The Last Cranes leaves for Tibet (2014)

The Black-necked Cranes in Bhutan (Grus nigricollis) are winter visitors during late October to mid-March to the Phobjika Valley from the Tibetan Plateau where they breed. They visit the Phobhjikha valley in large numbers, which is a declared protected area for the cranes, and also to other valleys in smaller numbers in central and eastern Bhutan. On arrival in the Phobhjikha (also called the ‘Gangtey Valley’) they are seen to circle the Gangteng Monastery three times as if they are paying obeisance to the gods in the monastery and repeat this act while returning to Tibet іn early spring. The Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Sanctuary, adjoining the Phobjika Valley across the Black Mountains Range, has within its precincts, the crane wintering area at Bumdeling, which also has been declared a protected area.

Black neck Crane in Pobjika Vallley

Black neck Crane in Pobjika Vallley

Bhutan has taken special care to protect this species and has established the Phobjikha Conservation Area covering 163 square kilometers (63 sq mi) of the valley under the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) and for the purpose of conservation management. The conservation area was established by Bhutan in the Phobjika Valley in 2003, and RSPN has the mandate to protect not only the Black-necked Cranes but also 13 other vulnerable species.

In Bhutan, the Black-necked Cranes have a celebrity status, as witnessed by the Crane Festival held every year, soon after their arrival from the Tibetan Plateau, in the courtyards of the Gangten Gonpa in Phobjika Valley. Many tourists also visit the valley to witness this festival.

On March, 13, two adults, probably a couple, and a juvenile, which flew from Phobjikha valley in Wangdue, were the last set of black-necked cranes to leave for their summer habitat in Tibet.

Black Neck Crane spreading its wing

Black Neck Crane spreading its wing

The winged visitors must have either left for Bamtsho or Yamtsho and Yumstho, in Tibet, where they roost for more than six months, said the royal society for the protection of nature’s (RSPN) field coordinator in Phobjikha, Jigme Tshering. Yamtsho and Yumstho are around 300km from Phobjikha, while Bamtsho is 200km, a day’s journey from the valley.

Jigme Tshering said, the first group, consisting of 10 adults, flew on February 9, followed by two groups ranging from two to 50 cranes.

The winter migration from Tibet starts from the third week of October until the last week of December, and in spring the birds fly back to Tibet from the second week of February until the third week of March.The last group of cranes migrated just as villagers in Phobjikha began potato plantation.  The first two adult cranes touched down in the valley October last year when villagers started harvesting potatoes.Of the 422 cranes roosting in the valley in 2013-14 winter, 42 were juveniles.  In 2012 and 2013 winter, of the 368 cranes that roosted, 46 were juveniles. Jigme Tshering said this was the highest number of cranes RSPN recorded so far in the valley after they begun the count in 1986, when only 120 cranes were recorded.

Of the estimated 11,000 global black-necked crane population, 500 of them fly to winter habitats of Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse, Chumey in Bumthang and Phobjikha in Wangdue.

The last of Black Neck Crane flying back to Tibet from Bhutan

The last of Black Neck Crane flying back to Tibet from Bhutan

March 17th, 2014

Training and Preparation for Trek In Bhutan

 Tranquil Tshophu Lake beholding the sight of Mount Jhomolari and Jichu Drake

Tranquil Tshophu Lake beholding the sight of Mount Jhomolari and Jichu Drake

 

Whether you are looking for a short trek like Druk Path Trek or a grueling 31 days Snowman Trek in the mountainous Amphitheater of the Himalayas, treks in Bhutan takes the best out of you. Generally most of the treks in Bhutan are high altitude one, even the shortest trek (Druk Path) start from trail head  Sana ( New trail head ) at 2850 meters traversing through the Lange Ja la (Ox Hump Pass) at 4010 meters. As for the Snowman trek, the combination of distance, altitude, remoteness and weather can throw real challenges physically and mentally crossing the pass amounting 5150 m at Jaze la pass.

To ease out the challenges on logistic part and unlike the tradition that became the norms, at Wind Horse, trekking need not be uncomfortable anymore. We have upgraded all the trekking gears which are state of art. After the hard days hike, hard earned rest on comfortable air blown mattress can rejuvenate every cells in your body for the fresh start next day. Moreover we also provide clean sleeping bag for a paltry sum as the laundry charge.

