Tak Shang Monastery and on to Thimpu

We rose for breakfast at 7:00 (surprise – it was lovely) where we chatted with Jamyang for a while. The hotel let us store our bags in the room while we were out, so we grabbed clothes and cameras and jumped into the 4×4 for the short drive out of Paro.

Less than thirty minutes later we pulled up in the first at the base of a mountain. Far up, built into the rocky side, was a monastery – Tak Shang. It looks utterly isolated with only a couple of other buildings visible at other points on the hillside. This was to be our target for the morning. Get all the way up there, and all the way back.

The trek started well with me being assaulted by a very friendly dog and two puppies. I didn’t want to leave them, but Bhutan seems tobe filled with the most friendly strays on earth so I consoled myself with the fact that I’d find some more later. So on we plodded. And upwards. And more upwards. Then up some more.

Bhutan is a wonderful country, but to make the most of it you definitely need to be able to walk a fair distance. A lot of the holidays available are treks, though I’m sure there are trips for the less energetic tourist.

After almost two hours, we arrived at a restaurant where we put up our feet and had a couple of cuppas with some biscuits while a water-powered prayer wheel span and rattled a bell every couple of seconds. All very Zen. Too soon, though, we had to set off again. Upwards.

The monastery is set to one side of a join between two cliff faces. To reach the side it’s on, you have to climb the “left” mountain, then drop down in towards where the two faces meet so that you can cross to the “right” and then climb again. In the direct sunshine we were sweltering, but in the corner where the faces met there was deep snow settled at the bottom of a waterfall.

A brave beast guarded the stairs to the monastery. Well. A soppy dog, to be honest. Obviously an old-timer and a complete softie. He followed us up the stairs where Jamyang went to find the caretaker so that we could get into the locked temples.

The view from up there was astounding. The views inside the temples were equally gorgeous, but in a totally different way. As usual, Jamyang was full of information about the paintings, decorations, ornaments and rituals. Simply, there is far too much to repeat here especially as I don’t have access to any notes or guidebooks to refresh my memory!

After maybe an hour up there, we began the long – though slightly easier – plod back down. At the foot, we encountered a lone female walker who we gave a lift to. The fact that she was by herself is unusual as visitors generally have to be part of a tour group, but she’d been invited by an organisation so managed to get around the regulations. It turned out that she lives barely 30 miles from my parents, although she’s originally from Hungary!

Lunch was served up at the Yak Herder Restaurant (complete with pair of adorable puppies for after-dinner entertainment) and it was another smorgasbord of deliciousness. Again, I am so happy that my stomach is back in working order and playing catch-up to make up for missing food over the last week. Hans had to roll me out to the car and I’m sure the suspension was lower than it had been earlier.

Driving back into Paro, we passed our female friend again. She’s just been to one of the temples, so we picked her up and dropped her in the town centre. The bank was open, so we changed some US dollars into Ngultrums so we could pay Jamyang back the money he’d kindly loaned us the previous day.

Next, we drove up to the hotel to retrieve our bags and then started the 2-hour drive to Thimpu, Bhutan’s capital. The road there is currently undergoing a lot of work to widen it to two carriageways, so delays were inevitable. The work should be completed before 2008 when Bhutan celebrates it’s royal centenary, coronation of the 5th king and move to democracy. Quite a year coming up!

The drive was scenic, to say the least, and we arrived in Thimpu in good time despite the earthmovers blocking traffic at times. Once there, we walked round a very impressive stupa (four times – for luck and merit) and visited a nunnery where we watched some young nuns performing a ceremony for good fortune.

The day was wearing on by now, as we drove to our accommodation for the evening – the tour company manager’s house! They have several small apartment/chalets around their house and we were placed in number one. A small kitchen, lounge with telly, comfy bedroom and bathroom with hot water. Lovely. They even brought tea up to us, and we had dinner with the family in their front room.

The food was lovely, and included some local choices. The most unusual was a warm bowl of local spirit (similar to saki) with egg floating in it.

And I got to cuddle their tiny kitten, so that made my day as well.

I’m typing this up while Hans snuffles through a cold that’s re-introduced itself to his nasal cavities and we both watch Empire Strikes Back on Star Movies with a nice hot room heater blazing.

Another top-notch day. We’re pretty much expecting another tomorrow!

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