Thinking of Bhutan brings back memories of a wonderful country with gentle and friendly people. As tourists we probably saw a larger proportion of monks than there actually are in the population. Also, we saw much more of the countryside than the city. Still, I hope the slide show below captures a not-unreasonable cross-section of the people of Bhutan. Click on any of the photos to start the slide show.
It was evening when we reached Wangdue Phodrang; the name means Wangdi’s Place. The highway passed by a dzong high up on a cliff. In the evening light it looked forbidding, as the intention must have been once. A dzong is today the administrative headquarter of a district (called a dzonkhag) in Bhutan. The origins of the country are tied up to these dzongs, which once were the religious, military and administrative centres of a region. Even today a dzong has rooms for the Penlop (governor) of a province as well as monks. I hear that the Wangdue Phodrang dzong burnt down a few years after I took the featured photo, and is still under repair.
Soon after this we left the highway and turned into Wangdue town. It is the smallest town I’d seen in Bhutan till then. It population must have been a few thousand. The center of the town seemed to be the main bus stop, where you could take a bus to Punakha, Trongsa, Gasa, or Thimphu. There were a few people waiting for buses. Shops were open, and one prominent place was taken up by a phone center. Mobile phones were new in Bhutan, and connectivity was very poor. So the B-mobile shop also had booths where you could use a land line. At that time these STD/ISD centers were common in India too. I took a photo partly because of the policeman, the first I had seen outside Thimphu. I liked the way he was gently nudging the stray dog away from possible traffic.
We wandered around the town center for a while. The Family admired the two-story wooden house whose ground floor was the town’s main general store. It sold everything from cooking gas to toffee. The Family likes to buy local sweets. She inspected the collection and found that most of them came from India, but a few were from Bangladesh. She bought a stock which would come handy during our long drives. We admired the traditional Kira (skirt) and Tego (jacket) that this lady was wearing. Bhutanese wear traditional dress to work. The men wear the Gho (gown) in public, tied at the waist with a Kera (belt).
Evening fell quickly. The warm interior of this tailor’s shop contrasted with the restaurant next door which had shut after the last bus left. We decided it was time to find accommodation for the night. Our driver, Dinesh, knew two options. The nearer one was ruled out, it had been completely booked by a company of people who were riding motorbikes across the country. The other had rooms for us.