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Bhutan - Land of the Dragon

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Trip report of a magical three weeks spent travelling through Bhutan in October/November 2009, originally posted on the Slow travel Forum.

As there are so many pictures, I have decided to break the trip report up into three parts. This is the first part and covers background information, Paro and Thimphu. The
second part covers the drive from Thimphu to Punakaha, the Phobjika valley, Trongsa and Jakar. The third part covers the drive from Jakar to Mongar and then Trashigang and Trashi Yangsi, before leaving Bhutan by road at Samdrup Jonkar.

Background to the trip

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Many years ago we watched a programme presented by Michael Wood on the History of India. We were fascinated and India was added to our ‘todo list’ We started researching holidays and rapidly came to the conclusion that much of India would be too hotand possibly humid for us. At the back of one of the brochures were a few pages about holidays in Bhutan, a tiny mountain kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas between India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China and to the west of Nepal. From not knowing anything about Bhutan, we were hooked by the pictures and descriptions.

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I’ll start with the boring details as booking a holiday in Bhutan is very different. Bhutan is still only just being discovered by foreign tourists and tourism is carefully controlled by the Government so as not to have a negative impact on the culture and life of the Bhutanese.

Tourism is controlled by the government which fixes prices and rules local agents must follow. Unless you are an Indian national, you are only allowed to enter if you have a prepaid and pre planned itinerary with a Bhutanese Tour Company. You are accompanied by driver and guide throughout your time in Bhutan. You pay a set tariff per day which covers cost of car, driver, guide, accommodation and all meals. If you are trekking it also includes horses, porters, camping equipment and cooks.

The price per day depends on the time of year and the number of people. Up to date details on prices can be found here. This may initially sound expensive, but once in Bhutan, daily costs are very low as all food and accommodation has been paid for. Although Bhutan has its own currency, the Indian rupee is accepted as legal tender. Make sure you have low value notes as high value noters can cause problems.

You have to fly at least one way - a way of controlling tourist numbers. If flying from Delhi or Katmandu, try and get a seat on the left hand side of the aeroplane as that gives marvellous views of Everest as you fly over the Himalayas.

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Paro Airport is surrounded by mountains and climatic conditions, particularly strong winds which are worse in the afternoon, can result in cancelled flights. Make sure your itinerary has a contingency plan for this!

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By road, you can enter or leave at Phuentsholing in the south or at Samdrup Jonkar in the far east. BE WARNED if you decide to leave by road, make sure Bhutanese officials stamp your passport with an exit stamp - otherwise you won’t be allowed into India!

It is possible to book direct with a local agent in Bhutan. However many of these are small and email contact can be slow if they are out guiding, or if there is a local festival when all work stops.

We booked through Audley Travel based at Witney in the UK who we used for all our tailor made trips. They used Druk Executive Travel in Thimphu.

Visas are needed to enter Bhutan. These are arranged by the local agents and sent to you a few days before you are due to leave.

We decided to fly in from Delhi, drive across Bhutan and then drive out at Samdrup Jonkar into India to Guwahati and get the train back to Delhi. There is only one road across Bhutan so the itinerary is fairly fixed.

We wanted to travel slowly and allow ourselves plenty of time to enjoy the countryside and the spectacular sights. We came up with the following itinerary.

Fly from Delhi to Paro
PARO 4 nights, spending a day round Paro itself, a day exploring the Paro valley and a day visiting Haa.
THIMPHU 3 nights for some of the major attractions around Thimphu.
PUNAKA: 2 nights.
PHOBJIKA: 2 nights.
TRONGSA: 1night.
JAKAR 3 nights, spent visiting the Bumthang Valley and day visiting the small villages of Shingkar and Ura
MONGAR: 1 night
TASHIGANG: 3 nights visiting Tashi Yangsi and Rajung and Radi.
To Sandrup Jonkar to Guwahati for 1 night before catching the train back to Delhi.

We did travel along some of the side roads off the main road and found them very rewarding. The main road is narrow with many bends and often cut on a ledge across the side of the mountain with a steep drop into the valley below. Journey times are long.

We welcomed the opportunity to get out and walk along the road to see what was growing in the fields, enjoy the views and explore some of the tiny settlements off the road.

When we visited, accommodation was still fairly basic, particularly in the east, although there were a few 5* resorts being developed which charged serious money to stay. Since we visited, many large and modern hotels have opened and accommodation is of a much higher standard. Power cuts can be a problem, so travel with a torch.

The Bhutanese are delightful people and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Once or twice we did blink when we saw our room but it always had great character. We had en suite bathrooms (some very basic in the east) and all accommodation was very clean and beds were comfortable.

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JAKAR
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Impressions of Bhutan

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Bhutan is completely different - the architecture, way of life and landscape. Buddhism is an integral part of life and impacts on everything they do. There are no beggars, little theft or violent crime and traveller’s personal safety is guaranteed. People speak English and are delightful.

We were struck by how happy everyone was, even though life is tough and very hard work. It is an agricultural economy with little industry. The way of life is unchanged and very much based on their religion. Chortans, and prayer flags are everywhere. They have a very pragmatic approach to life and adopt only those concepts that will help improve their way of life. They are comfortable with their past.

Forget Gross Domestic Product as a measure of the success of a country, Bhutan has adopted a philosophy of Gross National Happiness to measure the well being of its population.

Bhutan was an absolute monarchy until 2008 when the King decided it was time it became a democracy with its own elected parliament. The role of the King was still very important when we visited and he was very highly regarded by everyone we met. It was very clear that the Bhutanese were still coming to terms with the change.

Bhutan had only been open to tourists for a few years and was still very much a medieval society – although that was beginning to change. We still feel very privileged in visiting Bhutan and think we got there just in time.

The country is divided up into smaller units each controlled from the Dzong. In the C12th, the Dzong were originally built as hill top watch towers and places of safety during enemy attack. With the arrival of less troubled times, the dzong became the administrative centre for the area and also where the monk body lived. It is the largest and most impressive building in the town and immediately recognisable by the square gold structures on the roof.

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The basic layout is the same with a big outer wall with offices or monks quarters, surrounding one or more courtyards with a central tower, the utse. There are smaller Lhakhangs (temples) inside the utse.

Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the religious buildings of Dzongs. Apparently when visitors started arriving with polaroid cameras, the Bhutanese found torn up pictures of unwanted pictures. This was regarded as disrespectful to their gods and all photography was banned. This ruke is rigorously enforced and their are very few pictures on the web.

We listened to monks chanting morning prayers, small boys learning their lessons and watched monks practising dances for a festival. Cockerels described as the monks’ alarm clocks were running round the courtyards.

