This is part three of an account of a study trip by a group of twelve students and a professor from Hiram College to the Kingdom of Bhutan in the spring of 2002. For a full description of the group and goals of the trip, see the beginning of the first writeup, 23 Days in Bhutan. Part two is: Old Growth Forests, 13th Century Temples, and Rites of Spring.
This is a combination of class lectures and observations in the field (in plain text) and additional writings (in monospace). All altitudes are estimates, based on atmospheric pressure. For this reason, there will occasionally be multiple altitudes given for the same location.
This part was written almost entirely in Bhutan. The experience on the trek was so extreme, so different, I do not know how to describe it, other than the words I used while I was there.
The last part of the trip was a nine day trek to Mount Jomalhari, the most sacred mountain in Bhutan. The plan was to hike to Jomalhari, then go over a pass and go back by a different route.
Early in the morning. About to embark on this trek. First breakfast, then on the road.
And this notebook is falling apart – I will have to re-sew it when I get home.
Why am I so worried right now? – the unknown. And because everything is so different already. So many of my ideas have changed – my views of what natural history is, how Man influences nature, and what influence I as a tourist have on all this. But it has changed bigger things, too. I care about different things now – more about the big picture and less about the little things, more about doing amazing things with my life and less about doing what I am supposed to do. Not that I do not still care about these things – I do – it is just that I am more interested in doing something long term – I want to make art. I want to change people. I want to change myself.
I am going to try to continue to pursue my dreams. I am going to make a book out of this trip. And I will do much more with all of this later, and I will continue to do things. I will try to change the cities, to make them more bright, less gray and drab.
Wow. A couple hours into this crazy journey… Amazing. The wind blows so nicely down the valley. And it is getting drier. 8640 feet. As we go higher, the soil becomes more dry and sandy.
The air is really dry here – the watercolors are drying so fast. Someone chopped down a telephone pole along the way, but did not cut the wires.
Lecture in the woods!
Much greater chance of seeing birds now.
Try to figure out which songs go with which birds – observe!
Read about climactic zones.
21 ponies for us!
Many altitudinal zones – observe changes.
See how leaves are designed – drip-tip leaves?
Can see so much more!
CHANGE – population and economic.
What is normal? Change.
So much uplift – changes cover up history.
We want elastic change, not plastic change.
In the Hindu Kush, tremendous downward spiral due to deforestation.
Vegetation cannot hold land – flooding and landslides.
Here, upward spiral – terraces improve, over time gets much better.
We tend to hear the story of Nepal.
Need to take terracing into account.
US refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol.
We take resources at a far far greater rate.
Land mine treaty, too.
Mountain areas will be most affected – they are the extremes.
We have good records for the Alps, showing the effect of weather on communities.
M.A.P. program – mapping weather over the long term, in alpine communities – what is the effect of global warming?
But every valley is different.
And there is a real difficulty working with averages.
Trying to take in local information – local farmers know a lot – more than even what weather gathering can do.
Fish are a better way to measure the temperature and that stuff of rivers and lakes because they have to live there.
Agricultural systems can respond to change. If they don’t, they die.
And they must look short term. And science is trying, in some ways, to look too long term.
Totally different philosophy here – everything is based on modeling.
Topographical barriers – The Alps have an effect on Siberia
Trying to work on smaller 3-d models.
Biological level – over 30 years of data – can predict present based on past, and predict past based on present.
Bogs are a great place to start looking – fossil record of the pollen of the region
Also tree ring dating – Bristlecone pine
Can also look at timbers from Dzongs.
And can see overlap, and complete it – complete records for an area
Ice cores show glacial fluctuations.
Beetles fossilize well.
This area, like most mountain areas, is an area of catastrophic change – records show this – tax records and the like.
A third of the agricultural land in Europe was lost during the Little Ice Age.
Ocean surface temp was 2.8 C lower
Glaciers 5-6 C cooler – affected areas even where there was no human history.
Also, human impact – outside Bhutan, human impact has wiped out records.
Roman agriculture made North Africa a desert. And present human impact has not helped – 18th and 19th century colonization –removal of traditional agriculture.
During the Little Ice Age, great fluctuation in temperature.
Increased floods and avalanches.
Fewer people to maintain land.
Developed world is more interested in tourism. Skiing.
Developing places that really should not be developed – avalanches.
Need to look really long term – agriculture can respond.
Canada could still be a good place to grow crops
But wildlife cannot move because of people.
Transition zones become compressed, we lose species.
You do not see high density population here.
What is our responsibility?
(end of lecture)
Still a lot of trash on the ground. And the stumps of a lot of small trees.
Electric Telephone poles. And really low grass.
The wheat is planted in clumps, in rows. And some is already rather large.
Though the soil remains dry, as we get higher, the trees seem to get greener.
Walls that have been here so long that there is a considerable amount of lichen growing on the exposed sides.
The valley quickly gets narrower. And rocks are smaller – but not terminal moraine.
Closer to and in the river, big boulders.
Pine cones 6 inches long.
Decent chunk of a mountainside burned by fire – probably five years ago.
Camp at 9,620 feet. This first day was a lot easier than I had thought, not that it was easy… just that the previous experience I had had had given me the idea that this would be near impossible. The joys of good gear.
The river is really cold – obviously glacial.
Need to figure out how to make this into a publishable something. Letterpress type of observations facing woodcut prints.
Wow. Dan’s 22nd birthday! Fun stuff. And cake.
Betel nut stains, still, along the trails.
There are so many rocks in this place.
