Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Images of Bhutan - Leg 2 - Thimphu to Punakha

The Golden Buddha
After an amazing visit to the Haa Valley, Madge, Kristin and I loaded into the min-van with Chundu, our guide, and Themang, our driver, for the journey to Thimphu.  During our brief stay in the capital of Bhutan, we hooked up with a couple of local trekking guides to climb at the only developed crag in the country - the Nose!  Just a bit smaller than its namesake in Yosemite, the 100-ft Nose basically includes all 14 of Bhutan's established rock routes.  Over the course of a really fun morning, we got to sample 4 of those 14 routes before lunch.

During the rest of our stay in Thimphu, we explored the local markets, visited the Giant Golden Buddha, still under construction, and saw the National Memorial Chorten, where locals spend their days spinning the large prayer wheels and walking clockwise around this holy site for good karma.

The Nose

Overlooking a cool rock pedestal and the Thimphu valley from atop the Nose

The Nose consists of solid granite - here painted with an image of the traditional story of the Four Friends

Market Shots

I'm pretty sure these came from a yak

The Golden Buddha

The 138.6 foot Budda sits on top of a 62 foot throne

For more information on the Buddha Dordenma proejct, check out its website.  

 The National Memorial Chorten


After spending a day or two in the city, we were all ready to move on to the countryside and again piled back into the mini-van for the drive east over Dochu La on the way to the Punakha Valley.  At 3140 meters, Dochu La is surrounded by densely wooded hillsides and giant rhodedenrdon trees.  It is also home to the Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens, a beautiful cluster of 108 holy structures set at the top of the pass. 

After visiting the chortens, we decided to walk from the pass down to the east while our driver waited out a construction-induced road block.  Many hours later, we finally met up with Themang after we had walked several kilometers through the forest and then down the National Highway.

The Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens

The Dochu La Nature Trail

Giant flowering Daphne in a forest of flowering rhodedendron

They have yaks on their nature trails

Beautiful flowering magnolia trees

Make sure to watch Madge dodging Tata trucks on the National Highway!  After finally getting picked up by Themang, who had patiently waited out a marathon traffic jam, we made our way further east to the Punakha valley.  Over the next day or so, we walked through the countryside exploring more holy sites and the incredibly picturesque farmland and small villages that anchor these rural communities.

Punakha Dzong

At the end of our stay in this lovely valley, we made a Sunday visit to Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, which was built in 1638 atop a ridge overlooking the river valley below.  Each region of the country has a dzong, which traditionally housed the monastic body as well as the regional government.  Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is undergoing renovations, and because we visited during a Sunday, we were able to walk the ancient halls of this historic building in solitude.  The various projects gave us an inside look at how much work goes into the incredibly detailed wood carving and construction techniques used in Bhutan.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong

Beauty unfinished
Ancient stone tablets lining a row of prayer wheels

Chundu inside the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
I'm ready for the demo crew
No nails here

Mani stones
My cool travel compadres enjoying leg 2
Check back for Leg 3, where we travel back toward Thimphu only for Themang to be caught once again in the chaos of the Dochu La road block.  This time we stick with him and witness the chaotic carnage of a third world traffic jam on a steep mountain pass before finally heading west towards the start of the five-day Druk Path trek.

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