Day 9 – Thimpu to Punakha
I don’t know about you but I always find that one of the best ways to shake off a thick head from 5 too many mojitos the night before is to strap into an imported Japanese minibus with 4 high-spirited children and drive switch-back mountain roads through the Himalayas for about 3 hours.
Going from Thimpu to Punakha involves crossing the Dochula Pass. It’s nothing like as hairy (more on that later) as some of the death-defying hell-passages I’ve travelled on in Ladakh or China, but there are still lots of hairpins and vertiginous drops plus a few areas of badly eroded and crumbled road thrown in for good measure.
The view from the top is the compensation. Well, it would be if there was one. The handy sign at the stopping point above is a ‘Here’s What You Could Have Won’ of snow-capped wonderment. As it is, we got a cafeteria full of overweight Indian tourists. But hang on… what’s that winking under that glass counter? It looks suspiciously like… PATISSERIE! Some kind, stranded chef has taken the nauseating roads and the dizzying altitude as an inspiration to concoct 8 different kinds of pastry goods, including a very passable Black Forest Gateau, a Chocolate Eclair (with buttercream, but beggars can’t be dairy snobs) and a most excellent Mushroom Slice, that even Tony Potter would approve of (my Dad – pastry connoisseur and all-round food obsessive). Here are the kids and Nanny Em tucking in:
The clouds at least metaphorically lifted even further when we were given a special blessing by the Lama of the Dochula Pass. He lives in a little house behind the cafeteria 24/7 and I’d feel sorry for him but then – CAKE. We filed into his bedroom/living area and sat on rugs, drinking tea while he gave us a preamble in English to the tune of ‘Religions are all the same and are all good. People are nearly all the same and are nearly all bigoted idiots. Don’t be them. Be ME! 🤗’ It’s hard to argue.
Finally he does some chanting and we get special string necklaces. HASHTAG BLESSED.
We have to tear ourselves from the cake, the Lama, the Non-View though, because the Divine Madman calls. This is the monk – real name Drupka Kinley – who’s somehow found himself the Patron Saint of Bhutan. His temple was built in a village in Punakha Valley – our next stop – after his death, in honour of his – ahem – incredible life. By all accounts he was a total badass: a 15th century monk and mystic who rejected all forms of authority and taught his followers to question every single aspect of Buddhism. He’s believed to have brought Enlightenment to the world by way of his ‘Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom’, which in layman’s terms is another way to describe his enormous penis.
This goes some way to describing why the village where his temple was built is covered in them. He also liked to use his Flaming Thunderbolt to make all the ladies in the surrounding villages considerably wiser than they otherwise would’ve been. Indeed, it’s said his greatest skill was how vigorously he could impart this wisdom. No doubt afterwards he’d spark up a cheroot and then order a Mushroom Pastry from up the road.
I have to stress that the village itself and the surrounding countryside was completely breathtaking. What a manor! If I’d been a contemporary of Drupka Kinley, he’d have had me at ‘Hello – look at my extremely neat wheat-sheafs’. The little girls in the picture above (they are twins called Nyim and Daw – ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’) will grow up thinking it’s perfectly normal to live in a village plastered with willies, where the guy who gets the biggest backslap is the one who could spin the best origin story and bed the most women. Still: it’s probably a good training ground. Welcome to the patriarchy, ladies.