Monday, February 4, 2013

Bart Jordans' "Bhutan: A Trekker's Guide": Book Review

While the justified standard reference from the respected Cicerone guidebooks for venturesome trekkers, this also informs the rest of us who wish to learn about what lies off the highways increasingly linking what were yak trails and footpaths across this largely vertically-biased kingdom. The Himalayas to the north, the tropics to the south, in between up and down over gorges and into the highland passes and pastures lie many of the 27 treks featured here.

They straddle the rugged terrain. Jordans' "Dutch-English" describes affectionately and carefully (the one drawback, if minor: a few glitches remain in his idiom, or the proofreading) the sights on the famous Snowman Trek. This same guidebook was taken along by Kevin Grange (see his Beneath Blossom Rain: Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the World), and I bet Mark Horrell (Yakking with the Thunder Dragon: Walking Bhutan's Epic Snowman Trek) consulted it too. While it preceded in its 2005 original ed. the 1984 venture partially along that trek detailed in Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon by Trish Nicholson, the lore it shares will reward anybody planning a few days--or weeks--in the northern region.

Mastiffs guard yak herders' tents. Guides must push on ahead of trekkers--all must gain prior clearance for routes--and get to camp ahead of the visitors. Bears and leopards still roam the slopes. The flora and the fauna, given attention in the prefatory sections, both beckon. Similarly, Jordans packs a lot of information about altitude sickness, etiquette, geology, natural features, folklore, legends, and what to take along on both the day portions of the hikes and the trekking luggage carried by yaks or horses.

The maps look far too generalized given the topography, but as no trekker can go it alone, they seem more like sketches for groups to get a general lay of the land than they are orientation charts. You find a summation of the elevation gains or losses each day's section, but some treks are cursorily explained while others get much more coverage. This supplements, therefore, what a guide will provide, rather than serving to direct or inform a solo trekker, given Bhutan's restrictions for tours.

What adds value is the attention to adventures in the national parks. The Yeti have their own reserve, as does the Apeman: each have a trek to their name here. These creatures may remain hidden, but you find out about the yaks, takins, and those in Lunana who care for the herds. Sidebars update in the 2012 printing of the second 2008 ed. with summarized changes in roads due to weather, construction, and policy. (There's also an Adobe pdf format, unseen by me.)

As Queen Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck in her foreward notes, the "reorientation" of traffic as feet and beast give way to jeeps and pavement threatens the viability of networks that have been used for centuries by villagers, farmers, and traders. However, "appreciative trekkers" may seek out "these near forgotten routes." This handy guide, with a water-resistant cover, colored maps, and an attractive array of photographs, is a must for anyone leaving the great lateral road for the heartlands of Bhutan.  (Amazon US 12-16-12)

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