Ah a good night’s sleep. I woke up looking out my window at my great view. White billowy clouds curling over the Himalayan Mountain tops. I take my time getting up. Today is supposed to be one of the slower days of my stay here.
Breakfast first, and it’s all western fare. I have a fried egg, toast, ham and baked beans. This time the amount of food given to me isn’t quite as overwhelming. My guide leaves me to go have traditional breakfast in the back. I’m left feeling more isolated than normal on this tour. I’m now all alone in the dinning hall munching away with a cute and absolutely tiny waitress patiently waiting for me to finish eating, standing in the corner. I think maybe I’m going through a bit of shock after the incredibly social backpacker atmosphere in Thailand where I could strike up a conversation with anyone and instantly have new friends to now where I’m alone in a very controlled environment with no one to talk to but my guide. This would definitely be more fun with others.
We set off for the capital city of Thimpu (the h is silent) with some stops along the way. After lunch there isn’t much planned but a walk around town until the afternoon. The roads in Bhutan are all very narrow, I’m told not much more than 2m width, and often when there are oncoming cars both must slow down and move past one another carefully on the shoulder. I’m glad my driver has 10 years experience as a tour driver. I’ve also read that if you see someone driving straight on the roads in Bhutan, they’re likely drunk. An accident here could likely mean falling off a cliff. As we drive along I notice the scenery change, the heavily wooded hills of the Paro valley quickly disappear and what’s left is rocky dry earth that reminds me of home. I could be driving up Eastern California on my way to Mammoth right now.
Our first stop is another Dzong, they’re all very similar, and I’m starting to learn of the things to look for. Prayer flags and the paths carved by people always passing them on the left, paintings of guardian spirits at the front door to keep out the bad spirits, images of Guru Padmasambhava. I’m told by my guide that this dzong was blessed by a Tibetan monk skilled in iron work and for generations was a center for learning the craft. The lack of trees is from iron workers needing wood for their coal. What’s more interesting to me is this iron bridge over the the Paro river. We get to go across and It’s quite cool. A suspension bridge made with large iron chains, in the old days wood plants were placed over the chains, but now chain link fence is used. As you walk across you can see through to the rushing river below. Very cool.
Our next stop is the Royal Botanical Garden. I’m expecting something large and grand. I’m not sure why though, it’s a small mostly rural country with few inhabitants, it’s small and pleasant. I can see why the young generation comes here on dates. I think even though it’s size is small my mother would enjoy it. There is a prayer wheel being turned by a small river running through the garden. I’m told this blesses the water, the creatures in it, and anyone who touches it. It’s quite peaceful, and many stray dogs are enjoying the peace, sleeping under trees.
On to Thimpu. With a brief stop at the bank so I could withdraw a bit of money, we check in at the hotel. I get some time with internet for the first time in days allowing me to see the 50 or so facebook messages wishing me a happy birthday. Thanks everyone!
Lunch again was way more than I could eat. I’ve included pictures to give an idea. I asked my guide what happens to the food I can’t eat, and he says it’s thrown out. I feel guilty some more…
I notice that like from videos I’ve seen from North Korea, there is a man standing at the center of a roundabout directing traffic. He does it with quite a lot of flare. My guide explains that they had tried to put in traffic lights in Thimpu but it just didn’t work with the people so instead they have traffic directors. It shows how small of a country this is. We grow up with traffic lights everywhere, so when we learn to drive it’s already ingrained in us. But for them it isn’t and they found it easier and perhaps a better cultural fit to do this.
Then we just walked around town. It’s surprisingly small. It takes around 15 minutes to casually walk from one end to the other. Bhutan is certainly 3rd world in that it’s not very developed, but they’re clearly doing quite well for themselves. Most everything I’ve seen here or driving has been fairly clean and well taken care of. There are no homeless or beggars, and most everyone is pretty well dressed. I stopped in at an art gallery, and really loved one piece, but the price of about $400 was just out of my price range. Such a shame. There were also fair booths setup and I got my guide to shoot BB guns with me. I showed him how to properly hold and fire the thing, and he quickly did well. The locals were impressed I guess because real guns aren’t used in Bhutan. Pop pop pop pop went the balloons. Unsure what to do after touring the city (there isn’t a whole lot to do), we went bowling? It was quite surreal with 2 men in traditional garb bowling with me in a little dim 4 lane bowling alley with Kesha playing in the background.