It was great to get away for a weekend and feel that we had been somewhere new and seen a little more of this magical kingdom. As always the adventure of getting there seems to be a major part of the experience and I marvel at the ease with which locals overcome the travel obstacles on a regular basis.
Although we thought we were totally prepared for a quick get away after school on Saturday, there were still a few surprises in store. We had both planned to escape from school earlier than the usual finish time but after our teaching commitments and our bags were packed and ready to go by the time we left for school at 7.30am on Saturday. I got away with only a small hiccup, which was that, my principal called a meeting for all English and Dzongkha teachers in the final lesson, which I had already asked permission to escape. Luckily I was in his office when this information came to light and I asked to be excused and agreed to be a part of the school magazine committee, which was what the meeting was about.
Ian however ended up with duties supervising the SUPW (Social Useful and Productive Work) for his class 4 home group and didn't leave until the exact time that our pre-booked taxi was due to pick us up at our house. Just like real taxis!!!
I bolted home as one of the photography club kids had given me the camera with shots still in it and he wanted them included in the print run for that day!! I got the photos into the computer and onto my USB stick which was already set up to pass over to the photography shop in T/gang on our way through and then checked my phone to find 4 missed calls from our reliable and trusted taxi driver. Luckily he was just running late and arrived at almost exactly the same time as Ian and away we went.
We managed a brief stop in T/gang and were able to pass on the photos files to the shop, buy a few treats for Maureen and John, and fill up on momos for lunch while Kinzang Gyeltshen cooled his heels in the bus station and touted for any other passengers heading our way. That was not to be, so we were off with just the 3 of us in less than 40 minutes. Just out of town the road construction, which we have now passed through several times, caused our first delay. We were sweltering in the car as we had heeded the good advice of Maureen and John and dressed for the supposed cooler climes of Wamrong. In no time at all we were regretting our choice of attire as the blazing sun and stifling atmosphere in the car ensured that we both overheated. Our man behind the wheel went off to see what the hold up was and returned saying that it would be about 6 hours when Ian asked him. We chose to ignore that assuming that he had misunderstood the question and about 10 minutes later we were on our way again. He remained completely unflustered activated his relining seat and when we got out of the car to breathe, he put his head down to sleep for however long it might take.
When we reached Kanglung we again requested a stop and I went off to buy the fresh greens I had spotted while Ian got samosas and pakoras from a small shop that we had stopped at on the way through on our only other trip this far east. The ever resourceful Kinzang found 2 more passengers while we were shopping and so we were all pleased with ourselves. Just to add to our already very positive opinion of Kanglung, on our way out of town we spotted Lisa and Scott who work there, walking along the road. It was quite strange actually as they spotted us when they were cruising through Rangjung on their way to see Julian and Shauna in Bartsam some months ago. We BCFers seem to attract each other like magnets.
Another 2 hours down the road and we dropped the 2 passengers off and were within an hour of Wamrong. We had been climbing for most of the journey and the last 20 kms or so were completely in the clouds. Having sweltered in the car at the first delay, we were actually cold by the time we got out. There were only rare glimpses of the view and then the clouds obscured everything including the road again. Almost exactly as predicted it took 4 hours to cover about 85~90 kms, travelling at around 30 km maximum speed. The condition of the road with pot holes, no surface in places and swimming in water in others, the bogged cars, mudslides, sheer drops, restricted visibility and hairpin bends made even that speed seem excessive at times!!
Once we were inside the grounds of Tashiste Higher Secondary School and were grateful that John had mentioned to give the school address to the driver, as it is about a kilometre out of town and more than one km up a very muddy and steep road that is currently being widened. John came to meet us on the campus and we were glad that we didn't have to haul our things and shopping up the access road.
It was already approaching dark by that time so we went directly to their staff quarters and were happy to sit around chatting. They must have one of the best-appointed places of all of us teachers. It is so nice and with real functioning bathrooms, wooden floors, spacious rooms and views when the clouds lift. Despite being right on campus it is also very quiet and private. That night disappeared in no time, eating, drinking and chatting. It is always great to meet up with the other BCFers and compare our experiences and though M & J had stayed with us just the weekend before there was still plenty to discuss.
Throughout the day on Sunday the ever-present clouds dissipated for a while to give us a view, but then regrouped in reoccurring cycles but the rain held off so we felt quite fortunate. Tashiste has magical views but the dampness, cloud cover, and mud would wear me down if I had to live there. Before heading off hiking, we wandered around the campus and I particularly enjoyed the large prayer wheel just inside the gates. An easy hike for us non-mountain people was the order of the day and it gave us a bird's eye view over the whole town and community. We stropmed over the ridge to a couple of small temples and after a brief encounter with leeches, we decided to stick to the main road instead of the trails through the mountains to get back into town. The leeches freaked me out as I have never been bitten before. Whilst not exactly painful, they are so creepy and we were all constantly checking for them for several hours afterwards. The first of them I spotted in my pants but the next 2 discoveries were definitely attached to me and they left a nice bloodstain on my pants. I was lucky enough to be the victim of not just any old leech but a tiger leech according to John who was able to identify it.
We saw an amazing archery game being played, at attitude and right across the only road. All the local big wigs were there and sporting very high tech compound bows and a good appetite for the abundant alcohol supply. After that distraction, we stopped in town to chat with many locals and colleagues of M & J, so the day disappeared rather quickly. I also met the very vivacious sister of one of the boys in my home class. She works with Maureen. Bhutan is smaller than Adelaide and everyone knows everyone or is related to them it seems.
We discovered after arriving in Wamrong that there is no real way out! Well, like everywhere else in Bhutan the transport is what it is. In this case it means that the buses come through at around 11.30am and it is really a lunch / truck stop, so if you want to leave before that, you just have to take your chances. We needed to depart in the morning on Monday to ensure that we arrived in T/gang in time to pay the rent and get other business sorted. That meant we had to cross our fingers and hope that a lift would materialize. Just when we were wondering if we would be having lunch with Maureen, whose school is near the bazaar and close to the ‘highway’, a beat up old Suzuki stopped and the two muscle men inside agreed to take us with them as far as T/gang even though they were going to Bumthang.
After climbing aboard, we wondered if would have to walk from the turn off but were prepared to risk it rather than sit tight for another hour. I am glad we survived that journey, as they seemed to be in one hell of a hurry and therefore drove like they were in a rally. The wet conditions and mud coated roads were just another point scoring obstacle! For the first time I can recall in the last 7months I saw the speedo hit 50kms and it scared me half to death. There were a few gasps from me in the back seat as we stalled and rolled backwards towards the edge in mud caked conditions after our first delay. They were repeated with increased volume when we rounded corners and slammed on the brakes facing trucks and thanking god that this section of road had some "black top". Luckily we only skidded and didn't just slide over the edge. When the final road block was just metres from our beloved barber, Deepak we offered them compensation much greater than what the bus fare would have been and walked around the 2 trucks wedged together and blocking the road, glad to be on terra firma. We thought bailing like that would give them the opportunity to make a U-turn and get back on the road to Bumthang without another delay, so it was something of a surprise to see them walking into the restaurant in T/gang, 30 minutes later, when we were having lunch.
From there, after photos were collected, rent paid, banking attended to and a little shopping done, we took the local bus home and felt glad to be back on home turf. It was great to get away and fabulous to see other BCFers but Wamrong would be hard yakker for us and Rangjung really is home. Cockroaches and field mice encroach on our living space and that can get you down but there are no leeches at this low attitude!