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I had considerable difficulty getting my head round all the gods, major monks and their reincarnations as well as the evil spirits which had to be subdued. Having been to Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia and China I was struck by how important the mythology was. I use the word mythology with great caution as to our guide it was their ‘history’.

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Most people still live in the country and are farmers. However many of the younger people are moving to the towns in search of work (and an easier life). Some of the most remote villages are nearly deserted, with just the old folk left to work the land. They have only recently started to use the kilometre as a measure of distance, Before that, distances were measured in days it took to travel.

Apart from the main towns which are found in the broader valleys where there is a reasonable amount of cultivatable flat land, most of the country is mountainous with very steep side wooded valleys. Roads are carved out of the hillside. A settlement can be seen long before it is reached

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Farmhouses dot the landscape surrounded by tiny terraced fields.

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Houses are very traditional - even new ones.

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Walls are traditionally made of beaten earth. Soil is dug and the larger stones are removed before being taken to the building site. The earth is tipped into a wooden framework and pounded to compact it. No water is added as pounding releases water from the soil which binds it firmly as it dries. The hard packed earth is waterproof and will last for many years. The remains of old buildings can be seen scattered round the countryside. Old buildings are still inhabited by the spirits of the ancestors so it is bad luck to pull them down.

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Walls are usually whitewashed and decorations painted on them. Woodwork (except in very poor households) is painted in yellows, browns and reds. Windows traditionally had no protective screening, although bamboo screens were used as protection against bad weather. Now most houses have glass, at least on the first floor living areas.

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Traditionally the bottom floor was used for animals and the first floor was the living area. The second floor was used for storing crops and hay under the roof. Stones are used to secure the roof against strong winds. Now the animals are kept outside in small barns and the lower floors are used as living areas as children want their own rooms.

In towns, houses are similar, although the ground floor is no longer used for animals. There are glass windows and houses contain kitchen, storerooms and servant quarters. The ground floor may also be used as a small shop.

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Most houses have an electric light bulb (solar panels are used in the more remote villages) but for many water is still collected from a pipe outside. Washing is done by hand at a communal water pipe. Cooking traditionally was done over a wood fire although many people now have a gas ring.

It is a matriarchal society and the house and land is owned by the woman and passes down through the daughters. The sons leave home and settle with their wife’s family. Land is split equally between all the daughters so some land holdings can be very small.

We asked how couples met considering how isolated some of the settlements are. Every village temple has a festival once a year which is a major occasion and people travel miles for it. The young men wander round looking at all the pretty girls and find out which village they come from. After the festival the young men start courting. They walk to the village where all the pretty girls come from and look in windows until they find a pretty girl..... at dawn they then walk back home to work in the fields. Sometimes they are so tired they fall asleep or get caught by the parent. There is no official marriage ceremony. The couple announce they are married. The young man then stays with the girl’s family and works the land for them. Several weeks later his parents will find out that he is married. Quite often the man marries all of his wive’s sisters and they live amicably as a family unit. This has the advantage of keeping the family unit together.

Nearly every settlement has a small shop. These are on the ground floor of the house and open onto the road. They don’t have glass in the windows, just wooden shutters. They are a real Aladdin’s cave inside, sell everything you can imagine.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Agriculture and food - Rice

Fields are tiny and every available plot of land is terraced and cultivated. Narrow field paths run along the top of banks between the fields.

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Rice is the staple food across most of the country and the Bhutanese can eat up to 1kg rice a day. Red rice (and it really is red when cooked ) is the main crop over most of Bhutan. It is grown in tiny paddy fields, some not more than 6’x2’ All work in the fields is done by hand, except in a few of the larger farms where fields are large enough to use a machine to plant and cut the rice.

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The rice is cut and left to dry in the fields before being threshed and winnowed.

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Straw is either made into big ricks in the fields or else carried on backs or by pack horse to the farmhouse for winter fodder for the cows.

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Ploughing is done using oxen and a wooden plough.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Agriculture and food cont....

Everyone (except city dwellers) has a cow. These graze alongside the roads during the day or in the fields after harvesting. I shall long remember the sound of the cow bell as the cows make their way back to the farm for the evening.

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They are milked by hand in the fields. Milk is rarely drunk, being used to make cheese and butter. Datsi, ares small round soft cheeses made from the whey are used to thicken sauces.

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Yaks are traditionally kept on the higher land and their milk is used to make cheese.

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Chillies are an essential part of the diet and grown everywhere. When we were in Bhutan, the chillies were ready for harvesting and were left to dry on the house roofs. When dry they are tied on strings and hung in the window.

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The national dish is Chilli cheese. The Bhutanese love chillies - the more the better, but apparently a lot of the population suffers from stomach ulcers as a result of this. For the tourists, chillies are used sparingly. We did try chilli cheese once...

They grow lots of vegetables - sweet corn (which is rolled and fried as cornflakes or else dried and ground), squashes, aubergine, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, cauliflowers, all sorts of beans... Fruits include apples, pears, bananas, guava, papaya, pineapples. Deep fried squash and aubergine were good as well as potatoes or beans in cheese. We soon learnt to avoid meat and stick to vegetables. I never knew chicken or mutton could have so many bones.

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At higher altitudes rice can’t be grown and is replaced with buckwheat and barley. Potatoes are grown as a cash crop. These are exported to India by the lorry load. The lorries career towards you at top speed in the centre of very narrow and winding roads.

Any surplus food is sold in the markets or on the side of the road. We spent a fascinating morning wandering round the big vegetable market in Thimphu. The quality and variety of fruit and vegetables was amazing. There were many we didn’t recognise.


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Fish, especially dried fish, is popular and is imported from India. You could always tell a fish lorry by the smell. The dried fish would be delivered to the shops in huge sacks. It would be tipped onto the floor, sorted and bagged into smaller quantities for sale. It would be fried and eaten whole.

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The vegetation was lush everywhere in Bhutan. Much of it was completely different although I recognised many garden plants. At lower altitudes where the climate is warmer, Poinsettias grow wild as a hedgerow plant. They can be 10' tall and 6' across and covered with flowers.

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We were too late for the rhododendron flowers and many of the orchids, although we did see some beautiful white orchids with brown speckles growing on a tree trunk. There were pink autumn flowering cherries growing along the sides of the mountains. We also saw lots of brilliant blue gentians on one of the mountain passes. At higher altitudes in the east, there was lots of bamboo which varied from about 6" in height to about 20'.