The people, everywhere, are so friendly.
Cold and raining. And it is 8 pm – I understand the 4 pm afternoon rain… hate to think what this place will be like during the monsoon season. But that is expected. This, this rain is unexpected. Not that it should matter. That does say something about the culture that I am from. Can’t create or control the weather. We probably want to. Sigh. Talking about American movies in Bhutan.
So strange to see telephone lines going into places that only have footpaths going to them.
Electrical and telephone poles are often metal, because of the rot caused by the monsoon.
Trying to write papers, and it is just not happening – I have the ideas, but I am just not used to writing papers by hand.
No dogs barking yet tonight. Finally saw a pig today. Need to stop to make more observations, during the day.
Rain rain rain. And yet it is still so dry. And yet the river below is still rather low – it seems a rather big river for this size valley.
I miss Lauren. Though I have never met her, I feel such a connection with her, and I so value the time I spend talking with her. Of all the family and friends, I miss her the most. But she lives so far away, and any sort of relationship seems unreasonable because of this. And there are the issues of her graduating later than me, and having different plans… blah blah blah. This trip has changed so much. I just hope that she can see this. And I hope that she might accompany me on some future trips.
(later) I really had no idea I missed Lauren so much, until now, until I wrote the above words, until I was separated without any contact for so long. I just hope she understands. I know she will.
I have seen such beauty on this trip. And I have seen many things that force me to reevaluate the way I am living and the paths that are available to me. I now see the importance, more, of other things in my life, and I hope that Lauren can be a part of that. Really.
This is starting to sound stupid, like some mushy love thing. And it is that. A little. But it is also part of this reevaluation of priorities. I do need to find someone. And it would be nice if I found someone close. Yet at the same time, I am lucky to have found someone, even if she does live so far away.
I have to reevaluate the way that I am consuming. And I have to find a polite way to tell the people here the truth – not that they live in a beautiful country (they do, but it is a meaningless phrase) but that their happiness, their way of life, and harmony with nature has forced me to completely reevaluate and change my whole way of being. Consume less. More beauty in everything. Friendliness. Compassion. Care for nature. Belief. Faith. Legend. History. Conservation.
These people do not have much – in comparison, I have everything, I am so rich. How can I use the lessons that they have given me to help them? And how much of what is happening is better attributed to the king?
So many things observed and not recorded:
- water powered prayer wheels
- prayer flags
- chortens all over the place
- the importance of ritual
- the high degree of electrification
- There are a lot more roads than my map shows, all of them dirt and most pretty difficult to travel on.
- The national highway is a single paved lane, barely wide enough for one vehicle, with rock wall on one side, and a sheer cliff on the other. The few guardrails are minimal and probably ineffective. To pass, vehicles must often squeeze within inches of each other.
- Vehicles do often fall off the road.
- Traffic is comprised of four types of vehicles: Toyota tour busses, as long as the road will allow; scooters, mostly Indian (Bajaj); Big Indian trucks; and tiny tiny Indian minivans. Oh, and there are a few cars, too.
- These people are vegetarians, but… the food that they make for us makes such efficient use of meat.
- They are all short – I am probably the tallest person to ever wear a gho.
- Most things are imported from India.
- Locally made packaged products are limited: fruit juices; beer; some liquor; honey; jams; and some canned food.
- Lots of food grown locally, but not much packaged stuff.
- Dried cheese on a string is good, if really hard – good stuff to chew on – better than chewing gum.
- Arra, the national beverage, is distilled from fermented wheat. It is about the strength of wine, and really rather good. It is pleasantly smooth.
- Whatever book I do must be made with an awareness of the illustrations done by the 19th century travelers.
- The national highway has, on average, 17 curves per kilometer.
- The highway is being replaced, in many places, by a straight road that runs along the valley floor – a very different experience.
- So few animals naturally here – birds, Yaks.
- The omnipresent stain of the Betel nut.
- And all this trash, mostly from packaged goods.
- And for some reason, I can’t sleep tonight, though I feel fine.
Outside, a little later.
Writing instead of trying to sleep.
For a brief moment there, before going into the bathroom, the valley was almost free of clouds. The nearly full moon illuminated the entire space, and the snow on the mountaintops glistened in the light. Ten minutes later, a cloud has moved in, from the bottom of the valley, and obscured the entire sky. The cloud seems to be concentrated at the upper end of the valley – the view of the upper end is completely obscured. The cloud is moving upwards – I am slowly able to see a little of the lower end of the valley.
The light of the almost full moon is very bright, even through the clouds, almost bright enough to write by, but not quite. The cloud is not disappearing as I thought. The end that seemed to be lower in the valley is now overhead and now there are more clouds to the lower end of the valley.
It feels much warmer, since the rain has stopped. The moon is now bright enough to cast a shadow. More of the top of the valley is filling with clouds – the closest ridge is becoming obscured, and the lower end of the valley is clearing up.
The pack animals – mules and ponies – make such sounds – I do not know very well what animals lurk in the woods here. Nothing too unfriendly, I think, but I am still scared, and the comfort of my ten, or the toilet tent, is preferable. Wish that I could get one of the chairs and just sit on it, but people are sleeping in the dining tent – that is part of the reasoning why they need to bring it along.
People have been talking about wanting, lusting after American fast food. I understand this, but I just don’t get how some people can be so preoccupied by it. So content here. Then again, I have ranted a bit, too.
Less sure of the patterns of the clouds now – perhaps tomorrow.
And in the morning, there is considerable snow on the mountains at the top of the valley.
