Tranquil Bhutan

Tranquil Bhutan- the most contended country of the world
Information Source: World Wide Web
17” May 2018 to 23 May 2018

Anju wanted to visit Bhutan as she had heard a lot about this country from her friends and relatives. I wanted to take a break from my daily routine and relax. This idea was accepted by me and I started doing my homework for making my tour memorable.

As I had visited South Africa and Travel agents “Thomas Cook” had planned this itinerary from their Mumbai office, I was pleased and decided to take their assistance in planning this tour also.
I called them to my office and explained to them my needs. I wanted good hotels and a car of my own for the six nights and seven days, I planned. I asked Jayendra if he could join me and he readily accepted. This meant that four us of would be travelling and I asked for the best quotes and Itinerary from “Thomas Cook”. They gave me a couple of offers but found them too high and the person attending my portfolio was informed that he should give me the best. Finally he came up with a good offer and I readily accepted but told him to send the itinerary and ensure that as we were all senior citizens, they should ensure that we were not inconvenienced.

All payments were done and the final program was sent. Our preliminary accepted itinerary was to land in Paro and go straight to Thimphu but when I received the final itinerary, it was first Paro for three nights and then Thimphu for the remaining three nights. This meant that if I had to take a flight from Paro at 0840 in the morning, I had to get up at three in the morning to reach Paro from Thimphu at 0640 reporting time for international flights. I informed “Thomas Cook” and took this up with their Mumbai office but they could not do a thing and said that we will have to take it the way it is as nothing was possible. I got so wild at them that I have informed them that from henceforth I will ensure that none of my known friends and relatives would utilize “Thomas Cook” as their travel agents.

I remembered that Architect Christopher Charles Benninger had designed many buildings in Bhutan and that he had an office in Bhutan for Ten years. I emailed Chris and his immediate reply was very positive and he gave me the contact number of Navin Pradhan, who handled his office in Bhutan when he was there. Since last many years this office is closed but Navin still lives in Bhutan, does travel related work and is also a building contractor. I jotted down his number in my phonebook.

17′ May early morning at 0130 Jayendra had called his driver to reach the Ahmedabad International Airport and I had called “Uber” so that we could reach the airport on time. The scene at the Ahmedabad Airport was chaotic as there was no one from “Thomas Cook” to guide us and we were left on our own. But as we had all travelled globally, we could manage to check in. The Bhutan Airways flight counter was so poorly manned and they had no means of automation. Everything was done manually and hence checking in almost sixty passengers took them a very long time.
We were directed to a gate where this Bhutan Airways chartered flight of “Make My Trip” had been introduced for the first time. The flight was direct from Ahmedabad to Paro, which was a saving grace. The plane was a Boeing and the Flight number was B 713. Our Boarding passes were manually written and handed over to us and after Immigration and security we reached the boarding gate and boarded the flight. The rear seats were given to us. There were three seats in one of the third last rows and one aisle seat just in front of these three seats. I took the aisle seat and the plane started the take off exactly at 0500. The Pilot announced that we will reach Paro at 0730 and not as per the Thomas Cook Itinerary stating 0810 landing.

The cabin crew served breakfast and half hour before the landing the co pilot announced that from the left windows you could see the Great Mount Everest and Kunchanganga range. Almost everyone was on this side and they were taking pictures of this great and majestic mountain covered with snow. A fellow CEPT Architect was in the last row and new me by name. He was going to Bhutan also but to Thimphu first.

The Pilot after fifteen minutes announced that we will be landing in Paro shortly and that we should return to our seats. The landing was great as the pilot maneuvered through the mountain range to land at Paro 2200 meters above sea level at 0730. We deplaned and walked on the Tarmac as this was a very small international airport. There were two other planes, one from Calcutta and the other from Bangkok. The view was breath taking.

Passing immigration we retrieved our baggage and out of the green channel but before this Jayendra and I went to the Duty free shop to get a Bottle of Whiskey. We purchased one and then went out. We were greeted by a Thomas Cook person who had come for a group and called our Guide Mr. Nado Chogyal to receive us and take us to our SUV which was a Hyundai. Number BP C 3141.
Baggage loaded and common courtesies extended, we boarded our Taxi. We were to reach our Hotel first and Nado called the Hotel for an early check in and keep our rooms ready. On the way, the driver Mr. Pucdorgi halted at a view point from where below we could see the Paro International Airport and the beautiful small city spread all across the surrounding mountains on either side of Paro River, known as Paro Chhu. The Paro valley extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu at Chuzom up to Mount Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the Kingdom and is covered with fertile rice fields. The Hotel was a good five kilometers away from the main Paro city, actually a small town, with a population of 35 thousand people only.

