Monday – 28 January 2013 – In Paro

As usual another glorious day. I have been extremely lucky with the weather.

2nd highest mountain Bhutan 7314 metres -mt Chomolhari

2nd highest mountain Bhutan 7314 metres -mt Chomolhari

After breakfast we set off at 8.00 to view the snowcapped 2nd highest peak in Bhutan – Mt. Chomolhari being 7314 metres high as it is a clear morning So this will be my last look at The mountain..  I  never tire of being in awe of the snowcapped mountains and everywhere I look there is absolute beauty. There are some areas where the living conditions are quite sad but I am too busy admiring what is spectacular.

We now start  our drive to THE CHALLENGE.  Not making up my mind what I will do until we get there. Will I be able to fulfil another well kept “dream” –  to get to the top of the TIGER’S. NEST. –  Taktshang Monastery?

Tigers nest - a very long way up

Tigers nest – a very long way up

The track is sandy and rocky AND very very steep. When we arrive at the base meeting place you can buy a freshly made bamboo stick to assist you for the trek and a prayer banner that can be placed wherever you wish. For the first steep part I have a horse. Of we go with the guide and 3 other horses as well as the lady who leads my horse.

My bamboo friend

My bamboo friend

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The climb up is just breathtaking.  Not enough adjectives to describe.  Onwards and upwards to the monastery precariously perched on the edge of the mountain.

My horse is very sure footed and I am very thankful as came quite close to the edge at times and is a very very long way down.  After about an hour and a half we stopped at the Cafeteria for a rest before we took off again.  Was interesting the notices of the little squirrels And there were many different breeds of birds flying about.

Said goodbye to the horse lady and now all uphill.

Still many of those 900 steps up to go - 1,56, 98, - must still be a million still to go!

Still many of those 900 steps up to go – 1,56, 98, – must still be a million still to go!We passed a beautiful waterfall that dropped onto ice and many little stupas that had been placed along the way.  Many many many prayer flags along the way as well.I kept looking up the track and wondered whether I was so close and yet so far.  Here there were 900 steps going down and then 900 up.  Was certainly praying hard as this is certainly a BIG challenge for me with my injuries.  Tried to forget the pain and kept thinking of “my Mark” who could not put a foot in front of him.  He certainly inspired me to keep going.

Waterfall coming down onto this ice

Waterfall coming down onto this ice

The monastery was getting closer and closer but was very hard going now and for the last twenty or so steps I was on my hands and knees BUT I made it

The view was just amazing and many of the younger folk that we passed congratulated me for my effort.  My guide, Wondgi kept saying “No pain, no merit” so I must have lots of merit.  It seemed much easier descending.  I placed my prayer banner on the railings band gave thanks.

Had my prayer banner

Had my prayer banner

After about 90 minutes we arrived back at the cafeteria for a hearty lunch before we set off again with my trusty bamboo stick for support.  Another kook up in amazement to where we had just been.headed back t o the motel for another great meal and then I had a fantastic hot stone bath.  The stones take about three hours to prepare and then the water is pumped through into a big wooden tub. Did the bath feel wonderful.  Then a great massage before back to my room to take advantage of being able to use the Internet.

What an amazing day for me.

 

What a fantastic place

What a fantastic place

AND. ANOTHER. DREAM. INTO. REALITY

.

I. DID. ALL. THREE

I. DID. ALL. THREE

 

 

Sunday – 27 January 2013 – Heading back to Paro

Another beautiful crisp and misty morning. Packed up and down to breakfast. Had a lovely surprise Skype call from Alicia. We then left the hotel and started the 3+ hour’s drive to PARO. Passed through the little village of Thinlegang. There were many brightly coloured trucks passing by with their assorted loads.

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People walking along with their products in baskets on their backs. We travelled through the Royal National Park and there were many different sorts of vegetation but mainly pines. Cows were wandering along the side of the road.

Here we are once again at the top of the Pass (Dochalar). We had a short stop at the 108 Stupas.

Top of the pass

Top of the pass

There were still lots of brightly coloured trucks passing by. Also the ever present piles of rocks, sand and stones and the tins of tar cooking for the roads. At one point we did see a tractor and front end loader so that was a great help to the labourers that handle all these items by hand.

Now we make our winding descent and we came out of the Royal National Park. Didnt see any monkies this time. The scenery is still beautiful as we drive along. The snow is still to be seen in this part of the park. We travelled parallel to a little culvert that was a frozen stream. Lots of blue pines here. Once again a very quick stop at Check Point Charlie. Now descending quite rapidly. Saw a large power sub station and the Golden Buddah. We by-passed THIMPHU and through the archway that says Talle Dekek meaning wishing one good luck and prosperity.

