The Paro festival ends on the fifth day with the display of a huge Thangka painting which is hauled out every year. Anyone who sees it has their sins cleansed so the whole town gets up early to walk up to the festival ground. It is displayed from 2.30 am until sunrise. A 4 o’clock call ensures I start the day nice & clean!!!!
It gets better. In the mountains outside Park is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It was built in the 8th century by monks who were convinced the Flying Tiger landed here. How they built it then I do not know. It is 600 metres up the mountain and I trekked 6 km up to it. It took 3 hours to the monastery through the early morning clouds. Then we had the same trek down. Am knackered!!
Tomorrow I leave this mountain kingdom and fly to Katmandu. After a day it is an early morning flight to Delhi and then onward to the UK. See you guys all very soon.
A few factoids about Bhutan. The king & his wife are very popular. Their picture is plastered everywhere. They are the beautiful couple, the Beckhams of Bhutan. 98% of Bhutanese are Buddhist. Every Tuesday is dry, except for tourists, so the population can keep their kidneys in good condition. Smoking is prohibited in all public places (I find a convenient bike shelter to cape). India plough lots of dosh into the country – a strong Bhutan is a good buffer against the Chinese. Only 35,000 foreign tourists are allowed to visit each year and have to spend £250 each day they are here – what a privilege! Littering is frowned upon. The government measure their economy in terms of Gross National Happiness – they have taken the decision to modernise but it must have a positive impact on the environment and on society. Sadly it is applied in a rather authotitarian way. Thimpu is a Bhutanese Brazilia. There was very little here 25 years ago and all the modern building throughout the city, and the country, has taken place since then funded by foreign governments, particularly India, I suspect.
So today I leave Thimpu and drive up through the Doucha La Pass at 3,200 metres (yes, over 9,000 feet). Gets very wheezy moving about at that altitude! At that height the pines give way to tall, tall, TALL junipers. The bus crashes up & down the marble run of the Himalaya. Lunch is taken in a small village & fast service restaurant which overlooks paddy & wheat terraces. At this point I have to give an explanation about why i have not posted some very graphic images.Every house from here to Pharo have large phalli painted on their walls. I emphasise this is to protect the home from evil spirits & demons. Some are exceptionally graphic!!!!
I drop down to the ordinary town of Punakha. The boys are playing
Cricket on green fields & dusty flat spaces. School is out and the youngsters are slowly wandering along the main drag, giggling & laughing at us funny looking foreigners whilst everyone else gets on with their business from fronted shops or tarpaulined market stalls.
The highlight is visiting Punakha Dzong, built in 1637. There are 20 districts in Bhutan & each has a fort. Now, a fort, a fortress & a dzong are all the same. They were built when the locals were bashing hell out of each other & trying to keep the Tibetans out. As the country became unified they became monasteries. This place is a gem & I got two of my most favourite shots here. Guess which they are.
This really is a different country. The bus is new & comfortable with good shock absorbers and the roads are well made up. The sun comes out after a night of torrential rai; the mists hang on for a while and then let go their last clasp on the mountains to reveal blue sky!!!!! Rural & town houses are well constructed and well painted with beautiful paintings of spirits on their gables & facades.
The road winds up and down around valleys, ravines & peaks. Cows munch grass contentedly & pictures of alpine meadows come to mind particularly when the sound of the occasional cow bell can be heard. The mountains drop straight down to little slivers of rivers as mountains stand majestically above. I pass a Shagri-la of farmhouses, villages & small towns. Yep, really is like this. How can Bhutan be one of the poorest countries in the world? It seems they sell hydro electric power to India!!??
After a smooth drive we arrive in Thimpu, Bhutan’s capital – so surprising: modern, clean, large (600,000 people live in Bhutan, slightly bigger than Wales and 200,000 li be in Thimpu. I visit the national textile museum, the fort, the main stupa and have a wander around town.
Bhutan at last!!! But before we get there I have to share these two images with you – tea pickers along the road in one of the West Bengal tea plantations & the back kitchen of a town cafe selling chai & an assorted range of sweet, deep fried snacky things. Both equally atmospheric.
So Bhutan……..It’s like entering a different country …derrrr. Immediately there is a lot less litter, cars are bigger, it feels cleaner, most houses are well maintained. The Bhutanese smile a lot more and the traditional costume for guys in particular is soooo smart. A good Scotsman would feel right at home here. These are a cross between a kilt & a set of overalls/dressing gown, mostly in very suave plain greys but the occasional man about town will go into loud stripes to catch the eye of the girls.
This place is just a small border town but see what you think. Have tried to catch the feel of the place from the local cinema to shops & hotels. See what you think.