This was the first night that Craig had a truly restful sleep that lasted the entire night, and we awoke very refreshed. Our alarm clock had died, so we experimented with using the alarm on my watch. It woke us up right on cue at 5:30 am. Someone delivered us basins of hot water, amnd we washed up, brushed our teeth, and packed our bags. We arrived at the dining tent by the appointed 7:00 breakfast time. Yeshey served French toast, French fries, fried eggs, chum thup (which I liked very much with honey), and tea. It was delicious. We saw a Tata truck pull up at the work site below, loaded with dozens of Indian workers. They all climbed out and looked up at our unlikely campsite. they smiled and gave a good morning wave, which we reciprocated.
The horses hadn't been packed yet, but they tend to move much faster than we do, so we headed out before them, shortly after 8:00. We had to run the gauntlet through road construction, and once again we were an object of amusement to most of the workers. It must be a difficult life for them. there were little roadside shops set up to sell them food and supplies. Some workers were exhausted and were sound asleep on piles of dirt, rocks, and debris inches from the road. After about 2 kilometers of walking, we reached the confluence of the Thimpu and Paro Rivers. The road splits here, and there is a military checkpoint. Stupas are often placed at the confluence of rivers, as it is believed that the waters will disperse the prayers that are held inside. Here there were three stupas side-by-side. One was Nepalese in style, another Bhutanese, and a third Tibetan. there were also many prayer flags and a large outdoor prayer wheel.
Dorji was worried that the horses might have a hard time getting through the checkpoint. This route wasn't on our original government-approved itinerary; we were"supposed" to be hiking through the mountains rather than on the road. He convinced them with no problem to let us through, but since the horsemen would be coming along later, Dorji was nervous that everything might not work out. We waited a while at the checkpoint, in the hopes that they would catch up with us. We stood on a bridge and had nice views of the rivers and stupas. The horses were nowhere in sight, so we reluctantly went on without them. As we progressed down the road (in the direction of India) it suddenly got a lot less busy. there were fewer cars and less construction activity. The road workers we saw became more friendly. south
We reached a group of Indian workers feeding stones into a rock crusher. There were a lot of people (men, women, a toddler...) working together with this huge piece of machinery. It was unusual to us to see small women in saris hefting very large heavy rocks into this machinery alongside men. One man came over to Craig and said something, taking Craig's arm. We weren't sure what he was saying, but we decided to ask if taking a photo would be ok. After I snapped the photo, all of them (including the supervisor) abandoned their posts and came running at us. We momentarily panicked and wondered if we had done something offensive. But they were all smiling and crowding around to see the photo. They smiled and clapped their hands, and the women squealed with delight. One man pointed at a toddler and indicated that he wanted to see as well. I showed the runny-nosed barefoot baby the photo and he was so cute that I asked if I could get a photo of him as well. The women swooped in and picked him up (he had shied away behind people's legs), wiping his nose and holding him in the air in front of me. When I showed them the picture they all clapped and smiled. they waved as we walked away, and we seemed happy that we had brightened their day, and they had brightened ours.
Even after this diversion, there was still no sign of the horses, and it weighed heavily on Dorji's mind. He tried flagging down passing cars to ask if they had seen the horses past the checkpoint, but cars were hesitant to stop because they thought we were hitchiking. They sped past shrugging their shoulder sand pointing to their passengers. One kind soul eventually stopped and told Dorji that he had seen the horses and that they were safely past the checkpoint. This was great news, and we headed on with a renewed spring in our step.
A truck transporting barrels of water passed us, and wenoticed that all of the barrels were full. As the truck went around coreners, the water sloshed and spilled, and we remarked that this probably wasn't the most efficient way to transport the water. A while later, we came across the same truck parked at a oadside waterfall, and the driver was replenishing the barrels with its water.
We turned a corner and saw a house with a fenced-in yard. The residents same to their driveway to have a look at us. I'm sure foreigners don't hike down the road here very often. Across the street from their house was a stockpile of industrial supplies, mostly beat up barrels of tar which were leaking and oozing a sticky mess. As we rounded another corner, we realize dthat the barrels were part of an Indian storehouse for industrial supplies. The guard said hello to us. Craig found some rupee notes on the ground, and we turned them in to the guard. He took them without much of a reaction. then Craig found more, and brought them to him. This time he said thank you. We continued on, thinking he would probably be searching that section of the road to see if any other cash was lying about.
Dorji pointed out an old dzong high on a mountaintop, which is used as a prison. In the olden days of its use, prisoners carrying a death sentence would be bound and forced to walk a plank. A rock was placed on the other end of the plank. Their family (having prepared and shared the prisoner's last meal) would witness the death penalty as the stone was removed and the prisoner would plunge down the mountain to his death. Although the building is still a prison, the Bhutanese are a benign people these days, and do not use the death penalty. During today's walk, the road paralleled the river, which we could see below us. There were som exquisite secluded sand beaches down there, but there was no way to access them.
