The Best Places To Visit In Bhutan / Attractive Tourist Places
Punakha -The former capital of Bhutan Just like the previous day, we woke up late missing the sunrise. We have already decided to cover Punakha that day and reach Paro by night though both are in opposite directions from Thimphu. So, we thought of completing the check out from the hotel that day. As we were packing and getting ourselves ready for the next ride, I went to the balcony to enjoy the view during which I observed that people started to form a line, being guided by cops and fire station officers nearby as if they were getting ready to welcome something. Even the students going to school or whoever on the road where joining the gathering obediently. Curious to know, I waited at the balcony and called Hitesh also. After some wait at the balcony, a red coloured hard top van sort of vehicle came to a halt near our hotel. It was the monks who were travelling from their summer residence at Thimphu to their winter residence at Punakha and people welcoming the journey trying to touch that divine aura to get blessed. In Bhutan, monks are highly respected than any other people. They believe that it is the sacrifice of those monks that help them survive peacefully and worship the divinity associated with them. And monks spend their time mostly in meditation. The Best Places To Visit
After that, we vacated the room, went down to the dining hall, had the same breakfast that we ordered the day before as it would take more time to prepare other dishes. After having the food, we settled the bill. Meanwhile, we heard from Ridhima and Abhishek that they plan to travel around Thimphu for that day, to go to a local pub that night and that she will be returning to India the next day.
Wearing the riding gears, we bid bye to the owner and started our bikes and idled it for a couple of minutes to get it ready, as we plan to head for the immigration office at Thimphu to get the permit papers for visiting Punakha and Ha Valley. We reached the office and again we saw a huge crowd waiting there. But that day we were excused as we had submitted the application last day for which the approved permit was kept on the tray inside that old building. We took the permit and set the destination in the navigation app of our phone. We took some photos of the city and we started our ride again. Also, we got our fuel topped again from the same fuel outlet from which we topped last day. We thought of getting an extra pair of gloves to be worn inside the main gloves to help the fingers from getting numb. We went to some shops and all were expensive for which they gave the reason for the same being imported. At one shop we got the required one at a cheaper price. Also, in that lane, we saw many shops with display board mentioning ‘SALE’. So, we thought of making our shopping that evening while we return. Wearing the new gloves as extra protection, we started. As soon as we left the city, the road became bumpy. Some construction activities were going on due to which the road was filled with stones and other construction debris. At some points, it felt as if the area had been a victim to landslides. As we rode, we started experiencing a cooler climate. Fearing black ice on road, which could topple out the entire ride, we rode ahead and reached Dochula Pass which is a mountain pass from where we could see a very clear and nice Bhutanese view of the Himalayas. We took a halt there and enjoyed the view of Himalayas at the distance.
View of Himalayan Peaks from Dochula Point
The snow-clad mountain peaks resembled the clouds set by the contrasting blue sky. There was a board nearby explaining each peak that we saw. The area was already crowded. Near to that were a temple named Druk Wangyal Lhakhang on one side and Druk Wangyal Chortens on the other side. We need to get entry passed from the starting point of stairs to the temple to visit them. Also, a cafeteria is available nearby for quick refreshments.
Druk Wangyal Chortens comprises of 108 stupas to commemorate the lives of Bhutanese soldiers who lost their lives in war. On the other side was the temple. Right from the bottom of the stairs, a red carpet was laid down along the centre and from the top of the stairs, it leads to a small room where the deity is kept. We were instructed not to step on that red carpet. We could enter the temple, but it was a no photography zone. The view of the Himalayas was clearer from the temple side as the pine trees below couldn’t interrupt the view there. We came down and got ourselves back on-road riding.
As we went ahead, the temperature felt comfortable as we were descending. The roads were winding, getting narrow occasionally. We took another halt near a small temple as the navigation app became nonresponsive and distance to our destination climbed instead of tickling down through that road without a single deviation. There also we could see a very shallow river flowing down where the water appears to be green in colour.
Prayer flags were tied for meters and were swinging in the air without any support except for the two ends. Shortly the app started working fine and we resumed heading towards Punakha Dzong and Punakha Suspension Bridge. We reached Punakha Dzong but, on the way itself, as we approached, we could see the same in its mighty and glorious view from a distance. It is the second oldest and largest Dzong in Bhutan located at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The aqua green water of these rivers flowing along the boundary of the Dzong adds a special beauty to this majestic structure.
