The concluding post of the ongoing series of posts on the two week trip that we did to Bhutan in May of 2013. Thimphu, Punakha and Paro in the western part of Bhutan form the regular tourist circuit. Bhutan has much more to offer to a traveler. Keeping this in mind we had decided not to stick to just the above three places. This post is going to be on the places beyond the above which we covered.
The town of Trongsa in Central Bhutan can be reached by crossing Pele La pass between the districts of Punakha and Trongsa. It is a pleasant escapade from the heat of Punakha. The countryside along the route is beautiful. Some of the sights that I remember are the ruins of the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, lush green valleys and a small waterfall. It became cooler gradually on our way and the pass was completely shrouded in fog by the time we reached.
There is a view point near the town from which the Trongsa Dzong can be seen across the lush green valley.
Though the town is small, it is an important place for the Bhutanese. It serves as a gateway between Western and Eastern parts of Bhutan due to its central location. Like most places in Bhutan, the town is located next to the Mangde Chhu river which snakes through a lush green valley.
We had included Trongsa in our itinerary for three reasons. It would be an ideal place to break our journey from Punakha to Jakar. Secondly we had figured out from various trip reports that this was a very good destination for bird watching. Thirdly we wanted to visit the Trongsa Dzong which is the largest in the whole of Bhutan. Not many tourists venture out to this part of Bhutan and this was very evident with very few accommodation options/restaurants. There were hardly any tourists when we visited the Dzong which was a striking contrast to the towns of Thimphu as well as Punakha.
We had chosen Yangkhil Resort for our two night stay in Trongsa. The resort overlooks the valley and has a fabulous view of the Dzong.
Our room on the first floor was very cosy and well equipped. The food served in the restaurant was excellent. Snacks and ala carte meals had to be ordered well in advance but the taste of the food made up for this small inconvenience. The lawns next to the path leading up to the rooms were well manicured and dotted with flowering plants and bushes. Our feathered friends kept us company throughout our stay here.
The Chendebji Chorten is located in Trongsa district about 50 kms before the town of Trongsa while driving from Punakha. It is a Nepalese style stupa modeled on the famous Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu. It was built in the eighteenth century by a Lama over the spot where a demon who had terrorized the countryside had been subdued. The stupa has four eyes painted each of which point in all directions.
The Trongsa Dzong also called Choetse Dzong is the largest in the whole of Bhutan. It has played an important role in the history of the country due to its strategic location. Even today the Trongsa dzongkhag is of significance to the royal family. It is necessary for a prince to serve as the governor of the Trongsa dzongkhag to become eligible to be crowned King of Bhutan.
The Dzong overlooks the valley through which the Mangde Chhu flows. The Dzong looked very impressive on a bright day against the backdrop of the lush green valley when we went. Like all other dzongs it houses administrative offices, temples and monasteries. A tall Cypress tree which is the national tree of Bhutan can be seen near the entrance of the Dzong.
The Dzong looks magnificent when it is lit up and we could watch it right from the comfort zone of our balcony :)
The watchtower of the Trongsa Dzong called Trongsa tower or Ta Dzong stands across the road from the Dzong. Today it serves as a museum housing various artefacts belonging to the royal family and allows visitors to get a glimpse of bygone history. There is a flight of steps leading up to the tower. Though we did not go inside the museum, we spent two delightful and extremely productive mornings here in the presence of some beautiful avifauna :) This place turned out to be a bird watching heaven as I have mentioned in this post from Bhutan birding diaries. When lit up along with the Dzong, the tower seemed to acquire an eerie look!
After bidding farewell to Trongsa, we headed to the town of Jakar in Bumthang district. This district can be reached by crossing the Yotong La pass. As it was a foggy day with a dash of rain every now and then, most of the way was shrouded with fog. We were lucky to get the last of the rhododendron blooms along the way.
The valley of Bumthang is said to be the ‘Switzerland of the East’ due to its beauty and weather being similar. This fact had drawn my attention when I was planning our Bhutan trip and made me include it in our itinerary. As we entered Chumey village which can be considered as a gateway to the Bumthang district, we encountered straight roads for a considerable distance which seemed like a complete contrast after having navigated through hilly roads since the start of our trip. This picturesque village dotted with colourful fields and traditional homes which seemed to have a fairy tale like feel about them blew our minds away. This village is famous for its weavers. Women can be seen busy weaving outside their homes and there are a couple of shops where one can buy the finished goods like prayer mats, carpets, dresses and stoles. The current queen hails from this village.