The name of the hotel, which was amidst a dense forest, was called Nak-sel (Forest), a boutique Hotel & Spa, Ngoba Village. 2700 meters elevation. Phone: +975 8 272 992. It was a hotel with 38 rooms of which five were cottages – Deluxe rooms – four rooms to a cottage, ten standard rooms, two presidential suites and six regular suits, in the main building. We were in the deluxe rooms and our cottage was just opposite the main Hotel building. We had pre informed the Travel agent that as we were all senior citizens, we should have rooms accordingly and no higher than first floor. We completed the formalities in the reception area where Bhutanese hospitality was experienced for the first time. Green Tea was served while we completed the formalities.

We informed Nado, our guide that we will freshen up in our rooms. He should come to pick us up for sightseeing at 1100. We went to our rooms and rested as we had a long night.
At 1100 the SUV was ready but we decided that we will have lunch at the hotel itself and then go for sightseeing. We informed Mr. Nado that there was a slight change in the program and that we will go for the sightseeing after lunch as we were very tiered. Nado and the driver said that they will also go to their room at a place provided by the hotel. As Jayendra, Asha and Anju rested and took their time to get ready. I went down to the terrace of the Hotel outside the dining area and took some pictures of the surrounding forested areas. We started our sightseeing program at 1230. We visited the “Ripun Dzong” and then “Kyichu Lakhang” the famous Monastery of Paro. These monasteries are known as “Fortresses”. There are various tales about them and the guide explained them to Anju. We took pictures from outside as the Bhutanese are very religious and photography is strictly prohibited inside. “Buddhism is the religion followed in Bhutan.

The weather was just right and the museum “Ripun Dzong” was good with Bhutanese history depicted in a very nice way. It was a long walk to the monastery and the Monks of the “Kyichu Lakhang” monastery were just getting ready for their lunch. We passed the city on our way to another “Fortress” We then reached our Hotel and rested for the day. Jayendra and I had our evening drink before we went for dinner at the hotel “Olive” restaurant. We retired for the night and had asked Nado to come tomorrow morning at 1030 for sightseeing. We were going to see the museum and a few other fortresses and the famous Tiger top monastery.

Nado along with the taxi came to pick us up to see the World famous Tiger top Monastery. This was a climb of two hours on Pony and one hour climb. Jayendra, Asha, Anju and I decided that we will go to the base and see the Monastery from this view point. It was very cold and windy and as it had rained the previous night, the soil was slippery and hence Asha and Jayendra decided to stay at the base and Anju and along with Nado, went a bit further up, where the view was breath taking.

Normally, tourist in their young age would trek up to the monasteries but considering our age and the weather, we decided to see it from the base. Returning to Paro we hunted the city for a good place to eat. We were guided by Nado to a first floor restaurant which looked shabby and the owners were reluctant to serve. We left the p[lace to find a better place. We could not find one and had to do with a sort of a take away outlet and then returned back to our hotel.

Jayendra Asha and Anju retired to rest as they were tiered and I ventured out to check the hotel premises and its facilities. I walked up the hill to see various cottages located uphill. Also the health facilities were here. After the evening ritual of a couple of drinks we went for an early meal and retired for the day.

Early next morning we want for breakfast in the dining room. After breakfast I sat on the terrace outside the dining room and took some breathtaking pictures of Mount “Jumolhar”.
Our tour guide Mr. Nado Chogyal and driver Mr. Pucdorgi were ready to take us to Haa Valley. Haa town, 13 kilometers from Paro, is known for its ancient traditions and rituals and with its thinly populated valley region, this place gives you the tranquilizing feel. Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) from the y’h Century lie nestled in the foothills of Meri Puensum Mountains. This valley is located in close proximity to Doklam. This place is of strategic importance to India and China and the armies of both nations were in news because of the 73day long military standoff. This valley is nestled connecting Paro, Chhukha and Samtse districts of Bhutan. To reach the valley by road one has to traverse Chelela Pass 3988 meters.
It is from the valley you get to feast on the magnificent views of Mount Chomolhari and Jichu Darkey. The Indian Military IMTRAT has its base in Haa town.

