What else can you do but shriek with excitement upon receiving pre-packed Rimowa luggage filled to the bursting with Harlan and Holden clothes and shoes? Not much, I tell you. This outburst of gleeful yelling was down to the Philippines-based brand, whose goal is to make your life simpler, richer and easier by providing you with clothing that uses the least amount of brainpower to put together. The luggage was for a voyage, a voyage dedicated to the new Harlan and Holden Camino shoe – a light as a feather, rubber-soled slip-on made from canvas fabric that they were touting to be the comfiest shoe you could ever encounter.
What better way to christen the comfiest of practical shoes than on a trip of treks to the Kingdom of Bhutan? And this trip warranted its own hashtag #CaminoChallenge. Long on my bucket list, Bhutan is known for its famous Gross National Happiness Index – a key indicator for its government to measure the life satisfaction of residents. This tiny country, nestled in between the behemoths India and China, restricts tourists visas and celebrates eco-friendly farming, building and harvesting methods. Their number one resource is water-powered electricity which they export to India. And they love meat, but as Bhuddists they do not kill the animals, so instead they import meat from India. Their houses are painted with brightly-coloured symbols – including the penis, a sign of fertility but humorously jarring for most tourists, aka me. The Bhutanese are a generous and friendly bunch, best exemplified by the staff at our amazing hotel, the Aman Kora in Paro, located next to neighbouring capital city of Thimphu.
The Camino Challenge was also an opportunity for me to overcome my vertigo – though admittedly I wasn’t very prepared to face my fear of heights many thousands of feet above the clouds of Bhutan. Day one of the Camino Challenge and we had a goal of reaching the famed Tiger’s Nest Monastery, 15,000 feet or so above ground. We started on horseback, edging along the cliffside, led by a 13-year-old local on his summer holidays. (I was sceptical and nervous, but he was much calmer than I). After a two-hour walk – with the last 800 steps comprising a roller-coaster stair-stepper. The result of which caused shaking thighs and beating hearts, but it was all the more satisfying to realise that you can always push yourself further. At the end of our trek we were treated to a glorious view of the old monastery, which had been burnt in a fire in 1998 but restored to its former beauty in 2005. Instagram-worthy? Absolutely. Providing a moment of true peace amid this crazy world? Even better.
Day two saw us take a beautiful one and a half hour drive into Thimphu, through multiple valleys running next to the river, where we passed through the capital city, and ended up in the grounds of the Royal guards. We were to hike up to Dodedrak, a monk’s university high up in the clouds at the mountain top where the air is so clear it could be bottled and sold as luxury “champagne air”. Now I’m not going to lie - a second day of a gruelling four-hour hike up steep cliffs was tough, both mentally and physically. But it was that much sweeter when we finally entered the gates of the monastery, greeted by some of the 187 monks who had been donated Caminos of their own.
What I learned:
Did I think I was capable of eight hour long treks up and down with my city legs? No, but human relentlessness kicks in and you just keep going.
Did I think I’d be so touched by a beautiful blessing from the monks at Dodedrak? No, but the Bhutanese cultivate and hold universally wonderful values – respect, love, care for the environment – that one cannot help but feel at peace and at one with their traditions.
Was I impressed I never got a blister from wearing brand new Caminos while trekking for two days? Oh Yes indeed. What an experience to give to a group of jaded journalists and bloggers. Harlan and Holden, thank you. And keep on walking.