The Land of the Thunder Dragon

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emydura

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Last October I got to fulfil one of my dreams when my family and I were able to visit the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. I’ve wanted to go there for years but the complexity and expense of getting there never enabled us to. Well the planets aligned last October and we go to spend a whole month in Bhutan. For those of you who know anything about Bhutan, it is like going back in time to another era. They have retained much of their culture but at the same time have not shut themselves entirely from the western world. In fact they were more advanced than I expected. Most people (especially the young) can speak English as this is the language that their schooling is taught in. The people looked healthy. I never saw the poverty I see in other Himalayan regions. Even the stray dogs looked healthy.

The thing that strikes you most about Bhutan is the stunning landscapes – snow peaked mountains, crystal clear rivers, heavily forested hillsides and lush valleys. The Bhutanese have a very enlightened view of the environment. Development is minimal and the plan is to retain at least 70% of the forests. I think it currently stands at 75%.

I haven’t been to many countries but of those I have Bhutan is my favourite. I did speak to an English girl who had been to 80 countries and she ranked Bhutan as number one. I can’t wait till I return.


I have created two posts. One for the general holiday around Bhutan and one for the two treks I went on. Not a lot of people get to see this amazing country, so I hope you enjoy the photos.


From the moment you get off the plane at Paro Airport you are surrounded by stunning scenery. Here you can see the beautiful Paro Dzong (just above the plane) and the mountains on the background.



Paro is where most westerners base themselves. A beautiful wide fertile valley that is close to many of the tourist destinations.




From Paro it is not too far to get to the most famous landmark in Bhutan – Paro Taktsang or Tigers Nest. An amazing monastery built into the cliff. It is a steep 3-4 walk to get to the top but worth every effort.






For the first two weeks in particular, we got a lot of afternoon showers which resulted in some amazing light shows.




The capital city is Thimpu which is about a 90 minute drive from Paro. Thimpu is a much narrower valley hence the airport being in Paro. The population of Thimpu is around 100,000; Bhutan 800,000. We were based in Thimpu staying with our friends. It is a lovely city flanked by high mountains. The Thimpu river that flows through the valley is crystal clear. The altitude is similar to Paro, about 2300 meters.


Thimpu%205.jpg




The national sport of Bhutan is archery. Everywhere you go there are people out on archery fields firing arrows. Some of these are just friendly practice matches others are serious competitions with big prizes (like the photo below). The amazing thing about the archery is the target distance 145 metres. I could barely see the target they were firing at (you can see the target behind the archer in the photo below). Our friend was a very good archer. He stepped up and hit the target three times out of four shots. I was just dumbfounded.




Here is a Bhutanese couple wearing the traditional Bhutanese outfit (kira for female and gho for males). When you walk around Bhutan a very high proportion of the people are wearing these outfits. It is actually compulsory for the Bhutanese to wear the kira and gho for cultural performances, for public servants, school children, entering public service offices, entering temples etc. My family wore the outfits when we went to the cultural festival above. The outfits can be amazing with many hand sewn from pure silk. They can weigh a tonne and cost a fortune. We all brought one back to Australia with us.




We got to see some of the Thimphu tshechu festival while we were there. Lots of dancing, music and costumes/masks. This is Thimpu Dzong.









Thimpu Dzong during the day and the night








We had a day trip to the beautiful Haa Valley which is in western Bhutan. Here you can see the traditional Bhutanese houses. In some parts of Bhutan it is compulsory to build houses in the traditional design. Bhutan often gets compared with Switzerland and you can see why.




Some monks praying in the early morning at a monastery above Thimpu.

 

emydura

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We spent five days visiting the centre of Bhutan – the Bhumtang region. Bhumtang is the cultural heartland of Bhutan where the landscape is dotted with palaces, ancient temples and monasteries.


Lots of Dzongs in this region. Dzongs were mostly built in the 1600’s where their main function was as a defensive fortress. Most of the dzongs are divided into two wings - one containing temples and monks quarters and one for administrative headquarters. The monastery’s inside these dzongs are amazing places with huge statues of Budha (and other gods) and incredible art work. You cannot photograph these places so I can’t show you. Dzongs are one of the iconic architectural features of Bhutan and they tend to be located on the top of mountains or other strategic positions where invading armies could be easily seen.

Trongsa Dzong is the biggest dzong in Bhutan.



Gangtey Dzong



Punaka Dzong




Here are two species of monkeys we saw on the drive. About 20 kms back from the Trongsa Dzong I saw one of the highlights of the trip for me – a red panda in the wild. I only saw it for a few seconds but it was stunningly beautiful. Few people get to see this elusive species in the wild.


Langur Monkey



Reus Monkey




Some beautiful farming areas in this region.




The mountains of Bhutan seem to be always heavily forested with sparse settlements in the fertile valleys. About 75% of the country is covered in forest with more than a third protected in reserves. Bhutan has even created a national park to preserve the habitat of the migoi (yeti) – Migoi National park.




When you walk around Bhutan it is hard not to think that the Bhutanese are obsessed with the male appendage. To the Bhutanese the phallus wards off evils spirits so they paint it on their houses and hang carvings.




Tsa Tsa’s are miniature chortens that are often made from cremated ashes. They are placed in temples, caves, or locations that may have been important to the deceased. You see these everywhere.




Sadly we had to eventually leave. We were going to Nepal by car so we drove down to the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing for a few days before crossing over to India. The trip down is heavily forested and the trees are full of orchids. Phuensholing is right at the base of the Himalayas and the climate is very tropical.





Good bye

 
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emydura

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What a wonderful journey you had. In many ways the scenery and culture remind me of what I saw in Sichuan. Fantastic shots as always. Do you have a blog you can put this on?

I don’t have a blog Tom. It is a good idea though. I could add a lot more text. I have a million stories and experiences which weren’t suitable for this sort of post.

Are you sure you weren't in Fire Island!? :p
Thanks for sharing your incredible journey.

I included that photo just for you Eric. :poke:

My young daughter picked up a wood carving, looked at it inquisitively and asked “what is it?”. I gave the standard father response, “ask your mother”. :)
 

JeanLux

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Was +/- offline for about 4 weeks, while in Yunnan/Sichuan. But before posting any pic here, I want to point out that this one, as well as your treck-post are, again, an extreem demonstration of your exeptional talent in looking at the world, and of your camera handling.

Bravo David !!!!!

Jean
 

KyushuCalanthe

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Was +/- offline for about 4 weeks, while in Yunnan/Sichuan. But before posting any pic here, I want to point out that this one, as well as your treck-post are, again, an extreem demonstration of your exeptional talent in looking at the world, and of your camera handling.

Bravo David !!!!!

Jean

Back out on the trail Jean? OK, let's see the pics please!
 

emydura

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Was +/- offline for about 4 weeks, while in Yunnan/Sichuan. But before posting any pic here, I want to point out that this one, as well as your treck-post are, again, an extreem demonstration of your exeptional talent in looking at the world, and of your camera handling.

Bravo David !!!!!

Jean

Thanks for the kind words Jean. I look forward to seeing your photos of Yunnan/Sichuan. That is another beautiful place I would love to get to one day.
 
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