Travelling to the interior of Bhutan
After spending 2 days, 2 nights in Thimphu and obtaining permits to venture into the Restricted Areas1, we proceeded to the northern interior region. The picture of Punakha Dzong was mesmerizing me since a long time, and it was finally the time to go there. There were few very interesting places on the route between Thimphu and Punakha, and if we took a bus, we’d miss them all. So I decided to take a shared taxi.
The taxi terminal in Thimphu is located next to the bus stand and drivers will ask you where you want to go as soon as you enter the taxi terminal. Unlike most places in urban India, nobody will pounce upon you or pull you into their taxis aggressively. Still, taxi drivers are taxi drivers (all over the world I reckon) and bargaining is necessary. I got a front row window for a modest sum of Rs. 150, and I thanked my hotel owner for her advice ‘don’t pay more than that…’ the previous night.
There was me, my buddy, 3 ladies (grandmother, daughter, grand daughter) and a high school student in the taxi with us. The driver was a very jolly ethnic Nepali guy. I think he was amused and annoyed by my bargaining (he quoted Rs. 300 but we settled for Rs. 150 which was slightly above local price), so I carefully buttered him up by sharing my food. If you can make a Russian train hostess smile, nothing is impossible. I also praised his horrible screamish singing hoping that he would stop, but it had the opposite effect and he kept blurting out song after son. Finally he agreed to take a brief stop at Dochu La, the highest point in the mountain pass crossing over to the North.
La is Tibetian word for a mountain pass. Dochu La (3140m) separates Thimphu from the low-lying lush Punakha valley. The place is marked by an array of prayer flags, but the most intriguing landmark of this place is the newly constructed 108 chortens. The Chortens2 were built in 2005 as an atonement for the loss of life caused by the flushing out of Assamese militants in southern Bhutan.
As the taxi ascended the chilly heights, I couldn’t wait to see the promising views of eastern Himalayas from Dochu La. Every time the road spiraled, it teased us with a sneak preview of the beautiful snow-clad mountain ranges.
After some very satisfactory peeing and picture taking, we proceeded on our journey. From maple and pine to fir and rhododendron, the vegetation changed as we descended to the warmth of Punakha valley. I opened my guidebook, found something I couldn’t believe I had missed before and decided to get off mid way and walk to this place called Chimi Lhakhang, home of the Divine Madman. Thankfully my buddy supported all my impulsive judgments such as this.
1. Visiting areas outside Thimphu and Paro requires another permit called ‘restricted areas permit.’ Read more in my Bhutan travel information post.
2. Chorten or Stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, once thought to be places of Buddhist worship, typically the remains of a Buddha or saint.