Haa, Bhutan. We took a day trip today, which meant a total of five hours of driving over mountain roads that constantly zig-zagged. Our goal was the remote rural area of Haa, which has only very recently been opened up for tourists, and which is right on the border with Tibet and India.
I was expecting herders living in huts, but what we found was a small town where the old is really old, but the eight-year-olds can speak some English and every kid wants to high-five you. It’s dizzying. Interestingly, Haa was the location of the first school in Bhutan which opened in 1955. Until then everyone in the country was illiterate except for those who went into monasteries. Bhutan has made a remarkable leap forward since then.
Of course we started with a monastery, one of the oldest in Haa Valley. It was exceptionally lovely, and sat right in the middle of the town, not far from the market and the grazing cows. The stores and other buildings on the main street seem quite ancient and almost Tudor-esque in their design.
Our guide suggested we stop in one of the restaurants for a local specialty – a henty, a filled dumpling made from buckwheat flour. The restaurant looked at least ten generations old, but the dumplings were delicious. This little hidden valley was delightful to visit, and we felt as though we had passed beyond the Disney version of Bhutan.
Both coming and going, we reached a summit called Cheli La at 3988 meters – 13,000 feet high. It is a place where people put flags and offerings for their dead, as they must be closer to heaven, right? Quite a view to inspire thoughts of ghosts of the past.
Just a few words about the flowering plants in Bhutan. Yes – sometimes – you can see rhododendrons blooming in their native habitat (this one). We have also seen wisteria, magnolias, bougainvillea, jacaranda, roses, holly, primroses, dandelions, what we – and they – call a California poppy and other familiar forms of plant life. Isn’t it amazing to think how these species traveled the globe to places like our New York garden? And they didn’t need visas…