There is a huge amount of construction work being done in Thimphu – new homes and offices. We followed the Thimpchu and Ba Chu rivers and the water was glistening in the sunlight. These mountains were completely different from the ones we had just travelled beside. There is very sparse vegetation on the ones here.
Another short stop at the Iron Chain Bridge.

Last remaining Iron Chain bridge in Bhutan

Last remaining Iron Chain bridge in Bhutan

A Tibetan built 108 throughout the Himalayas during the 14th century. Eight were built in Bhutan but this is the only remaining one. 2-3years ago this bridge was rebuilt from the remains of the other bridges ruined by floods. We still passed many stupas and the good luck prayer flags.

We arrived in PARO and went to a nice little restaurant for lunch and to the ATM and purchase of a memory stick for me.

The four friends

The four friends

We then went to the National Museum of Bhutan. Since 1968, the Museum has safeguarded the vision of its founder the 3rd King Jigme Dorgji Wangchuk, who began the modernisation in the kingdom. It has many interesting artefacts and recently an addition has been added and is a very well presented room of interesting exhibits. (refer to my Pamphlets).

In the same grounds is the Ta Zong originally built in 1649 as a watchtower. It is not open to the public at the moment as was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2011.

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Our next stop for the day was to the Wangdephodrang Dzong.

 

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The advent of the Dzongs in the 16th century ushered Buthan’s culture, economy, spiritual and political foundation. This Dzong witnessed many events during medeieval times.  It is a very big Dzong and saw monks moving about. Many interesting rooms that we could go into. The roof is being renovated.

This was our last stop for the day. Another great day.

 

Saturday – 26 January 2013 – Punaka Valley – Bhutan

Awake feeling the lovely crisp mountain air.  The valley and mountains are covered in mist.

Down to breakfast and we made a stop once more at the Nunnery to doublecheck if my purse was inside the building but it had not been found so then it was off to the local police station to put in a report about my lost purse!  The officer in command was exceptionally polite and apologised many times for my loss. Seems to be my habit while away to be a magnet to police stations. Still mystified how it happened. Could have been far worse as it was only my purse but did have some money in it. Hope the finder finds joy and happiness and uses the money wisely.

That out of the way we set off descending down our windy narrow, twisty road down to the township of Punaka. Saw many villagers going about their daily chores. One lady was busy weaving and she was still there when we returned several hours later.

We drove beside the beautiful crystal clear, fast flowing river with many ducks and cormarons swimming around. Horses and cows and many dogs. Started our drive towards the Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten –  a beautiful monastery sitting up on top of thet mountain.  Went over a swinging bridge

Swinging bridge before the trek

and then commenced the hike on a stony path. Passed through the many acres of vegetables of all types, including peas, mustard, beans and wheat.

Keeping on trekking through these fields

Keeping on trekking through these fields

Onwards towards the Chorten which holds very special significance being consecrated in 1999 and dedicated to the protection of the former Crown Prince – the current King jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.   This King is the 5th since 1907. His father, who has four wives and all being sisters abdicated the thrown to lead a peaceful life. He is a very simple living person and lived in a log cabin at one stage. This King who is only 32 and married a short time ago to a 22 year old live in a modest 3 or 4 bedroom house.

Keep going just up to the rest point. Will view the Dzong from the bottom. Don't want to kill myself in a day lol

Keep going just up to the rest point. Will view the  Chorten (monestary)from the bottom. Don’t want to kill myself in a day lol

Is a long way down now.

Is a long way down now.

Had a rest in the prayer bell shelter and knew we had to go down again. A laden up donkey just passed. Felt like asking the owner could I hop on too. Don’t think my legs would have been able to swing over.
Seemed a long way down to the vehicle. No, once I got passed the slippery dirt bit it was actually quite relaxing looking at all the scenery. A man was splicing up bamboo sticks to stake up his newly planted beans.

It was more eating after we got back from the trek. The food has been delicious but enough to feed three other people. We came back to the car and now headed back along the way we came from. Passed the workers pouring new tar on the road. There are many tin drums in which the tar is cooking. How very different to how our roads in Australia are made. Bhutan only got roads in 1962. All the rock walls are hand made and the scaffolding of new homes are bamboo. We passed a home being constructed and there were a few people with sticks crushing up the stones and mud for the foundations. Once again all the piles of stones, sand and rocks were beside the road ready to be put to use.  We stopped and had a look at the joining of the two beautiful clear rivers  – Pochu, the  male and Mochu the female .  Our next stop –  the dramatic PUNAKHA  DZONG. Fort.

