During the past week, we left the relative coziness of our dorms on campus to go on a trek through the surrounding valleys. It was a three-day hike that would begin with us hiking across the Bumthang Valley where our campus is located. After the flat portion of the trek, we went straight up over the extremely small Himalayan Mountains in the area (only 12,000 feet high — the Laurel Highlands are a small fraction of that). Once on the other side, we’d be in the neighboring Tang Valley where we’d camp another night and hike to a cultural site to finish off our learning adventure.
The trek was an amazing experience. On the first night, we were camped at the base of the mountains near a river where there were ruins of a Dzong (a Bhutanese fortress). After hiking for seven miles, we climbed up the steep hillside to the site of the ruins before dinner, and it was one of the most rewarding sites I’ve ever been too. The view I had was that of the entire river valley with sunlight peering through some light rain. The next day is when it started to get interesting as we would be going over the top of the ridge and down the other side in one day. I awoke to fog gathering around the tent and horses grazing outside. The hike on the second day would take eight hours over 10 miles and see an increase of 1,500 feet of elevation on the front side. On top of that, it also rained for seven of the eight hours that we hiked, but it was surreal coming to the top of the ridge and seeing the rainbow of prayer flags blowing lightly in the rain.
By the time we’d camped that night, the rain had finally stopped. The next day we awoke to the sun shining and headed out for our final destination on the adventure. We hiked an additional three miles to the top of another nearby mountain where there was a feudal fortress turned museum. There, we were able to see a wide variety of cultural artifacts that were up to 700 years old. In addition, we had a guest lecture by a distant relative of the Bhutanese royal family who spoke about the role of women in Bhutan and the changing nature of the gender roles in the nation.
Later that day, we headed back to campus, having hiked approximately 30 miles in three days. It was an incredible experience that I will probably never get to do again. Despite the rain and the mud, it is not often you get to have a hands-on learning experience on a hike through the Himalayas.
This coming week, I’ll be focused on studying for a series of examinations as well as preparing for directed research to begin.