Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Flying home

Up at 5.30; tea at 6.15; met Kinley and Tsering at 6.30. A quick drive brought us to the airport and farewells and thank yous to the two of them. We joined the queue to get through security, then checked in for Kolkata on KB120. Through to departures and more security; out on to the tarmac to identify our luggage and confirm it is going to Kolkata, as most people are staying on the plane to go to Bangkok. After a short wait we were boarding, sitting in E & F 21, next to the last row, with all the Kolkata passengers. On the plane we saw Kachenjunga (8598m) gliding by. Kanchenjunga is the easternmost of the 8000 m Great Himalayan peaks and the third highest mountain in the world. Arriving in Kolkata, we cleared passport control, collected the bags and changed some money. It all went well, but outside there was no sign of Blue Poppy’s agent. A huge storm was approaching rapidly with gusting winds, so Alan negotiated a taxi to the hotel for about £3. The taxi is a yellow Ambassador with a plastic quilted and buttoned ceiling. As we left the airport, we entered a cacophony of noise – horns, hooters, engines and the general melee going to Kolkata! The hotel is less than 20 minutes from the airport and we checked in, finding our room with the help of very pleasant porters. The first room wasn’t any good (why?) so they moved us next door, putting on the a/c and ceiling fan. We went to breakfast at 10.00 – just juice, coffee and toast; then putting our feet up in room 704. A call came through to say our driver had arrived, but obviously this was where the mix up was, and we didn’t need him now. So we got out the books, my Palm etc. and put some cricket on the TV. It was very wet outside, which took some time to clear. It was 15.00 before we took a break and went down to the restaurant for a snack. Alan fancied a cheese butty and I had seen that they did spring rolls on the room service menu. We also ordered coffee. When it eventually arrived, we had a huge loempia each with salad, which wasn’t quite what we had expected. Nevertheless, it was very good, so no problem. We wandered back upstairs for more of the same, but as it got dark, there was a series power cuts. Was this the hotel or general? We had torches with us, which was lucky.
By 9pm we decided to eat again, so went down to the restaurant. Alan decided to order beer while we looked at the menu – but they can’t serve beer there. The waiter decided to take us to their other restaurant on the first floor. When he opened the door, we were deafened by the live music; so he decided to take us to yet another place on the fourth floor! This is the Aranyak restaurant! Here we could have a relatively peaceful meal with a beer, although there were people smoking. You can’t have everything! We had Black label beer, tandoori chicken, paneer tikka masala, raita salad and rice, which was delicious. At last, we returned to the room for further rest before leaving in the hotel minivan for the airport at 4am. We travelled the first 200m on the wrong side of the dual carriageway!! Still, safely deposited and nothing to pay, we entered the airport a bit too early for check in, but still queued up ready for the flight opening. We travelled business class and our seats were on the right of the plane. We were so lucky as we had the most stunning views of the Himalayas including, we think, Everest (Sagarmathan (n)and Quomolongma (t)) (8848m) and Macchapucchre (6993m) to name but a few. Photographs were taken! Then we tried to sleep, which we were a little short of!

Blue Poppy Tours and Treks

Monday, 7 May 2007

Day Thirteen

Up at 6.15 and breakfast at 7am. I think we were a bit too early for the dining room, but OJ was on the table and tea arrived very quickly. Then we had a short wait, during which K and T wandered through for their meal in the kitchen. When ours arrived we were a bit surprised as there were omelettes, fried ham in discs and tomatoes. The waiter then asked if we would also like some cereal, but that was a bridge too far. Just some toast and more tea. We were ready to go at 7.30 and Tsering drove us off up the valley to the trailhead for Tiger's Nest. We were not the first to arrive, two vehicles had got there before us, and at least one followed us in. Nevertheless, we started off on our own, and pretty much stayed that way. The trail begins by meandering through a conifer forest. There is a babbling brook, a sort of picnic area, but you soon leave the latter behind as the trail gently climbs. Apparently, some people take horses up the trail - Nu.300 to the cafe, and Nu.500 to the view point before the steps. There was plenty of evidence of their having been around recently. From here we had no view of the monastery, but the trail gradually steepened and zigzagged up the hillside. Then we caught a glimpse, through the trees, but the sun had yet to reach it, so we agreed to keep going and stop for photos on the way down. It was getting hotter as we came out of the trees and we were definitely in the sun. There were still trees to the sides of us, and there was continuous birdsong, although we couldn't see the birds. Alan stopped for a moment to remove his pully, but we generally kept up a steady, slow pace, passing a large prayer flag with others strung out from it like a maypole. Onwards, negotiating steps cut into the earth, twisting and turning, noting the rhododendrons, pieris and cotoneaster growing amongst the conifers. Just as we were thinking we needed a rest, Kinley announced that we were almost at the cafe, so we pushed on round another couple of bends, and there was a flat path off to the right - the path to the cafe. We were glad of a seat and a cup of tea - but first we were stunned by the view of the monastery which dominates the scene. It had taken us 45 minutes to get here - as we hadn’t stopped for any photos. The tea was slightly smoky and very tasty, as were the usual salty/sweet crackers. We enjoyed the rest. After half an hour we pushed on again, taking the steep short cut out of the cafe up to the path. This was pretty hard going as a re-start, but then we were back to the steady climb. After a while we passed a cave which was full of the little cones people put in such places for their dead. This cave was used as a meditation cave. Further along is a wooden building around the place where one of the Lamas was born in 1928, the year of the tiger. It is his re-incarnation that we saw in Tharpaling. We hadn't seen so much of the monastery on this upper part of the walk, but gradually, the path evened out somewhat and there was a gateway across the path with prayer flags. As we rounded the corner, we had a breathtaking view across the ravine. We had to stop and take this in. From here onwards we had to negotiate steps - there are around 400 going down into the ravine, passing a chorten on the way. Alan did very well - knees and vertigo well under control. There were three monks walking way in front of us, and we could see them below us reaching a bridge at the bottom, by a waterfall. Soon we reached this point, then began the climb back up again - about 300 steps to the monastery entrance. Here, Kinley signed us in, and we had to leave our bags with the army guard, as nothing is allowed into the monastery. K and T had to put their mobile phones on the desk to be collected after our visit. We had walked up 900m, more or less.
Now we walked up more steps to start the visit. Kinley told us the story of how Guru Rinpoche flew to the cliff top site on the back of a tiger - the manifestation of his consort, Yeshe Tsogyal. He came to subdue a local deity who was causing trouble. This done, he meditated for three months in the cave, which is now surrounded by the primary lhakhang. All this happened in the 7th century, and since has been regarded as a holy place. In 1646 the Zhabdrung visited and in 1692 that primary lhakhang was built by the penlop of Paro. Subsequent penlops extended the monastery, which now has four main 'temples' with others not open to the public. We began our visit at the temple containing a chorten containing the ashes of a disciple of the Guru from the ninth century. In the floor is a fenced area where you can see an auspicious rock, but it was damaged during the renovation. Richly decorated walls show images of the manifestations of the Guru. The next temple we saw, down some steps, contained statues of the Guru on his tiger and behind a heavily carved screen was the cave where the Guru meditated. There were images on the wall and a glass box containing a manifestation of the Guru. People had thrown in money and prayer flags and white scarves. Back up the steps again, directly over the cave, was a temple containing three very large statues, manifestations of the Guru. All these were in the restored part, as the monastery was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1998. Only one tower was untouched.
We spent a little time looking at the view, then descended to the 'ground floor'. Here Kinley showed us a stone - one of the treasures of the Guru, found by Pema Lingpa, on which we saw a moon and a sun. There was also a shiny indentation. If one made a wish, closed one's eyes, then approached the stone with an outstretched thumb; if one hit the indentation with said thumb, the wish would be fulfilled in one's lifetime. Needless to say, we missed.
So it was time to leave this magical place and we made our way back down the steps to the army guard, collected our bags etc. and left the monastery confines through the gate. Now we retraced our steps, this time stopping to take lots of photos. At the chorten, we waited in vain for the sun, hiding behind clouds. K and T had great fun using the binos. We got down to the cafe for lunch at around 1 pm. and we sat with a wonderful view of the monastery overlooking us. Lunch was the usual suspects - only missing the noodles, and any meat as it is all vegetarian on the mountain. On the second half of the descent, we again stopped for photos, and then there were the birds. We saw some more laughingthrushes, a great tit, and Alan and K saw another yellow beaked blue magpie. I was sorry to have missed it.
Now we had a couple of things left to do; firstly, to see Jomulhari, but this just wasn't going to happen because of the clouds. On the way down the road we came across a caravan of donkeys all carrying huge bails of wheat that the farmer had just cut. The lead donkey had a lovely red plume on his head. Then there was a troop of horses, some with western leather saddles. Were these headed for the Tiger's Nest trail, we wondered.
The second was to visit Dumtse Lhakhang, 1433, built by the iron bridge builder. We entered, to see that it was shrouded in yellow curtains. Behind these are some amazing wall paintings. After prayers, Kinley led us round the outer part of the interior; there is no electricity, so it’s quite dark in there. Then we were able to enter the inner area, and we should definitely have had a torch with us. I led Alan by the hand, though even I could hardly see where we were going.
Now it was time to go back to the hotel; packing and baths were in order, but tea on the balcony first. Then the jobs before dinner at 7.30. Kinley joined us and had some fearsome looking red chillies and cheese. At the end of dinner, Kinley called Choki in Thimpu, who phoned back and Alan spoke with him. After the call we were given our homework - the end of holiday questionnaire. This has obviously worried Kinley, who hoped we would give him a good report. He also regaled us with various tales, but sometimes he's a bit difficult to follow. With an uncontrollable yawn, I finished off the proceedings. Kinley ordered tea for us at 6.15 as we have to leave for the airport at 6.30. So that was our last day in Bhutan.

