Mushroom Spotting Along Lungchhutse Hiking Trail

One wouldn’t normally think late summer to be good idea to go hiking, considering the slushy muddy trails and an unpredictable weather. But this kind of weather turned out to be perfect for a different kind of experience in the wilderness – one we weren’t actually prepared for.

by PemC Tenzin

Amanita Rubrovolvata (poisonous)

I am, most of the time, sedentary.

By that I mean besides work and home, I rarely manage to make time for alternative recreational pursuits…let alone go hiking. When my team and I at work decided to tackle top 5 hikes around Thimphu for our next #traveltobhutan series on youtube, it was perfect for me to mix work with pleasure. I had spent enough time scrolling through beautiful hiking photos of others online, having their moment on top of the mountain. This time I was going to have mine, (or so I thought).

One wouldn’t normally think late summer would be a good idea to go hiking, considering the slushy muddy trails and an unpredictable weather. But this kind of weather turned out to be perfect for a different kind of experience in the wilderness – one we weren’t actually prepared for.

So early that weekend morning we got geared up to set off to tread along the Lungchhutse hiking trail – a very popular trail from Dochula Pass leading to Lungchutse Goenpa. As expected, the early morning hours promised no sunshine. That worried me because it was the glorious stretch of mountain ranges (only visible at the top of the trail) that got me looking forward to the hike in the first place. Missing it entirely because of the oncoming dark clouds and thick fog would make the hiking video completely futile.

But we still decided to go for it. As we slowly made our ascent towards the temple, almost immediately the trees began to change. We suddenly found ourselves amidst clusters of trees that looked more like crooked walking sticks planted by ancient travelers that slowly grew into an enchanting green web almost attempting to cover the skyline. “The trail looks different with each changing season,” said Lhamo, a seasoned trekker who agreed to be our guide that day. “It’s beautiful in spring. Everywhere you look you see blooming rhodhodendrons. Even the trail gets covered with the flowers as if welcoming your every step.” Lhamo remarks that it’s probably her fifth time hiking towards Lungchhutse. Her face gleamed up every time she tells us a hiking tale – and she had many that day. “I used to feel lazy thinking about going trekking before but one day I just decided to do it instead of always postponing plans. Now I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush.”

Along the Lungchhutse Hiking Trail

As Lhamo and the camera crew went ahead and their chatter slowly began to fade away, the forest came alive with their own sounds. From the sounds of the birds chirping to the sounds of raindrops falling on the leaves, I was getting a kind of nature therapy one could use every once in a while. The giant trees with their trunks covered in mossy green felt like a soft wool-covering for the trees during the wet season. Suddenly my gaze fell on the protruded roots. Peeping through the sheltered small holes under the tree were….mushrooms.

I’ve always known that unless you’re a seasoned forager, blindly picking mushrooms could be deadly but I wasn’t foraging. I picked up my camera and click. There’s a pretty picture, I thought. I suddenly realized we’re hiking during mushroom season and the more I looked around, the more mushrooms started popping up.

And it wasn’t just one kind of it – from concave white ones, browns, yellow to colorful red ones, the forest suddenly became a treasure trove. The camera boys stopped as I hailed them back to take as many mushroom photos as possible. “Most of these are inedible,” said Namgay, our videographer. “This one’s called Ga Shamu and this one’s Gongdo Shamu…and you better not touch those,” he said pointing at the black ones. I was curious to know how he knew so much about them. “My grandfather used to take us foraging for mushrooms back in my village in Tang, Bumthang. We used to collect a lot of Sisi Shamu (Chanterelles).” We even found ourselves way below the trail photographing ones growing out of the bark of the giant mossy trees. “A bear’s been here,” said Namgay as he looked at the claw marks on the trunk. Needless to say, we got out of there fast.

After little more than an hour the trees started clearing and we began to see the tip of the temple’s roof. Soon we were making our way across the temple’s tiny wooden gate. It slowly started raining and we found ourselves scrambling for shelter inside the temple. A friendly monk greeted us and ushered us inside. After offering butter lamps and incense at the temple’s altar, we stepped outside. The rains gave no sign of stopping and the view that we hoped for the video was nothing but of a thick cloud of fog. “There goes our Sunday,” said Namgay hopelessly. We decided to wait for a little while hoping to see the weather clearing but it only started to rain more. “It’s no use. We’re not getting the sunny view. No chance.” As we were getting ready to head back, Lopen Passang, the caretaker who greeted us earlier asked us to join him for some hot tea. “Yes please,” we all exclaimed. The only thing that was going to make us feel better about the gloomy weather and wet shoes were a nice cup of hot tea.

Gongsay Shamu prepared on the Bukhari

We followed Lopen Passang to his little cottage right below the temple. Right outside his house was a tap, connected to a big drum of rain water, where we washed off the mud from our shoes. We felt so grateful to Lopen when we entered his cottage warmed by a small bukhari in the kitchen. He ushered the five of us in his room while he took out some extra floor cushions. From the traditional wooden window slides to the wall-filled photos of Buddhist teachers and our Royal family photos (from calendars and newspaper supplements), Lopen Passang’s room is as Bhutanese as you can hope for. It reminded me of the altar room in my grandmother’s house in the village – the only difference was the number of samsung phone chargers and power banks on his bedside table.

“You all warm yourselves near the heater while I make some tea and something to eat,” said Lopen as we happily made ourselves comfortable in his room. Suddenly he asked, “Will you have mushrooms?” showing us a bowl full of some of the biggest Gongdo Shamu I had ever seen. I was so happy to see the mushrooms that  Lhamo and I volunteered to cook it for lunch. From washing the mushrooms outside in the rain, to frying the mushrooms on the bukhari – the day was slowly turning out to be alright. After having only snacked on some crackers in the morning, I realized how tired and hungry we all were as everyone devoured their rice, mushroom and ezey lunch. Suddenly the cold miserable weather outside didn’t seem so bad as it gelled quite well with the warm bukhari and home cooked meal we were enjoying inside a kind monk’s home.

We had all forgotten about our wet shoes and the shivering cold. At that moment all that mattered was how enjoyable the afternoon had actually turned out to be. Whether it was finding and photographing around 16 different types of mushrooms along the trail to finally getting a taste of the mushrooms in Lopen Passang’s bukhari-warmed kitchen – our weekend Lungchutse hike turned out to be quite the unexpected pleasant experience. So the next time you feel hesitant about treading on a muddy trail, look up and look further – there might just be little adventures waiting for you.

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