Time of Travel: June 2016
After Thimphu, our next target was to visit Punakaha during the day, and to reach Paro late in the evening. On the way to Punakha, there was an attractive halt at the place called Dochula pass. This place appeared to be a permanent dwelling for clouds, it was absolute foggy all around and you will find floating clouds right in front of you. There were 108 memorial chortens or stupas known have been built by the royal family on this place in the memory of soldiers of Royal Bhutan Army. It was a perfect place to take a quick coffee break in the middle of journey, with breathtaking surroundings.
Since the main campus of Punakha Dzong did not offer any eatery, we ordered our lunch while going to the Dzong in a local restaurant to have it later while coming back. Today Punakha is the administrative centre of the Punakha district of Bhutan and known for its marvelous Dzong, but in the past, it served as the capital of the Bhutanese government before it was shifted to Thimphu. Punakha Dzong is undoubtedly the most beautiful and appealing Dzong in Bhutan. It is located right on the confluence of two rivers Pho Chhu (Father River) and Mo Chhu (Mother River).
You will be completely mesmerized with this Dzong, the way this royal aired structure standing tall in the middle of two rivers, lush green gardens with the backdrop of mountains and clouds. Punakha Dzong has historical significance too. Once being used as official residence by royal family, it recently witnessed the royal wedding of present King and Queen of Bhutan ‘Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’ and ‘Jetsun Pema’. From the main entrance, a small wooden bridge will lead the way to the main premises of the Dzong.
Standing at the bridge was an amazing experience, when you can see the picture perfect beauty outside, can feel the fresh breeze with flowing river under you. The architecture of the Dzong is stunning with its intricately carved windows, gilded doors and colorful facade. There was a beautiful pond behind the main structure of Dzong in the middle of manicured garden, followed by canopy of small trees loaded with flowers.
While coming back from Dzong, we stopped at the river side to spend some playful moments on its bank. It was bliss for the kids, and they went wild with the sand and water in their front. Punakha is situated in the plains, so its weather is usually little hotter than Thimphu and Paro. People also indulge in river rafting here, but we refrain ourselves as we had small kids with us. Then it was the lunch time and we eagerly reached to the restaurant, where we had already ordered food.
The very smell of pork/beef made our stay difficult there apart from the taste of food, which came out pathetic. We immediately took leave with the hope to find a better place for vegetarian food. Dochula pass came again on our way and we had our meal at the fabulously located café at Dochula. Though menu was little over pricy, but the serene ambience and spectacular view made it justified. After spending good time at the open sitting area and having food in the lap of white clouds, we began our journey to Paro.
Paro is the most gorgeous city in the whole of Bhutan; and far more beautiful than Thimphu (wondering why the king does not stay here). It has the only International Airport in the country, and situated on the bank on Paro River, surrounded by hills. Before reaching to Paro city, we met Paro River on the way and fell in love with it. We immediately stopped the car, got down and went inside a downstream.
Kids started paying with pebbles and water. Since we were getting late, our driver made rush and we left the place with a promise to return while going back to Phuntsholing. Actually, reaching the resort on time was also important from the dinner ordering time perspective. The moment you enter Paro, you begin to feel that the fairytale land do exists on the earth. Everything was just perfect; weather was comfortably cold, there were large bright green farms, clear-water River in the middle, fragmentally located small houses which were painted with same colors, mountains all around, minimal traffic on well constructed roads, simple and honest people and absolutely tranquil aura, what else you want, this is surely a heaven.
We booked Kichu Resort in Paro after reading reviews, and it turned out to be one of the best places to stay. The river was flowing next to the resort and large open green area of the property was full of fruits trees. The only disappointment we had in Paro, was not able to track to the famous Taktsang Monastery. Apart from rainy season, small kids with us could not track for three hours on muddy trails, so we left the idea to cover this place; instead we have chosen Chele La Pass for the subsequent day. Next morning, after jogging on the beautiful track along with the river, we plucked plums from the resort farm for kids and got ready for the day expedition.
Paro Airport was the first place we covered, and unlike city airports, it was a beautiful view point. From the hill spot, it appeared to be a kind of flawless science model, where miniatures of car, aircrafts, trees, runway etc. are being carefully placed. We have been told, there is just one airline and limited numbers of aircrafts available in Bhutan. If you take the road next to airport to commute within the city, for each landing or takeoff, cars are being stopped at the end of the road to facilitate the flight movement.
After gazing the magnificence of paro from Airport view point, we began our voyage to Chele La Pass. The way to reach this Pass was equally gorgeous as the destination itself. Our driver asked us to switch off the stereo, put the car windows down, and pay attention to the sounds coming from outside. Actually the whole track was full of various species of birds and we kept listening to the sweet chirping all the way, it was one of its kinds of experience for us while travelling on hilly roads. After about an hour, we took a halt to stretch the legs and just look around. We saw many cows grazing nearby, and then bright red fruits lying on the ground within the grass grabbed our attention. Initially we thought them as some random local fruits, but they actually were tiny strawberries, and that place was full of them. How lucky those cows were, who tend to get strawberry flavored grass every day.
