Day 14 – November 17 (see Day 14 photo gallery here)
Kinley Pema met us for breakfast, and then Wade and I walked into Paro bazaar and up to the dzong -about a half hour walk. Another beautiful day, although some high, fast moving clouds were appearing, indicating a change in weather. After eating lunch in the bazaar, we walked back to the Jankar resort where Kinley and her nephew drove us to the airport. The flight to BKK was smooth and direct, we arrived at 7:30 pm – a world away from the Himalaya.
Day 13 – November 16 (see Day 13 photo gallery here)
We checked out of the Khamsum Inn after a lousy nights sleep because of packs of maurading/barking dogs. Drove up to Marks for coffee on his deck – enjoyed the morning sunshine. We then drove toward Paro, and picked up Sandrina Mallard, a French national who is helping our at the Montesorri school where Arin goes. She’d only been in the country for 5 days. We drove through Paro bazaar to the Janka Resort (firstname.lastname@example.org) – run by Kinley Tenzin’s twin sister. Kinley was educated in Canada (UVic) – it is a lovely resort and I recommend it if you are staying in Paro. We dropped of our bags and drove up towards Taksang – the road now crosses the river at the bottom of the valley and there is a small town at the road head that sells souvenirs – lots of tourist busses and pack horses. The path is well maintained and relatively easy to walk – it took us about an hour to reach the tea-house/restaurant and another hour to reach Taksang. Spend about an hour at Taksang, then walked down to the tea-house/restaurant for a picnic that Mark had prepared and packed up. Another 45 min and we were back at the car and then drove to the Janka Resort. We were met by Kinley – Wade and I had a traditional hot stone bath and then we all had a dinner with Sandrina, Mark, Kinley, Wade and I – the power went out for a extended time, so we went to Kinley’s sister’s house (attached to the resort) and sat by the bukari for warms. Said our good byes to Mark after dinner and he and Sandrina drove back to Thimphu.
Day 12 – November 15 (see Day 12 photo gallery here)
After checking out from the Meri Puensum, we drove into the new townsite for Punaka and filled up with diesel, and then drove onto the Dzong. Spent about an hour in the dzong, it was fairly quiet and we were there before most tourists – walked around both internal courtyards and then around the outside. We then drove back towards Talo, looking for the turnoff for Tobgay’s house (where the old irrigation channel was) – missed it and drove onto the RNR building where we found someone who was able to phone Tobgay – Tobgay have him directions to his farm, and escorted us to the farm. We were able to drive directly to the farm along a steep dirt road through paddy fields. Tobgay, his mom (who turned 90) and two sisters were there, plus 10 monks. We were served tea and snacks and then went for a walk with Tobgay before lunch. After the monks had been fed, we ate lunch and then took leave to drive back to Thimphu. There was an accident on Dorchula which delayed us by about an hour – went straight to Mark’s house. Mark then took Wade and I downtown for some shopping – then back to his house for dinner – Dorji was there (two kids, just graducated with his MBA from ANU) – currently working at BTF. Francois then joined us, followed by Tashi Wangdi who was appointed by HM to an advisory position within the RGoB. Daniel from the walnut project joined us as well. We went to the Khamsum Inn, a new hotel downtown – lots of dogs and very noisy, but nice rooms.
Day 11 – November 14 (see Day 11 photo gallery here)
Got up early to take pictures of the Bumthang valley filled with mist – dogs from the guest house followed me as did three Chinese guests – lost the cover to my 14-24 mm lens (one of the dogs grabbed it and ran away) – Wade eventually found it. We left the guest house at 8:00 – had trouble getting the Landcruiser started because of the cold – took about 15 minutes and lots of black smoke before it settled down. The drive up through Chumi and over Yontong La pass (3400 m) – the road up towards Nikkachu was poor – stopped briefly at Chendebji to take photos. We did not stop a the restaurant just west of Nikkachuu bazaar, but drove straight onto Trongsa where we stopped for tea – the drive took just over two hours. From Trongsa, the road was awful – partly from the road widening project and partly from all the trucks related to dam construction. The drive up to Pele La and down to Wangdi took 6 hours and we often couldn’t drive any faster than 10-15 km/hr. Arrived in Wandgi and took some photos of the burned down dzong and new townsite before heading towards Punaka – took the turn off to Talo and spend the night at the Meri Puensum Resort (www.meripuensum.bt) – very nice. Phoned Tobgay and arranged to meet with him tomorrow for lunch.
