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2013 Bhutan – Village of Ura

Monday, October 21 -  Wednesday, October 23 ~ Ura and Thrumshing National Park

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After a full morning at the festival in the Jakar area we departed for the picturesque town of Ura. We made stops along the route, getting out of the bus at regular intervals to walk along the road and search for birds in the Ura Valley where we  overnighted at a very simple guest lodge.  Ura is a large, compact, and quite wealthy agricultural village since the advent of potato farming that is on the eastern edge of the district of Bumthang. It has an attractive temple and cobblestone “streets.”

Our lodge was very basic, a large farmhouse with over-sized rooms and a common area with a wood-burning stove… thankfully, because at 10,000 feet, the house was cold and the water-bottles provided for our beds were a welcome treat. Our hostess, with the help of her 4 sons, provided us with a wonderful home-cooked meal complete with our first sampling of dried Yak meat which turned out to be too chewy to be edible. This proved to be our most primitive lodging not including our camping experiences.

Lodging: Trashi Norling Guest House in Ura Tuesday – Wednesday, October 22 – 23 ~ To Yongkhola for mobile camping

The following morning we headed further south into Thrumshing National Park, mainly cool broadleaf and fir forest. The stretch of road from the Thrumsing La at 12,435 feet down to 2,000 feet at Yongkhola is considered to offer the best birding in Asia. At lunch, we met for the first time, the mobile camp staff and the blue-tarpolined truck that accompanied us on the rest of the trip. A welcome sight after several hours bumping along disreputable roads was the truck, the picnic table set for a delicious picnic meal, and the green tent! Each encounter with the truck was accompanied by incredible views sometimes along the roadside, in mountain passes under canopies of prayer flags, on a river bank, and even in the midst of a yak herder settlement (if you want to call it that…. ). A 6 a.m. breakfast at 13,000 feet on the last day with incredible views of the snow-bound mountain peaks in the distance was the best! The truck was a necessity since there were no other sources of reliable eating places in the remoter areas we traveled. The other necessity, the green tent, also provided another ‘private’ service complete with toilet paper and a seat otherwise we had to make due with a rock or a bush roadside.

We arrived at our mobile camp already set up by Hishey’s excellent camp staff, who prepared wonderfully delicious cuisine, including hot breakfasts and picnic lunches served in the field throughout the trip. The weather at this elevation was pleasant and not too cold. While camping at Yongkhola, we explored the wonderfully rich, subtropical, warm broadleaved forest along the lower section of this road (8,000 to 2,000 feet). There was also the small village of Yongkhola, in the middle of the best warm broadleaved habitat. On one of our walks, we encountered a group of girls who were working as the local road maintenance crews, giggling as we took their pictures. On this same walk, I encountered a woman with her back strap loom in the process of weaving a kira (women’s skirt) that she would take several weeks to complete. The similarity to the backstrap looms of Peru, Equador and Bolivia is astounding.

Here we encountered Golden Langur and many birds. The lowland boundary of this ecosystem is at the Kuru Chu Bridge, close to Yongkhola, at 2,000 feet and the highland boundary is at Thrumshing La at well over 12,000 feet. The concept of a national park in Bhutan is to sustain both the people living there and the diversity of habitats and wildlife.

The main road traverses the park and is used for transportation of goods as well as for the agrarian society that has traditionally lived in this huge ecosystem. Every 5 km. of road had its own road maintenance workers and their families who lived in nearby road camps. Using primitive tools, men and women alike broke up rocks to fill pot holes, hoe-like tools to clean out gutters, and switch brooms of straw and sometimes branches with leaves to sweep away the debris. They are commonly referred to as ‘road dentists’.

On the way back up the valley, we found a rock slide had blocked the road. It must have just happened as there were no vehicles in the viscinity. Our driver, Pala, used a mallet to break up the rock and move it to the side of road so our bus could pass. Exciting!

The elevation at Yongkhola is 1,700 meters or 5,576 feet.
Camping: Mobile Camping at Yongkhola

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