When I was a kid, I dropped out of the Girl Scouts for the sole reason that I did not want any part of the camping trips. Cookies, I was onboard with. Sleeping in a tent, no running water for days at a time, and exposure to bugs and dirt? Not so much. Many years later, I've grown to love the outdoors, but in a playing outside all day, sleeping indoors at night kind of way.
So when I had the chance to join Exodus Travels' Land of the Thunder Dragon Tour, a 12-day journey that would involve five days of trekking Bhutan’s Druk Path, I decided it was time to face my fears. The beauty of the Druk Path is that it is away from cities and towns, so there's no hotel option—it would be four nights of camping or nothing. Could this trekking first-timer survive five straight nights of hiking and four nights in a tent, by herself? I was about to travel more than 7,000 miles to find out.
I spent the next few months Googling camping tips and dangerous bugs that live in Bhutan, vacuum packed my sleeping bag into my suitcase, stocked up on hand sanitizer, and got on the plane. The trip started off with a few blissful nights in comfortable hotels in Nepal and Bhutan, and then it was time for our “warm-up hike,” a seven-mile hike to and from the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery, impressively built on the side of a cliff. The views and altitude (and perhaps a lack of hiking training) took my breath away. At the end of that day, I was very glad to return to my hotel for a nice hot shower, and somewhat more nervous for the trek ahead.
At dinner the night before the start of the hike, our Exodus guide, Norbu, promised us that our experience would be more “glamping” than camping. “Glamping” at 14,000 feet? I was skeptical. Glamping I had done, and it usually involved hot water and plush bedding. I didn’t anticipate any of that waiting at the top of the mountain. Norbu outlined the hiking for each day, promising us some easier days and some harder days. This was coming from a man who had completed Bhutan’s infamous Snowman Trek, a 29-day hike that’s one of the world’s most difficult. (More people successfully summit Mt. Everest every year than complete the Snowman.) I questioned his definition of “easy.”
The next day, I bid a fearful goodbye to my beautiful hotel bed, took an extra-long hot shower, and headed out into the wilderness.
Our van drove us part way up a long dirt road before abruptly stopping. Goodbye, civilization: It was time for the hike to begin. Fortunately, my day pack was light. The rest of my gear, along with the gear of the 15 other people in my group, was being ferried up to camp by a team of 25 horses. We steadily climbed uphill for hours as the dirt road gave way to a lush green forest. Just as I started to get tired, a welcome oasis emerged in the distance—a large tent with a cushioned carpet for relaxing. This was our lunch tent, which offered hot coffee and tea, followed by a buffet of local Bhutanese dishes served on real dishes with real silverware.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to be carbon negative, and I was happy to see how eco-friendly and low-impact this Exodus trip was. Exodus lives by the motto "ban the bottle," committing to reducing plastic waste on all its trips by encouraging clients to bring their own reusable plastic water bottles, and by providing sanitary drinking water (boiled and then filtered) at every meal and throughout the day to reduce the massive piles of plastic water bottles that tourists contribute to.