Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How to reach Merak valley under Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary

Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary comprise of Merak and Sakteng Gewogs under Trashigang district. Merak valley is approximately 5 hours drive from Trashigang town. Start of the journey will be greeted by majestic Trashigang Dzong overlooking the Dangmechu River flawlessly making its way via deep narrow gorge formed over the eons.
Trashigang Dzong (photo credit Google)

An hour drive through the Chir Pine forest along the bank of Gamrichu River, travelers will reach the satellite town of Ranjung.  At Ranjung one must not miss to visit the Rangjung Woesel Choling Monastery of Dhujom Dharma Linage founded by the H.E.  Garab Rinpoche. Town experiences maximum number of visitors at the month of February to attend annual Drupchen and unique Tsechu organized by the Monastery.
Ranjung Woesel Choling Monastery (photo credit Google)

Ranjung town is located in the base of deep Chir Pine valley and it’s humid and hot during the summer. It is the nearest town from where nearby settlements of Radhi, Phonmgey, Changmey, Chaling, Merak and Sakteng comes for shopping.
Taking a right turn from main gate of the monastery, travelers needs to take uphill journey via middle of the paddy field of Radhi valley for another 30  minutes before stopping at Khardung village.  Radhi is famous for their local rice throughout the nation and the valley is term as Rice bowl of the eastern Bhutan. Summer journey will be welcomed with lush green paddy fields and in autumn valley comes to life with conspicuous beauty formed by different colors and atmosphere filled with fresh aroma of the matured grains. 
Valley of Phongmey and Radhi
Kardung Nunnery is an institute under the management of H.E Garab Rinpoche. It is surrounded by the mixture of oak forest and premises consist of monastery with finely prepared Buddhist arts and not less than hundred nuns practice the Buddhism. From the wide open veranda of the monastery a beautiful terraced valley of Phongmey can be viewed.
Bumpy ride take its toll with end of blacktopped road from Khardung village.  From the junction, Merak is approximately 37 kilometers which is equivalent to 3 hours zigzag uphill drive over an unpaved farm road. There are two different road which leads to Merak; road via Charbaling and road via Shetemy.  Road via Charbling is shorter by few kilometers but slippery at time of rain and snow in comparison to the road via Shetmey. Therefore, it is not advisable to ply the former unless the travelers are interested to explore beautiful grazing land of Charbaling. Both the roads are pliable only with 4WD vehicles with higher ground clearance.
Road network to Merak 

Road via Shetimey: About 5 km drive from the junction, travelers will reach Toksingmang village and from there with additional 3 to 4 km drive a milestone scribbled with the word Zhukthri will be visible. If you are traveling by local taxi, driver or co-passenger might make you aware of the place if not Zhukthrii literally means the couch or resting chair and it is associated with the legend of Ama Jomo.  Presence of stone resembling the couch surrounded by many prayer flags above the road is consider as a resting seat  of Amo Jomo thus the place derived its name.  
Progressing with uphill drive, gradual transition of the vegetation types will be distinct with warm broadleaved to cool broadleaved and later entering to Rhododendron forest at Shetemy and Fir zone at Merak at an altitude of 3500 m. 
Sighting of various kind of blossom along the roadside and air filled with pleasant aroma of Magnolia make traveler forget about the bumpy ride.
Rhododendron blossoms

More or less halfway to the Merak, traveler will reach to wide open grazing land of Shetemy. It is a winter grazing land of Merak and is surrounded by the Rhododendrons with mesmerizing scenic beauty. If travelers are in need of rest, Shetemy is one of the best places to consider resting while enjoying the beauty.
From Shetemy, travelers will also see the grazing land of Charbaling with several huts above major land slides.
After a near to hour drive through icy atmosphere, traveler will reach to Mindu-laptsa. Literally laptsa means a pass in local dialect and Mindu-laptse is one of the pass located at approximately 3500 m altitude in between Merak and Shetemy. On reaching the pass every first time visitor to Merak valley should sing or dance to please Ama Jomo as Merak falls under her jurisdiction. So, if you are planning to visit Merak I would suggest getting yourself prepared with a song or dance. Doesn’t matter what kind of song you want to sing the choice is yours but somehow you cannot escape. Ama Jomo is known be a local deity of the region and entering the valley without honoring her by singing or dancing is believed to bring bad weather in the valley making your trip unpleasant.  So, during your visit if someone requests you to sing or dance do not get upset because it is a part of their local tradition.
Stone work on the way to Merak 

Following a brief singing or dancing at Mindu-laptsa and about an hour drive along the Nyerama river valley, you will reach Gyengo village located a miles away from the Merak village. “Gyengo” literally means a “on the head of the steep landscape” and was derived from its strategic location right at the end of the steep track prior to the road connectivity.  
Ten minutes drive from Gyengo through wide open alpine landscape you will finally reach to striking valley of Merak, a land of Brokpa. Brokpa are the inhabitants of Merak and Sakteng who are known for their distinct culture and tradition in the region.

