Friday, December 13, 2013

Exhilarating Eastern Bhutan

My eyes woke up as if from a long winter sleep and my senses became alert to new smells, warmth and colour as we descended from the Thrumsing-la pass to the large eastern town of Mongar.

Coming from the changing colours and brisk cold of Bumthang, driving through humid and verdant villages towards Mongar was a breath of fresh air. I felt like I was back in the Asia that is familiar and that I love. Terraced rice fields tumbled down steep mountain sides, golden and dry after the recent harvest.

Cheery village folk working in the fields wearing just tshirts responded with smiles to our 'kuzuzangpo!' greetings. Mandarin trees were heavy with bright orange fruit, promising a vitamin C boost we've craved all year! Red poinsettias reminded me of Christmas at home and added to the rainbow of colour before our eyes.

It's all a bit poetical, but honestly it was exhilarating to see and feel things we haven't for nearly a year in our home in the high mountains. It feels like we've entered a new country, and yet this is just another side to Bhutan and we feel very fortunate to get the chance to experience it as our days here run out.

Bob buys some bananas at a roadside stall.

Tuesday we drove from Mongar to Lhuentse, taking about three hours. The drive was spectacular. The weather was clear and dry and the road surprisingly good all the way up the valley. The road follows the gentle curves of the  river, silvery blue far below. There were some moments that I got the heebie-jeebie feeling looking out the window down a sheer cliff seemingly only centimetres from the car wheels! But we feel safe in the hands of our driver Dorji and he worked hard to get us where we wanted to go.

We watched people carrying loads of mandarins emerge from the forest to cross the bridge where their fruit was added to an enormous pile for sale.
It's a long way down!
Xavier isn't the least bit scared of heights on these scary bridges!

Upon arrival at Lhuentse we unpacked our assorted food supplies for a picnic near the Dzong. After, we climbed up to see the fortress on the hill and amazing views in all directions. Men were rehearsing mask dances in the central courtyard in preparation for the tsechu at the end of December.

Lhuentse Dzong.

The plants in this area were all familiar from home including this bougainvillea.

Dorji and the boys at the entrance to the Dzong.
Dance rehearsals.

The other tourist site on my list for  the afternoon was the giant Guru Rinpoche statue at Takila that staff at my school visited and have talked of frequently. They always described it as being in Lhuentse (which is true as it is Lhuentse Dzongkhag), but which I took to mean Lhuentse town. In reality it was far from the town and an hour drive up a steep, dusty farm road. Climbing what appeared to be a sheer mountain side, switching back between farmhouses and fields revealed a more gradual incline than you can see from a distance, and hundreds of families living far away from the main town of Lhuentse and a day's travel from Mongar. 

Dorji knew what he was heading into as he'd been there before with a large group of tourists who had actually camped at the site, and although he must have thought it was a crazy adventure for late afternoon he politely drove us there without complaint.

At the top is an enormous statue of Guru Rinpoche in the final stages of construction. The grounds are just dry dust and building materials are scattered around. I wonder how the site will be finished in years to come to become a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from around the world.

To get a sense of the scale of the statue...

After circumambulating Guru Rinpoche, and with the sun already low in the sky, we started driving back towards the village of Autsho where we planned to stay for the night.

Next update: Autsho


  1. GREAT PICTURES. surely, tourism Bhutan has a lot to offer :)

    1. Thank you! Bhutan is a unique location for a special holiday.

  2. GREAT ARTICLE, thanks for sharing. this will surely be helpful for tourists planning a Tour Packages for Bhutan