Whether you plan to trek in Everest base camp or some low altitude hike for the village tour in Sikkim or Nepal or more so in Bhutan, it demands first to climb the peak of your physical fitness.The training should start at least 3 or 4 months prior to the commencement of the adventure. Well, being in normal fitness condition can be within the grasp of any simpler trek but to be in good shape physically and mentally can do a world of good in regards to enjoyment of the adventure.

Guests at Jhomolari Base Camp

Guests at Thangthakha Camp

Walking or Any form of Aerobic Fitness Exercises

Aerobic or Cardio Vascular fitness exercises of any forms like swimming, running bicycling walking  etc are of paramount importance as it’s the walking that you will be doing while on trek.As these are what makes the muscle to respond amicably while on the trek. By any stretch of imagination these will stand in good stead when the lesser mortal complains about the ache and sore in their legs.On an average, even for the simpler trek in Bhutan, you might be walking 5 hours a days for 5 days. Your training should incorporate a walking of 5 to 6 hours daily. You can plan out in a way befitting your tight schedule to walk to office or any place that the situations dictate or walking along for smallest errands daily, it might take longer time than car but this practice will keep the fatigue in legs miles away while on trek

While on trek, on the course of ascend and descend of trails, the support of hiking poles for this matter can help to achieve a balance and ease out the strain on your knees.A good hiking boot is imperative; ensure to use the same one that has been grinded while training, which enable breaking in before the climb. Walking in your boots will also help to toughen up your feet, and you’ll learn if there are any spots that cause blisters or pain.

Guets at Higher Pass on the way to Jhomolari trek

Guests at Bhonte-la Pass on the way to Jhomolari trek

Train to sleep well and in good amount

Among many other preparations that people do, this aspect of required amount of sleep, people often tend to overlook. There is no substitute for good amount of sleep, as it has direct bearing on how your body and mind cope up with the stress of rigorous exercise and altitude. A good sleep assists in muscle recovery and act of oxygen intake by the cells. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night during your training. People often have trouble sleeping at higher altitudes, and diminished sleep will make your journey much more challenging.

Train to drink water or Fluid more.

At top, you climb, your body fight to stay hydrated, any decrease of fluid or water in body result in diminishing your power to endure, make more prone to altitude sickness and greater presence of fatigue. Get used to drinking lots of water now so that you are mentally and physically habituated to this fine act of health and other health benefits. Your body will need it with your workouts, but it also needs to get used to hydrating. You will need to drink large amounts of liquids during your climb and your body should now start getting used to taking in those plentiful amounts

 

Train for Strong Mental Make-up and Team spirit.

To a few, it might sound strange but a firm mental conditioning is as important as physical one. As one of Snow Man trek guest said “More than the physical preparation it’s the mental makeup that takes bulk of the time”. Condition your mind to think positive, and visualize the adventure that you are embarking on regardless of any unwarranted odds that you might come across with.Communication with other team members, if any, and sharing the ideas, tips, prior to the trip and building good relationship will go a long way in term of being at right frame of mind and being productive and useful as team member that can enhance the adventure being successful.

The trail that lead to Jhomolari Base Camp

The trail that lead to Jhomolari Base Camp

All the references provided above aims to aid and prepare for your convenience and should not be understood as exhaustive in nature. It is recommended to seek the aid of professional fitness trainer for in-depth and comprehensive climb preparation training. Additionally, it’s imperative to consult your physician to ensure that no health conditions  crop up that could adversely affect your training routine.

 

We hope you have a great trip!!…… and above all – a safe one!!

 

 

 

 

 

Guests at Jhomolari Base Camp

Guests on the way to Tshophu Lake inspiring awe at the sight of  Mount Jhomalari and Jichu Drake

February 18th, 2014

Travelling to heartland of Bhutan – Bumthang -at the heart of the winter. Best Time for Greater clarity in weather and lesser Crowd

The group photo of bunch of guys who partook on the Journey

The group photo of bunch of guys who partook on the Journey from 14 Jan, to 22 Jan

Like a typical winter morning in Thimphu, at 8.05 am, the natural setting vindicates the month of January, the wind carries chill, with layer of translucent fog enveloping the lower level of Thimphu valley and lazy sun slowly waking up at far eastern mountain and gradual warmth making its way into the fog.

