We have arrived safely in Bangkok and are installed in the River Room of the Ibrik with up close views of the river traffic and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha just on the other side.
I am not feeling great , so I will enhance this later.
We left our hotel in Paro at 9am and arrived at the airport at 9:05. We took off at 11:10 and here is our last view of the high Himalayas.
We landed in Dhakka, Bangladesh an hour later. Julie took this picture of me taking advantage of the 30 minutes on the ground to sleep in a reclining position.
It takes over an hour to drive into Bangkok. Out hotel is a very narrow house right on the main river. It has just 3 rooms. I immediately assumed the prone position, from which I could still enjoy the view. Also note the adorable bathtub.
Across from our hotel (The Dragon’s Nest) is the “new” city of Wangdue – sort of a planned city Bhutan style. The old city was in danger of sliding into the river, so the government set this up with private citizens building but to specs, so all the buildings look the same, except for colour and painting detail.
We have more pictures on our other calendars.
The other pictures are of the river in front of the hotel.
After a drive along the river we arrive near the Drupka Kenley temple – aka “Fertility Temple”. We take a lovely walk through the small village (visiting a 50 year old farmhouse on the way and having a taste of ara) and on through the rice paddies to the temple.
This was a busy day – as many “last” days are.
Over Dochela Pass and on to Thimphu were we had lunch with Karma Tashi, the CEO of Bhutan Travelers, our excellent tour company (more about them in a later post), Julie mailed her sleeping bag and some souvenirs back from the Thimphu Post office and we did our last round of souvenir shopping in both Thimphu and Paro.
We drove on to Paro and checked into the fanciest hotel we ever stayed in in Bhuthan. It was right by the river and we could hear the beautiful sounds all night.
We then went to one of the two oldest temples in the country which had beautiful statue of the future Buddha flanked by two large and beautiful thousand armed Avaloketashivaras. There we said our prayers for a safe journey and for peace and equanimity for all.
Another long car day. We left Bumthang about 8 am and arrived in Wangdue at 6 pm.
Just for local color here are two pictures of the house across the street from the hotel.
Our next stop was the weaving factory… the factory was open but the shop wasn’t.
We noticed the snow as we began to rise towards Yutong La (3400 meters). At the top we put up our own (blessed) prayer flags for long life, good health and all general good things for all sentient beings ( especially friends and family).
Today not being a Sunday we had to deal with two construction zones . We waited about 45 minutes at the first one and about an hour at the second one. Between the landslides and the large trucks traffic on these roads, we were surprised there weren’t more of these zones.
We took a slight detour after Pele La to see the one remaining black necked crane near Gangtey. And then on to Wangdue. Here is the Wandgdue Dzong, which we only plan to view from the outside. Tomorrow Fertility Temple and back to Paro via Thimphu.
Today was primarily a temple day. We visited 4 temples/monasteries – 2 private and 2 state funded. Most of the temples have their paintings refurbished fairly frequently. The first place we visted (one of the private ones) is an exception to that rule and has preserved the 15th century originals. They were really fascinating and we spend quite a bit of time examining them with Julie’s flashlight. We also visited one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan and another one of Guru Rimpoche’s commemorative temples (Tigers Nest being the other one) – at this one he defeated a demon, restored a kings “vital force” and left his body imprint on a stone ( which we saw).
Below is just an assortment from temple exteriors and courtyards, including a close up of a stone from a Mani Wall ( each stone spelling out Om Mani Padme Om in Sanskrit).
After lunch we visited the Bunthang Dzong for Bumthang.. called the Jakar (White Bird) and climbed to the top of the tower ( the tallest Dzong tower). At the top we looked down on the roofs of the buildings and there was an entrance to a male only temple with demon skins hung above the doorway.
Back at the hotel…..
..we enjoyed a traditional hot stone bath. Outside this pool room are people heating rocks in a fire and then using the rocks to heat water which they let into the tub on demand. They also float herbs in the tub. We had a great soak for about an hour before we cleaned up for dinner. It was great.
