During the last week of this year’s fleeting spring, I went looking for the Rhododendron vistas in Longtey near Phobjikha valley. I had heard of lush and dense forests dotted with clusters of pinks and reds. “The entire forest floor turns into a carpet of petals of these mountain flowers.”
But there’s a strange thing that’s been happening lately. The flowers don’t bloom on time, or together in humungous unison as before. “The mountain colors are sparsely spread,” I’m told. But this is something I had been looking forward to for the last 2 years.
Camping near Yak Herding Families in Longtey
It is believed that when Drukpa Kuenley came here and asked for land, the people refused to offer it to the Lama. And why wouldn’t they? The small village and its surrounding open glades is a beautiful sight as you make your way east from Pelela Pass.
The camp ground near the start of the 3 hour Longtey hike is a 10 minute farm road drive. Turn sharp right below the first cluster of houses you come across after crossing the Pelela stupa. I may be describing it very loosely when I say “camp ground”. There is no specific designated space. No signs. No running water outlet. No fire pits. I had chosen to explore and set up on our own instead of relying on tour agents as usual (something I wish I was more prepared for). So the best thing we could do was ask for help from the people there.
The campground is in close proximity to scattered sheds of yak herding families. I walked up to one to ask about water sources in the area. A bearded man opened the door and soon he was helping us with firewood. He even gave us his leftover kerosene and matches to get our fire started. “I’m going back to my village on the other side. You can help yourselves with the firewood”, he said. This is one of the best things about traveling in Bhutan – if you ask for help, people are more than willing to lend a hand. After preparing dinner, we left our remaining groceries in his yak shed. Yes, people do not lock these homes even when they’re gone for months.
Hiking Under Rhododendron Trees
The Longtey Trek trail starts with a mild ascent through dense Rhododendron forests and tall coniferous trees. As soon as we stepped under the trees, we could sight scattered clusters of the pink and red flowers in full bloom. There were about 2 different species of Rhodhodendron that were in full bloom in the area (the Kesangiae and the Arboreum). But I was disappointed that it wasn’t exactly what I had pictured. “Madam you should have walked towards Lawala if you wanted to see more,” I’m later told by a local. But I consoled myself thinking that travel isn’t always planned. In fact my best trips have been the more spontaneous ones.
But as we kept walking towards the top of the mountain and the dense forest began to fade. We were greeted by a breathtaking sight of Phobjikha valley’s open glades. “I knew Phobjikha was close, but
I didn’t think it was that close.”
You’ll find a small open area before you make your descent down the mountain. Adorned with prayer flags and a comfortable bench, I found a shelter under tall Rhododendron bushes to make some tea with my portable stove. I had been so excited to use it on a hike. These lightweight stoves are much better than carrying flasks of tea. It makes it much easier if there are water sources nearby. I had to use my mineral water to boil some tea, followed by pan frying from buttered leftover sourdough bread from breakfast. I think we spent a little more than half an hour enjoying the view with the freshly brewed tea and snacks.
Down the Mountain, Into the Valley
It had taken us barely an hour and a half climbing up the mountain. Suddenly we were all running down the hill towards an awaiting base of the bowl shaped valley. The opening of the valley feels like an embrace as you glide down the slopes. And soon you walk along the footpaths of the idyllic Kumbu village.
The pathway in the meadows takes you along wooden fences and stone walls surrounding beautiful traditional Bhutanese village houses. I had only seen the landscape of these upper settlements in the famous family from a distance. Most tourists are only interested in the Gangtey Valley View trail but I must say the Longtey hike takes you on a better sightseeing trail of this famous valley.
Few things I loved about the Longtey Trail
– Experience two drastically different landscapes in less than 3 hours. You begin your hike climbing uphill underneath tall coniferous and pine trees. Soon you’ll find yourself hiking down slopes into the wide open glades of Phobjikha valley.
– Trying camping at Longtey while prepping for the hike into Phobjikha valley. You can drive all the way here but why tire yourself out when you can have a restful night under the Longtey night sky?
– If you visit during the right time in late spring (it’s a bit unpredictable these days) locals promise that you’ll be greeted by a breathtaking sight of mountains covered by hues of pinks and reds. If you’re feeling more adventurous you can trek higher up the mountains surrounding the valley.
– Longtey hike also takes you into villages of Phobjikha valley that won’t always be on your itinerary. Explore these quaint little villages and drop by for a meal or a stay if there are homestays in the vicinity.
Longtey Hike Details
Starting Point: Longtey Village (15 minutes drive from Pelela Pass)
Hike Time: 3 hours
Details: Trail starts with an uphill climb under dense forests above Longtey for about an hour and a half. Then descends into the open valley of Phobjikha from Kumbu village.
Tips: If you want to leave your car in Longtey and do the hike, you can arrange a taxi from Gangtey to drop you back to Longtey (1 hour drive).