From Samdrup Jongkar to Trashigang
On our first day in Bhutan we made it from the border town of Samdrup Jongkar to Trashigang. What sounds like an easy 180 km drive is in fact quite an adventure in itself. For those 180 km on the main highway you actually need all day, rather than 1,5 hrs like in Germany. First you have to arrive in time for the road opening. Yes that’s right. The road is closed all day and you only have 2 small windows of time of an hour each morning and afternoon to pass through the road blocks due to extensive road widening works in Bhutan.
Trucks, Minibuses, SUV’s and small cars all try to squeeze by each other on a single lane road. The stopping and letting cars pass is frequent. on very tight spots, little traffic jams are building up and the vehicles can only inch past the cliff on one side and rock slides on the other. Stones of every size tumbling down are ever present and we saw numerous caterpillars and diggers that were destroyed by large falling rocks. Our diver Govind was always trying to get past those spots as fast as possible… For lunch we stopped in a little but very picturesque Wamrong village of only about 20 houses. Sitting in a small back room of a regular looking store was one table with some low seats where we had our first real taste of Bhutanese food. Hot, spicy but very delicious! Even Chris is getting more and more used to the spicy dishes here and is trying all of them. When we sat down everyone else left the room, wondering why, it turns out that it is custom in Bhutan that when guests arrive for lunch or dinner that the hosts leave them to eat by themselves as a gesture of respect. Only this little curious boy could not help himself, as foreigners are rarely seen here at this village. He seemed happy that kids were not on the menu of weird white people.
Leaving the store we got offered some Doma. This is the Red Bull of Truck drivers, green betel leaves, pieces of betel nut and a sliver of lime are wrapped together in a little chewable parcel. When chewed, the entire mouth turns red and red juice stains are everywhere to see as you spit it out after some minutes. As tobacco is not allowed in Bhutan, and drives are long, people who need to stay awake are chewing it everywhere. Needless to say that it neither looks nice, not is the red spit everywhere a nice sight as well as the harmful side effects it has on people.
Driving on to Trashigang, we stopped at a local weaving center in Khaling. There they teach local women how to weave those intricate patterns used in all sorts of cloth products. The women weave sitting on he floor with a hand loom and very thin silk threads. Some of the patterns and cloth (3 meters) take many months to weave. The cooperative only takes 10% for organizing the sale and distribution of the cloth, the rest actually goes directly to the women. We could not resist and buy our first souvenir here where we felt it would benefit the ladies directly.
Finally after a long drive over the dusty roads we arrived at the gate to Trashigang. Trashigang is the capital of the eastern Bhutan district. Each major township has what is called a Dzong. Which in fact is a hybrid of a fort for defence purposes and a monastery for monks. Nowadays, as the defence has rather lost in importance, usually the town and district administration resides here together with the monastic section. The Trashigang Dzong is one of the finest, dating back hundreds of years. Unfortunately it was half destroyed in an earthquake a few years back and is currently under reconstruction. Nevertheless we got an impressive first glance at the elegance and beauty of this architecture in Bhutan. Not only the Dzongs but also the simple houses are elaborately painted and carved. The tradition is kept alive by respective edicts by the king and also by subsidies.