PUNAKHA. DZONG

PUNAKHA. DZONG

Built in 1637 it reminiscences the foundation of Bhutan’s culture, spiritual and politics. It formerly served as the seat of the government and is still the winter residence of the Dratsheng (Central Monk Body). This is Bhutan’s most spectacular Dzong and an excellent example of how a medieval fortres centre of both monastic and administrative functions has adapted and evolved for modern day use.  One half of the Dzong is home for the monks and the other half for administrative functions. There is  usually a court of justice in each one.

The ornate work on and in these buildings are surely works of art.  A lot of the same ornaments, wall hangings and have the same stories in each monastery and dzongs, but all leaves me still mesmerised at all their beauty and the years of work by the artists.

After quite some time at the magnificent Dzong we called into the local markets that held every Saturday.

All the different fruits and vegetables grown by the farmers

All the different fruits and vegetables grown by the farmers

It takes me back to my time in Vietnam and Thailand where I had never seen so many of the same produce by so many farmers.  They haul it in on their backs and what isn’t sold they have to do the same. There was such a huge variety of so many vegetables and eggs. All looked beautiful and fresh and no doubt a lot of my meals come from these farmers.

After the markets we went back to my hotel and waited for more food. Once again I am the only guest. Seems rather weird but not getting jostled about.  So there is the end to another super day even though my head is spinning with so many statistics and stories about Buddahs that I will never remember even a smidgen of what I have been told but you certainly do get a sense of well being and serenity.

 

Friday – 25 January 2013 – from Thimphu Valley to Punaka Valley

Friday. -o.6 A little chilly but the days that follow are just beautiful.

I am the only guest in this hotel so feel quite spoilt. I had a nice breakfast and then said goodbye to the staff at Hotel Rochogpel. We headed into THIMPHU he capital of Bhuthan. Headed up to take photos of the Golden Buddah and the Trashi Chhoe Dzong (Fort) There is a tremendous amount of work to be done on the Buddah project for the next four years. The Buddah has not long been completed. We now travel eastwards to the Punaka Valley. Once more the scenery is spectacular as we wind our way up and up.It is lovely seeing the snow on the apple terraces and along the way for several kilometres.

We pass through a complete Tibetan village. In Bhuthan 97% of the people are of the Buddah faith and the 3% are Hindu. A stop is made at Check Point Charlie to show my papers of entry.

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Pass the Semtokha Dzong built in 1629, the oldest fortress of its kind that guarded the Thimphu valley, and today is a monastery.

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We keep ascending up to 3150 metres to the highest point known as the Dochu La or pass. Here we stop and see the 108 stupas. These were commissioned by a former Queen as a memorial to those who lost their lives in late 2002 when Bhutan evicted Indian rebels camped in the jungle on the Bhutan – Indian border. From here you get a breathtaking view of the eastern Himalayas. I still am pinching myself that I have managed to get here. Glad I persevered with my daily rehabilitation and acupuncture and inspiration from a young English chap who has since died.
Around practically every corner there are piles of stones and these are used to build the walls and stone barriers along the roadside. Everything is built by hand! Just amazing.
The vegetation here is mainly pines. There are some little wildflowers coming out but is a little early. Poinsettias, primulas and dear old eucalypts are plentiful. Some little monikers were perched up in the trees as we passed along. The cypress is the national tree, raven is the national bird, the Tarkin like a goat the national animal and the national flower is the blue poppy.

We come to the border of the three districts of Punaka, Wangdue and Thimphu after our rapid descent.

At Sobsaka we stop for lunch and you see penises everywhere – painted on the houses and handcrafted ones are for sale. I did not know the story behind this. My guide told me he would tell me the story when we got up to the monastery.

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Now for the stamina test ! Up on the hill is the Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley who is also known as the Divine Madman or the Mad Monk. This is because he was supposed to dispel the evil spirits with his penis. He was always seen with a beautiful woman and he was an alcoholic. But if this is what these people believe I am not going to argue. The hike was through various fields of wheat and many vegetables.

imageWas a bit steep up at the top! The monastery is also known as the Monastery of Fertility. Many couples come here for a blessing to be able to produce a baby.

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We then drove up to my hotel where once again I am the only guest. My room is a few metres from the main hotel and is cabin form and from my little balcony once more have stunning views. I never tire at looking at the mountains, rivers and the many different terraces.

