My Bhutan Diaries
To & In Paro (3rd — 5th Jan, 2017)
You say you travel. Why, again?
Mornings in Bhutan have been my favourite.
How can anything beat that view?! I also wonder if such peaceful mornings are why Bhutan is happy.
On the morning of 3rd Jan, 2017, we left Punakha for Paro via Thimphu. We’d already booked tickets for the 14:00 bus from Thimphu to Paro. A favour we could do ourselves was to not miss that bus.
So, after a quick, much sumptuous breakfast — Bread Toast with Butter & Jam, Masala Omelette, Fruit Pancakes and Masala chai — we settled our bills and started from Hotel Kingaling.
Unlike Thimphu, Punakha is no city. You might find the Lobesa market to be bustling with activity but otherwise, the place is quite deserted. There were no buses plying from Punakha to Thimphu that day and we waited outside the hotel, on the highway, hoping to get a shared cab. 20 minutes later and still unlucky, we started walking towards the market, when a kind driver stopped by and picked us up.
Driving through the long, narrow and winding roads of Punkaha, I was reminded of Kerala. We slept through the drive and 2.5 hours later, reached Thimphu, caught that bus in time and reached Paro at around 16:00. From a warm and sweaterless Punakha, we were now at ‘all-layers-mandatory’ Paro. We headed straight to the bus stand to book tickets for our trip to Haa Valley two days later and were disappointed by what we heard. No buses to Haa Valley! Already designing alternative plans, we headed to the taxi stand. We met Kiron bhaiyya, a taxi driver there and took a cab to our homestay.
We drove past the wooden board etched with the words Nivvana Homestay.
We were welcomed at the reception by Monika. Remember Monika? The pretty woman we’d bumped into at Memorial Chorten and Buddha Point. Ah, coincidences!
With temperatures hanging in the negative, we didn’t leave sight of the furnace in the dining room. Joined by two couples from Mumbai and Delhi, we spent the night exchanging our travel stories and debating Indian politics.
Later that night, we met Karma who owns and runs Nivvana Homestay. After her dinner, Karma joined us in our conversations. What followed was a long and intense discussion late into the night, a tradition we would keep up on all the 3 nights we stayed at Nivvana.
Karma went on to tell us about the Royal Family, the much-adored 4th King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck — he implemented major economic and social reforms such as formalization of GNH as the official indicator of Bhutan’s prosperity, free education policy as a result of which school enrollment and literacy rates soared, subsidized health coverage, his turnaround of Bhutan’s Tourism Industry by putting in place an unconventional policy of ‘high value, low volume’, Bhutan’s matriarchal culture which highly values woman and her independence, Bhutan’s transition from a monarchy to a democracy, Karma’s own inspiring lifestory and umpteen more!
We awoke the next morning, unable to control our excitement and anxiety. We were going to hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. (The previous night, Karma had told us about a guest who’d flown in directly to Paro from Bangkok just for a day, and solely for this hike, thereby setting unattainable standards for dedication).
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery or Paro Taktsang is one of Bhutan’s most religious sites. Legend has it that in the 8th century, Guru Padmasambhava, more popularly called Guru Rinpoche or the Second Buddha — credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan — flew to the site from Tibet on a flying tigress’ back and subdued a local demon, thereafter meditating in a cave there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. In 1692, a temple was built around the cave, hanging on a cliff at 3,120 m.
Picked up and dropped at the site by Kiron bhaiyya, at 10:30 am, along with our wooden hiking sticks, we were ready to hike up the valley. The hike is of medium difficulty (I’d run out of breath multiple times, stop, gather myself up and continue). As the altitude increases and you go up the hill, it gets chillier. We found ourselves amongst people of all ages and ethnicities. Conversations on multiple themes were bound to follow. My company for most of the way up was a middle-aged Bhutanese lady travelling with her German husband and two kids. Services were provided by the locales to go up the valley atop horses. This was a scary sight for me: to see horses with fully-grown humans on them, struggling to move up a narrow and steep kucha path. I could barely move myself up! Anyway, it took us two hours to reach the temple. I’d also stopped at a café on the way for a cup of tea and biscuits (quite similar to the Little Hearts you get in India).
After going around the temple and chilling for a bit, I started on my way down. The temple had closed for lunchtime and would open only after an hour. Most of the people stayed back at the site to wait for the temple to open. On my hike down, I met Rodney.
A management student from Coimbatore, with a passion for travel and photography, he was on a Motorcyle solo ride to 2 Countries (Nepal and Bhutan) and 7 states ( Sikkim, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Andra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). We got to talking and he spoke of his experiences in Nepal meeting Mrs. Bimpala Thapa, founder of Asha Nepal, who works against human trafficking by rescuing and sheltering trafficked women and children. Calling him just an inspiration is heavily understating it.
You can get in touch with Rodney here to know more about him and his work.
From the open market below the valley, we bought a couple of souvenirs to take back. Madhuri and Meghana have a habit of collecting pebbles as souvenirs from the places they visit. So on our way back to Nivvana, we stopped at Paro Chhu for a couple of pebbles. Back in Nivvana, at -5º C, we got cosy around the furnace for some Bhutanese dinner and warmth.
Owing to police warnings of heavy snowfall in Haa Valley and unavailability of buses to Haa, we tweaked our plan and decided to stay over at Paro for another day.
On the next day, 5th Jan, 2017, with one more day in our hand, we headed out to Chelela pass. Enroute Haa valley, Chelela pass is a 2 hour drive from Paro. At an elevation of 13,000 feet, Chelela pass is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. Along with Kiron bhaiyya, we drove through the snow-clad hills, frozen waterfalls for around two hours to reach Chelela pass. Most exciting: it was my first encounter with snow!
We spent the evening in Nivvana with Karma and her family — Karma Jr., her kids and their many puppies, Iccha Ram bhaiyya who cooked us delicious Bhutanese food, some Zumzin peach wine and the furnace.
We couldn’t believe this was our last night in Paro and that we were inching closer to the end of our trip.
You can read my previous post in the series here.
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