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Published: February 11th 2016
We left Haa on a bright cold morning and followed more windy roads for a while until we came to the main highway to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. This road even has white lines in the middle! On the way we stopped to visit a dzong which became Bhutan's first prison in the early 1970s - definitely a prison with a view. We did a short walk from there to stretch our legs then continued into Thimphu.
Thimphu was a bit of a shock after the small places we had been - it has a population of around 100,000 and a significant number of buildings that are more than a couple of storeys high. We even got stuck in a traffic jam on the main street!
After lunch and check-in at our hotel we drove out to what Dendup called the zoo but in fact only has a couple of different species, one of which is the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. This really looks rather strange and there is a myth that it was created by one of the ancient spiritual leaders (I'm already getting them all mixed up......was it the Divine Madman?) by putting the
head of a goat on the body of a cow. That doesn't really describe it though - you'll just have to look at the pictures. They live up in the mountains and are fairly rare to see in the wild - Dendup has never seen one and he does lots of big trekking with tour groups. They have been very successful at breeding them in the 'zoo' and had 5 new babies this year bringing the group up to 34.
We also did a short walk around the mountains with great views back to Thimphu to another monastery - this one is being rebuilt but it's going to be a long job as even the cutting of the stones is being done by hand. It was started in 2013 and didn't look as if it was half finished yet.
Dinner in the hotel was pretty good, but quiet - there were only us, a couple of French women and a small Indian group.
The next day Dendup greeted us with the news that he thought the King's baby had been born in the night as he had had a call from his brother saying they were talking
about it on the radio. As we drove out past the Thimphu Dzong he pointed out a huge 'painting' hanging from the walls of one side on the main central building which he thought had been put up there because the baby had been born. He said that we would go the Dzong later to see if anything was happening. Another climb, this time to the Cheri monastery with more stunning views in the sunshine. The monastery at the top was very atmospheric with a monk in the corner chanting and banging his drum. We were very happy just sitting in the sun watching the mountains.
Back to the hotel for lunch but on the way could see that there was another 'painting' up at the dzong so Dendup said we would go back after lunch. The Dzong is right next to the remarkably small royal palace where the baby had been born the day before so Dendup was not sure whether it would be open to visitors but they happily let us in to watch them putting up more ribbons and flags and to see the huge tapestries that were hung on the main walls of the dzong.
These were amazing creations which only come out for special occasions. Despite the bottom being weighted down by a long pole and huge stones, one of them kept catching the wind and monks came running across the courtyard to catch the bottom as the stones were knocked over. This proved to be a recurring problem and they still hadn't resolved it when word went around that the king was coming! The dzongs are split into the administrative centre for the region and a religious part and the king was coming to give thanks for the birth of his baby. We were huddled back into a line behind the relatively small number of visitors and there he was, walking past us to the temple. There are actually 2 temples in the dzong and Dendup took us into the second one to look around but suddenly word went up that the king wanted to go in that one too so we rushed out and grabbed our shoes to get out of the way!
So, after many instances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was great to be in the right place at the right time to
see the tapestries and the king. From there Dendup took us to some handicraft centres - weaving and hand made paper making. The paper making was really impressive - a small operation but beautiful paper that they export all over the world.
As this was the last town of any size we would see we took the opportunity to get a decent coffee and cake in a cafe then went back to the hotel.
That night we looked up the news about the new Prince to discover it had been announced publicly on the Queen's facebook page. This somehow demonstrated how much has changed in this country over a very short period of time. The current King is only 35 yet when he was born the country had no phones and the news could only be transmitted across the country by wireless radio. Since he was born there have been a number of hoax photographs of the baby published but the official one was published yesterday and 20,000 printed copies have already sold. Many houses and businesses have photographs of the King and Queen and sometimes all of the previous kings (only 4).
I'm sure you'll all
hear lots more about this when Wills and Kate visit in a few weeks!
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