I am glad that Elite Scenic Voyage (ESV) could be part of your history in the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan. I thank you Joan Riback (team Leader) for the pre-arrangements and everyone for being the best disciplined guests ESV ever had in its few years travel journal. Three cheers.
Over the past two weeks, there were always great deals of time we shared and got together. I learnt a lot myself from you all on many aspects. My other three team members were equally overwhelmed with the love and bond shared over the short period of time. They returned home happy men and so do i. Driver Chimi an experienced driver kept us all safe and at times I heard he gave guests the goose bumps on the bends of Bhutan road. Anil the first Guide assigned had to leave half way and continued by Ugyen Rizin who took charge over next eight days. They were credited, loved and liked by the group. Thank you for having you all with ESV for two weeks’ time.
Together I hope small team from ESV on the field has not failed to do the same. There were few times we were unable to be at our best and I am responsible for those, please accept our apology. The rugged one being the unknown hike we took at Haa, from Wangtsa village to Katsho Goenpa over the ridge under the thick pine forest. Local guide was complacent, the odor from his beetle-nut chewing distressing and the unevenness hiking route energy consuming. It was awful hike but something worth remembering.
Well good that happened to me on this tour was that I got to be the off season Santa Claus with your gifts. I shared all your gifts with the kids who were selling vegetables along Wangdue-Thimphu Highway with their parents on my way back to Thimphu from Phobjekha. I offered the pencils and the pens to the little monks at Gangteng Monastery. I kept for myself the small globe that I looked for very long time. I shared the Scotland stockings with the highlanders’ road laborers. The crayon colors and gloves I passed on to the women who were working on paving road at Paro-Chelela road. The best gift was the PINK shoes, I still feel the raise in my nerve and hair from the feeling she had that moment with the heavy heart of gratitude to our small gift. I was offered a bundle of ferns which I told her she can sell to others. I thank you for your contribution and helping my little effort to spread happiness. The social wisdom was immense and merits shared. “Happiness is real when shared”: You all have my Happiness. Also thank you for the contribution for my future continuation of lil strength I am giving back to the society.
I have had read through the recommendations and the feed backs. It gives the feeling that we have done our homework. The privilege of getting to sit together and discuss on so many aspects of life and reality, those suggestions from you all on the businesses, our healthy discussion on the politics, the culture and nature were soothing.
Few got the greater views of the Himalayas and the Mount Everest in particular. We always inform our guests to take left side of the aisle seats while flying into Bhutan from outbound destination that our airlines has and vice versa on return.
First day was slow, adapting to the place and excitement of the different world. National Museum in Paro the very first sight we have for the guest and stopped sometime at Tamcho to get the glimpse of Thangthong Gyalpo’s art and wisdom before Hotel Tara Phendeyling welcome Tea.
Unlike other times, we made the itinerary keeping schedule of domestic flight abreast until our Paro-Bumthang flight was announced cancel resulting complete change in our plan. Second day we have our Toyota High Roof van parked in front of hotel before time and ignited engine at 8AM to drive Punakha. Not trustful Bhutan weather did not favor us to have a beautiful serene sight of the great Himalayas at Dochula Pass. Gulped some coffee and tea, descending to Punakha we set another few miles to north for our first Hike of the tour. Hike to Khamsum Yully Namgyel Chorten. The group members whose age bracket falls in between 66-73 were even surprising to see them walk fast than I initially thought. Our moms like members were champion on the walk the talk at their age standard. The season or off season customary for Indians clients, we decided to leave our tummy empty for the experience we tested on Mochu. The water volume was not right but our zeal and energy were at the peak for the trail. Out of itinerary white water Rafting happened and the experience altogether was fun. The synchronization of the paddle and the flow of water perfected. The river has so much to offer that the raft guide was a busy bee. The river breeze, the birds and the scenes were enchanting where I learnt from our guests that the level of the rafting on Mochu River was of the level one or two at some places. Late lunch and the next we threw ourselves to the suspension bridge. The cremation house behind Punakha Dzong halted us for discussion and cremation culture exchange. The seventh, fourteenth, twenty one, forty nine and a year anniversary were common dates we mourn and they mourn-celebrates. Second night-Zhingkham Resort overlooking Punakha Dzong and the valley
24th March, once we received the sanctification from the Devine madman temple at Lobeysa, the next was even more electrifying. At Punakha Dzong the fortress of Great Happiness, our dopamine was raised to the top. First we got on the spot audience with the Royal Grand Queen Mother for five minutes; the conversation from the Royal Grandma was extraordinary at commoner’s level. Next we got to see our Great Fourth, who championed the concept of Gross National Happiness inside the Dzong. His health was fortifying and reassuring.
