A less hectic day today. We agreed that the journey to the Ura Valley, that was on our itinerary was rather silly – 2.5 hours drive there and the same back, particularly as we have a full day’s driving tomorrow. Instead we went to the beautiful Tang Valley to se the Burning Lake. This is really a pool in a fast flowing river, but is a very sacred spot for Buddhists. The Guru Pema Lingpa dived naked into the pool and brought out a treasure box. The penlop or local governor heard about this and accused him of trickery. To prove himself he dived in with a burning lamp, proclaiming that he would return with the lamp still lit or die in the water. Needless to say he returned with the lamp still lit and holding a statue and a treasure chest. The lake became known as Membartsho (Burning Lake).
It is a beautiful place where people leave mini-stupas to ask for good health. We walked back to the car park and saw some white-throated magpies – although it is their bellies that are white.
From there we walked up through the pine forests and meadows to the nunnery at the top of the hill. It is called a ‘higher nunnery’ but only because it takes senior girls for training. The views were spectacular with snow topped mountains in the distance. The air was clear and smelled of pine. We climbed higher and higher crossing the hairpin bends in the road. At last the nunnery was in sight with its green prayer banners fluttering in the breeze.
We entered the courtyard where some girls were preparing some sort of gooseberry. They were taking out the large seeds which are used to make a paste. I didn’t fully understand the explanation, but apparently the paste is used as a glue. Inside the temple we saw the trumpets, drums and bells used in rituals. The nuns sit on padded seats on the floor in front of low benches on which they place their scripture books and instruments. The temple had windows on both sides so was very light unlike many temples we had been in.
From here we walked out to a hill top between lines of prayer flags for a splendid view of the distant mountains. We then drove back into town for an early lunch. We were taken to a local restaurant where we were the only diners, but the food was excellent. We had rice with sweet corn, potatoes, carrots with ginger, a sort of scrambled egg, tomato mixture and cauliflower tempura. It was utterly delicious and we probably ate too much.
After lunch we walked around the town while Sunam tried to find us a good exchange rate. We went in search of a book shop Christine thought she had seen, but it was not to be found. We did manage to buy some postage stamps and Christine found a shop selling cupcakes of all things. No one seemed to be serving, indeed no one was anywhere to be seen. In the end we found the owner next door and she sold us probably two of the most disgusting cupcakes I have ever eaten. On the other hand at 30pence each, they were also two of the cheapest. The shopkeeper did explain that she had not made them and she was going on a cupcake course to learn the techniques at the end of April . Let us hope her teacher is not the woman who made these ones.
In the end, Sunam could find no shop offering a good exchange rate so we settled for the local bank. The steps up to the first floor where the bank was situated were unbelievably steep and would have deterred any thieves. This was probably just as well as the cashier sat with an open tray full of bank notes by his side in an open wooden booth. There was no apparent security other than the hope that any thief would break his neck running down the steps.
The sky by now had darkened and ominous rolls of thunder suggested another afternoon storm was coming. Large drops spattered the ground, but it was very short lived. We drove to the Swiss cheese factory. A Swiss, Fritz Maurer opened a cheese factory as a development project and then added a brewery making Red Panda beer. The latter is excellent and I enjoyed a pint last night. It is a Weiss beer and unfiltered, but full of flavour. The cheeses made are emmental and Gouda in type, neither of them anything special. The visit was also unremarkable as visitors are only allowed in when cheese is not being made. We admired the milk separator, the butter churn, the cheese presses and the water heaters. We entered the cheese stores and looked at the cheeses. The cheeses looked back in that rather uninterested way that maturing cheese has. We left them to it and went back to the shop to taste their maturer relatives. We went back to the town. Exciting it wasn’t.
We decided to visit the tailor to pick up Christine’s jacket. On entering the shop we were greeted by two younger men. When asked for the jacket they assured us that the tailor had said he would do it after lunch, but unfortunately he had not come back after lunch, so the material remained uncut and unstitched. One of the young men said he would get start on it straight away and it would be ready by 19.00. We shall see.
We returned to our hotel and relaxed (well slept if you must know). Tomorrow could be a very long day. Mr Numgay informed us that yesterday, rain had caused a landslide on the road back to Punakha and some cars had waited for 7 hours before it was cleared. I should imagine they ran out of objects to play I spy with……..let’s face it, after tree and rock there isn’t much else.