Behind the Prayer Flags - Part 2
Our guest Pat Barlow continues her journey in Bhutan; camping, trekking, meeting monks and visiting a remote school. She recounts some of her magical moments on her tour. This is Part 2 of a 2-part series.
We sampled all types of accommodation from small hotels to traditional homestay and another highlight was the camping experience in Gasa in the north of the country. We trekked down to the hot springs which are supposed to have great healing powers and took a dip to relax our weary limbs. Sarah and I remained quite covered up as we took the waters but did begin to wonder if it was absolutely necessary when the monks came down from the monastery and stripped off to their underpants!
We learnt that nothing should surprise us about Bhutanese monks so we took it in our stride when we came across young ones playing Cowboys and Indians on the first day of the Gasa festival. They were having such fun shooting poppers out of their plastic guns and why not, I expect they are busy praying for peace and enlightenment the rest of the year.
The first day of the Gasa festival was wonderful. It was small, local, colourful and friendly. The perfect setting to enjoy a festival and well worth the trek from camp. The ladies from Laya with their stunning traditional dress caught our eye. Their skirts are heavy and made from yak hair, their jackets heavily embroidered and on their heads they wear a conical shaped hat made from bamboo. The day was memorable and very special not only because of the dancing and festivities but also the very warm welcome we received from the local people.
Every day was a new and amazing experience and although sad to leave Gasa we were looking forward to our trek up to Rukha.
The pack ponies and our group made our way over the second longest suspension bridge in Bhutan which passed over the roaring waters of the powerful river tens of metres below. Rukha is appox 10 miles from the road so the only way up to the village is to walk. The headman, Tashi Dorji, from the nearest village of Samthang came to guide us so we took all the local short cuts. They might have been shorter but they were certainly steeper than the usual path!
As it was October it was hot and humid but it was truly amazing walking through the rain forest. The sights and sounds will stay with us forever. We stayed at Tashi’s house that night and again what a privilege to be staying with the family. All visitors to the area have to sign into the official book. Most of them were government officials, not many tourists such as ourselves which made so much more of an honour. How wonderful to be able to experience village life in such a beautiful area.
We had hoped to be up at 6.00am to walk to school with the children but needless to say our breakfast and trek took far longer than it did the children. They are used to the ups and downs, the altitude, the rickety bridges and babbling streams and take it in their stride but we had to stop often to gaze in awe at the river far below and listen to the birdsong and giant cicadas … well that was our excuse.
There are approximately 70 children at the school in Migtana aged 6-11 years old. They come from the surrounding villages and those from too far away have to board, the rest trek up and down on a daily basis. I was surprised to find out that the children have their lessons in English apart from their Dzongha lesson so I was really pleased that I had a few ideas to put into practice (forever the teacher). We were thrilled to be able to talk to the children, they were so attentive and their beautiful faces showed great eagerness to communicate with their visitors from overseas. They enjoyed the activities we did with them and we were so grateful to have the opportunity to spend time with the children and the teachers. It was also wonderful to be able to pass on a donation from the Panoramic Journeys Sustainable Project Fund that was to be used to buy uniforms for those without and also to purchase some much needed books. The Headmaster was overjoyed and this experience was a delighful way to round off our encounter.
Missed part 1 – The start of the journey? Read it here