And as we go a little higher, more moist. Lots of mosses, Spanish moss, and more plants normally seen lower – 500 feet higher than camp.
This stone path was made more recently – stones are not polished on top. Not far away, much smaller stones are used.
This is almost temperate rain forest – and the trees are old growth, but not as big as I would have expected at lower altitudes.
These small rocks were part of a stream bed, I think.
Magnolia is used to make all these fancy wood bowls.
New – orange pink flowered Rhododendron.
Back to big rocks again.
Rocks in stream are getting bigger – at least 1 foot long.
10,100 feet. Huge boulders here. This is really a temperate rainforest. Surprising amount of trees and bushes 10 feet tall for an old growth forest. Boulders at least 30 feet long! (4 or 5 of them)
Ten foot tall flowering trees with 20ish trunks, each about 2 inches in diameter. Possibly honeysuckle.
Some flat grazed looking areas in the middle of the stream. Very little real grass – small leafy plants and moss. Some grass on this mid-stream island.
Ah! Finally just saw one big old growth looking tree. For the most part on this island there is no grass or anything.
It is getting a little dryer – sandier soil. And more humid – probably is the soil.
More rocks and debris in river bottom – glacial.
Forest fire 10-20 years ago.
So many birds seen.
Vegetation changing – as wet, but mostly smaller trees – bushes – too rocky, not enough soil.
Higher up this valley wall, a few bigger trees. And on the other side of the valley, many. And a mountain, covered with snow, that appear to not be that much higher than we are now.
The flat areas where the animals graze do have fewer trees and other vegetation.
More of the honeysuckle, but with less growth – just starting to put out leaves.
Lots of culleydock – and a small farm – dark, rich soil.
Less of a valley floor.
Bigger boulders in the river.
And more magnolias, shorter. Many many Aspens of the flat ground on the opposite shore – as Aspen will do. And ferns and grass growing on moss on rock walls.
Something is different – more dead leaves on the ground. And less undergrowth. Actually, plants of undergrowth, but not so high. And the trees are shorter, too.
The areas where grazing and camping occur are so obvious – no trees, or if there are any, very short, very short ground cover.
10,670 feet. 67’ F. 10:00 AM. And still the occasional trash on the ground.
Though there are some outliers, as we go upstream, the rocks and boulders get bigger.
And it has gone from sunny to overcast, but bright.
Still, when there is enough dirt, the characteristic series of depressions left by hoofed animals is seen.
This water is so blue.
The higher we get on the valley wall, the farther from the river bed, the fewer rocks – difficult to move, perhaps.
The Spanish Moss is so fluffy here – more moisture in the air? Rich black soil here. More birds here, migrating. Ground here is more moist, but no streams have crossed the path for a while, nor has the path been a muddy stream, as it did lower in the valley, where the streams are used for irrigation.
The [vegetation is slowly changing. Not sure how, but it is.
Some bamboo here. And less Spanish moss – more sporadic. Starting to see the occasional coniferous tree.
Lunchat 10,960 feet. Starting to rain a little. What a lunch – tables and chairs and all sorts of wonderful hot stuff that was probably made this morning.
After lunch, up a little, the trail continues to change – more conifers, drier. Big lichen on trees – conifers. More wet. Looking more like an old growth forest. Birch! There are birch trees here! Mostly conifers – undergrowth is deciduous.
The bark on these birch is really peeling – and really red, too.
The river is getting steeper. And more white birch, but still peeling. More burned out trees! Looks like people light the fires in them.
Huge boulders, big trees, really humid!
Lot of shorter bamboo – not the big stuff seen at lower altitudes. Diversity of species is lower here. But still lots of plants. And trees are not as tall.
Perhaps some of these big trees are burned out after they die.
Little wood shacks – military?
Moss covers every flat surface – not as much on the trees as before. The variety of moss and lichens is astounding.
1:00 PM. 11,415 feet.
These mosses are so lush, so thick, so spongy. They stick up a couple inches above their supports.
Trees are more twisted, gnarled, here, higher up. We are getting closer to the snow covered mountain. And closer to a pass, too.
A forest fire, five years ago?
In the clouds, more humid than ever.
This is the end of volume 1, a notebook made in Cleveland, Ohio, to take on this trip. I made volume 2 from Bhutanese handmade paper, purchased in Thimphu, when I realized that I might run out of space in the first notebook.
29 April, continued
Camp. At 12,115 feet. Snowing! (Which is better than the sleet that we had before.) I cannot believe this! But it is beautiful.
Susan made it! Yay! (was so worried) Hopefully, we can all pull through this, as a group. The leaders that we have are good, both Phurba and Denny. Denny admitted that this was the stupidest thing he had ever done. I can’t disagree, but in the same situation, I would probably do the same. I just wish he would tell us what we are supposed to do if he dies.
Still snowy. If only I could take Susan up on that offer to share her tent with about 3 other people without her taking it the wrong way. I did what little I could, earlier, and she made it. (Not that there is necessarily any causation between the two.)
I am still amazed by the variety of lichens and mosses – I have never seen anything like it.
Wow. So much snow, and so sunny, so glad that I got sunglasses – the sun on the snow is so bright.
Clouds scraping mountain tops.
I have yet to see a jet contrail.
12,530 feet. 9:38 AM.
Denny, Susan, Howie, and Peter went back today - they didn’t feel that they could go any further, so they went back, supplied, with a member of the crew.
Snow seems to be melting pretty fast in the sunlight.
Really big birds – Griffons – huge.
