A Travellerspoint blog

Punākha and Gangtey Valleys

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.

Sent from my iPhone

Posted by j0ne5y 16:55 Comments (0)

Paro photos

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Posted by j0ne5y 18:05 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)

Paro

15 °C

After my first few days in Bhutan, I feel like this is a land where time stands still.

After the thrill of the flight into Paro which is by far the most spectacular landing approach I have experienced (for those interested watch the technical details on the approach here (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4jnPtYmXPSM), the past few days in Paro have been very laid back. There is no traffic, let alone traffic lights, no rush for anything, and apart from dogs barking at night there is no 'noise' about the place.

Locals go about their daily business, a number of them dressed in their national dress, including children who wear this as their school uniform. It's a nice change seeing these customs in the day-to-day sense, rather than via your typical tourist "cultural experiences" that are so often the only preview you get into the traditions of other countries.

The people are incredibly friendly also. By virtue of an education system that teaches the bulk of the curriculum in English, most people can speak English well, and they love talking about both where we have come from to visit, but also about Bhutan. They also love posing for photographs and checking them out on your camera or phone afterwards, with modern technology still a novelty to the Bhutanese.

The first day we wandered about Paro town, and myself and another member of my group hired some mountain bikes for the afternoon, which some locals help us source. It was great stretching the legs after virtually two full days of travel. Whilst on our way back into town we came across an archery tournament, the national sport, so got to watch that for a bit. The targets are ridiculously small and are fired at from a distance of 150m away, and with a strong breeze at the time it's amazing that they were still able to hit the target.

On Saturday we did our first lot of guided sightseeing, visiting the Paro dzong; the national museum; the country's oldest dzong where we got to sit with some nuns as they practiced their prayer rituals; and finally an old ruined dzong. Again, there is very little 'tourist' feel to this, whilst we do have a guide showing us the way and explaining things as we go, there is not a lot of other tourists around and you mostly feel like we are just observing people going about their business.

As there is pretty much zero activity after dark, we generally adjourn to our hotel bar and restaurant where the meals are included in this trip. So far the local food and beers have been pretty good, though they do tone down the chilli in the food for the tourists. There is a lot of cheese and potato served with most meals, so I'm pretty happy.

Today we head off to Panakha, crossing some mountain passes before descending into the valley, which may get the adrenaline flowing again given the state of the roads over here.

Posted by j0ne5y 18:05 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)

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