Switchbacks Galore to Mongar
Bhutan only has one road that runs across the country east to west, beginning in the southeast corner and snaking north to Tashigang before veering westward; after zig-zagging over a succession of steep-sided mountains, the road eventually reaches the capital of Thimphu and heads south again, toward the Indian border.
Before we began our westward journey today from Tashigang, we would continue riding north for approximately 16 miles to visit Gom Kora, the sacred meditation site of Guru Rimpoche (who allegedly introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century, and is viewed by many Bhutanese as the “second Buddha”).
I was eager to test out my new technique of starting the bike. I careful went through the proper procedures with the compression release switch and ended with a long, gentle kick that swept the kick-start lever all the way from the top position through to the bottom. The bike roared to a start! I was so elated! I was able to successfully start my bike on the first or second kick for most of the remaining journey. I felt so empowered and will always be grateful to Fred for his humorous insight last night.
Our first stop before leaving the hilly streets of Tashigang was the small circular downtown plaza, where we took some photos. Here is Ben with his video camera:
(Once again, the wonderful photos that Ben took today with his camera were all lost. However, now that my time was no longer consumed with trying to figure out how to start my bike, I actually whipped out my camera on occasion and snapped the photos that you see here.)
Our motorcycle gurus, Sono and Gyan:
The Bhutanese people had built a temple and monastery at the Gom Kora site, which was nestled in a narrow valley.
We could see some monks having an outdoor meal at the adjacent monastery buildings.
We walked down into the temple area to see Guru Rimpoche’s meditation spot. The detailed paintings on the temple building were beautiful:
We passed by the fertility chorten, which had a small black rock that had been rubbed smooth and shiny by the hands of many pilgrims who had visited with the hopes of having a child.
Behind the temple is a humongous rock that is the purported meditation site of Guru Rimpoche. Our guide Dorji explained the stories behind the various markings on the rock.
One part of the rock has a long white impression shaped like a spoon:
This impression is said to have been made by a large cobra snake that reared its head when it came out of a rock crevice near where Guru Rinpoche was meditating.
Dorji also showed us the sacred cave where Guru Rimpoche’s meditation occurred; inside you can see rock impressions that are purported to be of his thumb, his hat, and his body. We all got a chance to climb inside the cave and look at the impressions and the crevice from which the cobra emerged.
Ben took his turn:
We also viewed the inside of the temple. No photos were allowed, but here is Paul at the entrance:
After leaving Gom Kora, we rode south and then started westward, winding above this river:
We ascended the series of switchbacks nicknamed the Yadi Loops:
(I downloaded this last photo form the Internet. Click here for the photo credit.)
There was a pretty “rest house” near the top of one mountain; however, the interior was completely empty when we peered through the windows:
This woman and her three children were resting by the entrance sign:
Among the tall trees, we stopped to visit another beautiful temple and monastery.
Our bikes parked along the road:
Some young monks were on the porch of the monastery; we were surprised to hear the sounds of a video game blasting from one of the rooms (but the monks are kids, after all . . . ).
Across from the temple was a small building with a cow next to it:
I never stopped marveling over the houses located on their plots of land far up on the mountain sides:
After many curvy miles of giggles and “woo hoo’s”, we arrived in the town of Mongar. The tall apartment buildings were a bit of a shock after all of the tiny villages that we had seen so far in Bhutan.
Here is our hotel:
From our hotel window, we looked down upon a small local market, with fresh vegetables:
Archery competitions are a popular form of entertainment in Bhutan. We watched these men shoot their arrows . . .
. . . and then the men ran across this large field . . .
. . . and kept running across the field . . .
. . . until they reached the target to see how well they had done.
We had a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains, with some remote houses perched on the sides:
The buildings in Mongar were also visually intriguing:
Ben and I walked around and had some long conversations with a few of the locals. We found the people to be reserved and respectful, but very friendly when we approached them.
Before coming to Bhutan, I had read the book “ButterTea at Sunrise”, a memoir by a German woman named Britta Das who spent a year working as a physiotherapist in the Mongar hospital. I had really enjoyed reading about her experiences and descriptions of the rustic environment in Mongar. Across from our hotel was the entrance to the medical center (next to the white sign):
I walked down the path to the medical center, but I didn’t go far. Some of the medical buildings looked new, and Britta had written about the new road through Mongar and other construction projects that had been occurring at the time of her departure. I wondered whether one of these structures was the hospital where Britta had worked:
As evening approached, Ann and I met three children next to the archery field:
The boy was eight years old, and the two girls were seven and eight, respectively. I gave the children some pencils, paper and sharpeners, as well as postcards from my home town. In return, the children insisted that Ann and I each take one of the small oranges that we were carrying. (They said, “You have to take one, Miss!”) They were very sweet, extremely smart, and articulate. The girl in the red Mickey Mouse sweater said that she had learned about Mickey from television. She also said that her parents are “split”, and her father lives somewhere in the United States. The boy said that his mother was dead and that he had two televisions in his house, as well as horses in his village. They were very curious about us, and we talked for a long time.
As incredible as the views and the riding were today, with all of the switchbacks and rhythmic curves of the road, the highlight of the day was meeting these three vibrant children. I love—and need—to travel to different countries; however, it is the memories of people who I have encountered along the way that make my heart sigh when I think about a specific place.
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