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2013 Bhutan – to Paro

Friday, October 18
Monday, November 4 ~ Paro

>> View the photos of Paro
>> Photos – Tshering Family Farm
>> Chellila Pass

Friday, October 18
This flight from Bangkok to Paro was very scenic, as the peaks of the Himalyan ranges tower above the clouds. Arrived at the Paro airport at about 11 am where Hishey was waiting, then drove to the Janka Resort, very close to the Pachu River in Paro. We were a bit early, so we walked around Paro for a bit and stopped to watch a group of young people practicing a dance performance.

We birded along the river to experience our first Ibisbill, a very special large Himalayan shore bird. It is both rare and well camouflaged. White Wagtails and two species of redstarts, the Plumbeous and White-capped, are nearly always present along the river.

The valley of Paro is mainly Blue Pine forest, which does not have the diversity of bird life found in the many broadleaf habitats to the east. We visited the ruins of the Drukgyel Dzong and the national museum.  The elevation in the Paro Valley is 7,600 feet. Paro is where Hishey grew up and his traditional family farm here is run by members of his family. We visited the farm on our last evening.

We watched men playing the Bhutan version of lawn darts. The dart is piece of wood with a nail hammered into one end. The fletches are made from recycled xray film.

The major agricultural crop in this area is red rice which was ripening in the fields. Rain had flattened the stalks and the farmers were trying to rescue the harvest by laying the stalks out to dry .. in the fields, on their roof tops, anywhere where the stalks would dry. On our way back from Tiger’s Nest, we encountered farmers harvesting the rice.

November 3-4
Two weeks later when we returned to Paro, the crops had been completely harvested and ‘stooked’.

We got up at 4 a.m. on Friday to travel the two hours to the top of the Chellila Pass for sunrise. This was a gamble as we had not had a sunrise anywhere on the trip… early morning fog was the norm for most of the trip. However, this last morning gave us the gift of a crisp, clear, cold day. In fact at the top of the pass it was below freezing. We were awestruck with the sunrise over the high Tibetan mountains to the north east. Breakfast was provided as usual by our camp crew who had spent the night camping in the pass. We spent the morning exploring the pass, walking the road and photographing with beautiful views of the HA valley on the other side. The road winds upward through the Blue Pine, which slowly changes to higher elevation conifers, such as spruce, hemlock, fir, and juniper. At the summit, the vegetation is mainly dwarf rhododendrons and open alpine meadows. With the pass located at close to 13,000 feet, this is the highest road in Bhutan. We had a fantastic view of sacred Mt. Jhomolhari and adjacent Mt. Jichu Drake, both over 20,000 feet. This pass offers a breathtaking view of the Haa and Paro valleys. This was our last chance to see the elusive Blood Pheasants with their beautiful plumage. We had only had once glimpse elsewhere on the trip. As luck would have it, on the way back into Paro, a flock presented themselves in the foliage. They are not as common now as they are illegally hunted for their feathers which have a lucritive market in China. We also saw a Kinjal Pheasant, very unusual.

I was completely absorbed by the prayer flags whispering in the wind.

Our last afternoon in Paro allowed us to do some shopping for last-minute souvenirs and clothing.

Then we had a special evening at Hishey Tshering’s family farm.

The farm is owned by his brother (who cooked our meal that evening). The main crop is rice with some fruit. The farmhouse was built by their mother in the 70′s and has a small barn courtyard where we had dinner and local dancing and music. We met some of the extended family that lives here including several charming children. We had a tour of the farmhouse. While quite large, there are traditionally only 3 rooms — a very large kitchen where the family spends most of its time, the altar room, and another living area. There are no designated bedrooms. The family sleeps communally on mats on the floor. The rooms are sparsely furnished if at all. Now-a-days, there is likely to be a TV set with a satellite dish on the roof!

The altar room: Hishey explained the purpose of the altar room. This room in this farmhouse was quite elaborate with beautiful paintings on the walls and the traditional drums and horns. Buddism is lived and not practised. There are no formal ceremonies in a designated building such as exist in western churches, synagogues, or mosques. Temples and monasteries are used for schools, living quarters, and for offering prayers or gifts. When a family needs a service for a family celebration or death, they ‘hire’ a monk to come to the house to perform whatever ceremonies/prayers are necessary. The altar room can be as simple as a shelf on the wall or an elaborate one as in this case. Hishey explained that over the years, as the family became more prosperous, extra available money was spent painting the walls of the altar room and buying the instruments. The room is used every day and fresh offerings of buttered tea and rice are provided morning and evening. The first person up in the morning starts the fire in the kitchen and makes the butter tea (which is delicious by the way – otherwise known by the locals as heart-attack in a cup). One cup of butter tea is reserved as an offering and placed into the altar room. It is removed in the evening. The offerings are used more as a reminder of the good things of life rather than a ‘gift to the gods’. Monks provide a service to the community. Rather than being saints, they are viewed as necessary professionals.

The kitchen: The cooking facility in the kitchen is like nothing we have ever seen. It looks like a long low concrete table with a fire pit under one end of it for burning wood (of which there is an abundance). Over the fire pit is a large hole where cooking pots can be placed, oven using a tripod-like affair for hanging pots. This is the ‘modern’ stove in this country.

This was our last day, and sadly, we flew back to Bangkok on Saturday where we spent another 3 days before returning to Doylestown.
Lodging: Janka Resort in Paro




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