The Owl Trek

So it appears that these Himalayan mountains are somewhat addictive. I find myself on another trek – this time on the 3 day Owl Trek in the Bumthang region of Bhutan. Although at altitude, climbing from 2,900m to its peak at 4,000m, it’s not the most arduous trek we’ve done although again, because it’s at altitude, I end up lacking energy at various points. I’m like an incredibly inefficient car – whatever you put in the tank at breakfast or lunch (which let’s face it, is quite a lot on these treks), I seem to burn it off at an alarming speed and the fuel tank goes to empty pretty quickly requiring refuelling before I can continue the climb! Once refuelled, I’m usually fine again!

But refuelling was not a problem: as well as our guide, we had our own lunch boy with us who carried a tiffin style lunch box complete with 5 different compartments carrying a hot packed lunch comprising the local red rice, a meat stew and 2 vegetable dishes. He also carried a thermos full of hot water allowing us the opportunity to have tea and coffee on demand. Given that the temperatures were a little on the cool side, a hot packed lunch was very welcome indeed served on proper plates with proper cutlery etc. It was akin to being in business class on a flight. Dinner was an equally sumptuous affair: we did not go hungry at any point!

The green dish is wild fern

For quite a lot of the trek, we were actually walking through forest. I guess in a country where 72% of the land is forested (the constitution requires a minimum of 60%), it’s not that much of a surprise that we ended up walking through a lot of wooded areas. Bhutan is apparently also the only country in the world where trees still grow at 4,000m. We saw quite a few rhododendrons in bloom although a lot of them were still yet to flower: apparently there are over 46 different varieties which don’t all bloom at the same time.

When we got out on the Kitephu ridge on day 2, we got a pretty spectacular 360 degree view over 2 valleys (Bumthang Valley and Chumma Valley) as well as over the Himalayan mountains. While the mountains were a little cloudy, the two valleys were both bathed in sun whereas unfortunately we were not so lucky: we must have annoyed the local deity of the mountain (even if only sub consciously) as hail soon started to fall on us. Fortunately, the hail stones here were far smaller (and therefore far less painful) than their counterparts on the Singalila Ridge in Darjeeling in India and so were not too problematic. However, it has to be said that overall we weren’t that lucky with the weather as it was pretty wet throughout, although often the real downpours started after we had arrived at camp.


And yes, we were camping. Forget the previous blog about luxury accommodation, we were a million miles away from that: camping at altitude. Not quite sure how that happened but it was true. It was wet, muddy, rainy and cold but I guess that’s just the normal dictionary definition of camping. Fine for 2 nights but anything longer than that may have tested our resolve a little too far I think. On the first night, we camped in the middle of nowhere having not seen a soul apart from our own party the whole day. Bhutan is so peaceful anyway but while trekking this route, we were pretty much walking in absolute silence, disturbed only by sounds of nature.

L: Day 1 camp site: R: Day 2 camp site (just above a monastery): we slept in the blue tent

Our party comprised us, our guide, the lunch boy, a cook, a horseman and 5 horses who transported all the equipment. The Bhutanese approach to trekking is not to go light on staff (although possibly a little too light on bedding and blankets in my view: unfortunately our camping experience was rather on the cold side it has to be said)

As to the eponymous owls, although we heard them, we were not lucky enough to see any during the trek. We did however see a number of Himalayan monals, a bird which seemed quite similar in colour and size to a peacock. While the males were pretty coy and ran away from us (hence the blurred photo!), one female seemed far more comfortable in her own skin and seemed happy to pose for us. Curious creatures but very beautiful. We also saw a large red stag at one point although no red pandas. All in all, it was a good experience, but as always, nice to return to a decent hot shower (and a proper bed) at the end.

5 to 7 April 2018

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