Lunch at Hotel Pema Karpo and speedo meter of the Van galloped. At Lawla pass we marked our entry with the hoisting of wind prayer flags. Offered some fruits and the raw whisky to appease the local deity and in turn warmed ourselves tossing the whisky shots followed by a hot tea and snacks.
Crossing pine forest, hamlets and dwarf bamboos we diverted to Gangteng Goenpa which holds the Central Nyingpa Buddhist sect in Bhutan. It was cold that evening and the electricity was out. Phobjekha is a bowl-shaped glacial valley that winters black-naked cranes. Dewachen hotel welcomed us with no electricity again; later found out that it was out in consideration of Earth Hour.
First sight in the day we checked into the Crane Information Centre only to see all cranes left for their winter homes except the caged injured Karma. Another fortunate day for the group, we got a private audience with the H.E Gangteng Trulku, the head of the Nyingma Sect in Bhutan. An obvious but not realized wisdom I learnt from Rinpoche that day. Why Buddha, Guru and other forms of Mural statues & images placed all over the temples alter and the walls? To this Rinpoche said, Buddha has seen the sufferings people goes through daily and realized the path to get rid of the sufferings and finally succeeded to doing so. He got enlightened through means of doing something realistically different renouncing everything and has shown the path anyone could follow. So the subsequent follower sees the truth and deeds Buddha has passed through and realized having his Images or statues would provide anyone seeking his way in life an exemplary imitation or as an example of leading life convincingly. At the end its all one’s faith he ended. Thank you and enjoy your rest of the days in Bhutan was Rinpoche’s last words of wisdom.
From then we buckled up our seat belts for another bumpy roads to Bumthang, a little Switzerland. The Swiss guest House warmed our veins for next two nights.
Sightseeing in Bumthang includes the sacred sites; Jakar Dzong (a Castle of the White Bird) - The founder of Bhutan Zhabdrung’s great grandfather Ngagi Wangchuk founded the Dzong. Jakar Dzong is a common name while Yuely Namgyal Dzong is the official name honoring a victory over Tibetan troops. Wangdicholing Palace- It’s the first Palace built in 1857, where first king of Bhutan was born. Jambay Lhakhang- One of the oldest Lhakhangs in Bhutan. It is believed that the temple was built by Tibetan King Songtseng Gampo in 659 on the same day as Kichu Lhakhang in Paro. Chakhar Lhakhang- Iron castle Temple. It is the site of the palace of Indian King Sindhu Raja who first invited Guru Rinpoche to Bumthang. Original castle was built from iron so the name Iron Castle. Kurji Lhakhang- Its name derived from the print of the body. Kur means body and Ji is print. This temple complex has Guru’s body print preserved in one of the oldest building. The Lhakhangs are Guru Lhakhang, Sangay Lhakhang, Sampa Lhuendrup Lhakhang and Zangtopelri Lhakhang.
Mebar Tsho (burning lake) in Tang Valley was an after lunch program where Terton Pema Lingpa discovered sacred relics from the lake like a river. The sanctity of the sacred lake well explained by its environment at the site, I was told the place still need safety in place for visitors’ confidence.
KB7001 a domestic flight from Bumthang to Paro was delayed and so did our breakfast at Paro. Brunch in Paro town was savor for all.
New guide Ugyen Rinzin and the van chipped in to the group, his first task was to escort the group to the first day of Paro Tshechu. Witnessed in house dance performances in the Dzong’s courtyard and later drove the opposite valley and walked along the paved Pangbisa Road around 3KM. Metta Resort housed the night.
