28 October 2019
Today we will spend the whole day exploring the culturally rich Haa Valley, which is also known for being the ancestral home of the Royal grandmother. The two most important temples here are the 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple), which sit at the foothills of a group of hills known as Meri Puensum. Legend has it that King Songtsen Gampo released a black and a white pigeon to select sites to build the temples, which act as guardian sentinels keeping watch over the southern entrance to the valley.
We are quite surprised by how well we have acclimatised to the altitude: after puffing and wheezing just to get to the restaurant last night, we are all managing the climb to the temples pretty well. After the temples we loop round to explore the pretty countryside around them on foot. It is a very fertile valley with apples and timber being the main products (we had seen a lot of trucks carrying timber on our way in).
This is very much an army town with barracks, training grounds, officers mess, and army children’s schools. Even the Dzong (fort) is being used for army administration. Jamba is keen to visit the rainbow trout hatchery so we drive through the middle of the army area to visit the National Fisheries Centre. This is still a puzzle to us because fishing is illegal in Bhutan as Buddhists don’t kill animals; the chicken we have in our meals comes frozen from India (apparently it is okay to eat them as long as you don’t kill them); it seems that farmed fish is okay to eat (perhaps they employ non-Buddhists to kill them?) It was fun to watch Jamba (and Chengha) trying to photograph the fish.
Then we head down into the centre of Haa and walk around over the swing bridge across the river and then ambled down the Main Street enjoying the richly decorated shops and houses. Every type of shop you could imagine is catered for. Finally we end up at a restaurant for lunch that serves us more things we hadn’t tried before that were all very tasty, including potato balls, battered eggplant and a different type of dumpling – served with ginger tea that seems to have become everyone’s favourite after I asked for it on the first night.
After lunch we have a visit to the Haa Hospital – this time for me as I need to get my coughing up blood checked out. All health care is free in Bhutan (including for visitors). There are only two doctors in the Haa area and they are based at the hospital. Chengha takes me in and we wait as the on duty doctor is at lunch. It turns out she is a delightful young woman doctor who I get to see remarkably quickly. She doesn’t think there is anything serious, gives me prescriptions to stop the coughing and tells me to come back if it hasn’t cleared up in a few days. One of the prescriptions I can get at the hospital and then we go to the pharmacy to get the cough syrup. The rest of the group have been patiently sitting in the bus but thankfully don’t seem too perturbed.
Then Jamba drives us up to the head of the valley where we are going to do some more walking. The trip notes said that we were to head back up towards the pass and hike to a nunnery but Chengha tells us that the path is being repaired so we can’t go there. We are very happy with the alternative as we have climbed a few more hundred metres and we are pleased to be getting in practice for our climb to the Tiger’s Nest monastery on the last day. It is a very pretty farming village and we walk along a delightful little footpath that winds through it, talking to the locals, passing the cows and horses, seeing peas, turnips and other vegetables being grown, and hay being dried in the lofts of the houses. There is a village temple that we visit also, and see a water mill that powers a stone for grinding grains. We pass an enterprising family who have set up a garden bar at their house and stop to talk to some people building a house. We discover that it is to become a childcare centre. It is being built in the traditional mud brick style, covered with a layer of stone for protection. The women are perched up high, inside a wooden frame where they are tamping down the mud. Men climb the ladder with sacks of mud to tip in. We are very impressed to discover that what they have built so far has only taken 9 days.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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