I had the opportunity to visit the land of the Land of the Thunder Dragon in 2014 with my wife! (Bhutan AKA country on a mountain, originally named by India. Or also previously known as Drukyul).
As you also know, this is the country that started the Gross National Happiness (By the 4th King AKA the people’s king. He passed his power to his son, who is the current king while he is still alive. Still alive now FYI)
One thing to take note before you read on: Bhutanese guides treat their clients with the following motto, Travel as guests, not as tourists. They treat you like friends so you will enjoy the trip as much as possible (at least mine did). Exchange rate for easy reference: 1usd to 60 Ngultrum (same as Indian Rupees)
Equipment used on this trip: Mainly a Nikon DF with 35F2 for most shots and a FujiXE-1 with 50-230mm for telefoto. I also brought a 18-35 UWA for tight spaces. The 35mm was a fantastic choice as it was light and the fixed focal length allowed me to focus more on the composition. The F2 aperture helped with POPPING the images. =D
This is gonna be very very draggy and I ain’t a good writer but I still want to share more images so if you hate to read, just scroll and enjoy the images!
200314: We took a 630am flight from Singapore to Paro, with refueling at Calcutta at 11am (On a a319 plane) and landed in Paro at 12.50pm. Remember to take right window view on the way there and right on the way back. Reason? To get a good view of the Himalayas!
Exiting the airport, we met our BluePoppy (tour agency) guide, Kezangdawa and driver, Mr Nala. So excited to meet someone who will be leading us for the next 9 days! It was a quick warm up since our guide is quite a joker.
The Druk Air planes! I have to say the pilots were pretty great at landing! Smooth!
At their simple customs, I sneaked a shot with my DF.
We first stopped by a temple in Thimpu, which had a iron bridge made by the iron builder.
We stopped for lunch in Thimphu at 3.30pm. Well, Chilli cheese was the most spicy thing i have ever eaten and yes, really taste like chilli!
Stir fried Cabbage (taste pretty nice!)
The locals fave dish, Chilli Cheese. Way too spicy for me!
Stir Fried beef
Buckwheat noodles (quite bland I say)
The red rice commonly eaten by locals
Chilli Cheese Photo taking time!
4pm: Our guide sent us to hotel Galingkha (4star) to close off the day. The energetic us went out for a 2 hour of walk to check out the city. We basically walked from one end to the other to see what the small city have to offer before scrambling back into our room to escape from the cold.
The traditional costumes of the Bhutanese.
The cute little girl who so kindly agreed to pose for a picture upon request.
A minishop under a staircase
We idled for a few hours while waiting for inner time. Great chicken pakora, spicy prawn+lemon soup (tastes of chilli), excellent tandoori prawns and great penne bascaiola!
I have to say that it was really too cold a night to sleep at 7 degrees even with the room heater on and after a great warm dinner
210314: Woke up to a great view before breakfast at 9am, they make good eggs! Also a view of snowcapped trees in the distant and it is pretty cold for me! (7 degrees)
A picture of Galingkha from the side.
The portrait of the king and queen are everywhere. Shows how much they like their rulers.
Snow capped trees in the distance.
11am: Visited the National mMmorial Chorten (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Chorten,_Thimphu)
The religious locals will just go round and round the Chorten while chanting and praying.
Turning the big prayer wheels in a clockwise fashion while reciting some mantras for merits and benefits.
12pm: Buddha point to see the huge statue. Guide shared about past buddha (mediate mode), present buddha (hands down) and future buddha ( teaching mode).
Buddha is made of Bronze and the dot on the forehead comprises of diamonds donated by the royal family (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_Dordenma_statue)
A view from Buddha Point
Much of the Buddha point are plated in gold. So majestic!
Next, we drove to Jang Dong Kha old temple (built in the 12th century)
Prayer wheels everywhere. Don’t say you don’t have a chance to mediate!
1.30pm: Viewing of the Takin (head of goat, body of cow) at Takin reservation centre.