There were crickets everywhere and as soon as you went outside you were aware of the sound of them singing. We never saw any. We understand they are 1-2" long, black in colour and seem to live in the trees.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Some History and important names

To understand Bhutan, it is necessary to understand some of its history and mythology. There is little written history and it very much depends on the oral tradition.

In the C7th, the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo was traditionally credited with the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan. He is reputed to have built 108 temples to anchor down a giantess who was trying to stop the spread of Buddhism, including Kyichu in the Paro Valley and another at Jampa in the Choekar Valley. In the C8th a Buddhist monk, Padmasambhava, arrived from what is now Pakistan. He is credited with introducing Tantric Buddhism to a population who probably practised animistic type of religion, similar to the old Bon beliefs of Tibet. He was known in Bhutan as Guru Rimpoche. He was reputed to have buried ‘treasures’ connected to buddhist beliefs around the country. Places were he meditated are now places of pilgrimage.

The assassination of the Tibetan King in 842, resulted in two centuries of political and religious turmoil. The C11th saw a revival of Buddhism with the discovery of the hidden religious treasures (Tertons) of Guru Rinpoche by Dorje Lingpa. This resulted in Buddhism being reestablished across Bhutan.

The C16th, Pema Lingpa was a reincarnation of Guru Rinpoche and is credited with rediscovering many more of the sacred treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche. He founded many monasteries as well as being responsible for many of the sacred dances which were revealed to him in visions and are still performed by monks. He also wrote several important texts. His descendants were responsible for founding many monasteries across Bhutan.

Until the C17th, Bhutan was made up of different states. Ngawang Namgyal fled from persecution in Tibet in 1616. Over the next 30 years, he successfully fought off other Tibetan invasions and succeeded in unifying Bhutan into Druk Yul , the land of the Drukpas. Known by the title of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, he was responsible for establishing the dzongs as the religious and administrative units for the different areas of Bhutan.

As well as establishing a legal system based on Buddhist moral principles, he divided the country into three large provinces, each headed by a governor or Pelop. His death was kept secret for over half a century in case turmoil erupted while a worthy successor was found.

During the C19th, the Pelop’s increased their power to the detriment of central government and there were power struggles between the Pelops, head monks and administrative leaders of the Dzongs. This lead to instability, internal disputes and civil wars,

Jigme Namgyal, Pelop of Trongsa gradually established a network of alliances and on his death, his son Ugyen Wangchuck became Pelop. He continued to strengthen his power base and claimed a decisive victory by 1885, finally establishing political stability across Bhutan. In 1907, the position of Pelop was abolished and Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as hereditary ruler and first King of Bhutan by an assembly of the monastic community, civil servants and people in 1907. The country was divided into 20 administrative units , the Dzongda, each responsible to the King. The title has passed down through his descendants and has resulted in a period of political stability and economic prosperity.

When India gained independence in 1947, the Indian Government recognised Bhutan as an independent country. The Third King, Jimbe Dorje Wangchuck, signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India. This ensured India would not interfere in Bhutan’s internal affairs but would help guide its foreign policy. This marked the start of a continuing close relationship between the two countries.

Bhutan slowly began to emerge from its isolation and began on a programme of planned development which included emphasis on road building, infrastructure and a strong administrative framework.

On his death he was succeeded by his son Jigme Singye Wangchuck who was responsible for modernising the country while at the same time preserving its traditions and culture. He was responsible for the philosophy of "gross national happiness." He was also responsible for producing the constitution changing Bhutan from an absolute monarchy to a democracy. He abdicated in 2006 with his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wanchuck becoming a constitutional monarch and the first general election held in 2008.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Chortans, Gompas and Dzongs

Chortan or stupa (the Sanskrit name) are small religious structures built of stone. They are usually painted white and may have a red band. The first chortans were built to contain relics of the Buddha and became places of worship. Later they were also used to house sacred texts and images. Some simply existed as symbols or reminders, becoming sacred in their own right as supporting objects for meditation. Chortans were also built to subjugate demons, ward off evil and give protection. They are usually found on high passes. They should always be walked round in a clockwise direction.

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Nagas are evil underground spirits, usually in the form of a serpent, and are found throughout Bhutan. Before erecting any building, the naga have to be appeased by building a small house, known as a Naga House, and by leaving offerings for them.

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Lhakhangs are small temples, usually one story, and may have a courtyard surrounded by a wall. They are immediately recognised by the red band painted on the upper part of the walls, which represents the sanctity of the site. Internal walls are covered with paintings.

Shoes and headware must be removed before entering a Lhakhang. Photographs are not allowed inside them and it is nearly impossible to find pictures on the web either.

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Gompa are monasteries with several lhakhangs and have accommodation for monks. They may be part of a dzong.

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Dzongs were originally built as defense structures on top of mountains which gave warning of attack and a safe place for the local population. Later they became the administrative centre for the area and the base for the monastic community. They have the same basic structure with central tower (utse) surrounded by a walled courtyard (dochey) with Lhakhangs . The administrative offices and monks accommodation are built against the surrounding walls.

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Prayer wheels are brightly coloured metal drums inscribed with mantras and contain tightly wrapped rolls of mantras inside. The wheels are turned clockwise to scatter the mantras to the winds

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Prayer flags are common throughout Bhutan and are a characteristic feature of Tibetan Buddhism. The colours represent the five elements, earth, air, water, fire, and space. and have prayers or mantra printed on them. As the wind passes over the surface of the flags, the air is purified and sanctified by the Mantras. The prayers are scattered in the wind to spread good will and compassion.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Bhutanese

The Bhutanese love having their pictures taken, especially the older women. Possibly this is one of the few chances they have to see what they look like. Mirrors are not common.

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People wear traditional dress for work, although they may change into western clothes at night. The men wear a GHO which looks a bit like a big baggy dressing gown. Socks are usually knee length and the diamond pattern argyll socks are very popular. The women wear a KIRA. This is a long strip of material. Traditionally it was worn over a T shirt and pinned at the shoulders using big broaches. School children still do this (each school has its own pattern kira) and many of the older women in the villages. Most of the younger women wear the kira wrapped around the waist as a skirt. A beautiful jacket is always worn with it. The kira was traditionally woven using hand looms, sitting on the floor, but now many people buy cheap lengths of cloth imported from India.

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The children were delightful. All learn English at school and are desperate to practice. Everywhere we went we were greeted by " Hello. How are you? What is your name? How old are you?"