Day 10 – November 13 (see Day 10 photo gallery here)
Left the guest house around 8:30 – lots of frost, but soon warmed up in the sun. Wade and I headed north along the eastern side of the river (now a paved road) towards Khen Chosum Lhakang (Konchogsum Lakhang) which was destroyed in a fire in 2010. A huge new Lhakang is being built to replace it, lots of construction all around, including significant construction for monks quarters. Just beyond lies Tamshing Gompa, which still looks the same as before – it was established in 1500’s by Pema Lingpa, and houses a chainmail cloak made by him. From there we walked across the same old foot bridge over the river and had our packed lunch (cheese, onion and tomato sandwiches, boiled egg and a potatoes) at the side of the river. A group of kayaks showed up (which I’d never seen before)- we then walked up to Kurjey Lhakang, and spent some time there – able to visit the oldest two Lhakangs (the newest was locked) – from Kurjey we walked to Jampay Lhakang – then we walked back towards the bazaar and saw several high end new hotels and the high school – had tea at the “Perk Hotel” in the bazaar and then back to the Swiss Guest house – a total of 18 km according to my Garmin watch.
Day 9 – November 12 (see Day 9 photo gallery here)
Had breakfast at the Yoe Zer Farm House and left by 8:00 am . The drive up to Namling waterfall and then Sengor (where we had tea) was uneventful – saw some monkeys, but did not get any good shots. The views from Thrumsing La were excellent again – crystal clear day. Drove down to Ura and arrived in Bumthang just after three. Sat on the patio of the Swiss Guest House and had a late lunch of sausage (courtesy of Mark), cheese and wine – before driving down to the Bazaar and walking around.
Day 8 – November 11 (see Day 8 photo gallery here)
After breakfast and checking out of the Lingkhar Guesthouse we drove with Lympo Minjur, Dasho Karma, Kezang, Nancy, Wade and Nima to Trashigang at about 10:00 am – we drove right up to the entrance of the Dzong and a delegation including the current Dasho Dzongda greeted Lympo, and we were all escorted up to the VIP suite in the Dzong overlooking the courtyard and introduced to various high officials and monks. We were seated in front-row seats overlooking the court yard and served suja and tengma. After a while, Wade and I went down to the court yard to take photos, the biggest challenge was how “contrasty” the light was – blinding sunlight reflecting off the whitewashed dzong walls and deep, unlit shadows. The colours and dancing were amazing and I took literally hundreds of photos. We were invited back up to the VIP suite for lunch and then watched some more masked dancing both from the VIP suite and also by roaming around Dzong. At 2:00 pm we took leave, said our goodbyes to Nancy and others and then departed to Lingmethang, about a 4 hour drive. We followed a guide called Chador (from Bidung) and his French guest called Michele – they actually went to Gom Kora and Wade and I drove directly to Lingmethang – just stopping to take pictures of the Yadi Zigs and to get diesel in Mongar. In the dark, I took a wrong turn at Kurizampa (a new road to Gyalpozhing – that tracks the other size of the river (Kuri chu). Backtracked after a few km and drove up to Lingmethang which is about 4 km from the bridge. The final part of the trip was dark – we stopped in Lingmethang at a restaurant to wait for Phuntso to guide us to the guest house. While there we met a british guy called Shawn who was working on the hazelnut project and two of his collegues, one from America and one from India – had a couple of beers with him before the guide arrived – we drove about 5 km up the road and then pulled over to the side of the road at a traditional farmers house where we spent the night. It is called the “Yoe Zer Farm House”, run by Thinley Namgyel (Thridangbi, Saling, Mongar; mobile 00975-1764405). They served us a traditional dinner and ara. The room was basic but clean (just mattresses’ on the floor) very friendly proprietor who spoke good English – highly recommend staying there if you need a room in this part of the country.
