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  

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