The road trip is behind us now but what a trip it was! Day one saw us pass over Dochula at more than 3,000 metres. Off in the distance were the snow covered jagged peaks we had imagined Bhutan would look like. The pass itself was a Monastery and there were thousands of chortens ringing the peak, an amazing and inspiring sight. Later that day we were treated to a tour of the Punakha Dzong which is more than 600 years old. We saw monks chanting together in a large room ornately decorated in traditional Bhutanese style. Our last sight of the day was the temple dedicated to the phallus and originated by the 'Mad Monk'. It is famous as the place people who are experiencing difficulty starting a family,can go. The route up to the temple took us past both a dart ground and an archery ground and we were treated to the sights and sounds of opposing teams of archers and dart throwers alternately congratulating their team mates and doing their best to put off the opposition players. It was a lively sight and a highlight of many Bhutanese for the Losar (Lunar New Year) vacation.
Our first night was spent in Punakha and we all enjoyed the hospitality of the hotelier and slept soundly after our first day on the road.
Day two ended in Jokar in Bumthang, a pretty cold plateau. The town of Jokar suffered a catastrophic fire in the bazar area no too long ago and the rebuilding effort is ongoing. Our host that night was a retired teacher of 30 years service and he was gracious enough to charge us all the same rates as any other civil servant who stays there. The rooms were cozy and warm complete with small wood burning stoves and plenty of hot water for showers. The food was up to the usual standard and we all ate heartily.
I haven't mentioned the roads yet...
Our driver, Dorji, from Rangjung Higher Secondary School, deserves a mention about now. He guided us safely over mountain passes, around innumerable blind corners, past oncoming traffic big and small, wheeled and four legged, into and out of the tightest hotel driveways imaginable, down crowded main streets of the regional towns and villages all the while maintaining his good humour and willingness to help. Well done Dorji!!!! He and his counterpart, from Tashitse School, both did an excellent job of getting us all to our destinations safely and with as much comfort as was possible. In general the road conditions were pretty good considering they were all carved into the sides of mountains. Rock slides are unavoidable but we had luck on our side as all our enforced stops were brief. The vertiginous drops had us all grasping our seats a little tighter at times and the overhanging rocks caused us to sit a little lower in our seats at other times!
We passed through many types of vegetation, the most memorable of which was the almost tropical rain forest as we neared Mongar from Bumthang. It was all the more surprising and welcome having been through the highest pass on snowy roads with frozen waterfalls looming above us that same day. We saw broad leafed evergreens and deciduous trees but the most magnificent were the giant conifers with 'old man's beard' streaming out in the wind. It was a magical and ancient landscape uncluttered by civilization and home to a host of animals and birds. We saw 2 types of monkeys and yaks and finally moments after we entered Trashigang District a vulture, which is considered very lucky in these parts.
We were sorry to say goodbye to our colleagues on the way but at the same time we were all eager to get to our new homes.
Our final night on the road was spent in Mongar, a thriving and typically bustling former capital of Eastern Bhutan. From there it was a fairly relaxed 80 odd kilometers to Trashigang and then here to Rangjung. We did a whirlwind tour of Trashigang and it was a head spinning place with sights and sounds in every direction. We shall return to investigate further in the future.