Day 7 – November 10 (see Day 7 photo gallery here)
Nima took our Landcruiser to Trashigang for repairs. I drove Nancy’s LC with Nancy and Wade to Khaling. The drive up through Rongthung to Sherubtse was as I remembered it – Palas is still there, but the restaurant is closed (now just a general store). We didn’t stop at Sherubste, but drove on up to Yongphu La (beautiful views across to Dremitse, down towards Trashigang, and the high Himalaya). We tried to get into the airstrip, which briefly functioned as the third domestic airport (after Paro and Bumthang), but was shut down after being in use for only a short period – apparently improvements need to be made to the runway before it can be used regularly. Lots of road-widening construction, so it was quite dusty, all the way through Barshong and into Gomchu.
Once in Khaling, we visited the National Handloom Weaving Project that Ruth helped to start while I was teaching there. It was closed, but Nancy found the caretaker and they opened up the shop for us, where we bought a few items – the dyes used there are natural, colour fast, and tend to have slightly muted colours compared to chemical dyes. After visiting the weaving centre, we drove back into Khaling and had lunch in the bazaar (which looked very similar to when I taught there). After lunch we went up to Jigme Sherubling Highschool (JSHS) and met with the Principal, Jigme Yangtse and a teacher, Sherub, who was a student of Nancy when she taught in Phongmey. Drove back to Lingkhar and then went out for dinner at Dasho Karma Tenzin’s and Kazang’s house which is just next to the beautiful house (which belongs to Karma Tenzin’s sister) that dominates Rongthong – it looks like a Gompa. Karma and Kazang have a lovely traditional Bhutanese house that has been renovated. We were treated to a traditional Swiss dinner with some fine wines – a very nice evening. Group of 18 female British tourists arrived to stay in the Lingkhar guest house, so Wade moved out of our deluxe rooms and down to a (still very nice) shared roomer house. Dasho Minjur and Deki were busy finishing off some new rooms for guests that were to arrive the following day for the Trashigang tshetchu.
Day 6 – November 9 (see Day 6 photo gallery here)
Drove up to Dasho Minjur’s farm approximately 1,000 m above Lingkhar – a beautiful Gompa has been constructed with views all the way to the high snow-covered mountains to the north (could see Rangtangwoong/Tsenkarla). Adjacent to the Gompa, a garden with statues depicting the life of Buddha is under construction. From the Gompa, we drove down to his farm (actually Am Deki’s family owns the land) and had lunch. After lunch Wade and I drove to Trashigang to explore the town. Preparations were underway for the upcoming Trashigang Tsetchu, with stalls being setup etc. Like everywhere in Bhutan, lots of new construction in Trashigang, and many of our old “haunts” are either gone or have been converted into some other use. In the evening, Nancy and Dasho Minjur went to Kanglung for a fashion show – Wade and I stayed at the Lingkhar Lodge and had dinner with Phuntsho (Am Deki’s cousin/brother) who went to UNB and took a Masters in Computer Science.
