22 March 2024

Altitude 7590

We wake to a magical morning.

Thin fluffy clouds float over the valley and around the Trongsa Dzong and Taa Dzong Watch Tower. A dusting of snow lays on the pine trees and peaks. Rays of sunlight come thru a mountain pass highlighting the valley, clouds and dzong. Finally, the glowing orb of the sun itself rises over the mountains to the east. This is the morning we have been waiting for.

Today, we retrace our drive east to west from Trongsa to Thimphu. Compared to our arrival, our drive will be a contrast in weather. Shooting rocks have tumbled into the roadway but our driving lane is clear. The sun brightly shines, warming the air and melting the snow. Waterfalls of all sizes plunge down the mountain fully refreshed by yesterday’s rain. I see a soaring Himalayan eagle seeking lunch.

This trip, we experience the added drama of clouds, foggy valleys, and an accumulation of about 5” of snow as we cross over the 11,000 foot Pele La Pass. I check for the little kindling boy to count fingers. Bundled warmly in his winter wear, he happily prances around in the snow. The scene is polar-opposite from our last pause three days ago.

Gangtey Monastery

Just above the pass is Gangtey Monastery. We drive in on a narrow one-lane rural road surrounded by yaks and herders in their blue-tapped temporary shakes. To pass another car, one driver halts and the oncoming driver uses the muddy berm. A tree toppled over the road so our van drive around, perilously close to the road’s edge.

Built in 1613, the monastery acts as the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition. It sits above the Phobjikha Valley which is known for its winter migration of the endangered black-necked cranes. The cranes are famous for circling the monastery three times on arrival and repeating this circling when returning to Tibet in February.

The monastery dates back to the prophecies made by the Terton (treasure finder) Pema Lingpa in the late 15th century. Pema Lingpa, born in 1450, is considered an incarnation of Guru Rinpoche. The present Wangchuk Dynasty whose kings rule Bhutan, are descendants of Pema Lingpa.

Wangdue Phodrang Dzong

From one dzong to another, we proceed through the Wangdue Phodrang Valley, elevation 4,265 ft, which shares its name with the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong which dominates the district from its hill overlooking the Wangdi River and the valley. Constructed in 1638, supposedly the Ngawang Namgyel named it after a boy named Wangdi Whom he met playing beside the river. 

The third oldest dzong in Bhutan, fire totally destroyed it in 2012.  Fortunately, renovation was happening at the time of the fire and the historical relics were elsewhere in storage. Unfortunately, those renovations possibly caused the fire. Afterwards, a massive reconstruction project began and a new dzong built, all by hand, to house the relics, monastery and resident monks. Also, shortly after the fire, more than 1000 Japanese sympathizers donated an equivalent of over US$134,500 to the Wangdue Phodrang Reconstruction Fund to assist in its rebuilding. 

Crossing Dochula Pass

We continue our descent into the west. The snow disappears. In fact, the temperatures warm and layers are removed.

However, as we once again ascend to the pass, the wind strengthens and clouds begin the thicken. After a bunch more ups and downs, twists and turns, we arrive at 10,000 foot Dochula Pass.

Not a speck of snow covers its 108 white stupas. While the surrounding mountains are clearer and snow-capped, clouds are low and ominous, shielding any long view of the Himalayas.

Northeast at Dochula Pass

Another hour or so of circuitousness, a drive made longer as there is no straight alignment between any two points in Bhutan, we enter Thimphu. We once again stay downtown at the Willows. Town is very quiet as main streets are shut down because once again “Modi is coming.”


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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