Second day Paro Tshechu saw little people turned up, the gallery seats were not cramped unlike last day of the Tshechu. We have watched performed many dances and local folk dances. I admitted that I am not so religious but spiritual the other day. So I was excused from commenting on Chams (Dances) next day. The guide book on the program saved guide and me. We watched silently. The routine walk this time we drove to Sangya Chokhor Lhakhang and walk back the paved road again. The view of the valley, scenes and the amalgam of cloud and sun were amazing that day. Tashi Namagy Resort accommodated the group.
We hoisted wind prayer flags again at highest motor-able road in Bhutan, the Chelela Pass measuring at 3988M on our way to Haa. The chilly wind from a snowfall earlier night made our packed tea and snacks a good treat on the mountains.
Only tourist restaurant “Pelden Restaurant” at Haa was debatable. Like many others we had lunch and visited Lhakhang Karpo and scanned the site of Nagpo (White & Black Chapel) with our cameras. Another moment we had was crossing single log temporary bridge over the Haa chu to our Driver Chimi’s home. We were offered tea and Zaw. The families were happy that they have foreign visitors coming in and sat for tea in their generation time. Our effort to visit Chimi’s family appreciated. Risum Resort lodged us a night.
The out of the box plan was little too much that day for all of us. The hike from Wangtsa village to Juneydrake and then to Katso Goenpa was excruciating. The unevenness of the path was painful for our steps. The walk through forest was silent dead, bushes sharp edges piercing occasionally, pine leaves on the path making slippery. Nikki got her stomach upset and had to excuse her. Haha. The best I experienced was enjoying the walk through the woods and an aroma of Rhododendron and pine intermittently. It took more than we framed our time and had to escape the snow and the visit to those two sights.
We bid our Farwell to Risum Resort with the lunch and set back to Paro where hot stone bath were set ready at Deki Farm House. The treatment I expected and promised was not given; the owner accepted other visitors along ours. It was a mess dinner. However, the few village folklore dances cheered up. Everyone had little fun spraining our muscles again from a terrible hike at Ha.
(Tiger’s Nest) Excursion
The breakfast from the farm house was the worst the entire tour, few even did not care to look over. At the Tiger Nest basecamp and the sight of temple aligned on the rock heightened their energy alike ours. The day excursion started slow and made on time. My appreciation of the group is that their zeal to finish on time and their continuous energy supply from their old immune system. The hike and our effort altogether were awesome. The journey back to Thimphu for rest of our stay was lil in hurry I was informed by guide. I learnt he drove faster than he has an attorney of speeding up having van full of foreign guests, his mistake corrected from us.
Last two days were in Thimphu. First day it was outlined for local sightseeing, started checking from Third King’s Memorial Chorten, World’s Largest Buddha, National animal Takin Preserve and the Trashi Choedzong before lunch.
A visit to paper factory and the archery range were entertaining. Joan and her connection with the Rotary Club of Thimphu brought us together for the dinner at Peace & Harmony Restaurant. Banners and the moments shared. I am of the hope that the Rotarians and the clubs around the world keep contributing in building a better world to live in.
The last day started with a visit to Folk Heritage Museum followed by Painting school, National Library which holds the world’s largest book and then to the Royal Textile Academy. Shopping and the last dinner at Tara Phendeyling Hotel marked an end of our sojourn together in little kingdom of Bhutan.
A goodbye hugs and the gratitude shared.
Joan the leader was active hiker and oral interpreter on Buddhism she knows and wherever comfortable commenting along with khepo Rigzin.
Nikki the tallest in the group, you were known amongst us by Kangdu (local nickname assigned for you).
Vicky does not fail to make it second behind Joan on all occasions. So second lady you are besides your clear speaking tune.
Jane, initially by your gesture I and other thought you were not happy with the tour. Having spent more days together I realized that you speak less and logical. You walk fast and enjoy more on paved route than the unpaved.
Julie, The photographer; you were soft and slow. You take your own time and make deep connection in everything. Nature and hike lover you are. We would love to have photos from you.
Christ I have seen you thinking and making judgment. You were the middle person on everything, not last not first.
Thank you for sharing two weeks’ time together, I hope the mutual benefits was at par. Please spread the happiness we intent to receive back.