Its true this tiny land locked Country in Central Asia prides its self on three words - Gross National Happiness, it is a index that's measured on the overall happiness of the nation.
In a year where Bhutan and Australia were celebrating 15 years of diplomatic relations, there was a friendship deal on offer where the minimum of 200 USD a day was waived for Australia residents travelling to Bhutan.
This was a perfect time to explore this mystical land with rich history and heritage...
02:30 wake up call at our X2 Vibe Hotel for a 05:00 departure at Bangkok airport and our 4hr flight by Druk Air to Paro Bhutan with a stop over in Gutawati Assam (a state of India)
It is said by many that the flight into Paro is ment to be one of the most spectacular and challenging in the world. For us it was good conditions albeit cloudy so we didn't get the much talked about views of seeing the worlds highest peaks but the fact we were flying below the dramatic rise of the mountains on either side and we are suddenly approaching a short single lane runway it certainly leaves you in much anticipation as you land on the roof top of the world.
Bhutan - Paro - the Land of Happiness and the thunder Dragon
Once cleared customs, we exit and to be welcomed by our Guide (Karma) and driver from Bhutan Norter Adventures
Our Mini Bus packed with the luggage on the roof we were off to Thimphu, Its one hour from Paro to Bhutan's Capital Thimphu. For us it was to take a little longer as our first stop on this ancient - religious land was a tiny village where Paro and Thimphu rivers merged in a narrow valley - the Tamchoe Monastery, we walked across a bridge heavily decorated in prayer flags and a building that resembled a religious Stupa -
This is where it hit me right in the stomach that I was now standing on a land with such cultural and religious significance -
our next stop was Buddha Point as this is the site of one of the tallest Shakyamuni Buddha's in the world, it also provides quite amazing 360 degrees views of Thimphu and the surrounding areas.
It was then check in and lunch at our hotel (Phuntsho pelri) followed by a visit to the Memorial chorten of the Third king of Bhutan the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, A visit to the 12th century Changangkha Temple, pretty amazing time spent with the locals as they go about their daily rituals.
After visiting a Takin Zoo (The takin, are also called chamois or goat, which is a goat-antelope found in the eastern Himalayas) and is also the National Animal of Bhutan. The 'Dong Gyem Tsey' or Takin has been chosen as the National Animal of Bhutan because of it being, rare and native to Bhutan.
we arrived atTashichho Dzong, a 17th century fortress which today houses the offices of the King, Chief Abbot and government ministries.
Late afternoon we spent a hour in town around a huge local vegetable market and craft fair. Karma bypassed the crowed to score a couple of plates of dumplings for Stuart and I, fantastic to enjoy while washing them down with a local hot sauce.
Free time back at the hotel which had me going for a stroll downtown and making friends with a few locals. Dinner and the night ended with plenty of beers at the expense from the Boss of Norter Adventures (Sonam Phuntsho) this was certainly a great start to the land of happiness - smiles all round -
Day 2 Thimphu – Punakha 3hrs 76 km Duration: 3 hours – Gangtey. Distance: Gangtey Distance: 78 km - Date: 09.07.18
A three to four hour drive from Thimhpu see's us traverse through a rapidly changing environment of mountains, waterfalls and meadows.
In about 40 minutes we reached Dochula pass (3100m) and on a clear day you can see the entire eastern Himalayan range of snow capped peaks of up to 6000m to 7554m -
Sadly as we arrived we did not get the "view" we were expecting to see but its a special experience to be surrounded by eerie mountain mist.
The pass is also known for its species of wildflowers and the main attraction is the 108 Buddhist stupas built around a hill, which add to the natural beauty of Dochhula Pass. 108 stupas (chortens) were Built as a memorial by the queen, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, to honour the victory of the Bhutanese army in the 2003 war of Southern Bhutan. Each one contains effigies of Buddha and religious texts, there is a large collection of colourful prayer flags as this site represents peace.