Day 5 – November 8 (see Day 5 photo gallery here)
The Swiss Guest House has expanded significantly over the years, but still provides a lovely and unique experience in one of my favorite places in the world. Fritz Maurer is still around, but much of the day to day management seems to be done by his (adult) children. After a very familiar breakfast of fresh bread, local honey and cheese, apple juice, Nancy and Nima came by to pick us up (Nancy stayed with a friend in the bazaar, and Nima with his wife’s family). As we were leaving, Nancy picked up a big round of cheese for Dasho Karma Tenzin, who used to work for the UN and his wife, Kezang (sister of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (also known as Khyentse Norbu) (www.khyentsefoundation.org); Tshwang Dhendup currently works for him – he is also a film director, and directed “Travellers and Magicians”, and more recently “Vara”). Road up to Thrumsing La (3,750 m) was good – beautiful day and spectacular views from the top, including Gangkhar Puenum. The drive from Thrumsing La down to Lingmethang (650 m) drops over 3,000 m in 85 km. On the way down we stopped briefly at the Namling waterfall and took photos. The drive up from Kuri Zampa to Mongar took about 45 min and was in excellent condition. Reached Mongar around 4 pm, filled up with diesel (we’d used 67 litres). The drive up to Kori La took about half an hour, and then we descended to Yadi. It was getting dark by the time we reached Yadi, so we couldn’t seem much on the way to Sherichhu, Chazam (where there is an immigration checkpoint) and up to Trashigang. At the fork before the Dzong, we turned towards Khaling and drove to Lingkhar Lodge, about halfway between Pam and Rongthong – owned by Am Deki and her husband, former Home and Cultural Affairs Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji. The resort is newly constructed (some units were still being completed in advance of the Trashigang Tsetchu), but the majority of facilities were complete. It is an absolutely beautiful resort in a spectacular setting, with friendly and knowledgable staff.
Day 4 – November 7 (see Day 4 photo gallery here)
Left Thimphu about 10:30 am in two Landcruisers. The first major pass out of Thimphu, Dorchu La (3,300 m) has been totally rebuilt since I was last in Bhutan. There are now 108 chortens at the pass commissioned by the Queen Mother in honor of Bhutanese soldiers killed in action. It was a clear day with beautiful views of the high Himalaya to the north. Road conditions, and the volume of traffic down to Wangdue Phodrang (Wangdi) were terrible due to road-widening activities. I was saddened to see that the beautiful Wangdi dzong, originally constructed in 1638, burned down in 2012. Reconstruction has started, but it will be many years before it is fully restored. The old bazaar in Wangdi has been demolished and a large new town built up along the river below the Dzong – mainly concrete apartment blocks, and not very attractive (although the old bazaar wasn’t particularly nice either). The road up to Pele La was in even worse condition that the road up to Dorchula, and we were only able to average around 25 km/hr. Apparently the road has been badly damaged by heavy vehicles involved in hydropower dam construction, and is also being widened at the same time. We stopped briefly near Nobding and Nancy bought some fresh chilli’s and samosas from a roadside stand (near the turn-off to Phobjica). We arrived in Trongsa just before dusk (about 5). The spectacular views of Trongsa dzong, where the road swings NW to follow the Mangde Chhu river, are now somewhat marred by access roads and other infrastructure related to the large (720 MW) Mangdechuu Hydroelectric Project (MHPA) under construction, just downstream of the Dzong. The remainder of the drive over Yatong La (3,400 m) and Chummy was in the dark. We arrived at the Swiss Guest House at about 7:00 pm. The distance between Thimphu and Jakar is 100 km (as the crow fly’s) and 266 km by road – the drive took 10 hours, so we averaged just over 25 km/hr.
Day 3 – November 6 (see Day 3 photo gallery here)
Met with Karma Tsering and picked up our rental Toyota Landcruiser from Ugyen. Had lunch with Curtis Chin at Seasons (very good). Then we went to Cheri Goemba with Mark and Wade – beautiful walk up to the top after crossing a covered bridge over the Thimphu Chhu (river). Cheri Monastery was established in 1620, by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of the Butanese state. It is an important teaching and retreat center for the Southern Drukpa Kagyu order. Based on Bhutanese history, it was first visited by Padmasambhava in the 8th century. In the 13th century it was visited by Phajo Drugom. In the 13th century it was visited by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the Tibetan Lama who first established the Drukpa Kagyu tradition in Bhutan. It was the first monastery established in Bhutan by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1620 when he was 27 years old. Zhabdrung spent three years in retreat at Chagri (Cheri) and resided there for many periods throughout the rest of his life. It was at Chagri (Cheri) in 1623 that he established the first Drukpa Kagyu monastic order in Bhutan.
Karma Tshering and Mark organized a party for Nancy and friends at Eidelweis. Nancy was awarded the National Order of Merit in recognition of her contributions to relations between Bhutan and Canada, specifically in the field of education for over 25 years. It was a chance to reconnect with old friends and many teachers who had been through the Canada Bhutan Foundation training programme in Canada. Mark gave a very touching key note speech.
