For a break from everything that’s happened in the past year, I decided to take my parents to Bhutan. A bit bonus was that being a SAARC country, we didn’t need visas to enter. Tickets and hotels booked plus a tour guide through a local agency and we were ready to go. I was a bit hesitant when I found that the only airlines that flew into Bhutan was Druk Air. I had never heard of it. However, a bit of research revealed that Druk Air (Royal Bhutanese Airlines) was the only airlines that was authorized to land in Bhutan due to the tricky landing conditions. As of 2011 only 8 pilots were certified to land in Paro. That definitely made me a bit nervous, but I didn’t linger in that hesitation for long. We were going to Bhutan and Druk Air was the only way to get there.
The beauty of just being a 50 minute flight from Dhaka is that by the time you’re in the air it’s almost time for landing! I looked out the window the whole time. It was unfortunate that the sky wasn’t clearer as we were told that we could see some high mountain peaks during the flight, but unfortunately all we saw were billowing clouds. The approach to Paro was lovely – a mixture of mountains and valleys. I had expected a more treacherous approach, but overall it was very smooth.
Immigration, baggage claim, and customs took less than 10 minutes to clear. There was no arrivals area. Instead we walked straight outside where we were greeted by our driver – Sudan, dressed in a traditional gho and ready to take us to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery during the 1 ½ hour drive. It was so peaceful and quiet – such a big change from the chaos of Dhaka traffic. We arrived at our hotel and decided to take that first day to just relax and unwind. The tour of Bhutan would start tomorrow.
Our guide met us at 10 a.m. in the hotel lobby and we were off on our first sightseeing tour.
First stop: Tashichho Dzong
Tashichho Dzong was first constructed in the 1200’s. It serves as both a Buddhist monastery and the seat of government, housing both the offices of the king and the throne room.
mom and I in front of the fort
inside the fort
Second stop: Live weaving demonstration and art/handicraft gallery
Here we could watch women use a handloom to weave various textiles, namely the gho (traditional dress for men) and the kira (traditional dress for women). Some of the garments take one year to complete.
materials are hand loom
some of the finished products
Third stop: Memorial Chorten
This memorial stupa was built in the 1970s to honor the 3rd king of Bhutan. Worshipers circle the stupa in a clockwise direction while reciting prayers.
Memorial Chorten in Thimphu
Fourth stop: Motithang Takin Preserve
Our next stop was to visit a takin reserve. I had never even heard of a takin before, but I soon learned that it was the national animal of Bhutan. (It was raining when we got there, so we just drove around the periphery of the reserve. We did get to see several takin, but didn’t manage a good photograph. Here are a couple from the Internet:
Fifth stop: View of the Dzong and Parliament buildings from the other side.
surrounding rice paddies
harvesting the local red rice – eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
DAY 2: Road trip to Punakha.
The drive to Punakha, the formal capital of Bhutan, took almost 3 hours. We stopped at the Dochula Pass on the way there and at Chimi Lhakhang on the way back.
First stop: Dochula Pass
Wow. The sight of the 108 memorial stupas (Druk Wangyal Chortens) at the Dochula Pas was breathtaking. Situated 3,100 m above sea level, we were among the clouds as we wandered among the stupas. These memorial chortens were built in 2003 to honr Butanese soldiers who were killed in a battle fought against Assamese insurgents from India. Unfortunately due to the clouds we were unable to see the panoramic views of the Himalayans, but I think the clouds added to the magical nature of the place.
there are 3 layers of stupas – 45 on the lowest level, 36 on the 2nd, and 27 at the top, surrounding the main stupa
stuppas among the clouds
stairs leading to the top of the mound
a view from the top
mom and me
the base (foundation) of each stuppa contains offerings of grains and bronze
each stuppa contains an image of a Buddhist god
the structures also contain scripts of prayers
a misty day
panorama from atop
Second stop: Punakha Dzong
The Punakha Dzong was built in the 1630s. It is one of the largest forts in Bhutan. The grounds are still used for ceremonies such as royal weddings and coronations of the king. It also serves as the winter residence of the dratshang (official monk body). This fort is also known as Puntang Dewa cheenbi Phodrang – meaning the palace of great happiness.
the fort from across the river – the dzong is located just before 2 rivers (Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu) meet
the fort – this photo doesn’t do justice to how steep those stairs were
so proud of my mom for making it to the top
beautiful architecture and woodwork
massive courtyards were celebrations are held
the golden door
giant prayer wheel
Third stop: Chimi Lhakhang – The Fertility Temple
Before heading back to Thimphu, we stopped in Lobesa for lunch. While my parents lingered at the restaurant, I trekked through the rice paddy fields up to the Chimi Lhakhang monastery, popularly known as the fertility temple.
we could just about see the temple from the restaurant
the beautiful rice paddy fields
narrow paths through the fields
although I’m not much of an outdoors person – exploring the different terrains of Bhutan was fun
outside the temple
the sandy, semi-steep climb to/from the temple