On the way back to lunch, we were drove to a view point to see the king’s palace. This have to be the smallest palace I have ever seen. LOL
The buildings for the ministry
2pm: khorlo restaurant for lunch. Tried Druk11000 beer and thought it tasted sweet. Now, feels like a dragon.
After lunch, went to museum to appreciate how buthanese live their lives.
4.30pm: handicraft centre to view the students at their craft, from painting, sculpting to weaving. Had an introduction to the national library to see the world largest picture book as well as translated Sanskrit. The picture below are of the 4 friends (a very popular story in Bhutan about Harmony http://www.conservenature.org/learn_about_wildlife/biodiversity_in_bhutan/four_friends.htm)
A talented carver at work!
One of their handwork!
Another happy artist at work.
The art of painting starts with drawing.
Embroidery classes ongoing
Sewn on, not drawn.
Near by was the National Library where we had opportunity to view the 4 levels of the library (including the biggest photo book in the world)!
The next location was the textile museum (no photos allowed) where we get to see the different materials (made from raw materials as well as the dyes for coloring) used by the Bhutanese.
6.30pm: kazangdawa brought us to the market to see the locals sell their goods like chilli and cheese etc. We bought some really sweet grapes back to savor in our hotel room.
A view of a lady standing in the cold, taken from the hotel room (Left and Right)
220314: 11am start off to punaka (3hours) at 5 degrees. By 12noon, it was down to 2 degrees with slight snow, as it hits the windscreen.
The fine snow hitting the windscreen
No joke, 2 degrees outside with the bokeh of snow in the background.
The muddy ground makes it hard for all the drivers.
It looks so much like winter now. Awwww
12.30pm: We reached Dochu la (La means a pass) and it was snowing like mad.
1pm: there was a massive jam at one point, due to a car that fell off the cliff. Another reason was the muddy slopes further down that caused the big vehicles to be unable to ascend up.
2pm: 5 degrees at last after we descend from the higher altitude. No more snow though. =D
The muddy ground causes many cars to sway left and right while ascending (we are no exception)
3.40pm: Finally got through the jam and reached Punakha. We had lunch before proceeding to the hike to Temple of Fertility. In this area, you will see many Phallus (penis) pictures and carvings in sight (sperm included).
It will be a 20 mins walk to the temple of Fertility through the crops fields
Every house have a mountain view behind it.
Red rice with cabbage, chicken and potato cheese.
Planning of crops
The cute aunty that kindly allowed me to take a photo of her.
Our friendly guide, Kezangdawa.
Starting the walk to the temple!
This curved gate was meant to deter cows from entering the path.
Entrance of the temple had a Phallus at the top too. LOL
Carvings inside the prayer wheels.
Cute monk that happily posed for the picture (but I had to tease him slightly haha)
Phallus souvenir shop.
Any size also possible.
The always curious cow that kept looking at us to and fro.
Our happy guide, Mr Nala.
6pm: Next was a tour to unakha fortress before proceeding back to the hotel at 7.30pm (There is a great view of the paddyfields). This should be one of the lousy hotels around. Dinner at 9pm (not so keen).
Bee hives are left alone near the roof.
The detailed carvings of all the fortress/temples etc are just amazing.
Monks going in and out of the fortress day in day out.
Great fengshui I say! Mountain behind, Water in front!
Finally arrived at the hotel!
One shot for the blue hour!
Happy woman in happy land
One of the many birds seen during the trip.
Woke up to another great view, with the multiple layers in the scene.
230314: Started the long drive to bumthang (will past through Wangdue, Trongsa before hitting Bumthang. I had a good picture of the silk cotton flower tree (red) with birds in view.
Silk Cotton Flower Tree (Yes, that red!)