We went little ahead to find the parking spot for our bikes and the entry point to the dzong. Entry pass for 300Nu or 300INR per person needs to be obtained to visit the dzong. Amount to avail the help of a guide is also included in that entry pass. As soon as we got the pass, we entered a wooden bridge over that flowing river. As we cross the bridge, we entered an Entrance to Punakha Dzong through a series of steps followed by steep wooden steps
grassy area with tall trees overlooking us. Following the path ahead, we reached the bottom of a wooden stair which is very steep. It is that steep that a wrong step of the foot would be disastrous. Ascending the step carefully, we saw security cops waiting at the top besides two big prayer wheels for collecting the entry tickets. Submitting them, we went ahead through a narrow path having meaningful paintings on both the walls. That narrow path leads to an open area like an open-air auditorium with the administrative building of the dzong ahead and the hostel of monks and students on other sides. Meditation temple entrance of Punakha Dzong
The dzong is a six storeyed building with wooden work embodying it. A guide told that we could climb to the top, but we did not attempt as we had to visit other places and return. Between the administrative building and hostel, there was a narrow path through which we entered the main monastery. We removed our shoes and kept our camera inside the bag as inside it was a no photography zone. Inside this religious section of the dzong is full of paintings, statues, altars and intricate decorations. Most of them were pertaining to Buddha, his enlightenment, preaching, the culture of the kingdom and so on. The place was very silent, and a sacredness prevailed inside. An ideal place where mind and body can sync with the surroundings to be one with nature. Seating arrangements were being prepared for the monks and the King. The monks were travelling from Thimphu to their winter residence here in this dzong that day (remember the procession I mentioned from Thimphu that morning). A guide told us that this is the place where important events like the royal wedding, coronation etc. take place. Other than this, there is also one secret temple having the sacred remains of some important religious person and some other temple, but unfortunately, tourists are not allowed in these two places. Moreover, this visit taught us many things regarding the history and the culture of the country. The guide explained each drawing and statues, their meaning, importance and so on. We
lingered there for some more time exploring and mesmerized by the beauty that the majestic structure holds inside. We came out of that monastic section of the dzong, took some photos and went ahead to visit Suspension Bridge nearby. Though offline map was showing a rather long route, we enquire with the security cops regarding the location of the bridge and they showed us a power transmission tower near a cremation ground past the king’s palace and asked us to follow the road till it. We did the same and reached the parking spot for the bridge. From there it is approximately 10 minutes’ walk to reach the Suspension bridge.
There is a fence of metal wires with small three-step stairs to cross the fence which might be built to prevent anyone from taking vehicles till the bridge. As we proceeded further from the fence, we could see the bridge in its complete span connecting the villages on either side of the river. We reached the starting point of the bridge. The other side of the bridge offered an eye-soothing view of greenery in a mountain landscape. The 160 meters span of the Bridge is very safe but crossing it would be difficult for the faint-hearted and those with acrophobia as the bridge swings lightly in the heavy winds with the river gushing directly below it. The bridge is suspended by metal ropes on which prayer flags are tied which also ripples with the wind. The floor of the bridge is also of metallic bars and meshed
metal wires rise from the floor to those metal ropes. Also, on the floor of the bridge are two water-carrying pipes running parallel to the bridge along both edges. Since the river was shallow, we could see white sand lands bifurcating the flow in some areas. We went till the other end filming the walk on that epic bridge and as I was about to complete the crossing, I noticed that I didn’t have my bike keys with me. The sense of irresponsibility (as I faced the same situation at Tiger Nest trek) backed by the fear of losing it to the river from the bridge forced me to walk in faster pace to return towards the bike. On my way back I saw some couples doubtful whether to cross the bridge as they were backing two steps with each step forward in that swinging bridge. I ran towards the bike once I set my foot on the ground and again, I was blessed to find the key in the key slot of the bike. I forgot to remove it after parking.
