Bhutan and Sikkim

Led by Don Walter
Tour dates: 03 to 21 October 2007.
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The visit to Bhutan was excellent and the mountainous scenery in Sikkim is as spectacular as that in Bhutan. Our trip involved many transfers between hotels and most of these transfers took all day because of the difficult roads.

Amongst my memories of this trip will be the huge efforts of locals on building and maintaining the roads. This is just as well, since the tour is light on walks. Definitely "mountaineering while seated".

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04 Oct

After a long journey and a long overnight wait, we were driven around Delhi airport to arrive at a cargo area where the Druk Air Airbus was parked. This very new-looking plane set off for Paro and flew us past a fine selection of Himalayan peaks, which was nice for those seated on the left of the aircraft. As we arrived in Bhutan there was the a spectacular curving descent of a valley leading to Paro Airport with houses and rocks flashing past the wing tips of the plane as it banked to follow the valley.

We arrived at the Olathang Hotel around mid-day by local time. This graceful building had all the features of the Bhutanese architecture that we had been noticing on our way in from the airport. The exteriors of the buildings are richly decorated around the windows and the eaves, while indoors brown woodwork is plentiful and teamed up with white and maroon as the dominant colours.

At the same time we were able to see all the people in national costume. The king has decreed that national dress must be worn during working hours. In their spare time people can dress as they please and European clothing is popular because "it is comfortable".

We managed to get 60 min sleep, timed by our alarm clock, before we were off out on our way to visit the museum on the hillside above Paro. On the way there we first stopped-off to look at an archery competition (the national sport) and then we watched some hand-weaving before having our lunch.

As we left our lunch spot within the town we were interested by some plants growing nearby. Opinion was that these were low-grade Cannabis.

Then on to the museum at Ta Dzong. Once into the grounds the exhibits were on three floors, or thereabouts, in a building that seemed to be circular but was actually a very complicated shape inside. Some galleries were narrow and winding with changes of height as you worked your way round. More interesting to visit than most museums!

After our visit we spent a little while looking down on the tiny town of Paro below us. A few houses were dotted around the hillside and one of them had a roof covered with chillies set out to dry - a sight which we were to see again everywhere.

There was to be one more visit. A nearby temple: the Kyichu Lhakhang. However, when we got there we saw several vehicles outside including one which Tashi, our local guide, recognised as the one belonging to the Queen Mother. That meant that we could not go into the temple, but the outside of it was very attractive.

While there I took one photo of Tashi enquiring whether we would be able to visit and a second of a subsidiary building full of lit butter lamps - which smelt truly awful!.

High above us on the hillside other temples could be seen and nearer to us were two ladies working in a field of crops.

After a good day, but definitely feeling the effects of lost sleep during our journey, we made our way back to the hotel. There we managed to get another 60 min of sleep before dinner. And you will not be surprised to hear that we went to bed again as soon as dinner was finished

05 Oct

Today was about to be our best walking day. The destination was the Taktsang Goemba aka "Tiger's Nest".
The walk up to it was mostly through woodlands and on the way we passed a small building through which water flowed to turn a large prayer wheel. This Buddhist idea is one of many to use wind or water to turn prayer wheels or flap prayer flags.

Looking from the path up, there were several good views of the Goemba. I have never seen a tiger's nest but this place looked like a swallow's or house marten's nest in the way it was stuck to a vertical wall. The main difference is that this nest is the size of a ship!

When you get to the level of the Goemba there is a viewpoint. You are looking across a chasm in the rock to see the Goemba opposite. To reach it one must do a traversing descent into the chasm and cross to a path which does a rising traverse on the opposite wall.

On the way, you pass a flight of steps up to a smaller building which is close to the waterfall that runs down the chasm.

Looking back from the Taktsang Goemba you have a good view of the steps you had used while descending from the lookout point. They are well made and well maintained steps.

The route up to Taktsang Goemba has a steady flow of tourists on it. Not surprising for an internationally-known landmark. On the other side of the chasm there are several smaller buildings, one of which I visited.
The contrast was marked! The path up was tiny: often less than half a metre wide. I saw nobody at all on the path.

On arrival I went through a small door into a courtyard. It was almost deserted. The older monks were at prayer and I did not interrupt. Two tiny novice monks, who spoke a few words of English, took me past the front of the building and out through another door to a ledge from which the Taktsang Goemba could be seen below us.

On our return to valley level it was time to move on. Our destination was the Hotel Druk in the capital Thimpu. But first a last look at Paro landmark.
That was the Rinpung Dzong, now usually known as the Paro Dzong. We did not have time for more than a quick glance. but it dominates the valley and has an impressive covered bridge leading to it across the river.

We had a long bumpy drive to get to Thimpu. They are upgrading an enormous amount of road in this area. We arrived at Hotel Druk in the centre of Thimpu late in the day. A comfortable hotel in which we had the biggest room we have ever had, with a table and sofa in the middle of the room!

06 Oct

We were out by 08:30 this morning. No means feat! Buddhists are kind to dogs and Thimpu is full of dogs who bark all night.

Here we are looking down on the huge Tashi Choe Dzong, but we are busy questioning our guide about funerals and disposal of bodies. This caused me to reflect that Ramblers Holidays clients are interested in a totally different class of local customs to your average 20/30 club client!

Our destination, once the interrogation was over, was the Drubthob Nunnery over the road. I have not shown the buildings and art, but here is a photo of a side-building full of butter-lamps and another of a few of the dogs that laze around the courtyard in the sunshine.

After the nunnery we had a visit to a craft school. This was quite an extensive visit, with all sorts of crafts being taught. It appears that it is quite normal for tourists to wander around in the craft school rooms and the students seemed to take it in their stride.

After the needlework and dressmaking there was painting and religious murals.

Then sculpture and shoemaking. Bhutanese shoes are rather more colourful than European ones.

Lots of wood carving.

Fascinating wood carving.

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