Day 1, Phudung to Thungri
Trek duration: 6 hours
Gradient: Moderate climb till Larje, followed by a gradual climb on a wide trail to Thungri
Altitude: Steady gain in elevation from Phudung (1800m) to Thungri (3200m)
4:30 am is tea-time in these parts of the country, and aptly so, considering how bright it is at this hour. A quick breakfast later, at 7 am, Sonam and I headed off on the trail leading to the chortens towards the end of Phudung and into the forest.
The trail worked its way up along a stream through a few farms initially. Half-an hour on this trail and after crossing a couple of wooden log bridges, we came across a few huts to the left – the last few making up the settlement of Phudung. We took the path heading right, further into the forest, up and over a wooden fence and the trail now started climbing gently. There were plenty of streams on this route during the first of half of the day’s trek. We had to be careful when approaching any of the huts though, because the shepherd dogs, were not all that welcoming.
The trail continued to climb up gently for the next 30 minutes, criss-crossing a number of streams. The ferns give way to palm and bamboo trees. The trail narrowed, while the number of streams increased. Plenty of stream crossings along this trail made the game of stepping stones great fun.
Two hours into the forest and we finally left the streams behind, and the trail took a left turn. We ensured to fill up our water bottles here as the next sure source of drinking water is almost 3 to 4 hours away.
A moderate to steep climb for the next hour, and we knew the Bailey trail trek was truly underway. White rhododendrons grew in large numbers here as we headed deeper into the forest. The trail wound upwards, moving towards the right, and widening up at times. A thick carpet of dry, dead leaves hid the trail in places – but we maintained our course and the trail would soon appear again.
The trail moved left-wards now, and the climb eased up for a short while, to lead us to the sight of yaks grazing in open meadows. A short steep climb again, and we hit the army road near a settlement of all but 2 visible huts, referred to as Larje. This was the same army road that descended to Larje from Chander, and it continued further up to Thungri. Loud barks near the huts made us wary of the dogs again. The locals were away at work, leaving the animals behind to guard their property.
The tough part of the trek for today is over now, as you can follow the road all the way to Thungri. It is a gentle-moderate climb for the next 2 to 3 hours. Around 10 minutes from the huts, a shortcut on your right leads you to an open grassy area which can serve as a good camping site. Water is not easily available close to this site though – you will have to refill from small streams near the huts at Larje.
Continuing on the road, the settlement of Lagam is visible soon. Another route as mentioned earlier, joins this road heading to Thungri from Lagam. Just opposite the path from Lagam, which joins the broad road to Thungri, lies a shortcut to cut over and across to Thungri. This shorter route involves quite a few up and down sections though. Since Thungri is only an hour away from here, you can continue on the broader road for an easier, leisurely trek to Thungri.
There are a few small, level areas around Thungri that can be used for camping. A total of four huts at Thungri – two huts close to and visible from the road as you approach Thungri. Another two huts are higher up and some distance away. These huts are generally occupied by the locals, but they are more than willing to give them out for an overnight stay.
The water source at Thungri requires you to walk down the slope behind the first two huts to get to a small stream hidden behind between the bamboo trees. Better to pitch your tent closer to the water source to avoid hiking up and down to get to the water.
We pitched our tent close to the hut occupied by Sonam’s mother and his brother. It provided good warmth and cover from the winds and rain – which made its presence felt for a good 2-3 hours from the time we reached Thungri. A hot meal of rice, some spinach curry, and yak meat cooked by Sonam’s mother over multiple cups of tea made for a relaxing afternoon.