Although checking in the luggage at Sydney was a little nerve racking, the vision of our bags going round and round on the carosel in Bangkok unclaimed, not a good one, all turned out well in the end. At the end of the trip Druk air certainly showed Qantas up, by booking our luggage all the way to London and printing out a label to prove it! Why can’t qantas show the same level of service?
Our first ‘trek’ came with the steep ascent up to Cheri monastery. Mike managed the climb too, but we were all puffed, except the guide and driver; they do some walking these Bhutanese. The walk was worth it as much for the view as the monastery. So began our insight into the religion, administration and work of the people of this fascinating land. And we caught a glimpse of Taktshang, to show us what was in store for the last day.
The hotels were certainly of a good standard, if the plumbing left something to be desired!! All the staff, without exception, were friendly, polite and eager to please. They were a highlight of this trip along with the farm/guest house stay near the Black Necked Cranes valley. Surprisingly perhaps, we also enjoyed the food, hardly noticing a lack of meat amongst lots of fresh and well cooked vegetables, steamed fern fronds, a delicacy, along with the national dish of chilly cheese. And if you didn’t want eggs everyday for breakfast, you could always order porridge with honey or bananas.
The state of the roads is very bad! But also provided us with entertainment, when at road blocks, we witnessed kamikaze jack hammer operators high above the road hammering away at the rock which then fell in our general direction, over the road and on down the precipice. Not to mention some corners where as the boys said, “never mind sparrows, eagles flying out of the arse” at the sheer drop over the edge. Our guide was extremely amused by some of the comments coming from his passengers, but managed to keep his professionalism 97% of the time! In our bench seated mini bus with non exsistent shocks, but, thankfully new back tyres, we stared in envy at some of the 4WD cars carrying other tourists; next time an upgrade would be a must. “Lyn says she assures us and other clients that they will have a higher standard of vehicle on future trips”.Sonham our driver, deserved a medal for his careful and safe driving.
We visited a first and middle school in Punakha, Rhuruthang Middle Secondary School. This was one of the highlights for us. The teachers and children were so excited by the small gift of stationary supplies we took for them, it was reward enough for us. Cath had photos of her school and the kids were mesmerised. Amongst the excitement we couldn’t fail to note the enthusiasm of the teachers and the quality of the work being completed by the children. Seven year olds doing fractions and the writing so, so neat. We will send them copies of our photos.
The owner of the hotel in Trongsa, was an ex governor of the region, obviously highly educated with a wealth of knowledge which he was keen to share with his visitors. We bombarded him with questions! He would make a great ambassador for Bhutan. Sometimes, it was hard to hear our guide, especially when he addressed his speech to the windscreen, so this man was able to clear up a few misunderstandings and gaps in our info. He explained how Bhutan sought aid/finance from the smaller countries in Europe, thus avoiding some of the traps other third world countries fall into when outlets such as McDonalds blight both the high streets and the diets of the local people. The Museum of the Monarchy in Trongsa was such an example of good imput from Austria. We were also impressed that our mobile phones had reception everywhere…unlike in Australia. No wonder so many locals have mobiles!
We especially enjoyed meeting and talking with local people, whether in the shops or on the farms, or at the roadblocks and the monastery kitchens, in the hotels and even young girls and boys along the way. On one of our walks around the valley, we met a couple of ‘cool dudes’ about 15yrs old, wearing ACDC and Who T-shirts, caps on sideways and trendy sneakers, very shy but able to converse in good English. Such friendly people.
Finally to Taktshang, that picture I’ve had in my mind for the past 12 years that typifies Bhutan. It didn’t disappoint. At first the climb looked daunting, but we had all day, the sky was clear and the temperature mild. Mike snagged a good nag, if at an additional price, and wobbled his way to the halfway cafe. We sweated, slowly uphill passing many an unfit tourist on the way. It was good to have the views as an excuse to stop every 50 or so paces. A coffee at the cafe was very welcome and replenished us for the walk to the Lookout, where we left Mike not wanting to do the final 500 steps! The view from the lookout is awesome if somewhat untidy with prayer flags both old and new. What a tremendous feat building the monastery on such a sheer cliff face. On reaching the monastery itself, our guide took us through the temples, all so different with stories to match. I can only marvel at the muscle, energy and determination that built those walls so many years before mechanisation or helicopters. Would it be done in 2012 I wonder. And I immediately know the answer. Yes, in Bhutan.
Our final day gave us a taste of the Paro Tetsu and reminded us of a fairground with entertainment between the main events. Once again, the people made it, looking resplendant in their festival Gho and Kira. Amusement for us when the phallic decorated headgear cavorted and gestured in the arena with the audience! Not supposed to be sexual, but certainly suggestive.
The only feature that marred the look of the countryside was the litter problem. Mountainsides of red rhododendrons and white magnolia were spoilt by the tipping of litter over the edges of roads. They really need to address not only collection, but also disposal of litter caused, I guess, by the introduction of many western disposable items. Unfortunately, not biodegradable. And I don’t think it was the tourists dropping the litter.
Jan & Mike