After a little break we set off again for another wonderful climb passing many more terraces of vegetables and farms. Cows just wander along and you wonder where they belong.  We came to The Nunnery where many lady monks were doing their chores. We went in and saw statues of the Guru Rimpoche who first bought Buddahism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Also inside was the 11headed Buddah with  1000 eyes band 1000 hands. He is known as the Buddah of Compassion and protects the people.

The nunnery

The nunnery

All throughout Bhutan you see the many coloured flags and these can be erected by anyone wishing to have good luck and prosperity.  The white flags represent respect by families for their departed relatives. Many many many a all throughout the country.
After a full day we descended back to Wolakha to the hotel. Went to get my case key when I made the discovery that my purse was missing.  Told Wongdi guide so Parnu drove back to the nunnery as that was the last place I remember having it as made an offering. No joy. Wongdi tried sawing at the lock and then the pliers and hammer to break the lock. Tried to think what I had in my purse besides money and my treasured little photos, but fortunately I think that was all.

Tried to forget about the missing purse and enjoyed a scrumptious meal and then did some posting.

Just such a peaceful place AND the people are so friendly. So ends another busy but wonderful day in Bhuthan.

Thursday afternoon in Thimphu

After a short stop at our hotel  we drove into the town of Thimphu and went to Cousins Restaurant for a tasty meal of cheese dumplings, broccoli, potato and cheese, vegetable spring rolls and pork and cashews with rice and mandarins and bananas. Far too much but that seems to be the norm.

We then tried to get a SIM card for my phone. You think once you bought it that you were ok to go as that is how I have done in the past but here you have to go and get it activated at the Telecom office so we did. Also to the bank. After that was done was a walk to the Stupa and a further walk up to the Golden Buddah. He is 169 feet high and is perched high up overlooking the valley of Thimphu. You got a great view as well of the town below. Very proud of their athletic track that stands out being blue. The homes and buildings look like legoland as they are all painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese style.

We also visited the Folk Heritage Museum. Was very interesting to see how the earlier Bhutanese folk lived. The homes were usually 3 storeys high – the bottom for the animals, the next level for supplies and the top for the families’ living quarters. Everything you saw was so primitive yet very practical. Nowadays the animals are not allowed inside the homes for health reasons. Now my feet are suffering so Parnu goes off and there is a bandaid promptly produced. It was then back once more to the hotel to eat once more. Already that seems to be all I am doing. I had my meal in my room and again yummy – sweet and sour cauliflower, beef and ginger and chicken and rice.

I then had a wonderful soak in the bath. Sorted out my luggage and another soak before bed at a decent hour of 10.30.

image image Stupab

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Thursday. 24 January, 2013. – Leaving Kolkatta, India – heading to Paro in Bhutan

Another exciting day begins!

About Queen Victoria but My lack of sleep caught up with me and did not get to see.

Queen Victoria Memorial – Kolkatta – About Queen Victoria but My lack of sleep caught up with me and did not get to see.

 

Up at 5.00 to be taken to the airport. Dark, yet people riding bikes without lights and pedestrians appearing out of nowhere. Amazing that I only saw one minor accident. Got to the airport but due to the language barrier Mr X was going to deposit me at the domestic terminal as thought I was going to New Delhi. Fortunately had plenty of time before I had to book in.  Got to the International Airport in plenty of time as we had to wait for over an hour before we could go through  Customs. There were a huge number of Thai monks waiting here and only a couple of white travellers. When I started to make my move to book in a chap came and rushed me through so made it very easy for me. I sat down and a lovely Bhutanese lady sat beside me and started chatting. She had a few month’s stay in Murray Bridge which is out of Adelaide my birth place. We got on a bus and was ferried to the Drukair plane. Very exciting as I am on the left side of the plane as this was recommended so as to see Mt Everest. One just chose their own seat as would take too long to issue set seating. We left at 8.45 am for the 55 minute flight to PARO in BHUTAN,!  At about 10 there was THE highest mountain in the world. The mountains were just breathtaking. Certainly felt on top of the world!  Coming into Paro was a lovely sight. After clearing customs was met by my guide Wongdi and driver Purna who does not speak English. We started our drive to the capital THIMPHU. The roads are very narrow and extremely windy but I am not prone to motion sickness thankfully. The scenery is just breathtaking I don’t know where to look. We arrived at my hotel and is perched high on a hill overlooking the valley and a sign saying “Welcome to Thimphu” Will add a couple of photos and will continue later!  Sadly the photos don’t do the magnificent, out of this world, justice.  I am like a child in  a candy store here.   imageimageimageimage