We reached Haa town, 2670 meters elevation and as we were hungry and asked Nado to take us to a good restaurant. He again took us to a shady first floor restaurant which was closed. We went to another restaurant which was a small family run unit and the lady owner said that after we place the order she will start cooking and make us a meal. It was very frustrating for all of us as we were very tired and hungry. The Menu was hand written on a white board and Jayendra showed us the same and Anju and he ordered the food. While the same was being prepared, Anju and the rest took rest in the sofa nearby. Lunch was severed in a very unorthodox manner but was very good and at least whetted our appetite. We thanked the lady and her children who had helped her prepare the lunch for us. Nado and the Driver had gone to some other place for their lunch.

After lunch, we visited the famous temple and monastery of Haa valley which was so magnificent and the entry was grand. After visiting the temple and paying our tributes to the artistic masterpiece in this part of the serene Haa valley, we departed back for Paro after about an hour. On our way back to Chelela Pass, we saw some Yaks grazing. The winding mountain roads were amazing and so were the small pyramid like mud icons, placed by the local people who could not afford to build large pyramids for their deceased dear ones. These were placed in the crevasse of some cliffs. Our guide, Mr. Nado, informed me about this belief. I found this very interesting.

We reached Paro and out hotel in the evening. Jayendra and I had a small session of our evening drink and then we went to the restaurant for dinner. Next morning was our departure for the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. After breakfast, Anju and I strolled in the Hotel premises awaiting our departure. I completed the checkout formalities and we proceeded on our way to Timphu with our guide Mr. Nado and driver Mr. Pucdorgi, in our SUV.

The winding road to Thimphu, some 55 odd kilometers away, was a one hour drive through the mountains along the Paro Chu River, a tributary of the Wong Chu, which is known as Raidak in its lower reaches, to the River confluence at Chuzom. We reached Thimphu with a population of about two hundred fifty thousand people and proceeded towards our Hotel “The Taj Tashi”, Samten Lam, Chubachu, Thimphu 11001, +975 2 336 699, situated in the heart to Thimphu. This city was surrounded by mountains and was a very quaint city, the capital of Bhutan. Elevation is 2334 meters. We arrived at the Taj reception and as soon as we checked in, a hall porter took us to a temple on the lower level at the rear side of the Hotel premises. Here a Monk performed some Buddhist ceremony, we were not aware of, and blessed us for a pleasant stay in Bhutan. We were then escorted to our rooms, which were as usual Taj luxury rooms. We checked into our rooms and decided to take some rest before venturing out to explore the Taj property.

After a quick brunch at the Taj restaurant, we decided to take the city tour and see the main museum and art gallery situated in the main Government complex. The massive Tashichho Dzong, a fortified monastery with Gold leaf roofs. The building was magnificent and so was the art gallery. We had to park our SUV in the parking and walk to the main building on a pathway laid out with flowers on both sides. From this place we could see the Kings Palace but Mr. Nado informed us that we could not point our finger at this Palace and the guards were present near the flag post.
The museum had fantastic art collection of Bhutanese paintings. The Architecture was excellent and the detailing was great for me to study. The total layout of this museum along with the Government offices and the entire campus of Tashichho Dzong is a revered Buddhist shrine dedicated to Bhutan’s third king, Jime Dori Wangchuk, The weather was also very good and this experience was exhilarating.

We then drove to the Great Buddha Dordenma. This is a huge Gautam Buddha bronze statue know as Shakyamuni Buddha. This is situated in the high mountains of Bhutan celebrating the 60′” anniversary of the Fourth king Jogme Singye Wangchuk. This statue is perched above a Temple filled with art and exhibits. It is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, opened in 2011 and overlooks the Southern entrance of Thimphu Valley.

We parked our SUV and walked up to the Buddha Statue and spent some time at the base and went around this huge bronze statue and also visited the temple. As it was late evening, we decided to return back to the Hotel. We had our evening meal and retired to our rooms. The next day was planned for a visit to Punakha. Early next morning after breakfast, our SUV along with our guide and driver, we started our drive to Punakha. Punakha is a town known for the Punakha Dzong, a 17′ century fortress at the juncture of the Pho and Mo Chhu rivers. The fortress hosts the Punakha Tshechu, a religious festival featuring masked dances and music. Its population is about 6500 and is in a valley at an elevation of 1242 meters. The drive from Thimphu to Punakha along the National Highway and over the Dochu La pass, leads to the balmy, lush landscapes of Punakha Valley. Dochu La has 108 memorial chortens or Stupas known as “Durk Wangyal Chortens” and were built by Ashi Dori Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest queen mother. Just before reaching this Pass, I had to use the bathroom and Mr. Pucdorgi dropped me about 30 meters from this pass. I used the public bathroom but to reach to the car park of this pass, I had to climb theses 30 meters and was so tiered when I reached the Van, that I did not visit the Stupas. Anju, Asha and Jayendra visited these 108 Stupas. This pass is 3100 meters and is in the country’s first Royal Botanical Park.

