Drive to Punakha via Wangdi Phodrang
Oct 7, 2009
On the road to Punakha we climb up through oak, pine and rhododendron forest to reach Dorchu La Pass (3050m). If the weather permits, magnificent views pan out across the mountains towards Gangar Pensum. At 7541m, it is the tallest mountain in Bhutan. Dropping down into the valley, Punakha’s benign climate allows orange and banana groves to flourish within sight of the snow capped Himalayan Mountains. En route we make an excursion to the Wangdi Phodrang Dzong. Impressive in stature and reputation the silver shingled roof and long thin balconied courtyards of Wangdi Phodrang Dzong shelter the
provinces monastic community.
Well what actually happened was!!
We are off to see the Tskin - Bhutan's national animal. It's a sort of cross between a cow and a goat - it's appearance tied to relgious myth. There really is nothing like it -quite tame and shy hence any pictures are of it's backside or it's a dot in the distance. The enclosure where they are kept is a little out of town and makes for a nice early morning stroll. There are also deer in the same enclosure.
We head back to the Zilhuka Nunnery (inside Drubthob Goemga). Quirky little place with about 40 nuns housed there. Iron bridges were once all over Bhutan therefore we have an Iron Bridge guru - his mage is in many of the Dzongs
The folk heritage museum is interesting. Its basically an old house thats been stuffed with junk and then grouped into interesting bundles. It is however very much a look here and there type of visit - you feel you are being wheeled round and its a bit unreal. There is a stop however for funny pictures of the "big willie" above the door. Many of the houses either have a carved image or painted image near the front door. Its a fertility symbol. You can spot the tourists - they are the ones giggling.
Then its to another tourist trap!! mobbed with tourists (most of whom seem to be very well todo). It starts a conversation about what is being offered up to tourists in Bhutan. The opions seem to range around the costs of getting in to the country and what this buys you. Minimum is $230 per day per tourist and it goes a lot higher hence the number of very smart hotels starting to spring up. Lots of junk to buy but its not what we are here for. Getting more and more the impression of a sanistied tour.
We finally get away from the place and arrive at another tourist trap - a paper making factory. We buy some thing small to get out.
Finally off to Punakha via Dochu La. At 3050m its pretty high - its also raining and freezing cold. Magnificant views there may have been but not in the mist storm we found ourselves in. It looks nice but its got a bit of bad history. In 2003 there was a small scale war between the Assam people and those of Bhutan - well more of a retaliation. Assam wants independance from India, they were not having it so it spilled into Bhutan with the Assamese seeking refugree. Bhutan said no, the Assamese did not leave so the Bhutan army shot and killed 108 of them. They left and the chorton at Dochu La is in their memory - a sort of "we're sorry - can the gods forgive us".
We are off to the Wangdi Phodrang Dzong near the town of Wangdi, one of the few original towns left in Bhutan, but not for long. The road system needs upgrading so the town is being moved!! all of it. The locals get new houses in a huge new complex whilst the old town will be bull-dozed - no debate, no discussion. Happiness?? - the kings says so do.
The Dzong is very impressive, massive, creaking, full of young monks who look as if they are enjoying themselves. Until 1950 the Dzong served as the central seat of government - very pretty, gold, red and black. We are treated to tea in the temple. Our guide has arranged this for us as one of the senior monks is a friend of his brothers. The tea has milk and is not very nice but most of us swallow it out of respect.
Its very wet when we are there and its miserable. During winter it must be very tough to live here. There is not much to Punakha. As usual we are staying in the middle of no where and our driver seems to have developed a death wish and is driving like a dafftie. Its raining, dark, the roads are covered in rock falls - eventually several of get on his case and he slows down. The timing the guide is offering for journeys seem to be all over the place and we are very late - hence the rush. The hotel is nice (Meri Puensum resort), warm and has beer aplenty. Food is buffet again but reasonably good - we are however all knackered and hit the sack early.
Up early again for the off to see the Punakha Dzong.