108 chortens in Docula Pass with warm winter sun

108 Chortens in Docula Pass with warm winter sun

From Phuentsholing sale office, I (Anand Thapa) joined the bandwagon from the Thimphu operational office with 8 guides, 4 drivers and managing partner Rinzin and Jambay, sale director, for an odyssey to heartland of Bhutan – Bumthang – at the heart of winter on 14.01.14 for a weeklong tour.
It was 8.15 am as we left Thimphu; the traffic was minimum and the road happy, as we mounted up to Dochula pass, like a kaleidoscope of color, the vegetation gradually changed into confers and green and through apple orchard with the imposing Simtokha Dzong (Fortress) virtually at backdrop till we reached Dochula pass standing tall and lofty at 3140 m from sea level.
By then, the sun was at its full glory, playing in blue sky without the wisp of cloud, bringing comfort and warmth to the chill and most significantly providing the grand vista of far eastern Himalaya range as if it’s in our own backyard – a photographer delight.
Much to our chagrin, 108 chortens was free from the white blanket of snow, which is an unusual sight at January.
Our carriage moved forward but the downhill with change in vegetation with sub-tropical trees rampant at both sides till we reached Lobesa 1300 m for the light snack, what  could I have asked more than a cup of hot coffee with the freshly fried local fish and the most delicious aspect of it was Mr. Rinzin footed the bill.

Lunch at chagzam (Nikachu) both ways

Lunch at chagzam (Nikachu) both ways

From there we could visibly see the Chimmi Lhakhang (Dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kinley, the patron saint of fertility) built in 1499, standing at the top of the ridge.
From there through the winding road we stopped for lunch at Chagzam (Nikachu), a typical Bhutanese dishes were laid out and everybody lunched with relish.
The journey began again, till we stopped at view point for the photograph of Trongsa Dzong and the museum.
Bumthang did not look too far from Tronsga as we start the journey till we stopped at Chumey, one of the four valleys that comprise Bumthang districts for early dinner in his farm houses. It was an invitation from one of guide Chencho, who joined the journey from there. It was a bit inside from the main road with the typical village flavor adding to it.
It was Bumthang special, a thick pancake with cheese and chilly curry with thick butter tea. It was wholesome and concrete till the breakfast the next day.
We finally reached Bumthang at 8.30 pm at Mountain Lodge Hotel. We retired to bed early as daylong journey made us quite worn

Pancake and Butter tea, a staple of Bumthang daily diet.

Pancake and Butter tea, a staple of Bumthang daily diet.

out into the cozy warmth of hotel room with the occasional murmur of fire from wooden heater breaking the stillness of night.
Early night make way for early rise. After breakfast, it was time to go to promise land- Tang Valley or to be precise Wobthang, where our Ranch and Riding Club is located. We leased 10 acres of luscious land from Tang community. Our ranch is located inside of Wobthang dairy farm, which was given as grant by His Majesty the fourth king for the sustainable developments of Tang community.
We reached the Ranch at around 11 am and horses were as footloose and fancy free as before and looking even more beautiful. After few hours of playing with horses and caressing it, we started to clear the trail bushes and outgrowth that were hampering the horses and rider alike.
As evening approached, few of us found the accommodating farm house, located a kilometer further up from the ranch at approx. 3000m attitude. The night was cold but made insignificant difference with the warm heater besides our bed.

