Justina and I got up early and did a Kayla again before we headed for an early breakfast as today we were setting off early on a nearly 4hr drive to Punakha - the ancient capital of Bhutan. We bid farewell to all the lovely staff at Namgay Heritage, and I was particularly going to miss one of the members of staff, a kind old man who would prepare hot water in our flasks everyday. It seems like such a simple task, but he took the initiative to come to us at the breakfast table the subsequent 2 days we were at the hotel, and asked if we needed our bottles filled for the day as my mum, grandma, Justina and I had asked for hot water in our bottles on the first day that we arrived. He was just so kind to us (also on the first day when Justina and I were looking for the gym) and was perpetually smiling - he looked so cute!!
After double-checking that we'd put all our baggage into the car, we set off to Punakha. 2 hours into the drive, we stopped at the Dochula Pass. This gorgeous pass located on the way to Punakha from Thimpu was 3050m in elevation and offered a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the Himalayas Mountain range with its 108 chortens built in 3 layers. The 108 chortens were built in memory and honor of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the Dec 2003 battle against the Assamese insurgents from India. When we first reached, the Dochula Pass had been covered in thick clouds and our view was limited. However, after a toilet break, all the clouds cleared just after 5 minutes and the view was just spectacular! We took so many photos here especially cheeky ones of Mum doing yoga and my Ahma doing some qigong :)
Following that, we continued our drive to Punakha on one of the most bumpy road I have ever been on! It was nearly impossible to keep still in the car and it didn't help that I needed to pee (the bumpiness did not help my almost bursting bladder), and till today I am still so confused over how my sister, Mum and Ahma managed to sleep?!? However, I did not mind the bumpiness as the drive was one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on (the drive with Rgoh in the Isle of Skye is a tough competitor!) We were driving through mountains and forests and when you looked out the window, all you saw were tall, majestic trees and clear blue skies - it was breathtaking! I was feeling a little tired, but I would not let myself fall asleep and tear my eyes away from this spectacular view.
We stopped midway where there was an amazing view of endless rows of paddy fields and also where many vegetable and fruit stalls that had been set up just along a bend of the bumpy road, strategically next to a beautiful waterfall. We all shared a few corn on the cob that were roasted fresh - they were rather hard but still delicious! Unfortunately, there were no bushes that were large and discreet enough for any of us to answer to the call of nature (literally) so we just had to hold it in till we got to our destination :(
A half hour later, we reached Punakha and our first stop was to the Punakha Dzong. This was the 2nd fortress built by Shrabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the man who unified Bhutan, to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. This was where the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century where governance was split into religious and secular affairs. The architecture here was beautiful just like the other monuments we'd visited and I love the colour scheme that was uniform across most monasteries in Bhutan - White structural base with a red roof and yellow and blue detailing.
Mum also acted like a kid and decided to chase a huge flock of pigeons hahahahah
After the dzong, we visited the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge. At a height of 200m above ground, you witness a spectacular view of the Punakha Dzong as you stand in the middle of the bridge. Similar to the iron bridge we crossed on our first day in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge was flexible but definitely less bouncy - phew! Because water currents of the Pho Chhu Valley were pretty strong.
We went water rafting after visiting the bridge! This was probably one of my favorite memories of Bhutan :') Rafting here (in the Pho Chhu River) was so different from white water rafting in Bali because the views were worlds apart. Yes there were some rapids, but for the majority of the rafting, the raft just seamlessly flowed through the river and it was just so calm and peaceful. We had the spectacular view of mountains that lined the valley, and at one point, the Punakha Dzong was behind us and Tandi (the driver) managed to get great pictures of us! He'd drive in the car along the path of the river and snap photos of us along the way :)
Feeling rather drained after the whole day's of activities, we headed to Hotel Lobesa where we were staying for just one night and had a scrumptious dinner! Honestly never thought eating on holiday could be that easy as a vegan!! Thank you Bhutan!!
The morning started with a 7am hike to Chhimi Lhakhang, where The Divine Madman sits here through a statue. It is also known as the Phallus Temple hahahahaha Drukpa Kinley was named The Divine Madman because of his wacky yet unique approach to Buddhism. It was believed that he would subdue demons by hitting them with his penis HAHA! The temple is also known for its ability to make women fertile - Several Japanese and American couples have visited this temple and were blessed with children miraculously! It is said if you want but are unable to have children no matter how hard you try, as long as you come to Bhutan and visit this fertility temple, you will be blessed with children! Our guide Kuenzang tells us that this is true and she believes in it strongly.
After the lovely hike through paddy fields, well maybe not too lovely because I came back with 15 mozzy bites on my legs :( , we freshened up, had breakfast and embarked on our 4 hour journey back to Paro. I completely forgot to mention that cows just roam the roads in Bhutan freely! It was common sight to see a cow just lying on the road or eating whatever grass it can find in the dirt roads and even as we were driving through the mountains, it was still common sight to see a cow just laying there 3000m in elevation, on the edge of the road.
Our first stop was lunch at Uma! Dad's old colleague from the Grand Hyatt Singapore was the General Manager of this luxurious hotel and we wanted to see what the hotel was like and to treat ourselves to some fine dining hehe - don't get me wrong, I do love my simple meals of rice and vegetables, but I really did miss nice restaurant food! Lunch at Uma was deeeeliishhhhh, we all started with a cauliflower truffle soup and following that, I had an Indian Chickpea Dahl with garlic Naan and strawberry sorbet as dessert!
After that amazing lunch and our happily full tummies, we headed to the Paro Town to have a walk around. I ended up getting a pretty turquoise bracelet and mum and ahma got cordeyceps after bargaining for a good 20 minutes from the same shop as it was a general Bhutanese store for tourists. We exited the shop and was greeted by the most beautiful rainbow!! It really did feel magical as I've never seen such a huge rainbow with such vivid colors! It made me smile so much and I was pointing to the sky as we were walking away from it as I wanted whoever else was walking on the street to look up and see the rainbow too! It was too beautiful not to share with others :')
Today was a pretty chill day which served the purpose of traveling and at 6pm, we headed to the Metta Resort and Spa to call it a day. I remember having grilled aubergine and steamed broccoli with rice for dinner (2 servings of it hehe) and I was so satiated and satisfied!