The path is more than 360 years old. The newest trekking route in the country is also one of the most historic and the oldest of highways.
Since the advent of motor roads in the country, except for the highlanders, the route remained barely used.
Once trodden by Daga Penlops, a rank equal to a cabinet minister during the times of the Desis, bringing in taxes and goods from the plains from the neighbouring areas in the south, this route was abandoned as more opted for the modern highways to travel to and from the district.
However, the Tourism Council of Bhutan has launched it as a trekking route. The trek is expected to benefit locals of Thimphu and Dagana dzongkhags immensely.
TCB is registering groups to provide porter and pony services, homestays, and other related services.
Tshering, 42, from Genekha, has five horses. He is already planning to buy more horses hoping for better business prospect of the Genekha-Dagana trek.
“Today, our horses remain idle most of the time. If this new trek route becomes successful, and I hope it does, then we’ll do good business,” the father of three children said.
Phub Gyem who lives with her yaks in Labatama, expects to sell some of her dairy products.
“I can sell dairy produce to the trekkers and save time as I don’t have to go all the way to Chamgang,” she said.
In Dagana, those living near the trek route are jubilant.
“If tourists pour in, there is no limit to opportunities to improve our lives,” a local leader, Rickey says.
He sees plenty of prospects for the local service industry.
“Most of all, the visitors can see our people, villages, and the areas that have remained pristine and natural over the years,” Rickey says.
The five-day trek en route to Daga Tashiyangtse Dzong – the fortress of the realm of white auspicious flags of fortune – is both enriching and difficult. It follows the ancient Zhunglam (highway) or Talam (mule track) used to travel to the capital in Thimphu from the southern districts.
The first halt of the trek is at Gur, a four-hour leisurely walk from the road end at Genezam in Genekha gewog of Thimphu district. The journey is purposely kept short for the trekkers to warm up and acclimatise to the high altitude that visitors would traverse for the next three days.
Visitors can enjoy an expansive view of the Genekha school, the legendary Chizhi Goenpa (monastery), and the villages below from the viewpoint on the ridge. The horsemen and the advance team treat the guests with hot steaming tea and local fried rice (zaw).
Next day, the trek continues on to the Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek up till Labatama (4,050m). The trek runs through a range of varied ecological zones ranging from dry alpine scrubs, juniper, rhododendrons, fir, spruce, hemlock, Chir pine forests to warm broadleaf forests, with an altitude ranging from below 1,500m to as high as over 4,000m.
Because of this huge variation in the terrain, including about two to three days of high altitude trekking in uninhabited nomadic Yak herders’ area, the trek is rated to be moderate.
The third day is the most interesting journey as it crosses the highest point of the Dagala range at an altitude of 4,445 metres at Lawagu Laptsa. On a clear day, one can locate Jomolhari Mountain and other peaks. The trail descends after crossing Lawagu Laptsa.
The journey is about five hours, which can be quite interesting given the sparse (shrub) vegetation and fresh winds to Tsibtsaba. The route passes along ruins of Daga Penlop’s guest house at Dompa, Tsibtsaba and Labatama, and one can spot Monal Pheasants, Red-Billed Chough and Yaks, besides the stone-stacked pillars (as direction pointers) at various points.
A variety of wildflowers in full bloom including rhododendrons and numerous lakes like Lang-Tsho, Tsho-Kharim, Rilang-Tsho, Ser-Tsho, Yu-Tsho and Bjagoed-Tsho (Dagala Trail is said to have 1000 lakes) also fall along the route throughout.
There is a legend for every lake. For instance, Langtsho, Bull Lake, flows down to the Sunkosh on the right side of the Dagana Dzong. The villages on the either bank of the stream that flows from the lake are mostly plagued with bull calves. Locals say tha5 only one-fourth of the total cattle birth in the villages bear female calf.
The last two days of the trek runs through temperate and broadleaved forests, with abundant leeches and stinging nettles. Among many birds, one can also watch the endangered Rufous Hornbill and numerous holy sites. One can also come across traces of grisly bears, deer, wild boars, and lush green meadows.
Earlier a couple would be stationed each at Jitekha, Pangzhukha, and Nothogang meadows where travellers would halt for a night. They were tasked to collect enough firewood for the travellers. In return, they would be spared from customary taxes and labour contributions. Travellers would give them grains or dairy products, what little they can spare, in return for their service.
The meadows also serve as campsites, besides other identified alternate sites.
With one of the world’s most pristine environment, the trek offers one of the most unforgettable experiences of seeing some of Bhutan’s most enchanting highlands, its flora, fauna and lakes in the Dagala region. It also gives a chance to see the countryside dwellings of nomads amidst plenty of rhododendron blooms and natural springs.
Tour operators said the route was unique in that it told of a different aspect of the country’s history.
“It’s tempting to promote a new trek route,” a tour operator said. “We might have to break it down to a few more days and it would be doable for any tourist.”
The trek is most favorable between March, April and mid May and October and November.
Highlights in Dagana
Dhungchen Menchu, meaning the Place of the Great Ritual Horn and Medicinal Water, is about 30 minutes downhill walk from the District Guest House. Legend has it that following the emergence of the great ritual horn from a rock cliff, clear water flowed out of the hole. Today, the water, which is warm in winter and cold in summer, is used for hot stone bath for curing various bodily ailments, particularly of the joints.
The historical Shathong Goenpa is about one-hour uphill walk from the Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong. A walk through thick forest with breathtaking views of the Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong, numerous sacred places, temples and villages, reaches the Goenpa on a hilltop. A lot birds can be found along the way.
Chhuchen Pangkha Lhakhang
Chhuchen Pangkha Lhakhang is at the end of a 5.5km farm road from near the Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong in Trashigang, Tseza Gewog. Built by a disciple of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the lhakhang is considered to be one of the most sacred lhakhangs in Dagana.
Daga Trashiyantse Dzong
The magnificent Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong was built by Drongyer Druk Namgyal in 1652. It is perched on a hill resembling an elephant head and is said to be in the centre of nine sacred places in the lush green mountains. Historically, the dzong was the seat of the Daga Penlop and the Dzongpon. Today, it is the centre for district administration housing the offices of the governor and other sectors.
This article was sponsored by Tourism Council of Bhutan
Tshering Palden I Dagana