Vegetation getting more sparse – but still lots of moss – humid.
I question the reality of all this – so high.
Streams here carve deep gullies – few trees to hold soil – water levels obviously have much higher levels at times.
12,860 feet. Getting to be more snow here. The trees are getting shorter – 30’ max – nearing the tree line.
Still a fair amount of moss, though not so much as before, we are getting higher, but the yaks might be eating a lot, too.
Trees are really showing weathering – almost like Bristlecone Pines.
Lots of snow blown from [mountains and trees.
13,020’ or 12,580’.
Started out this morning with almost all the clothing I had with me on. Am now down to about half that, and only that much because we are not moving.
Trees are almost entirely conifers, on south facing side of valley (side to the left of the trail), though there are some deciduous bushes on the north facing side of the trail (to the right of the trail), the side with more snow, trees are almost all deciduous, and have not yet put out leaves. Little snow on south side, only in shadows of trees.
Pine trees are getting thinner. Many landslides on right side of river.
All this snow is fresh.
Soil is very dark, but little vegetation. Pine trees – juniper, are very gnarled, on the south facing side of the valley. The north facing side is a mixture of deciduous and juniper.
On the south facing slopes, trees only grow big on select faces – the rest are really small and gnarled.
Windy. Really really windy. And cold. Almost no grass – perhaps grazed or just worn down. Wonder how short the growing season is here – all grazing of yaks, I am sure.
Fantasizing about good food on the way home – sushi in Tokyo, deep dish pizza in Chicago, and some sort of greasy American chain in Bangkok.
Strong winds after lunch all the way up the valley.
Much of the lack of vegetation on south facing slopes can be attributed to grazing trails. On the north facing slope, I cannot tell whether the landslides are in fact entirely or partially caused by grazing – there are some grazing trails visible at the bottom, but the snow obscures too much.
Ruins of some stone buildings at the camp.
Damn, it is cold.
This paper is actually working decently! Yay!
Will probably rain later. Has been completely overcast since lunch. The wind really runs down the valley.
Tea. Tea is good. Though I do wish that it were possible to get decent coffee here. Sigh.
It is beautiful here. And the weather changes so quickly.
Lots of layered sedimentary rock – utilitarian uses – even bridges 5 feet wide.
In the shower this morning, when suddenly I hear this snorting of some large animal and the thundering of its hooves. Phurba called for me to get out of the shower immediately, and as I did, I saw, by the building, a cornered and very angry yak, bucking and snorting in a manner similar to what I have seen of bulls at rodeos in Wyoming.
Some thoughts for an essay I should have done a bit earlier, based on the experiences in Ura.:
culture impacts environment:
festival as a reflection of environment
The effects of the altitude are very strong here, 13,000ish feet. It is more difficult to breathe – I can feel it, and one tires after much less physical activity than normal. The sunlight is stronger here – I could feel the warmth and the burning after sitting out in it for but a brief time, and it heats one up so quickly – if not for the cold wind, it would have felt absolutely blissful. As it was, it felt good, except for the frequent interruptions by blasts of cold air. With the reduced atmosphere, I could feel the UV rays burning my skin, and those who did not use sunscreen burned quickly.
Most of the snow on the lower half of the slope melted quickly. The higher parts melted some, but not nearly so much. Jomalhari was visible in the bright, early morning sun, but by midday, was almost completely obscured by clouds, revealing how high it really is, in this location where it is hard to judge altitudes – everything is so big, and there isn’t anything to provide scale.
To be considered a mountain, here, it must be covered with snow year round.
Jomalhari has never been summited. It is sacred, and looks like a really difficult climb.
Yaks may be somewhat tame, but they are still very wild – temperamental, too.
Here, it is sunny in the morning, strong, and starts to be cloudy by noon. By 2, it is completely overcast. The clouds keep moving, but it remains overcast. The clouds move all afternoon, more and more of them pushing up the valley. There is the occasional hint that there may be an end it sight – a brief break in the clouds, but as soon as it is created, again, it is gone.
Note: send real packing list for this trip to CIS.
The big old stone buildings were built to defend against Tibetan invasions.
So tired. I love this place, but I just want to be home for a few days. A good bed, some food that my stomach is used to… all these would be nice. But I do like it here. I just need to be able to relax a little. And I want to see how the pictures come out…
Oh, I wish I had a full length air mattress – to heck with weight.
Would pack differently if I were doing this again. Would pay more attention – this place is really extreme. Didn’t climb up to the lake today – wish I had, but I just wasn’t feeling good enough, and I would have had to turn around.
This air is so thin. The weather changes so quickly. And people live here – yak herders.
7:30 AM. About an inch of snow as of 2 AM. Much of it has already melted.
It is so warm – little atmosphere to block the sun.
Feeling a little better today. No mad yaks yet today. Must start walking back tomorrow.
Still having trouble getting used to wearing sunglasses at all.
The mosquitoes and flies around here are so big.
The sun is burning in the sky.
The grass is grazed very low, but some is left, unlike cattle, which will graze down to the roots.
Sitting out in the sun at 13,000 feet.
I miss the rest of the group, but I think that it is good that they went back – day 3 was so hard.
I do think that it is important that, for the next trip to Bhutan, that there be a good, well thought out equipment list. Rain pants are wonderful things.
And all these dogs start appearing once we start providing food.
The sky is so clear.
Walked up the valley to the glacier. Lots of sharp rocks, unworn by erosion. Clouds build up at the base of the glacier. The plants all look so old – geologically old, genetically unchanged for millions of years.