Drove past the Wangdue Dzong (fortress) that was burnt down in 2012 due to a short circuit. Still in repair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangdue_Phodrang)
12.15pm: reached Wangdue restpoint (8 degrees). I had the opportunity to tease some of the kids before getting them to pose for pictures for me. They were enjoying the photo taking! After the duo shot, they requested for a group shot! XD
Speeding down the slope as he saw me shooting him (thus the slight grin on his face)
Portrait of our Prado with the massive clouds
The local gang shot. hehehe. So cute I say!
At the same time, this gentlemen was viewing me taking the photos and I invited him for a shot too!
A view of our rest point in Wangdue
After that, we proceeded to Trongsa. Along the way, we were so mesmerized by snow capped mountains in the distance that we had to stop for a shot (each).
A close up view of the awesome view.
While we drove on, more snow again. This time, thicker.
A necessary portrait when one’s clad in mono tone. Fits so well!
My Mei’s freezing!
Act cute time.
1.15pm: Reached Pela pass at 2700m, between Wangdue and Trongsa.
Never forget to take portraits of iconic people portraits. This is an assistant who helps to sell the local fabrics out in the cold.
This is the lady boss I reckon since she looked more like a boss. LOL
Yaks along the way (usually appear at higher altitude). Locals have a joke where they say long ago, Yaks borrow the cows’ hair and promised to return but they never did. Thus, they always stay up in the mountains while the cows at lower grounds with the heads looking up, always looking out for Yaks to get back their hair.
2.30pm: Crossed over to Trongsa before stopping over for lunch.
3.10pm: Drove through Trongsa business centre before reaching Trongsa fortress at 4.30pm. Take note of the huge Cyprus tree (they claimed as old as fortress because trees are usually planted at the point of building the architecture).
Huge Cyprus tree.
Kezangdawa claims this mark was left from a long time ago and was a slash from a knife during war.
A cheerful monk who posed for my photo.
The texture of the fortress walls.
Animals are left to freely roam wherever they want too. More freedom than humans LOL.
The watch tower at the top, that catch sights of enemies in past times (now used as a Trongsa museum)
The colorful gate.
Left at 5.30 to proceed to Bumthang. Temperature went from 5 to 2 degrees and we saw snow again at 6pm.
6.30pm: Finally reached yotong la pass and it was still at the freezing 2 degrees.
7pm: Reached textile shop in Bumthang (guide says the yak hair made items are slightly cheaper here). Nay, we didn’t buy because we have no use for it.
7.50pm: reached Gongkha resthouse (in Jakar) to rest for the night. We have a firewood stove! XD
Black tea to host their guests. Grateful to hot drinks on a cold day!
Another car portrait for Mr Prado at dusk.
Dinner was, not. so. good. for a start LOL.
Saw Redbill common choughs flying around this area (black bird with red beak) in the morning. Seems like they welcome us alot. Great view once we got out of the room, check out the snow capped peaks in the distant!!!!
Buckwheat pancake. You will definitely prefer the normal pancake but do try it for experience.
For information sake, kids in Bhutan can walk to school for a 35 mins journey. That is a long time to reach school! Kezangdawa says that it will also help them appreciate that being able to study is not easy to come by. We are so lucky in Singapore….
Red Billed Common Chough
Jakar Fortress (aka white bird fortress)
Before we set off, portrait for 3 pretty ladies and a shy dog.
Poor dog was injured by wild animals previously. Such a gentle black beauty.
11am: off to burning lake. Story of Cow Herder who dreamt of Guru Rimphoche to get treasures from the river. He entered and returned from the river with a lamp lighted. Thus, flaming river.
Behind this yellow enclosure are the carvings of some gods where people will visit to pray.
Prayer flags tied all over.
As we got deeper, there was a great scene of the rocks, trees, sky and the calm sacred river.
Some mini Stupas placed by locals.
12pm: Drive to Jakar dzong (white bird). Reached at 1225, left at 1pm.
Crows flying around (shadows captured!)
Saw these peach flowers on e way down.
Reached Jampa lakang (temple) built in the 7th century. Not much pictures to share because no photography allowed here (except for the outside). There were a 30kg metal chains made in the past times and people now use to carry it while walking around the temple to gain merits. I did try it for 3 rounds and I say it gets heavier and heavier each round (not because I was weak and tired). For you to believe and to try if ever you go.
