18 days In Search of Rare Alpine Plants

in-search-of-rare-alpine-plants

Bhutan is a treasure trove of biological diversity with an unparalleled richness of diverse plants due to the varied altitude and climatic conditions present in the country. This fragile ecosystem has remained unspoiled due to the conservation efforts of the Bhutanese people and government. Today 70 percentage of the Kingdom’s total area has been designated as protected natural reserves.

About the Trek         

On a typical trekking day, you will be woken early by a member of our camp crew for some hot tea, followed by a bowl of hot washing water. You will have breakfast around 7.30am and be ready an hour later for the day’s walking and botanising at an unhurried but steady pace. We will stop for about an hour for a hot lunch and will usually arrive at our next campsite by about 4.30 pm. On days when we are moving camp, our crew will pack up the tents, load our gear on horses and have the new camp ready for our arrival. A hot drink will be ready when we arrive followed by washing water and our evening meal.

Fitness                       

It is essential that participants undertake regular walking in the months leading up to the start of this special trek. It involves a significant amount of climbing to high altitudes in quite remote country. Previous experience of multi-day trekking as well as of extended periods camping and botanising in mountains over 3000 m is desirable.

It is accepted practice in Bhutan for a Guide to assess trek participants as to their physical fitness, and their ability to undertake what is ahead. In the event of serious concern he will stop and possibly turn back those who are not considered capable of the undertaking.

Acclimatization         

Every effort is made to allow gradual acclimatisation to the high altitude experienced, but even very fit people may suffer from altitude sicknes. On this trek we will be camping at over 4700 m and there will be an opportunity to go to 5000 m – so this must be borne in mind.

You should check with your own doctor as to what medications you should bring with you for a high altitude trek of this kind.
If anyone does suffer badly due to the altitude, they will need to lose height rapidly and one of our guides will descend with you on a shorter route.

Weather                    

At valley level it is likely to be warm and possibly humid, with temperatures dropping markedly as we climb up into the mountain passes. However, mountain weather is unpredictable and it is difficult to forecast in areas rarely visited. Both rain and snow may be expected at times.

Plants                        

Approaching the highest levels on the trek there are extensive screes with pink flowered Eriophytum wallichii, Meconopsis horridula (with electric blue flowers, yellow anthers, in racemose and scapose forms), M.discigera in its deep blue flowered form, Corydalis cashmeriana, Saxifraga andersonii and Androsace tapete, the nodding yellow flowers of Cremanthodium thomsonii, Bhutanthera himalayana and many other exciting plants. Near the passes are Saussurea gossipiphora, S. tridactyla, Primula macrocalyx, Gentiana urnula, Tanacetum gossypinum and compact Fritillaria delavayi.

Along the paths between camp sites we will see Lamiophlomis rotata, Meconopsis primulina, Thermopsis barbata, Pedicularis siphonantha, Primula sikkimensis, P. alpicola, P. calderiana, P. capitata, P. bellidifolia, P. walshii and Sausurrea obvallata. In slightly damper areas, Pedicularis longiflora var. tubiformis , P. integrifolia, Primula tibetica, P. sappharina, Saxifraga lychnitis and S. melanocentra occur.

On well drained slopes at high altitude may be found Soroseris hookeriana, Cyananthus macrocalyx, C. incanus, C.lobatus, Rheum nobile, Swertia multicaulis, Anemone rupicola, pink & white Arenarias and several species of Rhodiola, while in the protection of the bushes are Lilium nanum (in yellow and purple forms), Meconopsis sinuata, M.simplicifolia and Fritillaria cirrhosa.

In addition to these plants of open habitats, we shall see some of the most pristine Himalayan woodland, with a wealth of trees, and herbaceous plants such as Maianthemum oleraceum acuminatum, Primula geraniifolia, Thalictrum chelidonii, Cardiocrinum giganteum, Notholirion macrophyllum, Megacodon stylophorus and sevaral species of Arisaema.

Day 1: PARO (L/D)

Upon arrival at Paro International airport, you will be met by your specialist botanical guide . In the afternoon explore the beautiful town of Paro.

Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Paro.

Day 2: TAKTSANG MONASTERY OR TIGER’S NEST – THIMPHU (B/L/D)

After breakfast, take a short drive to the base of the famous Taktshang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest, which clings to a sheer rock face at a height of 2600m above sea level. The climb is quite steep, but ponies are available for those who feel they cannot make the climb themselves.

The main temple was built around Guru Rinpoche’s meditation cave in 1684 This incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock face which plunges 900 meters into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 747 AD, flew here on the back of a flying tiger, Dorje Drolo.

After lunch, visit Ta Dzong an ancient watchtower, which now houses the National Museum.  Below the museum is the Rinpung Dzong (literally meaning “Heap of Jewels”), the centre of civil and religious authority in this valley, built in 1646.

Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Paro.

Day 3-16: PARO – JHOMOLHARI – PARO (B/L/D)

Today set out on the Yaksa Trail. Trek through rice paddies, then through magnificent woodlands steadily gaining height as you follow the course of the Pachhu, the snow-melt swollen river. By the end of the third day you will come out of the forests and into high alpine pastures, screes and rocky terrain. Spectacular views over the Himalayan mountains now come into view. Overnight campsites have been selected to allow a sensible pacing by distance and a measured increase in camp heights. However, having climbed to 4000 m in only three days, you will now spend two nights at this altitude to prepare for further climbs into the mountains. The mountain scenery is stunning with the great bulk of Mount Jhomolhari at 7314m and the deeply fluted snow spire of Jichu Drake at 6989m dominating the skyline. After a day examining the varied plant life near our camp, you will start to climb higher into the mountain peaks to the next camp in a high corrie at 4730m. You will spend two nights here and a full day exploring the varied plant habitats from wet meadows to rocky outcrops. On the following day, you should reach the Nyilela Pass at around 5000m where the screes provide home for many wonderful plants.

The next morning you will cross into another high valley with many more wonderful botanical finds. From here you will track south over three more high passes, the Bontela, the highest at 4980m (called Pangtela in Fletcher’s ‘A Quest of Flowers’), Takhungla and Thombula to arrive back at the first camp site in the river valley before a final day’s walk out.

These passes were all visited by Frank Ludlow in 1949 and few have had the opportunity of looking at the plant life here since then.

Day 16: END OF TREK – DRUKGYEL DZONG – THIMPHU (B/L/D)

On the last day of our trek, you will have a relatively easy half day’s walk though rough and rocky, but downhill terrain. You will once again be able to see crops being grown before arriving at Drukgyel Dzong. There a vehicle will be waiting to take you to your hotel in

Dinner and over night at your hotel in Thimphu.

Day 17: THIMPHU AND THE SACRED WANG CHHU VALLEY (B/L/D)

Breakfast at your hotel, then a scenic drive into the upper reaches of the Wang Chhu Valley which is home to both the Tango and Cheri Monasteries. Here you will have the chance to visit one or both of these amazing monasteries which are located high on adjacent hillsides surrounded by lush forests.

Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.

Day 18: THIMPHU – PARO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (B)

After breakfast drive to Paro International Airport for your departure from Bhutan.

Cost on request