We started our return ride to Paro. Since we had nothing after breakfast, we pulled over to a decent looking restaurant but later proved to be expensive when we saw the menu. I think they might also be charging for the exquisite view of that mountain- river landscape from their restaurant. So, we went ahead to reach a small village from where we need to take the deviation for the places we visited earlier. There we parked the bikes and went inside a local restaurant – one which was a house with a room dedicated to being the dining hall of the restaurant. We ordered beef bathuk and beef paa rice. They told that the meat in paa rice is initially sun-dried before cooking and is served with rice meal. That might be the reason as to why that lean meat was hard, needing heavy chewing before sending for peristalsis. But it tasted awesome and the quantity of the two dishes was enough to put our hunger aside. There was a Bollywood movie being played in the television showing some stunt scenes of wild imaginations against which the lady who served the food was giving sarcastic comments about the thoughts of the writer and director that led to those impossible imaginations being captured. When we left the hotel, it was almost sunset time and we need to cover more than 100 kilometres to reach Paro. Since we had to ride again in the dark, we thought of completing the ride as quickly as possible without taking a single-halt in between. Dark started to cover and cold started to creep as we were climbing toward the mountain pass – Dochula pass.
We were riding from a cool climate to a cold one. Since there was nothing scenic to be enjoyed in the dark, we rode ahead. But as we were closing the gap towards Dochula, the temperature was falling rapidly. Chilled air started crawling through our fingers creating numbness in the fingers and wrist. There was a time where we couldn’t turn the throttle lever properly as no feedback was getting delivered to the wrist and ahead. We even hoped to have teleportation set up to take us from that
chilling climate to the warmth of a hotel room. We reached Dochula pass and parked the bike somewhere and ran to the cafeteria nearby and ordered Suja tea while rushing towards the fireplace. There were stones kept nearby and we removed the hand gloves and started taking those warm stones to feel its warmth. We had Suja tea while sitting near the fireplace, but tea was expensive. Also, there we decided to go back to Thimphu, do the shopping and stay at the same hotel and not to Paro that night. After getting the confidence to ride ahead, we suited up and as we opened the doors of the cafeteria and went outside, a cold air caressed us making us feel the chill again. We looked to the sky for some help but stood there stunned for a moment with the magical view of a clear starry sky and that too a closer one which I had never experienced before. Enjoying the view for some more time, we resumed the ride. Now that we were descending and moving towards the city, it felt warm. We reached Thimphu late as the road was not good. We reached Thimphu plaza and did some shopping. Also, we needed a memory card reader to copy the videos captured in our go pro.
The card reader was expensive in many shops but after visiting multiple shops, we found a cheaper one. We used the laptop there itself to transfer the go pro video to our USB storage. While the copying process was in progress, we had ready to enjoy the lady’s night at the pub. They told that things in Bhutan are expensive because most of them are imported and thus cost of living is high especially in cities and thus immigration of the Bhutan youth to other countries for education and job are high and that they later return to have a settled peaceful life. After completing the shopping, we were really struck by bad news that we were running short of money to support us for the next two days. We barely had anything to survive one more day. We called Abhishek to arrange some money as we would transfer it digitally once we reach India. He and Ridhima were at the pub while we called, and he told that he would arrange at least from his landlord there. Relieved of the tense situation we rode ahead to that same hotel to get the room. Google
The hotel owner was surprised to see us, whom we bid farewell that morning. But luckily there was the same room available and we took it. We shared our money shortage issue with him and asked him for some money and that we would transfer it later. But he denied saying that he might be asked to show the source of such foreign transfer sometimes to the government. He asked to visit a bank branch there in Thimphu as I held an account in that bank but in India. We took the keys and while going up, he asked whether we needed any food as he was about to close the kitchen. Since we had a heavy meal that evening and money crunch chasing us, we ordered nothing. After calling family, friends and surfing through social media, we refreshed ourselves and went to sleep hoping to revisit that day’s journey in our dreams. Day 7 – Chele La Pass – Highest motorable road in Bhutan We woke up early on day 7 because we needed to clean and replace (if required) the spark plug. The bike rental agency had given us an extra spark plug as they told that since the quality of fuel is not that good, we may face the issue of misfire sometimes due to carbon deposit on spark plug electrodes. We checked those, replaced one and cleaned the other three of both the twin-cylinder beasts. After that, we tried calling Abhishek to rent us some money as discussed last day, but he was not answering his phone. We kept calling him, but all ended unanswered. We went to the bank and tried our luck with our debit cards at ATM, but all were futile as our cards were not transactable. Since all our attempts were in vain, we thought of asking some discount at the hotel for last day stay for which he gave a reduction in the bill. But that was not enough to handle the day. At this juncture of unknowing what is to be done, my phone started ringing. It was Abhishek who called to inform that he overslept as he had reached late from a pub last night and asked us to reach Clock Tower in Thimphu. We went there and waited while they arrived. Shortly Ridhima and Abhishek came, and she was leaving Bhutan that day.