Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.






Bhutan: Day 10

by Kathy 30. May 2009 18:44
<< Day 9: Punakha Dzong and the Capital, Thimphu | Day 11: Crossing the Border into Jaigaon, India >>

 

Living Like Royalty in Paro Valley

 

We had a comfortable night’s sleep in our Thimphu hotel:


Ann relayed to us that she and Dave had shared a drink in the hotel bar last night. The bartender was a Bhutanese man whose family was originally from Nepal. Ann and Dave had asked the bartender many questions and had discovered that he had a university degree and had been hoping to find a job with the Bhutanese government, which provides the “best” jobs in the country. However, those jobs are impossible to get if you are not of “pure” Bhutanese descent. The highest level job available for him was a service job in the tourism industry, so he was working as a bartender.

Bhutan is often portrayed as a form of “Shangri La”--sheltered from the outside world, promoting peace and harmony through Buddhist practice, and devoted to protecting the environment. This perception has validity on many levels. It is indeed a beautiful country, and the people (of all ethnicities) seem to be very warm and welcoming to outside visitors or “tourists”. However, things are not always as they appear, and we were seeing some cracks in this façade of tranquility and tolerance. Like other places around the world, racial discrimination is present in Bhutan and affects all aspects of life—social, religious, and economic. The reality is that equal human rights are often denied to people who are not considered “pure” Bhutanese, especially for the people who come from neighboring India and Nepal. The severe extent of the deep ethnic divide in Bhutan was revealed to the world in 1991, when Bhutan began expelling ethnic Nepalis, many of whose families had lived in Bhutan for generations. This ethnic cleansing resulted in the loss of one-sixth of the country’s population and created over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees, who are still living in a tragic state of limbo in various refugee camps in Nepal.

The leaders and crew for our motorcycle group were men of four different ethnicities: Rob was from the United States (he also lived for many years in Nepal), Dorji was Bhutanese, Gyan was Bhutanese of Nepali ethnic origin, Sono was Indian, and Tsring was Bhutanese. All worked together as a cohesive team, with genuine camaraderie.

Each morning, Sono and Gyan were up early to prepare our bikes. Today, I came out of the hotel to find our bikes lined up and ready to go:

Here I am with Sono and Gyan—two people who I will always remember for their helpfulness, tremendous patience, compassion, and infinite knowledge about the art of motorcycle maintenance:

We left Thimphu behind.

Today we were riding to the beautiful Paro Valley. We crossed the Paro River (Pa Chhu) and stopped for a short break.

The river:

As usual, there was the informative AIDS sign:

Ben and I watched in amazement as this woman trekked down an extremely steep hillside with a heavy load on her back. We grabbed our camera in time to catch her sitting down to untie her packs:


Our road then wound along beside the Paro river, which was still immersed in the shade from the surrounding hills. The cold air cut through my layers of clothing.  As we neared the town of Paro, we took a side road up into the hills. I think that my teeth had stopped chattering by the time we arrived at this view point above the Paro airport (the only airport in Bhutan).

Our accommodations today were in the fabulous Gangtey Palace, located on a hill overlooking the town of Paro.

Gangtey Palace was constructed over 100 years ago by the Governor of Paro Valley, who was also an uncle of the first king of Bhutan. For a short time, it served as the king’s residence while he was visiting Paro. In 1930, the Royal Family gave the Palace to the grandfather of the current owner, who converted the buildings into a hotel in 1995.

The architectural details were stunning:






Ben and I stayed in a luxurious room on the ground floor. It was so beautiful (and big), and I couldn’t help but wonder who else may have slept in this very room throughout the history of the Palace.


The hotel had a huge surrounding area with many benches where we could sit and admire the incredible view of the valley.

Fred and Paul relaxed in the sunshine:

The town of Paro:

The road to Paro was shared by pedestrians and vehicles:

We watched the people working in the fields:

Ben, with the Paro dzong in the background:

A closer look at the dzong:

Further down the valley, we could see the snow-dusted mountains:

We speculated about who lived in this large house (and the labor and cost of cutting the switchback road up the mountain):

This chorten in the hotel courtyard made a comfortable bird rest:

The Paro airport has one to two incoming flights each day. The landing pattern requires the planes to made a tricky turn and navigate above the Paro Valley, descending between the mountains on either side. We all were captivated by the sight of this airplane passing close by:


We had lunch at the hotel restaurant, with the usual buffet, deliciously prepared:

This afternoon, we mounted our bikes and rode the twisty, narrow road that extended to the outer tip of the valley. We stopped to crane our necks at the Tiger’s Nest monastery, high on the rock face in front of us. This monastery is considered one of the holiest places in Bhutan. In the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche allegedly flew to a small cave there on the back of a female tiger and meditated for several months.

A close-up view:

As we continued onward, we passed this sculptural homage to the penis (with its symbolism in promoting fertility and warding off evil spirits):

The mountains were getting steeper as we approached the end of the valley:

The paved road ended, and we reached the Drugyel dzong, now in ruins from a 1951 fire.  (In the above photo, a portion of the dzong is shown in the lower right corner.) The dzong was built in 1646 to celebrate victory over invading Tibetan forces and to protect against future invasions. Historical records indicate that several battles were fought against the Tibetans in Paro.  One of those battles occurred inside the dzong, which was designed with a false entrance to lure enemies into a closed courtyard where they could easily be defeated.

