Sadly, the takin reserve was closed again this morning because the animals are ill, so we set off straight away for Dochula Pass. The drive only took about an hour, but the road was incredibly rough in parts so we were bouncing around a lot. At Dochula Pass (10,300 feet), we stopped in the cafe and had coffee before setting out on our hike to Lungtsezekha Temple.
It was chilly and foggy, and the hike was about 3 miles straight up (so it felt), but the setting was gorgeous and we were the only ones on the trail the entire time. A three-legged dog joined us at the bottom and followed along with us all the way to the top.
The trees were gorgeous and covered in moss, prayer flags fluttered, and the daphne flower was blooming and sending a wonderful scent into the air. At times I thought I was having a heart attack, but I’m pretty sure it was just the altitude and the steep ascent. The temple was at 11,500 feet, so we gained over 1,000 feet in elevation.
At the top, the temple was locked and seemed deserted, though we did see one monk when we started back down. There were many dogs to greet us, and we shared a little of our beef jerky with some of them, especially our three-legged friend. Even though we didn’t have a clear view, I got some great photos and really loved the feeling of tranquility at the top.
The descent was much easier, despite the fact that down is harder on the knees, and we were back at the pass about three hours after we started. The pass has 108 small chortens called the Druk Wangyal Chortens. They were built to exemplify the greatness of the fourth king and to celebrate his victory over a group of terrorists in the early part of this century.
We ate lunch in the cafe at the pass. It was a buffet with several tasty selections. They had rice, a noodle dish, a chicken dish, mixed vegetables with delicious frilly mushrooms (I forget the name for that type), fried eggplant, and crispy fried potato sticks that had a chili flavoring. We also had more coffee, and then we set off on the drive to Punakha, which took about an hour.
We immediately went on a short walk to visit the Chhimi Lhakhang fertility monastery, home to the “Divine Madman,” a charming and eccentric historic figure in the area who lived from 1455-1570 (yes, I double checked and was told he lived to be 115!). This area is all about fertility, and phalluses adorn almost every building. At the monastery, the monks were performing a ritual, and we got to watch for a while. They were chanting and beating drums.
We checked into our hotel, the rustic but charming Hotel Lobesa, and settled in to our room.
We had dinner at the hotel, which offered up a buffet. We also tried a bottle of Druk 11000 beer, “Super Strong Beer.” We liked it enough to get another bottle to take back to the room – it was Valentine’s Day, after all! The buffet was good, and I especially enjoyed the vegetable dumplings. I had a tasty vanilla ice cream for dessert with Bhutanese rum poured on top of it.
Distance walked: 7.9 miles
Flights climbed: 113