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Published: February 22nd 2016
Travelling further east on the windy roads we bumped and bounced over the Yotongla pass into the Bumthang area which is in fact made up of 4 valleys. We drove through one valley and into the Bumthang valley and were almost at our lunch stop when Aita slowed down and peered out of his window - a flat tyre. It's amazing that this hadn't happened before but was bad timing!! Still, this didn't phase either of them and the new wheel was on before we knew it.
I was having an off day and lunch was at a local farm which was really not what I fancied so neither of us would try the chilli cheese curry which is the national dish so Dendup and Aita tucked in. H was of course willing to try arak, the local hooch which they suggested was only 15% proof but smelled like strong vodka!
The Bumthang valley has the most temples of any in the country and they were everywhere. Feeling a little better out of the car we took a walk to see 3 of them which form the Lhakhang complex. The first of these was built in the 17th Century
but the most recent was built by the Queen to the third king. In front of them are two stones with a very small gap between them which Bhutanese believe if you crawl through it will cleanse your sins. It didn't look possible to us but Dendup said he could do it when he wasn't wearing so many clothes! He did show us photographs later. The walk took us past a holy spring where people were collecting water and then across a very wobbly bridge to the other side of the river and our hotel.
We turned out to be the first guests of the season and it felt like it! Bumthang is higher than anywhere else we stayed (around 2,600m) and the room was colder that anywhere else with a freezing bathroom though they had put heated blankets on the beds. We abandoned the room after showering and went up to the restaurant where they had a huge wood burning stove going. We sat chatting to Dendup, looking at some of his photos and listening to some of his stories. We then tried to explain Scrabble to him - not something they have in Dzongka!
been supposed to stay 2 nights there (actually 3 originally but we'd missed one night because I was ill) but realised that if we did, there would be one incredibly long travelling day due to the condition of the road so we discussed it with Dendup and agreed to start the journey back the following day to break it up a bit and give Aita a bit of a break. It also meant only one cold night in the hotel!
The people working in the hotel were very helpful and made some lovely food. They even got up at 5 the next morning to light the fire in the restaurant so that we had a warm breakfast so we really couldn't complain and there was a lovely view across to the temples from up there but we still thought it was right to head back.
On arrival back in Trongsa we had lunch at the hotel and then went out to visit the Trongsa museum which is in the watchtower attached to the Dzong. This is an impressive tower some way up the cliff and contained some really interesting items and useful information that started to pull together some of the things Dendup had been telling us about Bhutan, the royal family and Buddhism. It also gave more great views.
That day we finally challenged Dendup with a question he didn't know the answer to - when did Bhutan get its first bank!? This caused us all to do some research and discover that it wasn't until 1968 and that they didn't have paper money until 1974. There were coins before the bank but essentially most of the population was rural and were either self sufficient or got by on a barter system - it's incredible how much the country has changed in such a short time. We also got onto discussing tax, which Dendup didn't know much about but it seems they didn't have a personal income tax until 2000 although business profit taxes were brought in some time before that.
There's lots more interesting things about this country we keep finding out but more to come next time...
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