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Sakten (Sakteng)
The geographical location
Located in the two eastern most geogs in Trashigang dzongkhag and wedged between the glacial valleys of Greater Himalayas, and bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the North and North East lies Merak and Sakteng. At about 3000 m above sea level-the lower limit of glaciation in Bhutan - even during the summer months the Brokpa habitat is a glacially sculptured landscape.

While Merak is an upland valley along Nyera Ama Chhu Sakteng is located on the lower valley along Gamri Chhu. According to the demographic of the geogs, Merak has about 213 households with a population of 1,908 while Sakteng 330 with about 2,126 residents. Together they form 0.12 percent of the total population of the country. Gender ratios in the two geogs vary from 1141.4 males per thousand females in Merak to 1051 males in Sakten. "The gender ratio of both the gewogs are higher than that of the country because of nature of Brokpa economy which requires more manpower," said the study.

Sakteng Path
It is a day and a half walk over hills and ridges, following the Sakten chhu (river), which has to be crossed several times and through the villages of Joenkhar and Thrakthi under Sakten dungkhag before reaching Sakten.

People walking to Sakten normally start at six in the morning from Trashigang, carrying their own rations to cook meals along the way.

Saktenpaswho come with their caravan of horses and yaks to carry their food stock take three days to reach home as the animals find it difficult to climb the steep rock-strewn path.

"Time and again we have to get the loads off the animals and feed them lest they cannot continue the journey the next day," said Dorji a Saktenpa who frequents Trashigang town.

The journey uphill begins at Phongmey which is about 33 kilometres from Trashigang town and the end of the road point. From Phongmey the hike to Joenkhar is a four hour walk through dense forest and narrow jagged path.

It is usually the shopkeepers who regularly travel the route to stock up their food reserves like cases of beer and whisky, salt, sugar and kerosene.

Sakten town
Although most official visitors stop for the night at Joenkhar, the first village on the way, the Saktenpas prefer moving further up and spending the night in open air where their horses and yaks can graze freely in the forest.
The Saktenpas normally make a bonfire and sleep around it. They cover their back with a yak woollen blanket while their front faces the fire and change their positions when their back feels cold.

"One has to again light up the fire when it goes off," said Dorji Wangdi.

It is another 10 hours walk the next day to Sakten from Joenkhar and travellers start off early when the path is covered with frost and ice. The climb gets steeper and the weather colder as one moves further up.

After five hours of steep climb Thrakthi village is the next stop, the mid-point to Sakten from Joenkhar. Thrakthi's only shop has packet noodles, beer and beverages for sale. The Saktenpas, however, prepare their own meal; rice and spinach and dry chilli curry.

Trashigang town
From Thrakthi it is another five hour walk to Sakten. According to the Sakten Lam, Norbu Wangdi, the route to Sakten had been shortened and made easier for travellers after that the government cleared the new route. "The earlier route was steeper than this and most Sakten people found it difficult to travel," said the Sakten Lam. "Now we can reach Sakten an hour earlier."
Contributed by Samten Wangchuk, Kuensel
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