Cutesy puppy outside the temple.
and prayer wheels
and prayer wheels.
and some bigger ones. LOL
Left at 1.50pm for lunch at the business district.
2.50pm to 3pm : Drove to Kurju Lakang where the body imprint of Guru Rinpoche is in the temple. It really looked like the shape of a human body who had lay in a sitting position against a cake.
After this, we drove to a swiss factory to check out the readily made cheese for sale. Not keen so we made back to the hotel shortly to end the day.
10am: Left guesthouse for a 2.5 hours drive to Trongsa museum (the old watch tower. Remember we visited the fortress earlier?) and another 3 hours to Gangtey (Phojikha Valley). Heard that his is not a good time to view the birds as the last sighting was in mid march.
Trongsa fortress is behind and below us.
Our cheeky Kezengdawa teasing and touching the little calf.
1.15pm: Another 2 hours drive to lunch.
3pm: Stopped for lunch for 45mins before another hour to Gangtey monastery (in Phojikha valley)
5.15pm: bought a 4 friends wood carving outside the Gangtey Monastry for 1800nuu (30USD approx).
A view of Phojika valley.
After I bought the carving of 4 friends from this lady, I requested to take a picture of woman with child. It was really hard to get her attention as she was constantly chatting with Kezangdawa.
A view of Gangtey Monastry before driving off to our hotel.
5.30pm to 6pm : Drive into Phojikha valley to our hotel. A very bumpy road into the Dewachen resthouse but its a very comfortable place with a great view.
Laze time before dinner. She and her Korean shows.
The bed covers.
A couple shot at this nice woody place.
The ever popular firestove.
Indian cuisine for dinner because there was a big group of Indians who was staying and requested vegetarian too. Alright, my favourite (not hers!)
8am: Saw god rays (Photographic term where the sunrays peek through the clouds) before leaving Phojikha valley for a long 7 hours drive.
Saw a male Himalayan Monol (colorfulbird) along the way. They claim that this is a very hard to view bird in the open. The female on the other hand looks brown and dull.
1245pm: stopped for a break in wangdue before another 3 hours drive. The road gets very dusty if it is not raining! Hope to see the himalayas!
2.30pm: reaches Dochu la pass but there it was too cloudy to be able to see the Himalayas. so I took the equally beautiful and colorful local lorries. =D
Reach Thimphu for lunch at 3.15pm (bhutan kitchen). I realized Thimpu food seems to be more suitable for a Singaporean like me. Kezangdawa gonna laugh when he reads this. LOL
4pm-4.30pm Visited the Simtokha Fortress built in the 16 century. Took me 5 minutes to stand to wait for local people to enter my frame as I always like people in my shot to make it look more real.
5pm: Ugen Phendeyling resort to rest for the night. We have a direct view of tiger nest but too far away to get closeup shot.
The furthest I could zoom in with my 50-230 lens on a Fuji crop sensor (that’s like 300mm already!)
Our simple but big room.
Paro (west of Bhutan) serves more Indian cuisine so I ordered more Indian food for dinner.
After breakfast at 1045, we stood outdoors to take the snowcapped peak (Jomolhari, 2nd highest Himalayas peak!), pear flowers and a lonely cat.
The cool cat portraiture. I did ask for permission.
1145am: Dumtse Lakang 15 century, by iron builder. 3 levels high (Bottom level up: world of suffering, world of humans and world of gods)
12.30pm: Paro museum, to see artifacts as well as the old museum affected By earthquake in 2010 (See the left of the structure for the repaired portion, yet painted)
Closeup view of the repair done. It is much worse inside but no access allowed.
The logs against the city
Our handsome guide Kezangdawa posing unknowingly that I was shooting him. =D
2pm: To Paro Rinpungdzong (means heap of jewel)
3.30pm: Lunch time after visiting art gallery (I bought a piece of painting!)