In a little while as we went around another set of hills, the town of Jakar came into view. The weather had changed considerably along the way and it was colder in this region.
Swiss Guest House
The Swiss Guest House is a hidden gem overlooking the town of Jakar. We stayed there for 3 days. The owner is an old Swiss gentleman who came to Bhutan in his youth and fell in love with the country. He married a local and settled there. Today he and his children run the guest house. Surrounded by apple orchards and accessed via a long driveway this place is extremely charming.
The traditional heater (wood burning) was definitely needed here as it was pretty cold during the night. Our room was at the far end of the property and we could see the Jakar Dzong from the window.
There were three friendly dogs owned by the family who accompanied us whenever we were out for a walk inside the property :) We got used to their presence pretty soon!
The highlight of our stay here was some lip smacking food. Right from the pasta and pizza to the Cheese Fondue, which we had for the first time, everything was delicious. The Fondue which is a traditional Swiss dish was cooked for us by the owner’s daughter and we had read how to eat it beforehand on wiki :) Added to this was the lovely decor and ambiance of the dining area. We had different varieties of homemade cheese for breakfast. The Red Panda beer factory is owned by the same family and beer can be bought here off the tap. An additional attraction for us in the dining area was the lovely collection of books.
Jambay Lhakhang or Jampay Lhakhang is an important temple in Central Bhutan. A religious ceremony/festival was in progress during our visit here and the place was filled to the brim with pilgrims from various regions of Bhutan. The place was agog with monks meditating and pilgrims joining them. Lots of stalls had been set up around the temple and hawkers were busy selling their wares. We had some piping hot tea at one of the stalls.
The temple is surrounded by fields of mustard and colourful flowers.
As we were walking around taking pictures, I suddenly felt a hand placed on my shoulder from behind. I turned around to find an old woman talking to me in the local dialect. We were at a loss to understand what she was telling us. Our guide Tshering told us that she was asking Nagesh to take a picture of me and her together. She was asking me to keep the picture and not throw it away :) Why she picked on us and decided to talk to us remains a mystery to us! One of those pleasant surprises Bhutan seems to throw up every now and then I suppose.
Another important temple in Jakar is Kurjey Lhakhang which is located just outside the town. It houses the remains of the first three kings of Bhutan. The queen mother was visiting the temple when we were there resulting in security guards being posted outside. There were hardly any people here. The prayer hall here has idols of Guru Rinpoche and Buddhas. It is said that a large tree here is a Terma (hidden treasure; generally Tibetan Buddhist teachings) left there by by Padmasambhava. That tree is a HUGE cypress tree.
On our return journey to Paro from Jakar, we had chosen to stay in the village of Gangtey located in the Phobjikha Valley. The valley is a broad marshland which is flat and very scenic. It was very different from what we had seen till then in Bhutan. My only regret is that we had chosen to spend just one night here and we reached the place late in the evening just before it got dark. Also we had planned to leave very early the next morning to head to the old road to Trongsa for birding. Therefore we could hardly enjoy the beauty of this place or take pictures. The valley is a haven for the endangered Black-necked Cranes which migrate here every year during winter from the Tibetan Plateau. The villagers take care not to disturb these birds and a conservation centre has been created here. The birds are considered to be sacred and the people celebrate their arrival every year by having a festival in their honour in the Gangtey Monastery. As we were here after the migration period, the cranes had already left.
We had chosen the Dewachen Resort for our stay in Gangtey. We loved the place the moment we reached there. The rooms were cozy and well done. The food was also good and the staff ensured that we were comfortable.
From here we returned to Paro and spent 2 nights there which I’ve covered in my earlier post itself.
Thus ended a trip with lots of happy moments. We would love to go back to this enchanting land and continue our journey to the east from where we left off. Some destinations in mind are Zhemgang, Gangtey (of course!!), Mongar and Ura.