of Mongolia where the absence of trees and hard dry soil makes it more difficult for cremation or earth burial to take place. More than this, however, sky burial - whose Tibetan name translates as 'alms for the birds' - allows for the corporeal remains of the deceased to be disposed of in the most generous and ecological way possible - a practice I can't help but find incredibly moving and selfless - not to mention breath-takingly sensible. I still have haunting memories of the clouds of vultures soaring on the thermals above the sky burial grounds in Lhasa, beaks and mouths gorged with who knows what kind of human body part. It was wonderfully gothic and gruesome!

Sky burial site with Jhomolhari in the back ground
 From the radio tower we stopped for a picnic lunch of Bumthang emmenthal and Season's multigrain (a truly decadent pleasure, I know) and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Haa valley with Chhundu Kang (aka Kangchenjunga - third highest mountain in the world) rising up serenely in the distance. The mountain is named after Chhundu the troublesome, pre-Buddhist protector deity of the Haa valley whose quarrels with the Paro protector diety, Jichu Drakye, reportedly led to the irascible Parop stealing all the water in Haa which is why the valley no longer grows rice.

The peaceful Haa Valley watched over by Chhundu Kang
aka Kangchenjunga - third highest mountain in the world.
To the south and east, I was able to trace out the last few hours of the Dagala Lakes trek, including the descent from Pangalabtsa to Geynika valley where Randall Krantz and I encountered something close to 90km/h winds barreling up the Paro Valley. To the north I could trace the drive we did up the Paro valley past Drukgyel Dzong to the army check post at Gunitsawa - about 12 km from the Tibetan border.

Coming up the ridge - Pangalabtsa and Geynika Valley in the top right
Ruining the view...
A few portraits with the mountains.
 After lunch we descended the western ridgeline down a winding herders' path in the direction of a large power pole that abuts the Haa-Cheli La road. The path flanks some beautiful forests of fir and larch (leafless and brittle in the cold) until it reaches the power pole and another cluster of manidhar prayer flags. We had asked our driver to wait near a '19km to Haa' road marker and we were happy to see his car waiting patiently by to take us down to Haa. On the way, the auspicious New Years Eve continued with the sighting of a leopard cat darting out across the road in front of us. Lha-gey lu!

Moving past the firs and rhododendrons
The common leopard or jungle cat

1 comment:

  1. hi, i need to know more about this hike, where do you start and finish, how long does it take . thanks