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We saw a poster in one of the hotels asking guests to volunteer to join in “Advanced English Conversation classes” to give students a chance to practice their conversation skills. What we hadn't realised was that this was at a Buddhist monastery 10km up a narrow valley road. Not only do you have the chance of seeing a working monastery at work you will also meet and talk to the monks. Lessons are very different. The monks file in with notebook and pencil and sit on the floor. They are used to being talked to and making notes. The only resource is the blackboard.

We also visited a small rural school in Phobjikha valley which was an eye opener. Education is still very traditional and very old fashioned with few resources. Lessons were an hour and there were two lessons of English, maths and Dzongkha a day; one lesson of science and one which can best be described as social studies. This was taught in the classroom and there was no scope for any practical hands on work. In English lessons the children read a book aloud as a group as many lack confidence to read aloud individually. They love to sound out letters written on the blackboard. They then answer questions in their books or fill in the missing word in a sentence. It is very quiet. No-one speaks and group work hadn’t arrived.

I was in the youngest class and the children found it quite difficult to understand my English. We ended up singing nursery rhymes. Michael was left with a class of 7 year olds. He realised the children loved to spell out words as he wrote them on the blackboard. Animal names were the best as the children could spell out and make the sounds. He and the children had great fun but it was probably bad for discipline....

I was struck by how QUIET it was. No-one spoke. The children are desperately keen to learn. School hours are long and many children have to walk a long way to school. There is no school run in Bhutan. Even the littlest children take themselves to school. You see them from 7am walking across the fields with their satchel and container of rice for the midday meal. Often it will be 5pm before they get back home.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Arrival in Paro

We flew into Paro and spent 4 nights there. The flight is exciting as it is under visual flight rules and planes can only land in good visibility. They fly up through a narrow valley with the hillside with houses and fields whipping past the window. The airport is built to the south of the town on the broad river flats which are one of the few large flat areas in Bhutan. The airport terminal building
is modern but, like all buildings in Bhutan, is very traditional.

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Paro set in a pretty valley of isolated hamlets and farms.

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We were based in the Janka Resort, a large new hotel in traditional style with mustard yellow walls and painted woodwork. It was a five minute drive from the town and surrounded by fields and farmhouses with chilis drying on their roofs.

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We enjoyed being able to walk through the fields before breakfast and watching the rice being harvested. Paths are narrow tracks of hard beaten earth ran between the fields with lots of wild flowers along edges, including pink Cosmos. The sound of crickets was everywhere. We watched the children walk across the fields to school with their parcel of books and a container of rice for lunchtime.

We had a large and airy room with views down the valley to Paro and the Dzong which was floodlit at night. There was no internet access in the room but there was a small business area where hotel computers could be used for a small charge.There were very few others stopping while we were there and the staff were delightful. Meals were ample and good.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A day spent around Paro

We spent a full day around Paro.

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We began by visiting Paro Dzong. This is also known as Rinpung Dzong which translates as ‘the fortress of the heap of jewels’. It is the largest and most impressive building in the town and dominates the valley, especially at night when it is floodlit. It is built on a commanding site overlooking the town and was used to defend the valley against invasion from Tibet in the C17th. The present building was rebuilt in the early C20th after a fire. It was formerly the Meeting Hall for National Assembly before this moved to Thimphu. Now it houses the monastic body, district Government offices and local courts.

A big outer wall surrounds the courtyards with a central tower called the utse which houses the temples and also stores the masks and costumes used for festivals. The rest of the buildings house the administration offices and the monks quarters.

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The entrance passage was newly painted with pictures of the four protector gods, east (white, entertainment), south (yellow, victory), north (red, victory) and west (blue, war).

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There are other images connected with the Buddhism. The painting of the God of Life is shown with the six elements deer, bird, mountain, river, tree. It emphasises the importance of man and animals living in harmony.

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The lovely painting of the four friends shows a bird, rabbit, monkey and elephant. The bird brings the seed, the rabbit tends and weeds the ground, the monkey fertilises and the elephant waters it. The seed grows so big that elephant has to support animals on his back so bird can reach seed...

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This leads into the administrative courtyard with the main administration block and offices above the entrance. The woodwork had been newly painted in decorative designs of red, orange, yellow and black.

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At the centre was the very large utse.

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Steep steps drop down into the monk’s courtyard beyond with cockerels (the monks’ alarm clocks) running round freely.

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In a corner, one of the chief monks was sitting in judgement and listening to a case brought against a monk who had been absent from the Dzong for several months. He said he had been visiting his parents and had been ill. He was being questioned about medicines and his commitment to being monk. The parents and other monks were also there to answer questions.

We went into a small hall where young monks were sitting on the floor learning Buddhist texts by heart by chanting from books on floor in front of them. As usual with small boys, two were more interested in flicking stones across the room to each other than chanting.

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In another room more small monks were reading an English book “I can count”. I wasn’t sure how much they understood when I read page to them. Maybe because I didn’t chant and also asked questions.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A day spent around Paro cont....

Our next visit was to Ta Dzong, a round white painted building, dating from the mid C17th standing above the Dzong which was originally a watchtower and later used to house prisoners.

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It has been restored and extended as the National Museum of Bhutan. We found this dusty and old fashioned. There was little English information and unfortunately no photography was allowed inside. There were some beautiful religious carvings on slate and an interesting display of traditional costumes and clothes. There was also a display every stamp issued since 1968. Before then sealing wax was used. When you buy stamps from the post office, you are given a huge book of stamps to choose the design you want. It is also possible to ‘custom make’ stamps with your photo on.

Since we visited, Ta Dzong was badly damaged by earthquake in 2011 and has been restored. Looking at the video on the website, the displays have also been updated and improved.

There are wonderful views of Paro from Ta Dzong, and that made the trip worthwhile.

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After lunch we went for a walk around the fields to watch rice being cut by hand using a small sickle. The cut rice was carefully laid out in rows to dry before being threshed.

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We watched an archery contest, on a piece of flat land along the side of the river. Archery is very popular in Bhutan. Traditionally the bows were made of a special kind of bamboo, but many are hi tech steel now.

There are two teams who take turns to shoot at a small oblong block with a bulls eye painted on it at the far end of the field. They are awarded two points if they hit the target and three for the bullseye. Each person has 4 shots then changes ends while the rest of the team has turn. Non shooting team members stand by target and shout encouragement pointing at the bulls eye. They perform a victory dance each time one of their team manages to hit the target. Many miss.

