Haa & Juniper Ridge trek.

17 September 2014
Haa & Juniper Ridge trek. Anand Thapa
Wild Flowers that adorn the trail that abound.
Wild Flowers adorn the trail that abound.

Haa and Juniper Ridge trek.
In many words, we did a fair bit of writing about our new product Haa and Juniper Ridge Trek before. To some, it may appear as a marketing gimmick with the way we put the things about this trek in perspective. However, our first taker of the trek Scott Jeong, a young gentleman from Canada has an idea and feed backs that aligned with our faith and belief for this trek as well reiterated that we are in same page in term of add-on value of this trek.

Scott Jeong ( The first among equal for this Trek)
Scott Jeong ( The first among equal for this Trek)

To give life to this trek was a collective efforts and largely by our Research and Development team, who were burning their midnight oil since last one year. This was well researched, surveyed, fairly well documented and significantly based on guests’ needs and likings over the period of time via inquiry and other sources.
The one most common aspect in inquiry that we come across is guests’ suggestions for the trek that has very less crowd and litter free. In the same vein, this trek specifically meets the demands half way and furthermore it’s captivating quaint tranquil charms hold on to guests’ imagination as well as its surrounding’s flora and fauna come in nature’s natural form. These were the reasons that we felt that this trek should be a runaway hits the moment we launched this product.
The first trek commenced from 11 Aug to 22 Aug, 2014. With every first trek, there is naturally an element of apprehension about the way the trek would pan out. As it was in August, and in western part of Bhutan, it is expected monsoon to be on decline or at its lowest. This year around we experience a complete departure from normal course of monsoon. There was a bit unusual weather pattern. The late monsoon kept us in tenterhook and it certainly didn’t help with our apprehension also and at one point we were feeling jittery and tentative like a cat on hot tin roof. Practically we were in parley with Guide over phone to take stock of situation if they encounter any glitches midst.
All the apprehension and jitteriness were laid to rest once we have conversion with Scot Jeong in Paro, the last leg of his tour. He was over the moon with the way the trek unfolded and the experiences he gathered was simply priceless, he said. I must add on that we very much appreciated his gesture to take in his stride in sporting manner the minor glitches that the weather threw in, and he could fairly understand that the culprit was the nature than us.

At the start of trek with Scott at middle flanked by Yonten (Guide) at right and Driver Tshering at left
At the start of trek with Scott at middle flanked by Yonten (Guide) at right and Driver Tshering at left

This is what he has to say an excerpt from his feed backs and insight “A pleasant surprise was when I found out that Wind Horse Travel had arranged a five-star hotel accommodation for me in Punakha- the stay was really nice and I very much appreciated the extra consideration that Ugen and Jambay have given for my special Bhutan trip. Also, I really enjoyed my stay at the Gayul Guest House, where I got to make friends with the host Lhapsel and his cute niece Karmaniya. Lhapsel even made momos for me after he found out that momos are one of my favorite foods. What a beautiful place it was, I really wish I can visit it again in future.
Then came the trekking experience, which was the highlight of my trip. I met the A-team trekking crew, which was made up of the best members that I could have ever wished for. Wangda the cook made food that was tastier than any of the hotels that I visited in Bhutan; the assistance cook Dorji took care of all uneasy jobs throughout the travel; and the horseman Wangdi was unforgettable for his charisma and skills in controlling the horses, and for his comforting presence throughout the trip. Then there was Yonten, who guided and supported me throughout the whole trekking experience, and this was also the time that I got to meet the other members of Wind Horse Travel, the two Pemas and Sonam”

Scott at Archaic wooden cantilever Bridge with imposing Paro Dzong at Backdrop
Scott at Archaic wooden cantilever Bridge with imposing Paro Dzong at Backdrop

Begun with climbing a small monastery located in the middle of the Haa valley mountains, my heart was pumping with each step I took forward. As difficult as the trail proved to be, my spirit was being cleansed with fresh air and immaculate scenery surrounding me. The first day of trekking was very challenging and by the end of it I even felt that I was experiencing some mild altitude sickness. However, it was all good after having some nice warm milk tea followed by delicious dinner at a military soldier’s lodge in the middle of mountains. The warm fire pit we had in the room was definitely a bonus.
Then came the second day, when the other Wind Horse Travel guides joined the group at the top of the Chelula path. The day turned challenging when the weather started to rain. We climbed through the jungle following Wangda the cook who led the way with machete in his hand. At times we had to jump from rocks, and at some point on this day I stopped caring about my socks and shoes getting soaked in the rain. It was a wild experience. However, with the bigger group came greater fun at the camp site, especially with some Ara that Sonam and Yonten had brought for me to the trip.
The third day of trekking was good and we were all lucky to see sunlight for the most part of the day. The hike was moderate compared to the two previous days, until we reached the camp site where a cow farmer had already occupied the space. We decided to continue on to do the 4th day’s hike, which turned the day into another challenging journey. After 9 hrs of total hiking, we arrived at the airplane signal transmitting site, where the two residents greeted us and provided shelter. We had our last supper together and enjoyed the rest of the night (except Yonten, who got a moth trapped in his ear during the night).

View of prayer flags with playful floating clouds at the distance through Scott lens.
View of prayer flags with playful floating clouds at the distance through Scott lens.

The fact that I was the first taker ever on the Haa Valley-Juniper trek was definitely very special for me. Although some of the paths were hard to spot due to heavy fogs, the trekking crew really ensured the safety and wellness of me. Yes, the trekking was physically challenging, especially for the first two days of the hike; and yes, the rain made the trail very muddy which created difficult challenges at times. However, the fact that I was able to really see the untouched nature was priceless, and the fact that there was no sign of pollution – like garbage on the trail – was also a huge bonus for me. I would say that any moderately fit person in between 15 and 45 years of age can handle the trail no problem, although the speed may have to vary depending on each person’s physical conditions. One suggestion I have is to confirm the usability of the camp site ahead of the time, to avoid any unexpectedness like the one I experienced. It was not a big deal for me, but the 9 hrs of hike did feel quite tiring especially near the end of it. I need to highlight again that the trekking crew that accompanied me was truly a gem, and I truly appreciate all the excellent and hard work that they did for me.
Last destination of the trip was Paro, and it definitely topped my expectations at an entirely different level. Hanging out with my new friends from trekking trip – Pema, Sonam in addition to Yonten and Tshering – was the main aspect that made the Paro experience extra special. I played Bhutanese darts and hung out with them in Pema’s restaurant and at his place, which are activities that I will always miss here in Canada. Oh and Yonten and I climbed the Tiger’s Nest in 64 minutes and 66 minutes, respectively, which is a new record set to be challenged by future Wind Horse Travel guides and guests”.
The itinerary undertaken by Scott Jeong below. Though it was slightly customized in order to accommodate cultural sightseeing attractions. Moreover few day of cultural tour in prior provide ample time for acclimatization as well.
Day 1. Arrive in Paro and drive to Thimphu.
Day 2 Thimphu – Punakha
Day 3 Punakha-Thimphu
Day 4. In Thimphu
Day 5. Thimphu-Haa
Day 6 Trek to Gungkabu
Day 7.Trek to Pangkala
Day 8 Trek to Tsendula
Day 9 Tsendula – Dawakha – Paro
Day 10 In Paro (B/L/D)
Day 11 In Paro (Taktshang hike)
Day 12 Departure (B)

The Juniper Ridge that overlooks the majestic Haa Valley below (On Trek)
The Juniper Ridge that overlooks the majestic Haa Valley below (On Trek)