Saturday, July 27, 2013

Homeward Bound

After driving to Thimphu in one eleven hour day we decided to break up the return trip by having a couple of nights stop along the way home.
A fellow BCF teacher, also called Andrea returned from Bangkok and met us for our final granola, yoghurt and banana breakfast at the Ambient Cafe in Thimphu. We arranged to drive with her that afternoon to her home in Tashidingkha, a twenty minute or so drive from Punakha high on the hill.
We arrived at her place in the late afternoon, the day before the big national election was to take place all over Bhutan. Most Bhutanese returned to their villages, and Andrea’s neighbours who live in Thimphu had returned to their family home and invited us all for tea. Their home was large and old with beautiful wooden shutters that slid open allowing an expansive, glass-free view down to Punakha as the sun set. The caretaker of their home who lives there permanently prepared dinner for us all and we took it back to eat at Andrea’s simple but comfortable traditional two storey home.
Waking up in the morning, we enjoyed breakfast and then Bob took the boys down to the nearby stream and as it was so hot they stripped off for a swim. The heat took me by surprise – I hadn’t felt so warm in Bhutan and as I only had jeans and long sleeve shirts to wear I felt very hot.

The morning view outside Andrea's window.

Andrea gave the boys a Canada frisbee to play with on the grass.

The view down to Punakha (and the Dzong in the distant background).

A bit hard to see, but Andrea's house is high above the rice paddies.

Andrea and I talked about how we’ve adapted to a simple life here with few possessions and thus little clutter in our homes and I do think it will be hard to go home and unpack all the stuff of life that we have stored away, and yet survived quite happily without all year.
Our mission for the day was to drive to Phobjika Valley, about a four hour drive away. We hoped to see our friend Senge there as he had been staying at Gangtey Monastery high above the valley.
Being election day, it was quiet on the roads and not a single shop was open along the way. It seemed like a day for socialising, with people sitting around in groups outside homes by the road, enjoying the national holiday and the chance to get together with family.
The drive into Phobjika was very special – as soon as you cross the Lowa-la pass the valley opens wide and green. Gangtey Village was not far away and as we drove down the narrow main street, who should we see sitting out the front of a shop chewing doma, surrounded by locals and throwing a baby in the air: Senge!

The view of Gangtey Village.

We crept up and surprised him – and he took us for a walk up to Gangtey Goempa – built in the 1600s. It seemed so old, but has been undergoing restoration so around the outside were beautifully ornate art works. If we had been there the previous day, we would have seen Senge in his element – inside the temple participating in a day-long puja. But it was lucky for us that he was free and pulled some strings to find the key for a temple up a high ladder above the main prayer-hall. On the altar is a funeral chorten for the original founder of the monastery – his body in sitting meditation posture is preserved inside the chorten. If we hadn’t had a guide we’d never have known.
We all headed back to the van and drove down the hill into the Phobjika valley. The wide valley is grassy and cows were grazing lazily in the afternoon sunshine. We located the guesthouse that we had been recommended – Yue-Lo-Ki and were not disappointed. As the only guests we were given the best corner room – with large windows facing out to the valley. The room was lined with polished pine and had an enormous bathroom.

We ordered tea and biscuits and sat on the grass in the garden as the afternoon sun cast a spectacular golden glow on our surroundings – a very special afternoon. We went for a short walk up the farm road and returned for dinner – our last carefree day of holidays.

Bob got a bit chilly on the walk so Senge lent him his outer robe. What do you think?

Senge planned to return to the monastery but after having hot chocolate and biscuits and the night getting pitch black dark outside, we couldn’t send him walking eight kms through the valley back to the monastery as he wanted – and so luckily we had a room large enough for everyone and he stayed to the boys’ delight (we didn’t want Senge to get in trouble again for solo walking adventures).
View from our room.

Breakfast with the boys.

Art work in the hotel dining room of the famous black-necked cranes.

A model black-necked crane at the information centre.

Driving out of Phobjika.

We were blessed with such beautiful weather for our holiday.

One last glance at the gorgeous Phobjika Valley.

Our wheels!

At the Lowa-La pass leaving Phobjika.

After breakfast we dropped Senge off at Gangtey and then it was onwards to Rukubji to catch up with BCF teacher Valerie. She spent her holidays travelling in eastern Bhutan and had just arrived home. Rukubji is a picturesque village that can be seen below the main highway when you pass, and having passed a few times now, we were happy to have the time to look around and catch up with Valerie.
We drove down the steep rocky road to the village and parked under a tree. The sun was so hot – and when Valerie met us she said it was the hottest day Rukubji had seen all year. She took us looking through the village of homes that are clustered together – a fairly unique layout in Bhutan. We saw gardens bursting with cabbages and a woman who was laying out freshly slaughtered beef to dry in the sun.

Villagers taking a break with a heavy load of potatoes.

Rukubji has a suspension bridge too and we crossed the river to the school where Valerie teaches and lives in teacher’s accommodation.

Valerie and the boys on the bridge.

Her home is new and similar to ours, although as she lives alone her home is not cluttered with all the stuff we have. As we looked around suddenly the rain poured down and so we rushed back to the car so we could leave before the road out turned to slush!

We had lunch at the restaurant at Chazam nearby where travellers stop coming to and from Thimphu. A little further down the road there are a couple of shops that sell handwoven  baskets, and after seeing some beautiful examples at Andrea’s place I wanted to buy a couple of small ones that somehow I’ll be able to fit into our luggage to take back to Australia.

We made good time home after that with a quick stop at Trongsa to buy fruit and vegetables and then home sweet home in time for dinner. The boys were really happy to be back to their familiar things and as always at the end of a holiday it was lovely to climb into our own beds.

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