Quite a travel day. We left our hotel in Punakha before 8 am and arrived at our hotel in Bumthang about 5:30 pm. We went over three passes, Pele La at 3100 meters and with snow, Yutong La at 3400 meters and then a low pass between the first two of the four broad valleys that compose Bumthang. Bumthang has conifer forested hills and mountains, sheep, potatoes and the highest density of sacred sites in Bhutan.
Here is the view outside our hotel room as we left the balmly clime of Punahka.
First stop – the checkpoint in Wangdue. all travelers have to show their papers at several checkpoints as you move across the country.
Then we immediately cross the river into Wangdue proper.
Continuing on into the mountains, here is some typical scenery.
Catching some goats, cows and people on the road.
We stop for tea in a medium size town.
We see yaks on the side of the road.
We stop for lunch in Trongsa with a view fo the Trongsa Dzong, a masterpiece of 17th century Bhutanese architecture.
You can see how it looks like a complete medieval town from the inside.
Trongsa is at the junction of the major east/west road and a road to the south. Taxes were brought here from the eastern provinces as late as 1960. This watch tower is above the Dzong.
All Dzongs are both administrative and spiritual. These monks are conferring over some texts.
At the next pass (Youtong La) we cross over into Bumthang.
About 1 1/2 hours later we check into our hotel and immediately the power went out. So this is how our room looked to us. We also had most of dinner by candlelight before power was restored.
You see this picture many places in Bhutan. It is an important tale about team work or friendship. The animals want fruit. The bird plants the seed. The rabbit fertilizes it, the monkey waters it, the elephant protects it as it grows. The tree grows and the fruit ripens it. To pick it also takes all of them. I find it very sweet and inspiring.
Down, down, down, down (and passed on the way by the elder queen mother and her motorcade ( there are 4 queen mothers as the former king has 4 wives)). We arrive in Punakha at about 4,400 feet with a beautiful river and very warm and tropical feeling. It is Saturday, so the Saturday vegetable market is going on as we pull into town.
We quickly head for the Punakha Dzong, known as the most beautiful Dzong and rightly so. These two shots show, but hardly do justice to the exterior. It sits at the confluence of two beautiful rivers.
Here is a couple of interior shots, the entrance to the temple – definitely the nicest we have seen with 3 story ceiling, golden columns and a wonderful set of paintings of the life of Buddha. We found out our driver, Kado, was a boy monk at this temple at the age of 9.
The second shot just shows a courtyard with some of the mountains in the background. We spent quite awhile here. It was beautiful everywhere you looked and we really enjoyed it.
After lunch in town we attempted to find a pharmacy for some allergy drugs for me. The pharmacy had pretty empty shelves. Our guide convinced us to try the hospital, where I was seen very quickly. The doctor told me how much he admired the Canadian medical system and let me know about Stephen Harper’s demise ( political demise, for you non-Canadians). He then gave me what what drugs he had in stock .. enough until I left the country.. so I wouldn’t have a sinus issue with the airplane travel. This is a picture of the hospital grounds. All medical care ( even for tourists, apparently) is free here.
We went on a drive to see some sites and we played on the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan for awhile. As we drove back through town the Saturday market was breaking up and people were heading home
We returned to our hotel, which has a lovely view, as seen below. As dusk approached two tourist buses full of guests arrived, and some people for a Unicef conference, so it will be busy here for dinner tonight. Tomorrow on to Bumthang.
Doche La is the high pass to Central Bhutan. It’s about 10,500 feet high and it takes about 45 minutes to get there from Thimphu.
On a clear day you can see the entire eastern range of the Bhutanese Himalayas. It was a bit smoky and cloudy for us, but still quite lovely. These 108 chortens or stupas have been installed on the top of the pass within the last decade.
