26 October 2019
After breakfast we have a 30-minute drive into the countryside to the base of a hill where there is a ridge-top temple – we are climbing up to visit it. We begin our hike at a suspension bridge that crosses the Mo Chu river. We walk alongside a little stream and then through paddy fields in a very lush almost subtropical valley before starting the approx 1 hour climb the trail to the Kahmsum Yulley temple. Although Punakha is lower than Thimphu, we are still feeling the affects of altitude and I am still coughing and wheezing so the climb is hard work. But we walk up gradually and stopping often to take photos and admire the view.
Kahmsum Yulley temple was built by the Queen Mother, Ashi Tsherin Yangdon Wangchuck, on the current King’s coronation and is dedicated to the well being of Bhutan. It’s a classic example of Bhutan’s fine architectural and artistic traditions, and is the only one its kind in the world. The 3 storey building itself is spectacular but for me the best part was that you could climb up through the different layers of temple and emerge out onto the roof for impressive 360 views of the surrounding valley and even to snow capped peaks in the distance.
Going down is a lot easier than going up and it seems no time until we are back at the suspension bridge where we watch rafters setting off on their journey down-river. As we drive back we see rafts perched on the top of (and almost swamping) tiny taxis that are bringing them back to the beginning. We stop in a forested area alongside the river and discover that a tent has been set up for us, right at the river’s edge, with tables and chairs. A picnic lunch awaits us – with beer as well if we want it – and rafters floating by. A local woman has made us a great spread with cheese and vegetable momos, and an egg curry that is a welcome change from the usual chicken; of course there is a great range of vegetables and some of their favourite dish of chilli cheese for those who are game to try.
There are a lot of tents set up nearby and a lot of excited shouting by locals, and we discover that there is a darts tournament going on between Punakha and a visiting Paro team. But this is darts like you’ve never seen before – more similar to the archery we saw in Thimphu. They stand about 100m away from a very small target and throw giant darts that look more like a hand grenade with a feather on it. The teams take it in turn to hurl the dart towards the target and appear to get points for hitting the target at all even if not the bullseye – judging by the victory dances that occur when a dart reaches its mark, even if it has skidded along the ground to make contact. The score is 19 – 9 when we leave.
Our last stop is the amazing Punakha Dzong, the administrative and religious centre and winter retreat of His Holiness, Je Khenpo – the chief abbot of Bhutan. This six-storey high monastery is one of the largest dzongs in Bhutan. Construction began in 1637, although sections of it have been restored after floods in 1994. The Dzong boasts intricately carved woodwork, prayer halls and beautiful religious paintings on walls and doorways.
We cross the wooden bridge across the river and are struck by the height of the walls towering above the river (and us). But this is nothing compared to what we see inside – the central tower stands 6 storeys high. There are 3 courtyards inside the walls – leading to the final one which is the assembly hall inside the inner temple. This is the most important place in Bhutan: the royal coronation and royal weddings take place here first and then they progress through to Thimphu. Everything is gilded – it is very impressive. We are able to climb a level up and walk around the first balcony on our way out.
We head back to the hotel for a rest – this morning’s exercise, the heat, and the beer for lunch have meant that we are all feeling somewhat sleepy. We have until 6.00 when we meet to travel 45 minutes to our dinner restaurant perched on top of the hillside above the fertility temple we visited yesterday. It is a very different set up with giant paintings for sale all around the restaurant. Doreen tells me I have to come look at the ladies toilet that is a huge room (with a single ‘throne’ in the corner) with a large painting (for sale) on one wall and a giant wooden phallus in the opposite corner.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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