Limited words of mine   and photographs can hardly portray the beauty and uniqueness of the Merak located in heart of the alpine valley. So, it will be worth one should visit and feel the beauty and uniqueness of the valley which still shows no influence of western culture.
Merak village

In Merak there is a camping facility for the visitors who are fond of outdoor camping and farm house/homestay for those who wish to experience Brokpa’s way of living. Nominal fees will be charged for availing both types of facilities to help communities generate revenue from the tourism.
Outdoor camping facilities 
P.S: Non national tourist has to pay Nu. 1000.00 as special permit fee to visit Merak  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Water fall on the way to Khasiteng from Merak. Few kilometer away from the base of the Serkemla pass

On the way towards Merak valley. Work of Meme Annu

Joenkhar Range office 

Exterior of Kurji Zangdo-pelri

Jambay lhakhang, Bumthang 

Merak valley at 3500 m 

Light and a shutter speed

"Brokpa" the people in RED

Thrumshing-la pass

Zangdo-pelri at Kurji, Bumthang. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dra-yang: an entertainment business boomed by darkness & my wonder

I wonder how our forefathers would have reacted, had there been a Drayang culture back then. But people of the 21st century define it as a way of life regardless of the harsh reality and its taking a drastic growth.
During my recent visit to one of the urban areas, I had an opportunity to visit few of such entertainment centres along with my friends
Room decorated with dim lights, bar at one cozy corner and a mini theater at strategic location in front of which a line of furniture neatly placed and a wall with noise absorption mechanism is how one can visualize if someone is talking about a Drayang. When it comes to theater it is never deprived of its own unique decoration: colorful lightings, noisy sound system and a portrait of Monarchs hanging over the walls along with set of table and chair reserved for MC adjacent to the theater.    
Hall comes to life with music and dances on arrival of costumers with onset of evening hours and goes on till late night. Soon hall get crowded with costumers who come there with various intentions: some come to take pleasure in dances performed by the artists, some to drink and chat and few to exploit the young artists if possible.
Wrapped in tight fitting outfits made from usual Bhutanese formal dress finely touched with modern designers, young artist perform their best to gain more attention of their valued customers. I prefer referring the term “artist” to those girls who perform on the stage to entertain male dominated customers as they are dancers. The more they can please the customers; more sponsorship to perform will be reserved on particular performer’s name. So, I prefer calling   valued customers; because one has to pay not less than Nu. 200 per sponsorship which is shared between owner of the Drayang and a performer. From such a sharing mechanism it is obvious that more the sponsorship, higher the cash for both the parties.

Drinks are served on customers demand but should be mindful that service comes with a cost: a bottle of beer will cost you not less than Nu. 100 but free catering done by those innocent artists struggling to get sponsorship. In most of the Drayang, book and pen will accompany your drinks along with catering girls.  With innocent smile on their highly constructed face, artist will greet you with your drinks; bill and excuse herself to sit next to you for a moment. Then there she goes: flip the pages in her book and with a pen in front of you “Sir would you be kind enough to sponsor me to dance, because tonight I couldn’t get much. Minimum amount you have to pay is Nu. 200 and with that I will perform for you on the stage.” Literally she starts nagging until you accept her proposal of by paying the cash and scribbling your name on sponsorship column on her book. With satisfaction she leaves from your side but at least she never forgets to genuinely thank for sponsorship. At such moment, it is not very uncommon to sight some customers attempting to physically harass those performers helplessly sitting adjacent to them with hope of getting sponsorship.
Meantime, MC will be announcing your name as a sponsor for particular dance and goes a dance with music by artist whom you have sponsored a while ago. Dances are dominantly performed  based on contemporary Bhutanese music but seldom you can also see them performing on bollywood music.
Artist comprise of young girls probably dropout from unprivileged families. From their physical appearance, one can make out that they belong to age gradation of twenties. At times, I suspect even underage girls are employed as an artist in such entertainment centre. Physical appearances seem to be one of the prime criteria to be employed in such business besides of dancing skill.
Twenties can be literally considered as a productive age in Bhutanese society with life expectancy of not more than sixty five years but vulnerable should there be no proper guidance. 