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We finished the day by a walk around Paro. Typically in Bhutan, there was no village built around the Dzong and the town was only built in the 1980s. The town is a grid pattern of streets lined with traditional houses. The houses along the main street had small shops on the ground floor with open onto the road. Most shops sell everything from shoes to plastic dishes to food, with a similar range of packaged goods and sweets. There were some specialist shops selling kitchen equipment, pans etc. The Butcher also sold fish, slices of pork (very fat) and trotters. Small bundles of vegetables are bought from farmers for resale. Most looked very wilted. There were also eggs and betel. Betel leaves are traditionally chewed in Bhutan and stain the lips red.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Paro Valley - but not Tiger’s Nest

We spent a full day exploring the valley above Paro.

Nearly everyone who visits Bhutan goes to Tiger's Nest Monastery. The building is in fact modern having been rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1999. This can take up to a full day to walk to. It is perched high (700m) above the valley floor on a sheer cliff face and is reached by a very steep climb to a cafe, then steep descent into a valley before the final very steep ascent up a sheer cliff on a narrow path, to an altitude of over 3000m.

Having read descriptions of this we had decided we would admire from the road below. Having seen it, we knew (for us) we had made the right decision. We asked our guide how many tourists did the climb. The answer was that we were very unusual as it wasn’t on our itinerary. Everyone started the walk. Some gave up quickly, most made it to the cafe but few actually completed the climb.

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Instead we decided to drive up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong and visit Kyichu Lhakhang on the way back down.

It was a nice drive up the steep sided wooded valley through small villages along valley bottom with terraced fields and and large resort style hotels to Drukgyel village, a small traditional settlement with a couple of shops, craft shop (shut) and wooden houses.

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The village is surrounded by terraced fields of rice which had been cut and left to dry in stooks. It was on a major trade route between Tibet and Bhutan. The area to the north is still wild and can be dangerous for travellers.

A group of women were washing clothes by the pump

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Other women were roasting barley in a wok over an open fire. This is ground and used to make tampa, which is eaten with butter tea.

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Girls from the very upmarket Aman Kora hotel were busy collecting watercress from a very dubious drain running down the side of the road.

Drukgyel Dzong is set high above the village on a large lump rock and is reached by a pleasant walk up through the trees with good views down into the valley.There were lots of flowers including tiny delphiniums and a bush with leaves smelling strongly lemon. We went past a chorten with a wind driven prayer wheel.

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The Dzong was built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, after a war with Tibet, to protect the area from further invasions from the north. It was the main administrative centre for the area and had no monastic community. His descendants lived here until 1951 when the Dzong was destroyed by fire. They then moved to Paro and the Dzong was left in ruins.

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The Utse is surrounded by a wall with several watchtowers. A steep path lined with stone walls led down to a watch tower with views down valley.

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A steep flight of steps leads into what was the working courtyard of the Dzong which had a large building that housed the servants. The outer wall of the dzong was lined with small domestic buildings. The remains of the dungeons which held the Tibetan prisoners can be seen, although the soldiers quarters above have gone. It is thought that 100-200 people worked here and local farms had to provide servants to work for the Penlop (governor).

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After lunch we visited Kyichu Lhakhang which is one of the oldest and most sacred sites in Bhutan, although only a few monks live here now. There are two temples are surrounded by a low wall with a courtyard with chortans, prayer wheels and an incense burner.

The first temple was built by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet in 659 to anchor down a giantess who was trying to stop the spread of Buddhism. 108 temples were built across Bhutan and Tibet on different parts of her body. Kyichu Lhakhang was built on her left foot.

It was restored in 1839 by the Penlop of Paro (who lived in Drukgel Dzong) who added additional buildings and the golden roof. It houses a C7th statue of Buddha, from the original Lhakang which is regularly regilded from donations of pilgrims. In a small temple there are two footprints worn into the floor by a holy monk who spent three months meditating here. There were beautiful butter decorations on the altar.

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The newer, larger temple with an elaborately carved and painted wooden screen was built by the wife of the second King.

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Above the temple site is a small cremation area with an open sided tent covering it.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
To the Haa Valley

When we visited in 2009, the Haa valley had only recently been opened for tourists and was still very unspoilt. We spent a day here from Paro.

The narrow road climbs up the side of the valley from Paro with good views down onto the airstrip. Once the terraced fields are left behind the road began to climb steeply with a lot of hair pin bends through open coniferous woodland with a few deciduous trees.

The roads are maintained by Indian Road workers who live in very basic camps built beside the road. In some places proper houses are provided with a small plot of land to grow vegetables. Here they were living in tents made made from canvas and corrugated iron. Women were washing clothes by the road in water running down the side. Small children and chickens were running around. Schools are provided but many don’t go.

We stopped at small water driven prayer wheel beside a cave where Guru Rimpoche mediated. There is a picture him painted on wall. Water from the prayer wheel is taken through a wooden pipe to road. This is regarded as holy water which will wash away sins if drunk. Car drivers like to use this water to wash their vehicles as it is supposed to protect the car and occupants from harm.

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The road climbs up to Chelala Pass at 3810m.

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It was noticeably colder and one of the few occasions we needed a fleece sweater. There was a forest fire several years ago so there are good views from the pass, including the tallest mountain, Jhomolhari at 6800m. There are so many mountains, only those over 5000m have names.

There were lots of brightly coloured prayer flags on tall poles blowing in the wind. They are placed in sight of both mountains and water. White for purity, yellow for earth, green for rivers, blue for sky. On top of the pole is a sword to fight off evil spirits. The flags only last a few months before they need replacing. They are taken down and burnt. The poles can be reused.

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We went for walk above road and found at least 3 different species of bright blue gentians and edelweiss.

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It is a steep drop into the Haa valley through larch which was beginning turn golden - a sign the rice is ready to eat.

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The Haa valley is narrower with a few buildings on the hillsides.

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Cultivation is just in the valley bottoms. It is too high to grow rice. The main crops are barley, buckwheat, turnips (for fodder) and potatoes which are sold to India, and the money is used to buy rice.

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We drove beyond the town to a nice grassy field by river where we had a picnic lunch. A tablecloth was carefully laid on ground for us to sit on and we were provided with plates and cutlery. (The Bhutanese traditionally eat with their fingers.) There was a huge container of red rice, along with deep fried chicken, potato in cheese, broccoli and cauliflower. We hardly made any impression on quantities and gave the overs to the Indian road workers on the way back to Paro.

Cont...
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Haa Valley cont...

After lunch we walked back along the road towards Haa to to look at the fields and houses. The houses were old and unpainted with peas and barley drying in the roof spaces. The children were coming home from school. We were very much a novelty and they all stopped to talk and wanted their pictures taken.

