Jul 012017

Having gotten over the shock somewhat — I’ve seen more cars in my first couple of hours in the country than I did over the 12 days of my first visit — I’m settling in for the journey east. We are headed for Punakha and Bumthang, two districts that I saw briefly on my first trip, but didn’t get to explore much. I’m bemused as I watch the paved roads and cars and power lines.

The same beautiful architecture, with electricity!
Enormous new Buddha statue outside Thimphu

Look carefully at the left photo, and you will see a power line in the lower left…and power poles running up the hillside in the upper left. None of this was here during my first visit. In fact, electricity was rare outside of the main towns. Now there is power running to most areas, towns and most houses have electricity. The country generates (and sells!) lots of hydroelectric power, so electricity is provided for free to all residents as long as people use it sparingly. I saw compact fluorescent bulbs everywhere, to minimize electricity use.

Our first stop was Chimi Lhakhang, a famous fertility temple. It was reassuringly the same as my last visit, even the bodhi tree in the courtyard, which shaded a cluster of monks engaged in discussion. The sacred phallus images on building walls were fresh and colorful, and of course a gift shop offered all kinds of phallic memorabilia.

And so much remains unchanged. People in the country still wear traditional clothing, woolen skirts called kiras, and men in robes called ghos. Hilltops and fence lines are decorated with prayer flags, and most people walk everywhere. I did see more signs in English, however.

On our second day, we visited Punaka Dzong, one of the lovely fortress-monasteries constructed a thousand years ago to repel Tibetan invaders. Dzong’s are the largest buildings in the country, and the seat of local government. They each have a rich history and many legendary stories.

Continuing south on our third day, we cross over into Wangdue, home of the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. Only stopping for lunch, we head east towards Trongsa.

Since it’s late June, the rivers are all flowing well, and rains have made the fields lush and green, and the roads muddy.

We encounter lots of construction, a traffic jam and a rockfall on the road that all delay us a couple of hours. The drive east continues to the Chengdebi Chorten, a large sacred site that makes a good lunch stop.

After a lengthy drive down a valley, Trongsa Dzong emerges from the fog and clouds…on the other side of the valley. It takes about an hour to drive down the valley and back to reach the other side.

We’ve been on the road now for over ten hours, it’s getting dark, and we still have an 11,000-foot pass to climb and cross. There have been dozens of construction delays, a traffic jam, and a rockfall where we had to wait for 45 minutes.

After two more hours, we pull in to our luxurious hotel in Bumthang. Deep thanks to Ugyen Dorji. our skilled and tireless driver.

The next morning (it’s now day 4, July 1st), we start to explore. We will be here for several days. Here are some photos of our group. Most are now friends on Facebook, and I hope to travel with them again in the future.

And we visit the Kurjey Monastery, where we are treated to a charming women’s dance. Everyone is preparing for the annual festival, starting tomorrow.

We are fortunate we can attend. There are several days of events ahead of us at the monasteries in the area. Today we can rest, hike, and explore the town. I find a shop filled with the most incredible textiles from the eastern part of the country. The proprietor, Rinzin Wangmo, comes from a family of weavers to the east in Monggar, and they send their products to her shop, an eight-hour drive away. I make splurge, and bring home several beautiful wall hangings.

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