Wednesday 13 May 2015

The Gangtey Trail

We stayed one night in Dewachen Hotel which didn't give us with any time to enjoy the facilities and their hospitality. If not for the US$250 daily tariff, we would love to spend more time in Bhutan. Considering this sum covers accommodation, all meals, a driver and guide, it's still very reasonable.We heard the tariff is set to increase, so plan your trip quickly.

We were surprised that May Ling and I were assigned our own SUV and guide instead of being herded around with a large group of unfamiliar faces.

That is one thing that makes Bhutan very appealing to us. While there are opportunities for Bhutan to generate more wealth like the rest of the world, the Kingdom has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. Instead, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

When we asked Phuntshok if he'll see a day when fast food chains make an appearance here, his  answer was firm, "Never".

I do believe him. This is a country that has its priorities in the right places. In the city, we saw small local shops selling staples and farmers selling their own produce. At the pharmacy, I paid only US$1 for some medicine for my upset tummy. Education is free and medicine is affordable. Marijuana grows wild but they're used as pig's fodder. The farmers practice organic farming and do not exploit nature for economic gains.

Since we had only one week in Bhutan, we didn't have time to linger. And we had to keep to the schedule to avoid the daily road blocks.

The rainy morning's temperature was 5 degree celcius and May Ling was advised against wearing her open toe sandals. Dressed in a winter jacket, Phuntshok gallantly gave up his hiking boots for her. He trekked in his shiny black shoes while she plodded along in his oversized boots and a green poncho. She looked like a walking Christmas tree.

  We started walking from the wetlands of the Phobjikha Valley which is part of the Black Mountains National Park. The marshy bog is where the flock of 300 endangered black-necked cranes come to roost every winter,  making it one of Bhutan's most important wildlife sanctuaries.
The hilltop offers sweeping views of the stunning valley landscape.
After clearing the bog, the trail then winds through forests of blue pine, magnolia and rhododendrons and over small streams of cold, clear mountain water.
We came to a small beautiful village with charming traditional houses.Organic potatoes grown here are exported to India for good profit.
 The pleasurable walk ended with an uphill climb leading to Gangtey Goemba, a 16th century monastery situated  at the hilltop at the edge of Gangtey village.

As if on cue, two friendly dogs came forward to welcome us.
The Gangtey Goemba Monastry features a school, meditation facilities and quarters for monks, and is home to the mind reincarnation of Pema Lingpa, one of the region’s historically important Buddhist treasure discoverers.

Dogs curled up in the cold.

Yaks are usually found on the alpines.
 Then it was time to hit the road again. Even with the careful planning, we could not avoid a road block but this was a short one.

The short road block gave Karma time to stretch his legs.

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