Category Archives: travel tales from faraway

I’m really proud of these little stories. One day there’ll be more :)

Bhutan and the Thimphu Drubchen Festival

I could quite happily have sat on the steps of the Thimphu Dzong and just spent the whole day people watching. The fabrics in Bhutan, the weaving, the combinations of patterns and colours are like a human kaleidoscope.

drubchen festival bhutan

drubchen festival bhutan

But as much as I was enjoying my people watching …

drubchen festival thimpu bhutan

… it was time to tackle the Thimphu Dzong and the crowds.

drubchen festival thimpu

For a little while we thought this was all we might see, caught in a hot human impasse.

the human impasse thimpu

But fortunately we had a local friend in a red scarf and like Moses parting the Red Sea, suddenly the crowd opened up and we had a welcome path to some fresh air and a close up view of the annual Drubchen Festival.

drubchen festival thimpu bhutan

jester

the dancers details

dancer drubchen festival

A glimpse of the Chief Abbot, the most important monk in Bhutan…

a glimpse of the chief abbott

monks watching the drubchen festival thimpu bhutan

A rare photo opportunity from on high.

drubchen-festival-thimpu-crowd

drubchen festival thimpu dzong bhutan

And an equally rare opportunity to catch up with an old friend from university days.

kinley and co

Crazy where life takes you.

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Punakha, Bhutan aka seventh heaven

“Keep an eye out on the road to Punakha, they might be roasting corn,” she calls out as we’re leaving.

And as we drop down below the clouds – after a bone jarring couple of hours on a road scheduled to be finished later this year – there they are.

I love these moments, standing by the roadside, chatting away with the help of our guide, Penjo and driver, Wangchuk.

roasted roadside corn bhutan

It’s Saturday and we get wind that the weekly food markets are on.

punakha food market bhutan

Bhutan is chilli central at the moment. Everywhere we go the roofs are covered in red chillies, drying in the sun.

little girl with hair clip bhutan

The national dish is Ema Datchi, a wickedly hot dish of chillies and yak cheese, a little like feta.

punakha market bhutan details

I’m snapping away madly …

chillies

And the boys are busy negotiating a price for a whole sack. They’re so funny together.

penjo and wangchuk

weighing chillis bhutan

I am dragged away and taken for a walk to a Madman’s Temple through rice fields a week or two away from harvest.

rice fields punakha

And then on to the mighty Punakha Dzong.

punakha dzong detail

If I could I would take you inside but I can’t. No photos are allowed within the temples. There are 40 gold plated columns inside the innermost temple, embossed with thunder dragons. It stops us in our tracks. This is the emotional heart of Bhutan, the ancient capital.

punakha dzong details

A peaceful night’s sleep and a little hike deeper along the valley.

punakha valley

Lunch by the river and Steve leaves a little piece of himself behind.

steve in bhutan

And me? Well I’m just in seventh heaven.

marg in bhutan

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Nearly not getting into Bhutan …

It is 4.15 in the morning. Bangkok Airport.

We are lined up in front of the Druk Air counter. We have waited three decades for this moment.

We step up to the counter.

“Your visa please?”

“Visa?”

Looking around I suddenly realise that all the other travellers are holding printed A4 visas (my precioussss) but we, the Hogan family, have nothing.

“The visa you must have to enter Bhutan.”

“I thought that was handled by the tour operator.”

“Well it is, but our system is down. They would have sent you a copy.”

“Well I don’t think they have.”

“Well you can’t get on the plane without it.”

“Wanna bet?” I actually said that bit in my head but it was true, there was no way, after thirty years and many thousands of pre-paid tour dollars, that we weren’t getting on that plane. I won’t tell you what Steve said.

The panic starts to set in. While all the other passengers swan on through, we are politely asked to step to the side and I am sent to the naughty corner aka the business centre to try to access my hotmail. I know it’s a total waste of time. I’ve been unable to access my hotmail account all week in Thailand and Cambodia. Hotmail is insisting on sending us a verification text but the phone isn’t set up for international calls.

I don’t cry…

until the final call when the reality hits … “we’re not going to Bhutan”.

Only then do the tears well up. Big time. And one of the family who shall remain nameless, says “Don’t get upset” which are the three words that you absolutely don’t want to hear when you want to get very, very upset.

And then suddenly, somewhere in that bleary, teary, airport early morning deadzone and 20 minute nightmare, the system miraculously resuscitates its way back to life and there are our visas.

“You can go to Bhutan now.

“As you wish.”

I won’t tell you what we really said ;)

So here are some first impressions that we nearly not got …

Flying into Paro Airport…
As I mentioned in the previous post only 16 people are qualified to fly into the Paro airport. It’s pretty hairy. One of the main architectural features throughout Bhutan are the dzongs (fortresses). The Paro dzong is the big red roofed structure bottom left.

paro valley from the air

Archery
The national sport of Bhutan.
Note to self: Don’t stand taking photos when the boys are throwing in your direction.

archery

Marijuana
Penjo our guide takes us to lunch by the river. Don’t mind the marijuana, it’s the national weed of Bhutan – literally.

marijuana growing wild

penjo our guide

penjo, steve and darcy
(Late edit: I just realised you could be forgiven for thinking that Darce is stoned off his head in the photo above. He’s not. Bad photo positioning on my part :) )

Textures and colour
It’s called falling in love at first sight.

first impressions bhutan

The Paro Dzong
The pictures really speak for themselves …

Paro Dzong

Monk at Paro Dzong

But nothing quite prepares you for the explosion of intricate detail inside the courtyard …

paro dzong interiorparo dzong detail

paro dzong detail bhutan

paro dzong interior bhutan

paro dzong detail

monk in paro dzong

There you have it. The nearly not first day in Bhutan.

If anyone can enlighten me on the art of using hotmail overseas or how you manage your emails and phones I’d be grateful.  x

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    Hi I’m Margaret, an Australian based designer, writer and artist. A sprinkler of creative magic. A wanderluster and weaver of gentle tales.
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