Turnabout Bhutan

Let’s embark on the final instalment of my Bhutan travel series.

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Bumthang Valley

After spending 2 idyllic days in Bumthang, we now faced a long two-day bus ride back to our start point in Paro.

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Pebble stack found at a remote mountain pass… reminiscent of a stupa

While I loved the remote panoramas that you get when travelling in Bhutan, I found the long bumpy drives along the country’s endlessly twisting (and unpaved) mountain roads a bit of a challenge.

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Trongsa

After travelling about four hours on the road, we took a much-needed break in the district of Trongsa, Central Bhutan…

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… where we paid the iconic Trongsa Dzong a visit.

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This is the largest dzong (fortress) in Bhutan, and it’s spectacularly built on a spur overlooking a mountain gorge.

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On our visit, we happened upon on a colour pageant of monks…

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… practising a dance for (what I presume to be) an upcoming festival.

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Even though there were ten or so of us tourists watching, the gentle monks seemed to not mind at all and just went about their business as if we weren’t there.

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We also caught a glimpse of locals playing Bhutan’s national sport – archery. I had to share this photo because… look at how ridiculously far away the target is!

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On our way out, we also made a brief stop at a Sunday farmers market, full of local produce from the region.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent on the bus for another 4-5 hours, with glimpses of mountain yaks.

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We even chanced upon a family of grey langurs…

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… apparently they’re pretty rare to spot and our guide said it’s good luck to see them.

Gangtey

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Gangtey Valley

We eventually approached our destination, Gangtey…

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Gangtey Goemba

… and made a brief visit to this quiet monastery.

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Sadly, by this point of our trip, many of us were pretty tired of seeing temples and monasteries.

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And truth be told, after 10-12 hours on a bus, I just wanted to plonk myself down in a hotel bed.

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All that said, I quite liked the scenes that I managed to capture in this monastery.

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Gangtey is a very remote and very cold location in Bhutan…

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… there was a sense of desolation about it that resonated with me.

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It was past sunset when we reached the Black Necked Crane information centre… where (using telescopes) we viewed these elegant birds huddled in groups across the flat grasslands in Phobjikha valley.

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Hotel Dewachen, Gangtey

After a little bit more driving, shrouded in the purple shades of wintry dusk, we finally reached our hotel in Gangtey.

Hotel Dewachen Gangtey Valley Bhutan 6397

I really liked the style of this hotel. Even if the rooms were basic and the heating could’ve been better, it felt clean and cosy.

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Punakha

The next morning, we faced the toughest day yet… with a 4.30am wake up call and instructions to have our bags outside the hotel room at 5am. After a quick cup of coffee, we crawled into the bus and spent hours making our way back to Punakha, where we finally had breakfast around 10am.

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Thimpu revisited

After lunch we reluctantly got back on the bus… and few hours later, we reached Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital city).

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After so many days out in the quiet faraway provinces of Bhutan, Thimpu suddenly felt like an incredibly busy and cosmopolitan ‘metropolis’… and OMG the (paved) roads felt so smooth here!

Paro

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Paro Dzong (by request, we skipped this place)

We continued driving and finally reached Paro around 3pm, where we had a late lunch.

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By this point, many of us got tired of the repetitious oily-salty (oyster sauce-laden) Bhutanese buffet meals we’d been having. So over these last few days of the trip, our kindhearted guide arranged platters of fresh cut carrots and fruit for us. This lunch spot was great in that it was not buffet-style and they even served french fries here… which tasted so good that I could’ve sworn some of us wept!

Paro Meat Shop Butcher BhutanParo Bhutan 6425

After lunch, our group split into two. Some of us took the bus and visited Paro National Museum, while others decided to stay and wander about Paro town. I personally had enough of sitting in that bus and ended up in the latter camp.

I liked watching the locals go about their business in Paro, and was particularly fascinated by the butchers. They are called “Meat Shops” and sported a completely open mesh shopfront to help air out the odors.

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Tshering Pizza Restaurant – Paro

That evening, out of desperation, we skipped the hotel’s Bhutanese buffet spread. Instead, we cabbed it into Paro (which took quite a bit of organising) and had a decadent stretchy-cheesy pizza feast.

Taktsang Lhakhang

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On the morning of our final full day in this country, we tackled the highlight of every visitor’s trip to Bhutan… embarking on the 900m ascent up to Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest).

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Most of us cheated… we paid local farmers to lead us up most of the way on horseback! Only Fakegf and partner hiked up on foot.

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It was a chilly morning, and I loved looking at the frost covered grass glinting in the morning sun.

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After 45 mins or so on horseback, we reached the halfway point, where we dismounted and had deliciously hot cups of tea and biscuits.

Tigers Nest Bhutan 1

We continued on… and the horses took us up to about 80% of the way…

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… but the final ascent had to be done on foot.

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Taktsang Lhakhang

By this point, the crown jewel of Bhutan finally came into view!

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Almost there…

Even this last bit on foot involved quite a climb.

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But we made it to the temple… and I’ll have to say it’s quite a breathtaking sight. Taktsang Lhakhang is set in such a dramatic setting, perched against a cliff 3300m above sea level… you can’t help but marvel at how they’d even built this to begin with.

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Our bags and cameras had to be left at the entrance, so no photos were taken within the site. After our visit, we walked all the way back down (no more horses) and even doing that was quite tiring, so I can’t even begin to imagine how tough the climb on foot would’ve been if we hadn’t done it on horseback!

Because of its fame, the hike up and down from Tiger’s Nest had the most tourists we’d encountered out of our whole trip… we probably passed a few hundred that morning.

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On our way down the mountain, our guide arranged lunch here… in a hidden rest stop somewhere along the way.

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Even from here, the panoramic views of the mountain valleys were quite stunning.

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That was pretty much the end of our itinerary. We stayed the night in Paro and left the next morning, with a final glimpse of the snow-capped Himalayas from the plane window.

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Taktsang Lhakhang

I’ll end my Bhutan travel series here… with just one more photo of Tiger’s Nest.

Epilogue

As a postscript, I feel that Bhutan can be a challenging country to visit, as discussed in a previous blog post about it. Towards the end of the trip, the insanely slow and long drives took its toll on me and I confess I grew quite cranky.

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All that said… looking back, I’ve slowly grown to appreciate the remoteness of this country, its sheer lack of tourists and the spectacular scenescapes of pine-capped mountains, verdant valleys and unvisited plains. It made for a holiday experience that’s quite unmatched from many of other destinations that I’ve visited. Hence why I’d titled this post “Turnabout Bhutan”. 

Other Bhutan photo-series:

Mystical Bhutan
Journeying Bhutan
Faraway Bhutan
Turnabout Bhutan
10 Things Travellers Should Know Before Visiting Bhutan