Day 20: Driving

Today was a lot of time on the road, though not the busiest of days. I tried not to think about the car wreck we saw yesterday, but that wasn’t too hard with the scenery flashing past my window. More dramatic than ever, amazingly dense forest, I might even say it was a rainforest with how dense it was with green. The cliff faces even more dramatic and sheer. I wondered to myself how in the world do the trees even get a hold to grow there. A river is at the bottom rushing by with vigor. It reminds me of the stunning forests in New Zealand I saw as a child.

Our goal for the day was Phobjikha valley (don’t ask me to pronounce that one) where we will visit yet another monastery though from a different sect of Buddhism, and visit where these cranes visit from Japan on migration. We had to get a slightly early start because there is road widening going on the road in, and it’s closed for most of the day except for 1 hour intervals 4 times a day and at night.

Arriving at the road block we have to wait 20 minutes until it opens at 9:30. I take the chance to walk around as it’s really the only thing to do. I meet a husband a wife from Bolivia and Austria respectively, quite far apart. They’ve done quite a lot of travel themselves, and it was great to have someone to talk to and share stories with even if it’s just for 20 minutes. The husband speaks English well and tells me they came up from India and like everyone else I seem to have run into, warms me away from traveling there. He tells me everyone is harassing you worse than Thailand (I’ve heard this several times now) and will grab your arm. That theft is rampant too and the cities are dirty. I think after hearing the same thing like 5 times it’s now off my travel list for now.

Gantey Gompa, the monastery is small but is currently under renovation after a fire a few years back. We don’t spend much time there, my guide is getting my boredom with seeing so many monasteries. But there is a painters room where an artist is painting all the details to go around the monastery. His work is good, and he has quite the undertaking. He’s selling little strips of hand painted canvas. The price is right so I buy one. It will be my artwork from Bhutan, though it’s a bit smaller than I would have liked. I tried to ask my guide what was the difference between the sects, and all he could come up with was how they wore their robes, and what their offerings were to Buddha. I figure there is more and he just doesn’t know.

Next we go to a crane conservatory to see if we can catch a glimpse of a crane. Sadly they’ve moved on for the summer last month and we’re out of luck. We don’t stay long.

Lunch was uneventful other than my guide and driver spending a lot of time chatting in the back while I wait on my own in the front dinning room. It kind of amplifies my frustration at already feeling so isolated on a tour. I’ll admit to being peeved.

We have to head back in time to catch the 2pm opening of the road block or we’re stuck till 5pm. It starts raining right as we leave Phobjikha. I’m a little worried about how little tread is left on our car’s front tires, but we spend so much time avoiding potholes we pretty much never get up to a speed where it matters. We make it safely to the road block and Gembpo cuts in line. We’re the first ones through when the gate opens, Gembpo is driving quite quickly and it’s making me uncomfortable after what I saw yesterday, the bright red car smashed to bits at the bottom of a ravine sticks in my mind. I ask my guide Lhendup what’s the rush and he gets the message and has Gembpo slow down. Besides to me the best part of the day has been looking at the scenery out the window. Not long after Gembpo slows down Lhendup goes “uh oh, I think there is an accident ahead, we haven’t seen any traffic” and he’s right, we haven’t. Sure enough a few more km down the road and we see traffic backed up. It’s not immediately clear what’s gone wrong. Lhendup and I get out to see what’s up and Gembpo sneaks behind us cutting in line again. While we walk I keep hoping it’s the backhoe we saw earlier stopping traffic to work; it isn’t. A big truck full of rocks is leaned over right next to the edge. It looks like a close call. We later find out that a truck going down the hill got stuck in the mud, and this truck decided to pass it to try to give it a tow, but instead overloaded, it’s wheels sunk into the mud and started tipping. By the time we’ve arrived they’ve spent 2 hours trying empty the thing with the backhoe but aren’t completely successful. We watch as they figure out what to do and eventually unstick the precariously placed truck.

On our way back to the hotel we stop and Wangdue Dzong, and it’s in rough shape. I’m not so interested in more Dzongs. We also see a troop of monkeys cross the road, not something you see every day at home.

Driving back Lhendup and Gembpo introduce me to Bhutanese music. It’s mostly very ancient singing style accompanied by a beatbox and a keyboard. Lhendup decides it would be culturally relevant for me to go with them to a night club tonight. I agree, why not? This has to top bowling in Thimpu for the surreal award. The “club” (yes sarcastic quotes) is like a single room with some seats. The is a DJ of sorts playing music off of a PC and a couple microphones on stage. A ledger is passed around where people can sponsor to have other people sing or dance or stage. Many people sponsor themselves. It’s so incredibly strange. The music is like what we listened to in the car, mostly traditional music sometimes with a slightly modern twist. A young woman buys herself a dance and goes on stage. She dances a traditional styled dance to the music by herself while everyone watches. It’s so strange. Gembpo has the horrible idea of sponsoring to have me and Lhendup go on stage and dance with 2 other girls, the woman from before and one of the hostesses. I begrudgingly accept, and they pick some horrible western music, “I have a feeling”. No one knows what they’re doing and it’s so incredibly awkward and weird. Lhendup confides in me later that he used to be addicted to going to night clubs. I don’t get it. I can’t help but chuckle to myself, here I am literally on the other side of the globe (13 hours time difference) dancing on a tiny stage with a girl I don’t know while a dozen people watch. I do find though that the best bear on the trip is most definitely Druk 11000, a very strong (8.8%) Lager brewed in Bhutan by Kingfisher from India. It’s not the most flavorful beer in the world, but it tastes fine with more character than anything I’ve had so far over here, and it finishes clean. Too bad they come only in 750ml bottles. Oops!

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