(If you haven’t read the Part 1 of this story, you can find it here- Bhutan- The Land of Beyond(Part 1))
Serendipity was the theme of the next morning. The National Museum which sat on a hilltop was our next destination. We had a good time peeping into the lives of Bhutanese people, while trying our best to avoid the annoyingly noisy group of Indian tourists. The backside of the museum offered a panoramic view of Paro. The Rinpung Dzong stood below us. We noticed a group of people dancing in an open area behind the dzong and couldn’t believe our luck, once we realized what was happening. Following a trail downhill, we made our way to the open space behind the dzong; completely ignoring the crowd in the front. Yes we were right. It was a group of local men practicing for the upcoming Paro Tshechu. We sat there, watching their deceptively difficult dance moves and talking to them. With the formidable dzong in the background, it was magical.
We(except Vedant, who was wearing shorts and wasn’t allowed inside ) then spent some time inside the dzong and decided to walk back to the hotel. This turned out to be a very good decision. On our way back we discovered an open archery arena. Luck was on our side, as we were able to catch an archery match in progress. After some time we went back to check out from our hotel. We then hired a taxi, and reached Thimpu via a small stop at the Iron-Chain bridge. After searching for a while, we finally found a place to stay right in front of the scenic Clock-Tower Square. We then visited a very old temple, which offered a beautiful bird’s eye view of the capital; and the National Memorial Chorten, where we found lots of locals circling the chorten as they chanted prayers. It was quite a sight! We found a good place to eat and went to sleep with satisfied stomachs.
Next morning we visited the Buddha point which the authorities pitch as the 8th wonder of the world. Yes, it was beautiful; but somehow the extravagant and grandiose nature of this place, seemed out of sync with the Bhutanese philosophy. The immigration office in Thimpu was our next stop. We extended our travel permits and obtained permits to travel to Punakha. Then we went to the Thimpu Dzong, unable to understand our taxi driver’s reluctance. Soon we realized why, as we were kicked out of the dzong. Turns out that it was not open for public during work hours. We spent the evening just chilling around in the city.
Next morning, we left early for Punakha. Yet again, it was a tortuous ride through lush green forests. After about 40 kilometers, we reached the Dochu la(A mountain pass). Much to our frustration, the pass was completely covered in fog. The panoramic views of the Himalayas were hidden behind a blanket to fog, which just refused to budge. For a while the visibility was so low that we couldn’t see 5 feet in front of us. We spent some time observing the 101 stupas built at the pass. Hoping that the fog would clear up during our return journey, we went on towards Punakha.
First stop in Punakha was the Punakha Dzong. My word! this was the most beautiful of all the dzongs. Built on the confluence of 2 rivers, this magnificent structure took our breath away. A wooden bridge connects the dzong to the road. As we were walking on the bridge, we spotted a huge school of fishes in the river. We were thrilled as we looked on at them fighting each other to eat the biscuits thrown by some tourists. We then spent a long time exploring the huge dzong. After that we left for Chimi Lhakhang, the temple dedicated to a saint called the ‘Holy Madman.’ We were surprised to see lots of Phallic paintings on the walls of all the houses near the Monastery. The monastery in itself wasn’t extra-ordinary but the stories of the ‘Holy Madman’ and the fact that it was so highly revered by the locals gave this place an eerily serene feel. We spotted some monks playing football and looked on for a while as they fought for bragging rights. On our way back, Dochu la was still covered in fog. So we went back to Thimpu a bit disappointed. We had a late lunch in Thimpu and left for Paro.
The reason for going back to Paro was that the Chele la(a mountain pass), which was earlier closed down due to heavy snow, had now opened up. We left our hotel early in the morning . The ride was breathtaking as usual. We were especially happy as we could see patches of snow on our way up. We reached the pass, which is he highest motor-able point in Bhutan(3988m). The view was beautiful. Without wasting any time, we hiked up a ridge so that we could get an unobstructed 360 degrees view. It took us an hour to reach the top (after a round of snow-fight of-course). Our lack of acclimatization was telling, as we were panting like dogs after every 20-30 steps. But all the fatigue was just wiped off as we reached the top.
It was mesmerizing! Snow-clad mountain peaks surrounded us. The mighty Jomalhari stood right in front of us, playing hide and seek behind the clouds. We were spellbound! For a long time we just sat there staring away in the distance. No one spoke. Just the 4 of us. Enchanted! This is exactly why we travel.
We were then joined by a group from California, in their 60s. We sat there, exchanging trekking stories for a while. One of the ladies was kind enough to point it out to me that Panvel isn’t really a part of Mumbai (Navi Mumbaikars can’t catch a break!) We then started getting calls from our Taxi driver who was worried for our safety. We clicked a lot of pictures and made our way back in the taxi. This was our last evening in Paro. We spent it at the riverbank, drinking in the view one last time.
Next day we caught a bus to go back to Phuentsholing. The stupidly rash driver made it into one bumpy ride. This was especially painful for my knee and I couldn’t wait for the horror to end. This ride also involved me forgetting my bag at a restaurant , asking to stop the bus and running like crazy to get my bag; much to the frustration of the irritable bus conductor.
As we reached Phuentsholing, the difference in the quality of air was palpable. We could now understand the face-masks. We went to the Indian side of the border for some work and were horrified by what we saw. People! Everywhere you saw there was someone rushing along the road, there was litter everywhere and vendors were occupying every inch of space. After a week of completely empty and clean streets, we were instantly repulsed. We went back as soon as we could and savoured our last night in Bhutan.Next morning we made our way to Bagdogra airport and flew back to Mumbai.
As I sat in the insanely crowded Mumbai local, I found myself longing for the peaceful streets of Bhutan. I was looking back at the last 10 days and realized that Bhutan had left a strange kind of feeling inside me. The scenic, unpolluted and empty streets of Bhutan; and the kind gentle people, in their unhurried way of life had induced a feeling of calm and peace in our minds. We did not come back with stories of crazy incidents or thrilling adventures, but a sense of serenity. As I was swallowed in by this crowd of people in Mumbai, I knew this isn’t the only way of life. Out there in the Himalayas, is a world away from this insanity. Out there in our land of beyond.