Artist employed in entertainment business falls within such age group, who are practically exposed to scenario beyond their age. Using tobacco and alcohol is not uncommon to witness along with illegal prostitution up to some extent to supplement their little earned cash. Seldom one can hear the cases of artist seeking for abortion to do away with the illegitimate pregnancies occurred from the illicit relationship with their customers or a night stand with strangers under the influence of cash or false promises of providing her a better way of living.  
I wonder:
Where these artists will go and what they will do for decent living once they can no more work in such entertainment business because of their age and declining physical strength to perform a dance till late night?
Are there any schemes which ensure their after retirement benefit?
Are there any rules or organization dedicated for the welfare of those artists?
Why those young groups of artist consider working in Drayang as viable option of livelihood though it’s against their family’s opinion?

Under which category do those artists fall according to Ministry of Labour and Human Resource’s statistics on employment issue? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The lost tender love

Heavenly eye rising just above the mighty mountains surrounding the settlement located deep inside the valley resembled almost like a dead town with no much upcoming settlements regardless of proper town planning. Street light erected on every road side and a few concrete buildings standing majestically in between the square blocks formed by crisscross roads reminded me of the mighty Egyptian pyramids in the middle of the lifeless desert. Extremities in a temperature ranging from below 10oC to more than 35oC during winter and summer respectively were the scenario of Tingtibi town a decade ago. As told every coin has two sides, despite of its lifeless scenario from frequent visitor’s perspective, permanent resident of the town sees it from other part of the angle leading to its own charm. 

One fine summer morning of the year 2003, I was taking a walk through the outskirt of the settlement with one of my friend on the way to my brother’s house located on other side of the Mangde chu. Being a boarding student of YMSS, which was five kilometre away on a hilltop from the town, we were allowed to move out of campus only during the weekends. Although I have walked for countless time via same route in different occasions, I have never anticipated something unusual will be sighted.

Hair fasten behind, resembling pony tail, pent folded to her knees with her half face hidden behind the cloth which she was trying to hang on the rope stretch in front of her house is how I have seen her for the first time. For a moment my eyes were focused on her with a hope to see her entire face but unluckily she disappeared behind the cloth and by the time I could adjust myself in different angle, she was already gone inside her house with an empty bucket in her hand. On the way forward I was lost with thoughts about her despite my friend trying his best to talk with me. Thoughts like how she must be looking? Who she must be? And started constructing her beautiful face in my mind on the basis of what I have seen and how pretty she will be looking when she smile.

Weekend passed away with our reporting back to respective hostels, and week days were as usual with regular classes. Although, I was physically present in the class and hostel, mentally I was haunted by the unusual incident of the weekend and couldn’t concentrate in any of the ongoing daily activities. But hopefully I was not acting weird as my friends never noticed any changes in my behaviors.

Following weekend, desperately with hope of seeing her I visited the town but returned back with zero success. Then and there my hopes and determination to see her was shattered into pieces thinking that she must have been a visitor who might have come to visit relatives of her and was a coincidence for me to sight her a week ago.

Being a timid boy, I never visited any other classes or hardly mingled with newcomers of our school, particularly with the girls. Every year, couple number of new students use to get enrolled in seventh and ninth grade after graduating from various primary and lower   schools.

Without much knowledge of how other people will react I shared about the incident to one of my close friend who was also accompanying me during that weekend. With no much visible expression of surprise in his oval shaped face, he flatly told me that I am in love with that girl and she is his childhood friend who is among one of the newcomer in ninth grade but I tried to defend myself saying it’s not love rather I just admire her beauty. Because beauty are to be admired and there is no harm admiring it. Being young and middle secondary school student with almost childish thinking, it seems I was unable to differentiate between loves and admire making me unable to digest the comment of my friend who was few years older than me in spite of our same grade.

 Mr. Subbha, talented athlete, good fighter, extrovert and more important is a close friend of mine, never stopped teasing me with  Dechen, an angle of my little heart, the day after I have disclosed him about the incident which was supposed to be  a secret between us. And most embarrassing moment was when he shared every secret with her without my notice. Lots of things were done by him without my prior notice right under my nose but in reality I appreciated what he was doing and changes happening in and around me.  Busy matchmaker could be a right term to describe him by then.

Since I was timid, Subbha use to woo her for me by visiting her class and sharing my feeling whenever he is free and towards the night back at our hostel, sitting on double storied bunk infested with creepy bed bucks waiting to suck its share of blood from our pale body, he used to share about every second he have spent with her and their conversation of the day. Although it might sound funny I use to enjoy a lot listening to his talk and feel as if ‘m listening to her not him.

