On Day 3, we traveled from the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu to Punakha. Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan, and it is about a 2 hour and a half drive away from Thimphu. Being of a lower altitude of 1,200 m above sea level, Punakha has a subtropical climate where the temperatures are much higher. As you would have guessed, it was rather warm there – even warmer than Singapore.
All travelers would bypass the Dochula Pass when they are traveling from Thimphu to Punakha. This pass is located at 3, 050 meters above sea level and over here, you can enjoy a paranomic view of the Himalayas Mountain Range as well as the 108 spectacular chortens that was built by Her Majesty The Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck of Bhutan.
According to their local culture, such numbers are auspicious. Similarly, to us Chinese, the number ‘eight’ is an auspicious number.
This pass is also like a pit stop for travelers to enjoy the view and grab some tea or coffee with crackers. The journey to this pass is not easy as there are a lot of sharp turns on the road. If you have car sickness, it is best to pop a motion-sickness pill or sit right in the center of the car.
The view up here is gorgeous. It’s exciting enough to be that close to the Himalayas knowing that I probably won’t be trekking up Mount Everest anytime soon.
The guide paid for my tea and crackers while I was in the cafeteria. I presumed that it was all part of the costs as other guides were also paying for the tourists too.
You can enjoy some tea and coffee outside the cafeteria as well. It felt like I had an outdoor picnic with a spectacular view of God’s marvelous creation. It’s simple yet very heartwarming to be basking under the sun and feeling like you’re the luckiest person on earth to be able to enjoy such a view of His masterpiece.
In addition to the tea and biscuits, my tour guide also got me a bowl of warm Bhutanese porridge or ‘thup’. Thup is a savory rice porridge seasoned with ginger and a Sichuan chili spice. It’s really delicious by the way. The porridge is a smoothe texture as it is cooked with broken rice grains which are fragmented into tiny bits.
It was one of those instances where I felt touched knowing that she tried to let me try some of the Bhutanese specialties when I mentioned that I wanted to try authentic Bhutanese food. Even though she is not perfect, I appreciate her effort. It’s the thought that counts.
This is one image that would be etched in my mind for a really long time.
Lunch at Hotel Lobesa
After another hour or ride, we finally reached Punakha. We stopped for lunch first at Hotel Lobesa before we proceed to visit the attractions in Punakha.
This restaurant has such a beautiful view of Punakha. Since the temperatures here are warm, the weather is perfect for cultivating rice. That explains for the existence of these vast rice cultivation fields.
It was over at this restaurant where I get to try out more local Bhutanese food like Ema Datshi which is a national dish of Bhutan. It is chili peppers cooked in yak cheese, and it tasted spicy but very appetizing.
This is their Bhutanese red chili paste which is similar to our local chili, Sambal.
Over here, they like to eat stir-fry fern shoots which is a crunchy vegetable dish that tasted almost like our local stir-fry Kang Kong. According to my guide, these type of ferns grows all over Bhutan in abundance.
After a hearty lunch, we headed to the fertility temple called Chhimi Lhakhang Temple. But to get there, we have to trek across the rice fields first.
Trekking Across the Rice Fields to Fertility Temple
It took us about 45 minutes to trek across the fields. I enjoyed the trekking experience as I got to have a glimpse of the local villagers’ life. We walked past houses of the farmers who work in the fields.
After being a few days in Bhutan, I realized that the architecture of the houses here is similar in many ways. Whether it is a palace, office buildings, shops or a local home in town or farms, the buildings all carry identical motifs of animals and nature like flowers. And each of these buildings or houses are wonderfully and skillfully-made.
The sun was beating down real hard, and I had to really cover myself up from head to toe, against the UV rays. But the view was truly scenic. You will also get to see the farmers in action.
Chhimi Lhakhang Temple (Fertility Temple)
This Buddhist monastery, which looks like a Japanese temple with the autumn trees in the foreground, was constructed by the ‘Divine Madman’ called Drukpa Kinley. There is an interesting myth behind this temple, but I shall leave it for Google to explain. In essence, this temple is famous for its fertility inducing power. The locals believed that couples who visited this temple would be miraculously blessed with a child.
Right outside the temple, we caught sight of young monks playing soccer. Over here in Bhutan, the monks aren’t under a strict set of rules. In fact, they can use handphones too. I saw a couple of monks using handphones at the temple grounds, sitting next to the altar.