Blue Poppy Tours and Treks

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Day Twelve

We met K and T at 8am. There was talk of a picnic, so we had to wait a few minutes when a flask of tea and a mysterious box appeared. We set off for Cheri Goempa - a very old monastery perched up a mountain. We were going to walk up to it - about 300 to 400m. It took about forty minutes to get there, driving along a tumbling river. Then we got on the boots and adjusted our sticks and crossed the river, Wang Chhu via a covered bridge. Tsering stayed behind to rest before the difficult drive to Paro. It was a great disappointment to me that there were quite a lot of flies, so despite the heat, I kept my pully on for protection. We climbed steadily upwards, through the trees. In front of us, we spotted a medium sized brown and white bird, then another and another until there were around eight of them pecking in the leaves. Alan managed to take a photo. Subsequently we have identified them as white throated laughingthrushes. We gradually reached a large chorten, where we rested for a short time, then continued onwards and upwards. Suddenly we saw a sunbird flying into trees close by. What a surprise. And also we spotted a goldcrest. This all helped us on our way, and within the hour we had just about reached the entrance gate to the monastery. We stopped to take the view of it, and Kinley pointed out some deer at the side of it. We walked to that side and took photos. We have identified them as goral. Then we walked into the monastery, which was founded in 1620. Our first visit was to the temple where the ashes of the Zhabrung's father are kept in a silver chorten. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built the goemba and attracted 100 monks to join him. Inside there were two sets of statues of the past, present and future Buddhas. Now we needed to climb up to the high temple. As we climbed up, we counted a total of 158 steps, stopping to rest on a concrete bench after 100. As we reached the top, we walked around the back of the building, then descended a few steps to the entrance to the temple at the opposite side. This building is built right up against the cliff, with rock forming the back wall. We had to walk through a sort of anti room/ corridor to reach the inner area. Here a monk was reading the tracts in a chant. We stood to one side, while K prayed and then the monk stopped and started talking to him. In a cave at the left back, almost hidden from view is a statue of the Zhabdrung. It was here that he performed a three year and six month meditation. The young monk was very happy to talk to us through Kinley, and eventually invited us to have juice in his room. He has studied classical language at university - Sanskrit, and has now come to meditate at Cheri Goemba. He was such a personable young man, we felt very honoured to be invited into his room. Soon we had to leave, thanking him for his hospitality. We then made our way across to the side of the monastery and regained the path down just by where we had seen the deer. Back at the car, we met up with Tsering again. As there was a bus load of people picnicking by the bridge and also because of the flies, Kinley suggested we picnicked on the way back near the Queen mother's Palace and the Royal Body Guard barracks. Then it all got very confusing as it seemed that we were expected to have the picnic and lunch when we got back to Thimpu. Well, we had to put a stop to that. So in the end, we all made it back to the Wangchuk Hotel and K and T had their rice and chillies and we had Sunday curry lunch. After all this, we set off for Paro - a dusty, hot and busy journey. As we approached Paro, there was an archery match going on and K was keen to watch, so we stopped and observed the match for a while. Alan was taking photos and spotted a man with an amazing furry hat; where did that come from? We arrived at the hotel and had tea in our sitting room. We have a curved balcony and a view of Paro Dzong. But this was not the end of the day; we still had one more visit to make. This was to Kyichu Lhakhang, +/- 659, which was built by King Songsten of Tibet to pin down the left foot of the ogress. It was extended in 1839. As we approached it, a hoopoe was spotted perched on the telegraph wires. It has that air of extreme age, and in the courtyard there were four orange trees, one bearing fruit. The doorways were covered by colourful hangings, and we swept these aside to enter. Inside it is so different to other temples as it is brightly lit by a crystal chandelier. The statues down either side of the inner area are richly clothed in silk brocades. In the outer part are no less than three statues of Chenresig with eleven heads and a thousand arms. In the other temple there is a huge statue of the Jowo Sakyamuni, or historical Buddha. It is said to have been cast in the 7th century at the same time as the one in Lhasa. We emerged into the sunshine to find a wood burning stove had been lit in the courtyard. We made our way around the outside in a clockwise direction and rejoined Tsering. They now drove us downtown and dropped us off to make a half hour circuit of the main streets. Loads of Indian 'gast arbeiders' were in town as its Sunday, their day off. In Paro most of the shops have open windows with wooden shutters, not like Thimpu that has more glass nowadays. Back to the hotel, and it was time for showers and dinner at 7.30. We have a lovely view of the Dzong, which is now floodlit. Dinner and bed, as it’s the big walk up to Tiger's Nest tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Day Eleven