We started our day hike right next the 108 stupas so we had to work our way through this tangle of prayer flags, always making sure to lift them up, rather than step over them. (That’s our guide, Norbu and Julie)
It took us about 2.5 hours to reach this temple perched on the edge of the world at about 11,800 feet. We shared the trail with some scout leaders ( both boy and girl scouts), but no tourists. We mostly hiked through a mature rhododendron (etho-metho) forest – many trees 100 feet high or more. The height dwindled as we went up.
We then took only about 1.5 hours to hike back down. We arrived at our hotel just below the pass and checked into this room.
The first picture is at arrival. The second picture is a bit later after the fire was lit and the third picture shows the view from our window including the balcony with the binoculars.
Just before sunset we went back up to the temple at the top of the pass. It was built at the same time as the chortens to commemorate the ending of a conflict with the separatists. Our guide stayed outside and we went in to look at the paintings and sit a bit. As we left, and we found this very odd, the lama sidled up to us and said “Give me money. I need a dollar.” We had already given our normal temple donation. Perhaps this was because the guide wasn’t there.
We returned to our hotel for a nice dinner and snug night under thick blankets. No altitude sickness today.. YEAH !!!
Before we went to our room we noticed this Drukpa Kenley item in the gift shop. Some of you have asked for photos.. you know who you are. We did not buy it.
Another beautiful day in Thimphu. We drove up to near the telecom towers above Thimphu and then took a lovely walk of about an hour to a temple high on a crest of another hill. Near the start of our walk we went through a forest of prayer flags. Here is Julie among them.
We then continued to the temple. Here is a view of the door to the courtyard.
And here are some “sanctuary roosters” that live there. They have been saved from the slaughter house and brought here to enjoy their days. Their crowing punctuated our meditation.
We spent some time in the temple and then started our way back. Here is a large prayer wheel just outside the temple and a lovely view of the Thimphu Dzong from this spot.
After our walk back through forests, we had lunch in the city and then visited a Buddhist Nunnery. This is their courtyard. We were able to help a small nun with a headache.
And just outside their compound is this view of the Thimphu Dzong.
We ended our tour day with a walk through the Thimphu Zoo. We saw the Takin – the National Animal, sort of goats head on a 750 lb. cows body. Too far away to see with this camera, but pretty impressive. There were young ones as well.
Today we toured Thimphu, essentially the capital of Bhutan, as the King’s offices and palace are here.
Here is a picture of Thimphu.
And here is then giant Buddha being built on a hill overlooking Thimphu. It is reputed to be the largest Buddha Shakymuni in the world. The Chinese are doing the building. The temple in the base has yet to be built.
Wen visited some great places in town – the Kings Memorial Chorten, the National Libaray ( full of books written in Tibetan that few can read with comprehension anymore), the School of Arts and Crafts ( where we saw students doing traditional wood carving, drawing , painting, embroidery and weaving – it was fascinating), and a traditional paper factory. They make paper out of daffney bark.. I have the steps on video. We really loved the process – and the product !
We then went to downtown Thimphu .. here is the central square with the clock tower.
And here is the BIG corner downtown. The only place there has ever been a traffic light in Bhutan. But they took it out and put the policeman back in. Seems to work better.
We also visited the post office and the main bank – Bank of Bhutan (Bob). Then after the work day is over you are allowed to enter the Thimphu Dzong.. called Tashichhhodzong. All Dzongs date from the 17th century and house both governmental and religious functions for the area. This Dzong houses the National level of both functions.
Here is a picture of the Assembly Building right across the river from the Dzong.
And here is the interior courtyard of the Dzong looking towards the King’s throne room. We could not take pictures inside there. It was fabulous. There are a 1000 Buddha paintings and 1000 Buddha statues and 3 thrones ( the last king, the current king and the religious leader), everything very ornate and beautiful.
Our revised schedule is now known. Tomorrow we will take a short hike to a temple in the area, visit the National Zoo and a Nunnery. Friday we will go to Dochu-La, a pass on the way to Punakha with views of the entire eastern range. We will take a hike there and spend the night. Saturday we catch up with our old schedule, descending into Punakha.