September 14, 2014 – Day 13 – Punakha, Bhutan to Phobjikha, Bhutan

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September 14th was a Sunday and we had a 3 to 4 hour drive to our next destination, Phobjikha. I was very sad to be leaving the Uma hotel because it was my favourite hotel chain thus far.

The ladies in the “girl’s” car were discussing and applauding K4 for his leadership and foresight in Bhutan. The fact that he took over the monarchy at the age of 16 after his father’s death and followed his own pathway was amazing. We liked to think that his four wives helped him make sound decisions for Bhutan.

Along the way, we stopped to watch an archery tournament. How they could shoot the target at 150 yards away was amazing. Archery in the Olympics is only 50 yards away and in Bhutan their target was 3 times farther away. When a team member hit the target, his team mates (who were all standing very close to the target) all danced and sang. It was a fun time for spectators and players. The Prince had told us at dinner that he and his brother decided to coach an archery team and their team made it to the semi-finals. He said there was soooo much pressure on them to win that he forgot that he was married with a family and forgot all his businesses and did nothing but archery for one full month until the finals. Luckily his team won and he immediately gave up archery. Too much pressure, he couldn’t let his country down! He said this in jest but at the same time, I believe he was serious too.

There are lots of dogs running loose in Bhutan and most of them are pretty healthy. If they had a piece of their ear cut off it meant that they had been neutered or spayed and let loose to run free again. I liked that system. I was also hoping that they received their vaccinations at the same time?? Cows also ran free just like in India. Except the Bhutanese cows appeared to be larger and healthier. I am guessing this was because there was plenty of vegetation for the cows to eat at the side of the roads instead of garbage that many of the cows in India had to eat.

Bhutan’s money was called Ngultrum, (or Nu for short) and the exchange rate was 59.5 for 1 US dollar.

We drove past Punakha’s Dzong, which was huge and very beautiful. K5 got married at this Dzong. Today there were approximately 30 monks living at this Dzong to maintain it.

Continuing along our drive among all the rice fields we now noticed white pampas grass blowing in the wind. The white feathery tops looked beautiful with all the different shades of green in the fields. We also noticed many shanty settlements beside the river of Nepalese people, who came to Bhutan to work on building roads and other concrete projects. These people cannot stay in Bhutan unless they married a Bhutanese because there was no immigration allowed. They just came here to work and save money.

We drove the wrong way up a one way street unbeknownst to us, to see a Sunday market. Who would have thought there would be a one way street when people drove anyway they could down all the other streets, passing on the left or right? They sold bananas, garlic, ginger, apples, peppers, cabbage, apricots, onions. You name it they sold it at this market, including dolma and tobacco. The vendors just sat on the ground beside their goods. A lucky few had a spot where they could put up a tarp to keep out of the sun. Otherwise, everyone was out in the open either buying or selling.

Our next stop was at a cute restaurant high up on a mountain ridge overlooking the valley. Apparently, the Royal Family stopped at this same restaurant when they travelled through Bhutan. The walls were full of photos of the five Royal Families. We sat in the Royal room, separate from the main hall of the restaurant, feeling very elegant sipping on our tea! Of course, Russ sat in the King’s chair.

We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon and it was in the middle of no where. Just beside a couple of farm houses actually. I was freaking out, after last year’s trip because I did not want to experience any more shack hotels. Boy, were we surprised, this hotel was fantastic. It was called Gangley Goenpa Lodge and looked pretty modest on the outside but when we entered we couldn’t believe how nice it was. Most of our group liked this hotel the best. All the staff welcomed us by singing a song before giving us all a complimentary shoulder and neck massage to ease out the stress of driving all day.

The hotel’s main dining room had a huge fireplace and a large deck the full length of the hotel. The view from the deck overlooked the valley below, which was recognized as a spiritual and mystical valley. Unique for it’s floral and fauna. There were only 12 rooms in the hotel and each room had a wood fireplace in the corner and a clawfoot bath in the room. The shower, toilet and sinks were separated along one wall.

We had a late lunch after settling in our rooms and the chef came out to see if we enjoyed our meal. She was a very nice young girl from Sweden. Apparently this hotel chain had operations in Burma and Australia. The chef had worked for the chain in Burma previously and they had sent her here to Bhutan. The head waiter was from Burma as well. That was good news because Russ and I want to go to Burma one day and we will ask to stay at their hotel while we are there.

Unfortunately, we only had one night at this hotel. Rod said he was going to break his leg so we would have to stay longer. This hotel thought of everything. When you walked in they gave you slippers to wear. Then they took your shoes and cleaned them before putting them on a towel for you to pick up when you left the hotel. At night there was a turn down of the sheets but they went one step further and put hot water bottles in the bed, making the beds all nice and warm for us. They even knocked on the door to ask if they could light a fire for the evening? Then I looked outside our window and noticed that the staff were washing our cars! It was amazing the level of service at this hotel.

I found out that the hotel had 52 staff members for their 12 rooms. No wonder the service was excellent! The manager said the break even point was at 22% occupancy!!! The average income for the staff members was 110 US dollars per month. All staff members were very professional and very attentive. It was a wonderful stay!

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