Last night was not good as we were a bit cold in the room and it was strangely noisy with dogs and cement mixers. We met Kinley just before 9am to 'finish off' the sights of Thimpu. The plan was to start at the painting school, but the pupils were still in assembly, so we walked round the corner to the Folk Heritage Museum, but this was closed until 11am. As we walked back to the car we noticed that the students at the National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Painting School) were on their way to the classrooms; so we visited their exhibition, first. There were some wonderful figures from the festivals, as well as dolls in East Bhutan costume. Then we went to visit the classrooms where they were working on wood carving, metal work, drawing, painting, embroidery, weaving and sculpting. There was also a room where they were selling clothes made in the tailoring school. There were a couple of really beautiful jackets - one turquoise and gold, one with an elephant on the back, but these were not for sale. Soon it was time to move on, and as the museum was still closed, we made our way to the Post Office, where we visited the Philatelic room. Hundreds of stamps are on display, commemorating everything under the sun. We bought two sets - the National Emblems and the Traditional Dancers. From here we drove round the corner to the government handicraft emporium, which is a non-governmental organisation? It has many high quality crafts for sale. Here we found the lovely yak hair hats from Sakteng called shamo . We bought a small chilli pot made from rhododendron wood as we had been served honey in one this morning. Kinley recommended a CD of music for us. Now we could go to the N FH Museum. This was the Chief of the area's house, historically. It has been restored and is furnished as it would have been in the early 1900s. It was immensely interesting, not least as we discovered what the usual toilet arrangements were. At the top of the house, 3rd floor, there was the sleeping room and the altar room, where important guests would stay. Just off here was a small wooden room, built out from the building. An oblong box, fitted with a lid served as the private, only for guests, toilet. There was a wooden 'pipe' leading down to a pit at ground level. The family did not use this, but used the public toilet in the village as did all the inhabitants. There is access up a ladder to the roof, and a cooler, breezy area where grass was dried for winter fodder, among other things. Kinley told us that as a boy it was fun to sleep up there in the summer. Looking down we could see a traditional hot stone bath in the garden. At the other side, they had planted out the grounds with small crop fields, mostly potatoes. There was also a grinding wheel powered by water, the water then went on to turn the prayer wheel. This was a very interesting visit. The morning was gone, so we headed for the Conifer Restaurant for lunch. Alan was pleased to have fish and mince curry with his red rice and noodles. There was also potato datse, mixed veg and some tomato and cucumber salad. A minute square of cream caramel finished the meal. Tea and coffee was served, the latter being almost undrinkable according to Alan.
This afternoon we were able to visit Trashi Chhoe Dzong. This is not only the Dzong of Thimpu, but also the seat of government. The King has his offices in one of the buildings and ministries are scattered around outside. As we approached, it was hats off because we could see the national flag and we could only take photos of the dzong - not to the right as the King and the Royal Family are in temporary residence in the large assembly hall to the right. The Royal Palace, a bit up in the hills, is being renovated for the new king who took over from his father in January. Dad is just retired and is still 'on hand' to give the fifth king advice if needs be. The first entrance we passed was for the King and his ministers, we lesser mortals are allowed in at the second entrance, where Kinley registered us and we walked through an airport style security gate. Alan and I set it off with our camera bags, but no-one batted an eyelid. Kinley led us up a flight of stairs and as we turned the corner a vast courtyard comes into view. Opposite us was a long line of prayer