It was my first official day of hiking along the 500-year-old Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT). We had set off early in the morning from Dochula Pass, at 3100 m (10,171 feet) walking through thick Rhododendron forests and whistling to scare off Himalayan bears and tigers. While thankfully we didn’t run into a bear or worse, a tiger, we did see a pack of gray-faced Langurs, a species of monkeys that live in the forests of Bhutan.
Today’s hike would bring us along a special part of the TBT that is known as the “Divine Madman’s Trail” and of course like all things in Bhutan, there was a famous legend behind it. “Bhutan is a land of stories,” Singay told me while we descended through the forest to a beautiful verdant valley. “What I love most about the Trans Bhutan Trail is that is a walking museum of history, legend, and culture. And this hike is no exception. Now we are following in the footsteps of the Divine Madman, Tibetan lama Drukpa Kuenley, who arrived in this part of Bhutan in the 16th century to fulfill his legacy of suppressing evil energies through his dharma teachings”.
As I looked down the lush valley at the legendary arrow house in Thinleygang, Bhutan, I thought about the tiny trinket that has laid next to me on my bedside table gathering dust for over a decade. Follow your arrow it says, reminding me of a long-held promise to be hiking in Bhutan before my next milestone birthday. I couldn’t believe that just like the Divine Madman who had shot an arrow traveling through the high plateaus of Tibet to Bhutan, I’d ended up halfway around the world as the last guest of the season on the Trans Bhutan Trail, just before my 51st birthday.
“I have driven near this valley many times as a child alongside my father to return to his maternal village each year,” said 28-year-old Singay Dradul, my guide. “I had heard the legend of the Divine Madman and the infamous Chandana Lhakhang which means house where the arrow landed. But in all those years I had never actually visited the Arrow House until I became a trail guide.”
“And here we are” he smiled as we looked down the valley at a 16th-century traditional farmhouse. “Are you ready to meet the owner and her brother and learn the history of the arrow house?”