A large truck passed us and stopped several yards ahead of us. Out of the back, to our surprise, jumped our food delivery man. "Pack lunch delivery!" announced Dorji with a smile. The camp staff had been worried that they and the horses wouldn't catch up with us by lunch time, so he had hitched a ride with a truckdriver to make sure lunch got their on time. Again with the punctual meals. We stopped at the Damchu Restuarant and Hotel in Chukha, which kindly allowed us to eat our pack lunch in their outdoor courtyard. We sat on stumps (trying to find the least wet and wobbly, as it was sprinkling rain a bit) around a resin table. The restuarant had drinks for sale, and Craig bought a Red Panda and I bought a Fanta. Lunch consisted of rice, peas and mushrooms mixed with cheese, pork and broccoli, and litchi drink. While we were eating, the horses and horsemen passed us on the nicely paved road, and we waved and cheered. We made a stop at the restaurant bathroom (Bhutanese-style toilets, which are sort of like a horizontal urinal on the floor) and we were on our way again.
From here on it was uphill. We saw an amusing road sign. Apparently we were in a falling rock zone, but we liked how they phrased it better "Danger: Beware of shooting stones." It was in this area that we first noiced marijuana plants growing right on the side of the road. Using it as a drug is against Bhutanese law, but the plants seem to thrive in the mountainous terrain and grow wild in many places.
We turned a corner and saw an ambulance and a crowd of people on the riverbank. Craig and I wondered if an accident had happened, but Dorji told us that it was probably a burial. Though most Bhutanese cremate their dead by Buddhist tradition, burials also sometimes take place. We were walking up narrow switchbacks behind the horses. We got nervous, as there were big trucks and blind corners, and the horses didn't like staying to the side of the road. We were worried that they might get hurt, as they definitely seemed more at home on the trail than on the road. There were a few of what seemed to us to be close calls, and it was a bit nerve-wracking. The walking wasn’t difficult, but we had gone a long way. We passed groups of hundreds of small (1 inch tall) molded stupas nestled into the crevices of roadside rocks. Dorji explained that these were made of funerary ashes, as a tribute to deceased loved ones. They are placed in crevics to prptect them from rain, which would dissolve them. We saw a few that were worse for wear due to the elements.
We came to a farm stand and Dorji asked about the best route to get to Shelmakha's access road. They told him there was a very steep shortcut. We opted to stay on the road ("stay off the moors"). The road was steep and consisted of many switchbacks, but at least the grade was such that a car could negotiate it. There was no telling how steep and treacherous a shortcut might be. I was getting really tired as we plugged on behind the horses. for some reason, teh Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie" came into my head: "Now, I don't know but I've been told, if the horse don't pull, you got to carry the load; I don't know whose back's that strong; Maybe find out before too long." I hoped we would get there soon; we had already walked around 20 km today.
By 2:19, we reached the road to Shelmakha. It was a dirt road that looked pretty steep. Dorji had hoped to camp near the junction, so we would make the final steep 2 hour push to Shelmakha in the morning. Yeshey and the horsemen couldn't find a good camping spot. We chatted with folks at another farmstand while they spoke to Dorji about the camping situation. Dorji seemed partial to continuing on to Shelmakha this afternoon, but Craig was worried that it would take us much longer than two hours in our present state, and that it would get dark before we reached there. The camp staff continued about 200 yards down the main road and came back with an idea. They had found an area where we could camp. They said that it wasn't ideal, as it was right next to the road, and there was a lot of "construction debris" from a recently built house. But we all decided that it was better than continuing on.
When we got there, the "construction debris" was just wood shavings and sawdust. The ground was littered with cowchips as well, but that didn't bother us. It was close to the road, yes, but it was not a busy road. There was a house and an electrical power station across the road from our camp. Locals watched as camp was set up here, something that they obviously didn't see every day. Our tent was situated opening up to a beautiful view of the valley.
The horsemen brought most of the horses to a nearby pasture to graze, but the gray horse who had been carrying the heavy gas tank wasn't doing so well. The horsemen and Dorji were worried. We arranged our things in our tent and then headed to the dining tent for tea. Dorji was nuzzling the sick horses head, speaking to him quietly. It turned out that Dorji wasn't feeling well himself: he had a headache and a muscle aches. He hadn't let on about this befre as I'm sure he didn't want to influlence our decision as to whether to continue on or camp here. But I'll bet he's glad we decided to camp!
Dorji went to take a nap, and Craig and I had tea and cookies, dried fried rice, and tea. I also had some hot chocolate. The horsemen let the sick horse rest and gave him a feedbag, hoping he would be better by tomorrow. It was rainy and chilly, and I broke out my thermal underwear for the first time yet on this unexpectedly warm trip. We had to be careful walking around camp, as it was wet, and the mud between our tent and the dining tent was very slippery.
Craig and I chatted in the dining tent. He read the Buddhism book and I wrote in the journal. Before we knew it, Dorji re-joined us from dinner. We had a very thick and delicious cream of mushroom soup (Yeshey is definitely awesome at making soup!), tinned tuna, peas and cheese, broccoli, red rice, potatoes and cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. The table was so full that when I tried to cut my tomatoes, my precariously balandced plate ended uyp in my lap. Laughing, I scooped up the lapful of food and deposited it back on my plate. I ate every bit of it; Yeshey's meals were delicious as usual. We chatted and ate apples for dessert. We had so enjoyed Dorji's story of Buddha's life last night that we asked for another story. He told us the story of Guru Rinpoche. After talking for several hours, he said "I surrender!" and decided it was time for bed. We went to sleep at 10:30.