Today, we started out with a quick walk around a rural weekend market. Much smaller than the market we saw last Sunday in Thimpu, much less organized, and more interesting. Then we continued with a hike that included a 500 foot elevation gain to (wait for it…) a monastery! It was sprinkling when we set out, then humid, probably about 70 degrees. When we got to the top, we were treated to a panoramic view of the river valley and the surrounding mountains. The sky cleared and the air dried out for the walk down to the river.
Back on the river, we piled into a rubber raft for a boat ride down the mild rapids. We had fun, but the group of four boats behind us were having more fun. They were full of Bhutanese kids, late teens, early 20s that were having a splash war. Roaring and laughing, one boat would pull up to the next and everyone splashed each other with their paddles. Seated in the midst of the mayhem and thoroughly enjoying himself was a middle-aged Australian guy. They respectfully stopped when they passed us, then started right up again.
After they pulled us out of the river at the landing point, we enjoyed a picnic lunch, which was one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip. Hot food with white tablecloths, covered seats, cloth napkins, a very elegant picnic. Being Saturday, there were lots of Bhutanese camping alongside the river and enjoying their lunch as well.
Next stop: a flower show. This is the fourth year they’ve had this. Sponsored by the king’s mother and maybe some Thai organization, the show had lots of interesting flower arrangements. Pinecones and sticks in a vaguely Japanese-style arrangement; fantastic mushrooms/fungus growing on dead sticks; a series of little mountains with monasteries on top, one of which we recognized; as well as a bunch of more conventional flower displays. Heidi, you would have loved it. The show was well-attended, lots of people, families with kids and maybe a dozen tourists, plus the eight of us.
Tenzin told us that Bhutan has a lot of fans in Thailand. Apparently at some royal Thai function some years back, the Bhutanese king sent his son, the crown prince, who is now king. He’s a good looking guy, and a gentle person, and the Thais fell in love with him. Tourism from Thailand jumped.
Next door to the flower show is the Punakha Dzong, an old fortress that until fairly recently was the seat of government. Here is where all the kings are coronated. Jacaranda trees in bloom between the fortress wall and the river, along with the covered bridge over the river made for a very nice scene. In a corridor, our group passed two middle aged American women walking the opposite direction. One said to the other, “boy, some of these tour leaders are really good looking!” Maria and I were the only ones who heard her and we cracked up. “We’ll let him know” we called out. Tenzin IS very good looking, he looks like I did when I was 40.
Quiet day today. We drove back along the only east-west road in the country past stuff we had already seen. All the way back to Paro, where the airport is. We stopped in the little town for some souvenir shopping and then on to our lodging, a guesthouse converted from an old farmhouse. It’s comfortable rustic and the most charming place we have stayed. All around is a working farm, with rice seedlings popped up, soon to be transplanted, and winter wheat being harested, workers in the fields cutting the stalks by hand.
Dinner was very good, farm-to-table being about 30 feet or so. At dinner, Tenzin briefed us on our hike to Tiger’s Nest tomorrow. Weather looks iffy. Look up Tiger’s Nest for more info, we’ll report in the next installment.