Hiking

Drakay Pangtsho, the revered lake on the lap of Jowo Drakey

Time: 5 hours
Best time to visit: April – May

Yet another story about us getting lost; it kinda seems like a trend. You’ve probably already read about our journey to Jimilang tsho (and if you haven’t, I assure you it’s surely worth checking out) but that wasn’t the first time we got lost. Our tendency to get lost started with our journey to the magnificent Drakay Pangtsho, at an altitude of approximately 4200m above sea level. Although we wasted time getting lost en route to unknown destinations, we got to enjoy great views and walk through rough patches which became moments to remember in itself.

It took us about 6 hours to reach the lake through terraneous paths but, to be fair, we lost an hour trying to find the way. We started from Thimphu at 3 am and reached the base point below Chha ree tsen goenpa in about 2 and half hours. The drive from Drukgyal Dzong till the base point was very rough, but that was in 2018 so might be better now. However, taking a 4WD vehicle might be a better choice. Head towards tshentop village and take the road that leads to chha ree tsen goenpa halfway through the village. There weren’t any signs, so do ask around if you aren’t sure of the roads.

After a light breakfast at the chorten near the base, we started the short yet steep climb towards the goenpa. You can take the route towards the goenpa and start from there (like us) or take the route from the edge of the base point (after the end of the road). However, we recommend the latter, commonly trodden path to avoid getting lost. You can visit the temple on the way back if you have time to spare.

The Chha ree tsen goenpa, one of the starting points for the Drakay pangtsho hike

The Chha ree tsen goenpa

View from the Chha ree tsen goenpa, the starting point of the Drakay pangtsho hike

View from the goenpa

For anyone planning to visit the lake, ensure that you have something proper to eat before the hike as you’ll need plenty of energy to overcome the first ridge. We ended up using all our energy on the wrong path climbing till the top of the mountain before realizing that we were lost. We had to descend back down and start again, making it more difficult to reach the first mountain summit. 

The path initially passes through dense forests providing good shade with small streams along the way till you reach a clearing that is commonly used as a campsite for people starting the journey from Taktshang. After this, the path becomes tougher as you ascend higher with the thin air and rocky terrain. It’s quite common to get altitude sickness on this hike so take precautions to be on the safer side. Kabchi (buckwheat flour) mixed with sugar and butter is usually of great help to people who get altitude sickness.

Yumtsho, as seen from the resting point

Yumtsho, as seen from the resting point

After the summit, there is a small heart shaped lake called Yumtsho, located at about a 30 minute detour from the route to Drakay pangtsho. If you have enough time, visit the lake, otherwise it’s enough to just take photos from the top. The path till Yumtsho is the hardest leg of the trek solely due to the steep climbs and low air density. After this, it is more relaxed with lower slopes and the air doesn’t feel so thin anymore. The density hasn’t changed obviously, but by now our bodies have gotten better acclimatized to the altitude.

After a good rest overlooking the beautiful lake, we continued our journey through short shrubs and mostly barren land till the first sight of the lake. The views all along this path are amongst the best with beautiful snow capped mountain ranges.

Scenic views along the way to Drakay pangtsho

Scenic views along the way

After crossing a few mountain ridges, you see the first glimpse of the lake in between a rocky mountain and its valleys lined with rhododendron shrubs. The black mountain range with white snow caps, the deep green lake and bright green shrubs lining the side along with bright skies of blue and white paints a harmonious picture; a true art of nature. After this stunning view, you need to walk approx. an additional hour through the shrubs before actually reaching the lakeside.

First glimpse of Drakay Pangtsho

First glimpse of Drakay Pangtsho

The locals say that it is actually called Drakay Pham tsho (Pham meaning lap and tsho meaning lake) which can be translated to the lake on the lap of Jowo Drakay, the guardian deity of Paro valley. This is why they believe that if people disrupt the peace in the area, the consequence is harsh weather conditions in the valley. It is also believed to be the treasure lake of Guru Padmasambhava, so if you’re lucky, you’ll be blessed with gems from the lake. Well, I guess none of us were lucky on that day. We weren’t that unlucky either though because the sky cleared up as we walked closer to the lake allowing for lovely photos.

Enjoying the view of the Drakay pangtsho lake

Enjoying the view of the lake

We had our packed lunch by the lakeside, an area commonly used by campers. We even found some leftover soot nearby. The surroundings were adorned with colorful prayer flags, a pretty common sight in Bhutan especially near lakes and religious areas.

With no mobile connection and hardly any disruptions in sight, the place couldn’t have been calmer. With each breath, my mind seemed to feel at peace with myself and I didn’t want to leave the place. All the struggles brought me to this place, even the lost hour; and I felt overwhelmed with joy while admiring the beautiful lake. Alas, after the meal and photos, we headed back already missing the place. The trek requires a moderate level of fitness and stamina. So for novice hikers planning a trip here, just go for a couple of short hikes as practice and you shouldn’t have much trouble. This place is definitely bucket list worthy so everyone should visit this at least once, if not more.

Your thoughts?

Bored during this pandemic? Keep yourself engaged by reading and find out places to visit with your friends and family once the situation improves. Stay safe peeps!

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