It went on for almost a month or two and one pleasant afternoon, surprisingly two of her best friends appeared in front of my class room signalling me to come along with them. The very moment, my heart beat started accelerating beyond normal pace and I followed them unwillingly towards the flower garden surrounded by guava trees.  Without much hint, keeping me standing in middle of them, one of them seriously asked me with an unexpected question. Making eye contact with mine, with her soft tone she questioned “Do you genuinely love our friend Dechen” and left with an option to say just yes or no. For a moment literally I got blushed and thoughts scattered without anything to answer. After few second I manage to answer by nodding my head. Then another question bombarded over before I could speak, “Then are you ready to be in relation with her”. The moment I heard the question I was expecting someone to pop up to interrupt two of them interrogating me like a police but no one appeared. Left with very narrow option I constantly replied them with affirmative answer without giving much thought over it; after all I felt that I was desperately in love with her.  Before two of them left me without further interrogation I noticed a faint smile of satisfaction on their faces. Both of them were newcomer with whom I wasn’t much friendly and I started examining them from the back when they were moving few meters ahead of me. From their physical maturity I was pretty sure that they were plus one or two years elder to me, by then just fifteen years old boy. 

Despite I have been formally introduced and literally we were into relationship after genuinely accepting my proposal, I was always shy of her and never had courage to date her. Comparatively she was much more courageous and in several occasions, she tried her best to approach me to make conversation but all I could do was to get away from the scene making a lame excuses. Even then, I never missed to see her face once a day every time during the school days although I hardly talk with her because of my timidity, an inborn character.  Unlike me, she was a day scholar staying at Tingtibi town which exempt her from several routine activities of the boarding life and weekends use to be charmless without a chance to see her smile.

Month or more after being into a typical love affair, we exchanged our photos. The very first photo of her that she sent to me is still with me being treasured in my old photo archive. Whenever I see the photo of her in a red T-shirt holding a child of her sibling and a sentence scribbled on the back of the photo.
                   Yours new Pal
One day she sent her auto writing book so that I could fill up the provided questions in that book. Although maintaining of such books were a sort of fashion during that time, I was never interested nor did I participated in filling up the question from any of such books. So, Subbha started filling up the blanks for me with his clean girlish handwriting seldom bothering me when it was regarding my personal details but most embarrassing and a funniest thing was that he wrote “SONS” in a space demanding to write one’s zodiac signs. That time neither did I had knowledge about zodiac signs and immediately question him to clarify my doubt but landed up with his dubious answer. In reality “SONS” never were among the universally accepted zodiac signs, in fact I belong to “SAGITTRUS”.  Hope she must have laughed a lot while seeing new zodiac sign created by two of us.

As usual summer vacation was over with nothing new happened rather than the hot weather and seldom heavy rainfall worsening the highway connecting Gelephu settlement with rest of the central Bhutan. Although it’s a natural tendency of the student not willing to return back to boarding school from the vacation but this time I was eagerly waiting to return back to school so as to quench thirst of loneliness by being around her. On my way back to the school I took a conch shell and gifted her; in fact it was a first time I have ever gifted. The shell was carved with single sentence denoting “DON’T FOREGT ME”.

Regardless of not dating or getting involved into decent conversation, our relation was bit typical with its own charm as compared to the normal scenario of what happens in relationship. Frequently she uses to drop me a message with her friend, fully written in a code word with a key to break the code and derive content of the message.  Though, it was difficult for me to break the code despite the provided keys as I wasn’t familiar with such coding. But deriving the message from coded letter was one of the most cherishing parts of our relationship. 

Year passed by as usual and we graduated from tenth grade. Although, she managed to secure a good score; she couldn’t qualify for the government school unlike me.

Coming year she took an admission to one of the private school in Phuentsholing which was several hundred miles away from Zhemgang where I was supposed to continue my education. Geopolitically, Zhemgang was located in central Bhutan and Phuentsoling at extreme south west.

Cellular phones were in initial stage during 2005 with its connectivity in just few major urban areas and were not affordable as a student from a humble family. And using normal telephone from PCO was comparative expensive in terms of tariff.

Now, gap between us seem to be getting wider which couldn’t be filled with our seldom exchanged letter. Those times, exchanging letters with photographs in it were never encouraged in the school and privacy was out of question. Prior to intended recipient of the letter, teachers use to open the envelope and check the content in it. 
By the time we graduated from higher secondary education, I totally lost contact with her.  Nor did she try to keep in contact with me.

A fine evening while I was surfing a Facebook during my 2nd year as an undergrad student in India, I was going through a list of new friend suggestion in my home page.   
From a long queue of friend list I was thrilled to see her among others. With quick reflex I immediately added her to my friend list without much delay and any second thought.
Later, on online chatting with her via Facebook I came to know that she was also pursuing graduation in one of the Indian institute but in different state which was very far away from the place where I was studying.

Again after more than two years of without contact, finally we could keep in touch with each other both by social network and phone but not as a lover instead as a good friend.

