Eastern Bhutan ©Solange Hando
'Are there bears in the forest?
So are you carrying something, in case? Maybe we should find a stick...
No, they'll just go away, I'm a Buddhist, couldn't harm them'.
Thickly wooded hills rose as far as we could see but my only chance, it seemed, was to put my trust in the local gods and the prayer beads in the guide's pocket.
After all, we were heading for the monastery of the Three Gods, two days away, so as we followed the trail snaking up and down through the trees, with occasional glimpses of passes and peaks, it just wouldn't be fair to be eaten by a bear.
Farmers on the way to Trashiyangtse, Bhutan ©Solange Hando
I felt slightly reassured when I realised how many villagers were walking along the same trails, here a farmer and his wife on their way to market, there a young girl returning from the millet harvest, a red-robed Lama striding to a puja or an old woman fetching dead wood for the fire.
In remote farms here and there, chillies dried on the tin roofs and bells and pans hung from the trees, tinkling at the slightest breeze to scare off 'intruders'. What else would anyone need?
Ready for a Good Night Sleep ©Solange Hando
Well, that was fine in the daytime but when night came, how would we fare in the tents? There was a big traditional house near the camp but only one man lived there and he was a holy man, couldn't do much if a bear turned up.
The only comfort was the constant noise of rushing water, loud enough to cover any rustling in trees or bushes. My heart thumped when something tread on my tent pegs but it was only one of the helpers on his way to relieve himself. Wow...
Early Morning at the Monastery ©Solange Hando
There were no villages or farms on day two, just forest all the way, dark, silent, with the occasional creature vanishing into the undergrowth, 'only a pheasant', said the guide, but I wasn't so sure. Now and then, we'd emerge from the darkness to catch a fleeting glance of the monastery but it never seemed to get any closer.
We reached the top of the ridge just before dark and there it was, with 1000 Buddhas on the walls, flickering butter lamps, offerings and the Three Gods, Compassion, Knowledge and Power. We were in good hands, there would be no bears that night. I slept on the floor, in a vast empty room, and pushed my backpack right against the door.
We woke to a chilly morning and at over 2000 metres, even the young monks were quiet, dreaming of home perhaps or warmer climes.
Bumdeling Wildlife Reserve, Eastern Bhutan ©Solange Hando
The final day was a long lonely walk down through the forest but when we reached the bamboo groves at last, the trail widened and I forgot the bears. The path was muddy, slippery in places, but rice paddies glistened far below and we could see the milky river, the sand banks, the wild flowers and meadows where the rare auspicious black-necked cranes from Tibet come to rest every winter.
We sat at the water's edge and picnicked on red rice and beans while up on the ridge, the Three Gods kept a watchful eye on a lone trekker and her guide ready to return to the lost valley of Trashiyangtse, basking in brilliant sunshine in the far reaches of Eastern Bhutan.
Rigsum Gompa, the Monastery of the Three Gods near Trashiyangtse ©Solange Hando