21 March 2024

Altitude 7200′

Bumthang has its own domestic airport, one of four airports in Bhutan.  It opened in 2011 only to be closed due to damage to an instability of the runway.

After repairs, Drukair turboprops departed the runway, climbed over the surrounding mountain peaks, and flew on to Paro a couple times a week. Not even their “My Happiness Reward” program could convince me to do so. 

Instead, as if we hadn’t seen enough trees and twists, we retrace our 42-mile path back to Trongsa. Our route is short but the curves are no less winding and undulating when traveling in the opposite direction. Doesn’t sound like a big deal. After all, I drive that far to shop. The difference is a 30-minute commute as opposed to a 4-hour traumatic drive of hairpin curves. Ah, the blessings of ginger pills!

Weather has turned rainy and cold.

Clouds hang low over the mountains and few peaks peek out. It adds to the mystery of Bhutan. At the same time, it makes driving on these winding mountainous roads even more of an adventure. I thank Buddha I am not traveling with an Indian driver, as I doubt these changing weather conditions would make much of a difference in their speed and passion for overtaking traffic.

Good News – Bad News

Early morning, cold outside, raining, clouds obscure the roads. The electricity flickers then suddenly goes out. It appears to be an inauspicious start to our day.

I learn the power is out for miles. Also, snow has closed the pass. Unlike home, when Tejon Pass from the valley to Los Angeles closed for snow or winds, there were alternate routes to drive. In Bhutan, one drives one highway – one route. We either wait here or take our chances once at the pass. I look for seatbelts in the van. Nope.

I consider the road and those little white concrete barriers meant to stop vehicles from plunging down the hillsides. None of these thoughts are enlightening. I decided to rely on my good karma and our Bhutanese driver.

So what is the good news?

The Honey Shop is open at nine.

Hoping for snow-capped peaks. Getting snow-covered roads

Rain continued. Clouds, while fluffy white and beautiful, floated in and around the mountains and concealed their peaks. We leave an elevation of 7200′ and begin our climb into the clouds. By about 9000′ I see snow in patches. The higher we slowly climb, the more snow. It is only us on the road. Soon, the rain turns to snow, pushed almost horizontal by wind.

By 10,000 feet, the snow blankets everything. Pine trees are flocked with a beautiful layer of white. Gaining altitude, the road becomes two worn tracks through 3 inches of snow and slush.

An occasional car or truck comes from the west but doesn’t necessarily mean the pass is open.

Daddy, are we there yet?”

At 10,500 feet, snow fills the air, trees wear a thick layer of white, and the cows beside the road look miserable. Clouds float as much beneath us as overhead. We reach 11,200-foot Yotongla Pass covered in a 5” layer of fluffy wet snow. Here, thanks to an absence of pollution, the snow is as white as the clouds.

We pause for photos. There is the ubiquitous stupa, prayer flags and lots of snow. We take our photos. However, the most fun was had as the driver and local guide plied their throwing arms in a Bhutanese snow ball fight.

Once over the pass, we descend towards Trongsa. Quickly, on the west side of the mountain, the snow disappears. I think our driver is disappointed as he seemed to enjoy the snow. As for me, roads are safer; we are less apt to plunge over the side of the mountain! Alas, with relief, we arrive in Trongsa.

Trongsa Taa Dzong

Trongsa Taa Dzong perches on a promontory above town and opposite to the previously visited large fortress of Trongsa Dzong. Originally constructed as a watch tower, Taa Dzong guarded against internal rebellion.

The museum consists of several floors and eleven galleries filled with native works of art, masks and costumes, statuary, carvings, texts, Buddhas and other antiquities. A movie explains the history of Trongsa. Exhibits are interesting but galleries are dark. By far the best part of the Taa is the very top of the tower where views over the valley are awesome. Photography and cell phones are not permitted inside, which is shameful as one misses capturing that spectacular view. 

Built in 1652, its four observation points resemble a Tiger, Lion, Dragon and a mythological bird called a garuda. Today, the Taa fortress acts as a modern National Royal Heritage Museum (assisted by the financial support of Austria). 

Amazing views over Trongsa Dzong and weather to come

Willing Waterfall Cafe

We pause at the Willing Waterfall Cafe for a cappuccino. Not only is the coffee good but their backdrop of a magnificent waterfall hits the spot. It is rainy outside and warm and cozy inside.


Town is quiet, pleasant and tranquil. Our hotel Yangkhil Resort offers spectacular views of the Dzong, Taa and mountains. Perfect spot for a beer. Maybe two Red Pandas to take my mind off our early start tomorrow. We will retrace the 120 miles of zigzagging road to Thimpu. In between are the two high passes of Pele La and Dochula. And more snow?


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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