Day 2 – November 5 (see Day 2 photo gallery here)
Wade and I went to the downtown Bank of Bhutan- changed USD to Ngultrum (approx. 60 Ng to the USD – quite a change from when I was a volunteer teacher in Bhutan, when I believe the exchange rate was about 13 Ng to the USD). We then walked up to the Memorial Chorten which was erected in 1974 in memory of the 3rd King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died in 1972. It was built by the King’s mother, Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck.
We then walked to Mark’s house for coffee and then down to Nancy’s office (Country Director of the Bhutan Canada Foundation) and met Karma Tshering who, in addition to his duties with the Bhutan Canada Foundation, runs a successful travel company Good Karma Travels. Karma is a long-time friend, and I highly recommend using him if you are planning to travel in Bhutan. Karma had kindly organized our car rental and road permits for travel to the east.
Mark, Wade and I then drove up to the Radio Tower and did the “Nancy walk” to Wangditsi Goemba. The renovated 251-year-old Wangditse Goemba is located on a ridge above the Dechenphodrang monastery in Thimphu. Wangditse Goemba was founded in 1750 by the attendants of Bhutan’s 8th desi, Yeshey Rabgye. It was renovated in 2002 after suffering serious damage during a storm in 1995. The goemba houses statues of the guardian deities Yeshey Gonpo (Mahakala), Palden Lhamo (Mahakali) and Tsheringma (the Goddess of Longevity). Great views of Thimphu valley during the walk on a sunny and warm winter day. After lunch we went to Buddha point (Kuensel Phodrang) with Mark, Arin, Soren (a friend of Arin’s) and Wade. It is the largest statue in the country and only recently constructed. The valley all the way from Thimphu to Simtokha is now full of construction, essentially one contiguous urban sprawl. It was a “dry” Tuesday in Thimphu (i.e. no alcohol sales), but we had an excellent Indian dinner at the Druk hotel (highly recommended).
Day 1 – November 4 (see Day 1 photo gallery here)
Arrived in Bangkok at 10 pm on the evening of November 3rd after a 3 hour flight from Hong Kong. Stayed at Airport Novatel, which is overpriced but convenient. Up at 4:30 am the next day for the 7:20 am Druk Air flight to Paro on November 4 (Airbus A319). Both Wade and I had over 20kg of camera gear as carryon, but weight was not an issue. The flight was not full – we briefly (1/2 hour) landed in Guwahati in Assam for a half hour before heading to Paro. Total flight time was about 3.5 hours, good friendly service. Arrived in Paro at 10:00 am in bright sunshine.
Nancy and Mark picked us up and we drove up to Drukgyul Dzong which is about 14 km from Paro along a bad road that was being widened. There is a nice paved walk around the Dzong with views of Jomolhari and the Paro valley. Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, and is now in ruins. It is thought that the Dzong was probably built in the mid 1600’s by Tenzin Drukdra in 1649 at the request of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate victory over invaders from Tibet. In the early 1950s Drukgyal Dzong was almost completely destroyed by fire and has not been rebuilt.
The Dzong marks the end of the road, and numerous pack horses were milling about waiting for trekkers en route to Jhomolhari (7,326 m) and other popular hiking destinations. Paddy had just been harvested and cows/horses were grazing on the stubble. Lots of pack horses heading out on various treks, and it reminded me of the trek we did as a family and Karma Jimba when Nick and Maegan were quite young. We had a lovely lunch just above Paro at Gantey Palace. The hotel/restaurant has beautiful views of the valley and could watch planes landing at Paro airport.
We then drove back to Thimphu and got dropped at the Hotel Pelding (www.hotelpedling.com ; which was still partially under construction). Wade and I went for a walk through Thimphu looking for a working ATMs (didn’t find any), and were picked up later by Mark and taken for dinner at Nancy’s. Thimphu has grown enormously – the population is now approximately 100,000 or roughly 10% of Bhutan’s entire population.