Bhutan – Day 5 – The Phobjika Valley

 

A wonderful day today, beginning with a walk along the far side of the valley. We were driven to the monastery we visited yesterday and then Sunam led us down through pine forest and meadow to the valley floor. On our way we passed clumps of cotoneaster microfloris and berberis. The air was filled with the intoxicating scent of Daphne bushes, from which the Bhutanese used to make paper. We handled some later in a temple. In places the ground was turned lilac with primula. In a small village we stopped at a stupa which had a large prayer wheel turned by a waterwheel underneath it.

Once on the valley floor we crossed the boggy areas on planked walkways. The ground is quite dry compared to what it will be like when the monsoon comes in June. Below us the Nakey Chhu meandered, a river far too small for its large glacial valley. We entered the grounds of a monastic school for young children which was also a Buddhist camping site. We looked into a room which would have 4 or 5 children in it. It was clean if rather spartan. The toilets were neither being quite modern and well appointed, with the highest urinal I have ever used. At 6 foot I struggled to use it. However there seemed to be no water supply so the toilets were pretty disgusting.

Moving quickly on we crossed the valley stopping only on the bridge over the Nakey where we taught Sunam how to play Pooh sticks. He was delighted as he won – beginners luck! We climbed up the valley side, stopping at a government store. Here locals can buy basics such as rice, sugar, cheese, washing powder etc. at prices lower than in the shops. This is designed to keep people in the villages. Not sure how it goes down with local shopkeepers though!

We then climbed up a steep track past the black necked crane information centre to our restaurant for lunch. We had complained that, while we were passing hundreds of fields full of potatoes, we had had none for dinner last night. I suspect Mr Numgay may have had a word, because along with rice, pasta and noodles there were two bowls of potatoes. The first were halves of small potatoes roasted with their skins on in salt and ginger – absolutely delicious! The second was a version of gratin dauphinois and again scrumptious. Add to that a bowl of mushrooms and onions with ginger and we were in heaven. The rice and pasta did not get a look in.

There was also a log stove in the dining room which allowed us to warm up. It was actually quite cool outside and I wish I’d worn a vest or a coat.

After lunch we were driven down to the black necked crane information centre. Of course the birds have flown, to quote one of our late kings, but there were plenty of interesting boards to read and a superbly filmed documentary which explained the conservation methods the government and the RSPN are carrying out. However we did not miss out entirely on the birds. One unfortunate specimen broke his wings in 2016 and is now kept in captivity until he is well enough to join his friends on their migration north to Tibet.

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In the morning I had read about a temple further up the valley dating from the C14th. Unfortunately I did not get the name quite right and Mr Numgay spent some time tracking it down. However track it down he did. It was about 1 km off the main village road and proved well worth a visit. From the outside at the back it did not look much, although it’s front entrance was beautifully painted. It’s position was impressive with great views down the valley. We entered and climbed two very steep sets of stairs to the third floor, where we ducked under a cloth over the door and into a stunningly painted room. A solitary priest greeted us, although normally there are three looking after this temple. The main altar was covered in beautifully painted butter cakes, and behind it sat a statue of the second Buddha and others of lamas or holy men. The pillars and ceiling were a riot of colour. The holy man, Longchenpa had built 8 temples in the valley. Our guide and driver seemed delighted to have the opportunity to visit this special place and carried out their prostrations and took some holy water.

On our way home we passed a government primary school and Sunam asked us if we would like to visit. We of course said we’d love to and we’re immediately walked across a field and over a bridge, the younger children forming a guard of honour as they were on their way home. We went into the older children’s classroom where 21 were bent over their books. The classroom was quite well appointed with posters on the walls, a blackboard and good classroom furniture. As we left we discovered it was scouts after school and pupils appeared in the playground wearing scarves and woggles. There they were drilled by the master and a pupil.

The library was impressive with most of the books in English and of a good quality. Lots of ladybird books and classic stories like Treasure Island and Great Expectations. Clearly education is important and pupils are keen to learn according to Sunam.

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The sun had now come out and the Phobjika Valley looked stunning in the evening light. We were glad to get back after a full day to a log fire and a warm room. Tonight Christine is going to try a massage offered in the hotel spa. I shall settle for a hot shower! Let’s hope there are potatoes for dinner!

 

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