15th-21st May, 2012
Just arrived in Bhutan for Kathmandu on one of the most exciting landing ever. It was a smallish plane and it had to land in the valley. It flew over the airport, skirting as close to the left hand mountain as possible and just as it seems to run out of room in front, we did an extreme tight right turn and come back on ourselves. The gusting high wind also provided the extra fun of turbulence. And it was clear enough to see how close you are to everything. First time you genuinely feel like applauding the pilot after we landed. It was a thrill ride and a half!
This place really feels like you are really far from everywhere and really isolated. Everywhere is mountain and valley.
I am still amazed at the size of these mountains: we are on 2500m but feels like we are at the bottom of everything which it is as this is a valley. The size of these mountains is a different league to the Alps or the Rockies. We managed some glimpses of some mountains which are 5000-6000m and they are just incredible.
Walking isn’t easy and a little hike I quickly ran out of breath but nothing a short break doesn’t recover. We went up to see a giant Buda and a 4km walk around the hill. Lunch at the boring hotel cafe and out to see some weird animal which i can’t remember the name of which looks like a cow’s head is stuck on a goat. This is their national animal. Then some craft school, library, nunnery and a paper making place which are pretty uninteresting.
We finally had some genuine bhutanese food such as dried beef/pork, chilly chesse, butter tea (really interesting and quite nice), a glass of whey, chilli salad, potato curry (really just some stew potatoes which was very nice), curd fried with eggs. They were all excellent. We had that at 530 so the guide can ask for the food for us but we are going back for a second seating later on. I’m in “pub” which I finally managed to find and ordered a local beer which is 8%! It doesn’t taste like 8% and I suppose it saves me from ordering another one.
It was an earlyish start from Thimphu to Punaka. It was a 3 hours drive along a mostly decent, but frequently potholed twisty mountain pass. We went up to a 3000m high pass and a short 100m walk to the toilet was quite a work out! I was in my goh (the traditional clothing, picture below) all day which was comfortable and quite practical. Shame the weather wasn’t very clear because we were supposed to see a 180 degree panorama of the Himalayas but it was a little bit hazy.
We then went back down to 1000m in Punaka which was just that much more breathable but hotter. I took a nice stroll amongst the paddy fields and cows (and cacti!) to a temple then lunch. A short tour of the Punaka Dzong which is a part fort part temple and was hugely impressive. The hotel was right on the river bank and I had a little dip (feet only as it was freezing cold) and laid on a little bit of sand in the sun for an hour and a half. I didn’t think I would be lying on a “beach” in the mountain. This was followed by a stroll around the little village which had 2 shops and back for dinner which was a disappointing buffet.
I was addicted to the national dish chilli and cheese which was cooked chilli in some cream cheesy sauce. I have huge admiration for a country who will feature chilli as a main ingredient and also clever enough to cook them in cheese which lessen the heat. It was great to have really good fragrant chilli and good heat to accompany any other food you have.
It was not such a good night with a standard 3 star hotel with no air con and being in the top floor which has been baked all day. It didn’t help with having a mosquito in the room and I had to put the sheet on which made me sweat. So being too hot and itching everywhere was not a great combination for a good sleep.
It was a slow day with a nice hike to another temple at a nice slow pace. We had lunch and then a short visit to another fortress meant we were back at the hotel by 3pm. I went down to the riverside and had a good dip and sat in the sun for a few hours. I had some sneezing which may or may not be hay fever. So all in all, it was a poor day and I can’t wait to move back up the mountain and away from this place. I’m very much looking forward to the prospect of a proper nice 5 star expensive hotel and cooler weather.
Another night of mosquito and that’s after killing 4 of them just going to bed. at least it was less hot so i can comfortably put a sheet on.
Just after breakfast, I went to the weekend market just next to the hotel with lots of fresh vegetable. the only thing i could get was some crushed chilli
Then a drive back to thimphu over the mountain pass which we managed to see the Himalayas this time and was quite impressive. Then drive straight to Paro and back to altitude of 2300m. We raided a “tat” shop with a US$1000 of purchase which was mainly two stunningly intricate gold leaf paintings which really was a bargain at $500 each. I’m going to keep one and the family is going to get the other but it’s going to stop off in London before making their way back to Hong Kong over Christmas.
This followed by some uninteresting exhibition on Bhutan tradition and history but we went pass a beautiful and classical wide glacial valley and if anyone needs an example how alpine valleys are formed, this was it.
We checked in to this beautiful hotel “Uma Paro” which is right on top of the valley with views right across and beyond to one of the snow capped peaks. For a peak to be snow capped around here need to be at least 6000/7000m which is kind of ridiculous in some ways. The room is a bit small but we could have always gone for one of the villas.
I went for one of the Bhutanese hot stone bath and massage for an hour and a half. The bath is in a room with view across the whole valley and they put stone which has been heated up for 2 hours into one side of the bath and you go into the other side. It was the hottest thing ever! I couldn’t even sit in it and had to open the tap to cool it down and I had to sit in it for 30mins. It gave you tingling a feelings and numbness which you kind of expect in an ice cold bucket. There was a towel in ice to cool you down but it barely worked for 5 seconds before it gets warm but you do have a little bit of reprieve. It did clear my sinus right up and the breathing was amazing. I stuck with it as I was pretty sure it was doing me some good. I could barely manage to walk out of the bath and then just flopped onto the massage table. The bath was somehow doing its trick as it was the best massage ever. Although I was sweating so much I had to change the face pillow as it was drench in sweat. For that evening, I felt like I have a high temperature and barely had any energy to do anything. Also, the massage included some deep bowel massage which caused me needing to take a break from my dinner for a toilet break. It was not so much a detox but a purge!
The next day was to be a tough day as I signed up to do some Bhutanese archery (their national sport) in the morning and then off to a proper hike to the tiger’s nest temple (look it up).
Then it was a long wait for the Chelsea Champions League final game to start. I could not think of a stranger place to watch this game.
Final day in Bhutan and woke up refreshed after the hot stone bath and of course, Chelsea being champions of Europe. Archery class was not possible so a latish start for the hike to the tigers nest.
The tigers nest is at 3100m and we had to hike all the way up there. Fortunately, we only start from 2600m and we did it at such a pace that i barely broke sweat as my mother took her time. It did take altogether 5 hours to go up and down. We were rewarded with a temple which clings to the side of a cliff and some stunning view along the way. It was relatively quiet by the time we went up as most people started early. And we had some great weather too, around 18 degrees and very pleasant for the walk.
Back to the hotel for dinner which was exceptional by any standard. We didn’t have lunch as the altitude dampened our appetite and the dinner was perfect. That concluded the last day in Bhutan as I was catching an 8am flight to Delhi the next day.
It was an excellent trip as it was such a different place to visit and the number of visitors they have there. The only thing we would like to change is maybe to shorten the trip for a day or two which mean it’s more engaging.