The houses above the campsite have lots of yak dung piled up on the fences. And very little firewood – firewood is so hard to get around here. And too much chopped from living trees.
Glaciers. Wow. This valley is just so hardcore. And people live here year round. Yak herders are amazing.
This course would be a really great as a 12 week interdisciplinary, geology, biology, and cultural anthropology or something like that, half on campus and half in Bhutan.
Yaks are so jumpy – or at least they can be so jumpy.
So many ideas for food to make at home, so cheap. Cool things to do with rice, rice noodles, tofu, cheese, chiles.
Home is going to be so different. How can I ever go home again? I want to go home, for sure, but it is going to be such a culture shock. And there is some much that I would like to bring back.
Tomorrow, back towards Paro.
Snowing like mad. Outside – can’t see any of the mountains. The weather here is so extreme, for being 27’ N.
Talking about Hiram… Sigh.
The snow has stopped, the sky is clearing, some blue even, and the snow is melting.
Food grown here is all for personal use. Herders move every couple months. Only trade yak stuff down the valley. Milk yak. Use just about every part of the yak. Hair for clothing, roofs, The camps are located in the high valleys.
Lots more wind in main valley than in the valley leading to Jomalhari.
In main valley, lots of grazing. And grazing trails, and a lot of landslides around upper grazing trails – rockier land higher in valley.
Marmots, at higher altitudes, burrow holes in the ground.
Fewer animals at this altitude – far fewer animals.
Soil in this part of the valley is very fine sand or mostly that.
Eggs, again today. Then again, this climate probably refrigerates pretty well.
Turquoise in jewelry is from Tibet.
Water powered prayer wheels (but not at this altitude)
Yaks do not graze down to the roots – they leave a little bit of everything. Unlike cattle.
I do miss having access to world news – wish I had my shortwave radio with me. Gotta love the BBC. Wish I could get a newspaper here… something daily. I miss the New York Times.
Heard the roar of the Thunder Dragon today.
The fish last night was wonderful – fresh from a local lake.
Sitting here by the fire. "It takes too much energy to throw up, mon." Trucian
Snowing, again! Better than rain.
There is something about the dried yak cheese – I like it here, but I know that it would not be right at a lower altitude, and in different environmental conditions.
The amount of wood that they are burning for us, because we ask, is ridiculous – it is carried too far. But we are happy. Maybe.
There is so much ginger in the food here – big chunks of it.
Everyone is getting all sorts of weird sicknesses from the altitude.
The stars outside are just amazing – so clear, surprising for here.
1:30 into our hike down the mountain – everyone’s hands seem to be swelling some – decrease in the altitude. And there does seem to be more oxygen here – it does feel good.
Lots of irises here.
Coming down the valley, the first thing that I notice is that the trees are getting bigger – still gnarled, but much taller – juniper. The air feels more moist, too. Quickly the vegetation increases, even thought the air still feels cool. Yet halfway up the side of the valley, there is snow – probably there for a while – the snow defines the tree line.
Using trees to fill in washed away bends in the river – as a matrix, not as ground.
Here, much lower, small landslides caused by yak grazing.
Going down the valley, but before reaching farms, there are more small streams.
Landslides only occur on a certain range of slopes – too steep, and they are mostly rock – no land to slide. Not steep enough, and the soil stays put.
Going down the valley, the trees get thicker.
Most of the deciduous trees have not put out any leaves yet, only buds.
The grass does not seem to have grown at all yet, only the remnants from last year.
The bushes and trees are closer together than they are higher up.
A little lower, flowers are starting to bloom.
And by streams, grass is growing.
At the army base that we stopped at on day 3, the grass is a little longer. Longer than the grass higher up, not longer than it was when we were first there.
The area around our second camp is so green, yet the winds are still so cool. And still no leaves on the trees. Rhododendrons have leaves, but no flowers yet.
More little flowers on ground. Honeysuckle? Has many flowers.
More, thicker mosses here than at higher altitudes, but still none on the ground – mosses are confined to rocks and a few trees.
Different birds too – not the ravens and crows seen at higher altitudes, birds with sweeter songs.
Few trees on the south facing slope – looks rather rocky, possibly some grazing.
The rhododendrons here are short – 6-8 feet tall, max, mostly shorter.
Juniper bushes, not trees.
As soon as we enter the forest, the vegetation obtains all the properties of an old growth forest.
At the campsite of the second night. The trail from the army station to this campsite is so rocky, and not built with rocks like lower portions of the trail – the whole landscape is rocky – smooth, rounded, rocks. All these rocks would have to be moved to farm. And in the areas they do farm, they have moved all the rocks. And still there are all sorts of small rocks in the field.
On closer inspection, it seems that the trees on the opposite side of the valley are deciduous, and it just did not show up earlier, because they have not yet put leaves out.
Still pretty cool here. The sunlight does help, but not as much as at the higher camp.
The trees provide enough shade, even without the leaves that more moisture is retained, so mosses and things can grow on the forest floor. And the Spanish moss is so lush.
Trying to figure out how to get all the fun things we have found here home.
Sunny and light rain, waiting for lunch.
There has been this funny spotting on my hands, mostly my right, for the past few days – small red bumps.
Amazing amount of work they do for the lunch – folding chairs and tables, cooking – so much packaged food, Coca Cola carried in for all of the lunches., carrying a couple big propane tanks, a big ‘ol cutting board, thermoses filled with tea and hot milk (from powder), all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables, all packed in for the whole trip. Not the way you would behave if you were backpacking.