wheels, the longest we've seen, and the buildings seem very large. To the right is the main temple housing a two storey high statue of Sakyamuna, the Historical Buddha. We entered, to discover that there is a renovation taking place, not as extensive as at Gantey Goempa, but still impressive. The artisans were busy painting pillars and temple furniture, with coloured and gold paints. We came out into the sunshine and crossed the huge courtyard where they hold the Thimpu Festival to take a look in the Lhakhang Sarpa with its many carvings. Upstairs we found two monks, one washing small brass cups; the other making butter sculptures like the monk at Bumthang. Out in the courtyard again, Kinley explained how the two Thondrols are raised up the side of this building and the huge utse (tower) at the festival. Each meter they are raised, the trumpets are sounded. He says it is very impressive. Three young monks came walking across the courtyard and we took their photographs, and then showed them. They were quite amused. Then we were on our way again, walking back to the car, admiring the rose beds. As we had finished, we thought we would go back to the hotel, but Kinley and Tsering decided to take us up to a small nunnery, which had suffered in a fire four years ago. It had been rebuilt, but we couldn't really get in to see anything, so back in the car, we took a roundabout route back. Then we were stopped as the road was closed. As we had to turn back, I asked if we could go back up the hill to a house with an interesting mural, much to K and T's amusement. They explained that the dragon was for prosperity and the penis was for fertility. We had seen several of these all over the country on all sorts of houses. It is just normal in Bhutan. At last we got back to the hotel, made arrangements for the morning and bade farewell to Kinley. We learned that he is an avid Manchester United fan and there was a match on the television!
We took our stuff upstairs, then got organised to go out into town. In the square the fair was in full swing again. We walked up the steps and along to the police traffic control roundabout. A left turn took us up to some steps, and there in front of us is the Swiss Bakery. Why not pop in for a decent cup of coffee and a cake? The guide book highly recommends this cafe, established in 1970. It lived up to expectations, as we enjoyed excellent coffee, chocolate cake and chocolate ├ęclair. Thus fortified we wandered around, first finding the Hong Kong market, not too exciting; located the Seasons Restaurant cum bar; then down to Mendayla Sweets, which sells Indian style sweets. We weren't too sure which shop it was, but nothing even came close to the wonderful shop in Guwahati. Close by we found a lovely little garden in a tiny space by the road. It was full of wild flowers as well as a lovely poppy. Back onto Norzin Lam, we wandered along up to World Music, opposite the Craft Emporium. Alan asked if they had any instrumental music - we were really looking for 'the yak song' Kinley had on his phone. Clearly we were in the wrong place as their music was all vocal and pop or film music. Still the helpful assistant suggested we try the shop in the Norling Centre. So back down the road again, and there the man showed and played us a CD of Bhutanese music played on traditional instruments - flute (lyem), lute (draymen) and yangchen - a 72 stringed instrument struck lightly with two thin bamboo sticks. This sounds lovely so we bought a copy; but still no ‘Song of the Yak’. More handicraft shops were scrutinised all along the road, but no more purchases.
Back at the Wangchuck Hotel, we ordered tea and sat in reception writing and reading. After, we went up to our room to sort out things ready for our walk tomorrow and also leaving for Paro. At 7.15 we got a call about dinner, only it wasn't clear what. Soon our friendly waiter came up asking us did we want dinner in the room - well, there's hardly room for that. So, we were asked to come for dinner at 7.30. When we appeared, it was obvious that we are the only takers, tonight. We ate dinner -very delicious, under the eagle eye of the dining room staff, who were waiting for us to eat and leave so they could go home. All a bit unnerving. Then we sat in reception again, finishing off this story.

