I am, most of the time, sedentary.
I rarely manage to make time for alternative recreational pursuits…let alone go hiking. When we decided to tackle top 5 hikes around Thimphu for our next travel series, it was perfect for me to mix work with pleasure.
I had spent enough time scrolling through beautiful hiking photos of others online, having their moment on top of the mountain. This time I was going to have mine, (or so I thought).
One wouldn’t normally think late summer would be a good idea to go hiking. The trails are muddy and weather unpredictable. But it turned out to be perfect for a different kind of experience in the wilderness. One we weren’t actually prepared for.
So early that weekend morning, we got geared up to start off to tread along the Lungchhutse hiking trail. It is a very popular trail from Dochula pass leading to Lungchhutse Goenpa. As expected, the early morning hours promised no sunshine. That worried me because it was the glorious stretch of mountain ranges (only visible at the top of the trail) that got me looking forward to the hike in the first place. Missing it entirely because of the oncoming dark clouds and thick fog would make the hiking video completely futile.
But we still decided to go for it. As we slowly made our ascent towards the temple, almost immediately the trees began to change. We suddenly found ourselves amidst clusters of trees that looked more like crooked walking sticks planted by ancient travelers. It was as if they had grown into an enchanting green web almost attempting to cover the skyline.
“The trail looks different with each changing season,” said lhamo. She is a seasoned trekker who agreed to be our guide that day. “It’s beautiful in spring. Everywhere you look you see blooming rhododendrons. Even the trail gets covered with flowers as if welcoming you at every step.”
lhamo remarks that it’s probably her fifth time hiking towards Lungchhutse.” Her face gleamed up every time she tells us a hiking tale-and she had many that day.” I used to feel lazy thinking about going trekking before but one day I just decided to do it. Now I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush.”
As my team went ahead and their chatter slowly began to fade away – the forest came alive with their own sounds. I could hear the sounds of the birds and the raindrops falling on the branches. It was a nature therapy one could use every once in a while. The giant trees with their trunks covered in mossy green looked like a soft wool-covering for the trees during the cold wet season. Suddenly my gaze fell on the protruded roots. Peeping through the sheltered small holes under the tree were…mushrooms.
I’ve always known that unless you are a seasoned forager, blindly picking mushrooms could be deadly but I wasn’t foraging. I picked up my camera and clicked. That’s pretty ,I thought. I suddenly realized we’re hiking during mushroom season. The more I looked around, the more mushrooms started popping up.
And it wasn’t just one kind. From concave white ones, browns, yellow to colorful red ones – the forest suddenly became a treasure trove. The camera boys stooped as I hailed them back to take as many mushroom photos as possible. “Most of these are inedible,” said Namgay, our videographer.” This one’s called Ga Shamu. This one’s Gongdo Shamu…and you better not touch those,” he said pointing at the black ones. I was curious to know how he knew so much about them. “My grandfather used to take us foraging for mushrooms back to my village in Tang, Bumthang. We used to collect a lot of Sisi Shamu (Chanterelles).
“We even found ourselves way below the trail photographing ones growing out of the bark of the giant mossy trees. “A bear’s been here,” said Namgay as he looked at the claw marks on the trunk. Needless to say, we got out of there fast.
After little more than an hour, the trees started clearing. We began to see the tip of the temple’s roof. Soon we were making our way across the Temple’s tiny wooden gate. It slowly started raining and we found ourselves scrambling for shelter inside the temple. A friendly monk greeted us and ushered us inside. After offering butter lamps and incense at the temple’s altar, we stepped outside. The rains gave no sign of stopping. The view that we hoped for the video was nothing but of a thick cloud of fog. ”There goes our Sunday,” said Namgay hopelessly.
We decided to wait for a little while hoping to see the weather clearing. But it only started to rain more. ”It’s no use. We’re not getting the sunny view. No chance.” We were getting ready to head back. Suddenly, Lopen Passang, the caretaker who greeted us earlier, asked us to join him for some hot tea. ”Yes please,” we all exclaimed.
We followed Lopen Passang to his little cottage right below the temple. We washed our muddy shoes from a tap that was connected to a small drum collecting rainwater. I cannot explain how grateful we felt as we touched the warm floor of his bukhari-warmed kitchen. He ushered the five of us in his room while he took out some extra floor cushions.
Lopen Passang’s cottage is a Bhutanese home. The traditional wooden window slides open to a beautiful misty view outside. The room’s walls are full of photos of Buddhist teachers and our Royal Family photos. Lopen Passang’s room is as Bhutanese as you can hope for. It reminded me of the altar room in my grandmother’s house. The only difference was the number of samsung phone charges and power banks on his bedside table. “You all warm yourselves near the heater. I’ll make some tea and something to eat,” said Lopen as we happily made ourselves comfortable in his room.
Suddenly he asked. “Will you have mushrooms?” showing us a bowl full of some of the biggest Gongdo Shamu I had ever seen. I was so happy to see the mushrooms. Lhamo and I volunteered to cook it for lunch. From washing the mushrooms outside in the rain, to frying the mushrooms on the bukhari – the day was slowly turning out be alright. After having only snacked on some crackers in the morning, I realized how tired and hungry we all were. Everyone devoured their rice, mushroom and ezey lunch. Suddenly the cold miserable weather outside didn’t seem so bad. It gelled quite well with the warm bukhari and home cooked meals we were enjoying inside a kind monk’s home.
We had all forgotten about our wet shoes and the shivering cold. At that moment all that mattered was how enjoyable the afternoon had actually turned out to be. From it was sighting exotic mushrooms along the trail to finally getting a taste of the mushrooms in Lopen Passang’s bukhari warmed kitchen – our weekend hike turned out to be quite the unexpected experience. So the next time you feel hesitant about treading on a muddy trail, look up and look further – there might just be little adventures waiting for you.