Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Seven Days Bhutan Trip - A Travelogue - Part IV

Day 4 – 24 Nov 15 – Thimphu – Pukakah and Punakha Sights

Travel via Dochula Pass

After a very enjoyable day at Thimphu visiting various sights and enjoying local food, bidding good bye to Thimphu we left for Punakha at 0900 via Dochula Pass, highest pass in Bhutan. First stop over was on the road at Immigration Check Post where the permit to move up from Thimphu to country side is checked. There are a few stalls available just short of the check post selling local apples etc. We also picked up some. The apples were tasty but some of them were spoilt.

Within a short time we reached our first Wow moment of the day by reaching Dochula Pass at 0945 hrs.  Dochula Pass has a reputation of being foggy, misty or cloudy around it. But today was different and we had, in front of us, majestic Eastern Himalayan (Bhutanese call it Gigme Singye Wangchuck Himalayan range) Snow Covered ranges in their full glory with neither mist, nor fog nor clouds obscuring them. Our driver told us that we are very lucky, such clear view of the Himalayan Mountain range has been seen after a considerable gap. We thanked our luck.
Wow Moment
At Dochula Pass

The Himalayan range was breathtaking and next about 30 minutes were devoted to just clicking the ranges and us with ranges by various cameras, our canon DSLR and cameras of all the mobiles I mean. See the result.

Panoramic View of the Ranges

One More View
Tari Gang Peak
Yet Another View

Can't have enough of it
The range has 10 major peaks and Gangkar Punsum (Mt. Masanggang) at 7564 m(as shown in the photograph below) is the highest peak of this range and it happens to be in the extremely right of the range.

Another solemn and important place to visit here is not ancient like most things in Bhutan. It is 108 memorial Chortens (the official name is Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens) a group of 108 Chortens(religious memorial cenotaph)  built covering three layers on a raised hillock to honour the Bhutanese soldiers killed in 2003 battle with ULFA rebels ( who had 30 camps in Bhutan) to flush them out. These rebels were carrying their attacks in India from these camps in Bhutan. They have been constructed following the local astrological and religious practices.

108 Chortens in their full glory
Climbing the hillock to visit the memorial had a additional advantage of getting a unhindered (by the trees) view of Himalayan range. Once we were done with visiting the Chortens we went down to the restaurant to have a cup of tea. Though the prices are on the higher side, it is a good place to have a cup of tea (and to eat if breakfast is due). One can sit indoor or outdoor in the bright sun (if the sun is up). 

Enjoying Outdoor Seating at the Cafe at Dochula
Indoor seating also is good
It is worth mentioning that there is a temple, Druk Wangyel Lhakhng, left of this café and on a raised hillock overlooking the valley below. We somehow did not visit it.
Druk Wangyel Lhakhng can be seen in the right corner
Post tea we left for Punakha. If the drive was uphill till Dochula, it was all downhill post Dochula till Punakha. There is widening of the road happening between Dochula and Punakha and hence the drive is dusty and uncomfortable, a price we have to pay for better roads tomorrow.

As we were heading for Punakha our driver checked up from his friends there  about closure timings of the Punakha Dzong (only place of visit in Punakha, though there may be things to see nearby or treks etc around Punakha) and somehow gathered a impression that it does not close during lunch time. We, therefore, decided to go to the Dzong directly.

The Punakha Dzong

The view of the Dzong as we approached it was impressive. Situated in the middle of the confluence of Mo Chu and Fo Cho (Mother river and father river) this structure looked big, imposing and colourful. We reached the Dzong crossing a bridge of traditional style of single span cantilever type (though it is of a recent construction). There used to be an ancient draw bridge(as gathered locally, however, Wikipedia says that bridge too was cantilever type) over this river but it seems it got burnt down in a fire thus this replacement bridge had to be constructed.
Bridge to Dzong
View from Across the River

Garden on either side (This one is left of the Dzong)
Flag post in the Courtyard of Dzong
Admiring the beauty of the surroundings and the flowers, etc . we enjoyed our time. The complex has many Jacaranda trees (two at the entrance and many more in the garden to the left of the dzong) which had their full bloom of flowers.

Jacaranda Tree at the Entrance of the Dzong (this one is on the left)
We climbed up the stone followed by wooden stairs, steep ones, to the Dzong, only to be disappointed to be told that it has closed a minute ago. The Dzong closes from 1300 hrs to 1500 hrs and opens thereafter from 1500 hrs to 1700 hrs). Obviously there had to be a change of plan.

Two Flights of Stairs (to get into Dzong)

Driving back towards Punakha we came across Yak Herder’s Club, a restaurant on the river bank. We decided to have lunch there. This place is interesting with the utensils and other articles of yak herders were used for decor. It also has good view of the river flowing behind it and area beyond it.

The food here is made on order and thus it takes a while, may be 20 min. The food that we ordered was tasty, well made and hot. We enjoyed our lunch and returned to the Dzong which had just opened post lunch.

Punakha Dzong is one of the most beautiful and bigger Dzong. Built in 1637, like all Dzongs, it is Religio-political HQ of Punakha district. In fact Pukakha was capital of Bhutan till 1955 when it was shifted to Thimphu. Dzong has administrative seat as well as a monastery where young boys learn Buddhism to become monks. There seems to be Mummified body  of Zhabdrung, first Rinpoche, who was instrumental in creation of this Dzong kept in there. Only the King and the head priest are allowed ‘Darshans’ of him that too only when they take their post

It is a big Dzong with three courtyards, a temple to Buddha of compassion in the last courtyard is equally beautiful. I will not write much about the dzong as enough material is available on internet. I will let the photographs do the talking.

Prayer Wheel at the entrance
 First Courtyard

One of the Building There
Worship going on in First Courtyard
Passage to other Courtyard
Ornate Building 

Buddha of Compassion temple

Courtyard of Temple / Chief Monk Area

Chief Monk's residence (as told by a Security Person)

Wall Paintings

Wall Painting
Hotel Stay

Post our visit to Dzong we came to our hotel which is little out of the town overlooking a valley through which a river flows. Hotel Vara immediately impressed us. As we parked our vehicle and asked the reception to send someone to pick up the luggage a big band of women power came to our vehicle. Each one picked up one or two pieces of luggage and laughing, smiling and making fun of each other they brought all the luggage into our rooms. It was so pleasant and different.

A Wing of Rooms of Hotel Vara with Campfire Site in Foreground 
The reception as also our rooms had ample use of wood. The rooms were big, tastefully furnished and comfortable. The bathrooms were also big and modern. Each room has a place to sit with cushions, etc, at the window that allows you to look at the valley. The hotel had a sit out and a camp fire area overlooking the valley. There were small things done differently like corridor lighting, rainwater drain from the roof, etc.

Hotel Vara Receiption (See the richness of Wood)
Sit in at Window in the Room

Innovative Water Drain System
Unique Display of the Board 
Unique Floor Lighting in the Corridor 

Camp fire is lit for bigger groups (or even a smaller group) for a payment. We rested for some time in the room. Did photography of the room and the hotel. Following Bhutan tradition, placed our dinner order by 1930, had our dinner by 2030 and retired for the day. A stroll outside might have been a good idea but outside was too cold.

PS - Though the parts of this blog are taking time, be rest assured that balance three parts would definitely follow.

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