Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 16 – Green Lake To Chozo Via Keche La

Previous Post: Day 15 – Tarina To Green Lake Via Woche

  • calendar date: October 13, 2019.
  • time: 9 hours including lunch and rest breaks
  • distance:  23 km.
  • start point altitude: Green Lake 4400 m
  • endpoint campsite: Chozo 4052m
  • high pass crossing: Keche La 4650 m
  • Maps: Bart Jordans’ Trekking In Bhutan has some useful overview maps of the many possible variations of the Snowman Trek, as well as others.
  • See here for a Google Earth view of the day’s walk. It helps to use the Google Chrome browser! If you have Apple Maps, its satellite view is more detailed and more realistic than the Google one.
  • I used a Sony RX100 III to frame most of the images you’ll see below; a fellow trekker’s Huawei P30 captured the others. (Thanks again, O, for letting me use them!)

Low-hanging cloud meant there were no great views when I got up this morning. The hope was that things would clear up by the time we got to our high pass of the day, Keche La at 4650m, some 200 meters higher than our camp on above Green Lake.

Green Lake camp –  early morning

one of the lead horses – the red headdress is a sign of rank and status!

The Trail To Keche La: 

We set off around 8:00 and within an hour were at the pass.  The sequence of three images below captures the ascent to Keche La.  In the first you can see the camp down below; the second pic captures most of Green Lake; with the third image, we are at the pass and welcoming the last of the trekkers while just behind them is the second higher lake.

trekkers heading up to Keche La from the Green Lake Camp

on the way to Keche La – a one Keche La – a one-hour uphill walk from Green Lake camp

the view from Keche La – looking back at where we came from

the view from Keche La – the two lakes and the trail to get to the pass

There Be Demons To Subdue

Not our day for peaks – the cloud cover still obscured the tops of Teri Kang and Jejekangphu Kang. It was also quite windy up there so I began heading down soon after the last of the group arrived.  Doing so meant I missed adding my voice to yet another group shout of “Lha gyalo” (Victory to the gods!), a good luck ritual we had been asked to do at the top of each pass.

I did ask our guide if there was maybe a shout we could do for “Clear skies and visible peaks”. Unfortunately, there was only Lha gyalo! The shout was just one of the many reminders during the trek of how far Tibetan (i.e. Himalayan)  Buddhism strayed from the teaching of the historical Siddhartha Gautama.   It blended the local animistic Bon beliefs of the Himalayas with the Tantric Buddhism which flourished in northern India a thousand years after the Buddha.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  The passage of time changes everything. So too does taking one culture’s stories and explanations to the big questions of life and transplanting them in another one that already has a mythology and worldview of its own.  The variations of Christianity around the globe are but one example of how time and space impact on the development of religions.

However, the result is often clearly at odds with the actual teaching of the founder.  Few would argue that Himalayan Buddhism was actually Siddhartha’s intent.  After all, it is not Siddhartha Gautama but Padmasambhava, i.e. Guru Rinpoche, who is the real Buddha in the Himalayas; he is the master of sorcery and impressive tantric powers; he has female consorts and dakinis.  The Buddha of the Ganges plain – and of the teachings preserved in the Pali texts – would roll his eyes at the exalted place of lamas, the claims to secret teachings and their uncovering by tertons, the obsession with metaphysics, and the practice of magic and sorcery.

If Woche marked the traditional boundary of Lunana, then by some definition with our descent from Keche La we were entering the real heart of Lunana.

Keche La – heading down to the Pho Chhu and Lunana

We followed a mountain stream down the valley you see in the image below.  The hillsides were showing some autumn colour. While somewhat more subdued than the fall colours in the maple forests of central Ontario in Canada,  it was still a pretty sight.

trail and stream heading down to the Pho valley and Lunana

fall colours – Bhutan Himalaya style

Down the valley trail we went, arriving at the settlement of Tega (Thaga) at 4040 m. a bit more than an hour later.  The “village ” is made up of 6 houses scattered over a half-kilometer of the trail. At the top end, we passed by a surprisingly dilapidated chorten that looks like it has been abandoned by the locals. Perhaps the demons and monsters that once held sway in their imaginations have given way to other stories. The chorten we walked by certainly does not fit in with the Bhutan Tourist Board myth of their country as “the last Shangrila”.  Perhaps as a seasonal settlement, the people who live here have more pressing matters to attend to in the few months they are there?

a dilapidated chorten at the entrance to Tega (Thaga) in Lunana

Thaga chorten – close up

Thaga villagers on the side of the trail

Thaga boys watch the trekkers pass by

From Tega, the trail heads east alongside the Pho Chhu, at first high above the riverbed.  After we crossed a bridge that took us over a scenic waterfall, it then descended steeply  and soon we were approaching Lhedi on a trail going up a dry section of the river bed.

Snowman trail from Green Lake to Chozo

We got this view of Lhedi before crossing that bridge by the waterfall and then headed down to the dry riverbed of the Pho Chhu.

the first view of Lhedi as we walk up the Pho Chhu river bed from Thaga (Tega)

waterfall and bridge on the way to Lhedi in Lunana

approaching Ledhi – Pho Chhu riverbed trail

Lhedi is a small settlement that stretches for a kilometer on the north side of the Pho Chhu.  The Apple Maps satellite image below shows the dozen or so buildings that make it up. [In the Google Earth view, Lhedi appears as Lunana Village.] The most prominent building is the primary school, a U-shaped one-storey stone building with the schoolyard surrounded on three sides by classrooms and administrative offices.

Lhedi – satellite view of the Lunana settlement

Lhedi school – October 2019

We had lunch 100 meters beyond the school just off the trail out of the settlement. Later these two young women would come walking by, looking like they were set for an afternoon of shopping on Thimphu’s main street. They may have been going to the medical clinic in Lledi.

two young Lunana women on the trail to Lhedi from Chozo

After lunch, more riverbed walking that never seemed to end with some sections made tiring thanks to the attention we had to pay to every step on the irregularly shaped stones we were walking over.

a section of the trail from Lhedi to Chozo

the trail to Chozo on the left side of the Pho Chhu (East Branch)

Finally, Chozo!  We walked across that stone “bridge” in the middle of the image and headed for the building on the right-hand side for our camp spot.

We would spend two nights in Chozo.

  • It was a chance for the trekkers and agency staff to have a rest day and get things ready for the final leg of our trek.
  • It gave our guide some time to finalize arrangements for the new horse or yak team we would need since the horses that had carried our gear from Laya would be returning to that village.

approaching Chozo from downriver

In examining the satellite image of Chozo below I could not find the building we made use of during our Chozo stay. The building was new and the inside was only roughly done and not finished.  The Apple satellite image must predate its construction.

Not only did we camp behind it, but we also used a corner of it as our dining room, while our kitchen staff did the cooking in the next room.

Chozo in Lunana – Apple Maps satellite view – our lodge indicated by the X

Chozo trekkers’ campground in front of the settlement

Looming behind Chozo sits Table Mountain, that massive stretch of rock in the image below, which was shot a couple of days later from the other side of the river when we were back on trek.  Also visible in the image is the Chozo Dzong. On my rest day, I would walk up to the dzong and get a brief tour with the resident monk.  The next post has the details and pix.

Next Post: Day 17 – Rest Day In Chozo

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