Dochula Pass 108 Stupas
From Dochula Pass we descend to the Punakha Valley, Punakha once served as the ancient capital and has the country's main history in the form of buddhist relics - Its said the valley resembles a giant ship on an ocean floor with two (male and female) rivers.
We walk along a trail through fertility town which is supported by two rice fields either side and you will find some very interesting colourful paintings through the town.
our guide timed it right as we walked in on two local ladies making a rice snack to be sold around town, we continue to the temple of Fertility -
Chimi Lhakhang. This temple, built in the 15th century in honour the “Divine Madman”, a saint icon who is also associated with phallus worship, attracts barren couples from all over to receive fertility blessings from an anointed phallus.
After lunch with grand views overlooking the rice fields we head to the Gangtey valley, Gangtey hotel Dewachen (Paradise)
Punakha/ Fertility Town
Chimi Lhakhang - we weren't allowed to take photos from inside the temple
Day 3 Gangtey – Bumthang via Trongsa Distance: 188km Duration: 5 /
6 Hours, Date: 10.07.18
After a beautiful breakfast in paradise we head to Wangdue Phodrang, the road gradually rises up to Lawala pass, which then passes through the Nobding village, here the ground is often covered in high altitude bamboo, Magnolia and pine forrest - with spectacular views off the snow-cap mountains await you, the Phobjikha valley is at 3,000m in the Black Mountains range - Phobjikha is also home to the extremely rare Black Neck Crane.
Pelela pass was was significant as the boundary between eastern and western Bhutan before th ebvountry was unified, From the pas we drop to the lower valleys semi nomads who live the Yak Lifestyle and are still resist modernisation. With lunch at Trongsa and we visit Trongsa Dzong which is the biggest in the kingdom and said to ben built without using one single nail,. and is said to be a place of powerful warriors
Not to mention one of the most craziest unsealed roads I have ever been on - there were two section of mountain passes we had to negotiate our mini bus through, one before we reached lunch above the Phobjikha Valley and after on the way to Bumthang. We were all in AWE as we were glued to the windows with our cameras as our driver went about his daily business of negotiating the mega quagmire of mud that presented itself.
Finally it was down in to the valley and eventually Bumthang for the next two nights at the river lodge.
Black mountain range before arriving at Bumthang
Day 4 - Bumthang (Meadow of a beautiful Vase) , Date: 10.07.18
A full day in bumthang and a late start after breakfast we were off to visit One of the oldest structures in Bhutan, a temple which was dedicated to Buddha Shakyamuni - Jambay Lhakhang, was built in 639 AD as part of an oath by the Tibetan emperor Songsten Gampo.
Our next visit will be the Castle of the White Bird (Jakar Dzong)the central tower (utse) is the tallest in Bhutan. Currently serves as the administrative centre for the district. From Jakar, we take a short drive to Chakhar and then to Kurjey Lhakhag.
Karma organised for us to have lunch in town at a local restaurant serving local bhutanese cuisine which was far more satisfying than just going back to the river lodge for lunch.
The afternoon was free time - which I used this to relax and wonder around town.
Dinner was had at the river lodge followed by a brief from the Trekking Guides for the following 3 days, after 4 of us decided to walk to the monastery that sits on the mountains above the town. Little did we know the Monk that we passed on the bridge and we were to see him again up the mountain was one of the chief monks of the monastery and he then showed us around the grounds and what was special and he showed us inside his room and the area he lives, very privileged to have been invited in.
Day 5 Highlights: Bumthang Owl Trek itinerary: 3 day Trek day 1 Date: 12.07.18
Day one of a fabulous 3 day trek into the mountains above the Bumthang Valley
- Something iam not quite use to, as we were transported to the start of our walk right there in front of us were literally our pack horses waiting and being prepared for our trek to the first nights camp, All we had to do is carry a day pack and camera of course -
With a 500m climb through mainly Juniper forrest and the temptation of rain in the latter part of our walk up to camp, finally we reach our camp at Schonath (3450m) for the night wonderfully set up from our Bhutanese Guides. What a great way to spend the afternoon sipping tea and admiring the view down into part of the valley and the rise of the mountains above and to the right the high ridge line and mountain pass we were to reach the next day.
