We left Punakha, boarded our vehicle and bounced, rambled, and otherwise headed down the road toward Trongsa in Central Bhutan. The day started overcast with bits of sunlight streaming through the clouds; however, as we neared Wangdue-Phoedrang and the river communities of the Lobesa Valley, the storm clouds gathered above the mountains surrounding us on three sides.
Traveling in Bhutan on the main road through the country is a testimony to patience. One has to relax into the journey because, at some point, something will hinder your progress. As I’ve said before, to be in Bhutan is to let go of expectations of traveling on a set schedule. This one lesson could be among the most profound one can learn in this land of happiness.
So, we drove up into the central region of Bhutan climbing in elevation from the valley floor of about 3,000 meters. The road winds back and forth, contouring around the mountainsides. As we climb, the hills become verdant with every color of green the eye can see surrounding the vehicle as we head up and up to the Pele-la pass. AS the bus drove on the clouds descended and we were, within about an hour of driving, surrounded by a fine mist. At one point, the road disappeared, and the black top of the highway gave way to the dirt track I have seen so many times before.
Road construction has been ongoing in the eight years I have been traveling to Bhutan. A massive road widening project was begun more than ten years ago and change the very nature of the highway across this country. From Wangdue to about 30 kilometers before Trongsa, the road is a smooth blacktop, the road wide enough for two cars to pass. However, the paved track ends and the construction of drainage channels, hard rock bed, and destruction of rock walls begins.
On dry days, this road is a mere nuisance, a small inconvenience on the journey east. On this day, the mist turned into a full rain storm and the hard-packed dirt surface became a skating rink of mud. Our bus driver, Tenzin, is a remarkable man and he braved the elements both in the air and on the ground very well. As we neared our first stop in Tshangkhap and the Tshangkhap Central School, our pace slowed to a crawl. Rain came down hard and we faced a very narrow roadway filled with foot-deep ruts of mud. At one point we simply could not continue, and the bus stopped in the muck and mire of the road. Our driver, patient, practiced, rocked the beast back and forth until, in a few moments, he rocked the bus forward, through the dense material and down the road…we all clapped for joy at our luck.
We finally made it to the small village of Tshangkhap, the home of my friend and guide Namgay. We pulled off the side of the road and headed to this rural school.
Since our last visit, the school has seen the construction of new classrooms and dorms for students. I brought with me money raised by our group for the school, fearing that in the face of these changes that our donation would be puny and impact small. I met with the principle and counselor of the school and we talked about the donation and establishing a letter writing exchange with Sandia Prep. When I handed over the funds from the fundraiser they were so glad to receive it and said that the impact would be profound. I was relieved.
While I met with the administration, our students had brought hacky sacks to students and we disturbed those and played together for the rest of the afternoon. As you will see, the videos tell us a lot about our reception in a way words simply cannot.
We walked in the hard rain back to the bus and our planned walk through the local village and visits with the farmers of the community were cancelled. We made our way to Yangkhil Resort, an absolutely gorgeous location directly across from Trongsa Dzong. We settled into an evening of food and conversation as the rain continued to pound outside.
As I write this at 5:30AM, the rain continues to fall. Our plan is to travel back over the bog once called a road and drive to Phobjikha Valley and the home of the Black-Necked Crane. May our travels go as easily as possible and may you feel from afar our growing patient minds as we make our way west.
(I will load many more photos of our group in the next post….)