When I first discussed with the travel operator my itinerary, I told him I liked photography and I didn’t mind some, just some, hiking. Unfortunately, the owner told me everything was full because of the festivals. Hence, he designed an itinerary that fitted my interests – to some remote villages for me to take photographs and some places where I might be able to attend the local festivals.
So, here I was taking a 7-hour drive like the Everest trip I had in Tibet (little did I know that I’d take a 22-hour bus ride in Argentina sitting beside the toilet on the bus a few years later. Not a pleasant experience but I learnt a lesson. I will talk about it later).
I don’t think I did much that day. Just took some photos while I was in the car.
The hotel offered a spectacular view of the dzong and the village nearby. I got the best room of the hotel. It was a corner room, isolated from the other ones and there was a huge balcony. I was so fortunate. I could take picture so of the sunset.
The people here were very interesting. They liked to isolate the solo travellers from the group travellers so I was sitting by myself enjoying my dinner. Then suddenly a Deutsche traveller came in catching his breath and then rushed to get his dinner from the buffet.
He was very polite and said hello to me so we started our conversations. I shared my travel experience so far with him and he shared his with me. We talked until the staff of the restaurant asked us to leave because they were closing. And then we continued to talk until midnight. I recommended a book that I was reading at that moment to him ‘Walk in a Relaxed Manner’, which was written by a Catholic nun about her trip in Camino in Spain, which was also the book I read when I was staying in the lodge in the village in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. We both share the same religion. As we talked, we realised that we stayed in the same place in Kathmandu. I told him about the smell of the bed and the strand of long blonde hair I found on the bed. They all, apparently, belonged to the previous guest. That also meant that the guesthouse didn’t clean the room and didn’t change the bedsheet, etc. ‘Was it you who left that hair in the bed?’ I joked but we later found out that he stayed in another room so I couldn’t blame him 😀 and in fact, he had very short brown hair. He ‘promised’ he would leave a comment about that hair if I left a review on tripadvisor. LOL! I saw him again when I was travelling in Austria as he was working there back then. I will write about that trip later.
After seeing the huge Trongsa Dzong in Kuenga Rabten village from afar for a day, I visited it the next day. It serves as the winter palace of the second king now. I left 3 packets of Oreo (or Ritz) at the altar. 🙂 I said to my tour guide, ‘when the king comes, he will see these 3 packets.’ He laughed. I asked him what would happen to the offerings. He explained they would be distributed to the local people. That was good.
This winter palace is still being visited by the royal family. Before they come, the lamas will clean the whole place. When I got there, it was a bit dusty inside. It probably meant that it hadn’t been used for quite some time. The palace inside was actually very simple. Much simpler and older than I expected. Most of the building materials were wood and probably concrete. The bed of the king was interestingly a single bed (yes, I got to visit his bedroom too. No barriers or railings around his room. Can you believe it?). His bed was directly facing an altar where the statue of Buddha and his own photo were displayed. I commented, ‘it’s simpler than I expected.’ The tour guide said, ‘yes, our king leads a simple life.’
It’s quite interesting that people there worship their king even when he is still alive. The way they put the silk scarf (like those ones in Tibet) will tell whether a person is dead or not. If it is wrapped around the photo frame, it means the person in the picture is dead. If not, that means the person is still alive. Obviously, the silk scarf is not wrapped around the picture of the king.
After that, we drove past Esha where I saw terracing farming, just like in Yunnan.
That night, I was arranged to go to UgyenCholing where there was a palace. The palace belonged to the descendants of the royal family of the Tang region so it’s not directly related to the current king’s family, according to the tour guide. They were relatives though. Anyway, this palace was situated in a remote village. It was so remote that it only started to have electricity the year before I went to Bhutan (i.e. 2009). Part of the palace was converted into a museum around 10 years ago.
I was arranged to stay in the palace for one night. I was so excited! A palace! Wow! Imagine staying in Buckingham Palace for one night!
When I arrived at UgyenCholing, it was around 6pm. The sun had set and it was getting dark. It was freezing cold too. I had to hike for slightly more than half an hour to get to the palace because it was situated at the top of a hill. The altitude was 2,800m. I was panting as I climbed up.
When I reached the palace, I got so excited. Two black dogs (were they black? Or was it because of the dark?) at the entrance barked at me but it didn’t matter. I like dogs.
Then I was taken to my room. It was a large one but without a bed. I looked at the tour guide, perplexed, and then he apologized realizing that it was the wrong room.
I asked him, ‘have you been here before?’ All the while, I had a feeling that he hadn’t.
But he said, ‘Yes.’ Maybe he had only been there once or twice and may not have remembered all the details.
Anyway, another guy showed me my room.
The entire building was made of wood and concrete(?). My room was very simple. No glamourous decorations. No elaborate design. It was just a room in a house with many windows, red curtains and a large bed. One can get the sense of the age of the place by looking at the walls. I must have had a dramatic change in my expressions – from the image of Buckingham Palace to this simple room…. The tour guide asked me, ‘Are you happy with it?’
I checked the room while he was there to see if I needed anything else… wait, where was the shower?
The tour guide didn’t know and it seemed none of his previous guests had asked him this question because he smiled quite embarrassingly and probably quite awkwardly (I apologize if I had made him feel uncomfortable) but he found it later. It was outside, not exactly adjacent to my room. It was like the toilets in Namutsuo in Tibet where I had to run in the cold for a minute or so to do my business and then run back to my room. I guessed I wouldn’t do it.
If this was the palace, what would the houses that the local people lived in look like? But I think I was expecting too much and had totally forgotten about the objective of Gross National Happiness (GNH). It’s not about impressive and splendid design of the room or the architecture as a whole. It’s about the people living in it. If I go there again now, I may have a different perspective.
6 – 7 November 2010
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