Four Countries in 2 Weeks: Turkey, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India
Day 4 – Going from Paro to Thimphu to Wangdue with stops at Rinpung Dzong, Iron Chain Bridge, Three Stupas, Dochula Pass, Buddha Dordenma, Memorial Chorten, the National Post Office, and an archery competition. Then checking out the nightlife of Bhutan!
Waking up at 5 am due to jet lag, I spent the morning sipping coffee in the hotel restaurant and getting some work done. Occasionally planes would land or take off on the runway behind me across the river.
After breakfast we set out for the day with our guides.
Our first stop was the Paro Dzong. This 17th century structure houses the main monastery and the government administrative offices of Paro.
We crossed the bridge over the river and up a small hill to the entrance in the back of the building. There were many monks gathered in groups chatting and using their mobile phones as supplements to their stories. Again police guarded the entrance.
After we registered, Namgay took us through the large courtyard passed the administrative court and to the religious section. We saw young monks joking around. We entered the prayer rooms and saw the view over Paro from the window.
Some scenes from the movie “Little Buddha” was filmed at this location.
We drove towards the capital, Thimphu.
Iron Chain Bridge and Tachog Lhakhang Dzong
We winded our way around the valley following the main mountain side road, making a stop at the iron chain link bridge.
This iron bridge dates back to the 14th century and was built by Thangtong Gyalpo.
Walking onto the bridge was fun, as you could see the torrential river flowing right underneath your feet. The original iron chain is now supplemented by a chain link sheet so you don’t fall through.
On the other side of the river is a privately owned dzong and a small cave where prayers are made.
Our next stop was where the two rivers met. This junction is also where the road splits to go south to India.
The three stupas were designed in the Nepalese, Tibetan and Bhutanese styles. They were placed here for good luck and safe passage.
We also noticed all the “fresh” marijuana weeds growing everywhere by the road.
Dochula Pass 108 Stupas
We climbed the mountain road winding in and out and finally made it to the mountain pass where the 108 stupas stood in memory of the soldiers that died during the 2003 war of Southern Bhutan. They were fighting the Indian terrorists in the south if Bhutan. The fighting only lasted one day and 11 Bhutanese soldiers died while 485 militants were killed.
There is a view to the Himalayas but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see the peaks clearly.
We then descended the mountain into Thimphu.
Our first stop was at the giant gold Buddha statue overlooking the city. Though the buddha is finished, the area is still under construction and not to be completed until next year.
The buddha was built to fulfill a prophecy to bring happiness to the world. At 169 ft (51.5 m) it will be one of the largest buddha statues in the world. Situated at the top of the mountain, the area offers excellent views over Thimphu.
Next we visited this prominent stupa in central Thimphu. Built in 1974, it inshrines a photograph of the King. We were told that it is popular among the elderly who would spend entire days walking around the chorten clockwise.
It was quite packed with people and a curious flock of pigeons that seemed to also fly clockwise around the stupa.
National Post Office
Then we went to the post office where we browsed the colorful stamps of Bhutan and purchased stamps made of with our own pictures. I can’t think of a better souvenir!
We stopped for lunch at a traditional Bhutanese restaurant and met with our sponsors Thinley from the Tourism Council of Bhutan and Tsheten, the owner of Journey to Discover Bhutan. We chatted about our impressions of Bhutan over chili cheese and beer.
Bhutanese Archery (Datse)
A short drive away was the stadium where a competition with traditional bows was underway. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and they also use modern composite bows. Bhutan has sent an archery team to the Olympics every year since 1984.
We watched the men at each ends alternatively fire at each other’s target, 140 m away. They stood close and would need to jump out of the way if the arrow was off target. If they succeeded in hitting the target, they got in a circle and did a little dance.
It reminded me of the Mongolian archery competition at the Naadam Festival.
Then drove a couple of hours to our hotel, Dragon Nest, in nearby Wangdue. We relaxed with Namgay over some beers at the hotel bar before going to the in-house restaurant.
Bhutan Night Life
Then we went a bar a few km away. I have never witnessed anything like this “bar” before.
On entering, we were guided to a table with a view of the stage. Then girls would come up to you and ask you to sign their book which included a column for “donation” of how much you wanted to pay them. We had no idea what was going on, so we donated for a dance.
Then the girls dance on stage in traditional clothing to local and Indian songs. Sometimes men or kids join them onstage. The audience can join as well.
Sipping on our beers the scene around us seemed surreal: a cat asleep on the bench next to me, a baby breast feeding across the table, while men and women are paid to dance on stage.
What interesting insight into the innocent culture of Bhutan and a fun way to end the intense day of touring!
Looking forward to our last full day in Bhutan!