His Majesty the King of Bhutan trekked across Lunana from the 1st to 11th of July 2018, visiting villages and meeting with the people of the most inaccessible parts of the country. All photographs in this album are by His Majesty and was shared by His Majesty’s Facebook Page on the 16th July 2018.

 

Known as the Snowman trek, the trek across Lunana is considered among the most difficult in the world. From Sephu village in Wangdue, the lush greenery of the untrammelled forests of Bhutan gradually gives way to the rugged landscapes of higher altitudes. Here, a lone gazebo offering shelter to travellers 3 hours from Sephu, is the only sign of human activity.

 

Higher up, the trees begin to disappear as oxygen levels drop- horses have been used for hundreds of years as beasts of burden, and provide a lifeline for the highland communities. Monsoon allows the grass to cover the highlands in abundance, and these horses can be seen dotted on the landscape, grazing peacefully.

 

At Tampe Tsho, located at 4,099 metres above sea level, a woman with her baby greets His Majesty with some freshly picked Rhododendron. The cape that she wears is a beautiful example of highland textile- made from yak wool and patterned in a simple, traditional style and colours, the cape is warm and waterproof during the rainy season.

 

Among the most beautiful features of the highland landscapes are the numerous lakes that adorn it. Lakes are among the natural features revered by the people that inhabit this land, with many myths and powers associated with them or the creatures that dwell within. These sources that feed the rivers of Bhutan, therefore remain pristine and protected.

 

The lakes themselves are fed by the Himalayan glaciers on the highest mountainsides, and the rivers that flow from them not only provide water for the people of the valleys downstream, but also power hydroelectric plants.

 

There are several routes to Lunana, but all of them are extremely difficult– the region is shaped like a bowl and ringed with high mountains. Mountain passes as high as 5,200m must be scaled to enter or leave, and it is necessary to spend some nights camped on sites at 5,000m.

 

Rinchenzoe La, the highest pass on the trail, is at an altitude of 5,269m. Like all passes in the country, it is adorned with prayer flags, invoking deities to provide protection and safe passage to travellers.

 

During monsoon, brightly coloured flowers cover and transform the landscape.

 

Moraine (glacial debris) provide stark contrast to the grassland covered with alpine flowers- a fitting metaphor for the region as a whole, which combines beauty and harshness in equal measure.

 

Yaks graze on the summer bounty of exotic alpine plants. Tales of near-mythical medicinal plants and herbs found in the alpine regions are common in folklore, as is reflected by the term menjong (land of medicinal plants), one of the names by which Bhutan was traditionally referred to in the past. Yaks are the true lifelines of the highland people, providing milk, butter, and cheese to nourish the exceptionally strong people of Lunana, who are, as a norm, taller than the average Bhutanese. Yak hair is used to make ingenious tents and clothing that keep the Lunaps warm and dry, and the meat, consumed sparingly, provides sustenance through the more difficult seasons. For generations, yaks have helped the people of the highlands eke out an existence in one of the harshest inhabited places on earth, so it is no wonder that these creatures are beloved to the families that rear them.

 

A helicopter approaches Thanza, with the breathtaking Table Mountain in the backdrop.

 

Namgay Dorji was a newborn in 2008, during His Majesty’s first visit to Lunana. His Majesty met him again in 2016. Whenever a helicopter lands, the now-10-year-old scampers swiftly over to the helipad to get as close a look at the object of his fascination as possible.

 

Phub Dem goes to a boarding school in Thimphu. She took leave from school to help her mother collect cordyceps.

 

Tenchey helipad, 4,110m. Due to the high altitude, pilots are stringent with weight for safety reasons.

 

A mother holds her child close before he flies to Punakha with some neighbours.

 

Tenchey, with Tshojong village in the background, at 4,100m, idyllic in the summer sun.

 

Thanza, Lunana, at 4,200m.

 

The newly consecrated Penden Lhamoi Lhakhang, at Tenchey.

 

La Tsho (Oracle Lake), in Thanza.

 

Aum Dawa Zam in her barley field. Barley is among the few crops that grow in the highlands, and is often roasted and powdered, to make a highly sustaining meal with yak-butter tea.

 

A brightly painted door leads to the courtyard of a typical Lunap home.