On obtaining her successful degree in the field of Arts, currently she is employed in one of the private firm and living happily with her hubby and a kid. On contrary, I got employed as a civil servant and still hopelessly waiting for perfect lady to magically popup in my life which will never happen other than in a cinema. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


New Year Eve – 31st Dec, 2014
People were busy planning for New Year eve celebration, few talked about year to be gone and a hope from the coming year and youths expecting night to fall early so that they can attend the rarely organized disco party.

But we were in our first day journey in search of the elusive wild beast in silent valleys beyond tree line. Towards the evening in our camping site in a  hut at base of Gangsa-gungsa pass, we made a bonfire not to celebrate but warm ourselves from extremely cold weather beneath clear sky. Meanwhile, we drank a brandy to relieve form exhaustion and talked about how joyfully we could have celebrated the eve, had we been back at home with rest of the family and friends.

New Year – 1st Jan, 2015
Wishing: Few kilometers away from first camping site, we reached Gerkhu from where Sakteng valley was visible along with the snow capped mountain of Arunachal Pradesh behind it. B-mobile network was accessible and friends rested for a while busy calling their love ones to wish a New Year. They ringed from the steady position as mobile signal was quite weak and restricted to some position only. Since our New Year eve was in a field, friends were interested in talks about how their love ones made eve back at home in their absence. I saw a smile on my team member’s face, while being able to wish and get wished a new year (2015) from families and friends back at home.
At very moment, all were happy and forgot the hardship they faced climbing Gangsa Gungsa ( 4100 m asl)  passage the day earlier while journeying from Merak valley and more hardship to come when we further venture into the extreme border to the India.
Our next campsite for tonight was at Sukteng, a place several hours journey though the path cutting the mid valley of the rugged mountain. We split into a team of two groups, group comprising of three of us took a ridge top path and rest walk towards the Sukteng with extra luggage of ours carried by them. Team following ridge top was meant for surveying and looking for the signs of snow leopard and their primary prey like blue sheep.

Following the ridge top of the rugged mountains, we walked for entire day covering aerial distance of almost 3km. While looking for the signs along transect (ridge top), the feaces containing berries (Berberis spp), some red colored chili resembling fruits and at times undigested chili were in frequent encounter. Instantly we couldn’t identify the species and collected the sample.
Below, in the mid valley others friends reached our camping site but to their dismay , the hut was very far from the water source and neither there was any snow nearby to replace the water for cooking tonight. Though exhausted, they travelled to next suitable camping site at Thangpoche, which was literally located behind a mountain that was majestically overlooking the Shukteng valley. It was another additional 3 to 4 hours uphill journey for them with extremely heavy luggage without a proper lunch to eat.
When we saw them walking through a narrow steep path via our binocular from the apex of 4350m high mountain top, our heart ached and felt sorry for our struggling friends. But there was no way we could lent them our helping hand as we too were exhausted travelling rugged ridge top under windy atmosphere and with our little remaining energy we are left with another 2.5 km aerial distance  to be surveyed before reaching a camp.

Lungzang Nagtsog (4350 m asl): I was overlooking the majority of the peaks in pale yellowish color along with a trace of accumulated snow in northern aspect, and a home to a numerous frozen lakes  from the apex of the mountain were I was resting. The glaciered peaks of the India are seen sparkling on the strike of rays of scorching heavenly eyes behind from us.
Alpine scree characterized the dark boulders of varying size stacked flawlessly above the grassland was lying silently beneath my resting place which literally made me sense like a giant and mountains as a miniature toys.   
Twins of Lungchepa tso along with few huts and a Thangpoche tso in a frozen state were vivid from the apex.
Lartso: An hour later, we reached Tso Garbu Lartso a place with three different lakes situated adjacent to each other. They differ in size and a color, the largest among them is a Merakpa lartso, followed by Saktengpa and the smallest is a lartso of Botpa. But in terms of color, Botpa lartso is darker in comparison to other two. Local consider that color indicates the wealth and dark is the representation of wealthy nature.  
We watched Tso Garbu Lartso by resting on Papthra top, which I would consider as best vantage point for enjoying the scenario of the Lartso which were surrounded by the Alpine scree in three side and remaining north facing aspect with lush green Rhododendron scrub.
Peaceful was the wide open valley were we walked at our maximum pace to make at our camp before dark falls, so was the sun setting behind the mountain and moon in its early rise to illuminate the lifeless valley in their own pace.

Geology: Grasses were yellowish and dry, lakes frozen and hardly visited by any wildlife at this cold season, the valley was silent and lifeless but not charmless. Geological formation at such a high altitude has a variety to be showcased; on our way towards Thangpoche (campsite for tonight) the gentle sloped valley was full of a foot tall mud projection from the ground that resembles thousand of real miniature mountains lying in front of us. I couldn’t comprehend what was that feature all about and how they might have formed which was distinct from rest of the valley I have visited till date.

