19 March 2024

Altitude 8600

Yesterday, following the Lateral Road from the west, we entered Wangdue. It is one of three roads one drives here. (Actually, there is only PNH One, the other 2 lead to ?)

As of 2020, Bhutan’s road network has a total road length of roughly 11,100 miles, of which 61% are farm roads, around 15% are national highways, and about 11% are district roads. The National Highway system began linking rural districts in 1960. Using the labor of Indian and Bhutanese, mountainous roads were built mostly by hand and, even by modern standards, incredibly fast,. The building of these roads is a story in itself.

On our exit from town, we again drive the Lateral Road going east to Tongsa and, ultimately, Bumthang, some 125 miles away. In the meantime, we cross 3 passes, see more green trees, steep mountainous, steeper cliff-side drops, pristine and cold rivers, unbelievably scenic view, and about 6 hours of twists and turns. My guide describes it as “spectacular winding road.” I say #&@%?

Driving thru Mini-Switzerland

Our drive is remarkable for its stunning beauty. Our local guide calls this area Bhutan’s Mini-Switzerland. We vary in altitude, leaving the 4,265 ft valley floor in Wangdue to top over the Pele La Pass at 10,820 feet. We pass the Yakla Fast Food Hotel and weave around endless turns required by nature’s geological formations bigger than us.

Along the roadside are stupas, lots of trees and viewpoints. Cows are ubiquitous but so are the grazing yaks. Langur monkeys are seen in the trees. Large groups of tall banners dot the mountainsides. Red for fulfilling one’s wishes; white for remember the dead. I can take just so many photos of scenery. 

I seriously doubt those few white stone barriers are enough to prevent tipping over a mountainside into a 2000′ abyss. Roadwork is happening everywhere. Keeping up with Mother Nature is a full-time task.

Pele La Pass

We stop at Pele La Pass. Its Chorten is next to the road and representative of the Nepalese style. Red banners cover the opposite hillside, white banners are higher up. The wind is brisk and cool. I can’t see the snow but I feel it in the wind. Clouds float in a blue sky.

Kiosks selling crafts line the road. Scarves, drums, bells, yak dusters, beads and stuff. The hit of the stop is a young two-year-old boy using a rather lethal looking blade to split kindling. His mother explained he had been doing it expertly since he was a year old. I looked to check, and yes, he had all 10 fingers yet.

Always the spectacular vistas. Wood is prolific here and is used for both cooking and warmth. However, it is not pollution that mars Bhutan’s vistas, but the haze that builds up over distance.

Chendebji Chorten

Pristine white and gold surrounded by green mountains and misty clouds, Chendebji Chorten is a stupa found along the road above Trongsa. It follows the style of the magnificent Boudhanath Chorten outside Katmandu, Nepal. This is a smaller version.

According to legend, Chendebji covers the body of an evil spirit, possible the demon Ngala. It sits at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet. Buddha’s ever-watchful eyes appear, painted on all four sides at the top of the stupa symbolizing Buddha’s wisdom to see all things in all four directions.

Atop a hill near the stupa, three young monks practice their horns. As my niece commented, “It sounds like fifth grade band practice.” And that is exactly what it seems. Sitting with them is their instructor, who also finds their novice efforts amusing.

We descend into the town of Trongsa for a warm and hearty lunch. Trongsa is the ancestral home of the Royal Family. Nearby is the historic fortress and monastery of Trongsa Dzong. 

Trongsa Dzong

First constructed in 1646, the fortress expanded over the decades, and remains architecturally one of the most impressive, and largest, dzongs in Bhutan. It sits on a ridge above a deep gorge and the Mangde River with a sheer drop to the south. 

It looks easily defended, which was its purpose.  Trongsa Dzong represents one of Bhutan’s five dzongs recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is reached by crossing a beautiful old wooden bridge underneath which rushes at gurgling stream.

Whitewashed walls, sloping roofs, and intricate carvings decorate the Dzong. It involves a huge maze of courtyards, corridors, watch towers, and a complex of over 25 temples. There are a multitude of steps throughout. Intricate woodwork and colorful murals adorn the imposing structure. The windows, doors and eaves are expertly carved oak and pine. Water extinguishers abound but with so much wood everywhere, I fear they would be far from enough.

The dzong is also home to a number of religious relics, including the sacred Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha statue, all golden and surrounded by a bejeweled throne. Shakyamuni (623 BC-543 BC) is the founder of Buddhism. and this seated Buddha is one of the most sacred in Bhutan.

Bumthang Valley

Bumthang (“beautiful field”) is one of the 20 districts of Bhutan. It is the considered the most historic District (Dzongkha: བུམ་ཐང་རྫོང་ཁག་) because of its number of ancient temples and sacred sites. Bumthang consists of the four mountain valleys of Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor (Bumthang).

Many Bhutanese recognize Bumthang Valley as their cultural heartland. Yet, few travelers come this far east. Unfortunately for them, they miss some of the best of all Bhutan. Bumthang is located in a verdant valley with no absence of hills and forests. The valley also contains the highest concentration of temples, monasteries and dzongs in Bhutan. 

This region is not agricultural. Instead, its residents engage in the weaving of yathra textiles. It is common for every home to have a loom and girls, of course, are taught at a very young age to weave. In the community of Chumney, women of all ages weave colorful yarn into the unique designs known as yathra. It is the occupation of choice during the long, cold winters of Bunthang. Also, it represents a source of income for the families as all these woolen coats, blankets, handbags, and wall hangings are in demand by the tourists. 

Although Bhutanese wool is of high quality, most of the yarn imports  from Switzerland and India as it is much cheaper. Weaves can be quite intricate, most crafts very colorful.  Women use a backstrap loom, weaving intricate patterns then coloring them with natural dyes. We visit the Yathra Weaving Factory. The goods were there but the weavers were taking a vacation.

We overnight for two nights in Bumthang Valley. Our accommodations should be good as rooms are large, views of the valley good. However, complaints on the Yu-Gharling lodge ranges from no hot water to brown hot water; the ramps and stairs are numerous, the WiFi non-existent in the rooms. And is the tub or toilet leaking on the floor? Dinner was passable. No Red Panda. We go out for pizza and beer tomorrow night.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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