OFFBEAT - The Thousand Lakes Trek

By Passang Tshering

The six-day Dagala Trek, befittingly dubbed as ‘The Thousand Lakes Trek’ owing to the legend that there are over a thousand lake in and around Dagala, is one of the most beautiful and scenic treks in Bhutan. The trek follows the ancient trade route between Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and Dagana District, located in the south-central region of the country.

The Dagala Trek offers stunning views of some of the highest mountain peaks of the Himalayas, Mount Jumolhari (7314m), Mount Masanggang (7,158m), Mount Jichu Drake (6989m), and Tiger Mountain (6840m) in Bhutan, including Mount Everest (8,848m) in Nepal and Mount Kanchenjunga (8,586m) in Sikkim, India. Add to it the extraordinary views of shimmering mountain lakes. The ancient trail, covering some 41 kilometers, also takes you through a rich landscape of avia-fauna, alpine flowers, yak pastures and traditional Bhutanese villages.

The trek begins from the picturesque village of Genekha (2800m), an one hour’s drive from Wangsisina along the Thimphu-Paro Highway, and ends at Chamgang in Thimphu. The starting point of the trek is a suspension bridge at the foot of Genekha Village.

The trek begins soon after crossing the suspension bridge – an uphill climb. After making short stops along the way, you will reach a huge rock platform from where one can enjoy the scenic view of the valley. After two hours of trekking, you will reach the first campsite at Gur at an altitude of around 3300m. The campsite is located amidst a beautiful meadow surrounded by lush vegetation of pine, spruce and hemlock trees.

As the trek progresses, you will increasingly find yourself in a world far from the maddening crowd, right in the lap of nature’s bounty. The rewards include overwhelmingly impressive views of scenic alpine meadows, a number of small lakes, a variety of flora and fauna, and of course, the magnificent vistas of the Himalayan ranges.

Along the trail, you will also encounter yaks grazing in the pastures and nomadic yak herders, who continue to brave harsh conditions to preserve their culture and traditional way of life.

The second day of the trek involves a gradual ascent from the campsite until the pass at Pagalabtsha (4300m) from where you can see Mount Kanchenjunga and many other mountain peaks of Bhutan. The trek is around 12km long, ascending around 1200m from the campsite. The second day of trekking can be quite challenging with steep ascent in some parts of the trail and quick high altitude gain. After a quick descent, you will reach the campsite at Labatma (4100m).

The third day of the trek is normally a rest day. Trekkers can go on a leisure trip, exploring the nearby lakes. It is said that there are more than a thousands lakes in Dagala, however, it is rare to come across anyone who has visited all the lakes. Even the nomads living in this highland region have not visited all of them.

On the third day, you can visit lakes like Reli Tsho, Hen Tsho, Jagoe Tsho and Yu Tsho that are quite nearby. These lakes are majestic and serene. It is recommended that trekkers pack a light lunch or tea or snacks during the day trip.

Some tour operators arrange fishing activity in the lakes for guests but you have to inform your tour operator beforehand to get the permit for fishing. Permits for only catch and release are given.

The government of Bhutan has strict regulations on fishing and hunting because of its strong conservation policies and religious beliefs. Aum Jumo is considered to be the protective deity of the area, and locals believe that any defilement would infuriate her, resulting in bad weather. There are many stories of trekkers losing the trail especially during foggy weather. The weather is unpredictable and dramatically changes in a very short time.

After the halt at Labatama, the next camp site is Panka (4000m). The view gets amazingly better after a short ascent from the campsite up to 4500m. From here, you will see most of the Himalayan mountain peaks like Mount Everest, Mount Kanchenjunga, Mount Jumolhari, Mount Jichu Drake, Mount Tshering Gang, and Mount Gangchen Tag.

If you wish to get a better view, you will have to climb up to 4700m from the pass. The distance from Labatama to Panka campsite is just eight kilometers.

There is no major climb from here onwards. Keep your eyes open on this trail for you can have a visual treat of different varieties of Blue Poppies (Bhutan’s national flower) if you are trekking in the months of June and July. You can also see many species of mountain birds on this trek.

If you are a good trekker, you can skip the campsite at Talaka Gonpa (4200m) and trek directly to Chamgang, from where you can drive to Thimphu. The distance from Panka to Chamgang is around 14 kilometers. At Talakha Gonpa, you will be greeted with a beautiful panoramic view of Thimphu city.

The Thousand Lakes Trek offers, without a doubt, the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful mountain lakes of Bhutan, stunning landscapes, and traditional nomadic lifestyle. It is highly recommended for travel photographers, nature lovers and trekkers who want to seek something out of the ordinary.

By Passang Tsering

He is a qualified tour guide (culture and trekking). He leads tour groups across Bhutan. He enjoys photography and Facebook and Instagram blogging.

You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram @bhutanwithpassang.

An excerpt from our in-flight magazine ‘Tashi Delek’, March-April 2020 issue, Vol. XXII

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