The Druk trekking trail is an old path that used to be the only route connecting the town of Paro with the capital city of Thimphu.
It is called the Druk path, which translates into “The Dragon Path.”
Bhutan is known as “The Land Of the Thunder Dragon,” and the dragon path runs along the ridge of a mountain range with sharp peaks, that resembles the back of a dragon.
Some people do the trek in five days and four nights, and some do it in six days and five nights.
We are not experienced in camping.
We usually like comfort and luxury, and we are not so fond of roughing it…..we love hot showers….
In fact……the last time I camped out was when I was sixteen.
I camped on the golden warm beaches of Dahab, which is now in Egypt.
Jules is even less experienced in camping and he does not like small spaces and dark tents.
The last time he slept in a tent was when he was twelve years young and in boy scouts.
But for me, it was not the camping and sleeping outdoors in the cold, and not even the high altitude that worried me, but the hard days of climbing that some people described as very arduous.
People said that they had to stop every ten paces to catch their breath, and that they huffed and puffed and struggled along the way.
I was not sure that we should go on a journey of suffering….
We came here to Bhutan to enjoy the place and to observe the culture, and to take in the gentle quality we see in the people, and to let it change and soften our own hearts….
Of course I was also worried about Jules, who seems to do less well than I do when we are trekking.
I was feeling apprehensive,
Not really ready, with jelly legs and shaky knees after some hard treks that we have recently done, and just a day after a seven hour hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Temple and back.
On the morning of our trek, we met our cook, porter, and the horseman.
We had seven horses and four men to accompany us, including our guide Sonam.
Our cook’s name was Namgay, and he had infinitely strong legs.
He walked and walked and never stopped, unless it was to wait for us to catch up with him.
The dragon path trek starts above the Paro museum.
We walked up a lovely country road through apple orchards and farm houses.
We noticed the flowers and vegetables gardens that the farmers cultivated, and enjoyed the sun, the deep blue sky, the friendly dogs and the vigorous climb.
Up above the farms, we entered a thick forest of evergreens, pine and old cedars.
The path became rocky and we climbed up a long stony waterfall with muddy boulders.
We climbed for hours, stopping only to enjoy a warm cooked lunch by our cook Namgay, who proved to be a superb trekking cook.
He had trekked all over Bhutan for ten years now, and he knews all the paths and all the other horsemen and guides.
The forest gave way to a high plateau of grass and running brooks.
It looked so very picturesque with berries and alpine flowers dotting the green hills.
By late afternoon we reached the mountain pass at Jili Dzong (also pronounced Jela, or Jele Dzong).
We walked down into a lower meadow to camp for the night.
Our horseman, with the porter and the seven horses, was already at the campsite.
They unloaded our bags which they had wrapped in plastic inside burlap sacks, and had already built the tents.
For Jules and I they built an A shaped tent and a nearby toilet tent with a hole in the ground and a roll of toilet paper placed on a stick which the horseman sharpened with his large knife.
It was actually a nice toilet and we made frequent use of it, because the very cold weather and the high altitude made us pee very, very often.
There was also a large kitchen tent which doubled as a sleeping tent for the crew.
The guide, the cook and the porter slept in that large tent after we took our meals and retired for the night…. all except for the horseman, who slept in an open tent which was just a blue tarpaulin stretched between trees.
Some people are hardy and have a very strong constitution…..I envy them.
We made ourselves comfortable in our small tent.
We tied up our camping lantern and changed out of our hiking clothing and into warm winter underwear and sweatpants, warm fleeces, winter ski jackets, gloves hats and scarves.
In no time it was freezing cold, and we put on more layers of warm clothing.
But even with all of our clothing, it was hard to feel warm outside, and the only place I felt comfortably warm, was in the large tent next to the cooking heat, or inside my sleeping bag with all of my clothes on.
I was tired and took a short nap, while our crew prepared the dinner and the tea.
That evening we ate very well.
Namgay prepared an array of vegetarian dishes, each bursting with flavors.
There was an exotic dish of orchid bulbs, a delicious dish of pumpkin, a tangy dish of tomato and squash, and an Indian cauliflower dish served over red rice.
We enjoyed the meal very much, but Jules could not seem to get comfortable in our little tent.
The altitude seemed to affect him and he could not fall asleep nor get warm.
The fact that he had to leave the tent every ten minutes to pee, was a major contributor to why he could not get warm and sleep.
We spoke about it, and with a sad heart we decided that the best thing to do was to go back.
Continuing to trek for four more days, meant that we would be climbing into higher altitudes where it would be even colder.
We did not make this decision easily.
I wanted Jules to enjoy the trip, and after all……we have nothing to prove to anyone but ourselves….
It is our own journey of discovery….
Our own journey of moving beyond our limited egos…
I see our life on this earthly plane, as a journey that we take here on earth.
I see it as a spiritual journey towards enlightenment through the physical dimension.
I do wish to overcome my ego and not to allow the perceived limitations of my body to dictate MY limits.
I believe that we are NOT limited by what our bodies can or cannot do, but that if we push ourselves, our bodies will adapt to our demands and develop to be stronger and stronger.
It is our decisions and Spirit which make the determination in our minds, and if we are able to cultivate a strong and disciplined mind, we can do so much more….
