Another adventurous tour: crossing Bhutan from west to east

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Baccio -a Swiss friend of mine- is a very experienced solo traveller who has been travelling the world extensively in his very own individual way: he is open minded, flexible and adventurous. He likes to invest time to really getting himself into new places and situations in order to let encounters and first hand experiences become possible. With this attitude he has always met very good people and made friends wherever he goes.

So I was happy when Baccio asked me for advice about travelling in Bhutan and -if possible- for individual guidance.

I suggested Baccio to make a west-east crossing of the country including a trekking to the remote villages of Merak and Sakten in the far east. All together we would be in the country for 24 days. I wanted to introduce him to “my Bhutan” and to have memorable encounters and experiences with the help of some of my friends;  at the same time I wanted to explore -together with him- new areas: although I have been working in Bhutan for 10 years now and have been fortunate to visit most of the 20 dzongkhags (districts), I haven’t reached further east than Mongar so far.

Tshering Zam, my best friend and wonderful partner in Bhutan, organised everything perfectly with her travel agency. And she accompanied us on our journey with heartfelt dedication and care; with her beautiful, lively and natural presence, and her genuine interest in people and culture she is always able to open up doors and hearts easily.

In the cooperation between Tshering and me, we seek to combine the best qualities of our two worlds -Bhutan and Switzerland- and to bring in our individual background and experience.

Baccio and me started our adventure in Zurich on Sept 29, flying via Dubai to Kathmandu, where my friend Kay was receving us at the airport. We stayed two nights in beautiful Rokpa Guesthouse, hearing the charming sounds of nearby Shechen Monastery in Boudha (very close to the big stupa that now has to be renovated after the big earth quake in April of this year).  We had a very interesting and intense day with Kay showing us around in “his Kathmandu”.
And in Shechen Monastery I met a young monk again: Dokya Tulku. I met Dokya for the first time in Bhutan in 2005 when he was still a boy, living and studying together with another monk as a fellow of Yangsi Khyentshe Rinpoche. Dokya Tulku is now 23-years old and will soon finish his studies to become a teacher in Buddhist philosophy. He offered me to meet and guide me and possible fellow travellers through Shechen Monastery, whenever I will come back to Kathmandu.

At the entrance of the Golden Temple (Kwa Bahal) in Kathmandu

At the entrance of the Golden Temple (Kwa Bahal) in Kathmandu

After a marvellous flight with an extraordinarily clear sight on the Himalayan range (including Mount Everest) we landed safely in Paro; the landing in Paro is always such an exciting and beautiful experience, since the pilots have to fly around various mountains and crossing different hills on their way down towards the runway in Paro! .

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Tshering picked us up at the airport and took us after a first yummy Bhutanese lunch in town to Sangchokor Buddhist Institute, one of her favourite monasteries high above Paro. She has been connected to this monastery since long time by having done a lot of volunteering work and she is even related to the rinpoche who is the abbot here. On the way back to town we visited the traditional farmhouse of one of Tshering’s relatives and we could drink a toast to our happy arrival and first day in Bhutan with a homemade “ara”, a local brandy and Bhutanese speciality, drunk warmly, prepared with butter and egg.

The next day we started with one of the highlights of each Bhutan-tour that most visitors often get only towards the end of their journey: a walk up and visit of spectacular and holy Taktsang Monastery (“Tigernest”).

Tshering and Baccio in front of the Tigernest

Tshering and Baccio in front of the Tigernest

Naturally, during our 24 days and nights travelling from West to East Bhutan we came across many wonderful encounters and experiences and -almost normal in Bhutan- various unexpected and unplanned ones too.

Among other things we were invited by a yak herder family into their temporary hut for tasting fresh yak milk and cheese, and by a monk into his monastic cell for tea and biscuits, we became part of a topping-out ceremony in Merak village, and a nightly ceremony in honour of a local deity in Sakten.

