Gangtey, Punakha, Paro
Firstly happy new year! We are now winging our way to Bangkok in search of warmer climes after a spectacular 11 days in Bhutan. Since my last blog post there has been action aplenty. Our stay at Gangtey culminated with a fantastic walk up into the hills to some remote houses where we were entreated to an impromptu insight into rural Bhutanese life. The family we visited consisted of a mum, dad (who was away working) and four daughters. Sunday was “washing” day and the family was hard at work hand-washing the past week’s clothes. The two young twin daughters, Sun and Moon (all twins are named this) seemed excused from the chores however not so for the ten year old who was hard at it. Such is the lot for kids in the developing world, unlike the first. Kids as always “seem to “click” regardless of the cultural void. The girls spent and hour or so playing while Annie and I drank yak butter tea with our host.
From Gangtey we criss-crossed to the Punakha Valley, a 4 hour drive away. Punakha is far more “tropical” than Gangtey sitting some 1700 metres lower than Gangtey. The air was much thicker and the vegetation sub-tropical. Punakha is a beautiful place. It was formerly the capital of Bhutan and boasts the most imposing Dzong (fort) in Bhutan. We undertook some great walks here and the girls even took a dip in a glacial fed river. We stayed in the beautiful Uma Punakha, a boutique lodge situated well up the valley with elevated views upriver. The food and service here was superb.
After two nights in Punakha, we drove through to Paro, a 3.5 hour drive through a scenic pass. The undoubted highlight of our stay here was trekking to Bumdra Peak, an overnight excursion which saw us climb from 2,200 to 4,120 metres. The route was testing but the girls excelled themselves. Having never been to this altitude before I was wondering how they might cope but with the acclimatisation in the lead-up at Gangtey (3000 metres) and Thimphu (2,200) metres held them in good stead. They breezed throughout with no ill-effects.
We traversed through patches of snow which were thick enough for the girls to make snow angels. We over-nighted in a comfortable seasonal camp just below the Bumdra peak at an altitude of 3850 metres. This was New Years and I am sure it is one the girls won’t easily forget, perched high on top of the world in the Himalayas.
Early the next morning we climbed the peak and were rewarded with breath-taking 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. This peak has a very sad story attached as it is a “sky” burial place for infants. Parents offer their deceased child to the birds of prey as a gift back to nature on the journey to re-incarnation. The girls added a prayer flag to the many encircling the burial place. Very sad to say the least but uplifting at the same time.
After breakfast back in camp, we began our descent back to Paro. The track was pretty steep and icy we lost 1000 metres of altitude in 1.5 hours. The highlight of this day was a visit en-route to the fabled Tigers Nest Monastery. Wow, unbelievable. Perched on the side of the cliff this is THE shot from every marketing brochure on Bhutan. It certainly lived up to expectation. Quite the humbling and mysterious place. The only catch to get there is you have to negotiate 800 uneven steps.
We are now in Bangkok for a short two night stopover before heading home. The girls are very excited by the shopping experiences in store. Not sure I share their enthusiasm to the same level.