Blue Poppy Tours and Treks

Friday, 4 May 2007

Day Ten

Today began early at 6.30 as the electricity came on. I had left my bedside light on when it went off last night. Still I switched it off and turned over - but no sleep, so another few pages of the book before getting up. A buffet breakfast with some cornflakes was a good start, and we met up with Kinley who had been able to stay in one of the ground floor rooms. So much for there being no room for us - suddenly there seems to be at least two vacant ones. Our first stop was the Black-necked Crane Centre. It is a circular building with big picture windows overlooking the marshy area where the cranes come to over-winter. They left in the middle of March. The Warden was very helpful and decided to show us the film about the cranes made about ten years ago, immediately as there was going to be a meeting in the room. The curtains were duly drawn and the video switched on. The film was excellent - well made and very informative. Since it was made, when numbers were declining, the cranes have made something of a comeback. Their numbers have increased from 106 in the early nineties to 370 in 2006/07. More information about the Black-necked Cranes can be found here. After our visit we had to start our long journey back to Thimpu.
Our first stop was to be the Dzong at Wangdi Phodrang. As we were leaving the valley, a hoopoe landed on the fence just beside the car, but flew off before either of us could take its picture. Then, we were held up by some men from the restoration project loading huge tree trunks on to one of the big Indian style trucks. Soon we were on our way again out of the valley; driving over a small pass, then down into the Wangdi area. We got to Wangdi at 12.15 and Kinley wanted us to have lunch, but it wasn't ready, so we went off to see the Dzong. This is very old - dating from 1638. It has suffered a lot from earthquakes; the last in 1897 has left it very unsafe. Kinley told us that plans were afoot for a complete renovation in the next few years. We went all the way inside to a great hall high up in the Dzong, with a fabulous view out over the bigger of the two rivers. We also stopped by the young monks’ study/hall/dining room where they had just been served butter tea and rice. As we were leaving, Alan and Kinley started talking to some young monks, one of whom had a bamboo ‘penny whistle’. He gave them a demonstration of how he played it and Kinley told us that this is how they start playing the flute for the ceremonies as they have to learn how to play without a break. Soon it was time to leave again, and we walked back up the hill to our restaurant for lunch. After our rather monotonous food in the Rinchenling, this was good - Alan had some chicken for a change; there was also peas, asparagus, baby courgettes, and warm toms, cucumber and apple salad.
Now we set off again, to find the bank where Alan could change some dollars. We drove round to the place where Kinley had gone to school - we think - and eventually found the bank, which closed at 1pm. Still, Kinley persuaded them to let Alan change the money, and after endless to-ing and fro-ing, he got some Niltrum. So we headed for the checkpoint, and we were soon on our way to Thimpu. A bit further along the way, we spotted a lone macaque in a tree, which we watched for a few minutes. Then it was the long climb out of the valley up to Dochu la and a cup of tea at the restaurant. Sadly the wonderful view we had had on the way to Wangdi was totally obscured by the smoke from the forest fire. But the tea was very refreshing. Kinley and Tsering had butter tea, made with cow's butter, not yak's. It smells just as it should - of tea with butter in it. At last we were in Thimpu, arriving about 5pm. Back to the Wangchuck Hotel and a new room - 208. Kinley arranged to meet us at 9am tomorrow, then headed off home. We took a stroll into town. The square was alive with a fair, raising money for the Queen's charity. There were lots of stalls selling anything from plants to bamboo products, funfair games such as coconut shies etc. In the centre was the music area where we saw some young people showing off their skills at break dancing. We visited the bookshop and bought Joanna Lumley's book as well as the book written by the Queen - all for about £16. Dinner was at 7.30 and we ate next to a table of Russians, which was quite a surprise. There was a lovely different range of dishes including Thai rice, veggy noodles, pork with garlic, mushroom datse with chillies and fresh cucumber. The Russians insisted on having ema datse – the one with chillies; but the staff say that its not on the menu tonight! The Russians are drinking many toasts as is their tradition, so it will shortly be time to leave. Another full and interesting day - now there are only three left.

