We wake to a glorious morning, sunrise so spectacular it soars over the mountains and sets the village below alight. A tinkling of bells along with the howl of dogs reverberates. It looks fantastic outside, barely a cloud in the sky - perfect for taking a trip to a remote valley where even the hint of rain can spell disaster.
Heading off early, a picnic lunch in tow and spirits feeling very high, it doesn't matter one iota to us that we have to traverse that shocker of a road again before we get to the turn off to Lhuntse and Khoma. As soon as we flick through the switch-back, we hug the side of a wide rapid gushing river and wind up a steep cliff. It's narrow, rough going and heartstopping but the scenery is breathtaking.
This is some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen so far in Bhutan, so stunning that it almost hurts the eyes to look at it. The river is the most amazing mint green colour, the boulders it cascades over a dove grey and white and glint in the sunlight. The waters surges at such an incredible pace over the rocks that we can hear the ongoing roar over our vehicle heaving and shuddering as it bounces across the rough terrain of the road. Every narrow corners bursts alive with spectacular vision.
Near the village of Autsho, we traverse an area notorious for landslides and our guide becomes quite nervous. There is signage everywhere warning of impending danger. The guide constantly checks his phone for updates on the weather - I'm amazed that way out here in the extreme rural of the remote east, they still have signal, back home in Australia I'm flat out being able to get a conversation in on my mobile with out constant cutting out . I can totally understand the guides nervousness - there are screes and landslides, boulders peppering the road and even whole sides of the road missing. There are also lots of mini stupas and chortens lining the road too.
It takes three hours to get to the junction of Lhuntse and Khoma, pass an enormous cremation ghat and over a bridge we begin the climb up, the Lhuntse Dzong sits high above us.
Soon the zig-zag village of Lhuntse greets us; on one side of the road its woven bamboo and timber slab homes with chilli laden tin rooves, their fronts adorned in geraniums in plastic buckets and old jam tins, and on the high side, great concrete slab buildings in vibrant yellow and orange tower. Despite the stark contrast, the quaintness of the village oozed in abundance and we oohed and arhed in droves. Above the doorways of the tiny huts were animalist protectors - skulls of small animals, bank notes and parchment paper prayers. Parcels of doma pani (betel nut) sit in piles on the window sills of the small shops and bottles upon bottles of the ara (rice wine) line up near the steps.
On the other side of the village we reach the Lhuntse Dzong, a sweet little dzong with an amazing view. This area is the ancestral homeland of the Royal Family is famous throughout Bhutan for its intricate textiles the silk Kishu Thara - the very best in the country. We wandered up the wide flagstone stair case entry to the gate of the Dzong, the first we'd entered without having to cross a bridge. Inside the gateway the walls are lined in ancient artworks. Every step up the pathway to the main building of the dzong is filled with stunning vistas and it takes us quite a while to make the trip up.
Inside, the Dzong is a delight to view showing little sign of the damage it suffered back in 2009 from a massive earthquake, the courtyard is filled with intricate artworks peppered with mother-of-pearl inlay and delicate ironwork lace adorning the windows. We're delighted to discover that the monks are practicing for an upcoming festival and the courtyard is filled with music and dancing - and we have it all to ourselves. We are the only tourists there.
It's close to lunchtime and we plan to visit the weaving village of Khoma, as well as the giant statue of Guru Rimpoche atop of Takela Hill, we decide to do Khoma first. I would have loved to have stayed in Lhuntse there all day, soaking up the peaceful aura of the dzong, and in hindsight maybe I should have!
The gate to Khoma is flanked by a massive mani wheel and stone stile and we are greeted by a group of children who lead us down a path. As we pass by the houses women dash out with bags and baskets filled with woven fabrics. They run down the pathways and around the corner to a large common area.
When we reach the area, they have already pulled out their fabrics and draped them over string lines, walls and across the stones. They ask us to come in and look but I'm not ready to look at fabric, I'm not keen on 'hard sell' and although I understand their need for someone - a tourist - me - to buy their fabric I have been put off, the 'walking wallet' feeling drapes across me.
I explain to the guide I would like to look around the village first and ask, if possible could we see some of the weavers using their looms. We have heard that these women are the very best weavers in the country, master artisans in their craft. The guide is reluctant to ask them and although he asks them in dzongkha, I get the feeling he isn't as we notice a look flash across our drivers face - he seems to be 'surprised'. The reply is that buy first then we can look at where the weaving happens. This is the first I've felt a 'hard sell' and any form of sell-sell while in Bhutan, it feels very wrong.
I pick a piece and our guide does the haggling. It's over in a very quick time and the piece costs as much as it would have in Thimphu. Although I know our guide has not tried very hard, and will be getting a cut, I take away from it that this is an exquisite piece that would have taken an immense amount of time, the weaver deserve the amount, but because it is more than I anticipated, I cannot afford to buy another piece and I feel dreadful when the other women press their beautiful pieces at me and I have to say no. The women pack up their fabrics and as quick as they had been to come, they are gone. We are not given a demonstration, nor do we have any opportunity to chat with them. A sense of sour emptiness washes through me.
And then it happens.
As we leave the village I go to step up to the mani wheel to give it a spin, my left ankle buckles - the same ankle I'd rolled in Turkey eighteen months prior - I go down like a sack of red rice. I hear a crack and immediately pain shoots up my leg. I can't get up or walk. Mal helps me to the car and I burst into tears. It's not the pain that causes my tears, it's my shame for being annoyed at not being shown weaving. I feel childish.
Within moments my ankle has swelled and grey clouds are forming above the mountains. There will be no more visits to any temples - we head straight back to Mongar.
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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