Are you looking for a trail that offers stunning natural landscapes, such as mountains, forests and lakes? Do you want to enjoy a route that provides a good level of challenge for yourself, including varying terrain, steep ascents and descents, rocky paths and narrow ridges? Are you a fan of diverse flora and fauna? Are you also an enthusiast of solitude and serenity being offered by a secluded trail amid verdant forests, lush valleys and tranquil lakes? Jo Bay Tsho trek may be just the one that you are looking for.

The trek starts off at Mochu, a place snugly nestled on a progressive farming village. An 84-km car drive from Haa Jyenkana would deliver you first to Sangbaykha Drungkha – the sub-district administration, and Mochhu is located 20-km upstream Sangbaykha Drungkhag taking roughly an hour’s drive. A lhakhang (temple) of high cultural value, that houses 1,000 statues of Guru Rinpoche would warmly greet you at about 50m distance from the starting point. What a spiritually enriching starting point to start off your day!

As you start to slowly gain speed on the gradually ascending trail, you would begin to feel your weight but you would love the challenge to go on as your energy level would be just intact. When you will have hiked for about 45 mins, roughly, you will throw yourself into a verdant glade, just the right place to take a breather or for the laggers to catch up.

The trail winds up deep into the wooded forests, interspersed with thick groves of bamboo. You might just want to try your sharp knife at one of them to be used as your walking stick. As you pull on, the breeze is full of leaves’ crackle and birds’ shrill cries only to find yourself mockingly repeating after them.

You will find yourself enjoying the scenic beauty of the trail, often leading you to open glades, vast grazing lands, and harrowingly narrow paths often darkened by canopies of the tall woods. After hiking for about four solid hours, at moderately good speed, you will be greeted by enchanting lakes by the sides of the trail. They are calm, deep and awe-inspiring, allowing you to see the pure reflection of the radiant glow of the skies above. Beyond this point, the paths are beaten with the footprints of cows, horses and other wildlife, suggesting the co-existence of the untended cattle and wildlife.

A solid six-hour hike, a good limit for some hikers for a day, will finally deliver you to an expansive pastureland. If it’s already twilight by the time you make it there, you will be greeted by herds of cows bound homeward and the air full of the chimes of their bells and bellows. If you are lucky, some of them may even cozy up to you asking for some salt. If you decide to put up the night there, there’s a small camp house, a two-room facility that can accommodate about 8-10 people, who don’t mind social-sleeping.

At the break of the dawn next day, the ‘Thap-tsap, or the Chef’ may greet you with a cup of steaming tea (or coffee). Right after the breakfast, you will need to start your day number two of the hike.

Here, it’s mostly open grazing land. It will be about 2km uphill to make it to the top of the place, that commands stunning views of the distant mountains and valleys. You also find some beautiful lakes hidden under tall trees. Once you have scaled this height, you now start all-descent trail from the other side, just like a hairpin bend. But the most exciting part of the journey is – to meet Jo Bay Tsho, who would be awaiting you some 2km downhill.

As you inch towards Jo Bay Tsho, you can already see glimpses of it through the thinner vegetation. As you hike down further, there you are at Jo Bay Tsho – a stunning lake that spans some 300m lengthwise, and about 200m breadthwise. It is indeed quite an enchanting lake, the sight of which could just overwhelm you with exquisite feelings. You need to be lucky or timely to get a clear view of the lake; otherwise, the lake may be shrouded in a veil of mist.

There’s a small place to make offerings, whatever you think you should offer to Jo Bay Tsho – from incense sticks to butter lamps to Serkem – a spiritual liquor offering. You might want to linger on for a while, soaking up the splendor and serenity of the place and indulging in an unstoppable urge for photography.

Historically, Bay Tsho means a “hidden lake” and it unfolds a captivating history deeply rooted in the folklore of Paro Pangbesa. The lake, supposed to be owned by Jo Bay Tsho, became centrestage for a dramatic incident involving a Terton named Pangbe Lam (or Terton Sherab Mebar) and his team. Pangbe Lam and his team aimed to extract some amount of gold from the lake’s golden post, a revered relic.

The Lam, summoning all his powers such as he had, drew all the water into his mouth to facilitate the gold extraction and the team started to work at it. However, while finding his team was exceeding the permissible limits of extraction, the Lam attempted to intervene and the water escaped from his mouth, submerging his team members. In a dramatic twist, the Lam transformed himself into a bat to flee from the scene, while Jo Bay Tsho took on the form of a bird to give a chase.

The chase finally reached Tergola, where Jo Tergo, the local deity, intervened forbidding the Lam from venturing beyond Tergola. This incident has given rise to the belief that individuals from places beyond Tergola were not allowed to marry people from Paro Pangbesa. Even till date, residents of Samtse and Sangbaykha worship Jo Bay Tsho, seeking blessings in their daily lives.

As you finally decide to make a reluctant departure from the lake, you hit on an unstoppable descent through the footpath that is often narrow, haphazard, and only occasionally paved with stones or wood for safety. All along the way down, you find thick forests of giant rhododendron trees, groves of bamboos and other vegetation. You may have walked for about three hours when you will chance upon a canopy to take a break or have some tea and snacks. You are more than halfway to your end point of your journey.

The steep, snaky and often rough trail finally takes you to Youkha, the end-point village under Gakiling Gewog. A warm couple may come up to the road point to take you for lunch (if the organizer has made orders). As you step into the host’s house, you may either be offered a welcome tea with some snacks, or be treated to a good, thirst-quenching Tongba – a mild form of alcoholic beverage served in a container made of bamboo and being sipped-off with a straw also made of bamboo. The lunch may follow but you may already be tipsy. After the sumptuous lunch which you may relish, you would then get on to your car – that will take you down the winding, narrow road to the drungkhag. You are finally back to your resting place for the night, the evening of which may be made into a most memorable experience.


Contributed by 

Melam Zangpo and Cheda Jamtsho, Haa Throm

Photo: Tshering Penjor, Haa Throm