Drive to Thimpu
Oct 6, 2009
We drive towards Thimpu along winding roads, passing paddy fields, apple orchards, pine forests and small hamlets, ‘protected’ by sculptures of the eight auspicious signs of the Tashi Tagye. The Bhutanese capital lies in a fertile valley formed by the Wang Chu River, and has expanded rapidly over the last couple of decades. During our time in Thimpu we will see the Tashichho Dzong – the religious and political centre of Bhutan. We also visit the Memorial Chorten of Bhutan, the Kawasanju Heritage Museum and the Takin
We are off to Thimpu today in our much smaller bus. Some people don't seem to want to move to the less comfortable seats (of which there are many). The roads are not great. India seems to pour money into Bhutan. They pay for the upkeep of the entire road network therefore there are a huge number of indian workers (male and female) lining the roads, repairing and upgrading.
Those on the cliff side of the bus get tremendous views of the valleys - but its not for the faint hearted - the cliffs fall away dramatically and its very quickly a very long way down. In the 1960's it was access only by pony. The roads programme was started by India in the 1970's
The border for Bhutan, as legend goes, was defined by rolling a stone down hill until it stopped on the flat land. Therefore Bhutan is all mountains. The stone was rolled by the first king, Vgyan Wangchuck (in 1906). He took control of the area from the British (even here we have a lot to answer for) and various other fighting groups. Before he ruled (from 1907 onwards) relogious leaders set the course for the country - very much like Tibet. Even today much of the land in Bhutan is owned by religious orders.
We stop for lunch at Bunagu and get a taste for whats to come much to often, the buffet!! It's not bad but its the Bhutanese trying to do westernised food - we would rather just eat what they do - the meal is "sanitised" and it is a common theme for the rest of the holiday.
We can walk from the restaurant down hill a little to a prearranged meeting spot. part way along a car stops and out gets an old man in full national dress - gho (male) and kira (female) (Stripped fabic dressing gown, argyll socks, brogues and cowboy hat - and shades). We chat and it becomes clear he has had official status in the past, with the tourist board. He seems a little puzzled and concerned that we are out on our own without a guide. We explain that we are on our way to meet him but he still seems concerned. Our guide appears and gets a bit of a telling off. We now realise that we should not be on our own - slightly puzzling.
For a country the plays up its "Gross national happiness" rating they seem a serious bunch. It does appear that we will get to see what they want us to see in a slightly more controlled way than we anticipated. They e a bit uptight because of where they are, stuck between India and China, beside Nepal and bordering Assam (fighting for independance). The king has stepped down in favour of his son to push on with a pregressive monarchy in the hope that it will stave off the move to a full republic and the probable civil war that would follow. A democratic monarchy was set up in 2008 after diplomatic arragements were agreed with both India and China. There is not really a them and us in Bhutan. When the King delcared he was stepping down most of the population were against it. He was concerned that there may be a bad king in the future and the time was right to migrate to a country run by elected officials, reducing the risk of the country being destryed by a bad blood line. There is now a parliament 65 members, 60 elected (from 2 parties) and 5 nominated by the king. The opposition only has two members so its pretty weak as appear to be the policies being put forward by the parties. Although the king is trying to back out of the political arena as soon as there is a problem his suggestions on solving them seem to be universally acceptable. The young king seems to be taking it in his stride.
The road at Chuacka, a mountain pass, is at 8000ft (2600m), cold and wet, a real change from when we left town this morning. "Hagaboo" is the cry, 3 times as we go over the pass - it means God wins and the demons lose (and its supposed to bring good weather). It appeases the gods of the mountain.
All along the roadside a small clay cones. These are small stupa. The deceased body needs to release its soul allowing the move to the next reincanation, these little stupas provide the medium (excuse the pun). They are apparently placed in holy locations on the road side.
We arrive in Thimpu and go to the national memorial chorten. Its Tibetan in style and was built in 1974 (as a memorial to the 3rd King). It's like being back in Tibet, hundreds of people circumambulating the chorten, prayer wheels in hand, chanting, smiling finding peace with their gods. Great views from the top. Monks inside making butter sculptures. No pictures we were told however the guys inside semed to be happy for their pictures to be taken, and encouraged us - maybe the were just being rebelious. Some French idiot decided she would take matters into her hands and tried to reprimand us. She was given some verbal and we left.
Outside great sight of dozens of kids all coming home from school in national dress.
Next stop the Trashi Chhoe Dzong (Fortress of Glorious Rebellion). It housed the original national assembly and has two main areas, the administrative sector and the monastic sector. What we see is the 5th or 6th version of the Dzong, previous versions having been destryed by fires, earthquakes, etc. This one was rebuild in 1962 when the king moved the capital to Thimpu.
Its really quite magnificent inside and serves as the summer monastic residence. Those working in the administrative centre are very well dressed with sash (Kunga) over the gho symbolising formal wear - different colours represent rank. Those in authority have a sword - really!!
Taking pictures we are told that we can take them of the building but not of the gardens below, as there resides the king in his palace and you can't take pictures of the king. We wander through the national library to see the largest book in the world which just happens to be titled "Bhutan", and the textile museum (not very exciting).
The hotel Pedling does the job but its a bit basic. Very friendly staff. Off to the Bhutan kitchen for dinner, another buffet, but better than most. "Free" arra - the local firewater - its like very rough vodka - and not very nice. But as we are being entertained by the guide we down a few to be hospitable. It's an early to be town and the concept of bars has not yet hit Bhutan. Back to the hotel we hit the basement bar at 9.00pm only to find the staff closing up for the night. Some sweet talking gets them on our side to the extent a few beers later they don't want us to leave. The late night crew is being establish not that booze is a bit more freely available, Fred, Adrian, Nic myself and occasionally Mike and Karen. "Druk 1100" is the beer of choice - as its generall the only choice!!, not bad, but if there was something else. Means Dragon apparently, the national symbol of Bhutan.