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We walked along Haa main street and watched children playing cramboard (shove halfpenny meets billiards). There were small dark shops on the ground floor of the houses. These just had wooden shutters rather than glass, a reminder of when the ground floor of houses was used for animals. The shops all sold a similar selection of dried goods with a few, often quite wilted vegetables. Farmers sell to the shops who then sell on. There were sheets on the ground with chillies drying outside the shops. When dry they are tied into long bunches which are hung up on window frames. Beef cut into long thin strips is also hung up to dry.

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We then drove down the valley past the Dzong. This is not open as it is used by the Indian Military who have a strong presence in area to warn off China.

We visited Lhakhang Karpo, built on the site of a C7th monastery. Traditionally this was one of the 108 monasteries built in one day by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century.

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The central temple building is reached up steep steps and is surrounded by monks quarters. In front is a large courtyard which is used at festival time. There were 2 huge wooden prayer wheels turned by handles so the paint isn’t worn off by hands turning the wheels. A bell rings each turn of the wheel to help keep count.

On the left are the buildings used to store the masks and festival clothes. The Assembly hall is on the right with the monk’s cells. The temple is a long building with statues of local gods and the chair used by the head monk. There were painted tankas on the walls.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The drive to Thimphu

After Paro, we drove to Thimphu for the next 3 nights. This is possibly the best road in Bhutan, as well as the busiest.

The river got narrower as valley got steeper. There was little settlement with only a few scattered fields on available flat ground. The bare hillsides were of unstable micaceous rock with lots of rock falls onto road.

We stopped opposite Tamcho Lhakang and dropped down to the river to look at the traditional bridge that had been rebuilt with non traditional chicken wire covered bamboo leaves. The Lhakhang was built high above the river and surrounded by bare grass mountain sides with scattered blue pines. The terraced fields around the Lhakhang are tended by local farmers who grow barley and chillies for the monks.

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A steep unmade track led to the bridge which had a large guard house at either end.

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Chuzzum is at the junction of the Paro and Thimpu rivers and the checkpoint for the Thimphu area is here.

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The road now follows the Thimphu river. The valley was narrow and steep with bare hillsides. It gradually widened and more settlement appeared. There were lots of small apple orchards and stalls along roadside selling apples and chillies.

We did a detour up a steep sided valley to Serbithang Botanic Garden which was very disappointing. This was described as having displays of native trees, shrubs, medicinal and economically useful plants. There was a map at the entrance but few signposts in the garden. The different sections of garden were not clearly marked. There were a few information boards, but with little useful information. It was mainly a flower garden which had become overgrown and neglected. The Rhododendrons looked very unhappy. The Bamboo section wasdisappointing. The best bit was the orchid house. We felt our visit was a waste of time. (Recent pictures indicate it may have improved.)

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We also visited Simtokka Dzong, built on a wooded hillside on the outskirts of Thimphu and controlling the approaches to the Thimphu valley.

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The original Dzong was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal around 1630 when there were frequent attacks from Tibet. It was designed as a fortress for military defence as well as having a religious functions and was the forerunner of the present dozing system. The present building is C19th but still retains most of the original design and structure. It was renovated and repainted in 2008, so looks very smart. The inside is equally as impressive.

The Dzong is just used by the monks and never had an administrative function, as this was carried out by Trashi Chhoe Dzong. Only the important monks live in the Dzong, the rest live in new buildings above Dzong.


A flight of steps leads to the main entrance into the small courtyard with the Utse. There were some splendid slate carvings of the great lamas around the base of the Utse. There were carvings of the Bird of Long Life and lions on the corners of the roof and corners roof and beautiful butter sculptures in temple.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Thimphu

We had an afternoon to ourselves to explore Thimphu. This is the main town and largest settlement in Bhutan. It is a fairly new settlement and became the capital of Bhutan in 1952/3 when it was was little more than a Dzong surrounded by a few houses. Since then it has grown rapidly along the bottom of a fairly narrow valley.

Thimphu once had the distinction of having the only set of traffic lights in Bhutan at the crossroads in the centre of the town. However these were very unpopular and a policeman now controls traffic flow from a small booth.

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Thimphu is the main shopping centre for Bhutan with its main shopping street, Sunday Market area and a large weekend market.

The main street lined with large shops, was busy and felt touristy.

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People were playing Cramboard on tables on the pavement.

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A few people were selling vegetables on the pavement. The shop keepers get upset about this as they pay no rent.

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The alleyways off the main street with their smaller shops were much more interesting.

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The area around the Sunday Market is less touristy and a fascinating area of small shops, usually selling one sort merchandise, and sprawling out over the pavement. Some were bright and attractive.

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Those nearer the fruit market were dark and pokey.

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We went past the taxi rank with mini cabs running services to out lying villages.

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The bus station next to the National Stadium was busy with people waiting buses after work. 1638 & 1640

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The National Stadium was refurbished in 2008 and is splendid, seating about 10,000 spectators. It is the home of the Bhutan national football team and used for national archery competitions. This was the site of the decisive battle in 1885 which gave virtual control of the country to Jigme Namgyal, Pelop of Trongsa who later became the first King. 


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There was a lot of building work going on. Scaffolding was made of bamboo tied together and all lifting and carrying was done by hand. There seemed to be no awareness of health and safety.

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We were booked into Jumolhari Hotel on the main street. This is a large modern building which is popular with tour groups.

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We had a large dark room at the back of the hotel, which had a small seating area as well as the main bedroom. There was a kettle, but tea bags were not always replenished. It also had free internet access although the selection of plugs were inconveniently placed. It overlooked a demolition site to the National Stadium and hills beyond. Dinners were excellent. A buffet was provided when groups were booked in, otherwise there was an a la carte menu. Breakfasts were variable and service could be slow.

All the guide books comment about the dogs in Thimphu. These are said to sleep all day and bark all night. You are recommended to take ear plugs. There were dogs around but we rarely heard them barking.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Weekend Market in Thimphu

We had specifically asked to be in Thimphu at the weekend so we could visit the weekend market as it is the biggest in the country. Vendors arrive from Thursday to Sunday evening with lorries and cars piled with produce.

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Originally this was an open air market with food displayed on the ground and vendors often had to sleep and trade in the pouring rain. The large covered market hall was built in 1989.

It is very much a local market. There are stalls in the market hall and many just lay out their produce for sale on the ground outside. There is no bargaining and the same price is charged to everyone.

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There was a wonderful display of home grown produce - potatoes, garlic, chillies, red & white rice, cauliflowers, cabbages, lettuce, aubergines, asparagus, peas, mushrooms, curly fern fronds, oranges, apples, bananas, mangoes, apricots, peaches, plums..... plus many more things we didn’t recognise.

