Bleary-eyed, it’s another early rise and another long drive, this time to the almost far-east township of Mongar in the ancient region of Khyeng – the birth place of Bhutans blue blood dynasty, the Wangchucks. Bundling into the car we find it’ll be at least an eight hour drive on very dusty, bumpy, winding roads and that after Jakar the roads will get worse as the east is ‘very primitive’ - seriously the roads will be worse than what we’ve already encountered! We are a little speechless at the thought of the possibility. He also explains to us that there is not much to do in the east and the people here are very simple, that we might find it boring.
Settled in but not strapped in – we’ve been told not to use the seatbelts as it’s easier to jump from the car should it go over the side and plummet down - we don’t get too far along the road before we have our first stop at Mebar Tsho - The Burning Lake.
A highly revered sacred site, where treasure is said to be hidden beneath the waters and any person who tries to measure the depth of the ‘lake’ will die, it is neither a lake nor burning. It is however a stunningly beautiful ‘narrow-neck’ of rock over a rapid gushing gorge with plunging drop to mirrored pools. Swathes of prayer flags, their florescent colours clashing yet blending with the autumn hues of the trees cover the bridge, gorge and the large overhanging rocks and we have to stoop to get through them. We are enthralled with the serenity we find ourselves surrounded by and it is the perfect spot to unfurl a string of flags of our own and add them to the masses. Only the day before we had received news that the brother of a very close friend had passed and so as we tie the ends, I say a blessing for my friend and her family and pray that they will all find a peace as beautiful as this place. The walk back to our car is uphill and past hundreds a small stacked pebbles that remind me of chortans and stupas – a way of balancing life, our guide tells me when I comment about them.
Just as we climb the last of the steps back to the carpark, I send another prayer to the ethos, thanking for the bleary eyes and early rise as we meet a mega bus load of tourists coming the opposite direction, all with their clicking away cameras and walking poles. I can’t imagine so many down on the narrow-neck rocks and after we’ve passed them our guide shakes his head and tuts – too many, not safe. A couple of days later we hear news that a French tourist from a tour-group of fifteen and the Bhutanese guide die at the Burning Lake. Taking a photo, the tourist had stepped back and fell into the gorge. The guide, a young 26year old man, bravely jumped into the waters in a bid to save him, managing to push the man’s body ashore before disappearing down the rapids.
Back in the car, we follow the road through undulating valleys and soft hills, climbing gradually up to Wangthang La where it’s another quick stop to take in the stunning scenery of snow cap mountains and a stand of prayer poles, then it is a jiving and twisting drive down to the Geyzam Chhu Valley before bucketing back up mountainsides to the second highest pass in Bhutan – Thrumshing La.
Our guide tells us we are lucky to be going through this pass now and not in another month as the snowfall will close the pass for many days, leaving the east separated from the rest of Bhutan. Although it was brilliant blue skies when we left Jakar, as we wind our way to the pass, a sprinkling of snowflakes and the dropping temperature reminds us that mother nature and climate does not always stick to human calendars. At the pass we stop and Mal and our driver go and unfurl a line of prayer flags, this time in memory of our driver’s sister-in-law who died a few days earlier.
Around the corner from the pass we stop for a picnic lunch and Mal and our driver have a game of darts - Khuru (with a make-shift dart). It's far from easy to throw, but a lot of fun with plenty of darting as they bounce out of the way of the flying missile. Well Mal does a lot of darting, our driver is a 'pro' at it with his throws reaching close to Mal. Mal's attempts on the other hand, lets just say he should definitely stick to mechanics.
The road becomes a sheer drop and even more rockier if that possible and we pass-by countless waterfalls. They are breathtaking. Our guide tells us that we are in some of wildest areas of Bhutan and we must be very careful driving along this part of the road. This is an area where fog falls without warning and sometimes the corners disappear. There are also lots of rockfalls and screes and it is a sobering reminder of the dangers of driving in Bhutan. Bhutan's weather is notorious for changing within an instant but thankfully we are having a reasonably fine day and every now and then we are delighted to see monkeys scampering in the trees and we keep a lookout for red pandas in the frequent Bamboo clumps but aren’t so lucky to see them. We stop at a spectacular waterfall that cascades onto the road and Mal pretends to strip off to get rid of some of the dust he's gathered on the journey so far - we are covered head to toe in a fine film of it.
The country side soon changes from alpine to tropical with cascading rice terraces and giant bamboo forests. Every now and then we see a thatched hut in the fields - it has shades of rural Bali and I love it. As we drop further down we pass a beautiful little chorten that's so delightfully pretty. The road winds and winds itself into circles and go round to almost dizziness before zipping across a wide river and begin the climb back up again.
Suddnely the gravel road gets ridiculously worse and turns into a dust bowl with humungous boulders sitting in the middle of the road itself and we drop to a crawl to get around them. We’re told the town of Mongar is just around the corner, but it takes an age to get there, almost an hour as we traverse the obstacle course. Finally, we arrive and it is worth every ounce of bouncing around in the car. Mongar is gorgeous. A quaint little town set on the side of a hill, with once again chocolate box picture perfect houses and enormous mani wheels outside shops and swathes of bougainvillea and geraniums hanging from vehandahs and stairways. After checking into our hotel – the delightful Wangchuk – the most perfect window view of the town, a chorten and swath of prayer flags from our room, we wander down into the village and chat with the locals.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book.
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