Lopen (Lebbey) Sangay is a hermit. He’s taken vows to live life alone in his mountain hermitage, practicing meditation. So he was quite happy to see us when his niece, Thinley Choden arrived at the door of his hut with me and daughter Maile in tow. Thinley announced that we’d be visiting for a few days. We’d brought tea, sugar, rice, cooking oil, cookies, and chillies; he was delighted to have our company. Everyday, he took us on walking meditations into the highlands. We’d pack lunch and wouldn’t get back until sunset, seeing rare birds and blue sheep. At night we’d fall asleep to the sound of Lebbey’s chants coming from the altar room.
We saw big cat tracks pressed into the mud and snow on the trails – leopards and tigers. Bengal tigers have been moving into the Dragon Kingdom for decades, seeking shelter and adapting to an unfamiliar alpine environment. In India and Nepal, poachers hound the big cats to extinction while farmers and loggers destroy their habitat. These specialized apex predators from the tropical jungles of Bengal now hunt the high forests and alpine slopes of Bhutan. While often exterminated as “man eaters” in other countries, tigers never attack people in Bhutan. The Bhutanese believe that their neighboring countries’ war on nature forces the big cats to attack humans – the only prey left.