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Rice

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Maize

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Yeast cakes used to make ara

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Incense for burning

There were stalls selling dried fish, datse (home made cheese), yak butter and cheese, betel, incense, and a variety of other things of dubious use..

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Dried yak cheese

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Fresh yak cheese

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Butter wrapped in leaves

Betel leaf and areca nuts are chewed widely throughout Bhutan, by all sections of society and at every occasion. It is one of the first things to be offered to a guest. A small piece of areca nut is wrapped in a betel leaf with a small amount of limestone and chewed. The areca nuts are usually cut in half for selling so purchasers can check the quality they are buying. The Bhutanese believe it increases resistance to colds and it is warming. It also acts as a slight stimulant, keeping them awake and concentrated. The red juice released when chewing stains gums and teeth and is addictive. It can also cause mouth and gum lessions as well as stomach cancer if swallowed. It has been suggested that chewing betel kills some of the taste buds which may explain the huge qualntities of chillies used in Bhutanese cooking.

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Betel leaves and areca nuts
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Packs of betel

Across the river is an area selling clothes (many ‘designer’ from China) and handicrafts (usually from Nepal), prayer wheels, cymbals, horns and archery equipment.

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This was a fascinating visit and one of the highlights of the holiday.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Thimphu - the sights

We had 2 full days to see the sights of Thimphu and even then only covered a fraction of them.

Trashi Chhoe Dzong is on the edge of Thimphu, overlooking the river. It is possibly the largest and most splendid of the Dzongs as it has been the site of government since 1952. It was the site of the coronation of the present King in 2008 and houses the throne room and offices of the king, secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance.

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Other government offices as well as the National Assembly, are housed in nearby buildings. The courtyard is still used for the annual tsechu festival.

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It is also the summer quarters for the monk body, who spend the winter in Punaka. Most of the monks had left when we were there.

There has been a Dzong near here since the early C13th. It passed to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the C17th during the wars with Tibet, who constructed a new Dzong here. The building was damaged by a fire in the late C18th and was rebuilt at the bottom of the valley on its present site.

The building became too small for both monks and civil officials, so a new Dzong, Simtokka Dzong, was built further down the valley for the civil officials. When King Jigme Doprji Wangchuck moved his capital to Thimphu in 1962, he began a major project to renovate and enlarge the Dzong. The central utse tower with its Lhakhang and assembly hall were left untouched but the rest of the compound was rebuilt in the traditional style.

The Dzong’s perimeter walls are guarded by massive watch towers at the corners capped with red and gold roofs.

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The only entry is through gateways on the eastern side. One leads to the administration area (off limits), and the other to the monastic quarter. There was strict security at the entrance where bags were X-rayed and we had to walk through a scanner.

The entrance corridor is decorated with images of the four protector gods and other important characters from Bhutan’s history. This leads into the monk’s courtyard with the utse and temples.

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We went into the most important temple with the thrones of the present King, the last king and the head monk. Pictures of them are left on their chairs when not they are not present. Photography is not allowed in the buildings and this is strictly enforced so there aren’t any pictures to find on the web.


We also visited the Memorial Chortan which was built in 1974 to honour the memory of the third King. Built on a hill on the outskirts of Thimphu, it is a prominent landmark with its golden spires and bells. It is approached through a small garden with a gate decorated with slate carvings Buddhist gods. It contains a shrine to the third king with his photograph draped in ceremonial scarves. It is a focus of daily worship with people making a ritual perambulation of the chortan and lighting butter lamps. This was interesting to visit but very busy. We wouldn’t bother with this another time.

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Changangkha Lhakhang
is one of the oldest in valley, being established in the C12th. It is a nice drive up through the town to the lovely old temple surrounded by a wall with prayer wheels.

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It is a very small temple with just a caretaker monk. There were 2 small butter lamp buildings in courtyard, an incense burner and Naga House. Digging foundations disturbs the Naga (underground spirits) and a small building has to be built for them to live in and to keep them happy. They are offered milk twice a week.

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All new born children Thimphu brought to Changangkha Lhakhang for blessing (so local deity won’t make them ill) and naming by monk. The child then has to be brought once year to offer prayers until their death. Inside the temple only boy children are allowed into sanctuary area.

There are splendid wall paintings on the inside walls and a statue of the thousand armed Avolokitesvara, representing the compassion of all the Buddhas.

On the way out we bought a roll of prayer flags from the caretaker monk. These had been blessed. Ones bought from shops haven’t so need to be taken to a temple for blessing before they can be used

Drubthob Gompa houses the Zilukha Nunnery, and is a short distance from the centre of Thimphu. The Gompa was built in 1976 by a reincarnation of Drubthob Thangton Gyelpo who built many temples and iron chain bridges in the C14th. It now houses a community of 70 resident nuns and is one of the few modern nunneries in Bhutan. There was a special service the day we visited so a lot of monks from the area were visiting and chanting in the temple. All the villagers had come to sit in the temple and listen, leaving their shoes outside the door.

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Close to Drubthob Gompa is the Motithang Takin Reserve. It was a pleasant drive up the side of the valley through the trees. The area had originally been a mini zoo, but when the fourth King declared it was improper for a Buddhist country to keep animals in such confinement, the takin were set free. They were so tame they wandered the streets of Thimphu looking for food. They had to be taken back into captivity. A preserve was created for them and there are about 12-20 animals kept in a large enclosure. The best time to see them is early morning when they gather near the fence to feed.

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The takin is the national animal of Bhutan. It is a rare type of goat-antelope which is only found in Bhutan and neighbouring areas. The well known Tibetan saint, Drukpa Kunley, popularlyknown as “The Divine Madman” is credited with the creation of the takin when requested by the local population to perform a miracle. He agreed as long as he was fed a whole cow and whole goat. After eating them, he attached the skull of the goat to the skeleton of the cow, so creating the takin.

On way back down from Motithang, we stopped at small house belonging to the park keeper. His wife was hand weaving at a loom and large vats were bubbling away to dye wool. The dyes are all natural and produced from locally found plants. Brightly coloured hanks wool hung were drying on a line. Another woman was busy preparing warp threads ready for weaving. This takes about 2 days to complete.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Thimphu - traditional activities

Bhutan is rightly proud of its traditional heritage and has made great efforts to preserve it, not only for its own population, but also for visitors to the country.

