A Travellerspoint blog

Gangtey to Punakha - back on the Highway to Hell

Misty morning in the valley, Dzong in the afternoon

sunny 23 °C

There was a cloud of mist covering the Phobjikha Valley this morning when we awoke. John got up early to walk back to the small stupa we passed on yesterday's hike, his aim was to photograph it as the sun lit up the valley. I finished off our packing and went to breakfast on my own. John returned triumphant, not only having captured the image of the stupa but also a young monk walking along the track. He managed a quick breakfast before we set off on the road to Punakha.

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Whilst the road was still in a terrible condition, our early start enabled us to beat a lot of the traffic and we made reasonable time as we once again "shaked, rattled and rolled" our way to Punakha. Arriving at lunch time we stopped at the Phuenzhi Diner which gets a reasonable write up in the Lonely Planet guide. It was another awful buffet so we were not impressed with the Lonely Planet's recommendation on this place. We checked in to the lovely Dhensa Resort, quickly dumped our luggage and set off again to visit the Punakha Dzong, arguably the most beautiful Dzong in the country. Set on the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu (rivers) and it is accessed by a traditional styled cantilever bridge. We toured through the Dzong complex, wandering around its courtyards and visiting its beautiful and ornate temple. It's not until you are inside that you realise how immense the structure is and the details in the architecture can be appreciated. But to me the Dzong is best viewed from the outside along the river's edge where the scene is picture perfect.

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Proceeding back towards the hotel, we made our final stop for the day at Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery. Perched on a ridge overlooking the valleys of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang, the nunnery is in a stunning location. The nunnery complex houses a higher learning centre for nuns, teaching them life skills as well as their religious training. We loved this smaller complex and thought its temple to be more intimate and interesting than some of the larger temples we have visited.

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Tonight at our hotel the staff put on a small cultural performance. They were so sweet and quite shy and some of them giggled their way through the performance. We found it quite charming. Wandered into the dining room after the performance where the delicious aromas from the buffet dishes assaulted our senses. Dhensa's buffet was fantastic and the best food we have eaten in Bhutan. The entire dining experience was faultless and we returned to our room feeling exhausted after the activities of the last few days. Another early night for us as there is more hiking again tomorrow.

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Posted by jack_and_daisy 07:21 Archived in Bhutan Comments (1)

Gangtey Goemba hike and Tshechu

"One step at a time is good walking." - Chinese proverb

sunny 20 °C

The weather gods were kind to us again today. Started off a little cool in the morning but the sun was shining and we could not ask for a better day to hike from the floor of the Phobjikha Valley to the Gangtey Goemba (monastery) at the top of the mountain. As luck would have it, Gangtey is also celebrating a Tshechu festival during our stay.

Setting off from our hotel after breakfast, we walked through the charming village and out towards the meadow where the trail started. We passed by some small farms where potatoes grew and cattle roamed at will. It wasn't long before we reached the edge of the forest, following a well worn trail past fluttering prayer flags and a solitary chorten sitting like a sentinel on the path. The views from this point were magnificent as we gazed out at the vast expanse of the Phobjikha Valley.

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Climbing further up the hill, we entered a blue fir forest where we traipsed along muddy trails, crossed over streams and had brief glimpses of the stunning valley scenery. Emerging from the forest into another pocket of farmland, we came upon a large white-washed stupa in the middle of the trail. We continued up one last steep incline to finally arrive at the Gangtey Goemba Buddhist Monastery where the Tshechu was in full swing.

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We squeezed into the courtyard where the performances were taking place. John climbed a ladder to get a better view for his photography and I managed to find a place to sit on the ground with the locals. They were so welcoming, making space for me on their soft mat as well as offering to share their food with me. I was overwhelmed by their friendliness and hospitality. All around me people were enjoying the Tshechu and the children were delightful, smiling and often waving a greeting to me, and best of all they were willing to let me photograph them. I felt the Gangtey Tshechu was a more pleasant experience compared to the one we had attended at Thimphu. We were much closer to the performers and the local people were mostly farmers from the surrounding countryside who were making the most of the opportunity to catch up with their family and friends.

