Visit Punakha Dzong, drive to Paro
Oct 8, 2009
In the morning we pay a visit to Punakha Dzong built in 1637 on a sand bank at the confluence of the rivers Mochu and Phochu, this sacred dzong was the seat of Bhutanese government until 1960 and is a fine example of Bhutanese monastic architecture with squat rectangular buildings made up of two or more tiered levels crowned by a tower and small golden spire above. Continuing west we take an afternoon drive to Paro. (Approx. 5 hours.)
To the east of Paro, high above the town stands Ta Dzong, one of Bhutan’s most imposing fortresses. The Dzong commands inspiring views across the plain and is a treasure house of sacred scrolls, religious icons and manuscripts of all sizes with fabulous thankas and vivid colourful murals hanging on the walls. Paro is also home to Kyichu, Bhutan’s oldest temple or 'lhakhang’. This morning there is an opportunity to climb up for views of the amazing Taktsang or ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery. The remains of the monastery cling precariously to a cliff face, and local legend recounts that Guru Rinpoche, who founded the Drukpa Sect and brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of a tiger to start the first monastery. In the afternoon we’ll visit Bhutan’s national museum.
And what really happened!!
Its still pissing down and although its an early start (or so we were told) the bus is not loaded. After messing about with the luggage cover (it's all on the roof because the van is so small) - it needed to be reset twice to make sure the luggage did not get wet, we are off and say good by to the Meri Puensum Resort. Well at least as far as the front gate where the repacked luggage gets stuck on the gate arch. More messing about and finally we get released. We are heading for the Punakha Dzong. It's supposed to be the most beautiful Dzong in the entire country but its difficult to judge through the rain and mist. Access is over a lovely wooden arched bridge. Bhutan's most treasured possession is housed here, the Rangjung (Self created) Khasapani - an image of Chenresig. The prayer room is massive and being used as we enter. The chanting, incense, the wind and rain, all add to the atmosphere. Looking around there are varying degrees of attention being paid to the prayers as some of the minks seem to want to watch us. The rain outside is getting heavier and water is pouring from the roofs in torrents. Not being watchful means you get very wet. If the weather had been nicer we would have speant much longer wandering around but its too cold and no one is that keen to hang around. Back to the bus anf off we go to Paro - we can't see a lot as the bus windows are completely steamed up so we all just concentrate on ensuring the bus driver does not kill us with his erratic driving.
Part way along we stop off for a walk to a Dzong (apparently very pretty). Its going to be about 3km over paddy fields to get there and its still raining hard. Nic and I decide that its not that important and decide to be left in the small coffee shop reading our books until the others come back. A few waverers including Karen decide we are right and join us. It's nice to sit and do nothing for a few hours as since Darjeeling its been non stop.
2 hours later everyone wanders back and all are very wet - on reflection it did not seem like a good idea. Off for a buffet lunch and fab its got an open heater where everyone tries to dry off. The food does not look great (David takes soup only) but the heater is the star.
One thing we don't have are maps of the towns and local areas we got in India/Bangaldesh - we have not been staying in towns but they were a great help in finding your bearings.
Again our hotel is out of town. Nice recently built but a bit impersonal. It has got heating which is great and at least gives us the chance to dry out. Some of the group have been a bit unlucky and their bags are wet, even after the reworking of the covers. Dinner is not memorable and its early to bed. The debate before going to bed however is do we go up to the Tigers Nest Monestary tomorrow or not. Its been raining for days and the wind has got up. That coupled with thunder and lightning does not make it a happy prospect. The alternative is a short bus jounrney out of town to some old ruins where from a distance we could probably see the monestary. The group will be leaving a 5.30 in the morning, those who want to go, so we can leave it until then. David suffers a bit from vertigo so he's not keen anyway but lets see what the weathers like in the morning.
Next morning its still raining, but not as heavy although the streets are awash with water. We decide not to go but David goes downstairs to wave the intrepid travels off. About half the group decide to stay. Back to bed and a few more hours kip.
