The Sacred Bumthang Valley
25/09/06 – 26/09/06 Jakar, Bumthang province.
We carried on further East into the Bumthang province – a 9 hour journey with an hour’s stop when we spotted a family of Common Langurs (or white cap langurs) and stopped to try and photograph them amongst the forest canopy. We crossed the Pe Le La pass at 3350m and climbed up through the clouds. With ever changing vegetation and rising and falling temperatures, we ascended and descended through 2000m.
We passed a famous Chorten, which is a replica of one found in Lhasa, Tibet. Well almost… according to the story, a monk decided that he wanted to copy the Tibetan Chorten in Bhutan. He carefully carved a scaled image of the Chorten into the only suitable thing that he had handy – a carrot. When he arrived in Bhutan days later, unbeknown to the monk, the carrot had shrunk, which is why the Chorten is not correct in scale, and much, much smaller than it should be. Don’t you just love it!
We pulled up to our hotel at dusk – well definitely after dark. Bhutanese don’t switch on their car lights until it’s pitch black and I found this quite un-nerving as we trundled round the winding road up the hillside listening to ‘Like A Virgin’ by Madonna at our guide, Anan’s request!!!
In Jakar, we visited two sacred temples of the Bumthang valley. Jambay of the 7th Century built by a Tibetan king, and Kurjey, built in the 8th Century. The first temple is also a kind of day-care centre for older Bhutanese citizens, who spent their time relaxing their together and obtaining merit by circling the temple (clockwise of course) with their hand-held prayer wheels and spinning the prayer wheels of the temple, as they pass. We passed monks heating stones in a fire in order to make a hot stone bath in the holy waters. They offered us the opportunity for a bath with them, which we politely declined. We crossed a cantilever bridge and headed up to Tamshing temple. Monks were practicing a dance routine with ceremonial drums and curled drum sticks, in preparation for an up and coming festival. The young caretaker monk that let us in to the holy part of the temple looked far too young to be in charge of the set of keys, and nearly locked some other visitors into the temple, if we hadn’t spotted them in the far corner.
We hiked back up the hill to our hotel for lunch. It turned into quite a surreal event due to the presence of a calf. A calf, which came out of nowhere (well a neighbouring field) suddenly started walking along the road beside us. Strangely enough it always stayed just in front of us, even if we changed our pace. If we sped up and tried to get our noses in front, it would speed up too, so as to stay in front of us. Eventually Anan, hitched up his gho (again) and ran up the road and into the lead. At that, the calf stopped and looking a combination of dejected and disgusted with us, simply tured around and started walking back the way it had come. The rest of the journey seemed somewhat lonely without our new friend (though we didn’t miss the flies).
In the afternoon we visited a monastic school. In the courtyard some monks were sorting through a huge sack of chilies. We walked around the kitchens and met the monk chefs. They were cooking ‘Ema Datse’ (chilies and cheese) in huge pots and the room was blackened from the smoke. In the courtyard of the town Dzong, some local men were practicing their dance routines for the October festival, making growling noises with some of their twirling moves.
I tried my hand at the darts game – Kuru, with the hotel manager. I was dreadful and he was really good! The 20-30cm darts are thrown like a javelin toward a tiny target, with a bullseye like an archery board.
Our evening was spent with a bottle of Australian red in a basement ‘club’ watching a Bhutanese band playing local songs, and one Western song that I recognized, ‘Knocking on heaven’s Door’. The band had many lead singers and played with their only special effect of echo and reverb set to the max on every track. It was dreadful and after an hour, we felt tired enough to head back to the hotel. I was also feeling quite tipsy, for which I blame not the Australian wine but the altitude and bottle of Bumthang Apple Wine of unknown alcoholic content that I had downed over dinner!