Exploration – 2nd Jan, 2015
After a tiresome day long survey along rugged ridge top, I wished for a sound sleep at the night in silent lifeless open valley. But wishes remained as a wish only, when docile atmosphere in such an altitude (above 4000 m asl) is short lived and are unpredictable. Late night inside 8 men tent, we could hardly sleep with profound snoring made by the fellow mate and worsen by the ghostly gusty wind striking now and then on the tent pitched in open ground making a variety of loud banging sound.  The night was terrible except for our local guides who preferred sleeping inside a hut.
It was our second day that we didn’t wash our face as water was scarce in high altitude during the dry winter season and has to be fetched from quite a far distance but at least managed to waste a cup of water to brush our teeth thinking that it might stink.
On day break, we had a heavy breakfast as everybody was aware that no lunch will be served in a field and has to depend on 2 packets of Perli-G biscuit, a Wai Wai noodle and a bottle of black tea provided to individuals before dispersing from base camp.
This time, further the group was subdivided into three sub groups. Two subgroups were assigned to survey different grids which were in different direction and remaining group comprising of two members were assigned to guard the base camp along with other chores like fetching of firewood and water.
Sub group led by Mr. Jangchuk volunteered to survey the grids located towards Phothongkorong side and remaining towards Zere and Zeredonglok.
My group: Our plan for the day was to trek and survey ridge tops of Kateng –po Phodrang, a mighty mountain formed by the unstably stacked stones of Himalayan scree. After more than an hour walk, at around 8:20 am, we started our climb from the base (near to 4100 m asl). As mandatory, we marked the base as starting point of transect to be surveyed by recording necessary information in a provided format.
Just few meters move from the start point, we were thrilled to spot faeces of the secondary predator, which was quite new.  With hope of more signs to be encountered, our team happily started the survey through rugged ridge top.
It took us almost three hours to reach the apex of the mountain where climbing was started before the golden sun rays stroked the valley. During the three hours uphill trek and survey, we could come in direct encounter with a Pika and scats of secondary predators but still no signs of snow leopard or their primary preys despite a potential habitat.

Kateng-po Phodrang (4250m) was a peak of the mountain on which we were surveying. From that vantage point of the Phodrang, our base camp was visible alike to a blue spot in the middle of a pale yellowish surrounding.  Through the Bushnell binocular we could see camp guarding friends collecting firewood from the dead scrubs of Juniper. Owing to the extremities of the place and height, places like Shar Tenzin Ganng at Aurnachal Pradesh were visible without any visual aids. Indian mobile network was in full access but couldn’t make a call with our sim card.
On top of very rugged mountain any minute ready to compromise with the skidding of the unstably stacked stones if walking carelessly; Kateng-po (local deity) Phodrang ( Palace) was marked with Chorten like structure constructed by the herders with piling stones. Chorten of my height (5.3 ft) tall stands proudly overlooking the valley facing snowcapped Jomo kungkhor (Abode of lady Aum Jomo) range. Stone of several feet tall and vertically erected in the nearby surrounding resembles the standing army genuinely guarding the Phodrang from a distant view.
Several meter before we actually entered those erected stones, our local guide paid his homage to the deity by offering a tea and a biscuit from his bag on a flat stone as he belong to those locality and instructed us that dirtying of the nearby area of the Phodrang with any human waste is unacceptable and will bring in bad weather if done so. 
After a brief rest on the top, we started to descend in to ridge leading to other side of the mountain from where we can start surveying Zere and Zeredong-lok. With every vertical climb, every component of the nature is noticed changing.  Air becomes thinner making difficult to breath, depth of soil becomes thin with exposed rocky cliffs and screes, height of the trees becomes shorter and results to the growth of scrubs, mostly south facing aspect with dry barren grassland with rock outcasts, on other hand, northern aspect with lush green rhododendron scrub of more than a meter tall with very moist ground surface.
In most of the south facing aspect, sporadic growth of Juniper scrub is seen dominating the rest of the allied species like Rhododendron anthropogon (Balu) and R. setosum (Sulu) are found in this locality. They consist of Balu, Sulu (Rhododendron spp) and Adrung karpo (white scentless fungal).

While I was resting on a ridge top, I could not endure pain of witnessing the peaks without a snow at this time of year (January) and several lakes turned into a pool of stone chips later transforming it into a platform of wracked dry mud deprived of any vegetation. 

