As we got set to leave in the morning it was suggested we stop at the main prayer wheel and stock up on oranges for the hike; no one knew how long it would take to find a bear. Chensho even gave us a liter of ara in case it got too cold and we needed to warm up. When Gyalsten parked the taxi in front of the immigration outpost, Kinga noticed all the police had abandoned the building and were gathered around a small car loaded with luggage that was headed east to Bumthang.
I got my camera ready, loaded my pockets with oranges and was emptying my camera bag of the books and things we wouldn’t need when Kinga hurriedly called out to me. Apparently the car’s passenger was none other than the reincarnation of Pema Lingpa (read some of his story here). As a man who is believed to have attained enlightenment and discovered treasures from Membartsho, this was truly a holy man in the Buddhist religion. He gave each of us a card with a blessing written on it. There were seven of us and we stood in a line, each taking a turn to bow in front of him and have him give a personal blessing by placing a holy box on our heads. Our day hadn’t even started and it was already a raging success.
Kinga and Gylasten had an extra spring in their step as we crossed the bridge adorned with prayer flags to the remote village of Bjeezum. We asked every one we saw if any sightings had been made that day, but no one had seen anything. We walked for two hours, occasionally stopping at points that were particularly prime bear habitat, but apparently our luck had been used up in coming across Pema Lingpa. Our trek had taken us along the Wangdi Chuu and among forests of conifers. The day was clear and bright and I quickly was shedding layers. A few times we stopped, thinking we saw a bear, but it turned out to be a shadow or rock.
With many apologies the guys said we should head back and drive a little further up the highway to a different farm road. I was disappointed but couldn’t help but still be in awe that I was meandering in the alpine forests of rural Bhutan looking for Himalayan black bears. When we returned to the outpost, the police were excitedly speaking to Kinga in dzongkha. A black bear had spent the past few hours sunning and foraging on the slopes just behind the outpost. Of course it had!
The men had watched it lumber over a rocky outcrop but the place was visible from the riverbank and we were welcome to climb down to wait. Seeing as we had been walking for 3 ½ hours I wasn’t about to say no to a short rest. Plus, Kinga was determined to find a bear. So we sat in the blazing sunshine, staring at the side of a mountain. A police officer, a villager, and three school age boys joined in our vigil. It took about 45 minutes, but our black bear finally made his long overdue appearance.
The long walk, the slight frustration, and the build up of anticipation finally culminated in a male, juvenile black bear snacking on grapes across the river. I had tears in my eyes as I sat with my feet dangling above the river rushing by, sharing oranges with the young boys, toasting my guides with the ara, and watching a wild Himalayan black bear. It had turned out to be a blessed day in every way.