"Why is it sleeting?"
Customs… in Chicago. Buncha punk bio students that we are.
Garlic fried rice. Potatoes with ginger.
Not that we really have anything that should be kept out of the US.
So much starch in the diet here – but it is needed. And it is actually good, too. Just a little bit of spice, some oil – so much more dense than the food that I am used to. We need to think more about the food that we eat in the US – so much meat, and such wasteful use of the meat that we do use.
Closer to river = more moist, more humid.
Beneath the topsoil, what little there is, the soil is very sandy (at confluence).
Very cold and windy at pass.
Most of the wear to the rocks in the river is from water – heavy scouring and shaping.
At pass, very steep rock walls.
Path is intentionally paved of rock – erodes much less readily than soil.
Starting to rain a little.
More flowers on this side of the pass – a little lower. Much greener. More moss.
I do not think that these boots are breaking, jus that the amount of cushion that the soles can provide is limited.
In clearer weather, influence of man on landscape becomes more obvious. Grazing and the occasional fire that the herders require does so much damage – trees are cut down, branches are cut from living trees, and so much growth is removed. Not that we, as trekkers, do much better – for our group of 12, an additional 5 staff, 21 ponies, quite a bit of wood cut for fires, the wear that we put on the trails, the grazing that the ponies do, even though they are fed – it all adds up. Most every time we stop for a meal, there is a fire, even though we are carrying two tanks of propane. Some of our trash, I am sure, makes it onto the trail, even though we are supposed to pack it all out.
Flowers on magnolias, finally.
This trail is so difficult on the feet – up and down, all rocks and mud. All slippery, rounded. And one misstep could mean a sprained ankle.
So much moss, on trees and rocks, but not on the ground. So green. But still no leaves on the trees.
A bit lower, leaves on bamboo.
A small wood cutting operation in the forest – cutting down trees and cutting them into boards. Huge sawhorses and 6’ long saws, one guy on top, one on the bottom, sawing the wood. A tarp above their heads.
Finally, low enough that some of the deciduous trees are starting to have leaves on them – smallish, but still leaves, a half hour from the camp.
This trail is so hard, on us and the ponies – so rocky, so muddy.
And now I am in camp. And it is starting to rain again. And stop.
The trails here are of a few types: There are these paths that are frequently used, that go between houses, farms, over shorter and longer distances, that connect agricultural things. These paths are dirt, and will have a few rocks, unless the trail happens to be in the spot where the rocks are tossed off the fields. These areas also sometimes have dirt roads. The trekking trail, a bit higher, is the most difficult – so rocky, partially from the nature of the land and partially because the soil must be protected, lest it erode away. The highest trails have some rocks, but are not so worn, because they are not used as much, and do not go around trees.
We seem to have adopted a cute little puppy.
Back, to Cleveland, so soon. It has been so long, and yet so soon. And the only part that I am really not looking forward to is the hell that is Tokyo to Chicago. 11:30. Grr. But I am here now, and there is nothing that I can do about that. Except hope for a better seat…
I have nothing more to write, for now.
Beautiful stars tonight. And an (artificial) satellite. Last night was even better. But too tired. Two fires, on for us and one for them. Two more than there should be. But I do like it.
The clear atmosphere and the altitude, made for such amazing stars last night.
And the level of honesty here is … disconcerting.
I really don’t see what the big deal is with smoky water – it is safe drinking water, what else matters? And the food seems good too. What should all this matter so much? They give us what they can.
As the sun rises over the valley wall, the bipedal mammals gather in the sunshine.
Here, a half hour or 45 minutes below camp, the deciduous trees have leaves – on the east facing side of the valley.
Just passed the trail to Tibet. Still so unreal. We could just walk to Tibet.
I smell. We all smell.
And tomorrow, there will be showers.
Why waste filter usage on boiled water, just to get rid of the smoky flavor?
In camp. Already. Not a half hour after lunch. Sigh. Been going so fast. Tired now. My feet. Grr. First day I really needed to use moleskin.
Starting to rain. As usual for this time of day. A little thunder, too.
On dirt roads, where there is a stream, there will often be a concrete depression, so that the stream can flow over the road without washing away the road.
So much prayer in this country – prayer flags and prayer wheels – even water powered prayer wheels.
Whine whine whine about people at Hiram. And drunk stories.
I do sort of regret not being able to go across the pass… but, given the way that I felt, I am not sure that I could have made it, anyway.
Such amazing stars last night. Saw at least 7 artificial satellites. A few meteors, too.
Back to civilization today! And showers, too! Not that I care that much. But I would like to shave, and it has been 5 days since I showered last. Can’t believe that they carried along the shower and shower tent for just one use. Then again, so many things packed in, just to be packed out.
All the staff have the big knives, with 12-18 inch blades, v-shaped that hey use for most everything, including splitting wood. They work well for the purpose, because they are heavy, and are thicker wedges than most knife blades. And they are cool, these big, clunky knifes, capable of anything, in wood sheathes, hanging on these guys belts.
Finally, back. A wonderful lunch. And the ponies are still not here.
Back from the trek. Showered and tired.
Denny, Susan, Howie, and Peter are fine.
I regret that I was not able to go over the pass, but I am glad that I made it back, especially after hearing that two people died in the camp where we stayed the second night.
Walking at the lower altitudes is in some ways more difficult than walking at higher altitudes – at lower altitudes, one is expected to go long distances, and it is so hot and dehydrating. At high altitudes, the trails are sometimes easier, because they do not have to go around the edges of farms, and because they have not had all the rocks from the fields thrown upon them.
