Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hit The Road, Yak

Yaks, monkeys black-necked cranes and wild pigs! Not a trip to the zoo but a road-trip through Bhutan in autumn!

The boys were so excited to see the animals just outside the car window. The yaks passed at a respectful distance but the monkeys were curious and came right up to the window and seemed intimidating. The big daddy had his eye on my camera!

Yaks crossing the road, just an everyday thing here in Bhutan!

Mama and baby yak
Monkeys (photo taken before they got a bit aggressive!)

We hit the road Sunday morning headed for the Black-necked Crane Festival at Gangtey - an annual event on November 11th to bring awareness to conserving the winter habitats of the crane in Bhutan.

We stopped for late afternoon snacks at our favourite rest-stop just out of Tsangkha.

Our stop for the night was at Rukubji at Valerie's place (she is a volunteer teacher at the small primary school there). We rocked up at her place at dusk and hurriedly unpacked the car and got inside to work on lighting the bukhari.  Bob put the beers in the fridge (i.e. out on the cold balcony!) and we settled in by the fire for a warming dinner, dancing, singing and catching up.

Val has moved her bed into the living room of her home to sleep close to the fire. We were very cosy.

The view from Val's place.

Val's apartment is the far one at the top.

At this time of the year the scenery in Bhutan is so captivating. I couldn't take my eyes off the views as we travelled onwards on Monday to Gangtey. An artist's palette of autumn foliage in crimson, golds and yellows met with the greens of the evergreen pines, and the distant 'blue' moutains.

We stopped for photos but certainly nothing we took captured the amazing beauty. The highlight was seeing the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayan range come into view as we approached the Lowa-la. As we pulled up we met a tour group also trying to capture the view. It turned out the tour leaders were from Australia - after some conversation it turned out Bob had worked with the man years ago, and the lady is connected to people I know in Australia too! It's a small world!

As we approached the small, quaint village of Gangtey a 'traffic jam' was brewing. We slid into a parking spot and watched the motor-tillers ferrying passengers down the hill jostle with large tourist 4WDs and buses. It was one of those ethereal days of deepest blue skies and golden sun so warm despite the chilly morning. Everything sparkled with the promise of a special day ahead.

I entered the Lhakang to see the dance I was most looking forward to: children dressed as black-necked cranes doing a dance inspired by the moves of the birds. Xavier wondered who had made their costumes and asked if I could make one for him when we get home. I said "why not?!"


This festival is unique in a number of ways from other tsechus we've been to. Firstly, it is not a religious festival so there were only a couple of short mask dances: most of the performers were local school children performing dances to honour the black-necked cranes including movements like pecking the ground and 'flying' with their wings outstretched.

Many performers wore black and white kiras and ghos just like the colouring of the cranes.

Large posters around the lhakang in English and Dzongkha asked the spectators to consider their waste disposal habits in order to protect the habitat of the crane which comes to spend the winter season in this valley annually. Informative announcements were made in both languages regarding the facts and figures of the annual migration. Approximately 450 birds winter in Bhutan: the majority in Phobjika while five roosted in Chumey last year near where we live (we'll be on the look out!) and another group were recorded in Bumdeling in the east where we hope to visit in December. Birds arrive from their summer habitat in on the Tibetan plateau. The population is showing signs of growing which may be attributed to conservation efforts.

At the entrance and around the perimeter, stalls were set up to sell local handicrafts related to the crane. I was more than happy to buy some goodies as souvenirs while also supporting a good cause. I purchased an oil painting of the cranes, a little painted decoration (I was thinking it will be cute on our Christmas tree in years to come!) and some crane pins.

After the performances finished about 2pm we found a lovely deck overlooking the valley to stop for afternoon tea. We chatted with two groups of travellers, one from the USA and one from Australia. We always enjoy the chance to speak with the tourists and share stories with them as we rarely have much contact with fellow westerners in Chumey.

On every surface facing the sun, chillies are drying.
Just as we were preparing to move on, Val yelled out 'cranes!'. Above us four elegant cranes circled in formation! They circled around and around gracefully, gradually getting higher and higher until they passed out of sight. The perfect highlight of the day to see these special and vulnerable birds.

We walked though the hectic market that had been set up through the village of Gangtey and found some momos to buy (we'd had no lunch) before getting back in the car for the drive to Rukubji to drop off Valerie and then onto Trongsa for the night. It had been a relaxed day (except for the 2 hours I lost Bob and Xavier!) and a day to bask in the sun and really enjoy our dwindling time in Bhutan.

More chillies drying.

I wanted to note the excellent service we received at the Tashi Ninjay hotel in Trongsa. We've stayed a few times there already, but this time the service seemed to have lifted a  notch and made for a very comfortable stay. The food was also fantastic at dinner and breakfast and as you know, this makes the trip for me!

These teddies have travelled everywhere with us, they are well loved Aunty Belinda.

We stopped to buy vegetables at the Trongsa market before going home. I used my limited Hindi skills with this lady.

Shaded parts on the drive home were dripping with gorgeous icicles like diamonds.

With only a week to go now before we embark on another epic Bhutan road trip, I am really excited to be mostly free from school responsibilities and able to enjoy some travel before we leave. Stay tuned!

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