Bhutan, October 2019 travel blog

The chaos of Kathmandu

Good luck charms in Bhutanse architecture

The chaos of Kathmandu

The chaos of Kathmandu

The chaos of Kathmandu

The chaos of Kathmandu

The chaos of Kathmandu

The chaos of Kathmandu


Here it is, the end of another trip and one which we all feel really sad now that it is finishing. It hasn't gone out quietly though which isn't a surprise as Karma was involved this morning. The national sport is archery with competitors firing at targets from 140 yards, there are inter-valley tournaments, as well as local village tournaments. From Karma's description gamesmanship of the highest order is in play to, so confirming our description of Sunday morning football, and lines like "my daughter could shoot it further than that" are straight out of the Minerva's playbook. Why do I tell you this? Well, the plan this morning was to go into Paro to the main archery field and watch (taking part wasn't an option alas). However, plans A, B and C all fell by the wayside as all the local fields were empty. Plan D, which I assumed was used fairly frequently saw us instead having a wander through a local fruit and vegetable market (where he met his cousin) before a trip to his house for a cup of tea. They have a large, elaborate house just above the valley bottom with fields that stretched across the valley to the Paro river, or at least they did until the decision to extend the runway to allow larger planes saw compulsory purchase orders used. The architecture here is incredible, with most houses having symbols of good fortune painted on them. These include Deer, Dragons and Tigers (honouring Guru Rimpoche from yesterday) but most amusingly from a western view is the erect phallus, often accompanied by a pair of hairy testicles (honouring Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman and his wooden phallus). All the houses are elaborately painted, making a clear difference between the decoration of most western houses and the artistically painted murals of Bhutanese houses, featuring the same Tiger/Dragon iconography as the exteriors.

All too soon it was time to leave and head to the airport for the start of our homebound journey, stopping off at the bank to change local currency back into US$. Again on the short flight to Kathmandu I had a window seat, but again it was on the wrong side for the Himalayan views. The pilot pointed out the moment we passed Everest and Lhotse but the bloke in the right window seat had the in flight magazine up effectively blocking the view. Everest was further from Kathmandu than I expected but we were soon descending and making our way through the airport terminal. With about 3 hours before we had to check into our flights back to the UK we were taken on a 90 minute walking tour around Thamel and Durbar Square. The contrast from Paro is stark, we have frequently commented that Bhutan has been a simulation of the senses but Kathmandu definitely assaults them. There are constant angry beeps from mopeds which compete with bicycle rickshaws, small cars and pedestrians for any free inch of road. Constantly watching over our shoulders to avoid being swiped by traffic led to a very tiring time, and the poverty on display was shocking after the tranquility of Bhutan. Having been based entirely in Nepal before the contrast wasn't so stark, but this time it really doesn't compare well in comparison to Thimpu or Paro. Durbar Square is still a construction site after the earthquake with several temples still surrounded by flimsy hoardings and the area behind checkpoints charging a tourist reconstruction fee (how much of it actually goes towards reconstruction I'm not convinced). The area, despite the poverty is still a massive tourist draw and that adds to the feeling of disquiet.

Soon we were back on the minibus discussing our further adventures on this trip before finding ourselves back in the check in queue and the final rites for what has undoubtedly been the favourite of my trips.

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