I do not see what the big fuss about hot water is. Yes, it is nice, and I would certainly prefer it, but you make do with what you have. And when a dozen people start showering in a place like this, the hot water is going to run out pretty fast. This is no the same as being at home – I do not know why people expect it to be so.
They did give us their nicest bus – a relatively new Toyota Coaster – and such a wonderful driver, Dani (sp?).
I feel a bit bad about drinking all this water from non-recycleable plastic bottles. Not that recycleable bottles are recycled, but at least returnable bottles are reused. I need to drink safe water. But I also need to be environmentally responsible.
final essay topic: Using observation as a natural historian – describe factors in an extreme environment that you have experienced in Bhutan and describe organism responses that you hypothesize based on observations. Include human responses. What effect has the extreme in Bhutan had on your perceptions about the extreme and its role in evolution. We have all experienced the extreme, whether we went to the top or not.
"Himalaya" is from Sanskrit for "abode of snow", and refers to the entire Himalaya.
Sigh. Just want a cold beer.
Woke up early. Feeling much better than when I went to bed last night. Slept very well. One last day in Bhutan – one last day before leaving. So much going through my mind – so many hopes, so many fears. So much to do, and I want to make the best of the little time that I have. And I still have this paper and other thing to write. But I have a plane flight to write on.
Need to start thinking about writing. But also need to start thinking about leaving – unlike other study trips, I cannot really spend one last night out, enjoying the city, as I did in Berlin or Moscow. And when I leave, I am really going to be leaving – it is unlikely that I will be able to return for quite a while, so it is important that I use what time I have to the best possible end.
Breakfast, then a trip to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Lunch, a couple lectures, dinner, perhaps a night of fun in Paro. The next morning, on an airplane, to Calcutta, then Bangkok. A night in Bangkok, then an early morning flight to Tokyo. From Tokyo, a far too long flight to Chicago, from Chicago, a brief hop to Cleveland. Wait around for luggage, then a ride back to school. Sleep a little, party a little, then drive home, shave, and it is all over.
So much learned, but how do I compile it into anything that can be read, easily?
Fifteen minutes until breakfast. Ten until I can probably amble over there.
This country is so curious – to do a good job with this book, I need to see how it was documented by explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries – I need to see what sort of images they use, and perhaps incorporate that in my work.
It is such a small and quite place – even Thimphu seemed quiet. And so hard to imagine that Thimphu is the national capital.
I realize that I am so rich when I come here, yet at the same time, so many things have prices that are similar to what I would expect from stores in the west. Such is the difficulty with importing so much from the West, and from India. And it does remind us that those things that we take for granted, that we see as essential part of life – these things are so expensive.
I do not see how the Lonely Planet can call this the most beautiful valley in Bhutan… so dry, and so many nicer.
The view is so nice. The rocks are just so amazing! The water patterns on the rocks.
Lecture – Phurba
Most famous monastery in Bhutan.
500-600 years ago Guru Rimpoche flew from east on tiger, landed here. (Thus the Tiger’s Nest Monastery)
Meditated for a couple months, converted people of valley to Buddhism.
Buildings are scattered
Builder of monastery is preserved here.
Rebuilding after fire, April 1998. Cause unknown – perhaps a butter lamp.
Huge renovation. Burned to base.
King ordered rebuilt in original style.
Left building will be completed by December, 2002.
All materials brought up by cable car.
Lots of hand work.
Supernatural power made bringing up things easier.
Many people, some Indian, pilgrimage.
Mostly carry up supplies by pony.
4-5 monks stay here.
On rotation from Paro dzong.
Tiny building in gorge is nunnery.
Guru Rimpoche is seen in most every temple because he is seen almost as a second Buddha.
Westerners are not allowed in.
So many nice flowers here – rhododendron – more red than I have seen elsewhere.
All the work here is done by man power – except the supplies for the building, which are brought up by tram.
Much easier to come here than before – because of road built for construction – used to have to walk in from main road.
Workers on this project are all Bhutanese.
All temple and dzong work is done by government – no private companies.
Path to monastery is really steep – decline much faster than ascent.
And there was this cute, tiny cat at the top.
Tea here. Nice, relaxing. I could become a tea fiend.
Lunch. Have to change money for party tonight.
Bhutanese red rice. And these wonderful, sweet, small, bruised bananas. Tea. And a lecture later.
I do want to be home. If only because I am expecting it and looking forward to it. And because it is home.
My feet are tired – too tightly laced boots for sitting.
Too many things left to do. And plenty of hours, if I were not sleeping so much.
Lecture – Demographic transformation.
Effects of population-
Land use. Grazing. Farming. Houses. Firewood.
The myth that modern medicine causes third world population explosion – 20th century.
Malthus – 18th century. If human populations are growing at exponential rates, resource use must also grow. Thus there must be control. But this was based on a small sample – size of population is directly related to quality of environment. Based on a closed system – people cannot move in or out. If you regulate fertility with land use, population is controlled – Darwin based theory upon this.
Systems are not closed.
If land is supplemented with income from labor, population can grow as well. Demand for labor = increase in population growth. Ura used to be a closed model. As did Thimphu.
In villages we saw mostly women. Because the men are working in Thimphu. So the women are making the important decisions at a local level.
