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.
Paro, Bhutan. We have reversed our path and are now staying back in the city where we flew into Bhutan a few days ago.
Paro is not the capital, but it does have the advantage of sufficient flat land to locate the airport, so it’s a growing city. We saw the airport from the hills, and realize just how small it is – but how clean and pretty! There are only 17 pilots who are qualified to fly into this airport, as it requires navigating by sight – not radar – through the mountains. We held our breath coming in.
We started our day with the long-anticipated Rhododendron Festival. People plan a year ahead to come to this! The children were running around, music was playing, animals were scampering and we were ready! There was only one problem. The festival takes place whether the flowers are blooming or not – and we seemed to be about a month early. One wonders why the event couldn’t be moved, but we did have the walk in the rhodo gardens to ourselves. Sometimes I just shake my head. Our guide couldn’t have mentioned this? I know they hate to disappoint, but still…
Speaking of our guide, he is definitely loosening up with us. There is a serious protocol as to how politely and graciously we are treated. (I haven’t touched a car door handle since we got here.) But we are filling B.J.’s ears with trash talk about Meghan Markle and other western celebrities of note, and he is drinking it in. I told him that as he was doing such an excellent job of educating us about Bhutan, we were available to answer any questions he might have about America, etc. First one? “The Red Indians?” We told him the true story of our (first) national shame.
We went back through the Dochu La pass, which today was very overcast. So glad we saw it earlier on a beautiful sunny day. I am also teaching B.J. about elevenses, which we had to experience at the cafe at the pass.
After a rather peculiar lunch, which included spaghetti, fish and chips, sweet and sour vegetables, rice, salad, creamy potatoes and some other veg dish (food for people of various nations), we passed on desert and went onto to yet another Dzong, this one built in 1649 in a strategic defensive position to combat those aggressive Tibetans, who kept trying to invade.
The Drukgyel Dzong is still an active administrative center for this area, and is much more of it is original than freshly restored as some we have seen. Beautiful architecture and decorations.
And then we finished our sight-seeing today with the Kyichu Lhakhang, which was supposedly built bu the Tibetan king in 659 to defeat an ogress and to introduce the people to Buddhism. The rest is history, and this temple is remarkable for its evident age and small scale. (Photos -or shoes – never allowed in temples.)
We are situated in a new hotel for the next three nights. It’s built in a lot of pods, and we do have a cozy room. It’s finally actually cold! (And still lots of internet issues…)
Yesterday was a very bad WiFi day, and our new hotel is only marginally better, so bear with us till we get to Nepal, where I hope things will improve in a few days. Here’s the news from yesterday, Friday:
Around Punakha, Bhutan. Religion is the center of a Buddhist life, and it was the center of our day today. Continue reading
We left the big city today and drove into more of the central part of Bhutan. Fortunately, we had spectacular weather and clear skies as we climbed the mountains through cedar forests. Even got to see a yak convention.
Thimphu, Bhutan. A friend in New York asked us to drop off an envelope to her pen pal in Bhutan. (Yes, there still are such things.) Her friend’s mother works at the post office here in Thimphu – which is gorgeous in the Bhutanese style. We got to pop in for stamps and say hello to her mama.
Originally we thought this encounter would be a casual meet-at-the-post-office event, but we underestimated Bhutanese hospitality. We were invited to dinner and had a wonderful evening meeting the whole family. Dechen (our friend’s pen pal) is a print journalist reporting on health and tourism for the national newspaper.
Her husband is a TV journalist who covers environmental issues and there was a cousin who is an environmental specialist with the government. There were several other aunties, all of whom help take care of an active three-year-old, whose neighbors stopped in to keep celebrating the sixth birthday of one of them. A full house which just seems to work smoothly, especially when it came to preparing a feast of a dinner for us – which we really enjoyed. Plus, we discovered that we like Bhutanese beer, made from red rice.
Delicious and there was great conversation to go with it from very educated and informed people. What a nice evening.
We began our day in a big way. Thimphu is in the process of completing a major Buddha site, which can be seen from all over the valley. Buddha Dordenma celebrates the 60th anniversary of the fourth king (K-4) and houses over thousands of smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Buddha Dordenma itself, are made of bronze and gilded in gold. The completed work is one of the largest Buddhas in the world, at 177 ft, if you’re into competitive Buddha building.
The setting is spectacular and gives a view all over the valley. The inside is a temple and the outside is surrounded by golden angels.
We can even see Buddha from our hotel room, as he perches on the mountain. See him in the center toward the right?
We stopped by to see a weaving center, where the old techniques are still being preserved and practiced. Though I have seen countless demonstrations of weaving in my life, I still think it all happens by magic, and am always astonished at the results accomplished by practitioners of the art – and by their gift shops.
Then we visited the very impressive and very new textile museum. No photographs inside, but the outside was also a work of art.
Though it was a slow day, we headed off to the Farmers’ Market, just to see the variety of foods that are grown and consumed in Bhutan. Having been isolated for centuries, the Bhutanese were not exposed to many foods or cooking methods outside of their own customs that developed over centuries, based on what was able to be grown here. Rice, of course, is the staple item, in a variety of colors and types. What you know is what you love, and – like people everywhere – they are creative with what is available.
We had a delightful lunch in a restaurant that seemed Bhutanese, but was a delicious melange of Asian flavors. Our guide and driver sat on another side of the restaurant, which we saw later had the local buffet. The meal we were served was endless and delicious – and this is me saying that! When we asked at the end what the cuisine was, we were told it was “continental.” Next question: Which continent? Didn’t matter. It was yummy!
Thimphu, Bhutan. Not that there is a lot of honking in Bhutan during the day, anyway. This is definitely not India, but rather The Happiest Place on Earth. (Sorry, Mickey.)
Bagdogra, India (April 15). The time has come for us to leave this amazing country, and parting will be strange.
As crazy and chaotic and over-stimulating as India is, we have come to feel quite at home here, and would like to think that we have gotten at least a good surface understanding of the country and its cultures. Continue reading