Zere:  A place which is equally divided into two different vegetation types right from the centre of the ridge line. It is amazing to see the role of the aspect in shaping vegetation types despite a same geographical location and identical altitudinal range.
South facing aspect has grassland right from the Fir forest down the deep valley several hundred meters below the ridge line and a mountain facing that grassland with northern aspect (probably same elevation) has a lush green Fir forest. Than other side of the mountain with grassland in southern aspect with same altitude but facing northern aspect harbors well cover of Rhododendron along with Fir down the valley and a deposit of snow underneath.
On trekking through ridgeline looking for the signs of wildlife, I was literally enjoying being able to touch two entire different ecosystem from a single position.
As we continued our search towards Zeredong-lok and Kebulungtsen, altitudes were declining with every footstep and vegetation transforming to a Fir zone and longitude gains one additional degree (i.e. normal 091oE longitude become 092oE while reaching there) on top of usually displayed 091o E inside the Bhutan.

 Herders hut: They are constructed by stacking of the flat stone with wooden flooring and shingle roofing over it. Majority of the huts will have a small window but lacks in few. Although, the water could be the priority; all the grasslands are never blessed with all kinds of necessities. So, the locations of the Brokpa huts are seem to be generally prioritized based on the availability of grazing ground for their livestock rather than a constant drinking water source.  To address the problem of water scarcity in their daily life, Brokpas fetch water via rainwater harvesting while their stay in high altitude hut during warmer season.
Back to base camp: While returning to the camp, we took a mid valley trail as transect all the way from the Zere till our morning starting point at the base of mountain Kateng-po Phodrang. Trail was more than a 7 km long (ground distance) with narrow cutting through the mid valley of the scree mountain.  Either side of the narrow steep path was totally covered with unstably stacked boulders with no way to escape if any boulders accidentally roll against us triggered by windy atmosphere. 
Approximately with near to three hours walk, thank God, we could safely make to the end of the narrow trial without any accidents.
Exhausted without proper lunch, dehydrated and joints aching, finally we reached to the base camp while final sun rays were bidding farewell of the day to the majestic Kateng-po Phodrang.

Base camp: On drinking of sweet hot black teas served by the friends in the camp,it really regained our energy and so do was with other team who trekked on the way towards Phothongkorong. With little left energy and additional regained from the tea, friends were busy sharing their day long experiences and sighting. Bird enthusiast were existed about their direct sighting with Tibetan Snow cock, an some by the beauty of the landscape while few busy identifying their collected samples. But as a team we were content with the day’s survey as could add one more predator, an unidentified lesser cat in our list that was not sighted in yesterday’s survey.

Attempt- 3rd Jan, 2015
Thangpoche camp to Phothongkorong: We woke up earlier than yesterday, as there was a long journey to be made to reach our next grid at Phothongkorong, which was intended to be our base camp for surveying next four grids adjacent to it.
But to my surprise, two of our eldest team members were suffering from acute altitude sickness which hampered their appetite and faces were swollen.  We were left with no other option than to send the sick members back to low land taking into account of their safety.    
Sending back of two members were a burden for remaining eight of us, since we have to carry additional luggage (mess item) that has been carrying by two of them till yesterday. Vigorously trekking for last three days and now with additional load, our journey was comparatively becoming quite challenging.
Sick friends and rest of us departed at 7:30 am from Thangpoche camp, they returned towards Merak and we trekked to Phothongkorong. Weather was fine as usual in the morning with clear sky.

Initial snowfall: At 9:30 am, after uninterrupted trek for two hours through narrow steep undulating paths notably used by the livestock and herder before their winter migration; we reached in the mid of Lungzang ridge. Engrossed in trekking, we forgot to notice the sky by then which was dark in color with heavy clouds overshadowing the sun. I was obvious that weather was going to change but did not expect to be so quick.
While we were taking a brief rest in the mid of Lungzang ridge, along with a wind a cold white substances settled on my warm checks which I couldn’t comprehend what it was. But on looking towards the wind flow, I could see that white flakes of snow ridding on wind and realized that it was snowing. 
It made us worried as we have yet not reached a half way to our final destination at Phothongkorong. A panicked local guide inform us that to reach our destination we have to climb few more mountain which may not be possible if snowfall continuous.
Lungzang valley: Hopping that snow will recede; I insisted we should keep going and started our journey again. But snowing became intense with time and forced us to take a refuge in the Lungzang valley. There was few numbers of Sakteng pa huts to take a shelter and a semi frozen lake for fetching water.
We took a shelter of the best hut among all and few of us started gathering fire wood for warming and cooking while other went for fetching water from the lake that was located near to 50 meters distance from our shelter for the day.  The valley was located above tree line with scrub vegetation and firewood was not available. So we have to use those fire woods that were hidden inside the Barberis   bush by the summer resident herders; in fact we were stealing their most difficultly gathered firewood. I can visualize that it might take a day to fetch backload of firewood in such area but we were left with no other alternatives. It was a matter of freezing to death or to maintain the pride of not using other property without prior permission.
After having a quick lunch, we attempted trekking to our final destination but in vain. Snow started piling over the ground surface now and then. Every single minute was valuable as more than a foot of snow pileup was there within three hour of snowfall and was still falling vigorously without any sign of improvement in weather.  Most worrying was that we still have a night to halt there before we can really retreat back to Merak.
That evening there was no ground surface left for pitching our tent due to snow; so we somehow manage to pitch inside one of the poorly insulated hut.
High altitude lakes look clean from a distant but on filtration using a cloth, lots of red minute bugs were seen floating over a cloth piece and nor water tasted fresh. 

