Monday – We began our day in Thimpu with a scouting mission for the shopping, and also a trip to the post office where we had official Bhutan postage stamps made with our pictures! This was perhaps a bit touristic but a very funny thing to do. Bought some postcards at a shop – now I had a task to address and mail these (later they were quite the hit when people received them!).
Once again we were off on the bus, heading for Punakha – here as well they are upgrading the road. It was mostly dirt, blocked by construction crews in many places. So though it was very slow going, I liked it, the forests were quite scenic.
We reached the high pass at Dochu La, stopping to walk among the 108 chortens there. Cars and trucks traveling through the pass will drive around in a circle here, circumambulating without getting out of their vehicles! Although the day was clear, clouds covered the Himalayan mountains. Thus we missed the most spectacular view shown on the postcards for sale here. We hoped to be luckier on the return trip.
Kutira had arranged with her friend, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorjii Wangmo Wangchuck, wife of the fourth king, to give us access to a new temple built here in 2005, known as the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang. It was interesting that it was constructed in atonement after military action against rebels by Assam, near the border with India. I wish I lived in a country that atoned for its military actions.
Once again there was a bit of frustration not to be able to photograph – it is good we are respectful people. Inside, Kutira and a monk brought us to the upstairs walkway for a close look at murals depicting the history of Bhutan in the last 150 years. These started with the Trongsa Penlop who negotiated with the British, continuing through the following five kings. There’s a longer discussion of the country’s history in my Lonely Planet guidebook – it’s been a slow yet steady transition to the modern world, with accomplishments and challenges. Panels depicted events during the reign of each king, ending with modernization – monks on computers, starting the national airline, and with a cell phone displaying the text message, “Where’s my yak?”. Did I mention – it was quite frustrating not to photograph!
We had a nice lunch at the restaurant at the pass, with of course a great view. Then it was a two-hour slow drive further on through the mountains. We finally arrive at Punakha as it was getting dark. Our first stop was a store selling wooden penises – so of course I bought five of them, they make great gifts. Next we had tea at a restaurant near the store, showing off our purchases to much hilarity. And then onward to the Damchen Resort hotel for a nice meal and settling in for the night.