Chele La Pass is on the highest motorable road in Bhutan at 3800m and connects Paro to the Haa Valley, the base camp of Indian Army in Bhutan. This place offers beautiful 360 degree views of the Himalayas. A quiet serene place for one to spend some time looking at the snow peaks. The blowing wind and tranquility made it all the more special. One hill was totally covered with while flags, which are considered auspicious in Buddhism and protect from evils. After giving some time to the body to acclimatize, we tried to do some tracking. It was chilling cold, and we found no Tea/Maggi point here unlike other passes we visited so far. We spent good one and half hour here, enjoying the nature at its best and started our journey back after clicking some marvelous shots.
We returned to the main Paro market to have lunch at a local restaurant, which we ordered before proceeding to Chale la in the morning. After lunch we covered National Museum of Paro. It was different than the one we saw in Thimphu. It has huge collection of auspicious masks with detailed explanations of each of them. It also plays a feature film on Bhutan’s culture and history.
Be its display of flora and fauna of Bhutan, its history and heritage through paintings, models of famous Dzongs and Monastery, it has all, with are being displayed with the help of modern infrastructure. You need to buy a ticket to enter the premises and no phone/ camera were allowed inside. It is situated at a good height and gives you a spectacular view of the whole Paro.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Memorial House was the next we quickly covered. This place is a bit in the outskirts and was on the way back to our resort. It is one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan and was built in the 7th century by then king, and contains an original 7th century statue of the Buddha. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is revered throughout Bhutan and the Buddhist world and this memorial captures aspects of his life and legacy.
We were fascinated by the traditional dress of Bhutan ‘Kira’ before we embarked our trip, and were eager to either buy it for our kids or at least click their photographs wearing it. Through our driver’s recommendation we reached to one of such place, which provide ‘Kira’ on rent. Dresses were taken on rent and we took zillions of camera shots of our girls flaunting their yellow and purple dresses. Upon reaching resort, we decided to take some rest and later in the evening we went for a long walk up to a nearby village ‘Longu’.
One of the front desk staff of the resort ‘Suki’ was also with us on the walk, as she stays in that village and was going home after her duty. People of Bhutan live uncomplicated life, I was told, Suki’s kids come to resort after school hours and went home walking along with her every day. Simple yet blessed life especially when you compare it with the hectic life in Metros. In Bhutan you tend to see pictures of King and Queen everywhere, outside homes, hotels, shops, on roads etc. Even people wear their pictures in pendants too.
Our driver told us that the reason behind such huge following is the fact that royal family does take care of public in every aspect. Apart from king, the females of royal family also hold portfolio like health care, welfare etc., and keep touring in remote areas to know the community’s requirements. We also observed that there were good numbers of primary schools in Bhutan. You will find schools near to every village, even there were schools for the kids of construction workers residing in temporary sheds. Who would not worship the king like god, if they are being taken cared like this?
Nature walks are always very educative for small kids, as they tend to see new things and understand diverse concepts of natures, so we finished our walk responding to various queries by enthusiastic children with us.
Next was our last day in Bhutan, and need to reach Phuntsholing before evening, we planned to cover few remaining places in Paro. Drukgyel Dzong was one of them. Rather a Dzong, it’s just the remains of a Dzong. Roads were good to reach this place and ends there only as it was the last thing on the motorable road, followed by mud-covered path. It was a very old mud structure, and there were sign boards mentioning the risk, if someone tries to enter it.
Location was beautiful, no doubts in that, but overall nothing much to see for us. History lovers may find this place interesting. We wanted to cover Paro Dzong next, but we were getting late for our appointment with Paro River, so dropped the plan of going inside and took a picture from distance. Next we reached to a big suspension bridge on Paro River. Since it was heavily vibrating all the way, it was very difficult to cross the bridge while watching huge flowing river below. This place surely worth a visit while on this way.
Our rendezvous with the river lasted for an hour and after saying bid-adieu to Paro, the much awaited astonishing journey to Phuntsholing started. The whole ride was full of magnificent nature masterpieces and memorable moments. The route was so overloaded with the clouds that we wondered; there must be a cloud factory nearby, which manufacture this elegance in bulk. We took many stoppages in between to absorb the scattered beauty on this highway. While going to Bhutan this road journey is a must for any visitor.
In Phuntsholing, we stayed in the same resort, which was chosen for the night halt while coming to Bhutan. Next day morning we started our drive for Bagdogra and reached within five hours enjoying rainy weather amongst the teas estates.
While coming to Bhutan, I had an impression that it’s a poor county (although I came to know later that its Per Capital Income is double than India’s) which is full of natural beauty. But after visiting it, I realized that it’s a land of happiness and simplicity where people have heart of gold. Bhutan may not be having big industrial houses, white collared jobs, huge malls, IPL teams, Antilla etc. but its richness lies within its culture, which is all about living a life close to nature and spirituality.