Though vigorously snowing outside, we had a great chat during dinner time surrounding a dimly lit hearth to warm ourselves at the best. To distract from the anticipated hardship with tomorrows journey, friends keenly engaged in narrating jokes and their funny childhood incidents. Intense laughter prevailed in the hut until we dispersed for sleeping.
Night was comparatively peaceful than previous halt; wind couldn’t strike over our tent as it was pitched inside the hut.

Retreating day- 4th Jan, 2015
We had an early breakfast hopping to start early journey to Shukteng. Colorful valley was turned into a monochromic smooth surface with constant snowfall throughout the night. Weather was windy and snowing still with no indication of any improvement.  With accumulation of more than a knee height snow over the ground surface, no traces of well trekked track or any route were visible. White surface looked fresh and fragile with least undulation which made the journey worse. With slight carelessness on making ones next footstep, probability of losing the life was extremely high while passing through the mid of the stiff cliff.
On other hand, trekking via ridge top to avoid heavily accumulated snows down the valley was further challenged with heavy snowfall accompanied by gusty high altitude wind that weakened our vision. At times, we were forced to take a support of each other and standstill lowering our face downwards to confront the painful beating from the ghostly wind along with huge flakes of snow.
For last three hours vigorous trekking and making a way over snow pile with not less than twenty kilograms of load in our rucksack, everyone were exhausted and few caught with altitude sickness. But distance to our intended camp was almost double the distance we could trek since last three hours.
Everybody was in desperate need of rest for a while and warmth from fire before attempting to cross the snowcapped pass ahead of us.
Team took a shelter in a hut located below the snowcapped pass ahead of us to rest for a while. With brief resting inside the hut, we comforted our self with energy supplement like glucose power and a biscuits along with a cup of hot tea from our hot water bottle. Some even had to take a medicine to relieve from acute headache.
Though exhausted and some sick, we could finally reach to our next camp after near to three hours walk via ridge and valley severely thrashed by the snowflakes driven  by the gusty wind.

Shukteng hut: Located at the mid valley of the mountain, hut was comparatively in better condition. It was spacious enough to accommodate eight of us with better insulation. But water was scarce in that area. We had to depend on the snow for cooking which landed up consuming more fire wood. Firstly we have to melt the snow to produce water by immense heating which later is use for drinking and cooking.
Still windy and snowing outside, that night I suffered from the altitude sickness. I even landed up vomiting that made others worried. I was deprived of sleep due to sickness and friends couldn’t rest well as I was sick and disturbed their sleep. That night I sort to every possible remedies right from a medicine to drinking of strong black tea, which is believed as a cure for altitude sickness by the local people.

Crossing Gangsa-gungsa pass– 5th Jan, 2015
LHA GYELO: Gangsa-gungsa pass; which we had crossed few days prior to snowfall now look more alike a stranger with monochromic manifestation. Climbing the pass was extremely difficult and life risking with heavy deposition of snow and extremely gusty wind unlike the pass without snow while we were crossing few days back. To confront the difficulty and relieve from exhaustion while climbing the pass, friends took a solace of brandy.
On reaching the top we recited LHA GYELO for a moment as a gesture of victory over the final the pass.

Walking through the wood: Beautified by the accumulated snow on their canopy, trees resemble like a bride in her beautiful white wedding dress impatiently waiting for her groom with bouquet flower in her hand.  
Walking under such woodland was not only challenging but could also proof fatal any moment if branches break due to weight of the accumulated snow.

Jollification: Descending downward for another five to six hours via narrow path under the partially closed canopy of the snow loaded Fir; finally we reached Merak range office several minutes after the darkness of the night falling over the valley. 
Bukari was lit and rooms were warm. Fellow mates comforted with a cup of hot tea. Meanwhile we were more relief to see our fellow mates who went towards Jomo Kungkhor arriving safely. 
Over the dinner, sitting by the bukari every one was busy narrating about the journey in search of snow leopard and narrow escape from the death.
That evening, families of our local guide and porter also gathered at our place with a Tshokchang (tradition of bringing local brewages to meet the guest).  We drank and dance out of joy till late night. Everyone was enjoying the dance though totally exhausted by tedious day’s journey. None of us even bothered to take a rest though it was in genuine need by our body.