Four Countries in 2 Weeks: Turkey, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India
Day 5 – A tour of the monasteries of Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, Punakha Dzong, and Chimi Lhakhang then ending the day in Thimphu to see Takins at the reserve, stopping by the Thimphu Dzong, doing some shopping, having a Bhutanese home cooked meal and a last drink with our new friends from Bhutan.
After a quick buffet breakfast, we started our day. Right outside the hotel, we found a couple of curious monkeys stealing corn.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
Our first stop was to see the local dzong, built in 1638, that caught fire from prayer candles and completely burned down in 2012.
We stood in the morning sunlight soaking in the scene as if we were at a funeral. Fortunately the rebuilding efforts are underway and the new dzong should be completed in 2014.
The highlight of the day was the dzong of the neighboring town, Punakha.
I asked about the armed police guarding the entrance and Namgay explained that recently a monk stole a priceless relic to resell, so now they guard the dzong very carefully.
Built in 1637-1638, Punakha Dzong serves the same purpose as the Paro Dzong. It was also the seat of the government until the capital was moved to Thimphu. We explored the open spaces inside and the monastery.
At one point a young monk held his hand up as I was trying to take his picture. He then stepped a few paces back, leaned on the temple wall with one hand and struck a pose! He was content with the outcome of the photo-shoot.
We then had a beautiful drive around the valley snaking with the Wangchuk River.
Our tour continued through Punakha town and into the valley of Lobesa. a small village with dry rice paddies and a monastery at the top of a hill.
We walked through the village covered in phallic symbols, passed the farmlands where children played “dart throwing” and up the hill to the monastery.
Chimi Lhakhang was built in 1499 and childless women go to pray for fertility here. The infamous Divine Madman built the monastery. This buddhist master was known to teach with an erotic twist, which is why he was so controversial.
What caught my eye, was the AK-47 hanging next to the Buddha statue as an offering.
Then we had lunch at restaurant with a view over the valley. Namgay brought us some spicy food from the room were the guides ate. It was so much better than the bland buffet food for tourists.
We digested our lunch on the drive to Thimphu.
Motithang Takin Preserve
Our first stop was to see the Takin, a goat like creature and the national animal of Bhutan. They are known to be aggressive in the wild, but are as meek as a sheep behind the fence.
The reserve use to be a small zoo, but the King felt that a Buddhist country shouldn’t hold creatures in captivity, so they released all the animals into the wild. The taken stuck around the town, so they created a reserve where they could be undisturbed.
We then drove to the nearby Dzong of the capital, but as we attempted to enter, we were told that the King was having meetings and no visitors were allowed in. The red capped personal guard of the king looked at us with suspicion.
Clock Tower Square
With the remaining time, we were dropped off at the clock tower to explore the main street of Thimphu. The tower is a landmark in the center of town.
We walked around and explored the souvenir shops. At a small stall that could fit a single person, we purchased some beetle nut chews. People snickered and laughed at us as we shoved the whole leaf-wraps into our mouths, as our faces contorted with the taste.
Rejoining our tour, Shatu drove us to dinner.
We drove to a farm house on the outskirts of town to have an authentic Bhutanese home cooked dinner.
In pitch-black night, we followed the host’s cellphone light up a muddy hill with stone steps to the entrance of their home. The first floor held cattle and we were eating on the second floor living room next to the kitchen.
Sitting on mats on the wide-planked wooden floor, the lady of the house brought out dried rice puffs to put in our hot butter tea. Then came the ara, a local alcohol served in a traditional bamboo bottle. It tasted slightly sweet and had around 10-15% alcohol.
Then the food was set in the center of the floor. There was chili beef, chili pork, scrambled eggs, noodles with cheese chili, another chili, eggplant chili and rice. As you can imagine, we drank a lot of butter tea, not by choice…
After dinner we drove back into town to have a drink with Tsheten.
We met at the Hotel Migmar and sat around the bar. They brought out plenty of Red Panda, my favorite Bhutanese beer. We enjoyed sitting around and sharing our experiences from around the world. After hearing Tsheten’s passionate stories, I look forward to coming back for a unique trek in the mountains and rafting down the picturesque rivers.
Before we knew it, many beers were drunk and it was 10:30 pm. Our guides took us to our nearby hotel.
The suite was large, with a separate living room, kitchen, and bedroom.
Unfortunately, we had an early flight the next day leaving from Paro, meaning a very early rising. Off to India tomorrow!