Somewhere along the road we saw a big red deer! It was clearly very used to people, probably expecting to be fed. When 3 of our vans stopped to join the fun, it was immediately drawn to the trash bins inside the van. Still a wild animal though, as it was getting aggressive to those who came too close to take a selfie.
We made a stop at Dochula pass again and we still had no luck. Cloudy skies meant no view of the Himalayas. Again. And the stopover was not as great this time because there were a lot of tourists; the queue to the loo took all the time we had allocated to be there. I didn't get a chance to see the 108 chorten again. Ah well. I got me a chocolate eclair to go.
One thing that most of us was looking forward today was getting to wear traditional Bhutanese clothes. An ensemble typically consists of kira, wonju and toego. Kira is a long skirt that goes all the way to the ankle and made of a colorful, woven cloth. Wanju is a long-sleeved blouse (I noticed they're mostly made of silk) that has a very long sleeve meant to be folded over the short jacket called toego. A brooch is then pinned to close the jacket. Bhutanese clothes are quite colorful and fun. We paid 200nu (4sgd) to rent the clothes for a short while for a photo shoot. We were all suddenly transformed from our plain commuter clothes into looking regal and fabulous! Even with our sneakers on!
I thought it was going to be similar in Japan where you can transform into a maiko and walk around town for a bit, but no. We had to return the clothes before we head to our next destination which was walking distance from this shop. It was an art shop where intricately painted decorations are made. I enquired how long it takes to create a big art piece painting (on paper) with the wheel of Dharma design and the lady said it takes a month!
We drove back to the hotel and when we turned the corner to get to the reception the first thing I noticed was a spa! Bliss! It's always delightful to get a good deep tissue massage after a hike. After dropping off our bags and a welcome drink, we boarded the van again to head to town for another bout of shopping. More bottles of wines and whisky were purchased - this time to bring back home. I also started shopping for souvenirs to give my beloveds and then settled at the Champaca cafe with the rest of the group. After a little rest back at the hotel, I looked for the way to the river and saw a few ladies just chilling too.
We were all quite straight laced that day (meaning, nobody was drinking) and the next morning, everyone was up and ready to go hiking. Tiger's Nest is arguably the most popular attraction in Bhutan and with its proximity to the airport, definitely top of the list for visitors. So we definitely wanted to be ready for it. We got our packed breakfast and arrived at the base 30 minutes later and set off immediately while there was no other crowd. The start of a hike is never the most fun, because the body takes time to warm up, and especially when it's so early in the morning I need to get over being a not-morning-person and get my legs moving. I also needed my morning tea. In the mean time the stench from horse poo that dotted the path was a less pleasant alternative.
As soon as I got in the rhythm, the hike was a breeze. 6 of us ladies were walking in the same pace and I really enjoyed it. I proclaimed us as the "A Team" haha. There are prayer wheels in specific areas as you hike up which I suppose act as a checkpoint and rest area. Sucan mentioned that there is a cafe halfway into the hike, and we were sort of surprised when we got there sooner than we thought we would. When we arrived there were sugar-dotted biscuits and hot tea waiting for us. Yasss! The second and third groups arrived after, and we headed out first to make room.
As we get closer to the monastery there were some really good photo spots and of course we took the time to snap some. Kezang was with us so we had a photographer by default haha.
When we reached the monastery, Kezang we had to report to the officer in duty, with the list of our names. We put our stuff in the locker and then went in. Then we went in one by one, with a monk putting saffron-infused water in our palm that we need to put up in our lips and our head. We just sort of followed Kezang's lead. Photos are not allowed of course, and we had to remove our shoes in every room we went in. There are 13 temples in total.
Tiger's Nest is actually called Paro Taktsang in local language. Tak means tiger and Tsang means lair. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche flew from Tibet to this location on the back of a tigress, hence it was called a nest (as he flew like a bird) instead of a lair. Inside the main temple is a big statue of Guru Rinpoche. Kezang said that it was believed this statue was being transported into the sacred temple up in the cave but the monks carrying it could not bear it as it was so heavy and the road (or lack of) made it very difficult. They heard the statue itself speak to them and asked them to leave it behind, and it will make its way to the temple. By the time they arrived at the temple, the statue was already there.
While each temple was interesting, my most favorite part though was climbing down a narrow ladder, into the darkness right inside the cave. It was believe that it was there where Guru Rinpoche meditated. When our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we saw a small altar right in a crevice of the cave. It was adorned with prayer flags and money donations.
We then descended slowly and it was agreed that we will convene in the nice photo spot and take some photos as a group. Everyone was pumped up, fulfilled to have completed the hike, except for the sleepy dog. I must say though, our guides and drivers make photo-taking look so cool. Check them out looking so effortlessly swag, while taking these photos.
After the hike some of us went back to town to complete our final souvenir shopping and exploring town, while the others went back to rest or go for their massage appointment. And then in the evening, we had a cultural show over bonfire, which turned out to be way too warm. We had to evacuate and move closer to the river side. The evening's dinner was special. We started with some appetizers and the best news was that we had a box full of wine and beer to consume! Alcoholics, rejoice!
It was time for wrap-up, so we all were reminiscing about the fun we had. Sucan made his closing speech and distributed gifts to everyone. We got some swanky laptop bags with a woven design. Those who didn't pack yet had to leave sooner, but some of us stayed behind. We tried to max out the evening as much as we could, because in the morning everybody gotta chiong to the airport - leaving the hotel at 6am sharp.
Thanks Kezang, Karma, Kencho, Tsewang (and I'm sorry I didn't get the name of the other drivers) for welcoming us to your beautiful country. It was an honor to be able to visit and experience for ourselves why it is called the Land of Happiness.
Thanks Sucan for carefully curating this trip, it was well-planned and definitely had the crowd in mind, knowing what would make the collective group enjoy the experience. Of all the trips I did with Adventures Unlimited this is probably my most favorite.
To all of you ladies (and our only gent, Patrick) - thank you for making this such a wonderful trip. You're all special in your own way and collectively that's what made this such a trip to remember! 💗
*some photos are from myself, Adventures Unlimited event host and participants, and local guides in Bhutan