We could see the dzong walls, partially hidden by the trees on top of this hill:

There was a small community at the base of the dzong.  The residents were busy with their daily activities.



Laundry was ahanging from the beams inside a home:

A dirt road continued up into the surrounding mountains, and into Tibet. This place was the launching point for treks to the nearby Mount Chomolhari (24,000 feet), as well as trading expeditions into Tibet.  We could see a pack of mules being prepared for what appeared to be a trading mission.



The building facades were decorated with the usual protective symbols to ward off evil and promote fertility and harmony:



There were a few boys who ran up to us, laughing and asking us questions:


We decided to hike up to the dzong:

Here I am climbing the steps to the entrance:

We stepped into a large courtyard that had a group of teenagers relaxing with a boom box playing ‘80s rock music from the United States.


The old walls still were quite regal, with their crowns of vines and tall grass:


We made our way carefully through the open doorways:

The setting was very serene, with the commanding mountain peaks around us:

Although the monastery was no longer occupied, someone had hung prayer flags in various places.

At the back of the dzong, we climbed a short but steep hill to reach another viewpoint:


This peaceful valley contained agricultural fields that were divided into artistic patterns:



The distant peak of Mount Chomolhari was impressive:

We gazed for a long time at the beauty of the natural landscape, and then turned around to find this monk and an older woman (his mother?) chatting on a cell phone:

We followed the monk and his companions out of the dzong. The ground was very uneven, and we marveled at the ability of the young woman (on the left) to walk in her high-heeled shoes (Dorji called them “pin shoes”):

On the way back to our bikes, three small children ran past us happily playing with their “toys” of wooden planks:


We stopped by downtown Paro and walked up and down the main street of shops and businesses:


We rode up the hill to visit the Paro Dzong, but the gates were locked.

My boots had developed a loud “squeak, squeak”, drawing some laughter and pointing from the locals.  (One more thing added to my "to do" list!)

After dinner tonight, we were treated to a beautiful view of Paro Dzong all lit up across the valley:

 

<< Day 9: Punakha Dzong and the Capital, Thimphu | Day 11: Crossing the Border into Jaigaon, India >>

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Comments (2) -

2/10/2012 9:40:44 AM #

Vicky

I came across your site from a reply you posted in the Lonely Planet forum. It has been very interesting to read about your trips. My boyfriend and I are planning a 2 year Asia Europe trip and have been contemplating going to Bhutan. The only thing stopping us is the incredibly high daily price (over $200USD now) to be able to visit the country.

Vicky United States | Reply

2/11/2012 10:59:53 AM #

Kathy

Vicky, thanks for your comment.  The price of $200 per day is a bit steep for budget traveling, but it is actually not too unreasonable when you think that it covers all accommodations, food, land transportation within Bhutan, the services of an English Speaking guide, all entrance fees, and all equipment if you are trekking (including camping supplies, sleeping bags, pack ponies, porters and trekking assistants).  So when you step back and look at the price, especially when compared to the cost of traveling within Europe, it isn't so bad.  Bhutan is really an amazing place, especially the eastern half of the country where the development has not been as rapid.  I highly recommend going, if your budget allows.  Your 2-year trip sounds so wonderful.  Have fun!  Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

Bhutan
   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Kanglung
   Mongar
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Thimphu
   Tongsa
   Wangdi Phrodrang

Bolivia
   Caranavi
   Guanay
   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Llica
   Potosí
   Queteña
   Rurrenabaque
   Sajama
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sorata
   Sud Lipez
   Tupiza
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

Canada
   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Chetwynd
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Isle-aux-Coudres
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Montreal
   Niagara Falls
   Ottawa
   Quebec City
   Quesnel
   Thousand Islands
   Toronto
   Vancouver
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   Victoria
   Watson Lake
   Whistler
   Whitehorse

China
   Beijing
   Datong
   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   HuaShan
   Lijiang
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Xi’an
   Yangshuo
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Quepos
   Sarchi
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves
   Zarcero

France
   Paris

Ecuador
   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Quito
   Yasuní National Park

India
   Bagdogra
   Darjeeling
   Delhi
   Gawahati
   Jaigaon
   Kalimpong

Mexico
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   Patzcuaro
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   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Sayulita
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotihuacán
   Teotitlán del Valle
   TzinTzunTzan
   Yagul
   Yelapa

Namibia
   Caprivi
   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Katutura
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisfontein
   Seisriem Camp
   Sossusvlie
   Swakopmund
   Treesleeper Camp
   Twyfeltein
   Windhoek

Peru
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   Caraz
   Cañón del Pato
   Celendín
   Cerro de Pasco
   Chachapoyas
   Cusco
   Huamachuco
   Huánico
   Huaraz
   La Oroya
   Leymebamba
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   Lima
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   Moyobamba
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   Tingo Maria
   Tocache
   Yungay Memorial

Portugal
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   Evora
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   Sitio

South Africa
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Spain
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   Montserrat
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United States National Parks
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   Bandelier National Monument, NM
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   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

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   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

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For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

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Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin