Thimphu and Punakha

Bhutan Travel Blog

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We stayed two nights in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. For a capital city its pretty small. Its a fairly attractive town on the floor of a valley with mountains on either side. Most of the buildings are Bhutanese style - around 3 stories, with elaborate carving and painting around the windows and eaves.

It is compulsory for the citizens to wear their traditional dress. For the men this is a Gho, which is like a bathrobe, hitched up to the knee, tied with a belt and the fabric hanging over. They are mainly navy blue or various plaids. They wear them with long knee high socks and shiny shoes.
The women wear a kira, which is a staight ankle length skirt woven in a colourful pattern with a cropped silk jacket. This is one of the measures the government has brought in to protect their cultural identity. Bhutan is so tiny with huge and very populated countries as neighbours (china and india), that its no wonder they may feel a little vulnerable.

We stayed at the Hotel Druk which was right on the main town square. Outside were rows of prayer wheels and we saw many people walking along them, spinning them as they went. Bhutanese are devoutly Buddhist. There are some Hindus as there are quite a few Indians living there working on construction projects. Our guide said there were no Muslims except in the Bangladesh embassy.
We saw a lot of monks in their maroon robes as there are quite a few monasteries in the surrounding hills.

Hugh has been doted on by the staff at the places we have stayed. He is usually snatched out of our arms and whisked away as soon as we arrive. We don't worry because we know he isn't far. They just love kids over here.

At night we have experience one of the only 'dangers and annoyances' listed in the Lonely Planet guide - howling dogs. By day there are many dogs sleeping peacefully, sprawled out everywhere. At night however, they wake up and make quite a racket. Its a dilemma for the Bhutanese as what to do about them. At one stage a decision was made to put them in hession bags and throw them into the river. However there was a major outcry as the people are Buddhist and they don't agree with killing living things. I think the current strategy is a sterilisation program.

The next day we were taken out sightseeing by Karma and Tendin. We visited the main monastery and saw monks and pilgrims. They then took us through the surrounding valleys, stopping at chortens and little buildings housing huge prayer wheels. The surrounds were strewn with different coloured prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
We visited an old wooden bridge built in the 17th century, again covered in prayer flags. We went to another monastery and saw monks chanting their prayers.
They dote on Hugh here - especially our driver Tendin. He has nicknamed him Tenzin (which is a name for llamas etc). He was always wanting to hold him and didn't mind looking after him when we looked at things.

The next morning we set out for Punakha. It was only 77km away but took about 2 1/2 hours to get there. The road was bitchumen but extremely bumpy and winding.
A few km out of Thimphu, the mountains were totally covered in forest, which was quite stunning. 70% of the country is forest and it is law that it will never be below 60%. We passed occasional chortesn and again saw lots of prayer flags strung up.

Hugh didn't like the ride too much. I think he was getting bored and couldn't sleep most of the time because of the bumpiness. He grizzled a fair bit with tiredness but when we stopped the car for lunch or a teabreak he was cheery again - distracted with his new surroundings.

We reached Punakha and checked into our hotel. It was quite a homey place with wood panelling and wooden floor, giving it a log cabin feel - which actually it was. It was high on the hill overlooking the town.
We set up Hugh's travel cot and tried to get him to sleep. He was so overtired so it took quite a while to settle him down.
That afternoon we visited the Punakha Dzong. Dzongs are huge fort like monasteries often in a very impressive location eg on the side of a cliff.
They are very imposing buildings with elaborate carving and painting.
Inside and out there were many monks and it felt like we were in another world... or at least a world away (which I guess we were)
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