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After an hour or so, we returned back to our hotel for lunch and a short rest. We had walked about 8kms this morning and we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our hike, but our bodies were a little weary for the experience. Rallying a short while later, we set off on a drive taking us further into the valley. The drive was very relaxing with a few stops to view a newly completed monastery nearby some tall prayer flags, cattle grazing and a beautiful stream running past potato and turnip farms. Everything looked so lush and green. We dropped in on a group of locals who were playing a game with slingshots and arrows. They were having a riot of a time and there was some wagering on the outcome. I made friends with a sweet little girl who came out to wave so enthusiastically to us and I was lucky enough to get a photo with her.

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John and I decided to get dropped off at the village on our way back so that we could walk around for a while on our own. It was fairly quiet today as most people were still at the Tshechu but we loved the cottages with their flowering pot plants in their courtyards and lining window ledges, small vegetable gardens and rustic charm. We did not walk for long as we started to feel weary after our earlier hike and returned to the hotel to put our feet up for a while before dinner. And guess what??? .....it was a buffet dinner again tonight!

Turned in for an early night as we plan to hit the "highway to hell" early in the hope of avoiding delays at some of the roadworks on the road back to Punakha.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 09:08 Archived in Bhutan Comments (1)

Shake, rattle and roll to Gangtey

Mum....take another sedative before reading this

21 °C

We had been warned about the state of the road to Gangtey but unfortunately, most of the warnings had been understated. They are currently in the process of upgrading the roads but there is much to do and progress appears slow.

Leaving Thimphu just before 9.00am, we headed east taking about an hour to drive the 30km to Dochula Pass, our first stop. The 108 memorial chortens covering the hilltop were built by the Queen Mother to honor the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed when fighting the Indian rebels in 2003. The views from the memorial were spectacular, looking down the valley and across the Bhutanese Himalayan range. Conditions quickly change at this elevation of 3140m. Misty clouds rolled in whilst we were here and gave the chortens a mystical appearance.

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The road to this point was reasonable but as we continued towards Lobesa and Wangdue it deteriorated severely. Recent rains had caused numerous mudslips and landslides. Conditions varied and we experienced it all. In some sections the road was extremely muddy and rutted, in others part of the road had dropped away down the mountainside and in other parts the road was blocked by huge boulders requiring excavating equipment to clear the road. We gave full credit to our driver, Lobzeng who negotiated the conditions with great skill and safety. It was not the most comfortable ride and definitely not for the faint hearted, but despite the roads we did manage to see some lovely scenery around Lobesa and Wangdue, where golden terraced rice fields clung to the hillsides running down to the river. It was here at Wangdue that we stopped for lunch at a pretty little restaurant called the Dragons Nest, taking about 3 hours to travel about 80km.

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Whilst the roads to this point were in poor shape, they got even worse when we left Wangdue. We experienced more delays due to landslides and roadworks. Some roadworks were to widen the road and others were to clear up the landslides. There were times when I avoided looking down as I did not want to see how close we were to the rubbly edges where the road dropped hundreds of metres. Luckily the magnificent panorama kept us distracted for most of the trip.

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As we reached Lowa La Pass and made our descent into the valley, we knew we were almost at our destination. We had rattled along for about 6hrs to reach Gangtey and the very beautiful Phobjikha Valley, total distance from Thimphu approximately 150km.

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Our hotel for the next few days was the very rustic Dewachen Hotel. Built in the traditional Bhutanese style, our room was furnished with yak wool covers and wooden furniture, and included a small wood burning heater. But the best part was the fantastic view over the valley. We took advantage of the late afternoon view from the dining room and enjoyed a couple of quiet drinks there before dinner. Once again, it was a buffet dinner which tonight lacked the variety and flavours of our previous hotel. Never mind, I needed to ease up on the food I have been eating anyway.

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Took a while to get our little heater fired up but when we did it made our room so very cosy. Wrote up the day's entry in my journal in between blackouts, which are a regular occurrence in the hotel. As it was too difficult to continue by candlelight, I gave up and went to bed.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 08:00 Archived in Bhutan Comments (2)

Trek to Tango Monastery

Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy!

21 °C

The temperature felt a little cool to start today, but warmed considerably when the sun came out this morning. So far we have found Bhutan fascinating but today it shone with the addition of a little sunshine.

Heading north out of the city we drove towards the Tango Monastery which is perched high up the side of a mountain. We had a few stops along the way to view huge prayer wheels powered by water running down the mountainside and an amazing rock art image of Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.

