Bhutan has introduced its domestic flights between Paro, Bumthang and Yonphula (Trashigang). You can reduce the duration of the trek to 15 days if you use the domestic flight to Trashigang from Paro International Airport.
Situated at an altitude of 3,500 meters, the exotic valleys of Merak and Sakten have been home to the Brokpas for centuries since their displacement from Tsona in southern Tibet. The nomadic indigenous group of eastern Bhutan, the Brokpas seasonally move their herds of livestock from the lower valleys in the winter to the higher pastures in the summer. While polygamy is a prevailing practice as well, marriage among Brokpa couples is a convergence of practical consideration and sacred responsibility, with elaborate rituals to seal the union. Like the rest of Bhutan, they are fond of archery and are skilled in the games of accuracy. Women are particularly well known for their singing and they love to perform from their wide range of repertoire of festive songs dedicated to gods and goddesses, as well as the universal themes of nature, youth and old age.
Brokpas prefer to wear their traditional attire spun from yak hair. Traditional wear for men comprise a black hat with five long fringes hanging from the sides. The upper part of their body is covered by a thick jacket with a vest of animal hide tied at the waist by a long belt known as a kera. For the lower part of the body, traditional fashion dictates a knee-length pair of shorts called kongo. Women usually wear their long hair tied up in plaits with colourful ribbons. An apron reaching to their knees is tied at the waist. Woven out of raw silk, the women’s dress is designed with colourful motifs of animals and flowers. Fond of jewelry, they wear long strands of corals, cat’s eyes and necklaces of semi-precious stones.
Things to see and do
The diverse rituals and customs of the Brokpa people make Merak and Sakten an interesting place to visit, especially each Autumn when they honour their mountain goddess Jomo Kuengkhar by observing a two-day festival to seek her blessings for prosperity. The festival is also an occasion to witness the annual naked terchham dances of the Brokpas and the cultural splendour of the Ache Lhamo dances performed by herders annually to honour another feminine divinity sacred to their people.
There are several interesting temples and monasteries in both valleys: the Borangtse Lhakhang, the Guru Goemba, and Labrang Lhakhang. At the Gango Tashi Choling temple in Merak, established in the 15th century, it is possible to see the remains of its founder. In the Samtencholing Lhakhang it is possible to view that what is purportedly the ancient saddle and the phallus of goddess Jomo’s horse. The Sakteng wildlife sanctuary is spread over 650 sq. kilometers and is the only reserve in the world dedicated to protecting the habitat of the Yeti or abominable snowman. The sanctuary is mountainous and rugged and boasts a diverse variety of flora and fauna. Populations of snow leopard, red panda, Himalayan black bear, barking deer and the Himalayan red fox have been recorded in the region. The park also has rare blue poppies, Bhutan’s national flower. Primulas and Gentiana that explode in a riot of colors in the spring. The avian population of the park includes hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel, Assamese macaw, blood pheasant, grey-backed shrike, grey-headed woodpecker, the common hoopoe, Rufous-vented tit and dark-breasted rose finch.