We left Paro and headed for Thimpu the capital town, 45 minutes away. The narrow roads followed the rivers down, the Paro Valley, and then up the neighboring valley to Thimpu. The landscape was more subalpine than tropical, with glaciated color rivers, and pine forests. Halfway to Thimpu we came to a large traditional gate which marked the boundary of the Paro and Thimpu Dzongs, or constituencies. However, we had not expected that there would be a checkpoint, where the guide needed to show our itinerary and other information to the local police. This seemed to be required for locals as well, but we could not get confirmation about this when we enquired.
Thimpu is built in a valley along the river, and has a population of almost 100,000 people or 1/7 of Bhutan’s population. It is one of the fastest growing cities in South Asia, and has seen a large influx of people from other regions, looking for work. Remarkably, the government has managed to keep the people housed in the many apartment complexes that have been built in the town and the surrounding areas. There was no sign of slums or other shanty type towns that are so common in other developing countries.
We had lunch with Chambala and Deki, the father/daughter team that run the tour company that organized our trip. Marg had met Deki’s cousin who is a student at UBC in Vancouver, and after hearing that Alex Tilley (originator of the Tilley Hat) had been one of their clients we decided that was a good enough reference, and booked our trip.
There is currently a road-widening program in place in Bhutan, but unlike Canada, where this work is done in the middle of the night to minimize the effect on traffic, there was no such luxury in Bhutan. We could not proceed any further East for three hours, and decided to do some sightseeing in Thimpu at the nearby market, and to check out the stores nearby
One of the most unusual surprises of the trip was the Bhutan Postal Office and its worldwide acclaim for stamps. We visited the Post Office, and saw a variety of stamps that had been issued commemorating historical events. They now offered a personalized stamp service, where you could have a picture made into a stamp, which you could use to mail a postcard. We decided to plan to do this when we returned to Thimpu in about a week.
We continued east over the Dochula Pass. We stopped at the summit of the pass to view the high Himalayas off in the distance, and to see the 108 chortens (or stupas) that covered the surrounding hillsides. This was the best view of the high mountains that we would have the entire trip.
The road snaked down the mountain for the next two hours, and was so windy that even the driver felt car sick at the end of the trip! The Dragons’ Nest hotel would be our rest stop for the night. This hotel located on the banks of the river on the outskirts of the Wangdi, was also owned by Chambala’s tour company. Our room had a bathroom that was about three times the size of our bathroom at home, and was overall a very comfortable room. After our buffet dinner and beer we watched Druk Idol on local TV. It really is a small world after all.
The weather became overcast and grey for most of the next 6 days. The second day of our trip gave us an erotic look at Bhutanese culture.