Merak – Sakteng, the twin villages that all Bhutanese hear about yet remains a mystery to most of us. I always thought that the two are located right next to each other as they share the same outfits and unique culture. But when I visited Trashigang, the locals told me that it is a common mis-assumption in the Bhutanese society. Merak and Sakteng are actually separated by a 4,000m tall pass.
Most tourists prefer to hike to the twin villages but my friends and I decided to take the 3-4 hours drive from Rangjung to Merak. If you’re interested in going on the Merak-Sakteng trek, you can check out the 7 day itinerary here. But if you wish to drive there instead, your starting point will be from the beautiful village of Radhi commonly known as the “Rice Bowl of the East”. It is a charming village and the terraced paddy fields in the area make for very pretty photos.
After being advised to take a vehicle with 4WD on the bumpy ride to Merak, we hired a Bolero. The blacktopped road ended in Khardung in Radhi and from there, we took a farm road. The journey after that was very rough and we had to hang onto dear life the entire time (not that it’s a reason worthy of stopping a trip to this place). It wasn’t all that bad of course, there was an incredible place on the way that looked like something out of a fairy tale. A flowing stream glittering in the sun, the trees stained with the yellows of autumn and the clear sky opening up behind it all.
Have you ever felt like you’ve traveled back in time? That was how it felt when I saw Merak for the first time, like I was peeking into a far-gone past; a time untouched by technology. The Brokpas (natives) of Merak are semi-nomads who raise yaks for a living and live in houses that are clustered together. Local legends say the Migoi (Yeti) live in the surrounding regions. In fact, the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is believed to have been built to protect the Yeti in addition to other animals.
With people from Trashigang and Trashiyangtse often visiting Merak for archery tournaments, the place is more lively than I thought it would be. The sight of rosy-cheeked children playing in the sun with their Tibetan Mastiffs and the women washing their clothes outside their houses all added to the cheerful and homely feeling of the place.
The locals, dressed in their heavy local attire, were very welcoming and warm. We would have loved to spend the night and listen to folk tales of the Yeti but we had to return the same day. So after trying out the local clothes and taking some photos, we had a warm meal and left the village.
If you have the time and the resources, you should definitely go on the Merak-Sakteng trek and you can lodge in homestays there. But if you have only a day to spare, the one-day trip to Merak is just as enjoyable.