Last May, Maria Hibri (co-founder and co-designer of Bokja) informed us she would be gone from the office for 10 or so days. Now seeing as things at Bokja can get quite busy, I projected Maria into a white-sand, crystal-clear-water beach, laying under a palm tree, and sipping a cocktail out of a coconut-shell. But when we asked her where exactly she was going, we were shocked to hear her answer: Bhutan.
I personally had never heard of Bhutan at all. I didn’t press forward with my questions until she returned 10 or so days later, a look of utter relaxation on her face. That is when she told us she had been on one of the most amazing trips of her life, in a very secluded country in South Asia, located on the eastern end of the Himalayan mountains, next to India, China, and Nepal.
Apparently, until very recently Bhutan was mostly cut off from the rest of the world. The national ban on television was only lifted in 1999, and its government exerts great efforts to preserve the county’s natural, and cultural heritage. Bhutan’s natural preservation has garnered it the name of the “Last Shangri-La” or “Mythical Himalayan Utopia”. There’s even a specific quota of visa permits that are granted for tourists every year, and once this is exceeded, visitors, simply have to wait till the next year.
The government charges tourists on a daily-basis almost $200, simply for their presence in Bhutan. Once I had found out how inaccessible this country was, and seen “national-geographic-like” photos of its landscapes, it made perfect sense that Maria would choose to go there, especially with her being a Yoga and nature fiend, and the purpose of her trip being to do some trekking.
Maria stayed at the luxurious, Amankora Bhutan resort (www.amanresorts.com) where she spent days trekking through the panoramic gorges and undulating valleys of the Himalayan hills, and the rest of her time, exploring and reflecting during expert meditation sessions.
Before Maria’s journey came to a close, and she left the Amankora Resort to return to Bokja, Torunn Tronsvang, the lodge manager was preparing for his strenuous 24-day Snowman Trek. One of the most challenging treks in the world, the Snowman traverses 350 km of harsh altitude mountain terrain and has a 50% failure rate.
Along with 7 other people, Torunn set off with a caravan of horses carrying school books, story books, winter clothes, and general supplies for impoverished children they met in villages along the way. Amongst their team they also has a doctor who would see hundreds of patients in very poor health throughout the next few days before having to turn back due to altitude sickness.
Throughout the trip and through their donations, this wonderful team was making an effort to spread awareness to the people they met about the importance of education and hygeine, and about illnesses that could easily be treated with today’s medical knowledge. They were welcomed warmly by villagers, and showered with gifts from dried yak cheese, to milk, to cordycep, a fundus traditionally used in Chinese medicine. One old man who had trekked for an hour to reach the team to receive shoes for his 2-year-old grandson, made another 2 hour trek only to return with yak milk as a symbol of his gratitude.
Although Maria did not have the trekking experience necessary to partake in the Snowman journey, she wanted to show her support in any way possible. She chose to donate a yak to help carry the load of essential supplies to the families of Bhutan. This yak was lovingly named Bokja to honor Maria’s contribution. Here he is…we proudly present to you “Bokja”, the Yak.
To read more about Torunn’s amazing Snowman Trek, follow this link to Amankora’s Facebook group. He recounts truly moving stories and accompanies them with breath-taking photos.