…Fortunately I’d set my alarm just before crashing out the previous night. My bus for Punakha left at 6:30 and I made it to the station just in time. I’d managed to pay a little extra and get the last remaining seat on the bus. From everything I’d read online it said that there was an abundance of buses travelling across Bhutan with plenty of empty seats, but from my experience in the last two cities, buses were running over capacity all the time. When I asked about it, people just kept saying “University, University!” and wouldn’t explain further…very curious.
I came across an interesting new Bhutanese custom in this bus ride to Punakha. Apparently, police are pretty strict about overloading the buses past their capacity. Therefore at checkpoints, if they see anyone standing they will stop the bus and penalize the operators heavily. So to make sure everyone is seated, they hand out these wooden boards to extra passengers. People on adjacent sides of the aisle would then prop these boards under their buttocks and thus provide a makeshift seat for those standing in the aisle. Though more often than not these planks were used to seat live poultry.
I, fortunately, didn’t have chickens next to me. Instead it was a little girl travelling with her Mum who was seated just behind. It turned out that this little girl was the only one who spoke English on the entire bus. She helped me translate when speaking to the conductor and my fellow passengers! She seemed to take a particular fascination to my phone and got extremely excited when I showed her how to take a selfie. She spent the rest of the trip taking selfies of herself trying to catch her Mom behind her, in the frame. It turned into a game to see how long she could manage it without getting caught. She was adorable. And this coming from someone who doesn’t particularly like children.
I got off at a small village called Sapsokha where I first went and figured out my accommodation for the night. I got a brilliant room with a view too and for just Rs.600, after walking out of the main marketplace for a bit. The room looked out over paddy fields and in the distance I could see my next destination. Chimi Lakhang. I’d heard a lot about this place from a lot of people as well as read about it online so I definitely had to see it with my own eyes. It is a small monastery in the middle of the fields, but what made it special was that it’s entirely dedicated to PENISES. Yep. You heard me. It’s got penis paintings, penis sculptures, penis everything.
I headed back outside after a shower, towards the central marketplace where I managed to hitch a ride to the next village of Pajo. From here I walked through the paddy fields. This hike is absolutely amazing. I was completely alone, the day was clear and the breeze was blowing steadily. It was so quiet. The walk takes you through another small cluster of houses in the mini-village of Teoprongchu. Every house here has a penis painted over its entrance. This monastery has attracted quite a bit of tourism over the years, so at every corner there was someone or the other offering me little wooden penis key chains or something of the sort.
Eventually I left the village behind and made my way through a dirt path boulevard up to the monastery. It was primally placed in isolation. The monastery and all the penises in it were a celebration of fertility in the region. Prayers offered here were known to cure infertility for couples from across the world! All these miracles were documented in a book inside. I entered the central prayer chamber where a monk blessed me with a large wooden penis the size of my arm. I sat outside in the courtyard just taking in the whole calming effect the place had on me. The monastry was also a school for young monks. There were kids of all ages running around either playing or carrying out chores.
(Sorry I don’t have too many pictures of this place. I didn’t want to seem rude photographing a place of worship)
After a while it was time to leave. I hiked through a shortcut through the fields that would take me back to the main road. I managed to hitch another ride up the valley to the Punakha Dzong with some musicians who didn’t stop singing the whole way. The Punakha Dzong according to the locals, is the King’s favourite palace. It was really pretty too, set on the conjunction of two rivers. Trees with flowers of all colours covered the place.
I spent almost an hour just roaming around the palace before heading back to the nearby taxi stand. I hired a shared taxi up to the biggest town in the area called Wangdue where I was hoping to book seats on a bus up to the next big town of Trongsa.
When I got there it turns out that there was nothing available. All available seats had already been booked from Thimphu. The guys at the bus station told me to go up the highway and try my luck the next day when the buses passed by. They might have a seat or a wooden plank available. Disappointed, I ate a quick lunch and headed back to my room.
It rained that evening, and didn’t stop until I went to bed that night. I spent the whole evening at a local bar sipping Bhutanese beer (a must try by the way) and looking over paddy fields in the fading light. The rain just made the view a whole lot better…
My trip till this point.
[My wordpress plan doesn’t let me upload videos just yet so follow this link to watch the Bhutan One Second a Day Video]