Wind Horse's cowboy having a riding lesson

Wind Horse’s cowboy having a riding lesson

To wake up at 3000 m greeted by bird chirping was a magical experience. I could clearly see the moon at 8 am with its silvery light being overshadowed by the sun. Breakfast is always an easy affair as by 8.30 everyone was raring to go. A hike down to the Ranch arena, where horses welcomed us with ever friendliness, the routine started with sharing moments with horses and once again clearing the outgrowth.
In evening,the results were blisters and rashes  in hands due to lack of practice of movements but what motivate and make them rise to the occasion was the horse ride and practice session the next day.
The evening was even more tight and productive as the interactive session with the guide was fruitful as we could pass on the message of company philosophy and ideal that governs our set up. We talked at length about how to enhance our guest’s experience. Many ideas flew in, many were accommodate but the cold night and hard day’s work gave into early night.
Not to my surprise, all were ready, and on their toe for the horse riding practice the next morning. The art of horse riding and safety measures were

A kid nearby our ranch all set for photo shoot

A kid nearby our ranch all set for photo shoot

imparted by our trainer and guide Sonam Loday, who trained under one Italian trainer and accomplished English equestrian, Krystal Kelly. And our own horsemen Pema, a Brokpa, from far eastern Bhutan – Merak, a born horsemen, where horses are the only means of transport and an important part in their daily life.
We ( Me & Jambay) – being a little experience in term of riding lesson as we did it before in the ranch. We ventured out on the half day excursion to Ugencholing, a manor converted into museum and the home stay. The trail leads to downhill and into scenic Tang valley and gradual rise to the top of the ridge to reach the Manor. The manor completely submerged in the history and the villages covered with houses in traditional architecture which lend typical picture of rural Bhutanese village.
After conducting affair at Manor, the other way, we rode downhill through feeder roads with majestic valley at the fore front, till we stopped at the shop to replenish our food and toiletries. As we headed up, we saw the guys; they were brimming with excitement and for the lesson learnt.
The evening was a noisy affair as the talked mostly centered at the horses. The curtain finally fell down for the evening with the

The moon at high sky at 7 in the morning

The moon at high sky at 7 in the morning

fun, frolic and songs.

The morning was beautiful so was the surrounding as we hike down to Horse Ranch. The day spell the exploration of the one whole day horse tour following old trail, till we stopped at Kizom, in Tang valley. My horse name is Norbu, a half Linga breed, unusually big than the local breed, black and majestic.
The lunch was simple with quick snack.
The trail that followed after lunch was simply breathtaking, at the same time clearing the trail’s outgrowth and in one place wooden log across the stream was placed. The trail was weather beaten, untamed and scenic as one of the guides quoted Louis L’amour “It’s a kind of the land where a man has to boil his own coffee and saddle his own horse”. Till we halted for the night, a camping just below Kunzangdra, a monastery precariously placed in rocky cliff like Taksang in Paro.
Tiredness got better of us so retired to bed early,
The next morning I volunteered to take the bus to Jakar town so that one of the drivers gets opportunity to ride the horse. The

A wooden weaving machine at Ugencholing Manor

A wooden weaving machine at Ugencholing Manor

next day horse trail headed toward the Jakar town where we rendezvous at Mountain Lodge hotel in Bumthang town. Due to lack of enough time, otherwise this Horse trek could have been elaborated to join with the Bumthang cultural trek and Bumthang Owl trek which can stretch for 5 night and 6 days.
The next day the ride back to Thimphu is always long and tiresome affair, which covers around 258 kms approximate but the stories and lighter moments shared by guides made it feel very less. It was almost 8 pm when we reached Thimphu. The long ride and exhaustion spell early retirement to bed. Not before falling into steady sleep, a smile  surfaced on my  face because of an idea of tour  being fruitful, development of sense of camaraderie among us all, along with my horse NORBU and our team spirit being as high as Mount Jomolari itself.

Breaking of the Dawn at 3000 m in Wobthang dairy farm in Tang, Bumthang, central Bhutan

Breaking of the Dawn at 3000 m in Wobthang dairy farm in Tang, Bumthang, central Bhutan

January 29th, 2014

Snowman Trek – Challenges Personified

Secluded Chorten at the lonely ridge with towering peak at the backdrop

Secluded Chorten at the lonely ridge with towering peak at the backdrop

One of guests said “We are aware that the trek is extremely challenging but we believe that we have good chances to complete it. We summited several mountains, to name but a few Mont Blanc, Ama Dablam, Aconcagua, Denali, Elbrus, Island Peak and accomplished several treks in Nepal namely Everest Base Camp, Annapurna circuit, Langtang, but Snowman Trek was always our dream”. This trek is among the top draw trek in the world. Undoubtedly, its rugged terrain and weather-beaten trail that traverse through Lunana, one of most remote region in the world, is a challenge in every sense. Generally, there are only handfuls of trekkers to undertake this trek which dictate you to be the best in physical shape and squeeze the best out of you. Trek as such, to be fair, cannot be categorically put in toughest bracket but three weeks in complete wilderness, in the remotest region of the world can be a real challenge.

