The past few days we have been exploring some of Bhutan's valleys, firstly Punākha Valley and then Gangtey Valley. Both take some effort to get to, with the Bhutanese "highway" a very rough, bumpy and winding goat track through the mountains. But they are worth the effort, with both valleys and the scenery on the way, including views of the Himalayas, spectacular.
The Punākha Valley is the former capital city, and the dzong is one of the largest (if not the largest) in Bhutan, hosting both government and monastic administration facilities, and is quite an impressive structure that was built in the 1600s. Here we were also able to stretch our legs on a couple of short hikes, one a quite sweaty climb to a temple at the top of a hill to overlook the valley which is stunning. The other was through the rice fields to the temple of the Devine Madman, who was basically a monk who taught in unconventional methods and went around the country shagging women, which explains the many phallus paintings on buildings and souvenirs for sale.
We learnt from chats with our guide about the mating and dating habits of Bhutanese people, with multiple marriages and extramarital relationships not uncommon. Apparently this is in support of the ambition of gross national happiness. Our guide is a bit of a playboy, and an evening at the local karaoke bar was a fun night watching the locals sing and dance, with "sex on the beach" the hit song of the night!
Onto Gangtey Valley, we were fortunate to be there on November 11, which is the annual black-necked crane festival. This year it also coincided with the 60th birthday of the 4th King, who is seen as the forefather of modern Bhutan and much loved by the Bhutanese people, so it was a double celebration. The festival was great to experience, as we got to see traditional dancing and costumes without this being a stage managed 'cultural event' for tourists. We also hiked across the glacial formed valley which is where the black-necked cranes migrate to, spotting a couple in the distance. The farmhouse we stayed at here was pretty basic, and with a dodgy electric supply to the valley power outages and no hot water was an issue over the couple of nights. But again, worth the experience to see the festival and valley.
After a 7 hour drive back to the capital Thimphu, we got to see the flag ceremony at the central dzong where the King lives and current parliament is conducted. Today we explore here a bit more before heading to the Haa, another high altitude area that is no doubt spectacular also.
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