But I am also aware that the this journey of undoing life-long misperceptions, wrong ideas and delusions, takes time and much effort.
Maybe we need to make small steps at a time and only camp for one or two nights at first……
Maybe after we get comfortable with camping, we could try multi-days of hard hiking in high altitudes and in very cold weather…..
Our crew took the news that we were going back, in good spirits.
They understood that foreigners do not adjust easily to the hard climbing and the high altitude in the mountains of Bhutan.
After dinner we retired to our tent where we got into our sleeping bags with our winter coats, gloves and winter hats.
I was cold, but I slept relatively well that night in our tent.
I had a dream that I was helping some people over a thin icy lake while a major earthquake hit the region.
The people I helped in my dream were all dressed in ancient clothing, resembling Bhutanese traditional clothing.
In my dream, I was not myself, as Tali, the woman I know myself to be…
I did not look down to see what body I was in, but I remember the distinct feeling that it was ME….
Jules who could not sleep, read a whole book in one night.
He finally fell asleep in the early morning, and slept for a few short hours.
In the morning, I woke up to see the sweet toothless smile of our porter.
He brought over to us two cups of hot tea, and large bowls of steaming water to wash our faces and teeth.
I was feeling much better about our decision to go back.
We will have much more time to see Paro without rushing, and we still did three days of trekking, if you include the hike up to the Taksang Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
We ate a hot breakfast, packed our gear and hiked up to the ancient Jele Dzong.
Along the way we passed a stone stupa which was destroyed by a recent major earthquake.
The epicenter of the earthquake was in Sikkim, but it devastated old buildings all over Western Bhutan.
Even this remote Dzong suffered damage in the earthquake.
A young monk opened the doors of the Dzong for us.
It had a stone courtyard and a large main hall which was filled with beautiful wall paintings and golden statues of the Past, Present, and Future Buddhas.
Each statue of the Buddha was depicted with a different hand gesture.
The Buddha of the past is known as the Buddha of Light, and it held its hand in a “mudra” that symbolizes the spreading of the teaching around the world.
The Present Buddha, Sakyamuni, held one hand facing the ground, to symbolize the suppressing of demons.
The hand gesture is meant to symbolize the overcoming of earthly illusions, attachment to earthly things and overcoming our ego and our inner demons like anger, ignorance, greed, fear and envy.
Of course here in Bhutan, people believe in exterior demons, as well as in divine enlightened female manifestations called “Dakinis,” and in dragons.
Temples are built in places where those demons were believed to terrorize the land, and those temples were situated on the hands of the demon, to prevent it from rising to do harm.
The future Buddha is called Maitreya and it was seated to the right of the present Buddha.
It symbolizes compassion and love.
The whole time we were admiring the interior of this beautiful old Dzong, the young monk was walking on the floor on top of two pieces of cloths, used to polish the temple’s wooden floors.
He was making himself useful, and at the same time explaining things to the visitors.
There were only eleven monks living at the Dzong, but everyone was welcomed if they wished to come to live and meditate in this remote place.
The young monk told me that he was studying to become a monk, but that until he will be twenty years old, he is not required to meditate.
The practice of meditation and moving beyond words into infinite wisdom, starts AFTER the young minds are educated and are familiar with the scriptures.
Our way down from the Jele Dzong, was much easier than the climb up.
The weather was beautiful and because we knew the way, the path seemed easier.
At one point where we had to climb up, I stopped and tried to regulate my heavy breathing.
It was hard getting oxygen into my lungs, at this high altitude.
Namgay the cook looked back towards me and smiled, then said something to Sonam and both of them laughed.
I asked Sonam what did Namgay say…
Sonam said that he said that I need to lose weight… That climbing would be easier for me if I was not so fat…
Sonam agreed with Namgay and said to me:
“You know madam, you are quite fat…”
Now,……. I know that I need to lose weight, and that even being a few pounds heavier, makes hiking much more difficult, and puts a burden on the heart and on the whole system.
But somehow hearing those words spoken in such an honest and blunt way, was beyond insulting to my ego, and was almost comical.
I constantly struggle between my vanity and trying to overcome the idea of residing within a body….
Vanity IS an attachment to the form, and a belief that my body IS a manifestation of my own ideas…. And so if I refine my ideas, I would be radiating better form as well…
I come from a culture in which nobody says things like that to one another, even when somebody IS very fat… And I took it in good spirits.
It reminded me of a story that I recently read in a book called “Married To Bhutan” by a wonderful American woman who married a Bhutanese man.
Her name is Linda Leaming.
In that chapter, Linda described that she went to a Bhutanese family gathering with her husband.
One of her husband’s very old aunts came to her and said:
“Wow…You are SO FAT!”
Linda said that she had to swallow her pain and vanity, because she knew that in rural Bhutan, when someone says that you are fat, it is not an insult, but a compliment.
Being fat means that you look healthy and prosperous.
So she answered back:
“Do you REALLY mean it, or are you just saying that I am fat, to flatter me?”
The old woman answered:
“No flattery, I really mean it, you are VERY fat!”
“Thank you!” said Linda, and she added:
“You are fat too!”
She said that the old lady left beaming with happiness as she heard those words, and that she was pretty sure that she made that old woman’s day….