Blue Poppy Tours and Treks

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Day Nine

Today was a driving day. First stop was Trongsa to see the dzong, stopping for tea at Norling Hotel – good tea and loos! The Dzong is not very accessible, only three courtyards and no interiors. It does have lovely gardens and we showed Kinley the snapdragons! Then we drove over to the River Lodge for lunch – where we stopped on the way to Jakar. Just before we got there we spotted a troop of Rhesus Macaques playing in the trees by the roadside. There were also the lovely yellow billed, blue magpies. After lunch we drove over the pass into a smoke filled valley. There must be forest fires somewhere nearby. It is very sad.
We turned off the main road onto an unmade road to Gantey. Kinley decided to drop us off so we could walk part of the way, which was very pleasant. But we didn’t see too much in the way of wildlife, which was the intention. We met up with the car at the turning to the Goemba, and Tsering drove us along the road to the building. This is in the process of a complete renovation. We could see what a terrible state it must have been in from the untouched buildings round the edge of the courtyard – the monks’ rooms, store rooms and so on. But the main building is well on the way to being finished. Beautiful carving and painting is taking place and by next year (08) it is supposed to be finished – then they will start on the outer buildings.
From here we drove into the magical valley of Phobjikha where the black-necked cranes come to over winter from their breeding grounds in Tibet. They had already left (on March 19th), but we stayed at the rather posh hotel overlooking the valley where they come. This is the Dewachen Hotel, who didn’t have a booking for us – but that was their fault, and they had to find a room for us. Apparently their booking person had not passed notification on to the hotel, so although they didn’t have Blue Poppy’s booking; there was a room for us – and apparently Kinley, too. Tsering got to sleep in the bus of the other hotel guests!
The large twin room has a wood stove that was lit for us when we arrived. We had time to shower and change for dinner, another buffet with the usual fare, including some ema datse – the chillies in cheese sauce, which Alan avoided and I tasted a little of. The Americans and Germans seemed to enjoy it all, too. The lights go out at 9pm as the electricity is provided by a generator, so it’s early to bed. The fire was relit and hot water bottles filled. Sadly, when I was about to get into bed, I found my hotty had leaked, so we had to find someone to change the bed before the lights went out!! The lights eventually died away at 9.30 and we snuggled down to sleep!

Blue Poppy Tours and Treks

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Day Eight

We arranged a slightly later start (8.15) and stopped in Jakar for some bottled water (only Nu 15 instead of 25 in the Lodge). We were off to Ura for the third day of the festival. We stopped just before the chorten pass to spot where we had had our picnic yesterday in the binos – Tsering was delighted! When we arrived in Ura there were far fewer tourists and more villagers than on Monday. We found a spot to sit on the wall and had a very good view of proceedings. The Deer dance was about to start as we got settled on the carpet Kinley had borrowed from the lodge. There were some other tourists there from Blue Poppy, but they were also discreet and quiet. The ladies sang a song and danced; and then two people performed a dance behind a curtain in the doorway of the monastery. Occasionally the curtain was held back to give us a glimpse, then halfway through, the monkey and the red ox appeared and came down on to the dance ground, to complete their performance. More ladies danced, then the tea ceremony was announced, which we had attended on Monday. The other group went in to this and really enjoyed it. Then, the big bugles sounded through an upstairs window; and all the animals entered the square to start the Lord and Messengers of Death Dance. This was to go on for over two hours, so after a while, Kinley suggested we went on to the hillside for lunch. This was similar to previous picnics, but somehow the lodge had forgotten to pack the tea bags! So we had tea with tea leaves that Tsering had begged off some local people! As we went back to the festival, the Lord was being trumpeted in with big horns, drums and conch shells. Now a climax was reached as the bad hunter was caught, despite trying to escape, and was brought before the Lord. He was judged to be a real baddie, and eventually was carried off to torment! Now a second man was brought in for judgement. Predictably, he was eventually judged to be good and angels came and took him into the heavenly gate of the monastery. This was almost the end, but as he left, the whole village surged forward and lined up for a blessing from the Lord and the animals; avoiding the red clown who ‘blessed’ the girls and various females with a tap with the phallic symbol he carried! Eventually the band returned and led the remaining performers through the heavenly entrance to the monastery. We decided that that was quite a fitting end, and persuaded the lads it was time to return to Jakar so we could pack up ready for leaving in the morning.
Blue Poppy Tours and Treks