A family looking at us with smoke for lunch silently vanishing at the back

A family looking at us with smoke for lunch silently vanishing at the back

Challenges can come in varying degrees, and it applies to the organizer as well, as the local of the region are mostly focused in collecting the lucrative “Cordyceps Sinensis “an insect, which supposedly have medicine value and fetches handsome price, legalized in 2005 in Bhutan, these are endemic to higher Himalayas region, than supplying logistic in term of porter, yaks etc .It take a lot out of organizer to put together all the pieces for the trek.

Recently trend have been to customize the trek in order to suit the guest’s needs and time length involved to complete it, it can be as long as 32 days. Based on the available time, trek can be completed ranging from 24 to 32 days. Partly what has helped in saving time has been for instance motor able road has been paved in the new head start of the trek like till Sana in Paro. Paro is the mecca of major treks in Bhutan.

At Wind Horse Tours, we have recently upgraded our trekking equipment, which are state of art, redefining the concept of trek as “Trekking need not be uncomfortable anymore”

Needless to say, all the high altitude trek involve certain degree of altitude related sickness and emergencies, with the ever ready medical and other contingencies backup, these add to our guests peace of minds which readily reflects in enjoyments of the trek.

Young monk in Lingzi

Young monk in Lingzi

The way to Snow man trek is adorned with higher Himalayan passes, which spell cold, hostile climate, snow during the other season. During the few months that is accessible provides the beauty that is out of the world, these are the region that is snow bound except few favorable month in a year. There are as many as eleven passes over 4500 m that has to be crossed, what unfold during these can be something that can be simply inexplicable in words. Few guests what they have to say. Martin said “when he unzipped the tent and peeked outside in the morning, peach orange Mt Jhomalari that greeted him, the sight that he behold mesmerized, stunned and made his mind, body and spirit soars high above just like those footloose and fancy free clouds into the union with the one. A profound sense of peace and tranquility prevailed for long time”

P1000539Alex said ‘You have to be here to believe this, this is something surreal, dreamlike.”

This trek offers in its nature canvass a wide array of natural beauties in varying colors. For the wild life enthusiast, Jigme Dorji National Park, that stretch long, while covering it can have major chance of sighting herd of Blue sheep grazing on the wall of the hills and bearded vulture and Himalayan Griffon fly overhead.

The trek is the Botanist delight, during the season, as the trek progress, the valley and hills carpeted with blue pine, juniper and rhododendron and wild flowers greet you with welcoming bloom. The ubiquitous prayer flags fluttering as the wind caress it and the sound it generate can resonate forever. While on the way the village that you will come across is Laya. It’s a unique village of about 800 people with their own language, customs and distinct dress. The women keep their hair long and wear peculiar conical bamboo hats with a bamboo spike at the top. They wear a lot of silver jewelry on their backs; on many women this display includes an array of teaspoons.

View of Mt Jhomalari and Jichu Drakrey from Tshopchu lake http://www.windhorsetours.com/

View of Mt Jhomalari and Jichu Drakrey from Tshopchu lake http://www.windhorsetours.com/

Following the trail , amid the constant back drop of peak over 7000 m , the sight that unlock are  the numerous empty yak herder encampment, which the local uses on their journey and secluded Chorten that dotes the lonely hills can make you forget tiredness in your legs.

Along with those serene, tranquil and spiritually empowering sights and experience that this trek explores, it certainly calls to test your power of endurance, gut and physical and mental state. One of guests said “More than the physical preparation it’s the mental makeup that takes bulk of the time.” It again boils down to the perennial question “Do you have it in you to do the Snowman Trek with encompassing all its challenges?”

 

 

January 6th, 2014

Happy New Year – Wind Horse Review 2013

 

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

December 31st, 2013

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