These were the stations on our 24-days tour from West to East Bhutan:
Paro (Sangchokor Buddhist Institute and Taktsang Monastery) – Thimphu (meeting people, institutions, interesting places..) and surrounding (Cheri Monastery)  – Dochu La Pass (Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Temple) – Chimi Lhakhang (the temple of the “Divine Madman” Drukpa Kuenley) – Punakha (visits of Punakha Dzong and Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten) – Phobjikha Valley (staying in a farmhouse homestay and visiting of the local Primary School) – Gangtay Village and Monastery – Trongsa (Trongsa Dzong and Tower of Trongsa Museum) – Pele La Pass – Chumey (Yathra production – best woolen products in Bhutan) – Jakar/Bumthang (religious sites, Swiss-Bhutan cooperation institutions) – Ogyen Choling Palace and Guest House in Tang Valley – Natural trail from Tang Valley back to Jakar (visiting a nunnery on the way) – Thrumshing La Pass – Mongar – Trashigang – 7-days trekking to Merak and Sakten villages (meeting the semi-nomadic people living there) – Tshechu (a religious festival) in Khaling – Samdrup Jongkhar – Guhawati (India)

Below some more photos with captions from our journey:

Inside Sangchokor Buddhist Institute high above Paro

Inside Sangchokor Buddhist Institute high above Paro

On Dochu La you can use a powerful binocular telescope to watch some of the highest peaks on earth: Masang Gang (7165m), Gangkhar Puensum (7541m), and Kulha Gangri (7554m). And you can also detect Gasa Dzong, a small white speck almost 50km to the north.

On Dochu La Pass you can use a powerful binocular telescope to watch some of the highest peaks on earth: Masang Gang (7165m), Gangkhar Puensum (7541m), and Kulha Gangri (7554m). And you can also detect Gasa Dzong, a small white speck almost 50km to the north.

A bowl with milk and flowers at the entrance of Druk Wangyal Lhakhang on Dochu La Pass.

A bowl with milk and flowers at the entrance of Druk Wangyal Lhakhang on Dochu La Pass.

Inside the rice fields, on the beautiful way up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a four-storied new temple containing elaborate  Buddhist paintings and fantastic scultpures

Inside the rice fields, on the beautiful way up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a four-storied new temple containing elaborate Buddhist paintings and scultpures

A monk at Chimi Lhakhang, the temple of the "Divine Madman" Drukpa Kuenley near Punakha.

A monk at Chimi Lhakhang, the temple of the “Divine Madman” Drukpa Kuenley near Punakha.

Primary School in Phobjikha Valley

Primary School in Phobjikha Valley

Mural painting inside Trongsa Dzong

Mural painting inside Trongsa Dzong

Tshering Zam making traditional sun hats out of local plants (followed by a cow who saw the plants as food and not as hats)

Tshering Zam making traditional sun hats out of local plants (followed by a cow who saw the plants as food and not as hats)

Flowers on a trail from Tang Valley to Jakar (Bumthang)

Flowers on a trail from Tang Valley to Jakar (Bumthang)

Listening to voices inside a rock behind Ta Rimochen Lhakhang, Tang Valley

Listening to voices inside a rock behind Ta Rimochen Lhakhang, Tang Valley

On Trumshing La Pass

On Trumshing La Pass

Invited into a private home near Mongar

Invitation into a private home near Mongar

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Yak herders in between Merak and Sakten

Yak herders in between Merak and Sakten

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Campsite on Merak-Sakten trekking

Near the campsite

A farmer with her sheep in Sakten

A farmer with her sheep in Sakten

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Before going to school (Sakten)

Before going to school (Sakten)

Grinding cereal (Sakten)

Grinding cereal with a traditional water mill (Sakten)

Ceremonial dances for a local deity in Sakten

Ceremonial dances for a local deity in Sakten

Running towards the festival ground (Tshechu in Khaling, Trashigang)

Running towards the festival ground (Tshechu in Khaling, Trashigang)

Tshechu dancers

Tshechu dancers

At the Tshechu

At the Tshechu in Khaling, Trashigang

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