W had warned us that the drive to Bhumthang would take a long time and we had better leave early. Besides, Rajesh, our driver was not feeling too well and we wanted to be done with the drive as soon as possible. P had slowly begun to win the battle over going back into perennial snooze mode after the alarm rang. We left by 8 a.m.
Bhumthang was a six-hour drive from Punakha and went through some key towns like Wangdue Phodrang and Trongsa. Wangdue check point was the first. As usual, it was a picturesque point located close to a Chu or river, in this case the Punak Chuu and one could see the Wangdue Dzong from there. We had all understood and assessed each other’s photography skills by then. W was the clear leader. Armed with an excellent camera and dollops of cockiness, he took some great pictures. S was next. He had a good camera and a steadily improving eye and managed to get W’s approval once in a while. P’s camera would conk off everyday after taking about 10 snaps. She claimed that quality was what counted. I quickly became famous for my ‘Patel’ snaps. This term had been coined in honour of Gujarathis in the U.S. who never failed to take snaps posing next to the name board of any monument they were visiting. Relatives being shown the snap later would know for sure that you had actually visited the place. So true to form, I jumped out and quickly and got my photos taken in front of the Wangude Dzong - that is the picture of the dzong without me.
Around eleven all of us felt hungry and stopped at a small hotel on the outskirts of Wangdue. Hotel Trashi Delek was located conveniently on the main road and we could sit on the walls and watch the world pass by as we sipped our teas and ate the horrible Maggie noodles. Most of us could not finish the food and turned to our excellent supply of snacks for reinforcements.
The route to Trongsa went over rather high mountains and deep below you could see the river flowing parallel to the road. The town was also located at a fairly high altitude. There was a conclave being held by the Crown Prince and the town was filled with several important looking people. I took the mandatory patel snap in front of the Trongsa Dzong and we were on our way. At some point the road began to drop to the river’s height. The bridge over the river served as an entry point to the road to Bhumthang. The guard there persuaded us to give a lift to a local person. Somehow giving lifts to complete strangers in Bhutan does not seem a stupid thing. The locals are quite pleasant. Besides, Rajesh had this innate ability to make friends wherever we went and was a good judge of people. The only problem was our local person could be smelled from a mile away and a two feet distance was not the best to handle the stink. We got used to that in some time though. Besides the countryside had begun to turn even more beautiful if that was possible.
W decided that it was time to educate his brood about the flora and fauna of the Himalayas. Having traveled in Sikkim and Ladak, his superior knowledge was acknowledged by us all. We got a little suspicious though when he started classifying all flowers into five categories – Primola, Orchid, Magnolia, Rhododendron and Juniper. If anyone pointed out that the Primola from ten minutes ago had had fewer petals and was darker than the current one, W blamed it on altitude differences. W also classified trees into pines, oaks and deodars and did not even bother to explain the presence of other obviously different looking trees.
While ingesting all the botanical lessons, we also got to observe the local fauna. Yaks began to show up at regular intervals. After my Takin experience, I was too scared to take photos. Not to mention, they were a bit smaller than I had expected and did not look too impressive.
It was around three by now yet none of us were hungry. The road had stopped going through thick and colourful forests and had started entering lush meadows with mountains in the background. A handicrafts emporium announced the first sign of civilization. We promptly took a break and shopped there.
At around 4 we reached Mountain Lodge where we were to stay in Bhumthang. The rooms had electricity but no electric heaters and definitely no phones. We ordered tea in the room and settled down to watch the pretty view from the windows. Once we were done with the tea, it was time for dinner. We had the second worst meal of our trip then. Since we had had the first worst one in the morning, all of us did manage to eat something before settling down for the night.