We woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am and readied ourselves to meet our guide and driver at 5. We were off to the airport for a 7am flight to Bumthang, which is in the centre of the country.
Bhutan is a rather small country with a total population of just over 760,000. Paro, the city we landed in is about 33,000 people and Bumthang valley’s major city of Jakar is about 18,000 or just a little smaller than Brockville. The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu, and has a population of over 100,000.
Our impressions so far are great. We see a country where the tourist tax is directly used for education and health care for the people. In the last 30 years, life expectancy here has doubled! All children learn the national Bhutanese language as well as English in school. While their education system was originally made up of international teachers, (Canada had a big role to play in a partnership with Bhutan for education), they have now been able to train their own teachers who in turn can emphasize education and Buddhist values and ways.
I digress! We got to the airport and went smoothly through check in and immigration (yes they check that you have been granted a tourist visa for all the days you plan to stay in Bhutan). We had some time to kill, so we went for a mocha at a lovely little coffee shop!
It turned out that our flight was delayed for a little over an hour because of fog on the ground at Bumthang. Normally, instruments would be able to accommodate this, but I have never experienced landing approaches with commercial aircraft like these before!
We finally were able to board, and we had an ATR aircraft, and was in its 5th day of operation! It looked pretty shiny as we were walking up to it.
Our flight was only about 1/2 hour, and they still had time to serve a light snack! I tried to capture some photos from the plane to give you an idea of the valleys we were crossing, as well as some mountain sites. I can now understand why the drive would take 7-8 hours!
Another interesting valley landing was had. The first shot is of or approach before banking around this hillside to get to final approach. In the second, you can see the runway on which we just landed. Where I took the shot is where we met our guide and driver as well as our baggage. They’re building a new terminal here!
We were soon off to our hotel for a little freshening up. Our room is gorgeous, just a wonderful facility. I’ve also been amazed that anywhere we have gone so far here has had totally international plugs. No matter what your country of origin, your plugs will work in the sockets!
After a short rest, and a nice hot lunch, we headed out with our guide, Kencho and driver Penjar. This afternoon, we went off to see three main temples in the Chokar Valley, just a few kms from our hotel.
The first temple we saw is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, built by a Tibetan king in 659 to subdue a demoness. 108 temples were built at the same time, pinning the demoness into the earth. This one is said to pin her left knee.
The next two temples we visited were done on foot. It was delightful to get out in the countryside walking. We passed a number of small farms and saw some interesting indigenous plants.
As we rounded the last bend in the path, we came to the massive complex of Kurjey Lhakhang. It is a very large, active and important temple because it is here that Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Bhutan’s Tantric Buddhism, came to meditate for 3 months and left his imprint in the rock. The big cypress tree behind the temple is said to have grown out of the guru’s walking stick.
Once we toured the three temples within this complex, we headed across a stream and up a path to our final temple. This one was built by Pema Lingpa, a Bhutanese born reincarnation of the 2nd buddha. In it we found some of the oldest frescoes in Bhutan said to have been painted by Pema Lingpa himself. The main statute of the 2nd Buddha is said to hold all the relics found by Pema Lingpa, as foretold by the 2nd Buddha.
Well, it’s been a long day, and Dan and I are off to dinner and then an early night to bed! Tomorrow is our visit to the Tsechu at Jakar Dzong. This is a highlight of the religious year here where dancers perform a number of masked dances over a period of 3 days, depicting the legends of Buddhism. Looking forward to telling you all about it!