Raw, Huge Land: Humble People

November 28, 2011 |  by  |  Dispatches

Our last two days of this second big section of trekking took us up 4500 feet over Rodang La (pass) followed by a 7000 foot drop down an ancient trail built so that the first kings father could pass through. Our camp tonight is perched on a precipice, similar to most monasteries in Bhutan. I can see mountains in all directions and am glancing down into a deep river valley sprinkled with a small settlement far below.

The film team has decided to stay in Jakar to film for a couple of days and then hook into our current journey on Day 4. Tony was extremely ill when we took off from Tang Valley so he wisely opted to stay back as well then meet up with us along with the film team. Our much smaller group is traveling swiftly and easily and we are already 2 days ahead of schedule—which will allow us to hang at a Buddhist festival in Trashi Yangsi a bit longer.

Each night our hard working and cheerful army staff gather with us around a huge bonfire—3 westerners and several Bhutanese. We chat freely with our host from Bhutan Olympic Committee, Karma, who speaks English fluently, as well as interact through Karma with the other Bhutanese. We are all incessantly curious of each others cultures and lives and with our cumulative open minds our exchanges are rich and deep.

Each day I am seeing huge country—the kind that so poignantly causes one to feel minuscule (yet not)—while feeling the country through our tough physical endeavor and through the eyes of those who inhabit it. The Bhutanese revere their land. They also covet mutual respect, being humble, and supportive. They garnish enormous virtue in being of service. The land here is harsh, raw and beautiful and the people have yielded to it in their soft spiritual ways.

The sun just dropped below the mountains, causing the temperature to instantly plummet to quite chilly. Time for me to seek the fire, hot soup and the warmth of my new friends.
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Since the above was jotted down just a couple days ago we’ve: been guided off trail through the dynamite blasts of road workers, by a villager who’s two children had recently drown in the river; moved through the land of the Yeti; took a cold plunge in the river; spotted 4 National Geographic wildlife cameras; rescued a trapped calf; extracted a tick from Greg’s arm; were thrown a party by local villagers; had our first sighting of villagers carving meat; witnessed power lines that are only 6 months old; nursed Greg back from fever and illness while jammed through several days of steep and visually stunning trekking; joined back up with the film team and with Tony; and pedaled an excruciating 2 hours of climbing on a bone jarring road with 22 switchbacks and that we labeled ‘Off Road L’Alp Duez’.

Four more days of trekking and one day of biking will bring us to a Buddhist Festival at the Dzong in Tashigang. My body desires to stop movement for a day but there is so much incredible land to cover here in Eastern Bhutan—through we are told we are setting breakneck speeds on foot, one does not move quickly nor in a straight line through Bhutan. We are camping tonight at an old monastery site at the top of a peak. Another warm fire with friends and party by the local villagers is anticipated.

There is an occasion when my mind wanders to all that I could be getting done back home. But only occasionally and for a fleeting moment. Because these current moments in their simplicity seem more precious than any I could conjure up. For right now, they are just perfect.

Terri Schneider
Written while perched a top a mountain in the village of Minji, Eastern Bhutan.