My circle of life for the new house.
Another artist at work.
4pm -5.10pm: Walked around the Visitors Centre for items to buy where Kezangdawa was on the lookout for dart boards to play later.
Heavy darts that made my muscles ache the next day.
Want me to play? pose a picture first.
5.20 -6pm: Kichu Lakang built in the 7th century.
On the way back to the guesthouse, we saw god’s rays again.
6.30pm-7.30pm play traditional darts with the local men!
I tell you… they are so strong and accurate. I could almost never hit the target distance or if I got the distance right, it will be way off target. Such an utter shame of myself. LOL
9pm: Dinner before ending the night to rest well for Tiger nest tomorrow!
9am: Woke up for breakfast before starting the hike at 9.45am. Want a ride up? Nah….
Its uphill all the way, not that easy.
My dear little dog guided me the way every time I reached a fork. Smartie pants!
Reach half point at 1045am where there is a big prayer bell and a much closer view of Tiger Nest.
With a tele lens, you can peek through the forest while hiking through.
A look back to see how well I have done for 1/2 of the journey as well as finding my wife and Kezangdawa.
Found them 10 minutes later! She looks tired!
At the rest point, there were many birds waiting to eat our biscuits and this sneaky one flew in to snatch a bite while no one was looking!
Tiger Nest from the restpoint’s cafeteria.
This kitty just climbed onto us and conveniently sat on our lap. Probably just feeling cold and wanted the warm from our body.
Taking a photo with men’s best friend.
Old men’s beard. Some type of moss that only grows when the air is very pure.
Horses for hire along the way if you still cannot make it. XD
We are closing in to TigerNest. See how much of a good view we have now!
A must take shot!
The wife also cannot tahan taking more pictures.
Lovely rays from the side of the mountain.
One selfie to get a change in perspective..
Just a few more steps! Less than 200 I say.
100 more! Push on!
Reached tiger nest at 1150am. A quick summary about this monastery. It was rebuilt because a fire burnt down the temple in 1998. To be honest, I was slightly disappointed as I thought it would be as old as I thought it was. Also, no cameras are allowed to enter the temple so all needs to be surrendered and subjected to body checks.
Within the temple, Kezangdawa gave us a 50mins tour before we started descending.
One last look back
Descending photos along the way.
Mini waterfall along the way, shot with the minimal exposure I can slow down my shutter to (with the aid of a CPL)
I overheard many tourists asking how was the prayer flags able to be tied from one end to another at such great height and distances. Seems to be done by bow and arrows (not surprising since archery is their national sport)
Met this friendly uncle who kindly smiled for a photo request while spinning his prayer wheels.
A local guiding the horses down to the start point to rent them out again.
Prince charming have to carry bags now. = (
This picture was shot along the way while coming down. 2 things: the rice and the red (rice came from the horses carrying rice up to the mountain for the monks and the red is the doma juice after chewing the betel nuts.
It was said that if you looked closely at this side of the cliff, you see the other transformation of Guru Rinpoche (in his wrathful form: Dorje Drolö). Google for this and you will see the face in this side of the cliff!
Or also in this wider view.
At the mid way point, we see other locals carrying things up to the monastery.
One kind local also allowed me to get his portrait. He is very nice, unlike his angry face. =D
Last few shots before I get down
Lunch at 3pm! Late lunch today
4.45pm: Left for ruined fortress (Drukgyan Dzong). Burnt down in 1951 due to fire and it might collapse if another earthquake occurs in this sacred land.
Signs of the burning from the old fire.
6.30pm: Reached hotel and had our dinner and a chat with Kezang+ Mr Nala till 12 midnight as it is our last night! A last photo for the 4 of us together!
Prepared for the ride to airport at 6.15am and reached the airport at about 6.35am. While waiting to board the plane, the entire holding area lights just blew and we were in some low light for a couple of minutes.
On the way back to Singapore!
Thanks for viewing this long set of images!