Day 6 Highlights: Bumthang Owl Trek 3 day Trek day 2 Date: 13.07.18
After a wonderful rise in the mountains from a very warm and comfy sleep in out tents albeit to overcast skies, Our guides were up early preparing the groups breaky before a big day climbing of up to 4000m. It wasn't before long that I started feeling the effects of Altitude and immediately then went to the back of the group and just took it very slowly and literally one foot in from of the other.
thankfully this only had me for a few hours in the morning and by lunch time I was feeling much better and felt that I could eat lunch which was a real positive sign.
Camp was just below 4000m and after arriving I headed further up the mountain to witness some views parting though the clouds and of course many more pray flags
The night was enjoyed by a camp feast and songs around the camp fire.
Yak house, day two on trail
Day 7 Highlights: Bumthang Owl Trek 3 day Trek day 3 Date: 14.07.18
After a wet night in the mountains but warm and comfortable in our tents, to wake up with the mess tent having collapsed hours before with some of the guides sleeping in there while it happened.
it became a soggy makeshift tent as we had breakfast but that was not to really worry us as we headed off past a Yak Herders house and then started our decent down to the monasteries of Zambhalha, Chuedak and Tharpaling, which brings you to the religious life of monk hood, the historical Buddhist learning center.
The views on approach were quite extraordinary as we witnessed some amazing alpine country as the mountains started opening up to the valley and marvelled how the monasteries were constructed in the most challenging and difficult terrain possible.
We finally finish This amazing trek and say goodbye to the guides that led us through a beautiful part of their country. A 2 hour journey back to Bumthang with our over night stay at the River Lodge -
Day 8 Bumthang to Paro / domestic flight Date: 15.07.18
Morning breakfast at our hotel with the final goodbyes to bumthang and then it was off to the Airport for a domestic flight to Paro - Our 12pm departure ended up being a delay for 2 hours due to winds. Unfortunately this cut any free time we were going to have once in Paro. We finally arrived in Paro by Karma and our bags were nicely stacked on top of the mini van, we headed to a buffet lunch in town. Then it was off to the National Museum, formerly a watchtower, then a Castle and Rinpung Dzong
Overnight at Tashi Namgay Resort - This was by far the most comprehensive buffet dinner we had, the food was more of a Indian influence -
Day 9 Paro – Taktsang Hike (AKA the Tigers Nest) Date: 16.07.18
Karma our guide told us that it was a buddhist pilgrimage holiday and my first thought was, oh no THE PEOPLE - too many PEOPLE. But that was far from the case as the occasion of the pilgrimage took its place in everyone including us non locals.
We started this hike just like any other, only this included a very busy car park at 2500m and there it is the Tigers Nest so far away looking precarious at 3200m. the hike to the Tiger’s Lair is the most famous in the Himalayas as we joined Bhutanese from all ages and walks of life. The 700m ascent was achieved over steep but well trodden dirt track with views getting quite spetactcualr the close we got. We reached a lookout probably about 20 mins away from the monastery which gave you detail of how precarious it looked within the landscape.
Once we arrived it was extremely busy as locals were praying or giving offerings, karma gave us a quick tour and then it was off dow to the village that sat a few kms below for lunch and finally back to our cars.
Finally we get our free time around town to buy any last minute souvenirs - A cultural Show followed by another fantastic dinner at hotel Tashi Namgay Resort
Day 10 Paro – Bangkok Date 17.07.18
Sadly our time in Bhutan has come to a end and we are on a 7am departure (bus) to Paro International Airport - Then it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful guide Karma and driver for the last 9 days.
Good Bye Bhutan - The Land of the Thunder Dragon and of Happiness
Yours In Adventure
"This Blog is of the Opinion of my own Personal Experiences and are not necessarily Fact.. and is written to the best of my knowledge, but there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. This blog is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as any kind of advice."