Other accounts and travel writings

Dagala Trek - , Bhutan

Walkopedia friend Stephen Barber says, of his November 2017 expedition:

Our Dagala Trek extended to four nights camping and five days trek. Though it is no more than 40km or two hours’ drive from Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, it is one of the less-walked of the established treks in western Bhutan; it was the high season, but in five days we saw no other walkers. Our trek began at the narrow, swaying suspension bridge at Geynizampa, just below the village of Genekha, at 2820m.

     (A note on altitudes: every guidebook and website gives different altitudes for the various campsites and stopping points; some are wildly inaccurate. The altitudes given here are my own iPhone measurements, corroborated by reliable guidebooks.)

     Our first day’s trek of 5km takes around three hours, with stops. Crossing the bridge over a rapid torrent, we climb steeply through mainly thick oak forest (Quercus semecarpifolia, or Brown Oak), blue pine, birch and rhododendron undercover. The forest floor is thick with moss, while the oaks drip with Old Man’s Beard—a silver gossamer-like lichen (3721). The track is well-worn with stone steps, walls and slabs of stone hinting at its former importance as a trading route between Thimphu and Dagana (3760). The only wildlife we see is a Himalayan hen pheasant, or monal, black, with a red-ringed neck.

       After 90 minutes or so we reach a viewpoint at 3230m, looking down over the village of Genekha (3711). From here the path eases until we attain a ridge in the forest at about 3330m. We descend to the Gur Camp, a clearing in the forest about ten minutes from the ridge, at 3290m (3734). Here, where we rest until morning, is total silence among the tall dark forest oaks, standing like sentinels in the late afternoon rays of the setting sun. At dusk the temperature drops sharply.

     The second day takes us up above the tree line, 12km to Labatamba (or Labatama) Camp, at 4280m just below Utsho Lake (apparently stocked with golden trout).  The sight of our ponies grazing in the early morning sun is magical (3646).  After a morning of steep trekking, we stop at Pangalabtsa (4170m), from where we can see Kanchenjunga, India’s highest peak at 8,586m. We pass several stone yak herders’ huts, though no yaks and no herders. Each valley we pass through is separated from the next by a strategically located stone gate to keep the yaks in their own territory (but it’s late October and the yaks are now grazing in the lower valleys).

     At Labatamba we are well above the tree, and indeed the bush, line (3779). It’s bone-chillingly cold and the only consolation at night is night sky, in which the Milky Way appears like a dusty, scattered white cloud in the densely star-studded canopy above.

     Next morning the ponies are keenly awaiting their nose-bags as we prepare to depart (3793). Our first stop is the Labajong Pass (4460m), from where we can see Kanchenjanga again, then the even higher point at Dajatsho (4530m), affording fine views of Bhutan’s highest peaks, including the 7570m Gangkhar Puensum—the highest unclimbed peak in the world—and Jomolhari (7314m) (3800).  The terrain is rock-strewn, with large boulders of granite and quartz covered in lichens (3829). From Dajatsho it's a three-hour walk down to the next camp of Pangkha, and now the mountainsides are carpeted in rhododendrons. The most striking sense is the absolute silence, broken only by bush warblers disturbed from the bushes.

     At Pangkha (3918) we spent two nights before the 8-hour, 14km trek down to the finish at Chamgang. Pangkha is an enclosed campsite just below Loch Pangkha. Just below here the treeline reappears, mostly blue pine but also a few lonely Himalayan larches (Larix griffithiana) in their golden autumn plumage. There are several varieties of rhododendron, including a dwarf species that resembles azalea. The ponies return in the morning over the frosted mountainside with Bhutan’s peaks in the distance (4139).   

        We set off at 7:30am for the final long hike and see our first yaks (5615). They are skittish, with trailing black coats and sometimes patches of white around the head. The track is of rough stone, often indistinct, traversing around and over mountainsides of thick rhododendron. Eventually we enter deep forests of spruce, silver fir, blue pine, juniper and many species of rhododendron (3957). The track—frequented by yaks—is steep, strewn with boulders and deeply cut into the rich red soil. There are tall, large-leaved rhododendrons, and the tortuously branched, Rhododendron arboreum (3950), with its reddish, peeling bark. The junipers are ancient, stunted. The sliver firs and spruces soar upwards of 30m with girths of 4-5m; they must be 250 years old (2012). And now the oaks reappear. There’s a high point at Tale La (4180m), with views of the Dagala range and Thimphu.  Finally we reach a dried up lake at Talakha Camp (3962) before the final descent into Chambang at 2640m. 

     This 39km version of the Dagala Trek is demanding, but perfectly possible for the moderately fit person prepared to walk at his or her own pace. The landscapes are astonishingly varied, but the overwhelming sense is of the silence and the vastness of this pristine land.

Walkopedia says Thank You, Stephen.

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