Phelchey Toenkhtyim (Folk Heritage Museum) is a restored traditional three storey farmhouse in a lovely setting in a garden with a small water mill, orchard and tiny terraced fields growing rice. There was a small chortan built near the house to bring good luck and subdue evil spirits. There is also a traditional outside hot stone bath. Stones gathered from the river were heated in a fire for several hours before being placed in a wooded tub filled with water. The stones would often crack, releasing ‘minerals’ into the water which gave medicinal benefits. Baths were taken on auspicious occasions and families would often get an astrologer to predict the best time, so the bath would have maximum power.
The house was made of rammed mud and timber with a wood shingle roof. Stones were placed on laths running across the loose shingles to hold them down and stop them blowing off even in severe winter storms. It would have belonged to an ‘average household’.

Bulls were kept in an outside yard, cows and calves in an inside yard so protecting them from wild animals at night. Fire wood and farming equipment were stored in barns around the yard. There was an incense burner as incense was traditionally burnt every day as an offering to the protective deities.

The courtyard was also a working area where grain was ground using a quern, rice roasted to make Zao (popular snack) or brewed to make ara, a very alcoholic drink. Clothes were also washed here.

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The ground floor was traditionally used for storage of leather bags, saddles, ropes and other small equipment. Pregnant of sick animals were housed here, along with pigs with piglets. leaves and straw from the rice harvest were used as bedding for the animals.

Steep open tread timber staircases give access to the upper floors. The first floor was used for storing food, especially red rice in big wooden containers. The husk was not removed from grain for storage as it helped preserve it from rice weevils.

The second floor was the living area with kitchen with wood burning stove for cooking and providing heat. Traditional items are displayed. Adjoining the kitchen was the living area where the family also slept. This had painted walls and small carpets to sit on. Any furniture is rudimentary and hand made.

There was also a family shrine which was the spiritual core of the house. The family would make daily offerings to the household god. Important guests would sleep here as well as the monk who visited once a year to bless the house would sleep and also important visitors. This had the luxury of an inside toilet with an enclosed shute to remove the contents. Before this, they would have just dropped to the ground and been eaten by the household pigs. The rest of the family just went outside.

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The top floor was open at sides and used to store hay.

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We had a museum guide who took us round and patiently answered all our questions. This was a fascinating visit. In country areas houses like this are still in use and have hardly changed. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the house.

Another very well worthwhile visit was to the National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Painting School), which specialises in the training in traditional skills. Students enrol on courses lasting up to six years in Painting (Lhadri), Wood Carving (Patra), Sculpturring (Jinzo), Ornament Making (Trezo), Wood Turning (Shagzo), Traditional Mask Making (Bapzo), Traditional Boot Making (Dralham), Tailoring (Tshemzo), Embroidery(Tshemdru) and Machine Embroidery (Tshemdru).

Photography is allowed and we were told we could talk to the students. Many were very shy and embarrassed with limited English.

We began in the woodcraft school where 4th year students were carving masks which are worn by monks during festivals. All have to be exact copies with no allowance for individual interpretations. The students started with a huge block of wood and hacked off pieces with a large axe to get the approximate shape. They then drew the outline features in pencil and began to carve with a chisel. Finished examples were hanging on the walls, and would later be painted.

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In the metal work area students were busy banging brass cylinders to get perfect join along seams. These would be used as decorative weights or to hold rolled up Tankas (religious paintings or embroideries).

In the clay modelling class, students were making statues of the gods. There was a finished statue on the bench for them to copy. Again his had to be an accurate copy. The body is shaped first which decides the size of the head and then the hands and arms are added. The base is hollow to hold holy relics.

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Embroidery is popular with both boys and girls. No frame is used so the finished article has to be pressed well to get it smooth.

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We saw the weaving class and watched students painting tankas (religious paintings on canvas which are displayed in temples.

We finished with the first year students in the drawing section. They have a ‘rough’ book and begin with freehand copying of designs to get them used to making the curves and shapes. Once this is mastered, they have to learn how to draw the template used for official designs. This is very complicated and again has to be very accurate. The required design can then be copied onto the template. The teacher marks up mistakes with a red pen and we saw many attempts covered by red lines. No one was talking and there was complete concentration (apart from 1 boy who was drawing a picture of 2 people...)

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Designs used on all woodwork for buildings and furniture are very traditional and again accuracy is essential. The design is drawn onto the wood surface before carving.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Thimphu - traditional activities cont...

We visited the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory, half way up a hillside on a rough unmade road. This specialises in producing traditionally made paper. This was originally used by the monks to write prayer texts and manuscripts. Now they also make stationery and greetings cards, decorated with flowers and leaves. Their products are exported across the world.

The paper is made from the bark of the Daphne bark and Dekap trees which is collected from the forest and boiled huge vats for 4-5hrs to soften.

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Black bits, which would leave dark marks in the finished paper, are picked off by hand before the bark is ground to break up the fibres.

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It is then mixed with water and glue and colouring if coloured paper is being made.

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Rectangles of mesh with a wooden frame are dipped in the pulp to get thin layer.

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The paper is turned out and excess water pressed out.

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It is then air dried before being cut to shape. Off cuts are recycled.

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Petals and leaves are collected locally and used to make a design on the paper. They are arranged on the paper in the frame and then more pulp is carefully poured by hand over the flowers to fix them in position. The sheets of paper are then dried outside in sun.

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Gagyei Lhundrup Weaving School specialises in weaving ‘flower’ designs. These are complex geometric patterns woven into the cloth. The work is done by young girls who sit on floor and rely on natural light to work. Each of the ‘flower’ designs is woven individually along the length of the cloth using short lengths yarn and then a normal weft strand is sent across to hold the design in place. It takes 3 months to complete a length of material.

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The showroom upstairs had completed lengths for sale in a range of pure silk, 80% silk, cotton etc. They were beautiful but very expensive and are only worn for festivals and special occasions.

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We finished at the State Handicraft Emporium, the government owned establishment which sells a range of fabrics, carved wooden objects, prayer wheels, butter lamps and tankas. This is one of the few places in Bhutan which accepts credit cards.
 

joe

500+ Posts
I think I remember reading this on the ST forum, but IAC : utterly amazing. Thanks very much for the re-post. Good for getting a perspective on things.
I have a friend who does tours to Bhutan, and I have thought about going there in the past. Looks like this is another place that will not happen...(*sigh*).
Would have loved to see the market in Thimphu. Interesting your comment that there is no bargaining there.
I wonder if solar panels have made a mark there. If there is a dry season for the drying of crops, there should be potential for small-scale solar power.
Coincidentally, Israel today established diplomatic relations with Bhutan. I understand that Bhutan has only done this with less than 60 countries.
Very nice photos, they really add a lot.
I believe that in the last few paragraphs of the "Thimphu - sights" section, some didn't upload...
 

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