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As we neared the starting point for the hike to Tango Monastery, a miracle occurred....the sun started to shine. What a difference it made to the scenery around us. Our hike up to Tango Goemba took about us about an hour. Being quite steep we needed to take several breaks to catch our breath along the way and of course to take photos. Tango Monastery functions as a university of Buddhist study for the monks and there were plenty of students around the complex when we arrived. Traditional white washed buildings and towers form the monastery complex which unfortunately were undergoing some repairs with bamboo scaffolding around the site. Removing our shoes, we stepped into the darkened interior of the temple in the complex. The temple's interior was decorated in traditional style but we were not permitted to take photos inside so you will just have to take my word for it. Before departing, we were blessed with holy water so hopefully this will protect and guide us on the rest of our trip. Walking down was much easier for me but John's knees preferred the upward climb. Despite the tough walk, we both thoroughly enjoyed the hike, especially with the first good weather of our trip.

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Took a while to get back to town due to a significant landslide which had occurred not long after we drove up. The recent heavy rains have contributed to the many landslips occurring on our travels but the driver we have is very reliable and drives with extreme care.

Today's lunch was a Yeedzin restaurant where we were served many dishes which was way too much for two people. Following lunch we drove to the Buddha Dordenma, a huge 50m tall statue overlooking the Thimphu valley. Built in China, funded by Hong Kong and constructed by Indian workers, the Buddha is supposedly the biggest in the world.

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There were some crossed wires about our next destination. I thought we were going to a textiles handicraft centre but it turns out it was a Textiles Museum. It was OK but it did not fire my imagination and it's hard to imagine that it impressed John either. We did make one quick stop on our return to our hotel and that was at an archery practice session. The Bhutanese are very skilled at archery and it was fascinating to watch them although it was impossible to track the arrow's trajectory upon release from the bow.

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The rest of the day was spent at leisure, wandering the town until dinner in our hotel which was the nicest buffet to date. Apparently they put on a better buffet on a Friday night....lucky us!

Posted by jack_and_daisy 07:53 Archived in Bhutan Comments (1)

Tshechu and Takins in Thimphu

Rain, rain go away

rain 16 °C

Woke to grey skies again today, not a good omen. We set off early to attend the Thimphu Tshechu and join the throngs of people pouring into the Thimphu Dzong arena. It was standing room only as we waited for the performance to begin. The traditional dancing, performed by monks and laymen was very colourful and entertaining. Just being in the atmosphere of the arena was amazing. Loved the colour of the Bhutanese dressed in their traditional dress, the Gho for the men and the Kira for the ladies. They come here to socialise and enjoy the Tshechu celebrations and it was such a shame that it began to rain not long after the performance commenced. We stayed for about an hour before the rain became too unpleasant and we moved on.

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We did not have to go far for our next stop at the Thimphu Dzong. This impressive structure consisting of white washed outer walls, three storey towers capped in red and gold and a spacious inner courtyard where monks wander about gave us plenty of photo opportunities. The courtyard is lined in part with prayer wheels which are a common sight in Bhutan. The revolving wheels which are required to be spun clockwise are filled with printed prayers that are activated each time the wheel is turned. I find it very spiritual to spin these wheels which we first encountered when travelling in Nepal many years ago. Entering the main temple of the Dzong, we were required to remove our shoes. Inside we observed the rhythmic chanting of the monks as they prayed, another spiritual experience for me. The temple is lined with thousands of Buddha statues and is decorated in traditional style and colours similar to the temples of Tibet.

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Leaving the Dzong we drove to Motithang Takin Reserve with two short stops on the way. The first at a quaint little nunnery and the second to view the unusual prayer flags placed on the mountainside to honour the deceased. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and it is a most bizarre looking creature. It is said to have the body of a cow and the head of a goat. Although they are housed in a large enclosure, their grazing area is in a forest like setting which provided a natural environment for the Takins.

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The rain started to pour as we stepped out at the fortress like temple of Changangkha Lhakhang. On a clear day we would have had great views from here but today was not one of those days. Traditionally the temple is visited by parents to get blessings for their children.

It was a relief to get out of the rain at our lunch stop at the Hotel Kisa. Another buffet meal with a reasonable selection of dishes. As usual I ate too much.

With the rain continuing I returned to our hotel for a break whilst John returned to the Tshechu to photograph more of the performances. Upon his return we downloaded a ton of photos and relaxed before dinner at our hotel. Let's hope the weather improves tomorrow.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 18:50 Archived in Bhutan Comments (3)

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