Punakha Dzong is probably the most beautiful fortress in Bhutan. The fortress looked idyllic with the pink-colored jacaranda trees in the background. Doesn’t it resemble the temples in Japan?
It was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of Punakha. Can you imagine? This is an authentic ancient relic, and I do not think I have not been inside an ancient building before.
The fortress compound is huge. It is almost like a palace for the royalties to live.
The fortress also housed a temple, and the pigeons like to gather at the porch. This is a haven for photographers as there are so many photo opportunities here.
It would also be a perfect place to take a picture of yourself donned in Bhutanese traditional costume.
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge
Next up, we proceeded to the last destination for the day. It was the Pho Cchu suspension bridge which is an iconic attraction in Bhutan as this bridge is hailed as the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan.
From the bridge, you will get an awe-inspiring view of Punakha Dzong and Pho Chhu valley with the Pho Chhu river right below.
This bridge is so sturdy that it could even support the weight of the farm animals. As we were walking along the bridge, some farmers also brought their cows along the bridge. We had to stand at the edge of the bridge as we made way for the cows to walk past us.
We walked from one end of the bridge to the other and back again. As we made our way back, we spotted this Bhutanese school girl in Kira who was happily eating an ice popsicle. After she finished the popsicle, she sheepishly looked at me before tossing the plastic packaging of the popsicle into the river below us. I guess she must have known that it was not a right thing to do, but she did it anyway for convenience sake. A child is a child. That is why the adults will still need to educate them.
This must have been the so-called mishap of the trip which I will include in my travel conversations on Bhutan. It all started when I was about to check-in Wangdue Eco-resort at Wangdue Phrodang which is a 45-minute ride from Punakha.
I asked Drukasia for some hotel recommendations during the booking, and they recommended Wangdue Phrodang as I wanted to stay in an eco-resort in Bhutan. The online reviews of the hotels on TripAdvisor were great, and I was looking forward to my stay there. But it turns out that I had to make a last minute decision to change hotels.
What exactly happened?
After settling down in their lobby and finishing the welcome drink, their staff ushered me to my room. It was located above the kitchen. At that moment, I found it quite strange that they would have rooms right above the kitchen when I thought my rooms would be one of those houses behind the lobby.
The ‘New Room’
The moment I entered the room I was shocked to see how run-down it looked. It might not seemed like it in the photo below as the bed looked new. But the books on the shelf were dusty, and the windows were all broken. The room seemed rather dark, and flies were buzzing around. Not to mention that the toilets also looked old and not adequately furnished. The staff had the cheek to tell me what the room was new.
At the back of my head, I thought that maybe this was what exactly an ‘eco-resort’ would be. I kept doubting about myself and tried to talk myself into accepting this reality. However, instinctively, I knew that something was not right. As I glanced out of the windows, I saw that the other rooms in the row of houses looked way more beautiful than my room. I kept pacing back and forth in the room, thinking whether I should head to the front desk and request a change of rooms or not.
The last straw came I realized that my door cannot be locked properly so I went down to the front desk and made a complaint. The staff came up and showed me how the door was properly locked, but it still cannot be locked. My guide also came along to see what happened and she somehow just walked into the room to take a look as well. Then she told me that it did not look like the rooms which her previous guests had.
I was just so disappointed as the place was beautiful and yet I was treated this way. Did the staff really think that I could stay in this room with poor conditions for the price I was paying?
Long story short….
It turned out that the lodge had overbooked my room and gave my room to an Indian National couple when the agency has already reserved the room. My guide asked me if I would like to change hotel and she managed to get a room at Hotel Lobesa. And thankfully, by the grace of God, I got booked into a better hotel with nicer rooms.
See the difference? At least, there weren’t any flies buzzing around. The rooms here are spacious and spotless. Each room also has a WIFI router, so the Wifi connection was excellent here. Overlooking my room was the view of the paddy rice fields. Perfect. I could not have asked for more.
Bathroom amenities were kept simple, but at least it was very clean and looked like a proper bathroom.
In the evenings, it was equally warm as well. But there isn’t any air-conditioning in the room. There was only a fan, but I’m still a happy guest then. I am not complaining.
Dinner at Hotel Lobesa
Dinner starts at 7 pm and the dishes were the same as lunch. The staff at the restaurant saw me and even apologized for the same food that was being served to me. I must say that there were way too polite. Their staff were really very friendly and provided excellent service. They even prepared some soup and another side dish along with my meal. As long as the food is excellent, I have no complaints. I was thanking the Lord for the turn of events that made me felt truly blessed.
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