Originally my trip to Bumthang was going to be made with D.S Rai (the Chief Forestry Officer for WCP) and completed in one day. With the pressure of the upcoming festival and other extenuating circumstances, my trip was pushed back a few days. While I first thought of this as a disappointment, it turned out to be a divine intervention of the best kind!I was informed early Friday morning that I would be leaving for Bumthang the following morning with some higher-ups in the organization. It was then I also learned the seven-hour drive would be spread out over two days and involve a few stops along the way. Pema picked me up first at the hotel on Saturday morning and with a truck packed with everything I would need for the next three months. Our second stop was to get Tshering, the finance and account manager for WWF Bhutan, whom I had met on a few occasions. Our last stop was for the special guests. It turned out I would be spending the weekend sightseeing and chatting the Subash Lohani, the Deputy Director of the Eastern Himalayas from the WWF US, and his new bride. What luck!
Day one of the trip took us up to Dochu La, the same pass we had previously stopped at during our ride for the overnight practical. It was again shrouded in fog and quite cold. Still it is an amazingly quiet place and the newest symbol of Buddhist tradition in Bhutan. From there we drove on to a restaurant perched at the highest point on the pass for lunch. More Bhutanese cuisine that will make even the strongest mouth tingle! Casual conversation kept the ride lively (as there are only three radio stations in Bhutan) and Subash and I were able to trade stories about travels abroad, (he was born and raised in Nepal).
Our first big sightseeing spot was Punakha Dzong, the second monastery to be built in Bhutan. It differs from others in that is not constructed at a mountain peak, but rather seems to almost rise out of a river. Its base is on a small island between the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers. Since Buddhists originally built these places as fortresses, the location is ideal to provide protection. The main stairway can actually be hauled up to keep intruders out. We were able to take pictures in the main entries, but again, the temple that housed three enormous gold-plated bronze statues, was off-limits for photos.
After the tour from Tshering ended we climbed back in the truck for a short drive to Kitchu Resort in Wangdue. The rooms had balconies that extended over a river and my first night out of Thimphu came to an end there.