25 September: Paro to Wangdue with a Visit to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
18. Wangdue lies about 135 kms east of Paro. The road from Paro, skirts Thimpu from the South. A driving time of around 5 hours. Before leaving for Wandue, we had planned a visit to Takshang Lakhang, better known as Tiger's Nest Monastery. Six of us left for the base of the Hill about 8 kms from our Hotel at Paro. The base from where the trek starts is at 7,000 ft and the Monastery at 10,000 ft. The area was swarming with tourists of all ages, preparing themselves for the climb. Some chose to ride on ponies, the elderly including me, found walking sticks for ourselves. Vendors of curios, snacks and other, knick-knacks, were setting up their kiosks. Rana, Raju, Avinash, Mike and self commenced the climb at a steady pace. Ashish with wife and infant daughter followed. To keep our minds occupied on matters other than worrying about the steepness of the climb, we, as advised by Mike, kept up a constant dialogue, on all and sundry topics always veering back to our army days. This mental diversion worked. There were a few local trekkers, who climbed up effortlessly. After about an hour or so we reached the midway point, had a well deserved cup of tea and snacks at the restaurant. We requested for, and obtained change from the Restaurant Manager, as there are several temples at the Monastery, where one may give a donation.
19. Adequately rested we pressed on. We had to climb down a large flight of steps and then climb up an equally large number of steps again. It was tiring, but the beautiful Monastery a work of engineering and art, beckoned. At the entrance to the Temple we were asked to deposit our mobile phones, our particulars were recorded, and only then were we allowed to visit the temple complex. At each temple I could feel the purity, simplicity and piety of the place and shrine. Raju and Rana were already there. We paid our obeisance and after about 40 minutes of "darshan", prepared to return to base. It was now all downhill, except for one long flight of steps, which with a few pauses I was able to climb. Saw an elderly lady who while climbing was recording her views. Exhausted but cheerful she plodded on. We made way for mule trains coming uphill, carrying rations for the monks at the Monastery.
20. We were back at base having taken a little over four and a half hours. While we rested, Avinash who has a large collection of "Shers", told us a few very good ones. We had to rush back to the Hotel to pack and move on to the next location, Wangdue. A few more photographs before we hit the road.
21. It was already past midday. Short of Thimpu City we turned east and the climb began, so did a slight drizzle. The next Check Post was about an hour away. The climb continued upto the Dochula Pass which is at a height of 10,300 ft. We lined up for a photograph. The War Memorial is in the background. It was constructed in 2003 to honour the soldiers of the Bhutan Army who fought to dislodge the rebels who were using Bhutan as a base to launch raids into India. The Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, commissioned the monument, it has 108 stupas (chortens). On a clear day Dochula Pass, provides a grand view of Bhutan, unfortunately the day was cloudy, we missed the view.
A Stupa at the War Memorial (Downloaded from the Net)
22. The road for the major part was unpaved, and thick with slush. It was a bumpy drive, with a few smooth stretches, of about 100 meters where we picked up speed, before stepping on the brakes to negotiate the next patch of slush. It was dark and progress remained slow. In the slushy portions we had to be very careful, trying to drive within the ruts. While turning, we hoped the bikes would not skid. A couple of bikers did skid, but mercifully no stones just slush, which cushioned the fall, "Zour ka Jhataka, Dheerae sae". Short of Wangdue the road improved, we crossed the Dang Chu and headed for the Hotel. About three to four kms short of our Hotel was a land slide and the road closed. It was around 9 p.m. and we were tired. Dozers were on the job. With cool efficiency the operators cleared the landslide and after a wait of about 40 minutes we made for the hotel, driving gingerly across the newly cleared landslide area. The day had been tough for Neelima, she was the last to fetch up with the back up vehicle, as she had to stop for any minor bike repairs. Though she took it sportingly I knew it was tough on her. Another challenging day under the belt.
Our Hotel at Wangdue
26 September: Wangdue to Jhakar (Bumthang)
23. Bumthang is at an altitude of over 9000 ft, the countryside, is beautiful and is referred to as the food bowl of Bhutan. Our destination was Jhakhar about 200 kms away, in Central Bhutan. Road conditions varied from good to very difficult. 13 kms from Wangdue lies Punaka the ancient capital of the Country. The Dzong at Punakha has been constructed at the confluence of two rivers, Mo Chu and Po Chu - meaning female river and male river. Punakha Dzongkhag was the capital of the Country from 1637 to 1907 and the first National Assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the Country. On October 13, 2011, the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancé, Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong.
Got to get it right
24. Photographs below are at the Punaka Dzong.
25. Having visited Punaka we retraced our wheels towards the Hotel and rolled on for Jhakar. The road was quite alright, being daylight the major potholes could be avoided as we zig-zagged on.
26. About 25 kms beyond the Hotel, we came to a grinding halt as there had been a massive landslide, and the road blocked. The landslide took place moments before we were to cross the area. The response of the Road Maintenance Team was swift. Within an hour a large carrier rumbled up carrying a JCB and got to work. The time assessment for its clearance was two to three hours. The landslide was close to a village which had a restaurant, we decided to wait at the Village area rather than where the road clearance was taking place. Beside the restaurant was a lady selling a local fruit which was something like an orange in appearance but tasted more like an apple. We slouched around, waiting for the road to be cleared for traffic. More travellers came along many surprised to find a large number of mo'bikes and their riders.
27. The wait stretched onto four hours and still there was no sign of the road opening for traffic. It was around 3 p.m. and we had a long way to go, over a Pass and steep roads. There was no hope of being anywhere near our destination before night fall. We unanimously decided to return to the Hotel and start afresh the next day. Back to the same Hotel, we freshened up and had an enjoyable evening, I got an opportunity to blast away on the Trumpet.
27 September: Wangdue to Jhakar
28. We left the Hotel at Wangdue at 0630 h, so that we could cover the distance to Jhakar well within day light hours. Within a km or two we had to stop as road clearance was in progress. As per schedule the road would only be open for traffic at 0800 h, this was rather disappointing. Fortunately the road was cleared faster than we expected and we were waved across by 0700 h.
29. On reaching the previous days landslide area, we were again disappointed to find that the road was closed, as a fresh lot of stones and rubble had rolled down blocking traffic. Mike had a chat with the supervisor who was kind enough to let the bikes proceed. There were a heap of boulders wedged between the hill side and a larger boulder that would require considerable effort to be moved. For us time was critical. Maneuvering over this obstacle required considerable skill. We lined up to cross the rubble. Revving up the engines and with assistance from locals who helped push our bikes, we were able to get across. Having crested the mound of rubble, we cautiously descended onto the road, relieved to have been able to negotiate the obstacle.
30. The road continued winding its way uphill till we crossed the Pele La Pass at 11,220 ft. There was a fair amount of traffic on the road.
31. Beyond the Pass the road improved. There were a few stretches of thick slush which required careful handling of the bike, often having to manoeuvre in restricted spaces between the hill side and large load carriers which we needed to either overtake or which were heading in the opposite direction.
32. Lunch was at Trongsa 7,215 ft, a fairly large village. After lunch, Manoj on his Pulsar and I started earlier than the rest. I enjoyed the drive across the picturesque, countryside, with pine and cedar trees. It was a clear day, and we were able to drive fairly fast. Though the road was narrow it was smooth and the traffic very light. We crossed small roadside villages and for the first time I felt that perhaps development had not reached this part of the Country.
Click here > to explore Part 3 of Across Bhutan On Mo’bikes: 22 To 30 September 2015.