Copper Mountain, ColoradoCopper Mountain, Colorado

Punakha and Gangtey

December 19, 2016

Bridge to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal ChortenBridge to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal ChortenPrayer flags decorate the handrails of this suspension bridge to the path up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten Temple in Punakha, Bhutan

Khamsum Yulley Namgyal ChortenKhamsum Yulley Namgyal ChortenViews of the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten temple and Punakha Valley in Bhutan

Punakha Valley, BhutanPunakha Valley, BhutanViews from the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten temple in Punakha, Bhutan

We had a long drive ahead of us today.  After our standard dose of coffee and standardized breakfasts, we headed out to a river spot in Punakha where we would hike up to a stupa to get shots of the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten temple and surrounding valley.  Each hotel we stayed at was better than the last.  The weather was sunny and pleasant, making the hike to the top very relaxing.  Almost tropical.  The bus ride with the windows down and everyone with their cameras on their laps is something I won’t forget.  There are not a lot of tourists and tourist groups to run into in Bhutan, but it was fun running into an older Italian guy where I was set up with my tripod, and getting a “Chow Valentino” from him for wearing my VR46 MotoGP shirt.  No language in common, just two Rossi fans in a completely random part of the world.

Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten TempleHike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten TempleHike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten temple in Punakha, Bhutan

Rice fields of PunakhaRice fields of PunakhaViews of the rice fields along the path up to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten in Punakha, Bhutan

Bridge to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal ChortenBridge to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal ChortenPrayer flags decorate the handrails of this suspension bridge to the path up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten Temple in Punakha, Bhutan. Apples also for sale to hikers.

Bhutan RainbowBhutan RainbowCaught a rainbow on the drive from Punakha to Gangtey, Bhutan

After the hike back down, we headed out on the road.  Grabbed coffee at Drupchu Cafe, then lunch at a place called St. Wifi Restaurant.  By this time I really had started to miss asphalt.  The novelty of bumpy and muddy roads were beginning to wear off on me.  A pit stop for tea in Kuenphen Restaurant near Nubding rewarded us with a rainbow over the valley before we headed off on the road again.  We passed several waterfalls along the muddy highway, and I tried not to think about how all this water could simply wash away the road if it didn’t drain through the right way.  That thought, on top of our tires within inches of the edge at all times of the sheer cliffs along the highway didn’t help my fear of heights.  Sitting on the right side of the bus, with the cliffs to my right, I think I was leaning at a 45 degree angle towards the center of the bus the whole drive, in the hopes that my lean would somehow save us from dropping off the cliff.

Gangtey Camp in BhutanGangtey Camp in BhutanTravellers make camp near the Gangtey Monastery for the Gangtey Tsechu festival the next day

We finally reached our destination, the Hotel Gangtey Palace, where we would crash for the night in order to attend the Gangtey Tsechu blessing and festival the next morning.  When we arrived, our guide had told us that the visitors from around the area would be camped near the side of the temple, and would probably have a night market set up.  A few of us decided to try and wander around in the rain and mud to check out the camp.  We ended up getting invited into one of the camp tents for a drink with the locals.  Awesome experience.  They were mostly guides and drivers for other tour groups, gathered around a stove and telling stories.  They asked us how we enjoyed our “Bhutanese car massages”, courtesy of the abnormally rainy weather and unfinished bumpy highways.  Humorous sarcasm is evidently universal, even in the middle of nowhere.

Gangtey Monastery, BhutanGangtey Monastery, BhutanPeople attending the 5am Gangtey Tsechu festival and blessing in the rain. You always have to walk clockwise around a Dzong in Bhutan

Gangtey Tsechu FestivalGangtey Tsechu FestivalPeople attending the Gangtey Tsechu festival try and avoid the on and off rain showers throughout the morning.

Gangtey Tsechu FestivalGangtey Tsechu FestivalPeople attending the Gangtey Tsechu festival try and avoid the on and off rain showers throughout the morning.

Gangtey Tsechu FestivalGangtey Tsechu FestivalPeople attending the Gangtey Tsechu festival try and avoid the on and off rain showers throughout the morning.

Gangtey Tsechu FestivalGangtey Tsechu FestivalPeople attending the Gangtey Tsechu festival try and avoid the on and off rain showers throughout the morning.

Gangtey Tsechu FestivalGangtey Tsechu FestivalPerformers didn't let the rain or cold weather stop them during the blessing at the Gangtey Tsechu Festival in Bhutan

Gangtey Tsechu FestivalGangtey Tsechu FestivalAbbot blesses the festival attendees.

Gangtey, BhutanGangtey, BhutanSmall town of Gangtey and it's monastery in Bhutan

Woke up early the next day to attend the blessing at the Gangtey Monastery prior to the festival.  The rainy weather made for some interesting blue hour shots.  All the visitors were praying as they were walking around the temple in a clockwise direction.  Evidently it is very bad to walk around a temple in Bhutan in a counterclockwise direction.

Valley of Gangtey, BhutanValley of Gangtey, BhutanViews of the valley near Gangtey, Bhutan

Valley of Gangtey, BhutanValley of Gangtey, BhutanViews of the valley near Gangtey, Bhutan

After breakfast, we packed up and headed out to the bus.  Our luck finally ran out with our heavy bus and the muddy roads, and we spent a good amount of time pushing the bus out of the muddy hotel driveway and onto the road.  Spent a while walking around the valley in Gangtey to get a few more pictures, before starting our very long drive east towards our destination of Bumthang.  Interesting fact, we learned that this whole valley is protected by the government for the Tibetian black lake crane, which migrates here during the change of seasons.

I am naturally paranoid when it comes to driving on narrow roads with 1000 ft drops off the side and no guardrails.  But when you’re driving along, and rocks from the cliffs above you start hitting the side of your bus, and your tour leader starts getting a little worried, I get a little nervous.  When your Bhutanese guide tells everyone OK now it’s time to get off the bus and run ahead (since we can run faster than the bus can drive along these roads) just in case a landslide pushes the vehicle over the side, you grab your gear and let the adrenaline move your legs for you.  The bus slowly caught up to us and we made it through safely, but that’s an experience I didn’t think I would ever get on this trip.  Evidently the rainy weather had been playing havoc on the road conditions.  There were several more slides throughout the country, and when one happens, it takes a while to clear the road and traffic backs up when there’s only one road.

Trongsa Dzong, BhutanTrongsa Dzong, BhutanViews of the Trongsa Dzong on the drive from Gangtey to Bumthang, Bhutan

We passed through Trongsa and stopped to grab a few pictures of the Dzong along the side of the road while there was still light.  After a normal 4 hour drive turned into 9+ hours, we were rewarded upon our arrival at Kaila Guest House in Bumthang with good beef, french fries, and beer.  The owner even gave us some of his locally brewed Ara, made from butter, egg, and freaking pure alcohol.  This stuff was great, but it was considered bad luck to not finish the egg.  Moonshine infused eggs are not good, and after a few of these, coupled with no power at night and pitch black rooms, I woke up at 3 am and somehow convinced myself that I had gone blind from the alcohol while I searched frantically for my headlamp to prove to myself that I still had vision.  Alcohol is bad.

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