Breakfast then off to the outskirts of town through flooded streets and very fast flowing rivers. We have the driver who does not have great English whilst the guide (and ri) has gone with the main group. Not too sure what lies in store but at least we are out and about. We are about 14km from Paro and literally at the end of the road. Drukgyel Dzong is a ruin, destroyed by fire - its name means Bhutan victory - after a series of wins in the 1600's. There is little to see and the walk in the wet is not really inspiring. Back to the bus and a wander round the village and its all over. Back to Paro and a wander round town. The town temple is closed and a bit over grown so we don't spend time there instead we wander over the road and watch an archery match. Much more like it. we seem to have spent a lot of time looking at cultural icons but have not got anywhere near the locals - this at least gives us a chance to get close to some of them. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and being good at it affords the same status to archers as footballers get back home. The bows are very hi tech - all carbon fibre and composites. The teams alternatly shot three arrows to either end of a long field - approx 50m long. The target is in the ground and looks to measure no more than 0.5m high and about 0.25m wide. Astonishingly they regularly hit the target even though those in the opposing teams do their very best to put off the other teams. Resplendant in their national dress its is obviously a serious affair. We still however do not have any idea of how the game is scored.
Back to the bus and off we go to pick up the rest of the group from the base of the climb. The weather has got better, the sun is out and its actually very pleasant.
Pictures of the mountain are now possible and although we are a fair distance away it does look like a very impressive sight. The wanderers return with no problems although the views seemed to have been poor. Late lunch in the town and off to see a bit more archery before we head back to the hotel. Bad news is because of all the poor weather flights have been badly disrupted and it looks like we may not get out of Paro airport tomorrow and even if we do then it will be much later than the mid morning planned flight. Not a major issue for us as we have extra days in Kolkata but it could mean the others get less than 1 day in the city.
Choices for the afternoon are either the museum or the Dzong, we opt for the Dzong with Julie, everyone else goes to the museum. Very inmpressive and virtually deserted some makes for some atmospheric wanderings. Our guide spends a bit of time with us on describing the wheel of life which is very helpful as it finally starts to make some sense. Scenes from Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha were filmed here. Outside the main Dzong is where the main dances of the Tsechu are perfomed and a huge 18m square thondrol (large thangka) is unfurled. We wander through the gardens down to the old wooden bridge where the rest of the group are waiting for us.
Back to the hotel where its a quick change and out to a posh hotel for some local singing and dancing. The show is just for us and takes place in the foyer of the hotel. This seems to bemuse some of the guests who we find out are paying upwards of $500/night for thier rooms. It is very posh and we are served tea, crisps and nuts. We find out however that they serve Red Panda beer so we must try. Its OK and tastes like wheat beer. The show lasts for about 45 mins and we are practically dragged out of the hotel back into town.
Only dinner in the evening which is memorable for the staff in the restuarant trying to kill us with industrial strength "arra". We should have suspected when it poured out of a bottle that looked like industrial floor cleaner.
Latest update on the flight is that instead of mid morning its mid afternoon, maybe!! Some more sight seeing - well no. We decide we have had enough and remain at the hotel whilst the others go to the places where we went yesterday. The plan is we will be picked up go for lunch and then to the hotel. However with typical ineffiency they flight time is changed and its all rush. Just as we get to the restuarant we are told the plane is ready to go and waiting only for us. This gives the bus driver a real reason to drive a brakneck pace and on several occasions nearly does us all in.
David was again up to present the tips but as this needs to be done now on a bus bowling along single track roads far to fast he declines and Bre reluctantly hands across the cash. I don't think she is too happy and several of have mentioned that neither of our guide/drivers have been particulary good. Mike is very disappointed because this time he had challenged David to get "festering Sphyillis" into the presentation speach. it was all planned - it was to be a typical Scottish saying like "bon voyage". Alas it was not to be.
We arrive alive at the airport and are whisked through in record time. Nice new plane and much to Nic's relief a aussie pilot. We think everyone is on board, we have no idea about the bags!! The runway looks tiny and the mountains look huge. Wind up the engines and off like a slingshot. Its got to be one of the most exciting take offs from any airport. You need to be specially trained for the take off and only a few pilots have the qualification. Virtually straight up and then full bank left and right until we are out of the mountains, through the clouds and settle back. Tremendous.
As part of the in flight entertainment we can see Everest, K2 and Kachengunga all on the horizon, fantastic - the only downside is we can't take pictures becasue my camera is still error 99'd.
Good Bhutan - regrets - the Tigers Nest - but apart from that it was the least most interesting part of the holiday. Too closely controlled and guides who were not the best.
However its onto the madness that is Kolkata!!