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Visit remote valleys of far
In the far eastern Bhutan, further east from Trashigang,
right up to the
Assam border, in a region known as Merak-Sakteng,
lives a tribe of nomadic yak-herders called the
Brokpas. The area became officially open to tourism
last year (2009) and since only a handful of foreign
visitors were allowed to tour this remote highland region.
Undeniably, being remote and isolated, Merak and Sakteng
offer pristine nature and unique culture. The freshly
created community-based tourism program is aimed to
benefit the local inhabitants, namely to supplement
their livelihoods, while assuring sustainable
development and minimum environmental and cultural
impact. Visiting the Merak-Sakteng villages at the early
stage of tourism development promises an unforgettable
Merak and Sakteng
valleys fall within the Sakteng Wildlife
Sanctuary, one of nine protected areas in Bhutan.
The area is also part of the Bhutan Biological Conservation
Complex. The Sanctuary protects the easternmost
temperate forest ecosystems in Bhutan and includes endemic
vegetation species such as eastern blue pine as well as
scores of endemic bird species found only in Eastern Bhutan.
set up to protect the elusive Migoi, or yeti, which is
historically rooted in the belief system of the Brokpas
and part of their worship ritual practices.
wildlife in Merak-Sakteng forests includes snow leopard, red panda, Himalayan
black bear, barking deer, Himalayan red fox and the hoary-bellied Himalayan
The Merak and Sakteng highlands possess also a rich
variety of bird species. If you are an avid bird
watcher and are considering to
visit Bhutan on a bird-watching tour, this is a
must-see destination in Bhutan!
The Sanctuary is
typical of the diversity of Himalayan terrestrial
ecosystems, combing alpine meadow, temperate forest and
warm broad leaf forest. According to the surveys
conducted by the World Wildlife Fund some 203 species of
plants, 119 species of birds and 18 species of mammals
have been confirmed in Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Brokpas remain semi-nomadic, migrating through the seasons with their yaks.
During the warm summer they frequent highlands, in
the cold winter months they move to the warmer lowland
pastures. While during the winter months most family
members travel to lower elevations with the yaks number of family members remain
in their highland villages. The Brokpas still engage in the barter system,
trading cheese, butter and dried meat for grains and
other goods that are not readily available to them.
Their staple crop grown in the vicinity of their
villages is buckwheat.
The first glimpse of the Brokpas confirms that their
origin lies in Tibet whence they had migrated from some
500 years ago. Men wear animal skins over their clothes
which as that worn by women is made of home-spun cloth woven
on simple back strap looms. All Brokpas wear a
distinctive yak felt hat with characteristic five
tassels spun to channel water runoff from the top of the
hat needed especially during the rainy summer season.
Merak and Sakteng are the two main Brokpa villages. The
villages are compact settlement and the houses are built
of stones with small windows. The architecture of the
Brokpa strongly resembles that of other high mountain
dwellers of the Himalayas, whether
the Layap of the Laya Gasa region of
north-western Bhutan or the
Lhomi Tibetan of the Upper Arun River and other
exit Bhutan to Assam, India
The following is the proposed itinerary if time is of
essence allowing for 5-nights in the Merak-Sakteng area only. The
sample itinerary starts from Chaling heading to Merak first
because of the steep climb to Nagchungla pass if the
trek should be undertaken in reverse, coming from Sakteng.
Day 1: Trashigang – Chaling (7050 ft) – 7 hrs – Damnongchu
Drive from Trashigang via Rangjung to Chaling and trek
to Damnongchu. Damnongchu camping area is located past Mindrula
at an elevation of 10,880 ft above sea level.
Day 2: Damnongchu – 5 hrs – Merak (11480 ft)
The trail from Damnongchu to Merak follows along the river
bank with gradual ups and downs. The final stretch goes gently
uphill to Merak village.
The campsite, located before the village, has
fine views of the surrounding mountains and the
Day 3: Merak – 7.5 hrs – Miksa Teng (9400 ft)
Trek from Merak to Miksa Teng is a little more
challenging as it ascends over the scenic Nagchungla
pass. Cross Nagchung La and descend to Miksa Teng campsite located in a clearing surrounded by
rhododendron trees, particularly beautiful when the flowers are
in full bloom.
Day 4: Miksa Teng – 3.5 hrs – Sakteng (9850 ft)
Trek from Miksa Teng to Sakteng, an easy and enjoyable
route through beautiful woods, then follow along the river
until a short climb to reach the village of Sakteng. If lucky,
you may be able to spot a red panda among the
trees. The Sakteng campsite is on the outskirts
of the village.
Day 5: Sakteng – 6.5 hrs – Jyonkhar Teng (6100 ft)
Trek mostly downhill to
Sakteng to Jyonkhar, and camp near the river and the
Day 6: Jyonkhar – 5 hrs – Phongmay / Radhi (6500 ft) /Trashigang
Trek to Phongmay or Radhi further down the trail, where
the trail ends and motorable road begins. Both villages
are very scenic and particularly enjoyable to visit. Radhi,
referred to as the "Rice Bowl of the East" is also
well-known for its weaving, woolen textiles called Bura.
While Merak-Sakteng can be ideally visited during the
spring and fall, lesser attractive months of the year
should not be overlooked as Merak-Sakteng like Bhutan as
a whole is a viable year-round destination and even
summer and winter seasons offer unique opportunities to
experience this remote and exclusive area.
1. June Pink Poppy Season:
The Nagchung La area up to the top of the pass is very scenic in June,
when Pink Poppy blooms. While it main rain frequently,
the rain is not constant but the nature is lush and
colors vibrant. Tourists may tour the area but are not
allowed to cross the pass at this time of the year due
to possible landslides
on the other side of the Nagchungla pass.
2. Winter Season:
A) Visit to Merak and Sakteng villages only:
While in general the main reason for not
wanting to tour Merak and Sakteng in winter months is
the cold and that Nagchungla pass is closed due to heavy
snow, and also possibly because many Brokpas leave their
villages at that time of the year. On another hand, fact
is enough Brokpas remain to cater to tourists and being
allowed to visit just up to Merak or Sakteng, the key
Brokpa villages, this is a unique opportunity to enjoy the solitude of winter
amidst the pristine nature and a few natives with
handful if any other tourists around.
B) Merak – Danglingtsho (Khaling) Trek:
though not as yet open to tourists promises to become
another option for tourists to trek in the remote parts
of eastern Bhutan. Further
south and of much milder climate on account of lower
elevations, Merak - Khaling route will be feasible for trekking from October to May.
tour options in Merak-Sakteng area:
If you wish to spend more time in the area it is
well worth it to spend a day in Merak as
you can not only rest but have an
opportunity to explore the village as
well as the neighboring village of Ganggu and
interact with the Brokpas.
It is also recommended to spend a full day
in Sakteng village. As Merak,
Sakteng is permeated by the myths and belief in
the existence of Yeti, the Abominable Snowman,
and the worship of Aum Jomo, the protecting
deity of the Brokpas. The Sakteng valley is also
larger than that of Merak and has more villages
in its vicinity to explore
Last recommended add-on constitutes a
roundtrip climb of Jomo Kungkhar a mountain
near Merak village. This short side trek offers
to explore the myth of the refuge of Aum Jomo,
an important Brokpa deity. This trip is
especially fascinating to do in the spring when
a 5-day festival is celebrated by the Brokpas to
propitiate the spirit of Aum Jomo. The trip to
Jomo Kungkhar is done as two days, one night
add-on to the Merak-Sangteng trek itinerary.
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Bird-watching in Merak Sakteng