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Round the World Journey

Bhutan

BHUTAN | Friday, 13 October 2017 | Views [258]

The flight into Bhutan's one and only airport Paro was every bit as exhilarating as promised. The place cruised at around 10000m just over the mountains and then veered rapidly right, then left, before descending rapidly down the valley and screeching to a halt. I had almost been put of the scent by Calcutta's flight tracker which insisted my 930 flight wsas actualy at 1100 but i decided to go to the aiport as planned at 7 and it left early. 

Bhutan is beautiful. I arrived 4 hours before Nigel so had time to visit old Paro with its beautiful old wooden houses and craft shops all overlooked by a fort that we will visit before leaving. The valleys are spectacular with terraced rice fileds approaching harvest and scores of wild flowers. Red chillies are left to dry outside windowns or on roofs. The houses often have roofs weighted stones with eves open to the air. Our guide Songse and driver were dressed in traditional Bhutanese wear, and to my surprise so were many of local residents.

Bhutan has a government and prime minister but the King still weilds considerable authority. His palace compelte with several temples is spectacular. Huge white walls and teracotta roof, framed by an attractive wild looking rose garden. A huge Buddha is enshrined in the main temple along with thousands of smaller ones. Pilgrims walk clockwise around the temples to lose mis deeds. 

Close to the hotel was a popular Stupa with locals walking around and around late into the evening.  

The town itself has a population of about 200 000 but there is quite a bit of new building going on - perhaps more hotels. The main town centre had some charactful small shops, cares and bars and no mega stores that I have seen so far.

We left the hotel after a good breakfast, the fooed is so much better in Bhutan (!), and visited the stupa built by the former queen in line with her husband the former King's wishes.  It was sad to see the superstition - we were told that old parents with nothing to do are left at the temple to push the prayer wheels with a packed lunch for the day.  Too much works and not enough grace.

It was a full day with a range of visits including to a 12th century temple, an old nunnery, a new national textime museum with dazzling silk robes and works, a modern art gallery belying the lack of secular painting tradition, the giant buddha where the chief abbot has been recitiung budhist scriptures for the last 2 and a half months, a folk museum and various craft shops. I have probably forgotten one or two of the stops but had enough so opted out of the final visit of the day to a paper manufacturing factory.

The next morning we drove the 30km or so up to the 3100m Drochuka Pass. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we could not see the 7000m Himalayan range and table mountains. So we walked up a steep and muddy mountain pass to a small monastery that also enjoyed splendid views. It was a steep 500m climb that left me a bit tired but en route I saw silver monkeys and many rhodendrums and orchid plants.  Coming down was so much easier.  From the pass we drove down to the guide's own home village which entailed another sharp climb. This really was a remote village with just a few farming families - cattle, dogs and rice fields. The home was quite poor but we were offered tea and invited to make a small donation whcih is apparently a Bhutanese custom.  Nigel sensed that the 87 year old grandmother was not long for this world and made a generous 1000 Bhu donation.  The village in April and May must be stunning since here there were even more orchids.

Our hotel was ok but lacked wifi so I was pleased enough to set off again - this time visiting a nunnery with commanding views of the valley.  Like so many it is a recent royal establishment albeit with some impressive decoration.  We then drove past Bhutanse practising traditional archery and a form of darts before walking up through rice fields to Khamsun Yuley Chorten monastery - built in the 1990s at royal instituion. The views were enjoyable and a muddy walk along the river bank was enjoyable in the heat.  We then visited probably the most impressive of the dzong at Punajha - built in the 15th century.  The scale and ordering of the architecture was impresive with delicate word work and paintings. The palace is split between secular govenrment officails and the temple reflecing teh dualiity of power in Bhutan.  The ecolodge had not TV or wifi and was situated high up a bumpy, uncmfortable road but enjoying views of another river valley and fortress that unfortunatley had burnt down.  The rooms were beautifully appointed and quiet and the food gathered from the lodge's own garden.  

Another day another drive and another Dzongh fortress which invariably comes complete with temple. Thie one back in Paro  but not before we had got up early and caught a glimpse of the Himalayan table mountains from the Drochula Pass.  

We started with another ruined dzong which at least afforded another view of a snow clad peak. Then to the main event - Paro Dzong which was similar if slightly less impressive than yesterday's in Punakha. The national museum was in a watch tower looking over the fortress - mildly interesting mainly for a view of Bhutan's climatic regions, flore and fauna. I was less interested in budhist sculptures and masks.

Our tour guides continued the pace of the trip and the sights started to blur a bit. The main highlight was of course the long 2 hour trek up to Tiger's Monastary. We passed the option of a horse ride half way up, and set off at a good pace up the steep climb.  It took about an hour or a bit less to the half way cafe point where i stopped to admire the views and enjoy a well earned cuppa. Nigel who was coughing up blood and gunk continued slowly and we re-joined some 40 minutes later to share the last leg from the cliff edge viewing points and steep but well protected steps.  The views up and across were amazing but the Temple had a heavy presence that did not sit well for me.  Coming down was of course much easier!

I finised the trip with a rest and a stone bath in a rustic farmhouse setting.  Unfortunately, something i ate disagreed with me and on return to the hotel, I started shivering and feeling feverish. Visiaons of mosquito bites and malaria crossed my mind but after throwing up during the night I recovered from this bout of sickness.

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