Sex does not have anything to do with availability of resources. Morality has quite a lot to do with this. There may be decreased fertility because the men are working away from the women. Increased income may affect what people want out of life. People’s expectations change with time. Material wealth and comfort. How do you keep people on the farm once they have seen Berlin or Paris or London or Thimphu? The disco in Thimphu. Personal desire to have kids regulates population growth.
Low income = high fertility?
High income = low fertility?
No real direct tie, no matter how much we want to see it.
The theories of population growth are based upon mountain communities.
Are we economic tourists?
Nepal opened in the 1950s, Bhutan in 1970s.
Bhutan learned from Nepal
Early desire to be with nature.
Brought to Katmandu American values, money.
The farmers came to Katmandu.
Fertility rates in Nepal began to drop.
Natural birth control brought about by breastfeeding.
Before 1980s, 20% died before age of 1, 34% before 20.
As industry continues, need for tourist goods increases.
Women come into the city to make carpets and other goods, and then have money, power.
With money, longevity increases, infant mortality decreases.
Sherpas take people to the mountains instead of taking goods.
Dramatic lifestyle change.
People migrate from villages into city.
Corruption in power.
Desire for democracy.
Maoist rebels in the city.
Desire for economic stability.
You cannot have democracy without economic stability underneath it.
There is not this influx of population.
Some tractors are used.
Tremendous movement due to national highway.
Some migrations to city.
Other factors: some seasonal employment.
Daily and seasonal migrations are changing.
But we do not have complete depopulation yet.
Bhutan is taking resources out of rural areas.
Government subsidy of healthcare and education.
You migrate to where the amenity you desire exists.
Perception of isolation.
West has amazing resources, forces world to provide whatever we want.
Bhutan is transforming self as a nation to provide for wealthy, high end tourism.
And they provide for themselves.
The Indians can come without money, and are seen as second class citizens.
Quality of natural world.
Although we are seeing things from the west, we need to pay attention to the Buddhist and other realities.
We have often seen the world as we want to see it.
Our reality changes due to pressure.
As we migrate, things change.
Land prices increase.
Can improve land, quality of land goes up.
Myth of deforestation in leading to decline in quality of land may not be true.
And this is not the best land.
Altitude. Earthquakes. Monsoon.
Carrying capacity – population.
Have things been kept under control, due to lack of control?
Should population grow? Should quantity of livestock grow?
With limited amount of livestock, fertility of land can increase.
People not eating animals does help.
As population goes up, land productivity decreases, then increases.
Thus earth may eventually be able to support 12 billion people.
Loss of species diversity due to deforestation.
Farming may increase quality of land, but reduces diversity.
Have not seen mass migrations yet.
But there is big change.
Became a big issue in Nepal in the 1970s.
In 1950, Nepal looked like Bhutan.
Floods in Bangladesh of 1980s.
Myth that deforestation was causing flooding.
Fear that Nepal would erode away.
None of us live in the mountains – most of the world lives in the lowlands.
A new flavor of imperialism, imposing values on people in higher areas.
When you cut forests, you can terrace, which increases soil fertility, and decreases erosion.
These soils are fragile. And take long to recover. Forests erode quickly.
Correlation does no imply causation.
No data to support correlation between cutting of forests in Nepal and flooding.
We want biodiversity.
Farmers here view forests as productive land. They really care about land.
Selective cutting or careful grazing or terracing.
Erosion rates are high. But erosion rates have always been high. The land will always do this.
Erosion rates are not high because of humans.
Steepest slopes and highest rain rates cause erosion. As do earthquakes.
Terracing may help stop landslides.
Cutting forests may decrease landslides, by forcing water levels lower.
If you cut forests in Nepal, there will still be considerable buffering between these locations.
As the ecotourists, we are having tremendous impacts on local fuel supply.
Local people plant trees because price of wood is high.
Lots of trees planted on terraces for use – willow especially – fast growing trees.
Kind of tree planted depends on use – some for fuel, some for fodder, some to prevent erosion.
And carefully planted to not shade others.
But these are not native trees.
Pine and eucalyptus – very acidic. Very toxic.
Pine are least diverse forests.
Often local people are cut out of decisions.
And local people have a pretty good idea of what is going on.
Things do not side proportionally.
Very little of the erosion into the Ganges is causes by people – most of it is from monsoons.
Where should we help people help humans?
Historical factors that have caused things to be different here than from Nepal.
Bhutan is different from the rest of the Himalaya.
How eco is our ecotourism?
Be more perceptive.
Heavier than usual rain this afternoon.
Manufactured with world famous Danish technology.
Chortens along the wayside.
Water is coming in the windows now – how does it hold up during the monsoon season?
Power. And stuff.
What are we observing now? And how are we observing?
There do not seem to be many mammals. Ravens.
We stood there at the airport in Paro, just off the airplane, on the runway, looking at the valley, out jaws open in awe.
We leave tomorrow morning. And tonight we will party. Just a matter of figuring out how to pack.
What am I thinking right now as I prepare to leave? Foremost, a desire to pack everything, to impose that order in my life. But after that, to have one last great experience here. And to record everything. Still thinking about certain moments that left me in awe. But trying to record new ones, too. And how I would like to see this place during the monsoon.
Everything is packed. And in far less space than I thought it would take – was somehow able to fit the roll of paper in my bag. A sauna today. Ahh. And that nice smell that they infuse the air with.
All packed. Ready for dinner, and night of partying, and thinking.
Wohoo. Birds of Bhutan are pretty cool.
Too much to do – I want to do everything.
Read this far? Only one more part! - How Can One Ever Go Home? Bangkok, Tokyo, Chicago, then Cleveland.