Sunday, May 24, 2020

Doing the Thimphu-Dungtsho Trek in One Day - a Test of Endurance

We had planned a one-day trek to Drakey Pangtsho with a group from JDW National Referral Hospital via Paro Drukgyal Dzong on 2nd May 2020 coinciding with Zhabdrung Kuchhoe, the death anniversary of the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founding father of Bhutan. It was also a Saturday and we would have the whole Sunday to rest after the trek. But the night before, a notification had been issued by the Gewog Administration of Tsento Gewog in Paro that the visit to Drakey Pangtsho lake was being restricted with immediate effect given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation. So, the group immediately changed our plans to visit the Dungtsho instead.

Fig. 1. Google Map showing Dungtsho, Phajoding and Motithang. See how far Dungtsho is from Phajoding to get a proper perspective on its distance. 

It is generally advised that the Thimphu - Dungtsho trek be undertaken over the course of two days given the long distance (See the review by here: ). However, our group decided to do it in one day. We were not really used to trekking much and we had members of both gender above the age of 40. Yet, our decision was driven more by our courage and determination than by our real abilities. As you would see from how arduous it was for us and how long we took to do this, we would also recommend that this trek be done in two days, unless you are a group of young people with good experience in undertaking long mountain treks.

We started our trek from the roadpoint above the Royal Takin Reserve in Motithang at 5 am. By 8 am, we passed the Phajoding monastery and reached the Jambayang temple below Thujedrak. However, from there on wards till the Thujedrak top, it seems we took it rather easy allowing our friends lagging behind to catch up. So, it was 10 am by the time we all reached Thujedrak top (Altitude: over 4000m). Getting till here and back to Thimphu is itself  considered a tough one-day trek for many, especially for non-Bhutanese who are not used to high altitude. 

From there to the lake, we thought it may be only two hours. But we were gravely mistaken. The distance turned out to be four long hours. I had been there once in the year 2000. We did it as a two-day trek then. But I had forgotten how long it took us. 

From Thukjedrak top, the trek follows the Tourism Council of Bhutan - approved Drukpath trek route. The path is wide and follows almost a level path except for few gentle climbs. You can get great views of the surrounding mountains as you trek along. I really admired the natural rock formations that made the whole landscape look like a well crafted Japanese garden. 

There is something indescribable you can receive from the vast beautiful mountain landscape. It is there so solid and unshakable, yet so welcoming in it's warm and quiet embrace. Your whole body and soul feels rejuvenated. So I really love taking time to be in the mountains once in awhile, away from the mundane meetings in Thimphu. Please experience it yourself if you are not into it already.


From Thukjedrak, the next milestone target is the Labala pass, considered to be the highest point on the Drukpath trek between Paro and Thimphu, and it is roughly half way between Dungtsho and Thukjedrak top. We chanted Jigten Wangchuk prayer (supplication to Zhabdrung Rinpoche) and medidated there before proceeding further.

After passing Labala, there is a gentle descent after which we come across few small lakes. Some had dried up since monsoon was yet to start. Then there is another climb up to cross another small pass. After passing this pass, we begin to see more lakes. We would then soon pass by a lake just beside the trek route. I am not sure what the name of the lake is, but it lies just beside the path we have to take.

Soon after passing this lake, we reach the diversion from the Drukpath trek route to go towards Dungtsho. It is a diversion to the right. There is a sign showing the direction to Dungtsho, but without it, it can easily be missed. The path is faint and not well trodden like the drukpath trek that continues forward.

After taking this diversion, the next milestone is the view of the Simkota Lake. After the view of the Simkota lake, we were quite tired and thought that Dungtsho must be near. But it was still quite far. May be another hour or so. From there on wards, our path was filled with snow. It made walking more difficult. The wind was cold and carried hailstones with it.

We trudged on, and suddenly, as I descended a small slope, I got a feeling that we were reaching the lake. But it was Ja Nya Tsho, not the Dungtsho. Disappointed, i trudged on through the snowcovered path.

When we at last made it to Dungtsho, it was 2 pm. Nine hours had passed since we began our journey at 5 am. The majestic view of the Dungtsho was worth all the effort we had put in. Over the next 30 minutes or so, we chanted prayers, made a fire and offered incense offerings, and took many photographs. Our tired limbs felt rejuvenated by our achievement and all tired faces seemed fresh.

Having relished the climax of our journey, we started back. We still hadn't eaten the packed lunch. The snows at Dungtsho didn't make a perfect place to eat there. So, on the way back, we had our packed lunch above the Simkota lake once the snow-covered path ended.

From then on, it was a gruelling journey back. I was worried that some of our lady friends might find it hard to move on. The hailstorms started falling and slowly turned to snow. It was a very bad combination of conditions: we were thoroughly tired but had a long way back and we were in the middle of nowhere, and the hailstorm and snow pounded on us from the top. Our shoes were wet. That made walking difficult. I had read somewhere before - when you trek, never allow your socks to get wet and reach your feet inside. But we were now all walking with wet socks. We crossed the Labala pass under hailstorm and snow. Somewhow, everybody was able to keep up pace.

When we finally made it to the Thujedrak top above Phajoding, it was around 5.30 pm. 12.5 hours had passed since our journey started that morning. Our only worry was that we would have to walk in the dark. Most of us had used up our phone batteries by taking too many pictures in excitement.

We slowly started our descent. By the time we passed the last temple in Phajoding, darkness was slowly creeping in. We walked in groups. In my group, we were four of us, and luckily, we had two phones which had sufficient batteries to light the way down. But then again, rain did not spare us from time to time making the way slippery. Even in daylight, it is common to slip and fall on this way down. In the night, we had to be extra careful.

We might have walked very slow given the condition of our legs and also the slippery path downhill. It was 8.30 pm when we finally reached the roadpoint where we had parked our cars in the morning. We were happy that at least we all made it to Duntsho and back in one day without any mishap. We had taken a total of 15.5 hours. We thanked the Triple Gem, Guru Rinpoche and the Guardian Deities for their blessings.

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