Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto

Tripoto
22nd Dec 2018
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala

Bhutan is dubbed as the ‘happiest’ country in the world for many reasons. It is officially the only country in the world to measure national happiness.
This Buddhist state understands that happiness is not dependent on how well the country’s economy is doing but how ‘happy’ their people are.
I’ve gone through a quarter of my life, but I’m still figuring out what happiness is all about. Perhaps spending a week in Bhutan would somehow enlighten me on what happiness is?

Day 1

Paro+Thimphu

These days, I am starting to get quite apprehensive about taking long-haul flights because I dislike air turbulence. Thank goodness, the trip from Mumbai to Paro International Airport was smooth, and there weren’t any hiccups. Flight amenities were kept very basic, and there was no personal entertainment onboard.
I was super excited when I got off the plane because the mountainous view was just spectacular.
Once I arrived at the airport and picked up my luggage, I went to look for my guide and driver who were already waiting for me at the arrival hall.
From Paro International Airport, we traveled to Thimphu which is about an hour drive. Along the way, we made two pit stops to take a breather and get used to the high altitude. I did not have any altitude sickness or experience any discomfort of any sort. But I did encounter motion sickness after the long winding journey in the car. Thankfully, we reached the restaurant for lunch just before I was just about to throw up.Lunch was a simple buffet affair with some local vegetables like fiddlehead fern and chicken. The dishes are usually cooked with chili and cheese. They tasted no different from our usual Chinese-style dishes eaten at home. Red Bhutanese rice is served along with the vegetables. This rice variety has a chewier texture than the ordinary white jasmine rice. Food overall was delicious.
Our first stop was the National Memorial Chorten, a Tibetan-style chorten or stupa. This beautiful white-washed chorten is one of the main attractions in Thimphu. You will catch sight of the elderly people walking in a clockwise direction around the Stupa with their handheld prayer wheels in one hand, chanting the religious mantras. After exploring the hotel, I went outside to take a short walk since it was still early in the late afternoon. Most of the shops were closed since it was a Sunday late afternoon. Be prepared to spend quiet evenings in your hotel room as there isn’t much nightlife over here in Thimphu unless you head to the nightclubs. Yes, there are music nightclubs here! Dinner was ready at 7 pm. Once again, it was a simple buffet-style dinner. There were some Bhutanese and Indian delicacies. It felt so good to be eating warm food as the temperature outside gets very cold and chilly.

Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Day 2

Thimphu

The guide says that this short hike up from Sangaygang (BBS Tower) to Wangditse Goemba, a monastery up on the hill is a good warm-up for the Tiger Nest hike. It is a good way to get ourselves acclimatize to the higher altitudes.Although it is just a 2-hour short hike up and down, it is still rather exhausting due to the steep and uncut slopes. You tend to get breathless easily due to the higher altitudes as you climb up.  After climbing up for the slope for 5 minutes, I was already breathing hard.
Nonetheless, you could always take a rest throughout the hike to catch your breath since it is, after all, a private tour. But at the back of my head, I kept telling myself I had to finish this hike quickly so that I could take a rest. It must have been this thought that gives me the willpower to continue without taking many breaks in between.The view up here is amazing with all the colorful prayer flags strung up together and flapping against the strong wind.As you head up the hill, the view gets even more picturesque. It was worthy to stop for photos as you look down the valley from above.That was also the moment I realized that it is somewhat difficult to establish cities on such mountainous terrains yet Bhutan somehow knew how to work with nature and develop well-connected cities and towns. It is only in the valleys that life springs forth.
Once we reached Wangditse Goemba, the monastery uphill, we took a pit stop. I did not take many photos at a monastery as I was told that I was not allowed to take photos of the monastery. It is actually still under construction. Thus, there is not much stuff to do up there except to enjoy the scenic view from the hilltop.
Since the animals took the same route as humans, expect to see animal droppings on the path. So do look carefully as to what you are threading on as you hike!After 2 hours and 30 minutes of hiking, we made our way back to Sangaygang (BBS Tower) and went to a nearby temple called Chagangkha Lhakhang. It is the oldest temple in Thimphu which was built in the 12th century.Photography is usually not allowed into temples, and you will have to be dressed in a proper manner (with knees and shoulders covered) to enter religious grounds. You would also need to take off your shoes before you enter the inner sanctum.
It was quite an interesting sight as we walked into the sanctum where the monks clad in red robes were sitting on the floor, chanting the mantras written on ancient scrolls which looked like they were a thousand years old.The locals visit this temple to request auspicious names for their newborn from the resident monks and to seek blessings from the protector deity called Tamdrin.The National Institute of Zorig Chosum is known as the painting school or the school of thirteen arts where students learn the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. This includes crafts like wood carving, embroidery, statue-making and painting in general.After the rain stopped, we left the postal office for Buddha Point at Kuenselphodrang Nature Park. The sky was still looking gloomy, but at least, the rain has stopped. But we could still hear the thunder rumbling in the skies.What you see in this picture above is the bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma which stood at 169 feet tall.
According to the guide, the Buddha point will be an important pilgrimage site for all Buddhists from all parts of the world. However, some parts of the temple are still under construction. So, the site is not fully ready yet to welcome the pilgrims.Before the sky turns dark, I decided to take a walk in Thimphu Town. I had my guide to accompany me as I walked along the streets. Some of the shops sell modern clothes and sportswear. There were a few souvenir shops and minimarts as well.Don’t forget to catch the sight of Bhutan’s only human traffic light at Thimphu town too. This traffic light man happened to be changing shifts.

Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Day 3

Thimphu to Punakha

Dochula Pass

Lunch at Hotel Lobesa, Punakha

Druk Wangyai Chortens

Chhimi Lhakhang Temple (Fertility Temple)

Punakha Dzong

Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge

Dinner at Hotel Lobesa

Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Day 4

From Punakha to Paro
Day 4 is a slow-moving day for me as we spent most of the time travelling from Punakha to Paro. During the journey back to Paro, we also stopped over for a while at Dochula Pass to take a breather. Like I mentioned, the journey was not easy especially for me as I have motion sickness. But I got better after popping an anti-motion sickness pill.
It was soon lunch upon reaching Paro. After lunch, we proceed to the National Museum in Paro which is located next to Ta Dzong, a watch tower built in 1649 to protect the Dzong. However, Ta Dzong suffered an earthquake in 2016, and all the museum exhibits are temporarily displayed at the annex located next to it.
Cameras are not allowed in the museum so I could neither take photos or videos. But the exhibits displayed inside the museum is quite comprehensive as it covers the cultural and religious aspects of Bhutan. On top of that, they also feature the diversity of flora and fauna which could be found within Bhutan. It took me about 30 minutes to view all the exhibits as it is a rather small museum.On our journey from the museum to Paro Dzong, we drove past a scenic point where we had a good vantage point of Paro valley. We made a brief stop to take some pictures of the valley. It reminded me of God’s love as I am writing this post. Even as you are in the valley of darkness, the Lord who is watching over you right above, shining a ray of light above you. He had a clear view of what’s coming ahead, and to Him, you are part of this marvelous creation whatever how your past or future might look like.Paro Dzong is also known as Rinpung Dzong which is a Buddhist monastery and fortress built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It is somewhat similar to Punakha Dzong, but it isn’t as magnificient as Punakha Dzong.I noticed that a standard feature for each Dzong is the cantilever bridge that stems from the Dzong to the main ground, across the river.It will be quite an eye-opening experience if you visit Bhutan during the peak season when all the traditional Bhutanese festivals are held. There will be performances and rituals performed in the significant Dzongs all over Bhutan. Right now, it is the non-peak season, so things are a little quieter there. On a brighter note, with the lesser crowd, I could take more architectural shots with people photo bombing my pictures.Paro Dzong is also known as Rinpung Dzong which is a Buddhist monastery and fortress built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It is somewhat similar to Punakha Dzong, but it isn’t as magnificient as Punakha Dzong.I noticed that a standard feature for each Dzong is the cantilever bridge that stems from the Dzong to the main ground, across the river.
It will be quite an eye-opening experience if you visit Bhutan during the peak season when all the traditional Bhutanese festivals are held. There will be performances and rituals performed in the significant Dzongs all over Bhutan. Right now, it is the non-peak season, so things are a little quieter there. On a brighter note, with the lesser crowd, I could take more architectural shots with people photo bombing my pictures.

Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Day 5

From Paro to haa via chele la
Rise and shine! It’s Day 5, and we headed to Haa Valley which is about a 3-hour drive away from Paro. After the slight evening shower, the skies were clear again, and the weather then was much colder.I woke up rather late for breakfast as I slept quite late the night before. Otherwise, I might be able to do a morning walk before heading to the restaurant for breakfast.After breakfast, I packed my luggage as I would be moving to another hotel in Paro. When I headed to the lobby, my guide was already waiting for me with a set of traditional Bhutanese costume called Kira (for females). So apparently, you can request to loan their traditional costume during the trip. I left it to my guide to decide when I should wear it but on second thoughts, I should have requested to wear the costume earlier. That’s because I had to take it off because it was so uncomfortable and I was having motion sickness as the car drove through the winding and bumpy roads.That’s my driver, and he is 30 this year too! He seemed very quiet at first, but somehow we broke into a fruitful conversation towards the end of the trip. He turned out to be kind and understanding.Like Dochula Pass, the Chele La Pass is the highest road pass in Bhutan which you would bypass if you are going en route from Paro to Haa valley. Chele La Pass has an elevation of 3, 988 meters above sea level.According to the travel itinerary given to me, there was suppose to be a picnic lunch at Chele La Pass, and I was looking forward to it all day. My heart sank an inch when my guide told me that we could not have lunch due to the weather conditions. It was too cold and windy. She explained that my food would turn cold if I brought it up to the mountains. You bet, I was disappointed.
When we reached the pass, we got off the car, and my guide left me on my own to walk up the mountains, while she went to hang out with the other male guides. What could I say? Many Indian tourists were touring Bhutan as well so you will see many of them as you tour about Bhutan. Since those are heading towards Haa valley would make a pitstop at Chele La Pass, you will see many cars and buses lining along the narrow mountainous roads.There were also some store vendors selling hot food and beverage to tourists. It is nice to have a hot drink in one hand as the weather is cold up there.I did not walk very far up to the top of the mountain as I could not bear the cold. After snapping some pictures, I returned to the car and continued our journey to Haa Valley.
If you visit Haa valley, your guide would probably take you to two popular temples – the white temple and black temple. I had only been to the white temple called Lhakhang karpo.When we were touring the site, we saw a group of monks squatting down to remove the weeds growing in between the cracks of the tiles. My guide then shared with me that needy families usually send their sons to become monks where they will be given food, education and a place to stay.
My guide said that the black temple (Lhakhang Narpo) was under some sort of a renovation so we cannot enter the temple but we could take a look from the outside. I decided to give it a miss and chosen to head back to Paro as I was feeling drained by then.
On our way back, we passed by Paro International airport. It could have been one of the smallest airports in the world judging by the number of plane runways they have.

Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Land of mysterious stories #notonTripoto by raghavendra nanubala
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