18th Sep 2016 - 20th Sep 2016 - Bhutan
Bhutan has an obsession with phalluses. You see them everywhere, painted on the sides of buildings, in souvenir shops and they all belong to one man – the Divine Madman. Born in Tibet, Drupka Kunley used outrageous and sexual methods to help people lose their preconceptions. He is also credited with being the person who created the takin by sticking the head of a goat on the body of a cow. His sexual exploits are legendary and once subdued the demoness of Dochu La with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom”. His cousin built a temple in his honour in the former capital of Punakha.
The capital for 300 years, only moving to Thimphu in the mid 1950’s, Punakha sits at the junction of two rivers, the Mo Chhu (Mother River) and the Pho Chhu (Father River). It’s much lower altitude also means that it is much warmer and so its dzong is home to the Head of Religion’s winter residence. The first King was crowned in Punakha and even the current King underwent a ceremony here before his official, public coronation in the capital.
We arrived in Punakha via a 3 hour journey back along a part of the free massage road only this time, due to heavy rain overnight, there had been a couple of landslides, one so bad we got out and walked along whilst the van edged along slowly free of the majority of its weight. Because of the geology along the roads, further rock falls were expected and we soon passed the Bhutanese Army on their way to help out.
Once we had arrived in Punakha and had lunch, we headed to Chimi Lhakhang, the previously mentioned temple dedicated to the Divine Madman and his magic thunderbolt of wisdom. The temple is sought out by women looking to conceive as it is believed a visit can boost fertility. As the day was a festival, there was a number of people at the temple eating and celebrating. A group of monks were playing darts, a group of children played football whilst their mums were singing traditional songs.
We then drove to Punakha Dzong, situated right at the confluence of the Mother and Father Rivers, which gave an already beautiful building a magnificent setting. Guru Rinpoche prophesied the building of the dzong when he stated that a person named Namgyal would arrive at a hill that looked like an elephant. When he arrived in Punakha, he built a dzong at the tip of the sleeping elephant’s trunk. Our final stop in Punakha was the largest suspension bridge before heading for our hotel for a well-deserved dinner.
The following day, we were back on the road heading up to, and then down from, Dochu La pass – in case you hadn’t figured it yet, due to the mountains there aren’t that many road options in Bhutan! We arrived back in Thimphu and drove out the other side, stopping for a picnic lunch whilst overlooking a former prison. When we arrived in Haa, we visited the monastery, built in the 7th century, before stopping in town to buy some prayer flags for the next day.
Our final full day in Bhutan, began with an early start and a drive to the Chelela Pass which, at 3,989m, is the highest pass in Bhutan. Here we hung our prayer flags in giant string then set out on a 3 hour hike down through beautiful forest to reach the Kila Nunnery but thankfully, given the altitude, was predominantly downhill. Once we got to the Nunnery, we met some of the nuns and donated some clothes we no longer required. At the end of the hike, we were treated to another roadside picnic lunch before carrying on to Paro, where we spent some time souvenir shopping.
In the evening, TopGear took us out for a surprise at a nearby farm. Here we were treated to an evening of traditional dancing by a local dance group which included many traditional costumes as well as the kind of masks usually seen on festival days. Back at the hotel, the bar was in full karaoke session – this time the version of karaoke we were much more used to – so we had some final night beers and a little party.