Downhill to the Punakha Valley, we went straight to the Punakha Dzong. We parked our car after crossing the river Pho in the car park and then walked to this great Dzong. We had to cross a beautiful wooden bridge from where all of us took pictures of this beautiful monastery. The entry was majestic and enthralling. The climb to enter the Dong was step and a bit difficult for senior citizens, like us.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple but the great pious feeling and the entire atmosphere was of peach and atfinity to the lord. The entire campus was huge and we decide to return atter an exhilarating experience of peace and tranquility. We then returned to our van and went to a restaurant. This was closed so we went to a Hotel in town, Punakha residency, Where on the ground floor they had a restaurant and served a good meal. Landline +975-2-584777 Mobile: +975-17117733 As this was a small hotel, they had a small shop selling Bhutanese artifacts. Asha and Anju bought some and then we proceeded back to Thimphu,

We reached Thimphu almost late evening and went to our Hotel. After dinner there was a small dance show which Anju and I attended and then went for a stroll of the Hotel. Asha and Jayendra retired early as they were tiered. Early next mornings we had our usual breakfast. We waited in the lobby for Asha and Jayendra to join as we had to take a city tour to see the Textile museum and a treditional handicraft school National Institute of Zorig Chusum. Opposite this traditional handicraft school was a “Bhutan Handicraft Shopping Center”. We entered the shopping center and the ladies did their shopping. The mall was also traditional and few shops were open. We just went to the ground floor and as we were all a bit hungry, we decided to go to a good restaurant.
We asked Mr. Nado about a good eating place and again he took us to a first floor restaurant. This seemed to be a decent place and served Pizzas and we ordered the food. There was a board on which, customers would write their wish about the things they want to do before they die and pin them on this board. The waitresses were very cooperative and Asha and Anju asked me to take a picture with them. Mr. Nado was also pleased that we like the place and the Owner, a lady, also was very cooperative. We enjoyed this meal.

We then were to go and see another Monastery “Thubten Droduelling Lhakhang”, which is open 24 hours and is a very scared place for the Buddhist. Asha and Jayendra were tiered and did not come inside. Anju, Mr. Nado and I went and saw this beautiful temple. We asked our driver to take us back to our hotel at 1600. I was expecting Mr. Navin Pradhan, Architect, to come and meet me at the Hotel lobby at 1700. He was going to take me to show the places designed by Chris, some ten years ago. Mr. Pradhan came at 1800 and the two of us went to his place first, where he offered me beer, but as this was our last day in Bhutan, I asked him to take me to the sites which Chris had designed. We went in his car to the Supreme Court and a few other buildings. He then took me to a restaurant at a height, which Chris used to visit often. The view from this place was fantastic, thought the restaurant was at a height and we had to walk a lot and as I was tiered,
I asked Mr. Pradhan to drop me back at the Hotel.

He dropped me back to the Hotel and we bid goodbye. I went up to my room and retired for the night as we had an early flight back to Mumbai from Paro. We left Taj Tashi, Timphu, after completing checkout formalities, at 0430 as we had to reach the Paro International airport at 0530 to take our Bhutan Airway flight to Mumbai. The flight was on time and was to reach Mumbai directly, but mid air, the Pilot announced that he had to land in Kolkata to take fuel. We landed in Kolkata and had to wait in the aircraft till the plane was refueled. We reached Mumbai and had to take the Jet Airways flight to Ahmedabad. As we were international passengers, we had extra luggage but the Jet airways flight was domestic and allowed only 15 Kg per passenger. We had to pay excess baggage amount, which I paid by Credit card. We took our boarding passes and waited in the lounge for our flight back home. Fortunately, the flight was on time and we landed in Ahmedabad on time.

Thus ended our hectic but tranquil tour of a great country